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Old 07-23-2011, 09:43 AM
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Metal Lathe for Hobbyists: Buying Tips and Recommendations

Hi All,

I have been doing some light research on metal lathes for hobbyist / casual users. While I cannot say that I have any specific projects in mind at the moment that would make me want to buy a lathe, I am interested in reading any recommendations or tips from the forum members on what is a good basic set up or a '"starter" lathe. Any brand recommendations, or ones to avoid? Best bang for the buck? Realistic start up cost?

Thanks in advance,

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Old 07-23-2011, 10:18 AM
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Probably the most popular lathe that fits that description is the well known 9x20 that is sold under a bunch of different brand names and different sellers, from the respected Grizzly tools to Harbor Freight. Unfortunately unless you happen onto an old American or European machine (getting harder to find all the time!) you will be stuck with a Chinese import of very poor quality such as that popular 9x20. Some larger Chinese imports are actually decent lathes but there seems to be a definite decrease in quality in anything less than the 12x36 machines and the smaller ones are more suited to softer materials like plastics. DON'T fall for "Brand Name" expecting better quality because most Chinese machines are the same regardless who sells them and a better "Brand" will not mean better quality. An example is that 9x20, The older Jet brand sold for over $1200 while the SAME EXACT machine at Harbor Freight is usually less than $700 and the only difference is the color! The newer Jet looks somewhat different than the others but it is cosmetic and a trick to make you think it is different. Grizzly, Enco and a couple of others have this lathe priced somewhere between HF and Jet.

That 9x20 is of course only one example but it is by far the most popular and I suppose if a person is willing to accept it's limitations it can be usable, I used mine (Jet) for several years but honestly IMO it is a piece of junk. If you have room for a bigger lathe I would strongly recommend at least a 12x36 because there is not that much price difference and the smaller hobby lathes are very limited in usefulness.


What do you intend to use it for and about how big did you have in mind?

Also I would strongly suggest avoiding the 3-in-1 multi-purpose machines because each function is so compromised in the attempt to be able to do everything that it really does nothing very well.
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:42 PM
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Hey oldred,
Quote:
Originally Posted by oldred
Probably the most popular lathe that fits that description is the well known 9x20 that is sold under a bunch of different brand names and different sellers, from the respected Grizzly tools to Harbor Freight. Unfortunately unless you happen onto an old American or European machine (getting harder to find all the time!) you will be stuck with a Chinese import of very poor quality such as that popular 9x20. Some larger Chinese imports are actually decent lathes but there seems to be a definite decrease in quality in anything less than the 12x36 machines and the smaller ones are more suited to softer materials like plastics. DON'T fall for "Brand Name" expecting better quality because most Chinese machines are the same regardless who sells them and a better "Brand" will not mean better quality. An example is that 9x20, The older Jet brand sold for over $1200 while the SAME EXACT machine at Harbor Freight is usually less than $700 and the only difference is the color! The newer Jet looks somewhat different than the others but it is cosmetic and a trick to make you think it is different. Grizzly, Enco and a couple of others have this lathe priced somewhere between HF and Jet.
Thanks for pointing all that out as I would've never known to be on the look out for any of those things. I will admit it was a cheapo Harbor Freight unit that originally sparked my interest in these machines, and that one is a 7x10 mini lathe for $500.




Quote:
Originally Posted by oldred
That 9x20 is of course only one example but it is by far the most popular and I suppose if a person is willing to accept it's limitations it can be usable, I used mine (Jet) for several years but honestly IMO it is a piece of junk. If you have room for a bigger lathe I would strongly recommend at least a 12x36 because there is not that much price difference and the smaller hobby lathes are very limited in usefulness.
I was looking up the various sizes and, given the open garage space I have, a 9x20 would perhaps be the large I could do.




Quote:
Originally Posted by oldred
What do you intend to use it for and about how big did you have in mind?
Honestly I had not thought about either of those two thing until you asked. While I have no specific projects in mind, I suppose if I had access to one and played with it long enough for practice, creativity might spawn a few ideas. At this point, the most I can see myself doing is making long knurled handles for type of a cart or workout equipment something. If I ever got any good at it, perhaps work on heads. Maybe make art out of junk parts.




Quote:
Originally Posted by oldred
Also I would strongly suggest avoiding the 3-in-1 multi-purpose machines because each function is so compromised in the attempt to be able to do everything that it really does nothing very well.
Glad you mentioned that as well because I was sorely tempted to call the seller for this unit: 3 in 1 Mill/Lathe




Forgive me if my question sounds ignorant but, would playing with a wood lathe give some sense and feel of what I could do what a metal lathe? I ask because they are significantly cheaper (a used Craftsman is going for $110 locally) and I have been getting into some wood projects around the house so it would come in handy.



Thanks for tips and pointers Sir!
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Old 07-23-2011, 02:07 PM
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Other than spinning the work piece a wood lathe has little in common with a metal lathe so there is not much to learn from using one, for metal working that is. If you go with a small lathe then the 9x20, even with it's limitations, is the way to go because they are so common. There is even a couple of web sites dedicated to these machines that show how to get the most out of them, with a few cheap and easy mods they can be turned into a decent tool. Don't discount Harbor Freight if you decide to buy one of these things because even though the quality is lacking it is no more so than if the machine came from someplace else, it will just be a different color and a different price. I had access to both my $1200 Jet 9x20 and the HF version and I know for a fact that one was no better than the other, they both suffered from the same flaws and parts were interchangeable. When I bought my 14x40 lathe I bought it from HF on sale and with a 20% off coupon that let me buy it for nearly half of what Enco was asking for the same machine with their name on it and like the 9x20 it is the exact same machine.

An interesting note is that for a while the Harbor Freight 14x40 lathe had the manual/parts book for the much more costly "Brand name" Birmingham YCL1440 lathe! I have looked at the Birmingham and the only difference I can see between it and my HF lathe is the color scheme. My point is these lathes vary widely in price depending on who you buy from but they do not seem to vary in quality, my HF 14x40 has been in daily use for over three years now and is doing well. HF has little or no after sale service and since pricing has gotten closer to other suppliers I would recommend a dealer such as Grizzly or Enco.



Grizzly seems to no longer carry the 7x10 but they have the 7x12 which is the same lathe with a 2" longer bed.

http://www.grizzly.com/products/7-x-...al-Lathe/G8688
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Old 07-23-2011, 06:43 PM
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I have a 12x36 Enco lathe... And I can say this much.... It isn't the same machine as the one's at HF.. The Enco I have is a lot more heavier built then the one's I have seen at HF....

And If your going to be using this machine a lot at home... I wouldn't buy anything smaller then A 12x36.... You will soon realize after you have that little one that you just wasted your money.... The swing and the size shaft you can chuck up... Will mean a lot later..... A lathe is like a shop..... It is never big enough..
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Old 07-23-2011, 07:25 PM
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There are several models of 12x36 lathes and both HF and Enco have carried identical models at times, HF does not even sell a 12x36 anymore. As far as HF, Enco and some others having identical models this is a well known fact and going to the Yahoo group for these lathes will shed a lot of light on why they are the same, yours very well could have been very different than the one you saw at HF but even other Enco models can be different. HF shop machinery is not the same as the junk they sell in the stores and is imported from the same factories as the Enco, Birmingham, etc and they are the same as long as they are the same basic models. An example is the 14x40 I mentioned,


Except for the color this is the same machine,

www.boysungrain.com/dro-2l.htm

as this one

http://www.use-enco.com/CGI/INPDFF?P...MITEM=308-0232


The prices are much the same anymore and the Enco in the link is priced with a lot of accessories and a DRO otherwise it is the same machine as the HF and the YCL1440. That is also the HF model that had the Birmingham manual with it for a while. These are good machines and well built for a Chinese import but they are not the quality of old American or European iron if a good domestic lathe can be found. However just as in the case of that popular 9x20 these particular models are the same whether from HF or Enco but with HF's pricing being nearly the same as Enco it would make little sense to buy from HF with their lack of after-sale support. The Birmingham certainly has a much prettier paint job and they have absolutely excellent customer support while the Enco and HF machines are plain looking and the HF outfit has next to no customer support otherwise they are the same basic machine.
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Old 07-23-2011, 07:35 PM
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I just checked HF and Enco to do a little price comparison since HF's pricing has gone up and at this point it makes very little sense to pass up customer support from suppliers like Enco if there are no savings to be realized. These are the same machines but so are the prices so why bother?


http://www.harborfreight.com/13-inch...the-66164.html

http://www.use-enco.com/CGI/INPDFF?P...MITEM=510-2585
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Old 07-23-2011, 07:35 PM
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Oldred !!!! your always right... It doesn't even pay to argue with you..

I know what I have...


I now see what they all mean...
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Old 07-23-2011, 07:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NEW INTERIORS
Oldred !!!! your always right... It doesn't even pay to argue with you..

I know what I have...


I now see what they all mean...

What's your problem man I didn't even disagree with you? If you think I what I am saying is wrong say so but don't be so childish about it.
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Old 07-23-2011, 08:33 PM
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I am glad this question was brought up.

If there was an older machine available used, what would you guys recommend? Is there a manufacturer that stands out?
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Old 07-23-2011, 11:54 PM
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My first lathe is/was an 1934 Southbend 9x18 flat belt machine, I found out it was way to small even for my hobby Hot Rod stuff. I was able to buy a Clausing 12x36 variable speed with an 8 inch 3 jaw and a 12 in 4 jaw, it also had an Aloris AXA tool post holder setup for $1500. I know it's a lot of money, but if I had to pay someone to make all the parts and pieces I've made, I would have shelled out a lot more money. My lathe is a good quality lathe with flame hardened ways and tapered bearings in the headstock. Flame hardened ways a just that, hardened. Not all machines are. This give the machine a better chance of staying accurate (less wear) as it is less prone to wear if kept lubed. I would not recommend anything smaller. Once you start to use it, it's never large enough. I am finding I could use a larger lathe, but that's not happening. I am not sorry for spending that money. Just watch Craigslist. When you are inspecting a lathe, look at the ways, especially near the headstock (as this is where most work is done) to see if the machine has been abused/worn out. You can see if the ways are really worn as they will get a pretty good ridge on the V side of the machine. This will make parts that are longer, have a slight taper in that area as compared to the other end near the tailstock. I will say this, if tool room accuracy is not required an older American made or even Taiwanese machine that has been used a lot will serve you well.

Keith
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Old 07-24-2011, 09:46 AM
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I've got a pre-war Atlas 10x42 that I got from my dad when he sold his hardware store back in the 80's. Great machine! You can occasionally find these on E-Bay in pretty good shape.

Atlas Search

Russ
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Old 07-25-2011, 08:52 AM
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I'll throw in my $.02 on the 3 in 1 option. Oldred is right about 3 in 1's being a compromise. But of the Mill/Drill/Lathe functions, the lathe is the best function of them. The bed is decent length and there is enough area to turn larger items. There are larger chucks available also. As far as accuracy, they can be very good when they're set up properly. Factory dials are usually in metric, and useless. I've mounted digital calipers to the table with very good results. The mill is useful, but you are very limited in height adjustment and table size/travel. I've used my MDL many many times and for a lot of us, there isn't enough room or demand to have separate machines.
Check this site out for machine tool info. http://www.chaski.org/homemachinist
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Old 07-25-2011, 05:42 PM
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Hey Randy,
Quote:
Originally Posted by NEW INTERIORS
And If your going to be using this machine a lot at home... I wouldn't buy anything smaller then A 12x36.... You will soon realize after you have that little one that you just wasted your money.... The swing and the size shaft you can chuck up... Will mean a lot later..... A lathe is like a shop..... It is never big enough..
Lol!, Got it. So you, blwn31 and oldred are in agreement that the wise investment would be to buy a lathe that is larger than the 9x20 right off the bat. The price difference, of course, may be a factor for many who are just starting out as hobbyists.




Hey oldred,
Quote:
Originally Posted by oldred
There are several models of 12x36 lathes and both HF and Enco have carried identical models at times, HF does not even sell a 12x36 anymore. As far as HF, Enco and some others having identical models this is a well known fact and going to the Yahoo group for these lathes will shed a lot of light on why they are the same, yours very well could have been very different than the one you saw at HF but even other Enco models can be different. HF shop machinery is not the same as the junk they sell in the stores and is imported from the same factories as the Enco, Birmingham, etc and they are the same as long as they are the same basic models. An example is the 14x40 I mentioned,


Except for the color this is the same machine,

www.boysungrain.com/dro-2l.htm

as this one

http://www.use-enco.com/CGI/INPDFF?P...MITEM=308-0232


The prices are much the same anymore and the Enco in the link is priced with a lot of accessories and a DRO otherwise it is the same machine as the HF and the YCL1440. That is also the HF model that had the Birmingham manual with it for a while. These are good machines and well built for a Chinese import but they are not the quality of old American or European iron if a good domestic lathe can be found. However just as in the case of that popular 9x20 these particular models are the same whether from HF or Enco but with HF's pricing being nearly the same as Enco it would make little sense to buy from HF with their lack of after-sale support. The Birmingham certainly has a much prettier paint job and they have absolutely excellent customer support while the Enco and HF machines are plain looking and the HF outfit has next to no customer support otherwise they are the same basic machine.
Thank you so much for taking the time to show the similarities. A rookie like me would have immediately fallen for the "expensive must be better" mentality.




Quote:
Originally Posted by cleanspeed1
If there was an older machine available used, what would you guys recommend? Is there a manufacturer that stands out?
Yes, these things would be good to know. If there are older machines with good reliability and the replacement parts are affordable and easily accessible, I wouldn't mind looking into one of those at all.




Hey Keith,
Quote:
Originally Posted by blwn31
My first lathe is/was an 1934 Southbend 9x18 flat belt machine, I found out it was way to small even for my hobby Hot Rod stuff. I was able to buy a Clausing 12x36 variable speed with an 8 inch 3 jaw and a 12 in 4 jaw, it also had an Aloris AXA tool post holder setup for $1500. I know it's a lot of money, but if I had to pay someone to make all the parts and pieces I've made, I would have shelled out a lot more money. My lathe is a good quality lathe with flame hardened ways and tapered bearings in the headstock. Flame hardened ways a just that, hardened. Not all machines are. This give the machine a better chance of staying accurate (less wear) as it is less prone to wear if kept lubed. I would not recommend anything smaller. Once you start to use it, it's never large enough. I am finding I could use a larger lathe, but that's not happening. I am not sorry for spending that money. Just watch Craigslist. When you are inspecting a lathe, look at the ways, especially near the headstock (as this is where most work is done) to see if the machine has been abused/worn out. You can see if the ways are really worn as they will get a pretty good ridge on the V side of the machine. This will make parts that are longer, have a slight taper in that area as compared to the other end near the tailstock. I will say this, if tool room accuracy is not required an older American made or even Taiwanese machine that has been used a lot will serve you well.

Keith
I have been keeping a casual eye for anything that turns up on the local Craigslist. Most of the machines I see lately are from shops that are going out of business and they are very large and expensive. I think $1500 is doable for my budget, but $5000+ requires serious justification at this point in life for me. Of course, if I start making money with it, I'd dish out the moola in a heart beat.




Hey Russ,
Quote:
Originally Posted by S10xGN
I've got a pre-war Atlas 10x42 that I got from my dad when he sold his hardware store back in the 80's. Great machine! You can occasionally find these on E-Bay in pretty good shape.

Atlas Search

Russ
Sweet! I look into those as well. Are replacement parts easy to find for it?




Hey cal1320,
Quote:
Originally Posted by cal1320
I'll throw in my $.02 on the 3 in 1 option. Oldred is right about 3 in 1's being a compromise. But of the Mill/Drill/Lathe functions, the lathe is the best function of them. The bed is decent length and there is enough area to turn larger items. There are larger chucks available also. As far as accuracy, they can be very good when they're set up properly. Factory dials are usually in metric, and useless. I've mounted digital calipers to the table with very good results. The mill is useful, but you are very limited in height adjustment and table size/travel. I've used my MDL many many times and for a lot of us, there isn't enough room or demand to have separate machines.
Good to know. Some members may have no choice but to buy a 3-in-1.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cal1320
Check this site out for machine tool info. http://www.chaski.org/homemachinist
So glad you mentioned this forum. Tons of info. Suddenly there is too much to read!




Thank you guys for the very helpful tips and pointers. If you guys have anything else to add, please do so as I am sure cleanspeed1, myself and others will find it very helpful.
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Old 07-25-2011, 05:59 PM
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We have an older Taiwanese lathe that is IDENTICAL to this Jet



I think it's a good size if you have room (13x40).

And since it's not a Jet, I can only assume many other manufacturers made this exact same lathe.

However, since the times have changed, it's probably worth your while to get one that doesn't involve moving a belt to change speeds!
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