Harbor Freight Lathes and Mills?

Discussion in 'Tools' started by AssassinXCV, Jun 3, 2011.

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  1. Jun 3, 2011 #1

    AssassinXCV

    AssassinXCV

    AssassinXCV

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    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

     
  2. Jun 3, 2011 #2

    TroyO

    TroyO

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    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.
     
  3. Jun 3, 2011 #3

    AssassinXCV

    AssassinXCV

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    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 :D

    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.
     
  4. Jun 3, 2011 #4

    steamer

    steamer

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    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
     
  5. Jun 3, 2011 #5

    Tin Falcon

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    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
     
  6. Jun 3, 2011 #6

    dgjessing

    dgjessing

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    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).
     
  7. Jun 3, 2011 #7

    dgjessing

    dgjessing

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    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.
     
  8. Jun 3, 2011 #8

    Captain Jerry

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    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

     
  9. Jun 3, 2011 #9

    Troutsqueezer

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    Ditto.

    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
     
  10. Jun 3, 2011 #10

    AssassinXCV

    AssassinXCV

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    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
     
  11. Jun 3, 2011 #11

    Troutsqueezer

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    Actually, most people get the lathe first since it is generally considered more useful. You can do some limited milling-like work on the lathe with the right attachments. Hard to do lathe-like work on the mill though.
     
  12. Jun 3, 2011 #12

    cfellows

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    That's a tough one. Conventional wisdom would say get the lathe first. With a milling attachment you can do some light duty milling. Keep in mind that the kind of turning you can do on a mill is pretty limited.

    If my main interest were making model engines, I would probably choose the lathe first. I have a 7x10 Harbor Freight lathe that I really like. Of course, I did swap out the bed for a 14" model and modified the carriage for tapered gibs. I made a few other changes, but those were mostly not absolutely required.

    If you decide to get the mill instead, you'll need a milling vice or a clamping set or other method of holding work. You'll also need end mills, probably a fly cutter, drill chuck, maybe a boring head and boring bars and also maybe a collet set or other tool holding arbors.

    Hope that helps...
    Chuck

    Chuck
     
  13. Jun 3, 2011 #13

    Lakc

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    Start with the lathe. Milling may have a "sexy" reputation, but the true guts of machining is the lathe.
     
  14. Jun 3, 2011 #14

    rake60

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    I'd go lathe first.

    Even a mini lathe can do some small mill work.

    Rick

     
  15. Jun 3, 2011 #15

    AssassinXCV

    AssassinXCV

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    Hmm. it's so hard to choose.

    How would someone go about making the valves for an elbow engine on a lathe? Dont you need a mill with a rotary table?
     
  16. Jun 4, 2011 #16

    xo18thfa

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    As part of the lathe purchase, budget for necessary attachments. 4 jaw chuck is a must, live center for the tailstock, drill chuck for the tailstock, maybe a face plate. A quick change tool post really makes life easy.

    Check out LittleMacineShop.com They have everything for the 7" lathe family.

    I recommend HHS tooling too
     
  17. Jun 4, 2011 #17

    steamer

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    I would definitely go for the lathe first. The pistons for the elbow engine will be ever so much easier to make on a lathe than a mill...IMHO.

    The Lathe is the King of all machine tools...and that quote wasn't from me :)

    With a 4 jaw and a face plate there the options are just about limitless...training and experience will create all kinds of set ups.

    And yes I would make pistons for an elbow engine on a lathe....with a face plate mounted fixture

    Dave
     
  18. Jun 4, 2011 #18

    steamer

    steamer

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    The valve for the rotary elbow engine could also be done in the lathe.

    Mount a block of material on top of your compound. Fly cut the side of it flat and drill and tap a hole for a post to swing the valve disk on. Mount a handle to the embryonic valve disk and bolt it to the block, so that it still rotates, but has no shake.

    Set some stops for the handle on the embryonic disk, so that it only rotates the amount needed for the slot, and mount and suitablely sized end mill in the chuck. Take very light cuts, and you'll get there.

    It woun't be hard...just tedious.

    Meanwhile, while making the valve blank, crank out a few extra's on your LATHE just in case.... ;D

    Making round disks on a mill ain't so easy....with out a rotary table or CNC.

    I went thru a bunch of faceplate set ups for an engine on this thread...might be instructive as to what can be done with simple tooling on a lathe.

    http://www.homemodelenginemachinist.com/index.php?topic=3951.0


    Dave
     
  19. Jun 4, 2011 #19

    Deanofid

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    Oh, get the lathe first! Many people, myself included, have made complete engines with just a lathe, using jigs that they also made using just that lathe. That doesn't happen much with just a milling machine.
    Imagine how you would turn a flywheel, cylinder, piston, bearings, and many other such things with only a milling machine. Things that are fairly easy to do on the lathe become difficult if a fellow only has a mill. Especially for a person just starting out.

    It's nice of your dad to let you choose, (and to buy one for you!). If you end up with just a mill, I can see you saying "I can't make that" a lot. With just a lathe, you may end up wondering how something can be done, but there will be someone here who can tell you. Many of us started with "just" a lathe.

    Choose wisely.. : )

    Dean
     
  20. Jun 4, 2011 #20

    ShopShoe

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    AssassinXCV,

    You are where I was a few years ago. I lusted after a high-quality lathe with generous swing and distance-between-centers. But money and space was an issue.

    One day I stumbled accross

    http://www.mini-lathe.com

    There is good information on the 7x lathes and what you need there. (Not to slight all the good advice here.) I spent several months agonizing over what to do and finally bought the Cummins ('cause they had a special going that month.) with extras: faceplate, 4-jaw independent chuck, milling attachment, starter toolbit set. It came supplied with Steady and Follow rests, Tailstock drill chuck, and the usual set of tools.

    Within two months I spent about $200 more at LMS and ENCO for tooling, measuring tools, and more misc.

    It did not take too long for me to realize that the smaller machine was better for learning and a couple of newbie errors that caused crashes could have been much more serious on the big machine I coveted for 20 years. LMS provided repair parts when necessary.

    Looking back, I can say that the 7x is a good place to start and I am really doing now rather than dreaming. With the help of the members here I am tuning up the 7x and improving my skills. I would say that the learning curve cost at least as much money as the lathe in tooling and misc, without talking about upgrades to chucks and repair parts. I also spent some additional money buying known materials to turn: Brass, Aluminum, Steel, Stainless, and some plastics. I tried "mystery metal" from my junk box and the hardware store and only found out as I newbie I did not need more unknowns.

    I can agree that getting a lathe first is best: You will find many other things to make with it once you have it. After you get used to how different material cuts you will have more ideas of what you want in a mill.

    I also say start with HSS toolbits. If you learn to grind them you will understand what is happening when they are cutting.

    Good Luck,

    --ShopShoe
     

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