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Sebastian Lathe - refurbish or scrap?


Nov 13, 2023
My late-father acquired this Sebastian lathe in the mid-80's and its been sitting in a corner of his garage ever since. It never had a working motor so has not been operational in almost 40 years. This looks like a 15" Gold Seal Belt-drive from the 1930's or 40's and it's stamped with Machine # 20701 but I've not been able to find any info on that model. It may also have a detachable gap bed as the hand wheel is on the right whereas most without that feature seem to have it on the left side. Since it's missing a motor, is belt drive, and is in unknown mechanical condition, is it worth the time, effort, and expense to restore or should I just scrap it (not sure its worth anything) and look to get something more modern? Would the chucks (three x 4-jaw), 6 face plates and tool holders be useful on another brand of lathe or not compatible due to threading/ sizes?

Thanks! Chris

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Without testing, it is hard to say...
Sebastian lathes (especially the gear-head ones, which Sheldon kept in production after acquiring Sebastian) were quite sturdy machines. I am not familiar with the belt-driven ones, but yours looks rather beefy.
From the pictures, it looks like it has a variable speed drive (the wheel on the headstock pedestal).
The first things I would check are the play in the spindle, the wear in the ways and in the screws/nuts.
If the spindle has minimal play and spins smoothly (after proper lubrication with thin oil), unless the wear on the ways and/or the play between screws and nuts is not horrendous (be careful not to measure possible play in the trust bearings, instead of the threads), you likely have a very capable, although rather slow, lathe.

Chucks: I do not know what is the diameter and pitch of the spindle thread. If it is something common, like 2 1/4-8, they could be used on other lathes (2 1/4-8 is used by South Bend Heavy Ten, several Sheldon lathes, and likely others).

The true questions are: do you need a lathe? What do you want to do with a lathe?

If you have access to a reasonably equipped shop, adapting a motor to this lathe and do a few minor fixes shouldn't be a big issue.
Otherwise, or if you want something that cuts chips from day one (or three), you better find somebody interested in it and get something else.

The market value of this lathe depends also from where you are located. But, even in the worst machinery desert, it won't sell for a lot of cash. In any case, I think that, at minimum you could get at least $250-400 while living to somebody else the hassle of hauling away.

Questions: #1 Do you need or want a lathe? #2 Do you have basic mechanical abilities?

For its age and the fact that it has not been used for 40 years, it is in fairly decent shape, ie its not a rust bucket. Taper attachment is a big plus. If you add a motor and do some basic cleaning and oiling it can probably be used as-is, or you can do a complete teardown and deep clean and paint. Replacing that lathe with something newer and ready to run will set you back a few thousand. To me it looks like a good starter lathe, and a great way for someone new to learn how to work on and maintain a lathe.
I'd guess the 'machine no.' is the serial, not model.
With all the accessories pictured, I'd be inclined to clean it up and oil it, slap a motor on and start making chips. Assuming the bearings / ways aren't totally trashed. Don't think I bother with a full restoration. Not sure how long I could live with that paint job though. :D
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I'm on board with the others that it really depends how you want to use your time and what your end goal is. If it was me and I had the time/space to put another lathe on the floor, I'd be all for digging into that lathe, unless I found some major issue like major bed/spindle wear or damage. Other repairs I'm ok with. Even if it's totaled however I don't know that I'd scrap it so much as part it out on eBay or otherwise try to connect it with other users that could use the parts. The only machine tools I've ever scrapped were of Asian or European decent ('Murica!) I'm a bit of a romantic with old iron though. To me, old machines like this are worth the added time and labor because the machines often come cheap and once running these old lathes cut so nice. The only down side to most of these old lathes is that 99% of what's out there has slower spindle speeds and there's simply no fix for that. If you learn to use them like they were designed cutting mild steel and ferrous metals, it's not an issue, but if you want to cut exotic or hard materials at optimal speeds and feeds with the latest generation of inserted tools, you're only option is to get a newer machine. At that point though, you have to ask yourself why are you looking at a manual lathe and not delving into CNC.

In sort, even if it needs work, that's a "good lathe". If it's the right lathe for you just depends on your time and skills and how you plan on using it.
Anyone notice that is a "gap bed" lathe?

Look at the offset of the cross slide on the carriage. That is a very rare bird!!!! I have never seen one or even seen a catalog page on it.
The Sebastian lathes of this size had a odd ball spindle thread I believe was a 2-1/8 - 8 TPI. Not your normal 2-1/4 - 8 threaded spindle. Sheldon slightly redesigned the Sebastian lathe into the model "Sheldon Sebastian" that was sold up until it transformed into the R-Series lathes. BTW- digging through the history of the Sebastian lathe, the "R" series actually started with Sebastian and not Sheldon. There are no interchangeability of parts between the two brands of lathes neither.

Nice find! Try to keep it together if you can.

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Reviewing the pictures, I noticed you have the big faceplate used with the gap removed from the bed. That is cool!
That brings up another point in a lathes value: How much tooling it has. If I could have a lathe in great shape with no tooling, or an OK lathe with lots of tooling, I'd take the 2nd one. Too many guys buy and sell these machines thinking all the "extras" shouldn't/wouldn't be included in the sale when most of the time the opposite is true. Guys will spend half their carrier looking for a steady rest or taper attachment that fits their machine, all because some auction house threw in the original in with a lot of drill bits.