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Old 06-03-2011, 04:22 AM   #1
AssassinXCV
 
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Default Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

Been looking at the $500-ish ones
How good are they?
Are they suitable for a newbie hobbyist?
Are they safe? i heard that if you have any big pieces that are at all unbalanced can be really dangerous.
Are they junk? I'm not using it for commercial use, so is it that bad? I know they're chinese made, and that throws up a red light for the product, but the pictures make it look like it's good enough in quality for light work.
I dont have a good budget, and $500 for each is pretty much the highest. (They do have coupons for 20% off anything you want).

Input from experienced users would be appreciated.

Thanks,

Ian



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Old 06-03-2011, 05:04 AM   #2
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Default Re: Harbor Frieght Lathes and Mills?

I have a "Mini mill" from them, and I also have the 8x12 (Which is really an 8x14) lathe.

As to being "worth it", a lot depends on what you expect out of it. Both machines are capable of "making stuff" with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

The mill will require a fair bit of fine tuning to get it up to snuff, unless you get pretty lucky. This means taking time to perfect a bunch of little things to make it fit together better by sanding, filing, scraping and just generally going over all the parts to make sure they are working correctly.

The lathe was a better value than the mill, IMHO. That 8x12 is NOT the same as the Mini-Lathe, which is another option. This one is bigger and heavier than the "Mini-lathe" version. It is also better built in general by all reports, and comparing it to the mini-mill, it sure seems that way to me as well. Everything on the 8x worked pretty much out of the box, and cleanup was a breeze. On the downside, there isn't all that much info out there about modifying and improving the 8x lathe as there is the mini-lathe, which has a big following and TONS of web-info on improving, repairing and setting it up. I don't have a Mini-lathe so I can't directly report on that one, but I assume it's build quality is on par with the Mini-Mill, which means expect to do some tweaking and lots of clean up.

Anyway... I like working on the machines themselves, and there is a TON you can do to improve them. I have added variable speed, a larger chuck and a quick change tool post to my lathe. The mill I have done tons of reinforcing and setup to. I have also added a belt drive, air spring.. etc.

I guess the point is... with some basic tweaking and improvements (We are talking sandpaper, files and a dial indicator) you can get some basic work done with them.

If you want to make them in to better machines you can do that too... usually with relatively small investments as you upgrade so at least you can spread out the expenses.

The 8x lathe... Ouch! They want $799 for that now? I got mine at $460 and used a 20% Coupon on it... total was under $400 including taxes. Wow... it went up a LOT.
http://www.harborfreight.com/8-inch-x-12-inch-precision-benchtop-lathe-44859.html

The "Mini mill"
http://www.harborfreight.com/two-speed-variable-bench-mill-drill-machine-44991.html

The "Mini-Lathe"
http://www.harborfreight.com/7-inch-x-12-inch-precision-mini-lathe-93799.html

Ohh, and a side note.... expect to spend some money on "tooling" as well... this means things like vises, collets, end mills, etc. You can get by and do a LOT with just some very basics tho... still expect that you can get started with a couple of hundred in tooling. Most folks here will tell you that you never really stop buying (or making) tooling, LOL.



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Old 06-03-2011, 05:54 AM   #3
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

Thanks for the reply. I understand that cutting bits will be up there in price too. I saw a 20 piece endmill kit for $79 (titanium nitride coated), but should i go for all carbide bits?

My dad picked up a Machinist's Workshop magazine recently, and it has coupons to get the Mill and the 7x10 lathe for $200 of each of them (seperate coupons), plus it has a 20% off coupon. In one of the recent popular mechanics magazines, it had another 20% off coupon...WOO!

For sure i'll get the rotary table for $65, might use one of the 20% off coupons for that, and the other for some endmills or lathe bits.

Considering the original chuck can only hold up to 1/2" shank bits, I wont get that $79 kit, and just buy individual bits from my local Fastenal.

At cnc-zone, someone asked if the Zen toolworks spindle is good for small desktop cncs, a reply stated that the jacobs chuck that it has is only good for drilling, not for the sideways stress that endmills have. Would it be a good investment to get a Collet chuck to upgrade this Harbor Freight mill, since it too has a jacobs chuck? or does it not matter?

The coupons for $200 off the mill and lathe and 20% off expire on the 10th of July, so i have some time to figure this out

The coupons in the popular mechanics magazine expire in september, so i can get some more upgrades then, after i get some work done.

I'm also looking at the 7x12 lathe. it's on sale right now for $100 off, but at the back of the Machinist's Workshop magazine it has ads for getting an extender from LittleMachineshop that is 14" long for $150. By getting the 7x10 lathe, and getting that extender, i'm saving $50 PLUS getting an extra 14" in travel. Sure, that extender can cause issues with accuracy.

Thanks,

Ian

EDIT: Getting excited to be able to soon do accurate machining in METAL!!! All i've done so far is wood and plastic, and having non-centered bores in rods are depressing; but no more!!

I'm also worried that the 7x10 lathe won't be long enough to fit regular drill bits in the tail stock.

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Old 06-03-2011, 09:48 AM   #4
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

Hi Ian,

I would stick with HSS for now for lathe bits. FAR cheaper, and very forgiving for someone who's learning the way forward. Most of the smaller lathes are lacking the stiffness to really use carbide to full extent.

HSS endmills are great for Aluminum and mild steel. That covers most of what gets used in the hobby. If your going to get into machining alloy steels like 4150 or 4340...you may want to go carbide...HSS will wear quickly here.

But for the first few projects....stick with HSS. You can grind it on the same tools you grind your woodworking tools with with great results....you know how important a sharp chisel is I'm sure.

Same thing on a lathe.

Dave

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Old 06-03-2011, 10:50 AM   #5
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

The HF Mini is made in china by SEIG and imported by many importers Like little machine Shop.com , Grizzly , jet. Miro mark and others.
It is said jet and grizzly pick the best machines from each lot and HF gets the leftovers.
For years these machines were considered pre assembled kits Ie the fit and finish needed attention and some features were lacking. the better importers have corrected most of this,.

How good are they? I think I covered that above.
Are they suitable for a newbie hobbyist?A popular stater lathe may nedd some tuning and some simple mods.
Are they safe? Any machine tool can cause injury . but no major safty concerns on this one.
Are they junk? I think I covered that above as well.
I dont have a good budget, and $500 for each is pretty much the highest. (They do have coupons for 20% off anything you want).
I started with a grizzly of the same ilk due to budget reasons. Still have it still use it.
If I had to get a new one I would try to find a deal on one with a 12-14 center distance rather than 10. 10 gets tight real quick.
Tin

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Old 06-03-2011, 11:23 AM   #6
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

I've got both, and I'm pretty darn happy with both of them.

Go for the 7 x 14 lathe (instead of the 7 x 10).

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Old 06-03-2011, 12:38 PM   #7
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

Quote:
Originally Posted by AssassinXCV
For sure i'll get the rotary table for $65...
I recently got one of those 3" rotary tables, and I already wish I'd have gone with a bigger/better one. It's useful to a certain extent, but you run out of space on that little 3" dia. surface pretty quick, it has no precision bore in the center, there is no way to adjust the backlash, and the little brass screw that locks it really isn't up to the task.
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Old 06-03-2011, 01:12 PM   #8
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

Quote:
Originally Posted by AssassinXCV
I'm also looking at the 7x12 lathe. it's on sale right now for $100 off, but at the back of the Machinist's Workshop magazine it has ads for getting an extender from LittleMachineshop that is 14" long for $150. By getting the 7x10 lathe, and getting that extender, i'm saving $50 PLUS getting an extra 14" in travel. Sure, that extender can cause issues with accuracy.
Ian

The 14" extender is a replacement for the shorter bed, not an extension. You wind up with a 7x14.

Be slow to add expensive modifications in a search for improvement. Careful adjustment will take care of most of the problems.

Rigidity can be a problem at times. You can improve the situation by locking the movement that you are not using. If milling in the X direction, lock the Y. If facing on the lathe, lock the carriage. etc. A good vise for the lathe is a must. I tried several and was never really satisfied until I got the 3" lockdown vise from LMS. Get a good heavy vise (with parallels) and throw the rotating base away.

Sharp tool eliminate most of the problems with cut finish and you can't get anything sharper than a properly finished High Speed Steel tool bit, ground and honed on a good arkansas stone. There are lots of good threads on this forum that will show how this is done. For my two cents worth, the edge is way more important than the angle.

The myth that HF tool are the dregs, left over after the other importers have had the pick of the litter is silly. Picture a big warehouse full of lathes with men dressed in Green or White overalls, carefully checking and choosing only the good ones. Then after they have finished and left, the doors open and a guy in red comes in and says "'OK, I'll take the rest".

My shop has lots of red painted tools and I have no complaints.

Jerry

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Old 06-03-2011, 03:17 PM   #9
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Jerry

My shop has lots of red painted tools and I have no complaints.

Jerry
Ditto.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TroyO
The mill will require a fair bit of fine tuning to get it up to snuff, unless you get pretty lucky. This means taking time to perfect a bunch of little things to make it fit together better by sanding, filing, scraping and just generally going over all the parts to make sure they are working correctly.
Hmm...guess I was lucky. Didn't have to do any of this to mine. No problem with column flex either.

Instead of heavy modifications, I would just jump to the X3, probably cost you about the same by the time you're done.

-Trout
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Old 06-03-2011, 07:11 PM   #10
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Default Re: Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

I woke up this morning to a note from my dad, he says to pick the one that will be the most usefull right now. So i can only get one, a lathe or a mill. Gotta respect that since he's paying.

So I'm thinking that the mill will be more usefull, If i have a rotary table, it can do a lot of what a lathe can plus more.

I understand that you need both to make parts, but for now i can only get one.

What are your thoughts, which one should i get right now since i can only get one?

Thanks,

Ian



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