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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I've been all over the board on a lathe for my shop. The cost, time and hassle of taking stuff to a commercial machine shop is prohibitive. Begging favors from friends with lathes is cheaper, but it always ends up as even more hassle and a LOT more delay. And the paybacks I end up owing are often worse than paying someone. I thought I had a lead on a local co-op shop space, but I went to visit and found out they only grant access to use their lathe and mill to people with "verifiable career or educational machinist training." Well crap.

So buy my own, right? Well, from all my shopping there are four choices: 1) plunk down a metric ton of cash I don't have, 2) buy something old and cheap that will need a bunch of scraping and setup and missing parts to do precision work. 3) buy something new and cheap that will need only slightly less scraping and setup to do precision work, or 4) buy a truly tiny lathe that will be cheap and good to learn on doing little spacers and the like, but is definitely going frustrate me real soon when I have the first job it can't handle. I keep looking for a middle-of-the-road compromise, but they all seem to be pretty damn expensive and still not completely capable. I don't know what the hell to do.

It's the same dilemma I had with my welder, and what I currently also have when I consider building a separate workshop: I can't afford the dosh to go all out, but I'll be stuck with a crappy compromise if I try to do it on the cheap.

I don't have much experience with lathes myself (Catholic prep school = no shop class), so all the stuff I don't know would fill the Grand Canyon.
 

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A new small Asian lathe with a metric thread-cutting cog set, v-bed, belt drive, live centre, 4-jaw & 3-jaw chucks and a face plate would be the most use for you. 6" to 8" (max) chuck size would be the most use to you. Most of the time Asian small workshop lathes are accurately made and function just fine now. In the last three decades the savage jungle of the consumer has scared off the real crappy imports. Small to medium size lathes get about all the use in M/C work over the bigger ones. If you have not had shop class, you are not going to hand scrape a junker lathe to accuracy in a months available work hours. If you need something turned in a lathe with an 18" swing, give the job to a pro, safety for you and rational economics in one.

A cheap tiny toy lathe, is a tiny toy cheap lathe, and will never be anything but a frustrating toy and embarrassment.

A bigger lathe or a total monster would be nowhere nearly as much use as a good small one.

I'm lucky I can do machinist work just fine for myself if I have to, and have a 50 years Pro to rely on if I choose to. People who rely all the time for others to do simple machine work are viewed a bit as idiots, bums, or too tight with cash to not buy their own. It sounds harsh I know, but people prefer to work on and worry about their own work than yours. A lathe is a good affirmation, you are a productive and self-reliant man, not relying on others and their productivity and expertise. You will get far more respect from pros getting them to do serious jobs for you when they realise that you a have a small lathe to do jobs that honestly aren't worth their time, or effort for the small amount of cash they get for small jobs.

Bear in mind when buying used lathes guys don't often sell the very best ones, just the ones they want out of their sight.

My own lathe is a bit extreme for just making wheel spacers and shortening 8.0mm bolts: TUR930MN.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #3
If you have not had shop class, you are not going to hand scrape a junker lathe to accuracy in a months available work hours.
I actually know a guy who teaches scraping/setup classes, who is willing to teach me for pay. But I would rather spend the time working on bikes.
 

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You don't need to break the bank...I bought a 3ft bed 6.5" swing Taiwanese machine in 1983 for $2,500.00. Came with steady rest, quick change tool post, three jaw and four jaw chucks and face plate; it has run true from new. I use it almost every day for something or other, I have never come across a thread I cannot cut and nothing on it has ever broken with the exception of a drive belt that I wore out last year...a nice new linked belt to replace it (without having to take anything apart) and I was back in business again.
Doing what I do for a living, I don't know how the hell anybody can get along without one. Oh yeah...it paid for itself in the first year too.
 

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I actually know a guy who teaches scraping/setup classes, who is willing to teach me for pay. But I would rather spend the time working on bikes.
Not much point in having a lathe if you don't know what you're doing. Having someone who can show you what to do is probably the best money you will spend on a lathe.
 

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check out littlemachineshop.com Lots of info there on the small benchtop chinese lathes.

I ended up buying a used Atlas 10" swing lathe from the 40's for $200. It worked well to make the two bushings I needed, but I didn't use it for a year and have forgotten some of the details on how to use it. I may be moving my shop and I don't have a clue how I am going to get it out of the cellar. Gravity got it down there........It is HEAVY. May have to sell it "where is". Then I would buy a small Chinese one or look for a 6" atlas or equivilent US made lathe from the 60's. All I need to make are little things anyway.
 

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I'd stick to old, they're the best you can get for the money, you can get a big old heavy lathe used for what you'll pay for a p.o.s. chinese tabletop that you'll wish you never bought once you actually attempt to remove metal from your raw stock. I have a rockwell 10" that's tough as nails, worn out somewhat, but definitely capable of hitting a number if you know what you're doing. I also had a smithy 3-1 that was "top of the line" brand new and once I actually started hogging metal, it wore out in a snap.
 

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Were I you, I'd snoop around for a mid-sized Atlas or even better a South Bend. SB still has parts availability for their "vintage" stuff. Clausing seems hard to get parts around here, seems like more of an East Coast thing. I might be biased, I really want a South Bend 9" like my grandfather had.

I've got a wee tiny Unimat SL that I've turned some spacers and stuff on, but it's really a jeweler's/hobby class machine. The Taig looks somewhat interesting but threading is not really a viable option. I've fooled with the 7x10 Chinese thing at Harbor Freight. If anything, it's a lathe kit. You can get better versions of it and its bigger brothers from Grizzly. LMS has all the hopups you need though.

And of course, they all say you'll spend the same as the machine as you will in tooling so a good CL score with a pile of tooling would be good. With the Atlas / SB, there are some nice milling attachments that show up, and make sure you get ALL of the threading gears. I wouldn't treat a bunch of cutters thrown in a drawer as much more than blanks. Most of the lathes I see on CL show a box of cutters and drills all thrown in a box so they can chip each other up. What kind of animal does that?
 

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I bought a really tight 10" Rockwell on a school auction for $125. They'd done some damage to it moving it but overall a super nice lathe. It's in storage till I get my shop done so at this point I'm a lathe owner not a lathe operator.

I'd looked a long time before I found that one and had almost bought a few that would have been mistakes.
 

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I have the Atlas 6" lathe I bought new about 50 years ago. Still works great, as long as you are only working on plastic, aluminum, bronze, or brass.
My bandsaw with a non-ferrous metal blade installed has proven to be equally if not a more important piece of machinery over the years, in my experience more stuff can be made from aluminum stock with holes drilled and threads tapped into them. The only thing a lathe can do is make things round and bore round holes in things that are small enough to spin at several hundred rpm.

Metal cutting saw and a drill press with some decent drills, plus some quality taps, dies and files is a far better repair shop investment imho.
 

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+ on the bandsaw.

In the list of machine priorities, I say it goes like this:

-Bench grinder, (with- a brass coated wire wheel, bolt-on belt linisher unit) , 1/2" drill press, 14" metal cut-off saw, 4x6"1 HP horizontal/vertical metal cutting bandsaw, lathe, hand held electric belt linisher ("bandfile", for example a Makita 9032) .

Avoid air powered tools, they are noisy as hell and very cold to use in the dead of winter.
 

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I bought a really tight 10" Rockwell on a school auction for $125. They'd done some damage to it moving it but overall a super nice lathe. It's in storage till I get my shop done so at this point I'm a lathe owner not a lathe operator.

I'd looked a long time before I found that one and had almost bought a few that would have been mistakes.
Hey Ken - it's been a while since you posted in your shop thread. How is it coming along?
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I'd love a bandsaw, and while they're pretty cheap, they don't address the issue. What I'm looking for is precision, not speed. A hack saw can give you most of the results a bandsaw can give you, albeit much more slowly, and a bandsaw is still not a high-precision machine. A decent lathe can not only make precision parts, but it allows you to make precision jigs and tools to help you use all your other tools with more accurate results.
 

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My DeWalt jig saw with a good Bosch blade and some careful file work does me well where a bandsaw might be needed. I've done quite a bit of 1/4" mild steel with it, you just have to use some oil along the way. 7000 series aluminum is really fun. A drill press is an essential tool, but a bandsaw can be faked.

Lathes do way more than make stuff round, if you're clever with the cross slide you get some horizontal milling capability. I subscribe to the Home Shop Machinist e-news letter, it's awesome the techniques that people come up with. Throw in a dividing head and you can hob gears. Whee!
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
Just to follow up on this thread, my wife surprised me with an early birthday present last night...the purchase receipt for a South Bend 8K 8x18 lathe from Grizzly. It should arrive late next week. Pretty damn excited.

http://www.grizzly.com/products/8K-8-x-18-Lathe/SB1001

sb1001-44d91c347eba0656d2627e767dbb606b.jpg
 

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Happy birthday! They are a pretty nice little unit, I preferred to use the small South Bend on the ship, over the large Fairbanks Morse or even the Colchester models. If it doesn't come with any extras, they can be purchased separately.
 

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Neat unit. Now you need to construct a sturdy square tube stand with a removable swarf tray and a shelf to store the chucks and accessories with easy access.

Keeping a lathe clean, tidy and free of rust is an art. And a joy. A small coiled airline mounted permanently within easy reach makes it much easier.

If I had a GF that bought be a lathe, I'd go out and look high and low for another one that would buy me a mill!
 
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