Canadian Woodworking

1948 Delta lathe restoration

Author: David Eisan
Published: February March 2003

This is not David’s first machine restoration. His cabinet saw, a Unisaw, is a Canadian-made 1960’s model that he restored last winter. He is also in the middle of fixing up a 30-year-old 20” bandsaw.


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A few months back, there was an auction here in London that listed “woodworking tools and machinery”. I thought I would go and check it out to see if there were any opportunities to buy an old hand plane or two.

I didn’t go with the intention of buying a lathe, but when I saw the “Made in Milwaukee” 1948 Delta (Model 1460) lathe, with original cast iron legs, I fell in love with it.

What I bought at the auction: a 1948 Delta 12”x36” Lathe – Model 1460

The lathe stand, all torn down.

The parts all stripped down.

The original paint is revealed.

Bagged and tagged, ready to be cleaned.

Original cast iron legs with new hard maple board for the new stretchers. 

Rust removed ad a new coat of paint.

It was in sad shape, but all the important parts were there (pulleys, tool rest base, tailstock, cast legs, etc.). Although it was a rare find, I decided that I wasn’t going to buy it. After all, I didn’t really need it, or for that matter, even have the space for it.

However, when the bidding stopped at $90 and I heard “going once, going twice…,” I did what any reasonable woodworker would do. I raised my hand and bid $100. My opening bid went unopposed and, gulp, I bought a lathe.

I contacted Delta and they were kind enough to send me a manual and parts breakdown for my lathe.

Within two days I had the lathe stripped down to it’s last nut, bolt and ball bearing, all bagged and tagged. I cleaned the machined cast iron surfaces with a wonderful “Walter” product from General. That, in combination with light rubbing with a Scotchbrite pad, makes rust go away without removing any base material! (For anyone wondering how to clean rust off your machines, check this product out.)

Once the castings were clean, I sent them to a local body shop to have the paint sand blasted off and the castings repainted.

With the castings back from the paint shop I started the rebuild. There were many small parts that needed to be cleaned and installed. The pine stretchers that went between the cast iron leg set were pretty messed up, so I replaced them with nice 10” wide 8/4 hard maple ones. I chemically dyed the maple with lye (it makes the hard maple look 50 years old instantly). I applied three coats of my favourite finish, a 2:2:1:1 blend of turpentine, polyurethane, boiled linseed oil and tung oil.

A little wiring and the lathe was ready to try out. I turned off the breaker to one of the outlets in the garage and plugged the lathe in. I turned the breaker back on and that breaker didn’t blow, so far so good. I walked over to the lathe and pressed the start button. It worked! (I still can’t get over how quiet and smooth the lathe runs).

I turned the lathe off and found a piece of wood to chuck up. I then grabbed a few lathe chisels I bought at the auction, and I started turning.

Since the moment I turned it on, I have been very happy with my new 54-year-old Delta lathe. In fact, I hope to be putting it to good use for another 54 years.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, I didn’t really need the lathe, but I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. And, when I had the opportunity to buy it for $100, I just couldn’t pass it up.

Although I don’t think I will get into turning in a big way (famous last words), I will use it to further my furniture making.

Since I work in odd woods, I have had friends turn knobs out of unusual woods that cannot be bought off the shelf. I will now be able to do that myself. I have also wanted to make spindle turnings for legs, beds etc., and now I can.

In summary, I put about $550 into the restoration of this lathe. And, even though it appeared rather unattractive on the auction block, all it really needed was new bearings. I could have had the machine working for less than $100 over the original cost, but I wanted to do it right and do it only once. That’s not bad when you consider that in 2050 I will still be using this lathe.

1 comment

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  2. Hello. l just bought the same Delta Lathe for 50. Dollars. It works but is missing tool base and rest. Know where I could find it? You did a great job on yours. Congratulations.

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