Mini Lathe Tips

Discussion in 'Tools' started by Shinhoto, Oct 5, 2018.

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  1. Oct 5, 2018 #1

    Shinhoto

    Shinhoto

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    Hello!

    I'm wanting to start machining on a lathe, but dont have the room for one right now.

    Until I can live somewhere with a nice garage or yard, I have decided to buy a mini lathe to at least practice some basic machining.

    However it seems like most mini lathes on the market have accuracy issues, and very many have mediocre reviews.

    Does anyone have any recommendations for mini lathes, both in and out of production?


    Thank you!
     
  2. Oct 5, 2018 #2

    XD351

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    Hi Shinhoto,
    By mini lathe are you meaning something like a sherline or taig or something bigger like a C2 sieg or similar ?
    What you buy will ultimately be decided by how much room you have to put it in and how much you want to spend so look at those things first .
    Also are you looking at new or used ? You can sometimes pick up small craftsman lathes or the like . It’s hard for me to recommend a brand as I’m in Australia but at least I may be able to get the ball rolling for you .
     
  3. Oct 5, 2018 #3

    bazmak

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    The basic 7x14 Chinese lathe is big enough to do some good work and small enough to pick up and put away
    Yes they have many issues all of which are easily rectified to produce consistant/accurate work.Lots of vodeos on utube
    and a whole world of mods etc to keep you happy
     
  4. Oct 5, 2018 #4

    RM-MN

    RM-MN

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    The accuracy on my mini lathe depends on my adjusting the gibs on the cross slide and the compound along with how sharp my cutting tools might be. I learned to use a diamond honing block to get a sharper edge on the tools and my accuracy improved greatly.

    I'm not going to have accuracy into the tenths but up to a thousandth of an inch is fairly easy to accomplish. Noting that this is a lightweight machine with less rigidity than the larger lathes one needs to work within its limitations which include lighter cuts and smaller material.
     
  5. Oct 6, 2018 #5

    Cogsy

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    I disagree with your accuracy estimates RM-MN. Working in metric on my old 7x14 I would aim to hit +- 0.01mm and could do so without much trouble, of course quite slowly compared to larger machines. You might be surprised if you check out your machine, it's likely more accurate than you realise.
     
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  6. Oct 6, 2018 #6

    Shinhoto

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    To answer some questions:
    I am looking at Lathes from 12-16 inches mainly, anything longer seems to be much more expensive.

    I would like to be able to spend 500-1000 dollars for a lathe that has reasonably acceptable accuracy, or that can be easily modified to those standards.

    To be honest, I have no machining experience, and am altogether unfamiliar with machining. However I have wanted to build an engine for the past 6 years, and have decided to try to take steps toward that goal.

    Thanks for everyone's advice so far.
     
  7. Oct 6, 2018 #7

    ShopShoe

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    Shinhoto,

    For most of us, it's not the length ("distance between centers") most of us are concerned about, but the maximum size of object that can fit in the jaws and be rotated ("swing" in the US is diameter, "centre height" in other parts of the world is the radius.) For a quick estimate ask yourself what is the diameter of the largest flywheel you want to make. Take it in mind that the maximum by specification is not a dimension you can comfortably work with on a regular basis. My 7x should be able to swing 7 inches, but working at 6 inches is usually a stretch.

    To add to what I said above, the distance between centers is important in terms of how much room you will need to accomodate tools from the tailstock: My 7x14 is OK until I start trying to make longer parts or if I try to use long reamers or drill bits over 3/8 inch in a tailstock drill chuck.

    Long story short: My 7x has been great to learn with and is very flexible for that use with variable speed, threading capability, forward/reverse spindle, forward/reverse leadscrew, bolted-on chuck, and a lot of information available on the internet on tuning and repairing it. Perhaps a Sherline might be more acurate right out of the box, but the work envelope is smaller and there are not so many of the other features as mentioned above. Perhaps a 9 or 10 inch swing lathe might provide a larger work envelope, but also some of the other features might not be available. If I had the money, I would be upgrading to something like a 12 x 36 lathe and keeping the 7x or replacing the small lathe with a Taig or Sherline: Two or three lathes would certainly provide more overall versatility (Bad "Tool Acquisition Syndrome" here).

    Forgive me if I am repeating what you already know.

    Best of luck and please keep posting as you get a lathe and as you learn.

    --ShopShoe
     
  8. Oct 6, 2018 #8

    ShopShoe

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    Shinhoto,

    Forgive me Times Two if you know, but perhaps this is helpful:

    I don't know your background, but I feel compelled to add that in addition to your lathe you will need some basic tools to get started:

    My starting suggestions are based on trying to get accurate information as you set up and practice turning. Start with a basic 6-inch digital or dial caliper, you also really need a micrometer to check the final dimensions of your parts. For setup I am a proponent of leveling your lathe stand and your lathe, for this I suggest a good mechanic's or machinist's level (others differ on this, but I think it is a good place to start. If nothing else a small level of any type will be better than nothing, just keep in mind it may not be precise enough.)

    For centering objects in a 4-jaw chuck, you need a Dial Indicator and a way to mount it. Also useful for checking other things as you go. (And yes, you do need a 4-jaw [independent] chuck.) For more critical measurements, a Dial Test Indicator is used, but you could probably delay that purchase for a while until your work leads you to seek more precision.

    I also suggest one or more 6-inch steel rules ("scales"). Longer ones at your own discretion. Is your stock square? A small machinist's square or a few different sizes of small squares will be used a lot.

    If you have read about marking up your stock, you can see the need for a scriber or two and either Sharpie pens or "Dychem" marking fluid.

    Back to the Lathe: Startup Accessories and Tooling: 3-Jaw chuck, 4-Jaw Chuck, Spindle center, Tailstock Center, Drive Dog(s) (You can improvise this.) Tailstock Drill Chuck. (Multiple) Left turning tools, Right turning tool, 60-degree threading tool, cutoff tool, Boring Bar. Centre Drills, Drills ("Screw Machine Length" if you have a short bed lathe.)

    I am a proponent as well of doing your first practice parts with "known" materials from a vendor. "Mystery Metal" may cause frustrations and damage your cutting tools. I started with brass and 6061 aluminum.

    I can't even begin to list all of the books and YouTube videos out there to help, but I refer you to them anyway. I will leave the specifics to others to mention. (The only thing I do want to say is that if you watch some of the YouTube presenters who record the whole process of making a part you will see how professionals practice patience and precision constantly. Quality Work does really take a lot of time.)

    Good Luck times Two,

    --ShopShoe
     
  9. Oct 6, 2018 #9

    ThomasSK

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    Shopshoe gives some great advice here, but there is a couple things I want to add:

    Get the Best and biggest lathe you can, in that order. Then get the most accessories you can.

    There is a lot written both on the more inexpensive Asian machines and on used machines, and if you ask 10 people, you will get 11 opinions. From my experience, avoid the cheapest Asian machines. Those that are not the basic stock 7"x14" seems to be better built and have a better finish. Some advocate that you should buy older machines, but you risk buying a machine that will require a complete rebuild before it can be used. Either way, you should get a 3 jaw chuck, a 4 jaw independent chuck and a faceplate with your lathe. Fixed and following steadies are also great to have. If there is gears for threading, make sure you get all of them!

    When it comes to measurement instruments, you can find good deals on used Mitutoyo or Starrett on Ebay. A caliper, 1" micrometer and a set of telescoping gauges, and you should be set for most absolute measurements. For relative measurements, some of the inexpensive dial indicators and dial test indicators with stand will do for a start, you may not be able to trust the readings, but when adjusting to minimal runout in a chuck, that doesn't matter as much.

    For cutting tools, I'm a firm beliver that all people should learn to grind HSS. That said, if you just want to get cutting, you can find some reasonable priced lathe insert holders on Ebay from china, with some decent insert you should be able to cut metal without too much hassle. Just avoid the inexpencive inserts made for steel, somthing like DCGT insert instead of DCMT will cut nicely in most small machines. Just expect to spend more money on inserts than on the holders.

    BR.
    Thomas.
     
  10. Oct 6, 2018 #10

    clockworkcheval

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    Horology is my focus. As lathe I have a 60 something year old Swiss Schaublin 102 VM, which gives excellent high precision repeatable service. However for the really small stuff I wanted a small high rev precision lathe. I got the Taig. I checked and measured the Taig backwards and forwards and it is indeed a high precision machine as long as you use light loads. I use it with some Ultra Precision German ER 16 collets from STALEX WERKZEUGMASCHINEN which by the way are about as expensive as the basic Taig. Very good combination. In principle you can carry the little machine around. I put it on a solid heavy 3" x 2" U-beam base which makes it less movable but gives me a better feel. As milling machine I use a 30 year old Swiss Aciera F3 and a new German Wabeco F1210, both good high precision performers. But based on my experience with the Taig lathe I'm considering to get also a Taig milling machine for the smal stuff.
     
  11. Oct 6, 2018 #11

    tornitore45

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    If you are a beginner, 95% of the accuracy error is in your head and hands and 5% is in the crappy Chinese machine. My lathe, a popular Chinese 9x20 has consistently improved its accuracy as we bot age and perhaps I get smarter and know a bit more of what I am doing. If you long for a lathe get it, get what fits your space and budget and enjoy learning as you go. You are not in competition with anyone other than yourself.
     
  12. Oct 6, 2018 #12

    Wizard69

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    You have lots of good comments here but ultimately you need to ask yourself, “how big of an engine”?



    Prices can escalate quickly as smaller lathes with swings in the 10 to 14” swing range are in demand. Here is the problem though short beds grossly impact what tooling you can use.

    A Taig sized machine might be right for you to learn on. Beyond that watch maker class lathes have some advantages especially when dealing with small parts. In the end you can justify keeping a Taig even if your need for a larger lathe materializes. Frankly I’ve seen large commercial machine shops with a Taig or Sherline sitting around ready for a one off tiny job.
    Everything new and from China in this price range is a kit !
    A few good books will help out a lot. One I believe is: “How to Run a Lathe”
    Step back a bit and try to nail down what you want to do, especially physical sizes. Buy a lathe that is too small and heart ache will come.

    By the way if you have no metal working experience, I will assume no tools. At this stage you can see users spend more money on support tools than the lathe.
     
  13. Oct 6, 2018 #13

    packrat

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    {I am looking at Lathes from 12-16 inches mainly, anything longer seems to be much more expensive}
    You are not thinking of lathe swing here..A 16 inch lathe is very large and heavy like 2000 pounds or more..
    I am sure you are thinking between centers. I have a 13 inch South Bend lathe and it is not a small lathe..
    But small work can be done on a big lathe but larger work cannot be done a small lathe. Lots of good post here keep asking questions , we all started out not knowing what lathe to get...
     
  14. Oct 6, 2018 #14

    goldstar31

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    I'm going to be probably castigated or castrated but I'm going to name a name-- and let you sort out the relevance

    Here goes-


    George Daniels

    and they don't come much better
     
  15. Oct 7, 2018 #15

    Wizard69

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    I suspect even more of us start out with hardware that they know will be a limitation but for various reasons can not go with "the proper tool". The nice thing about starting out with a watch makers or Taig style lathe is that they can be part of your shop even if you move to a larger lathe. I suspect that most here would agree such lathes are limiting due to capacity but the thing here is in model making you are still dealing with very small parts from time to time. Often these can be handled better on a small lathe.

    I don't want to say this is the way for the original poster to go, that is something only he can decide. However if you don't have a dedicated shop a lathe that you can place on a desk for a nights work and put away when done might be the right solution.

    I would most certainly look for used solutions also. Going used drastically expands your range of machines and the prices they can be had at.
     
  16. Oct 7, 2018 #16

    nel2lar

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    one thing that I have not heard yet is the bigger machine you buy means larger tooling and tooling will cost you at least 2 to 3 times what you pay for the lathe.
    Nelson
     
  17. Oct 7, 2018 #17

    Dalee

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    Hi,

    I think what most new people miss when looking for their first machine has little to do with brand names. And everything to do with knowing how to think about machining in general.

    First I see a lot of misconceptions about accuracy. Every home shop machinist/hobbyist envisions themselves working to micron tolerances. As an old tool and die maker who has done this everyday for over 30 years, the truth is, +/-.005"(.1mm) will suffice for 95%+ of all machined items on this planet. And a embarrassing large percentage of that is fine if you just hit the material somewhere. And this is a manual lathe/mill we are talking about. The basic machine designs limit accuracy and finish levels that can be commonly obtained. The process itself is limited. You need better? Re-think the process - don't blame the machine. Accuracy lies in the hands and skill of the operator, not in the machine. And skill is learned over time and practice. It has nothing to do with brand or place of origin. It's just as easy to miss a tolerance on a cheap, cheerful, Chinese manual tabletop lathe as it is in a $1,000,000 machining center. I know - been there, done that, and scrapped the parts.

    Next question is "How big a machine?" That depends on what you want to MOSTLY do and how fast you want to it. Think about the size of parts you MOSTLY want to make. Bigger parts or high stock removal rates need bigger machines. Smaller parts are better made on smaller machines. Yet many newcomers get told you need at least 13" or 14" swing lathe with at least 36" between centers or you should go home. If all you MOSTLY want to do is make small things, like model engines, then you really don't need a huge machine. I purposely chose an 8x14 lathe when I bought mine because I knew that I did not want to work on any part that I couldn't hold in the palm of my hand. Another way to look at it is - Watermakers don't need a lathe with an 18" swing nor does a machinist in the oil fields or shipyards need a watchmakers lathe. So consider the size of what you wish to make closely.

    Do I buy new or used? A lot of that depends on your location and patience and how far you might be willing to go to get a machine. But many are adamant that only fine old 'murican or old world iron will do. Anything less is junk. Monarch ee or a Schaublin or bust! And driving 1000 miles isn't too far to go. Sadly, much of this "Fine old iron" is just old and getting beyond even well worn. And unless you know how to spot the junk from the jems, it's a crapshoot. But all new Chinesium has it's problems too, just in a different way. Sometimes bad QC and limited repair parts availability causes many headaches. And to a great extent, looking at a new cheap, cheerful, Chinese machine should be viewed as a "kit" that may or may not need some finishing. To be fair, there have been signs of some small improvements in QC. After having many dollars spent on machines over the years based solely on my word, I seldom worry about color of paint or name plates. I don't buy "machines" I buy dealers. Every used machine I have ever bought all came with the same 4 word warranty - As Is, Where Is. I made the choice to be the warranty backed by my wallet. Every new machine was purchased because I felt the dealer was the one that would offer the best and longest post purchase support. And trust me, that shiney new Haas or Mori often comes with as many issues out of the box as the cheapest Chinese tabletop machine. It just costs a whole lot more to fix. So buy the Dealer! Not the machine. Sadly, many sellers of Chinese machines, offer little in the way of support. But despair not! Those little tabletop lathes have a large and vocal presence on the web. And there are many places, like this very forum, you can get excellent help in solving problems. Rest assured, that no matter what has happened, someone else has all ready fixed it themselves. So the help is there.

    If anyone has bothered to read this far, I hope I have shed some light on how to think about buying a lathe. Whether you get a pristine Monarch EE or a new little 7x lathe, you can do good work no matter what. Enjoy the hobby!
     
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  18. Oct 7, 2018 #18

    tornitore45

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    There is a lot of wisdom in Dalee post. I am not a tool and die maker but a self trained ham/hack and can agree 100%. Any machine is better than nothing and a place to learn. I rather learn to drive on a beat up old Ford that a brand new Ferrari.
     
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  19. Oct 9, 2018 #19

    Shinhoto

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    My end goal engine is a 1/6 scale mitsubishs A6120VDe engine from 1936.
    I don't have any tooling or machinery, or a source for metal, as some have asked so far.
    I'm looking to take my inaugural step into engine making. For the forseeable future I will not have a shop, so a small machine is a must.

    I want to learn how to operate it first, and will likely start by just trying to mill brass or aluminum into something vaguely resembling a vase.

    I doubt I will be able to make my I6 on a small lathe, but hopefully I can gain a lot of experiencen, and turn out my I6 in a few years.
     
  20. Oct 9, 2018 #20

    Cogsy

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    Then I would suggest a Sieg C3 (sold under many brand names and colours) would be perfect - large enough to do decent work, small enough to pick up and move around if need be. There are a few adjustments to be made to the machine when you get it, plus a heap of modifications which can be done over time to improve it overall, and these are very well documented online. Even though I've moved on to a much larger lathe, I still have my C3 and use it very occasionally. It is commonly just called a 'mini-lathe' and should be available in your area. Check out the LMS site for an example (BTW I just read about the tariffs that have pushed the price up on these machines and there's more to come it seems.) https://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_view.php?ProductID=4959&category=1271799306
     

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