Friday, January 1, 2016

Allegory of the Old Lathe

Allegory of the Old Lathe
Courtesy of the Butler 7th ward LDS Deacons Quorum

I recently acquired an old lathe. I had located the tool through a local classifieds advertisement. I had always wanted a good, solid metal-working lathe, but funds were of the nature that I could not spend thousands of dollars. I was elated to finally have a new tool, so I made the run in order to follow through with the purchase on a lunch break during the work day.

The lathe was in pieces – I was willing to accept it in this state because I thought I could assemble this tool using the many resources available to me, such as books, diagrams, and other materials. As I was under the impression that this was a tool that met the standard measurements, I thought it would be an easy task to locate broken parts. I did not think that there were any missing, and that most parts would be operational. I assumed that I could simply assemble it, and I would have a fully functional tool for the workshop.

Missing Parts

As I began the task of putting some of the parts together, I found some parts were missing. These parts were small, and easily lost. They were integral to the general part known as the tailstock, and would prevent the lathe from being functional without the parts. Their absence immediately stalled my efforts – they were required for the end result. I found a piece of metal similar in size in a pile of scrap, and set to work building that tiny, missing piece. It didn’t take long, and the joy I felt when I was able to fully assemble the tailstock motivated me on to the next task.

Corrosion and Disrepair

There were two general parts of the tool (called the “headstock” and the “saddle”) that had not been disassembled. These two parts were covered in old sawdust. For these precision tools, it is a poor operation to not keep the tools clean and free of debris – and it was clear that the lathe had been abused in this fashion. However, I was very grateful that there was good to be found in the abuse and misuse – the wood had absorbed some oils, and kept parts from corrosion that so often destroys the very parts that make them work.

Full Functionality

At this time, I also realized that there were other missing parts, called “change gears”. These “change gears” serve a very specific purpose – they allow different parts to turn at different speeds. These special gears are used to create bolts, nuts, and screws. I knew they were a big part of this tool, but I also knew that the tool would work without them – there were simply some tasks that I would not be able to do without them.

Back Gears, and Standards

I found one additional part that had been broken as I began to disassemble the headstock. This set of parts was called the “back gears”, and were designed to cause the lathe to turn even slower, allowing someone to work shape metal that was larger in size. On these gears, there were two things that were broken – one of the gears was missing a tooth, and the handle to engage and disengage them had snapped off. Once again, I found myself in a state in which work was stopped.  Through some auctions, I was able to track down an assembly from another lathe that I thought had the same dimensions. I purchased the part, and when I had the part home, I immediately set about trying to replace the broken part.

That part did not fit.

The fact that it did not fit forced me to start looking more closely at the tool I had to work with. I began my research, and found that this lathe for the workshop was purchased on January 24th, 1930, by the Salt Lake Hardware Company, manufactured by the South Bend Lathe Company in Indiana, U.S.A.

It was manufactured about ten years prior to the standards I had assumed. I was surprised to find that those standards, and this tool, did not meet the same standards. They were simply incompatible. As much as I tried, I could not make parts that didn’t meet the same standards work together well – it would never be fully operational without ensuring all parts met the same standards.

I went to my resources, looking for replacement parts. Finding parts for an 85 year old tool is nearly impossible, and over time, I began to realize that I needed to find a way to repair the original parts. I had some experience welding pieces of steel together – but I also knew that these parts were not steel, they were cast iron, and they cannot be repaired by “welding” them back together. The more research I did, the more I realized that these parts needed special care in the repair. They needed to be pre-heated, then (using a torch) they needed to be heated nearly to a state of melting. In that state, bronze can be used to build the missing teeth on the gear, and to reconnect the handle to the assembly. Once complete, you cannot immerse them directly into water to cool them – they will shatter beyond repair.
I had also found small grooves in the “spindle”, the part of the headstock that rotates. These grooves occur when we fail to properly maintain the tool by using correct oils in the proper places. Worried about these grooves, I took the spindle to a machinist. He stated, “It definitely looks used.” He then performed some checks, and felt that it would not need extra machining – it would be fully operational, even with the scars of misuse. It was at this time that I began the reassembly.


As I look back on the restoration of this tool, I’ve seen many parallels to life. We are simply “old lathes”.

The machinist who examines are parts is our bishop – he knows the standards we should be living by, and is more than willing to help us examine those parts of our lives that we worry about. He has the tools to measure and ensure we are within the proper tolerances.  Remember, things measured by different standards don't work so well together.

We are the very people performing the restoration on our own lives. This cannot be someone else, for only those of us in position of our lives have access to the missing pieces in our hearts. However, we do not have to do this on our own – we have access to many resources that assist us – our families, our friends, our neighbors, and especially our Savior, Jesus Christ.

As we complete the restoration, our greatest source of repair instructions and replacement parts is our Savior.   He fully understands our capacity. He knows what parts are missing from our lives. For those parts that cannot be found, He, alone, knows how to construct new ones. He knows what is broken, and He knows how to repair those parts that can be repaired. He knows that we can be operational, but not have access to the full capability that we have.  He also knows that we can eventually become fully functional.  As we find missing or broken parts, our best option is to allow the Savior to instruct us, to teach us, and to show us how to make repairs – and the only way to properly repair our parts is to do exactly what He states.

Often, we see the daunting task in front of us, and want to stop – to “throw away” the tool, and just find another. This simply cannot be – we are extremely valuable to our Father in Heaven, so valuable that (even when he knew that every one of us will be broken at some point in our lives) He provided Jesus Christ as the greatest source of repairs.

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