How to choose a machine oil for the lathe headstock?

Someone told me that any machine oil will do as long as there is no detergent. Can't use motor oil. Can't use way oil.

Something about anti foaming.

What are the requirements on that oil?

I have a new PM1236 lathe, and I will need to change the oil after 10 or 20 hours.

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Order from Mcmaster Carr page 2136 has there machine oils for $15/gal. You have a few weights to choose from. I'd order 3025K29 for my machine.


Reply to
Karl Townsend

A turbine oil like Mobil DTE "named series" is a safe bet and a good general purpose non-detergent oil. McMaster carries gallon jugs.

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Hydraulic oil is probably OK as well as long as you can get the viscosity you need, and may be easier to find locally.
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Note that Mobil uses the same first name for different products, for example, DTE for turbine oils and hydraulic oils, and Vactra for both way oil and gear oil, so don't assume all DTE is the same stuff.

Reply to
Ned Simmons

A pretty good rule is to use a machine oil of 150 saybolt or 10w for spindles and 250 to 350 saybolt or 30w for ways and gear boxes. Automotive oils are NOT suitable because of additives to keep particulate in suspension for removal by the oil filter. Machine oils allow particulates to settle in the sump. Steve

Reply to
Steve Lusardi

Ask the manufacturer. On my Clausing lathe, the manufacturer said use DTE 24 hydraulic oil. It visually looks and flows like canola oil.

Since that oil will last you essentially forever, cost does not matter. You can buy it at McMaster-Carr.

If you are close to Lisle, IL, I have two buckets of unknown hydraulic oil, and I want to get rid of at least one, so stop by and help yuorself if you are nearby.

Reply to

The Leblond at work uses 20wt non detergent motor oil.

I was told to use DTE 68 for my Clausing. Hydraulic oil is available at your local tractor supply

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-- "Additionally as a security officer, I carry a gun to protect government officials but my life isn't worth protecting at home in their eyes." Dick Anthony Heller

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So do non-detergent motor oils. You do have to read the package, but it's not hard to come by, since people still rebuild engines occasionally.

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What does the manual for your new PM 1236 say under the section about lubrication? I have a similar lathe, but not the same make, the manual calls for the equivalent of Shell Tellus 32, which translates to an ISO viscosity grade 32 antiwear (32AW) machine/hydraulic oil. I buy mine at the local autoparts store.


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Tellus 32 is a (if not THE) standard for use in hydraulic elevators as the power transmitter. I doubt it is available retail in smaller quantities, but is readily available in 20 litre (about 5 US gallon) at anyplace from a Shell Distributor to a tractor supply or a good hardware store. For a quart or two, ask any elevator company.

Brian Lawson, Bothwell, Ontario.

Reply to
Brian Lawson

I got 68 and 30 from my local Gas and oil supply company. The one that takes tankers to gas stations and oil to the airport and....

Lots of oil there - they had over a 100 grades for so many uses. Mart> "" wrote:

Reply to
Martin H. Eastburn

I have followed this thread for its educational value and potential relevance to me in the future. I have also found a few discussions on the topic on several different fora. I was kind of surprised that the whole issue is akin to black magic.

I had a look at a manual of one of the potential acquisitions (a gear-head lathe) made in China. The instructions were to fill the gear box with "10# or 20# machine oil". A Google search reveals no such beast. I took it to mean SAE 10 or 20. From the various discussions it became clear that this oil must:

1) Not have detergent 2) Not foam 3) Not have additives that attack copper/brass/bronze

A trip around town quickly established that such oil is apparently hard to find in auto shops or tool shops. An enquiry about presence of detergent leads to the shop staff's eyes glazing over. An internet search revealed some helpful comparison charts like the one in this thread:

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Further searches for *Canadian* sources of such industry standards as Mobil Vactra suggested that this stuff is simply not available here (if you wish further information from Mobil you can either read and accept a yard-long disclaimer before e-mailing them or phone the 1-800 number which has a modem on the other end!) The high end tool supplier (KBC Tools) sells EEZ way oil but nothing specifically for gears. I did find a Shell dealer in town with extremely helpful staff but the minimum quantities of their Tellus (hydraulic) and Tonna (way oil) they sell were 20 litres.

I was wondering:

1) What are the usual quantities of oil needed to fill a gear box in a lathe? 2) How often do you need to change the oil? 3) What is wrong with just grabbing a bottle of 75W-90 or higher gear oil off the automotive shelf? Do any of those have detergents? I could find no evidence that this is the case. Most product informations sheet contain results of the copper strip test. 4) What is the downside of using a single type of oil for both ways and the gearbox.

There is some anecdotal evidence that some of the Chinese machinery that actually comes pre-filled with oil contains inferior product that needs to be got rid of more or less right away. Thus it would seem to me that provided the above principles are adhered to one should get a good result with almost anything commonly available.

BTW I noticed one of the manuals recommending calcium-based grease (for greasing, not in the gear box). Does anyone use that anymore?

Reply to
Michael Koblic

Not quite that bad.

If you look for a SAE 10 or SAE 20 single-weight motor oil which is marked "ND" it *will* be non-detergent, will not have additives to worry about, and should not foam.

The worries come with multi-grade motor oils, which *will* have detergents, and will be made to pass through a filter (which is not present in the oil circulation path in a lathe headstock, even assuming that you got a gearhead lathe -- a much more serious one than the ones with belt drive to the spindle such as mine.

Again -- look for the letters "ND" on a single-weight motor oil.

Ask them who their customers are, and ask a customer whether you can buy a couple of liters from them. Come supplied with a box of donuts or something similar and they are more likely to be helpful. :-)

I don't have a lathe which has a gearbox, so I don't know, but I would suggest probably four or five litres.

Very seldom, once you change it once to replace the stuff the manufacturer supplied.

If the gear assembly does not have a filter in the oil path (unlikely in a differential or a manual transmission -- not sure in an automatic transmission), then the oil should be non-detergent. But I don't know how thick the oil might be. What is proper for the differential on a car (much slower rotational speeds, and the oil is designed for the sliding friction of the hypoid gears common in the differential) is too thick for the higher speeds in a lathe headstock gearbox. The oil used in the apron of my belt-drive Clausing is much thicker and would be a very poor choice in a geared headstock.

So -- you need to learn how to interpret the information provided. (No -- I've never seen the information sheets so I don't know.)

Waylube is *way* too thick for the headstock gearbox.

The lube for the gearbox is *way* too thin to hold its place on the ways. And you want to frequently clean and re-lube the ways -- after each use, ideally. Among other things, this keeps water from condensing on them.

Something of the right weight which is non-detergent, yes.

Calcium-based? Not lithium based like Lubriplate (which you can get from MSC among other places.) For that matter, you can get Vactra and other oils in relatively small containers. However, I have gone most of the way through a 20-gallon drum of Vacra No. 2 -- used on several lathes, the milling machines, and the shaper.

Enjoy, DoN.

Reply to
DoN. Nichols

"Michael Koblic" wrote in news:2NS4m.23296$ snipped-for-privacy@newsfe13.iad:

ISO 32, 46, 68 hydraulic oil can be purchased in gallon quantities at the local Wally World and Can Tire, IIRC.

My lathe calls for an obsolete Esso oil. The factory support engineer cross referenced it to their current turbine oil product for me. $50 for a

20 liter pail seemed reasonable for a lifetime supply given what a pack of carbide inserts goes for. The bulk oil place had it for me in a couple days.

About a gallon or two for an average home sized machine.

New machine, home use, change it after a few hours use in every speed range. After that once a decade or so, sooner if the oil in the sight glass becomes discolored.

Don't go higher, ISO 68 or SAE 80 is about as viscous as you should ever need for a larger lathe. Probably lower if it's a smaller machine capable of higher RPM. I use ISO 32 in my 14" lathe.

Way oil has additives to give it tacky properties, it clings to the ways instead of sliding off. Dirt clings to the oil between and during use so any old machine oil applied at the start of work would be better than runnning the machine over old way oil. Plain oil on ways is great for home use, just apply a little nore frequently.

Probably wise to ditch the Chinese oil to wash out the remaining casting sand and leftover swarf.....

Reply to
Charles U Farley

Calcium-based greases (calcium-sulfonate greases) are a bit more expensive and have a higher "dropping" point (the temperature at which the oil separates from the metallic soap). It's a good extreme-pressure grease. If you have a machine that specifies its use, it would be a good idea to use it because pressure may be an issue. But there aren't a lot of such applications outside of food machinery or machines exposed to salt water.

Detergent oils don't foam; at least, if they foam, it's not because they're detergent oils. It's probably because the oil has water or acid in it. The detergent is nothing like detergents used with water. The main function of a detergent oil is to suspend contaminants. In a total-loss oiling system (the headstock of a South Bend plain-bearing lathe, for example), it actually makes no difference if it's detergent or not. In a recirculating system without filtration, it could be a problem. Some big old motors and such that have ring-type oilers running in a bath would at least need to have their oil changed more frequently. If you have an old motor (or an old lathe with a plain-bearing headstock, for that matter) using detergent oil in it could loosen up some old crud and cause problems. But it's really unlikely to do so.

I haven't seen motor oil that was non-detergent for at least 40 years. Maybe for farm machinery or something similar. All of the non-detergent oil I've seen is sold as machine oil and I've seen it mostly in mill supply stores.

The quantities of oil we use for lathe headstocks, if the subject line is still relevant (I didn't read the whole thread) is so small that it's worth getting the right stuff. Jim Rozen, if you remember him, has convinced me that an old South Bend runs better with synthetic oil. I haven't changed mine over yet, but five or six years ago I had a talk with a VP at Mobil Oil and it was clear that their synthetic machine oil would be great, if you could buy a small enough quantity. She (a tribology engineer) said that using Mobil 1 automotive engine oil, as Jim is doing, is just as good in a total-loss system. I think he's using 0W-10W in his South Bend.

-- Ed Huntress

Reply to
Ed Huntress

You just have not been looking. Walmart sells ND motor oil. Not sure why other people buy it, but it is generally recommended for use in lawn mowers and similar gas engines that have no oil filter.


Reply to

I can see that, but my lawnmower gets whatever is left over from the last time I changed the oil in the car.

-- Ed Huntress

Reply to
Ed Huntress



Hey Michael,

About this point 3) only..... Some smaller or entry level geared-head lathes that have no pressure oiler component are "lubed" by the lighter weight oil "slinging" (like the big end of an auto engine splashing in the pan). They won't have designed slingers per se, but merely by running some gear component in the bath throws oil EVERYWHERE (that's why they leak so bad). That won't happen with the hypoid gear lube products.

Take care.

Brian Lawson, Bothwell, Ontario.

ps...Don't forget my suggestion to ask any elevator guy for a gallon of Tellus 32 (or Rando, or Harmony, or or or). Another posters idea about donuts sounds good!! Park at any downtown Timmy's about 9:30 and look for a van with a company logo.

Reply to
Brian Lawson

On Wed, 8 Jul 2009 00:36:38 -0400, the infamous "Ed Huntress" scrawled the following:

Wouldn't one of the newer moly (or other high-tech) greases work even better, Ed?


I've been using detergent 30wt oil (Castrol GTX) in my mowers for that long with no ill effects.

-- After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. -- Aldous Huxley

Reply to
Larry Jaques

I don't know. Besides the pressure, there is the dropping point, and contaminant issues for several environments and applications. Unless you study the subject a bit, it's a good idea to go with the manufacturer's recommendations. If you don't know what they are, then it's worth studying the subject a bit.

Mine gets mostly 10W-30...or whatever else is laying around. I figure the old Honda will outlast me.

-- Ed Huntress

Reply to
Ed Huntress

It is still around, but you have to LOOK for it. NAPA sells SAE 30 I believe (too lazy to go read the bottle).

Some other substitutes you might be able to find; Chainsaw bar oil is sticky and could be used on the ways. Air compressor oil (used in the compressor case) is usually non-detergent and around SAE 20 weight. Hydraulic oil is normally around SAE 10 weight, non-detergent and can be used for general purpose lube.

Some files/reference you may find of interest:

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This has some specs for different weight designations among lots of other info:

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Reply to
Leon Fisk

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