Off-Grid Power for an Antique Lathe

Here's an unusual problem: powering an old piece of equipment (formerly steam-driven) in a building with no existing electrical service. January 27, 2008

I am restoring an antique wood-bed lathe that is 12' long. It is too big for my shop so I am thinking of putting it in my storage building next to the shop. This building has lots of space but no electricity. Running power into it is not an option, as the building is part of another address.

The lathe was originally designed to be powered off of an overhead line shaft. In 1890 when it was built, power was via a waterwheel, I guess. Maybe steam. I hope to use either a gas engine direct or a gas generator/electric motor. Are there other options? Which way is most efficient?

The lathe will be used for turning posts and making small tabletops on the outboard. It would be used once every month or so. A regular lathe in-shop takes care of most of my turning work.

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor G:
I would go for a small generator, my preference propane, and an electric drive motor. If you go for a gas direct drive, you need to deal with exhaust gas plumbing, and the generator will give you the option of a work light. I presume you can install the generator someplace where its exhaust would be no trouble. Propane in a 20 lb tank is probably more convenient and perhaps safer. Anyway I have had little luck with small gas engines that are used infrequently... always seem to be gummed up. Other than those two options, I suppose you could pedal, but that seems a bit much.

From contributor E:
One other option would be a hydraulic power pack and hydraulic motor. Seen some Amish setups with these that were pretty slick. A flow valve gives you infinite rpm control. Just like a generator, though you need to consider exhaust fumes.

From the original questioner:

Yes, I was wondering about the Amish setups. Exhaust fumes would be piped outside. Intake air would be piped to the engine too. I think I could get a little heat during the winter too if I use a water cooled engine with an auxiliary radiator. Another option could be a diesel or gas air compressor and an air motor, but I wonder about noise and durability.

So far I believe a small diesel generator, about 10,000 watt, and an electric motor on the lathe with potential for other machines and lighting is my best bet. Diesels are longer lasting, less expensive to fuel and less of a fire hazard than gas engines according to my research. I'm still trying to find some actual fuel consumption figures. I hate this fossil fuel dependency we all suffer from, but what can you do?

Thanks for all the input. Contributor G, my knees are shot, but I was thinking of putting a big mother windmill on the roof! That's the super-expensive option, better to move to a bigger shop.

Form contributor A:
A gas motor coupled by a pulley system will put the vibration of the motor in the lathe. Don't ask me how I know this. Isolating it with a hydraulic system is best. Can you just run a hydraulic line or an extension cord next door?

From the original questioner:
Yes. I will use an extension cord for the short-term. By-laws here in the city are picky about electrically powering up a building at one address from one at another.

Form contributor A:
Dig a trench and get some underground cable.