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Fkesxispeed...what is the back gear for and how to use it

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Julian Tolley15/05/2022 18:27:27
10 forum posts
9 photos

So please excuse the newbie's the lulu.

On the back of my Flexispeed there is a twin cog mounted on a quadrant that you can rotate to engage with gears on the main shaft. However I cannot work out its use as the cogs are different diameters so immediately lock the main shaft.

Would love to understand this more and tried a search for an online copy of the manual but it deosnt seem to exist.

Think I am getting there...found the rpm set way too high and wasnt running a counter shaft so that will be this weeks work. .

Thanks in advance for any help

not done it yet15/05/2022 18:45:45
6809 forum posts
20 photos

Back gear is a different train of gears to drive the spindle more slowly. Likely it has locked the spindle because you are still trying to drive the spindle at a higher speed - ie two gears selected at the same time.

Edited By not done it yet on 15/05/2022 18:46:50

Andy Carlson15/05/2022 18:59:55
432 forum posts
132 photos

Not sure if the Flexi is the same but on the Cowells you have to loosen the grub screw in the cantre of the middle drive pulley when you engage backgear. This allows the pulleys to spin on the mandrel. The drive goes via the backgear and the speed is slower and the torque is higher.

The grub screw tightens onto a flat on the shaft... which you can't see. Make a note of its position in relaton to other landmarks (locking screws, keys etc. before you loosen the screw. On mine the flats and keys and grub screws etc are all in a line... which may or may not be the same on yours.

Neil A15/05/2022 20:23:03
107 forum posts

The Flexispeed is the same as the Cowell lathe, the grub screw in the centre of the three step pulley has to be released so that the pulley turns freely on the mandrel. Then the back gear cluster can be rotated into engagement. You may find that you get increased end float on the mandrel, I never really solved that problem on mine.

The mandrel on the Flexispeed has a reduced diameter rather than a flat where the grub screw tightens onto.


I hav sent you a message.

Edited By Neil A on 15/05/2022 20:44:42

Nigel Graham 215/05/2022 22:41:43
2132 forum posts
29 photos

The vital general point is that on any lathe the primary spindle-driving gear or pulley has to be disengaged when you engage the back-gear. Otherwise it does just lock up!

Back-gear is a low-speed range gear used normally when screw-cutting, machining irregular items, drilling large holes from the tailstock, dealing with interrupted cuts, and the like.

The locking mechanism varies by make and model of lathe: the grub-screw in the pulley as Neil and Andy describe may be common on small lathes.

Usually small lathes like these are driven via a counter-shaft, not directly from the motor, to give an initial reduction of maybe 3:1 or 4:1; though the counter-shaft and spindle pulleys are often a 3-step, [Up, 1:1, Down] pair.

James Alford17/05/2022 22:03:35
464 forum posts
79 photos

I have a very large single-step pulley on the "motor" side of the counter shaft of my Flexispeed and a three-step pulley on the other end, driving the lathe itself. This gears it right down, giving a top speed of just under 500rpm and low speed of 190rpm without the back-gear. With the back-gear engaged, it goes down to 50rpm. I find these to be a useful range of speeds which seem not to stress the machine.


Howard Lewis19/05/2022 12:24:49
6104 forum posts
14 photos

As already said, you must disengage the pulley from the Spindle when Back gear is engaged. Otherwise it will lock up, because, effectively, you have two different ratio gears engaged at the same time.

If the Back gear does succeed in overriding the pulley / Shaft, the chances are that both will be damaged..

Since the pulley will be rotating at a different speed from the Spindle, if back Gear is used for any length of time, it may be worth adding a spot of oil to Spindle / Pulley. Just enough to prevent any tendency to siezure.

When back Gear is not in use, the grubscrew will lock the pulley to the Spindle to provide the drive.


SillyOldDuffer19/05/2022 14:02:06
8673 forum posts
1961 photos

Interesting debate to be had about the merits of classic back-gear versus modern electronic speed control.

Some jobs, like threading and turning castings, benefit from spinning the chuck slowly - 50rpm or less. Back gear is the traditional solution. Big advantage is gearing down increases torque and keeps the motor operating inside its comfort zone. This is particularly important if the machine has a single-phase motor.

The disadvantage of back-gear is the fiddle-faddle of putting it in and out of action. Not a problem if a lot of slow speed cutting is on the agenda, but becomes a nuisance when the work in hand involves many fast speed changes. I think fast speed changes are the most useful pattern in a general purpose workshop.

Electronic Speed Control is the modern alternative. It allows the lathe to be spun at any rate at between minimum and maximum at the turn of a knob. Very handy whenever a job hops between cutting small and large diameters, whilst switching between fast Aluminium, medium speed steel, and slow cast-iron. Unfortunately running electric motors slowly reduces their power output and they get hot: the operator has to make sure he doesn't cook the motor or overheat the electronics! The power loss at slow speed may not be serious because, depending on the type of motor, the electronics can compensate. Older lathes keep the motor cool with a cheapo impeller that doesn't work at low RPM: newer ones often have a separate cooling fan.

Basically a trade-off between stamina and convenience. I prefer the convenience of electronic speed control, but on my hobby lathe its still necessary to change a belt to get low speed. (25 to 450rpm). Speed on the high belt is about 150 to 2500rpm, which is good for most of my needs. (Including threading, done in reverse away from the headstock at 150rpm or faster...)

Given speed control, I've never felt the need for back gear, but it depends on what the lathe is used for.


not done it yet19/05/2022 14:35:16
6809 forum posts
20 photos

What SOD says refers mostly to variable speed motors - while the majority, on older machines, are constant speed, fixed by the frequency of the supply.

Generally single phase induction motors are not a variable speed commodity. Three phase motors can be driven, with variable speed, from a VFD. DC motors rely on the voltage supplied, for speed, and the universal motors will run from AC or DC supplies with the speed proportional to the applied voltage.

Perhaps best to determine what type yours is, before thinking about varying the speed of the motor?

Constant speed means constant power - torque at the spindle being altered by altering the gear or pulley ratios.

Reducng the motor speed generally reduces the motor power and, therefore, the torque.

duncan webster19/05/2022 15:01:46
3984 forum posts
65 photos

To be pedantic (who me) reducing speed doesn't necessarily reduce torque, it does reduce power. The normal reason to reduce speed is bigger workpiece, so the cutting load is at a larger radius, so for constant torque you need smaller depth of cut. I have a vfd, but still use backgear as running motor too slowly means the cooling fan is ineffective. I have seen industrial variable speed motors with separate cooling fans, a bit ott for a little lathe

SillyOldDuffer19/05/2022 15:50:42
8673 forum posts
1961 photos
Posted by not done it yet on 19/05/2022 14:35:16:

What SOD says refers mostly to variable speed motors - while the majority, on older machines, are constant speed, fixed by the frequency of the supply.


The use of fixed speed motors on older machines is caused by the technology limitations of the day, not best practice! Now it's possible, single-phase motors can be dumped.

The electronics necessary to do this took a long time to come good. For decades fixed speed single-phase motors were the best that could be provided for domestic needs above 100W, and lesser powers were delivered by Universal Types. Both have undesirable characteristics, and they have never been popular in industry. Better types of motor are available if you have a suitable power supply. Something less heavy industry than motor-generators, Copper Oxide and Mercury Arc rectifiers, and Ward Leonard speed control systems!

Electronics have fixed the power supply problem. Today it's cheap and easy to speed control powerful DC and 3-phase motors, or - best of all - a hefty Brushless. No one needs to put up with single-phase motors and belts any more.

Although they're not complete rubbish, my advice is to consider the alternatives if an old machine needs a new single-phase motor. They all outperform single-phase types.

But I'm not trying to persuade anyone to upgrade. My point is that the need for back-gear is much reduced on a lathe with electronic speed control, even though electronics aren't perfect.



Edited By SillyOldDuffer on 19/05/2022 15:52:01

Nigel Graham 219/05/2022 17:24:12
2132 forum posts
29 photos

Interesting to see the different views on using a variable-speed motor apparently to replace the use of back-gear.

I see it as a co-operation, gaining the advantages of both, not merely replacing one with the other.

Although I have fitted a VFD and 3ph motor to my Myford 7 and Harrison L5 lathes (and Myford VMC mill and BCA jig-borer) I do use the cone-pulley and back-gear ranges to their full. The Harrison has an all-geared headstock anyway, so engaging back-gear is merely by moving a lever.

Even with the L5 revolving at only about 60 rpm, estimated, the motor is still at about 900-1000 rpm, happily in the controller's green sector. The motor - machine pulley ratio is about 2.5:1, I think.

One unexpected bonus of converting the ML7 is that the 3ph motor runs very quietly. The original motor did as well of course, but it made the cabinet resonate loudly.

I am restoring a Denbigh H4 horizontal mill but will give it only a conventional single-phase motor and high-ratio belt and/or gear drive. Similarly my little EW 2.5" BGSC lathe is perfectly happy with a modern 1/4HP 1ph motor linked at about belt 3:1 ratio to the original countershaft.

Horses(power) for courses perhaps, but my feeling is that variable-speed 3ph motors can enhance, not merely replace 'cos we can/ it's modern / thought "better" /..., the machine-tool's existing transmission system.

duncan webster19/05/2022 23:23:52
3984 forum posts
65 photos

Before I fitted the 3 phase motor and vfd my lathe had a speed range 50-2000 rpm. My 3 phase set up can deliver constant torque up to 50hz,constant power from there to 100hz. If I set the belt ratio to give 2000 rpm at 100 hz I get full power 1000-2000 rpm, but only 1/20 full power at 50 rpm. I'll stick to having back gear for slow jobs where I want a decent cut, but I usually leave it in middle belt ratio and use the control pot. I've got max frequency set at 75 hz

No way would I go back to single phase motor, I've also got a vfd on my milling machine, and had one on my little cowells 

Edited By duncan webster on 19/05/2022 23:25:18

Nigel Graham 220/05/2022 00:09:41
2132 forum posts
29 photos

Duncan -

Much as my approach although I don't know the actual figures for my VFD, motor and lathe. My way is, if it's cutting nicely, the control position is in the green sector and the machine doesn't seem to be struggling, I must have it about right; and I judge it by hearing as well as sight!

Much of the time my ML7 runs with the belt on its lowest setting, and I use the VFD for a sort of "fine-tuning".

The electronics on that lathe don't show the frequency. Those on the other machines do, but I don't know how to relate them numerically to motor speed, though there is an approximate scale printed on the controller.

I use both HSS and carbide tooling. One thing this has shown me is that carbide insert tooling - which is really made for high-rate industrial production machine-tools - does not actually have to be driven at crazy speeds to be effective. "Because it can" does not axiomatically mean "So it must". It is though often easier, depending on the metal grade and quality being machined, to obtain a decent turned finish with HSS.

Howard Lewis20/05/2022 12:17:11
6104 forum posts
14 photos

As Nigel says "horses for Courses"

A lot of the time, I use a Tangential Turning tool with a HSS toolbit. But for anything hard, carbide comes into its own.

given the right speeds and feeds, both will deliver good finish.

A lightweight machine will not give of its best if overloaded. At least will not function well, at worst sustain permanent wear / damage.

Even with a machine with VFD, back gear can be very buseful. for a variety of reasons, even if only slow operator reactions!


not done it yet20/05/2022 17:39:49
6809 forum posts
20 photos

As Nigel, here, too.

My lathe and one mill have infinite mechanical variable speed control but they are both powered by variable three phase motors (as was my previous lathe). I have never yet needed to select back gear on my current lathe.

My other mill is now powered by a three phase motor with VFD - even though it also has a six speed gearbox. The table power feed is also speed controlled by a VFD, even though there is a choice of 4 (or more) mechanical geared alternatives, for the table feed, with only a 50 Hz supply.

My surface grinder is fitted with a VFD also. Partly because the motor was the original 3 phase item, partly because the speed can be ramped up over several seconds and partly so I can adjust the wheel speed should I ever need to (like if I fit a smaller grinding wheel, requiring a higher optimum rotational speed, or wish to ‘soften’ an abrasive wheel by slowing it).

The stand, for my Centec, was often criticised due to vibrational noise, when fitted with single phase induction drives - so there is yet another advantage (like Nigel’s) of fitting a 3 phase motor on that machine. Likewise my previous lathe was sometimes reported as noisy at slow speeds (only when fitted with a single phase motor).

Everything leads me towards avoiding single phase motors, wherever possible/practical. But this thread was not really about this aspect of our machines? Specifically, it was about the Flexispeed back gear, I think.

Howard Lewis21/05/2022 19:34:13
6104 forum posts
14 photos

As NDIY says, single phase motors are not as good as three phase, when it comes to smoothness of rotation..

My lathe has VFD. Back gear is used, infrequently, not for the increased torque that it makes available, but purely for the speed reduction. Compensates for my slow reactions.

(Definitely needed when cutting a 4 mm pitch thread up to an end stop! )

Nigel Graham 221/05/2022 21:29:14
2132 forum posts
29 photos


As I said... yes... to a point.

I also said I use the pulley steps and back-gear, not only for torque but also to keep the motor running fast. The speed controls have amber and red sectors warning you the setting is too slow there. All right for a few moments perhaps but not long duty.

I did and still do not advocate never using the mechanical reductions, but instead using them in conjunction with the electronics!

The cabinet was noisy at all spindle speeds, because the motor was still running at its single speed.

You are right though. The question was about the back-gear on a Flexispeed lathe - but - not because the lathe is a Flexispeed. It was about the purpose of the gear.

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