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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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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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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hey oldred,
oldred said:
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.




oldred said:
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.




oldred said:
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.




oldred said:
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! :thumbup:
 

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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-12-Mini-Metal-Lathe/G8688
 

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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.. :nono: 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.. :mwink:
 

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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

www.use-enco.com/CGI/INPDFF?PMPAGE=580&PMITEM=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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Oldred !!!! your always right... It doesn't even pay to argue with you.. :nono:

I know what I have... :nono:


I now see what they all mean... :spank:
 

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NEW INTERIORS said:
Oldred !!!! your always right... It doesn't even pay to argue with you.. :nono:

I know what I have... :nono:


I now see what they all mean... :spank:

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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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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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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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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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Hey Randy,
NEW INTERIORS said:
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.. :mwink:
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,
oldred said:
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

www.use-enco.com/CGI/INPDFF?PMPAGE=580&PMITEM=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.




cleanspeed1 said:
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,
blwn31 said:
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,
S10xGN said:
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,
cal1320 said:
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.

cal1320 said:
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! :D




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. :thumbup:
 

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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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lt1silverhawk said:
A rookie like me would have immediately fallen for the "expensive must be better" mentality.


If you can't invest in a larger lathe the little 9x20 can make for a decent learning tool and you can make some useful parts on it, it also has a large following and because of this actually holds it's value surprisingly well. Check out this site dedicated to the very common basic 9x20 sold by various suppliers. This guy goes into detail about what you need to know before buying and describes some simple mods that greatly increase the versatility of this little machine,

http://bedair.org/9x20.html
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Hey JohnnyK81,
JohnnyK81 said:
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!
If you don't mind, I'd like to know more about this belt-moving deal. What is the better alternate?




Hey oldred,
oldred said:
If you can't invest in a larger lathe the little 9x20 can make for a decent learning tool and you can make some useful parts on it, it also has a large following and because of this actually holds it's value surprisingly well. Check out this site dedicated to the very common basic 9x20 sold by various suppliers. This guy goes into detail about what you need to know before buying and describes some simple mods that greatly increase the versatility of this little machine,

http://bedair.org/9x20.html
Sweet! I wouldn't mind buying a used one now to play with before deciding on a larger, permanent one. Maybe make a few things or rent it out to raise the funds while I'm at it.
 

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JohnnyK81 said:
We have an older Taiwanese lathe that is IDENTICAL to this Jet


The Taiwanese machines are also sold under different names, including that JET and other larger Jet models, and are a cut above the ones from mainland China but then they are priced accordingly-your Taiwan machine is most likely better quality than most common Chinese outfits. The 14x40 Birmingham I mentioned, the YCL, is the common Chinese model sold under various names including HF's "Central Machinery" and Birmingham has a different much more expensive Taiwanese 14x40 lathe that has little in common with the Chinese version. Those Chinese machines are decent however, at least the 12x36 and larger models, and I certainly have gotten good service from mine. It has been used daily doing some heavy duty service making mining machinery parts for three years now and so far has been very accurate and zero trouble, it would make an excellent hobby machine that would cover any hobby type needs.
 

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Mine, if I recall, before my time, was used a lot for gunsmithing.. And at some point, made it's way into my parents garage.. Could use a tune up, but it seems like decent equipment (Of course, coming from semi-competent machinists such as myself, maybe it's great, who knows)! It sure could use a carriage lock though. I see no mention of one in the schematics (Hand drawn schematics.. With some poor english as well.. But still, lots of perfectly hand drawn schematics.. It's kind of entertaining, and useful).

By belt, I mean, in that picture, you can see the top lifts off on a hinge. You then move belts on a pulleys to adjust the spindle speed.

There is also 2 sets of gearing you can use, by pulling out a lock and moving a lever.. I assume this is what they refer to as 'back geared'.. Correct me if I'm wrong Oldred.. I have studied compressed air, not machining. :D

The alternative you asked about is most lathes you see now (I believe? Haven't really shopped for one) have a quick change gearbox on the front with levers to change the speeds.. I suppose it's more convenient. I also assume there are no belts, but I could be mistaken.

And on a side note oldred, is a backgeared (if that's what this is) lathe considered good, bad, obsolete, etc? (Right now it's just a lathe covered in bondo dust.. sigh).
 

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I realize the I want it now factor, but just keep watching CL. You will find a suitable machine at the price you are willing to pay. Like we have been saying, a 12 x 36 would be the absolute minimum I would consider purchasing. You will find out real soon the limitations of the smaller machines. Then you will be kicking yourself. I agree with "new interiors", a lathe is like a shop, it' never big enough. One other thought, I am a member of Home Shop Machinist forum, you may want to consider poking around there. A machine may come up that is a little far for you to drive for a look see, but a friendly request may get a member to take a look at if for ya. Plus, the members are very knowledgeable. Hope I didn't break any rules naming another forum.


Keith
 
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