View Full Version : bang for the buck

Mr. Eye
04-12-2006, 08:35 PM
I'm going to have about $2,500 to spend on a lathe and mill and tooling. I have looked at all the lathes and mills I might be able to afford, but having no experience with machining I dont know what would work for me. I dont have any specific projects in mind. I'm just trying to get the most for the money. Auctions are not good for me as I have no idea if a given machine is in good operating condition. If nothing else can you tell me what to stay away from.

Thank You

04-12-2006, 08:55 PM
I think you need to get a better handle on what your needs are before you worry about what to buy for machinery.

Get some books, do some reading, maybe take a night class, so you have some idea of what you're doing. I could recommend to you what *I* would buy, but my needs may have little or nothing in common with yours, and if you bought my recommendations you'd end up disappointed.

I keep saying it: this is a long-term hobby. Don't expect to be able to walk into it cold, and start cranking out stuff. It took me at least 10 years of self-education before I began to really feel as though I knew what I was doing, and I'm still learning after 30 years at it. I'm sure the other guys here would all say they're still learning, too. Cultivate patience.

04-12-2006, 09:46 PM
I echo SGW's advice. Spend some time evaluating your interests and the direction you might take before making a major commitment.

$2500 is a significant amount to have for starting to equip a shop, but it may not be sufficient to equip a shop that is capable of all functions.

The expense of setting up a shop can go far beyond the purchase of a couple of machine tools, consumables, fixturing and measuring equipment is also necessary to get the most from your shop.

It would suggest to start small, and work your way into a full shop as your interest and needs develop, rather than buying at random, and ending up frustrated when you find you should have purchased different types or sizes of equipment.

A good lathe in the 10"-12" range will handle all but the most ambitious project, and serve as the backbone of most home shops. Add a bench drill press, and maybe a 4"X6" bandsaw, and you will be able to tackle some projects and get a feel where your interests may take you.

04-12-2006, 11:23 PM
As mentioned by SGW & JC, it all depends what you think you might be doing. Are you going to be model building ? Restoration of old engines, cars, bikes, etc. Make & mend farm/ marine repairs ? Going in to business ?
For some things you'll need small equipment, other stuff will require heavier equipment (eg restoring old engines & tractors...big parts = bigger machines.)
This hobby or job is definitely a learning experience. Take some courses if you can, maybe before you buy. At least then you'll know more about what you like doing. I've had some formal training, worked at it some, and now do it as a hobby & part time job. Mostly do repairs, HVAC equipment, boat stuff & tractor stuff for myself & others. I like building tooling and do the odd model engine (eg. Stuart-Turner 5A). I'm still learning after 16 years...I'll be the first to admit I've bought the odd dog of a machine too...Some friends think I run a retirement home for old iron.
Also, if you hang around with the wrong people (machinists, model engineers) it can become addicting.
Have fun with it no matter what you do.

04-13-2006, 01:47 AM
I think taking classes is an excellent idea. If available, they will introduce you to the machines, operations and capabilities of the equipment. That will help you to learn what you can do.

Have you tried to find local metalworking/machining clubs? That would give you exposure to the tools and people using them. You would see what others are doing and how. This might help you to figure out what you want to do.

Good Luck

04-13-2006, 02:01 AM
I like to build Steam locomotives. The size of the ones I build are determined by the machine tools I have. I've been forced to work in 3/4" scale. Well atleast the cost of materials are much lower. 1.5" scale locomotive, you'd want atleast a 13" lathe. I have a 9" South Bend and a HF micro mill.
Hmm, if I had the money, I'd get an Emco 11" lathe and one of those dove tail colum mill drills or a BP clone. Hell, I'd also get a surface grinder, and a... Hell, the list NEVER stops growing. Just make some chips.

04-13-2006, 02:02 AM
Oh yeh to answer your question... Bang for the buck... My 9" South Bend was 475$ Works for me, for you, I dont know, thats why your question is hard to answer.

04-13-2006, 03:48 AM
As well as project constraints there are physical constraints to consider...more data you could provide would be your rigging capability, do you have a truck and flatbed trailer, living situation (is there any reasonable chance that you might have to move the machinery at a later date?), etc. Moving expenses can add up real quick as you get into the heavier iron. Would you be comfortable with a two to five thousand pound machine? Or would you need something at a ton or under that can fit in a garage relatively easily?

Once you give a project envelope (miniature and modeling, cars and bikes, farm repair and odd jobs) and a physical envelope we can start to narrow down suggestions.

I echo the others advice to search out some inexpensive votech in your area, not only for the experience but also for the networking possibilities. Keep an eye on your local classifieds and if you find something complete, and cheap (like say free-$500), snap it up and start as a learning tool.

If you don't have the time and resources (cheap transportation and rigging) to mess around and need something delivered and relatively ready to go, then your budget is unrealistic for both a mill and lathe in all but the smallest sizes...

If I was starting over, and I was comfortable financially, but had a $2500 fun budget, was in a say a single family home with two car garage then I would be looking at an import 12" lathe like this belt drive:


I have a threaded spindle Southbend and it has worked fine for me but once I get to reading about upside down tools and such here, I wouldn't mind a non threaded spindle like:


I wonder why they don't make a belt drive cam or taper lock spindle machine?

Mr. Eye
04-13-2006, 10:26 AM
Thanks for your prompt replies. Your correct in that I still have a ways to go before I buy anything. I will try to narrow my parameters on what I will be happy with after reading some books on machining. Damn I thought that getting the money was the hard part. :)
Again thanks for your help. I realize I didnt give you much to work with.

04-13-2006, 11:00 AM
One thing none of us mentioned is suscribing to The Home Shop Machinist, Machinist's Workshop and Live Steam magazines offered by the hosts of this forum. Subscription info is on the home page. This will give an introduction to the hobby, and the projects will give some idea of what various sized machines can accomplish.

I don't know where you are located, but the NAMES show in Toledo next week is an excellent showcase of model engineering and home shop work as well as a source for tools and tooling. www.modelengineeringsoc.com

There are several other shows during the year that are advertised in the mags as well. These are all worth attending.

04-13-2006, 11:50 AM
Mr. Eye, $2500 for a lathe AND mill is a pretty tight budget. Throw in tooling, and you are apt to be hurting pretty badly. In addition, you haven't mentioned a lot of other basics, but a drill press and a grinder seem almost essential to me in my shop. You would need to look at the cheapest of Asian tools to fit all of this into your budget, it seems to me. There are those who say you spend as much on tooling as the machine, and I have learned painfully that those annoying people are right.

By all means, check out a few books, my reading list is here:


and also figure out what sorts of projects you want to build. As others mentioned, knowing your project will help inform your spending.

One alternative to trying to get all of the machines lined up and under that budget is to grow more slowly. I would seriously consider investment in a nicer lathe and leaving the mill for potentially much later. Perhaps a year or more down the road. Get a drill press and grinder too, but these can be pretty cheap compared to a mill.

I suggest this for several reasons. First, the lathe is definitely the place to start learning the machinist's skills. They're a lot easier than mills! Spending a solid year locking in the lathe basics without any distraction from a mill is time well spent. Second, you can accomplish a lot with a good lathe and a milling attachment for the lathe. I am not talking about a 3-in-1 machine here, but rather a gadget that let's you mill things in your lathe. Here is one such:


Lastly, because you didn't have to squeeze a mill into the budget, you can buy a larger/nicer lathe that will have a longer future in your home shop. Your budget will be less stressed and you can go about spending it a little more slowly buying what you really need and with a more informed view of what you need from each piece of tooling.

At least this gives you another strategy to think about.



04-13-2006, 12:19 PM
Mr. Eye,
I agree what the others have told you about $2500 being a tight budget.
If you had the time to go to auctions - or better yet - knew of folks that could hook you up with equipment before it hits ebay, auction etc, then used is a good way to go. By the time I started looking to get my own equipment, I already had 8 or so years in the trade. Since I was working and going to school - no time for auctions. So - I bought a 12 x 36 Enco Gear Head Lathe. It has served me well for almost 10 years and I really don't have any major complaints. I also purchased a Grizzly knee mill (new) about 2 years later - again, no time to chase auctions and no complaints with Grizzly - great support service.
That being said - I also have a shaper, drill press, die filer and surface grinder that I got through contacts and auctions. It took me a year to restore my shaper. The only reason I got to the auctions was because I was unemployed at the time:( Anyway, the point to my longwinded reply is that I think you'd be better off limiting yourself to a lathe at first due to $ and your situation and $. It took me years to get a fully equipped (almost) shop - so don't feel you need or can do it in one shot. Take that class first if possible - once you work on a real lathe - you might not feel like a table top machine. See if you can find a mentor or old timer that can give you some advice.
BTW: where are you located?

Let us know what you end up doing and best of luck to you.


04-13-2006, 01:54 PM
Is that $2500 on just the machines, or do you have additional budgeted for tooling? Tooling can equal the price of the machines, but it's usually spread over time as one discovers new "needs".

Just bare machines, I'd suggest a 11x36 or 12x36 import lathe in the $1500 range. With tax and shipping that might be hard to do. You can get a 10x24 from Grizzly for about 4100, but it has no quick-chage box for easy threading.

For the Mill, the Seig X3 as sold by Grizzly and Lathemaster is probably the best mill under $1000.

If the $2500 has to cover tooling. I'd suggest one of two routes:

G0516 Grizzly is a 10x24 lathe with a milling column, for about $1100.
The lathe has no QC box, so it uses change gears. Reportedly a very good machine. It is made by Seig and other vendors offer it, including some with variable speed and other upgrades. In addition, you can buy a minimill base from LMS, mount the milling column to that and have a separate minimill.
Colors may not match :)

There are Yahoo discussion groups devoted to each of the above-mentioned machines, as well as most others. A little time reading their archives will help you learn what each can and can't do, and maybe help you understand what you might use them for.

When comparing similar machines from various vendors, take into account:
Included tooling and accessories.
Freight or local pickup
Sales taxes where applicable

04-13-2006, 02:08 PM
Good comments, especially "It took me years to get a fully equipped (almost) shop - so don't feel you need or can do it in one shot."

To give you an idea of a timeline, I bought my lathe in 1978. I bought my milling machine in 1985. I finally bought a DRO for the milling machine last year. Would it have been nice to have everything at once? Sure. I couldn't afford to. That's okay.

Others may not agree, but personally I'd rather buy really good equipment, slowly, than to buy a lot of things I'll always be a little dissatisfied with (maybe very dissatisfied with) all at once.

04-14-2006, 01:12 PM
Echoing what others have said... It's comparable to saying "I'd like to build models". Well, what kind of models? Cars, trains, etc. How big? The list goes on.

I've found it really helpful, when possible, to see (and hopefully operate) something before buying. I bought a Bridgeport because we had one where I worked years ago. I got to work (play?) with it a bit, and I was a little familiar. It also has a decent rep, although there are many others that also get good marks.

Hang around here a bit. There is a lot of good info, some bad, and a few opinions. After a while, you'll know where the good info comes from, and even who specializes in what. I think most folks here are not professional machinists or metalworkers, although there are some. That makes the range of knowledge pretty wide, and I've found that it also gets metalworking into a surprizing range of applications.

Mr. Eye
04-14-2006, 05:50 PM
When I made this post it was to get exactly the kind of information I have received. Having worked construction for 30 years I'm no stranger to tools and equipment. I' ve learned the hard way it always payes to buy quality tools. With that and your replies in mind I'm going to just look for a good quality lathe. I sometimes start to get ahead of myself. Thanks for pulling me back abit.

BTW: I live in Geneva NY, it's in the Finger Lakes area.

Once again thank you all.

04-14-2006, 06:08 PM
It frequently begins with money as the main problem. Then you find that you have the money but can't find a machine within reasonable distance or condition. Finally, you find that you don't have enough time to use the machinery because work seems to get in the way :D

04-19-2006, 05:17 AM
I think you should go to college and get a Mechanical Engineering degree like I did. My dad has been a machinist for like 40 years, has lathe, and a 12 car polebuilding shop but all he does is sweep the floor. Its a clean shop but he only knows how to make widgets or turn large round stock into smaller. Get an engineering degree and you will know how to design/redesign/modify infinite mechanisms that actually do something other than serve as hideously expensive machinist's widgets: pen holder, coffee coaster, etc. "Yea, I turned this coffee coaster from a 10# aluminum bar." - Great dad, now I know why American industry sucks so bad, but at least you made 'something' with your DRO equipped and CNC machinery.

04-19-2006, 07:25 AM
I look forward to the day where all I have to worry about is the design of my custom CNC machined coffee cup holder.

If your father has been a machinist for 40 years and has a CNC in his home shop, I’d be willing to bet he can make a helluva lot more than just ‘widgets’.
Nor have I met many good machinists that don’t know how to “design/redesign/modify infinite mechanisms that actually do something” impressively well.

Of course, unlike the part the engineer designed, the one the machinist makes will actually work. ;)

04-19-2006, 08:20 AM
Of course, unlike the part the engineer designed, the one the machinist makes will actually work. ;)

Yeah, for about 10 minutes then it breaks and kills the operator or destroys something. Machinists for the most part think they know more about engineering than degreed engineers while actually not knowing anything at all. They are good at telling ancedotes or just making bs up that sounds good but is just bs.

04-19-2006, 10:59 AM
My first job in a machine shop was for a job shop that did microwave components for the military - all high dollar, hush, hush stuff.

You would be amazed at the number of dimensional mistakes there were. Not design flaws, but dimensioning mistakes. And this was stuff that was going into Fighter planes, Missile Cruisers, Satellites, and Cruise Missiles.:eek:

Until fairly recently it was very uncommon for engineers to be exposed to "real world" situations in terms of design - almost all of their schooling involves math and theory, but little "hands on" work. That, thank god, is changing.


Weston Bye
04-19-2006, 11:36 AM
Does Mortimerex have some *issues* with his dad? Leaving that aside, Mortimerex should remember that this is a hobby magazine and forum and most of us are beyond (for age or economic reasons) “getting a Mechanical Engineering Degree” before we start making chips.
Conversely, I think it would be a better idea for prospective Mechanical Engineers to spend some time making chips before getting too deep into the Holy Theory of Mechanical Engineering.

This forum is a place for helping each other to enjoy the machining hobby. Not where garrulous old coots carefully guard the Ancient and Sacred Knowledge of Machining on the Only Real and True Ancient Engines of the Machining Arts (Bridgeport, Hardinge, South Bend, etc. etc. etc), or where the degreed Bringers of Perfect Knowledge Hand down Holy Writ from the University. Most of us are somewhere in between, doing with what we have, can afford, or build. More education is a good thing and better equipment is nice, but advice to get a degree or get a fancier machine isn’t all that helpful.

04-19-2006, 11:59 AM
Yeah, for about 10 minutes then it breaks and kills the operator or destroys something. Machinists for the most part think they know more about engineering than degreed engineers while actually not knowing anything at all. They are good at telling ancedotes or just making bs up that sounds good but is just bs.

Trolling, are we? I don't have a degree. I do know a good deal more than many engineers, both theory and application. I actually have enough credit to get a couple of degrees but didn't get around to it. It makes no difference to what you know, that bit of paper that I could make up in a few minutes with a quality ink jet printer.

I suggest you stay away from aircraft, they are all built and maintained by people without degrees, including all of the structural maintenance and repairs. Incidentally, I used to work for Xerox. They had a program where new engineering grads they hired had to accompany a field service rep for six months and actually go out doing repairs on the type of equipment they were hired to design. This was to finish the education that they didn't get in school, namely, how to design something that can actually be built and serviced.

04-19-2006, 12:12 PM
I was "raised" at the lathe by my dad, but he never was a journyman machinist, he (HS dropoout) followed the money (union work, not in the machine shops then) to feed his family (bla, bla bla...)

I many years later got a Mechanical Engineering degree (associates of science) and again bla, bla, bla...

I never earned a living as a machinist or as an engineer, bla, bla, bla...

so I haven't really been on both sides of this fence, but the grass is always greener on the otherside.

Often the only difference between the two men was how much money they had access to, and if they had time to spend "educating the mind" or "working for wages". I have had to work at a few things that I did not "enjoy" just to keep from being BDC. And have had (too often) my "life" as a civilian interrupted by the military, that has caused the complete "disjunction" and complete "impossibility" of my plans made before "bellus interruptus".

My last job was union, and when the company closed, before the "issue" of my tools that went missing while I was overseas (hopefully my last war) they(union) supported my struggle to get the full insured value for my tools, as per the contract, and in the end (about 2 years after my return) the union and I prevailed.

"They" didn't leave me no ladder, I've had to climb my own way up here. Your mileage may vary...

04-19-2006, 12:17 PM

Perhaps you would like to have a look at the below link. I designed it and built it. Using this device I have extended the generally accepted capability of a 35mm camera to capture faint objects in the sky on film by two to three orders of magnitude. This is a significant advance in astrophotography and was recognized as such by several professionals in the field including a professor in astrophysics at the University of Northern British Columbia and the director of a major Arizona observatory. They were on the judging commitee that awarded the mechanical excellence award that I received for it. It is the only one of its kind.



04-19-2006, 01:06 PM
Yeah...wow...as a guy with a degree in an engineering field, I am almost embarrassed about the comments above.

Sure, as engineers, we all know machinists or other folks with more hands-on skills who just bad-mouth engineers for the dumb mistakes they make and insist that they must not be very smart. At the same time, these folks are not actually able to do the job of the engineer. They are just crumudgeons and make their own mistakes in their own areas, but don't talk about them. They like to poke fun at educated folks under the premise that they must all lack common sense...but these machinists are not the majority.

On the other hand, the longer I have been around in this world, the more convinced I am that there are plenty of people who, as my father used to say, are "educated beyond their intelligence". I work for a university, surrounded by some amazingly intelligent *and* well educated folks. I have also seen the other end of things...the guy with a PhD in one or more areas who can't figure out how to change a flat. You cannot teach common sense and you can fix ignorant, but you cannot fix stupid.

All that having been said, I worked years ago with a guy with no degree who was clearly the sharpest broadcast engineer at the station I worked at. It reminded me that there are lots of ways of getting to the right end. He was a sharp guy, like Evan, who knew how to find information and assimilate it in a way that no class or curriculum would ever match.

Back to the topic at hand....No need for an engineering degree to figure out most stuff. From the perspective of my machining hobby, I would rather have a machinist take me under his wing for a year than to go back and get another degree...hands down.

I started out in the same boat as Mr. Eye to some degree. The desire to be able to machine things often comes before a good handle on all the ways you will use the machines. With that in mind, it is sometimes wise to buy more capacity than you know you will need initially. I am only an amateur and one of my first thoughts was that I would like to be able to thread, chamber and crown my own rifle barrels. I love accurate rifles. To date I have done none of that due to the fact that I am not confident enough in my own skills to start machining on a $300 barrel blank. I am sure that will come some day, but in the mean time, the real use for my machines has been mainly to fix, or make all sorts of other stuff--often for my other machines. I may have become like the guy Forrest once referred to who just works on his machines, but I am enjoying rebuilding my Bridgeport mill and have used the lathe to re-make and clean up parts for that. There's nothing wrong with getting satisfaction from restoring a machine tool and from making widgets to make other widgets:) I just love the sense of independence that comes from the abilty to fix and make things that are off limits for most folks.

Mr. Eye--you may find this as well, independent of any *specific* things you decide to tackle as a result of machining skills. I think your conclusion above about concentrating on getting an adequate lathe first is probably wise. I got by doing some small stuff on a mini-mill for a number of years. I bought one with an R-8 spindle and the tooling will transfer to my Bridgeport. You could also get or make a milling attachment for the lathe if the lathe is fairly stout, as a temporary solution to small milling needs--just ask Evan.

04-19-2006, 01:18 PM
You could also get or make a milling attachment for the lathe if the lathe is fairly stout, as a temporary solution to small milling needs--just ask Evan.

Heh. I've been using my SB9 as a milling machine almost more than I use it as a lathe. Even after I complete my CNC mill I will still use it that way as there are some jobs that it is better suited for as a horizontal mill.

04-19-2006, 05:04 PM
The machine trade is so broad that nobody could possibly master all of it's facets in one human lifetime. As was said, even the old timers find plenty to learn every day. That is what makes this vocation so captivating. The thing that really got to me was that day when I realized that, with enough preparation and study, there wasn't anything that had ever been made that I couldn't make if I really wanted to do the research. We all specialize in jobs that we like and that follow what interests us. I also found that repairing things and restoring things that were broken was the most rewarding for me. I had to do a lot of this while working at the university. I have applied this to things around the home. Lots of stuff in this country gets thrown away because of small problems that can be fixed by someone with the desire to fix them.

What do you want to do with your machines? This is the thing you have to ask yourself. Then, you will know what you need to get started. Good luck with your search.

04-19-2006, 07:40 PM
For me... I found myself saying " !@#$!# if I had a lathe, I could fix this now instead of buying something and having to wait!" That's what drove me to get mine.

I have yet to actually use mine though....still working on the bench for it...

04-19-2006, 07:55 PM
Ya know! Machining as a hobby is not all that expensive, compared to what many of my friends blow on their interests.

One just bought a new $20,000 boat for sport fishing, another seems to have the newest and greatest Shotgun every time I see him, and you know those are not cheap. I won't even mention Pete (the Airplane builder).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not ragging on them, more power to them.

I've maybe spent 15-20K $$$ over the last 20 years and earned most if not more than that back without trying or even wanting to, not counting the numerous $$$ items I've made or repaired from a lump of metal worth pennies and a few hours of my time that I probably would only be scratching my ass otherwise.
(To me... my home shop is a hobby, not a business.)

This is a great and rewarding hobby. So... $2500 is a good start and don't worry about it. Whatever you start with, I'm sure your get a lot more than $2500 of fun from it.

Tom M.

04-19-2006, 08:16 PM
Mr. Eye,

If you are married you might point out to your wife that she will always know where you are in the evening. It doesn't necessessarily mean you will be in bed on time but don't tell her that part...

04-20-2006, 09:36 PM

It appears that you slept through the lesson plan regarding the origins of that iron ring on your pinky finger. The one that came with your diploma.

Mr. Hemi.

04-26-2006, 04:38 PM
I'll admitt to being in almost the same situation as Mr. Eye.

I love all the feedback from the more well seasoned chip makers out there. I hope to be there as well down the road some day.

As for Engineers, I feel they could use a bit more respect over here in the USA - they're treated much different in other countries. They tend to be treated here with a slight lack of professional respect in my opinion. That would tend to make a good individual a tad grumpy :) That's just something I've noticed over the years.

I also must agree that EVERY engineer spend time on the floor, in the trenches and most important - with the people whom they work with. For 15 years I've had to deal with engineers that expect too much once they're "fresh out" from college and think they simply know it all. I hope a change is in the air in that regard.

A senior electronic technician for many years now, I can really see where many of the fine points that were mentioned here come from. It's a totally different field but the principals are all the same.

Mr. Eye - take their advice - it sounds darn wise from my standpoint. I retired from auto mechanics (simply because the challenge was no longer there) and dove head first into microwave electronics. Spend the $$ on good tools to last you a life time and give you much (read - no headaches) happyness :) Read all the books you can - buy good used ones from used book search engines over the net and start your library. Put the saved money back into your tools. As for the wife - I agree with the last poster - tell her she will ALWAYS know where to find you. It worked for me :)

Good luck and tell this list what you bought and how it worked for you.

"you can't get more newbee than me !!!! " LOL