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Thread: Beginners Lathe

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    Hello All! I'm looking at possible purchasing one of the import mini-lathes that are sold at Harbor Freight, Grizzly, etc... My question is if this would be a good lathe to begin and learn the basics on? I really just want to learn the basics and tinker around before moving up.

    The only other time I have run a lathe was during a machining class at school. Budget is rather tight at less than 3-400.

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    Look here: http://www.mini-lathe.com/
    http://www.littlemachineshop.com/Inf...ll_compare.php
    These sites, plus links should be a help.
    The little guys are not bad after a few mods, cleanup,etc.
    I enjoy mine.

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    Two years ago I did what you're contemplating - I bought a 7" Asian (chicom) lathe. Unfortunately, I was not aware of the online help available and had no knowledgeable friends to advise me.
    Concerning the Asian 7" lathes, regardles of whether they are 7x10, 7x12, or whatever - don't waste your time and money. (They chatter, read in milimeters and call them inches, and their variable speed motors should be in vacuum cleaners because they suck.)

    As for the Asian 9" lathes, regardles of whether they are 9x20 or whatever - don't waste your time and money. (They don't have tumbler gears for reversing the lead screw, and they chatter.)

    And don't loose a lot of sleep worrying about whether Grizzly is better than HF or ENCO. There doesn't seem to be much difference other than the owner's color preference.

    For the same $$ or maybe a little more, you can buy a used American made lathe. Sure, you'll probably have to detail strip and clean it, but when you've finished you'll know how it works, how it's made, and how to fix it if something breaks.

    Shortly after getting my chicom lathe, I realized that if I had gotten it for free I'd have paid too much. (I stuck a tool post grinder on it and use it as a (very) poor man's precision grinder. That was cheaper than buying a boat so I could use it for an anchor.)

    Also, get the biggest heaviest lathe you can afford, have space for, and can supply the proper power to. Its much easier to make small parts on a large lathe than to make large parts on a small lathe. What I mean is that sooner rather than later, you'll find your chicom lathe is just too small for the task at hand.

    You're likely thinking "I only plan to make small things." Well, Parkinson's law of machining is "your lathe will always be just a little smaller than the job you'd like to do."

    I bought a SB9 (model "C") for the same price as my chicom 7x10, plus it had a 3 jaw and 4 jaw chuck, a face plate, 3 dogs, a steady rest, a boring bar, and a ton of other tooling.

    My only regret is that I didn't get the model "A." Last year I converted it from the "C" to the "A." That cost me about $200.00 and a weekend to rebuild a trashed out gearbox. I got to turn down the "egg shaped" shafts, bore out the egg shaped holes for them in the housing, and turn some bronze bushings for the shafts. Another good lesson in machine work.

    I'm no machinist,far from it, but as for buying an Asian lathe, well I been there and done that.

    John

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    first and foremost,
    go here, and read EVERYTHING on this site

    http://littlemachineshop.com/Info/getting_started.php

    second, i think the mini lathes are cute, but for the money, they can't really be beat

    http://www.use-enco.com/CGI/INLMK3?PMK0NO=126929
    398 AND i think they are still offering free shipping

    jeffe

  5. #5
    J Tiers Guest

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    I, as a person who has been in engineering for many years, and has always done some form of metalworking, but is new to machineshop work (4 or 5 years), have this to say...

    There is no such thing as a "beginner's lathe".

    There are usable machines, and there is trash. The dividing line "location" may be up for debate.

    Think about it, is there a "beginner's shovel"? A "beginner's car"?

    This isn't to say that the Homier minilathes etc, are necessarily trash or whatever. But I don't quite buy the classification.

    Buy one that will do what you expect or want to do, thinking about workpiece size, etc. Find out what is out there that you can afford and try to buy the best you can, taking note not to spend all your cash on a machine without tooling and supporting stuff.

    In other words, buy one to use it, as if it was the last one you could ever buy. Then upgrade if you need to.


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    Let me rephrase: I'm a ME student who is looking at getting into chipmaking as a hobby. I can weld, grind, build Jeeps, etc.. and would like to take it to the next level and get into machining. No production stuff, just general weekend fun.

    Don't know what I'd be making just yet. I'm just trying to see if something like a 9" Southbend is common for a home hobbyist to have.

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    Well, that's an entirely different story.

    I will second JT's experience in buying a small Asian import lathe and being disappointed. Mine was a Jet 9x20, a pretty common choice for home shop beginners (I'm still one, but the shop's coming along). In a word, it was flimsy. It could be used to make parts, but you had to make so much adjustment for the machine's weakness that it took all the fun out of it for me.


    You can certainly find a South Bend 9" lathe in your price range if you're patient. They made a lot of them and there's lots of them still out there.

    When buying a used machine, condition and price vary, but there are occasionally some awesome deals. Tooling counts for a lot, but to me mechanical condition is as important or more so. Cosmetics are optional. The machines in my shop have used paint jobs, but good ways.

    I don't know where you're located, but Ebay is an option for used stuff. If you're in the southwest, you might try www.recycler.com . It's where I found two of my machines and lots of accessories.

    If you're in So. Cal and interested in something as small as one of the Craftsman/Atlas 6" lathes, I have a friend with a near mint one with tons of accessories and all the original documentation that I think he'd sell near the top of oyur stated price range.


    John

  8. #8
    J Tiers Guest

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    If it comes to that, yeah....

    S-B 9", Logan 10" or 11", Atlas 10" or 12", maybe even an Atlas 6", all quite usable, although some are sturdier than others. All have active widespread parts availability, Logan and Atlas have the companies still in business and supporting them. All are small enough for easy movement, etc.

    Then you get to ones that need a crane.

    Sheldon is less available, then you get to Sebastian, etc, with even less potential part availability. Or Monarch and LeBlond with larger size and weight, but very nice industrial machines.

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    If you can find a South Bend 9 in good condition, buy it. You will never know what what you are missing (chatter, runout, chatter, cheap gears, chatter) did I mention chatter?

  10. #10
    J Tiers Guest

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    Do not be fooled, all lathes chatter, even 3or 4 ton Springfield machines.

    Some are worse than others, and the 9 x 20 are worse than that....outdone only by a Sears "109".

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    An acquaintance I ran into at an auction was asking me how my 10EE rebuild was going and we chatted about that for a while, then he asked me if I could look at his import lathe and see if we could figure out the cause of chatter and such. I didn't see any problem and suggested that I could bring my tools over to his place as we thought we'd be scraping the saddle, but he said that he could bring the lathe over to my place instead - it was one of those little 7x10 imports.

    The whole lathe weight less than the upper half of my tailstock, the saddle had less meat on it than a typical cover plate, likely weighed less than the compound on my 12x36 Atlas. It fit horribly, and in looking at the bottom it was clear why - to call it 'rough machining' would give it a lot more credit than it deserved. There were things that looked like attempts to put in oil grooves but they were hamfisted in execution, and used up maybe a third of the bearing surface. The bed of the lathe has a bow either from grinding or from wear, given the distribution I think it was ground in.

    We were able to scrape the saddle into the bed, bow and all, in a couple of hours. we then assembled it with the 'apron' and found that the gibs holding the saddle down were trivially levered away from the saddle, allowing the saddle to twist on the bed. We shimmed these into better shape, helping things, and I've suggested that he get some thin shim stock and some precision ground material to refit the gibs.

    To be honest I couldn't consider one of these 7x10 objects to be lathes, and I really feel sorry for someone who has one as they're going to be continually frustrated with the faults in it. If someone wanted one of these I'd steer them towards an old Atlas 6x18, I've used one of those and it was tons better than this.

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    Can't resist a couple of comments:

    1. The early "green" minilathes were pretty crude the later "red" ones, at least from HF are much better.

    2.If you want to clean, fix, pay crazy prices for parts and accessories buy an old South Bend. If you want to make some chips and get a feel for machining, quick, buy a new minilathe. The biggest difference is bed length if you don't need a long bed for the kind of work you want to turn why buy it.

    3.Any lathe by itself is kind of useless. At a minimum should have vice, grinder, drill press and a reasonable selection of hand tools if you hope to make much of anything.If you don't have this stuff it can get expensive in a hurry. If you don't want to make thge investment in the rest of this stuff don't bother buying a lathe.

    4.Quality of machine work probably has more to do with the skill and knowledge of the operator than the country of origin of his tools.

    Bob

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    I'll have to add my two cents worth.
    I have'nt added to this board much, but why buy work. I have read a lot of articls on how to fix up the imports so you can make chips and how they are ok after a few days of work but if you are just starting out you might not be able to do the mods. I have bought and sold quite a few Atlas and South Bends that were old but they still beat the snot out of the imports. The parts are easy to get and not to much, look on ebay and see all the parts for Atlas and SB, you don't see the parts for the imports.
    If you want an import buy a Honda or a Toyoda and let the dealer fix them if the ever break.
    I have nothing against the imports, there is just too much good old American stuff laying around to be buying cheap import tools.

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    I thought my 9x20 was an excelent bedinner lathe.

    #1 it wont wip ypur arm off.

    #2 it teaches you how to eliminate chatter. (by making it obvious when it happens and improving significantly with each effort)

    #3 it's cheap and you don't need much room.

    #4 it's not worn out. for all it's faults mine was at least "not worn out". and in nbeed of sraping.

    #5 TONS of modification anf help support on the web.

    #6 gives you a couple first projects to make the improvements.

    #7 IT WON'T RIP YOUR ARM OFF. (just maybe a finger) -- can't be stressed enough how important it was to me to learn on something that would lave a hard time killing you. (if youre learning alone in the garage)

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    Its not a question of country of origin, its a question of quality. My vintage 1927 SB9 (sn 42109) is hardly worn out. After a thorough cleaning it was good to go. I dropped $200 into the model A conversion, but that was not necessary, just an option for my convenience.

    In buying any machine, new or used, "caveat emptor" applies. There are used machines out there that are useless piles of rust. Likewise, there are new machines that may look pretty but are so sloppy that they're virtually useless.

    John

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    I own a Grizzly 9x20. I may have gotten lucky, but I am very happy with it. I think it is worth more than the purchase price, to me anyway. The photo is of a part I made on it right out of the crate. I just cleaned it, made sure everything was tight and adjusted correctly. No modifications. Thread is 7/8-18 Picture lost some resolution when I reduced it.

    [This message has been edited by lathefan (edited 03-03-2004).]

  17. #17
    J Tiers Guest

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    A skilled worker can do all right with almost anything that will spin a part.

    The point is that some machinery has limits that are more limiting. And that some of the same machinery has limits or characteristics that require a lot of skill to work around.

    Us beginners don't necessarily have that skill, and since we are not apprentices, we don't have to put up with being assigned to the crummy equipment as hazing or "experience". Mostly, we aren't in machining as a career, it is a way to get the parts we want, a supporting activity for other hobbies.

    Learning is fine. I like learning. But when you want a job done now, learning isn't always your first goal....

    When you want parts, what's the point of making your life more difficult with a machine that *can* do it, but must be babied and diddled with?

    For me, the step from the 109 to the Logan was light-years in ease of use, to say nothing of speed. It sure is nice to just peel the end of a pin down from 1/2" to 1/4" in one pass. The 109 would have taken all evening. I know, cuz it did, and made life difficult doing it, too.

    And where would you rather be tossed into water to learn to swim? The local pond, or the middle of the English Channel? Thanks, I'll take the pond, you can have the channel.

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    71CJ5, I got a HF 7x10 in 1997 as a gift from my wife, I need another lathe to make some parts for my Atlas lathe, it has been a fine machine, have made some very good parts for other things also, it is a small investment to see if you like that kind of work and then keep it to make parts for the next larger size that you get, good luck and don't get discouraged with the mistakes that you make, learn form them, Joe Guidry

  19. #19
    Harold Hunt Guest

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    After years dealing with a Craftsman/Atlas 6" lathe I came across a 12" Atlas from a starter/ generator shop. Since it was machining copper since 1971 things were not worn too much except for a few drive gears ( pot metal) and lead screw split nut.

    Payed $300 put 150 in parts to make it go ( split nut, gear and some small stuff. Then another 150 in cross slide nuts and such to make a really tight machine.

    I think 600 was not too bad for a small machine. My next project is to put a 1/2" aluminum plate between the lathe and the stand. This should stiffen things up quite a bit.

    Harold

  20. #20
    Harold Hunt Guest

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    If you are interested in making chips, take a machine technology class at the community college. Most of the class is hands on so it you have a specific project in mind bring it in. They are also known as low cost shop rental classes :+)


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