This author has 35 years' experience as a successful owner-operator of an auto repair shop and buyer and seller of auto repair equipment.
The FMC Brake Lathe
FMC has been making great brake lathes as well as a wide range of other automotive equipment for many years, starting with the early 600 series.
The FMC brake lathe is not very big, yet the build quality and strength of these machines belie their small size.
The early models had a few design faults, but they were related to bad operators who used the wrong method of cleaning (compressed air) or did not replace the switch cover accurately.
The later John Bean model solved some of the problems with the 600s, and it has remained a good value for the money. The standard tools and light truck kit are well made using very nice metal. Quality is very high with these machines.
To sum up how I feel about FMC/John Beam brake lathes: they are terrific machines that compete well with the Ammco series of brake lathes, another used brake lathe that I would recommend.
Issues With Old FMC Brake Lathes
A used FMC brake lathe can be a good buy if you are aware of their little problems when they get old.
The early models had these problems:
- The detent spring for the disc/drum lever breaks.
- The power on/off switch gets saturated in brake lathe oil and fails.
- The arbour was fixed poorly in the very first model.
- The cross-feed drive shaft needed constant adjustment, due to poor design that was corrected on the first FMC/John Bean signature series.
- The flexible light easily comes loose, and the light switch breaks easily.
- The squeeze plate on the cross-feed needs constant adjustment when changing from light to heavy work.
- The feed nuts wore out.
Nevertheless, none of these problems that appear with age and use is expensive to repair. The cross-feed problem can be solved. Most of these problems arise in the first place from poor preventative maintenance or using the wrong lubricants.
The earlier models like the one above came out with an optional huge metal bench fitted with a drum sander.
When the drum sander became redundant, both FMC and Ammco went for a smaller bench.
The JB special models came on a very small bench that could be disassembled easily, and had a very small footprint yet had space for all its tools in the front under the bench.
You will still see this model in service in high-end brake shops. I like these a lot, they have sorted out most of the service weaknesses by the time they made these, so they are much easier for an operator to understand and maintain.
The FMC signature series opposite has seen 29 years of service, been updated with a newer cross-feed shaft, and is as accurate as a brand new one ... literally as close to zero run-out as can be read on a dial gauge.
In the final running test, the dial gauge running against the spinning arbour does not move at all!
The tolerances are as good as or better than when it left the factory. If you fine-tune the brake lathe belt adjustment, any "ticking" on the gauge will disappear.
Caring for Tools on the FMC
The tooling on the FMC is simple and accurate. The cones must be kept very clean, adapters, cups, pre-load spring, and arbour must be kept very clean.
I use the brake lathe to surface the cups' contact area in cases where they have been badly handled or have been dropped.
Taking care of the tools and arbour is the key to getting a long life from both. Even a little dust on the working surfaces can cause disc damage.
- Slots in hub bearing mount tools must be kept perfectly clean.
- The arbour must be free of any dust oil or dirt at all times.
- Mounting tools must never be dropped. If a tool is dropped or struck hard by another hard surface, it must be checked for surface abrasions, cracks or indentations.
- Cutting tools must be sharp at all times. Rotate the blade regularly, and they do last a long time.
The Cutter Bar
All the early model cutter assemblies were the same on FMC brake lathes, for the simple reason that the design was terrific and would be hard to improve on.
From the first models ever produced to the latest models, this brake lathe has remained a high-quality unit with great parts backup.
I have sold many of these FMCs and have never had a failure after repair or reconditioning one for sale.
As you can see by the photos, these FMC brake lathes are easy to service, simple and robust.
They are ideal on the small bench for general workshops where they are used as a separate profit centre.
You will make money with one of these.
FMC Drum Feed Shaft
The early model FMC 600 series had a sliding two-piece cross-drive shaft that had to be finely adjusted so the drive would disengage properly when the machined disc was finished.
This adjustment is very fine and relies on an onion nut with a brass liner bearing on the sliding shaft hooked in a clevis connected to the lever.
These 600 machines were always needing adjustment when the onion nut loosened and slipped when underfeeding load.
The FMC JB Signature special came out with a better fixed-length system, so I made some to fit the older machines and converted them, resulting in almost no free warranty work for me to do.
In short, a well-maintained well operated FMC, although needing to be serviced regularly, is a reliable machine. But because regular maintenance is so crucial to this machine, I would recommend that the machine is fastidiously maintained.
The FMC Tool Kit
The standard tool kit with the FMC is very good and has adapters for most disc and drum brake machining set-ups.
You can add to tools as you need them, or buy expansion kits for light trucks and four-wheel drives that do not fit standard tooling. Gut all the common cars are covered in the standard kit if you add a couple of extra bearing surface-mounted split double-ended cones to the stock set.
If you do a wide range of vehicles in your workshop, you will need at least one more kit of adapters.
It is also a good idea to have a small arbor for some jobs.
Refurbishing a 600
This ancient 600 series was refurbished, modified with a later model cross-feed shaft and returned to service. I was able to give a 10-year warranty on the major components of these lathes when set up and maintained by the service book.
Even the crossfeed nut will last this long if correctly serviced, and providing the lathe is looked after and lubricated reasonably well, nothing is likely to go wrong mechanically or electrically in that time.
Naturally, I was able to sell my rebuilt machines very easily to the brake shop experts.
FMC Adapter Kit
This is a complete FMC adapter kit which will fit most disc rotors and drum brake hubs.
You can buy whole kits or individual cones and cups online with ease.
Just ensure the quality is first rate. I buy, recommend and use genuine parts unless I find something better, which happens rarely.
Maintenance and replacement of the feed nut can be carried out by any competent motor engineer who understands the way the FMC is built.
No tricky hidden nuts to find. Just follow the manual and remember to see how it is assembled before trying to manhandle anything off the brake lathe.
The FMC Feed Nut
The feed nut on the FMC is made from a diamond-like hard bronze alloy of some type and is very expensive to replace.
Many people have made copies of the original nuts, usually from brass alloy or a common bronze alloy. There are some good after-market feed nuts out there, but unless you know a lot about them, buy an original feed nut. They last years longer than most replacements.
FMC has always had quality components, even if the design was not always perfect.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2010 earnestshub