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Fantastic British engineering

The making of the Colchester lathe

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Steviegtr22/04/2020 01:19:16
2457 forum posts
341 photos

Thought some of you guys would appreciate this video. The making of the Colchester lathes. Amazing & the techniques they had.

Colchester factory


Dave Wootton22/04/2020 06:20:06
317 forum posts
66 photos

Thanks for posting that Steve, absolutely fascinating, no wonder Colchester spares are expensive, they make them on gold plated machines!

What a shame that we don't produce these lathes in this country any more, makes you realise just how many engineering jobs have gone over the years, so much incredible skill wasted. As an apprentice I had to spend about six months in the inspection department, part of that on Talyrond testers, the first half dozen parts to be tested were interesting, then the rest of the batch of about 2000 turned up, absolutely bored to tears.


clogs22/04/2020 07:06:23
626 forum posts
12 photos

Totally agree but as per Usual managment prefer pub lunches than re invest it the product.....

have a little used 6" Sq top Student....(can trace its history from new) it......

but then have 3 phase at home.......

Shame is u can import "broom sticks" from China and make more money via eBay.......!!!!!!!

AdrianR22/04/2020 07:17:31
597 forum posts
36 photos

I saw this a couple of days ago. I so wished for a time machine to go back to those days. I feel I was born in the wrong generation.

I would love to have an as new student.

SillyOldDuffer22/04/2020 13:56:50
8876 forum posts
1997 photos
Posted by Dave Wootton on 22/04/2020 06:20:06:


What a shame that we don't produce these lathes in this country any more, makes you realise just how many engineering jobs have gone over the years, so much incredible skill wasted. ...


Is it a shame? Why? Beware nostalgia, taken neat it causes delusions!

In manufacturing you have to make stuff people want to buy and it has to be made at a profit. No point making the best tool in the world if it requires so much skill that no-one can afford it. Or it has to be sold as a loss leader. Doubly no point in making the best manual machine tools in the world when 99% of customers have shifted to multi-axis CNC.

Old fashioned engineering is commercial suicide! Yesterday's technology is highly vulnerable to anyone using better methods and to anyone who can do the same job with lower labour or material costs. Bad mistake to think skills are valuable in their own right, however hard-earned, or that they are irreplaceable. Feeding the children tomorrow is far more important than old achievements, however impressive they were.

Rather than tie up manpower in low-value jobs that can be automated or out-sourced, it's arguably better to shut the enterprise down and re-use the labour for anything else that makes more money. No point in being a Saggarmaker's bottom knocker unless there's an unmechanised Pottery Industry to work in; better to be a hairdresser than an unemployed telegrapher.

My career was in Information Technology where the rate of change is ferocious. I started as a COBOL Programmer which was once the most popular computer language in the world, loads of jobs. Today, it's not in the top 20. My COBOL skills became redundant over 40 years ago, and I had to learn new tricks urgently. Even though I was good at it, I don't think the world misses my COBOL programming skills at all.

Time marches on!


Howard Lewis22/04/2020 14:11:55
6305 forum posts
15 photos

As hobbyists, most of us (Handle twirlers ) use basically the same technology as century or more ago.

CNC uses the same BASIC processes, but with the bonus of superior materials and computer control, so what takes me an hour, comes off a modern machine in minutes, and much more consistently.

An ex industry machine, that is is in good condition, but seventy years old (if those are not compatible  will produce accurate work, given operator skill. But it will not be able to make best use of modern tooling and materials.

In 1958 a Herbert No 7 Preoptive was state of the art, but is an absolute snail compared to a modern CNC machining centre.

Rose tinted spectacles do fade.


Dave Halford22/04/2020 14:19:50
2091 forum posts
23 photos

Watching that makes me realise how many processes the Chinese have deleted to get down to the price point that we will pay.

Darren Webb22/04/2020 14:30:54
4 forum posts

Great watch, agree with the sentiment about parts made on gold plated machines, parts for my Triumph 2000 cost a fortune, glad nothing broken on it. Wish it was as shiny though.


Tony Pratt 122/04/2020 15:12:14
2023 forum posts
12 photos
Posted by Dave Halford on 22/04/2020 14:19:50:

Watching that makes me realise how many processes the Chinese have deleted to get down to the price point that we will pay.

Deburring & counterboring with the right cutter to name but 2, I paid £3.3K for my 'not half bad' Warco lathe , I personally would have paid another £500 for a better finished product.


Mick B122/04/2020 16:09:52
2223 forum posts
125 photos

Yes - interesting to watch. But unfortunately you can see the seeds of the loss of much of our engineering industry in the persistent use of skilled and labour-intensive techniques requiring relatively highly-paid personnel. Part of this stems from the retention of once-successful designs that had their heyday in a period when skilled labour was more abundant and less expensive.

Economies like those of the Far East have access to a skilled and aspirational labour force at lower cost, and take a heavily value-engineered approach to design, so they win both ways. It's a breathtakingly huge pity that so many successive British governments have not made any material difference to this process. Some have actually encouraged it - covertly, by neglect.

Dave Halford22/04/2020 18:04:47
2091 forum posts
23 photos

Henry Ford showed the way with the Model T - an unskilled low payed workforce following the monkey see monkey do system. Heavily refined during the war

Dave Wootton22/04/2020 18:18:43
317 forum posts
66 photos

Is it a shame? Why? Beware nostalgia, taken neat it causes delusions

To S.O.D I made no mention of nostalgia ,or nostalgic sentiments in my post, I served my time in a very similar industry it was a hard environment, but it provided reasonably paid jobs to a great many people, skilled and unskilled. I personally wouldn't want to go back to those days.

But I do believe that it is a shame that so many companies that were large scale employers have closed, for whatever reason, a large scale concern such as Colchester's has a great impact on employment in it's surrounding area.

A great many people do not have the skills or ability to become computer programmers, or to work in hi tech industries, but they were perfectly able to hold down a reasonably skilled job in manufacturing. It is them that I feel sorry for in the workplace today.

Grindstone Cowboy22/04/2020 18:35:22
893 forum posts
64 photos

Posted by SillyOldDuffer on 22/04/2020 13:56:50:

Even though I was good at it, I don't think the world misses my COBOL programming skills at all.

Parts of it might - nearly all of the UK government's benefit systems still run on COBOL, and they are actively looking for people with those skills if you fancy coming out of retirement.


Howard Lewis22/04/2020 18:49:16
6305 forum posts
15 photos

Sadly, I fear that for many years the Civil Service has been filled with folk lacking any knowledge of, or respect for, Engineering and Manufacturing. Hence it is seen as being of little value; so shift it abroad.

The error of that is now visible, in the form of official inability / unwillingness to manufacture PPE.

Meanwhile, the need is being met by Engineers and engineering companies who are making their contribution and supplying direct to where it is needed.. One our Forum members started making face masks with his 3D printer, for his local hospital, a couple of weeks ago!

Fiddling in Whitehall while Rome burns?


Martin Kyte22/04/2020 19:57:04
2786 forum posts
53 photos

It's a given that technology marches on. This you cannot change. Rather than trying to get protectionist the challenge is to make the social changes required to adapt to the changing landscape of work and employment, A case of adapt or die. There is only a certain amount that govenments can do to soften the impact. The major effort should always be in continually finding new industries and retraining populations. Probably the worst thing you could do would be to artificially sustain industies beyond their sell by date except for the purposes of buying time whilst other alternative are developed.

regards Martin

Tony Pratt 122/04/2020 21:02:09
2023 forum posts
12 photos

You can't get away from the fact that for a multitude of reasons 'stuff' is cheaper to make in the far East/China/Turkey etc.etc..


Edited By Tony Pratt 1 on 22/04/2020 21:02:48

duncan webster22/04/2020 21:21:31
4116 forum posts
66 photos

So what we need to do is make stuff at the high tech end which they don't make in cheap labour markets. I get the impression that we are doing a fair bit of this, but the long standing problem in this country is poor productivity, caused by lack of skilled workers and lack of investment in equipment, I suppose the 2 go together. If I knew how to get out of this I'd not be sat here contributing to ME forum!

If we upskill our workforce they will get paid more, won't need in work benefits, will pay more tax, and round it goes, we are all better off

Former Member22/04/2020 21:40:18

[This posting has been removed]

Stuart Bridger23/04/2020 08:23:10
540 forum posts
29 photos

I don't know if it is the same around the country, but near me in Oxfordshire, there are a surprising number of small CNC shops, tucked away in small indstrial units. The technology and automation means that they are not big employers though. They typically have a small number of very expensive machining centres, that they just setup and run. Often overnight, completely unattended, getting a message on their phone if an alarm is flagged. They are very much supporting the higher technology industries.

Bazyle23/04/2020 08:48:48
6381 forum posts
222 photos
Posted by Tony Pratt 1 on 22/04/2020 15:12:14:
I paid £3.3K for my 'not half bad' Warco lathe , I personally would have paid another £500 for a better finished product.

Indeed. We often see how someone has improved their import machine with a few hours work. It is a pity nobody gets that work done at source with cheaper labour but we all know that after a few weeks both the mfr ande the UK accountant would look at eh profit to be made on skimping on first this process, then another.....

As Duncan says we can have high tech UK firms. Remember what happened to Churchill lathes.

The film initially linked I think shows the effort put into the Gammet bearings. This was the key feature of the Colchester lathes. When you buy a second hand one with knackered bearings you have just got a regular far eastern lathe unless you can afford new bearings.

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