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Thread: Powermatic 90 purchase?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
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    33 7' 42" N, 117 16' 48" W
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    Question Powermatic 90 purchase?

    Hi all,
    I'm looking at a vintage powermatic 90 lathe for sale. It is circa early 1950's (gray), has a 12" swing with a 17" gap bed, outboard tool rest and faceplate, 110v motor, and by all accounts hasn't been used much in over 20 years. The motor and all parts are original, including the reeves drive parts. I don't have any first hand experience with reeves drives but popular opinion points out several key weaknesses: They're noisy, expensive to replace, and must be running to change speeds. I assume because of the relative age of the lathe that all the bearings will need to be replaced and that the belts may need replacing soon if not immediately.

    I am drawn to the lathe because of the oversize headstock/spindle and overall robust design. And because my budget won't allow for a new 3520 anytime soon, the restoration of old iron may be a suitable choice. I would like to hear from those who know...

    This is what I would like to get from this lathe:

    1. Moderate size bowl turning
    2. Variable speed
    3. Vacuum chucking

    With those hopes in mind, how smooth is a reeves drive. Is there much vibration? A VFD seems the best choice for reducing the rpm's down to a safe speed. Other than loosing torque at lower frequencies, are there issues or concerns that you have encountered? Would a jack shaft be a better choice? How about removing the reeves drive all together?

    The info I read shows these lathes as having #2MT, but the seller believes it is a #1MT. Were there multiple spindles made? If so, are some of these solid instead of hollow?

    Thanks to anyone who had the patience to read this entire post and double thanks to anyone who actually responds to it.
    Last edited by Christopher Fletcher; 03-18-2010 at 3:25 AM.

  2. #2
    Your reasoning seems pretty sound. One of my machines is the smaller model 45 and I really love it. Parts are getting to be an issue to find for both the model 90 and model 45. Ebay has made things a bit easier to find though and most parts can be tracked down in short order, but the prices are not going down. I was able to source new head stock bearings through a local machine shop and I would imagine that would be the case pretty much any place you might be geographically. My model 45 was made in the 50's as well and the bearings endured for better than 40 years before they just plain wore out. I converted my 45 to a 3hp VFD and pulled out all the reeves drive parts about eight years ago when getting parts was a bigger PIA than the cost of conversion and haven't looked back since. All the ease and safety of the variable speed and none of the headaches finding parts or clattering. If you can get a hold of it for less than $1,000 it is worth it. Even if you need to convert it to a VFD and replace the head stock bearings you should still be under $2,000 and be good to go for a lifetime of enjoyment. Further if you eventually decide to go to a larger machine you'll have a great machine you can sell and recoup more than half the cost of a larger machine with all the bells and whistles.
    Regards,
    T

  3. #3
    Christopher,
    You may also want to check out the Old Woodworking Machine forum (www.owwm.org). They have a lot of information about these machines.

    Another thing you may want to consider is the spindle size, not all accessories go up that big. For example, if you were buying a Oneway chuck, the Talon is rated for lathes with a swing capacity up to 16" diameter. However, Oneway only lists a 1.5 x 8RH insert for the Stronghold, which is a much bigger (and more expensive chuck).

    Also, the PM90 came in several different speed range configurations. Some had LOW speeds of 900rpm, which is way too high for roughing bowl blanks. If the one you are looking at is one of these it would probably be cheaper to install a phase inverter to use as a speed control (if the motor is already 3-phase).

    You did not indicate the phase of the motor. If it is 3-phase, you will either need an inverter to run it on house current or replace the motor. I have read that the older models (like the one you are looking at) have the motors mounted up higher, which limits the motor choices available for changing out (not to mention, it's more difficult to do).

    Also, recognize that the 17" gap bed does not mean you can turn a 17" bowl on it. Once you add a faceplate or chuck, the workpiece will extend out over the bed, not the gap. I understand that the gap was really more to allow the tool rest base to be removed from the lathe without having to remove the tailstock, not to increase the swing of the lathe.

    And yes, the spindle is threaded on the outboard, but it is a non-standard thread and accessories are limited.

    I, too, have been drawn to the old iron, but just found that their limitations and the cost to restore/update is not cost effective, particularly when there are lathes like the Jet 1642 available.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    33 7' 42" N, 117 16' 48" W
    Posts
    190
    Thanks gentleman for you input.

    I have spent quite a bit of time reading over there on OWWM, back when I saw an old oliver 159 go up for sale. I hesitated back then to pull the trigger and someone else scooped up the lathe. So, I'm trying to make a decision more quickly about this one. Though the lathes are comparable, the PM90 has some design differences that I am concerned with and would rather hear all the pros & cons before experiencing them first hand. OWWM is a great resource for anyone restoring one of these old machines, but I have found that most of talk over their isn't about the "pros & cons" but more on "how-to". I've always had good luck asking for opinions here at the creek.

    Other info:
    The asking price is $675 and I'm not sure if it's 3ph or 1ph. I'm guessing 1ph because the guy used it at home on 110v current. I'll find out and post back what I find.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Chico, California
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    998
    I have a 90 and love it for it's beef and smoothness. No problem with the Reeves drive either being noisy or having vibration. This machine had been used quite a bit and I replaced the bearings and did a few other things to get it up to par. It has a 3 phase motor which is run by my converter. This is a heavy solid machine with plenty of power and speed for most projects. The gap bed makes it a bit hard to get close with the banjo on small flat pieces though, that's when I use one of my Deltas.
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  6. #6
    I really have to recommend that you strongly consider some alternatives in new lathes, particularly the Jet 1642 1.5hp version. I seriously doubt that you can acquire and update the old PM for a cost significantly lower than that of the new Jet. There continue to be good sales and free freight on these machines. You will have the same or greater capacity, all modern accessories are compatible, and you will have a five-year warranty (Jet is noted for good warranty service should you need it). Plus, you will be turning the day after you get the lathe - not spending you time on evaluating, finding parts, and restoring the old iron. No matter what you do to the PM, you will still have a 50 year old machine, and you will be on your own when it comes to parts and repairs.

  7. #7
    I turn on an Oliver 159 lathe that is about the same size and vintage as the PM90. The only drawback to these older lathes is that they were primarily built for spindle work so they don't have the slow speeds that most newer lathes with VFD have. But the Reeves drive is incredibly smooth, sturdy, and well built. And there's considerably more iron to them which makes them very stable. I've never replaced the bearings or belt on mine, I'm not sure if anyone did prior to me owning it, but it still runs very smooth and quiet. If the PM90 is like the Oliver, it has a hollow spindle for vacuum chucking, is #2MT on both head and tailstock, and has a nice long quill in the tailstock for boring. And if I cut my blanks to a somewhat round and balanced shape before mounting on the lathe, the 700 rpm minimum speed is not a problem.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Chico, California
    Posts
    998
    Hey, a fifty year old lathe is still younger than me. My 'big' lathe is 1920's vintage and the one I go to first. Bronze bushed, flat belt drive and constant loss oiling at about 700 lbs. it makes my Delta lathes seem wimpy. But then again my new car is 23 years old. My old car is 1930 and my house is 1917. But I do have a new dog and a ipod Nano.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Parker, CO
    Posts
    25
    I went the old 'arn route and modified a PM90 for larger swing and do not regret it one bit. The reeve's drive on the PM90 is well built - very smooth and quiet. Mine was an '82 model with the jackshaft, bottom speed around 350 rpm. It sounds like the one you are considering is the older version that will not have the jackshaft, so low speed will be higher. As noted, this should not pose a problem with care and a 12 inch limit on size. Plan on new bearings / belts and a general teardown / cleaning. From what I can tell of the durability, intentional and deliberate abuse would be necessary to break something. I'm guessing a larger proportion of the current existing population of PM90s will be around 50 years from now than Jet 1642s. Not a bad price. I am planning a vacuum system but don't have it yet.
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  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
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    Kansas City, MO
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    a post concerning a PM90 and $675 shoiuld read, "Look what I just bought"

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