View Full Version : New American Iron, What would it take

Spin Doctor
01-09-2007, 09:56 PM
Over on the PM site there is a thread on Grizzly lathes which of course brings out the old American Iron vs Asian POS arguements adinfinaseum. Just what features could be provided in a 10/12x36 lathe if built to day in the US/Canada for say $5000US? Or less. Power cross feed is out I would think. Power feed IMO would have to be based off of something like the Servo mill feed. No QCGB with just change gears? With the variable feed not that big of a deal anyways IMO. Bar Ways instead of flat and vee? Would certainly make changing the center distance easy. VFD spindel drive for sure. Any ideas?

01-09-2007, 11:28 PM
Well, lets forget features, first you will need a highly skilled workforce that will work for 5$ an hour or less, and you'll need a huge infrastructure of steel mills to lower the prices back down on castings... Sigh... this ain't the 1950's no more...

01-09-2007, 11:34 PM
I think a huge part of the equation is the economics of scale.

How many manual 12x36 lathes can you sell a year? more than 1000? 5000? 10,000? How many Hardinge HLV-H lathes are made a year, I wonder. what did say, South bend's sales look like in their decline? Despite the influx of metal hobbyists who've picked it up from The Discovery Channel, which no doubt has made Miller, Hobart, and Lincoln very happy, I suspect it's in part that Harbor Freight hasn't yet penetrated the tig welder market. (That's a scary thought) Are there enough of these people to justify banking 100's of thousands of dollars in undertaking production of a US made machine tool in the face of a quickly declining US machine tool industry?

You can buy decent US made lathes all day long for $5k. If I had room I'd have a Clausing-Colchester 2500 and a Bridgeport. They're astonishing bargains on the basis of initial cost and longevity vs. cost now and expectation of lifespan.

How about a lathe made in America of Chinese castings? Mexican castings? Indian?

01-09-2007, 11:51 PM
Hardchrone linear ways along the lines of 3" diameter would be rigid enough combined with a traditional,but replaceable dovetails for the cross slide and top slide.Use Frelon lined aluminum bearings on the ways.This would also lend to longer bed lengths,just by adding length to the bed ways and leadscrew.

Just a lo/hi HTD belt drive along with a VFD for the headstock drive.Keep the headstock simple,square block of solid cast with a D1-x camlock or Lxx taper spindle bored in riding on tapered roller bearings in an oil bath.

Forget QC gearboxes and change gears.A single axis,stand alone stepper driven leadscrew would provide infinite feeds and threads inch or metric,while not requiring a computer or programing.Same could be done with the cross slide.

Such a machine could also be easily converted to full CNC if desired.I don't think it could be done for $5,000,but maybe $7500 and it might be attractive to industry and schools.

However judging by what Grizz is selling for $7K it would still be a hard sale to a serious HSMer,unless for lack of space.

01-10-2007, 05:37 PM
We kicked this around at length over on PM a year or so ago.
The consensus was that you just couldnt compete with the imports.

A crummy 12x36 from Grizzly weighs 1200 pounds and costs 2500.

You could barely get raw castings for that price. Machined castings would cost a lot more.

The last manual lathes made in the USA, the Hardinge HLVH and the Monarch 10EE, both run over 50 grand.

Cost wise, the cheapest new lathe you can get made in the USA is a Haas TL-1, at 22,000.
I cant see you being able to compete with Haas at that price on a manual lathe- its actually cheaper to build a CNC. And Haas is building 1000 machine tools a month- talk about economy of scale, they got it.

South bend quit making Heavy 10s when their price got over 15 grand, and people stopped buying em.
And that was with a fully paid for factory, tooling, designs, and experienced workers.

Starting from scratch, I just cant see it.

Spin Doctor
01-10-2007, 08:41 PM
Ries, I remeber the thread I just wanted to see what people would be willing to live without as a thought exercise. My first thought was something like this


but simpler

loose nut
01-10-2007, 09:36 PM
Ckeck out this link about the Barker lathe


It was a relativly simple lathe (1950's) with three round bars for the ways (like a super Unimat), this would cut your cost down quite a bit and would be a lot easier for a small operation to undertake, a large producer isn't going to get involved in a new manual lathe . It was suposedly a good lathe but I don't know how well it did in the market place, people don't like the unconventional

01-10-2007, 11:06 PM
Concerning the cost of castings, I remember there was a long discussion on another messageboard a couple of years ago about substituting some sort of high-performance concrete for cast iron in machine tools. Supposedly it closely duplicated the properties of cast iron, including stiffness, strength, weight, vibration dampening, etc., and could be made in almost any backyard shop. In concept, they would have molds arranged so that ways and precision surfaces could be formed from steel shapes set into the molds before the concrete was poured. General opinion was that in theory it could work, though the cost might or might not be competitive with the imports.


01-11-2007, 12:11 AM
Some company is producng an epoxy and crushed granite blend I think it is as a suitable substitute for cast iron.
The theory is good, I do know that there were a LOT of homebuilt machines that were based on concrete castings with metal inserts that seem to have held up fairly well to the time test. And I seem to recall that some of the larger american builders used concrete in some machines

Maybe a nice bolt together framework, with a few castings , customer supplies his own castable

I never did like round beds, seems that when they wear it's death for them because of the added complexity of repair, I mean properly done, a V can be rescraped as many times as it takes for the castings to get too thin, pretty much the same for a flat way, but a round gets smaller as the sliding parts get larger, so it's far more complicated to repair the first time.

What I see as a problem on an American made lathe is that a big contributor to holding it back is the liability insurance, I looked into building some small equipment a while ago, and having the required liability would have almost doubled the price that I could sell them for. When someone can be sued for a hundred year old bit of equipment, it's nailing the lid on manufacturing.

I for one would love to be able to buy American, too bad there aren't any American lawyers that want to make it a feasable option.


Bruce Griffing
01-11-2007, 01:18 AM
If you used concrete or plascrete, you could also use replacable/regrindable ways like LeBlonde. In fact you could use it for all of the ways. Darin's idea of a simple drive and electronic control for feeds is also excellent. An excellent lathe could probably be engineered and might even be successful for a time. Protecting the design concepts might be a challenge tho.....

01-11-2007, 01:47 AM
The last manual lathes made in the USA, the Hardinge HLVH and the Monarch 10EE, both run over 50 grand.

I'm not even sure they're new manufacture - many of the major lathe manufacturers(and Mill manufacturers - Bridgeport was buying Series 1 machines before they went under), are buying up the old machines, going through them, rescraping, and selling them as new. I know for a fact Leblond is doing it because they tried to buy a lathe from one of my friends.


01-11-2007, 09:17 AM
As I understand it, the Hardinge's are still produced, in batches of 10 or 12, when sufficient orders accumulate. These are made new, from scratch.

The last Monarch 10EE, however, made new, was in 2003 or 2002 as I understand it.
Since then, they have been doing what you describe- buying donor lathes, and rebuilding them with new parts.
And they still cost 30 to 50 grand, depending on how rebuilt it is.

Aside from these two, the only other manual lathe made in north america is the canadian built Standard Modern-
and they sure aint cheap either.


The thing is, the market for new lathes is being satisfied by a combination of cheap old used ones, and cheap new imports. I just dont think the market for people who will pay 5 to ten grand for "less" just to buy american is really there.
The people who want to save money are gonna find a very cheap old lathe- a couple of hundred bucks.
The people who want a real tool to make money with are going to spend a bit more and get real CNC.

I dont see that middle ground existing.
Its kinda like saying- if I could make a 68 Ford Pickup, that has a carb, and points, and a 3 on the tree, and gets 11mpg, for only 11 grand, would you buy it?
Nope, I would either buy a 1000 dollar clunker, or a new truck that gets twice the mileage with modern tech.