View Full Version : Lots of questions on getting started

03-08-2004, 01:12 PM
I am very interested in learning how to operate various metalworking tools, and I have several questions that may help me get started on the right foot.

First, I have purchased several machining fundamental books that I have been reading over the last several months. Now I believe that it is time to start formulating a plan to set up a small garage workshop.

I want to get a lathe, vertical mill, and metal bandsaw over the course of the next year or so. Should I start with a lathe or mill? Which has the higher learning curve?

Also, given that I will have a small “learning” shop, what tools should I consider.

I am weary on used tools, because I could not currently identify problems with ones that I might find.
I don’t want very small tools… sherline, taig.ect.
I also want to minimize the initial machine cost as I will have to tool it up. I have looked at several options, but I don’t want to make a bad mistake initially that I will have to live with for years to come.

What suggestions are out there?

I am in Birmingham, Alabama if anyone wants some free weekend labor. I would appreciate any opportunity to learn from those with experience.


Paul Alciatore
03-08-2004, 02:43 PM

Where to start is a loaded question. If you have sufficient resources to purchase everything you mention over a year then it may just hinge on the learning process. Or, if you have specific projects in mind, their needs may dictate where you should start. There is no "best" answer.

I personally started over 40 years ago with a small machine that did "everything": the Unimat. After that I aquired a grinder, a drill press, a metal cutting band saw, and now a South Bend 9" lathe. I also have access to a mill-drill and a 3 in 1 sheet metal machine here at work.

The lathe is sometimes described as "the only machine that can build itself". That is literally true as described in the first of Gingerly's books where he tells how to start from scratch and make a lathe doing much of the work on the partially completed machine itself. He also uses the lathe to do work on all the later machines he describes how to make in other vooks in the series. The lathe is also a great machine to teach you about cutting metal. It is directly and primarily involved in using a "single point" cutting tool and you will learn about the variables of the cutting process by using different tools to make different cuts in different materials. It will also teach you a lot about accuracy and the problems attached to achieving it.

The mill is also a good tool to learn from. Different way of cutting, different setups, different problems. And it makes a different kind of part or a different kind of feature on the part.

Which ever you start with, I would not put off the bandsaw for very long. I did but now that I have it I wish I had bought it 40 years ago. It's the most used tool in my shop except perhaps for the drill press.

And that's another one that should be failrly high on your list, the drill press. I have a small, bench top model but it has a 1/2" chuck and is just so useful that it's hard to describe. If you get a mill-drill you can drill there but the drill press is still faster and handier for many, many jobs. And you can complete some work that started on the mill-drill there without disturbing your setup if you are doing multiple parts.

Oh, and you will need a grinder before long.

PS: Don't assume that only used tools have problems. Read the posts in some of the machine specific forums on Yahoo before buying anything. I purchased a South Bend lathe last year that is about as old as I am. It is made in the USA by a company that believed in quality. I don't know how many times I have marveled at the design features that don't seem logical at first but after I use it I can only think that that's another thing that they got right. That's not to say that it doesn't have problems. But they have been the ones I expected, mainly due to years of use.

Good luck, have fun, make chips. And use this and other boards. I have learned an awful lot here.

Paul A.

03-08-2004, 03:01 PM

Thanks for the reply. I have read about Dave Gingerly's books, and I have a catalog sitting here at work. It would be at least another year if I spent the money to equip a small aluminum foundry and build me own lathe.

I do already have a drill press, and the grinder is on the short list to purchase. I am mainly looking for input on what lathe or mill to purchase and the order that I should acquire them.

I have no problem with used machinery. In fact if I knew what to look for, then I would probably go that route. However, I don't have the knowledge or experience to determine what is a good used machine, and what should be melted down for scrap. I also don't know about the availability of replacement or missing parts for a used machine. Then there is the cost of shipping a used machine. With my luck I would win and EBAY auction from a guy in Alaska, and the shipping would cost more than the lathe.

A couple of the books I am reading describe the various cutting/threading processes for the lathe, and it is much more complicated than I initially thought. I am eagerly awaiting my first opportunity to make something other than wood chips.

03-08-2004, 05:26 PM
I'm in the Huntsville area. If you ever get up this way I'd be happy to give you the "cook's tour" of what I have. I'm just a novice with no professional experience, but been dabbling in this for about 6 or 7 years. But I did take 3 or 4 vo-tech courses at Calhoun Community College over at Decatur, which really helped me a lot. If you have anything like that in the B'ham area it'd be well worth it to take some courses. Having an experienced machinist to turn to with a problem is invaluable. Would help with the shopping/decision process also. I'm fortunate to also have a machinist son-in-law, which helps me a lot too.
I understand your reservations about buying 'used' stuff without the experience, but that's the way I went, and am glad I did. My lathe is a LeBlond, which is pretty commonplace, but probably nowhere near as plentiful as the Southbends. I'd think you'd have no problems with finding a S'Bend part if you needed it. ...tho might take some searching.

Regarding the order of purchase: I'd go for the lathe first. I find it more fun. And, while there may not be more round things than angular things in the world, it kind of seems that way. I seem to need to make round things on the lathe much more than I use the milling machine.

[This message has been edited by lynnl (edited 03-08-2004).]

03-08-2004, 05:43 PM

Thanks for the advice and the offer. I grew up in Huntsville, and I will be up there this weekend. If you have any time Sat, I would love to stop bye and get the cook's tour. Let me know if this is a good time. I make it up there quite frequently, so whenever is fine with me.

03-08-2004, 06:15 PM
I expect to be around over this weekend. Tho it's B'day party weekend for two of my Grandkids (not at my house), so probably early Sat or Late would be best.

03-08-2004, 06:43 PM
I agree with what Paul and Lynn mentioned.
Reading is a great place to start. If you can find some machining classes, you would be wise to take them.
My personal opinion is to start with a lathe, as it sees constant use in my shop, but this decision should be dictated by which machine is required to perform the operations you need done the most.
Unlike many, I have nothing against a decent 12x36 imported lathe. You get a new, fully equipped lathe for not too much $$. But don't let your inability to identify problems with used equipment stop you. There are several web sites that can give you the information you need to get a good one.

03-08-2004, 09:15 PM

Thanks for the advise. I was planning on purchasing the lathe first, and it is good that you guys have comfirmed that plan. I have not yet found any machining classes in the Birmingham area, Right now it looks like that I will be self taught. One of the books that I am reading right now is Machining Fundamentals by John Walker. Any other reading suggestions are welcome. I have been reading the Amazon reviews to determine my next purchase.

03-09-2004, 12:54 PM
If you haven't already, I'd strongly suggest you subscribe to the magazines of our BB host: "Home Shop Machinist" and "Metal Working". That's not simply a commercial plug for our host..., over time the knowledge you'll accumulate from reading the articles will pay off handsomely.

BTW Jeff, I'll send you an email w/my phone #, so you can call me and get my address and directions to my house.

[This message has been edited by lynnl (edited 03-09-2004).]

Paul Alciatore
03-09-2004, 01:40 PM

First, don't let the lengthy discussions in books scare you off. Get a machine and make some chips. It's really fairly easy to start and you will learn and grow into the need for the more detailed knowledge found in the books. Start with some aluminum and work up to steel. Buy some already sharpened tools to start and just cut. Get the feel of it. It's great.

I don't know what you are considering in new equipment but I suspect it will be Asian/Chinese. I would strongly suggest that you check out the make and model as well as the supplier's reputation before buying. I sat in on several of the Yahoo BBs on the various lathes before buying and I can tell you that buying a new machine is NOT a guarantee that problems will be absent or that parts will be available. Yahoo has specific boards for most popular machines. I have seen stories of parts that took months to arrive for a current model machine. I have a Grizzly mill-drill at work and the drawbar broke. Rather than wait weeks or more for a replacement I just repaired the original. As for parts for used equipment, there are guys that buy the unrepairable ones and "part them out". That is, they sell all the good parts. Also, I can still get new factory parts for my 50+ year old South Bend perhaps faster than for a new Chinese one.

Oh, I wasn't recommending that you build your own machines. I was just using Gingerly's books as a way to make the point that the lathe is likely the most useful of the two in a general sense. With the milling attachment you can even do small milling jobs on the lathe.

Paul A.

03-10-2004, 05:53 AM
Jeff, I live in Albertville which is just about in the middle between Huntsville and Birmingham, I don't have much of a shop other than a small band saw, drill press and a 9" South Bend lathe along with $25,000 worth of machinist tools and a very expensive Cad and seperate Cam package but I am in the process of building me a small knee mill, as of right now I have the table about 90% finished and am working on the dials and the lead screws along with a pattern to have the knee of the mill cast. I am using one of the old Cataract/Hardinge vertical mills as a base concept.
Just as a bit of information, I do build plastic injection molds for a living and have so for 24 years, my father and I had our own 5 man shop for 6 1/2 years.
There is pretty much no machinery that I haven't run, grinders, EDM, CNC, manual mills, die mills, lathes of all styles and sizes along with cutter grinders,pantographs and shapers, although I haven't run a shaper since trade school. I unlike most guys that got into the trade did not do so for the money, I did it because I genuinely like to build stuff.
If you ever get up this way give me a call or e-mail me threw this forum. I have a yahoo e-mail address in my profile.

03-11-2004, 02:13 AM
You are making me jealous for living in NJ and trying to go through the same process. Thanks for starting the thread because I have learned a lot just reading through it.

Anyone in NJ need someone to sweep up your chips? http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//smile.gif

03-11-2004, 06:17 AM
If at all possible try to take some classes in basic machining, because if nothing else it will give you a basic understanding and foundation of the safety rulles and a good general idea of what kind of machine you will want to work on your future projects. Donlt rush into it, - take your time and you cn find some great deals if you are patient and keep your ears open and eyes peeled for that first "Dream Machine".

In the mean time, read some of the old archived posts of the questions others have asked about slecting machines - there is lots of them to read!

And, hey - Welcome to zoo, laddy!

03-11-2004, 09:56 AM
I have not been able to find any machining classes around here. I noticed a few CNC classes but they would be a good hours drive from me, and they are during the day. I did, through another member here find some cool welding and casting classes that I might take.

I just hope that I can either find a good used lathe in the next 3-4 months around here. If not it is going to be a new 9X20 lathemaster or jet model as of right now. I want to try and spend around $1000 for a machine so that I can still afford to buy some tooling for it. It would be terrible to have a nicer lathe and no tools to run it. I appreciate all the help, everyone has given me so far. Without the internet, I would never be able to pick up such a complicated set of skills. Keep the advice coming.

03-11-2004, 10:52 AM
I used to post but haven't in awhile - anyway,to anyone starting out in NJ - I live in the Northern NJ/Meadowlands area - if anyone wants to get together to look over equipement (I have a combo of old American iron and newer Asian stuff) or swap ideas, contact me at my email: dagaiusa@netscape.net

03-11-2004, 10:22 PM
I may have to take you up on that sometime if you don't mind. I'm near Morristown, but work in Lyndhurst. I'll send you my contact info via email - thanks for the offer.

One question, for you guys talking about bandsaws, are you talking vertical or horizontal? I've used horizontal since most of my previous work was welding etc and used a lot of plasma cutting, but never tried a vertical bandsaw. Thanks!

03-13-2004, 12:58 PM
One of the most useful tools I purchased is Milwaukie Porta-band-saw. I can clamp small pieces in a vice and cut them to size, or take it to my "stock pile" and cut a smaller piece off a larger, longer piece.
It also works good to "rough out" a piece before putting it in the milling machine, or to take the corners off a larger piece that you want to make round in the lathe.

03-16-2004, 01:57 AM
This is great information! I just found this bbs and have been reading on it for about 3 hours straight. I, too, am wanting to get started and set up a garage shop. So far I have a drill press. I'm taking a machine shop class at a local tech school and the lathe I use there is a 13" standard/modern. Checked them out online and decided real quick there is no way I'll be able to afford something like that short of winning the lotto. I was wondering about the Smithy line of lathe/mill/drill tools. Are they any good? Is it better to have separate tools? What brands are good and what brands should I stay away from? (I was looking at Grizzly until I found some neg. comments about them on this bbs). Would a chop saw be about as good as a band saw for most cutting jobs? As with other newbees on this post, I would be very greatful and eager to meet anyone with tools/experience and the willingness to let me shadow them while they work once in a while. I live in the Dallas/Fortworth, TX area...

03-16-2004, 03:36 AM
harley, do a search on "separate machines" and "smithy" to get more opinions then you probably want. Some Grizzly machines give a lot of bang for the buck IMHO.
No, a chop saw is not an equivalent to a band saw. A band saw is much more useful in the average shop.
I live a few miles north of you in McKinney. My door is open to anyone who would like to stop by.

03-16-2004, 11:15 AM
I suggest ebay for the machines and tooling. Just watch it for a while and keep a list of what the different brands and models are going for. When something shows up in your area you can look it over. By then you should know an appropriate price. For a good indicator of condition look for wear on the ways. In the case of a mill push and pull on the end of the table. There should be very little movement.
I bought a very cheap but very worn Bridgeport and rebuilt it. It took so long to grind and scrape the ways. It would have cost more than a new mill if I had to pay someone to do it.
Then I bought an old CNC mill that is in better condition than most new manual mills and it cost half the price of a new manual mill.

03-16-2004, 11:23 AM
I think the import 4" x 6" (or 5" x 6") horizonatal/vertical bandsaws are a pretty good deal for a home shop. I got one maybe 10-15 years ago and it's been fine. As long as you view it as a semi-finished kit of parts that will take a little tuning to get into really good shape, you won't be disappointed.

I'd take it over a chop saw. For one thing, I can start it going, then go do something else while it's working its way through a piece of heavy stock.

03-16-2004, 03:16 PM
Rather than purchasing heavy machinery from Ebay and having it shipped I would suggest placing an "Want" ad in your local classified newspaper. That way you might be able to locate somone close that has upgraded to a better machine and would like to get rid of his older unit for a great price. They might also be able to help deliver it to you if it is real big or heavy. Ebay is great for small tools and parts. You could also return to the forum with questions about any find you are considering Don Smith

03-17-2004, 02:00 AM
Joel, I'd love to check out your shop and shoot the breeze if you have time. I have next to nothing going on this week and weekend and am free most afternoons and evenings. I don't want to intrude, so I'll defer to your schedule. Can you email me @ jasons@drse.com?

03-18-2004, 10:47 PM
You should also pick up a copy of "How To Run A Lathe" by Southbend. you can find them on ebay.
With the economy the way it is and jobs going overseas, there are a lot of machine shops in my area (KC) going out of business, You might look for a sale at one of these for a good used toolroom lathe.