Mechanical vs. electronic

I was in a discussion the other day about the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical systems like the Reeves drive vs. electronic controllers.

For those unfamiliar with one, a Reeves drive is a speed control system that uses variable diameter pulleys to vary the speed of a machine. These were common until they were superseded by electronic controllers.

Electronic speed control has been integrated into not only large machinery but also smaller hand-held tools like routers in which the integration of a Reeves drive would not be possible. Chalk up one for the electronic controller. And a Reeves drive does not provide for reversing direction. Another point for the electronics.

On the side of the “old school” is the fact that the Reeves drive varies the spindle speed by altering the pulley ratios, not by actually slowing down or speeding up the motor. Therefore, the motor is always running at full rpm so there is no decrease in torque at slow speeds.

But the biggie comes when you need to fix the thing. The electronic device is, more likely than not, going to require replacement. Once you let the smoke out, these things are simply not fixable. The Reeves drive, on the other hand, can be dismantled, repaired and reassembled by anyone with a modicum of mechanical ability. Such is the nature of progress.



  • Chuck R says:

    In the several decades I’ve owned them, I’ve never had a variable electronic device of any kind go bad in my shop – ever. Besides, they are very replaceable. And a heck of a lot more convenient!!! Does you car run on steam or are you still with the old horse and wagon? Cheeze, David!!!

  • 1. I have used Shopsmiths over 50 years. Their biggest short comming is the Reeves drive. I have repaired many of these systems over the years. If you want to destroy a Shopsmith adjust the speed with the machine off.

    2. Check out the new Shopsmith or the Nova lathe to see the motor of the future.

    3. Come On David! The Stanly was a great car. It set the auto speed record in the late 1800s. Thay didn’t stop making them because of sales. When one of the Stanley brothers died the remaining brother shut the company down with many people on the waiting list.

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