How to Replace Your Antique Lathe Belt (and Several Ways Not to)

Without any background, if you have an old belt-driven piece of equipment, a link belt (Available from Amazon) works really really well.  Especially if the belt can’t be continuous, this is a great solution.  Here’s a video of me putting one of these belts together in a trial.

As for how I came to the conclusion that the link belt really worked well compared to other methods, and some more videos and pictures, read on…

The lathe that I obtained early this fall was a really solid piece of equipment, but it had two weaknesses.  The first was that the motor ran on 3 phase power, which isn’t available at my house.  Fortunately, motors generally have the same frame size, and after examining the Leeson 3/4 horsepower motor that came on it, I realized that the MTR-P75-1AB18 motor from Automation Direct would also fit.  The motor was ordered, and after some huffing and puffing, possible cross threading, and chopping a corner of the mounting foot off with a Dremel, I had a motor that at least ran.  I’ll go over this and how it was wired in an upcoming post.

old-lathe-beltThe second problem, besides being very dirty, was that the belt was broken.  I briefly considered sewing this with my trusty awl (my first try using it), but even this “super-needle” device has its limits.  After looking around online, I’d seen that people had used an automotive serpentine belt with their lathe.  From what I saw, there were two methods that people had gotten to work – put holes in the belt then attach with fishing line, or grind the belt down and superglue.

serpentine-lathe-belt-attempt-wovenAlthough it apparently works sometimes, I was extremely skeptical of the superglue.  I did try weaving segments together and gluing them as shown in the picture to the right and in the gallery later on in the page.  This wasn’t nearly strong enough though.

The fishing line idea seemed plausible, but I didn’t have any high-test line around, so I decided to instead use electrical wire.  The results of this experiment can be found in the video below:

Although things seem to be good in the video, after trying this again, the belt coupling snapped.  It looked like a few of the wires snapped then a few more pulled through the belt.  I believe this method could work, but if someone were to try it, I’d say first of all use fishing line, and second of all be sure not to set your belt too tight as I did!

I also experimented with several knots to weave strips of the serpentine belt together.  The knot book I was using said knots such as the “strangle knot” and “surgeon’s knot” were really good for binding things together.  Apparently serpentine belts aren’t amongst those things.  Eventually I was inspired to make a monkey’s fist knot, but this didn’t bring me any closer to making my lathe work properly.

Finally, I received the link belt, and although it’s thinner than the lathe was designed for, everything is working very well so far.  I left it fairly loose to begin with, so after hearing a “squeak” on startup, I simply took a link out, and everything worked extremely well after that.

We will see if this belt stands the test of time.  After doing some initial cuts, it seems the the outside of the belt is rubbing on the lathe frame.  The noise is much more noticeable when the holding tabs are facing in the direction that the belt is spinning.  It’s not terribly loud either way though.  I’m hoping it won’t affect anything, since I think it’s just the outside of the tabs that are hitting.

On the positive side, the belt seems to be quite strong for now, and it’s meant for the job.  I do think a serpentine belt would work, but considering how easy it was to install, and because it’s not too expensive, I’d definitely go with the link belt (for now at least)!

On a side note, as you may have noticed in two of the pictures, these link belts could also make sweet bracelets.  They most likely would not be welcome at your next upscale dinner party.


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