View Full Version : What length lathe?

04-09-2009, 10:53 AM
Didn't want to hijack my own thread concerning restoration, but again, I got to thinking. And since you guys have been there, I'll confer with you.

I am a hobbyist.... and nothing more. I want a lathe- for nothing in particular. At this point a freakin mini lathe would do what I need. But I want a larger machine, simply because I will be ABLE to chuck up some bigger parts. I have a lot of projects in mind. So I am settled on a 10" or larger (but not much) swing. Now we get to the length. Again, currently I need no more than six inches. But that is going to change. I originally thought, arbitrarily, that 24" was the shortest I'd go. That number came from the length of a typical gun barrel. No I am not going to make a gun (I might make a cannon though). But I have to quantify length in some way.

Now this Monarch I'm eyeing for restoration (eh... maybe, maybe not) is a 20". So, how many of you wish you had gone longer? How about shorter? How did you arrive at the length decision, or was that all that was available to you at the time?

I'm telling you, if you all put up with me long enough, I'll end up with exactly the right tool and will never regret what I did. So, thanks again folks.

Frank Ford
04-09-2009, 11:08 AM
My Sharp Hardinge HLV clone claims 18" length, and that's been just fine for me. In the five years I've owned it, the length has never been a problem for me. Once or twice a year I wish I had an inch or two more swing, but so far I've always found a "workaround."

One thing for sure, I'd never want to give up that incredible Hardinge style threading setup - retractible tool post, auto stops, inch/metric gearbox!

Most of my work is small - take a look at my Web site,HomeShopTech (http://www.homeshoptech.com), to see the kind of thing I do:

Spin Doctor
04-09-2009, 11:11 AM
Sewveral factors enter in to this

1) Where is the shop area? Garage? Basement? Detached Outbuilding, if a Basement does it have access at that level. If stairs in the house or bulkhead.

2) How much room is in the shop? A 48" bed migfht be nice but if it does not fit is worthless.

3) How many freinds and relatives do you have to help move the lathe into place? If ground level access do you have a way to move it with some type of roller once in the shop door?

When you figure a lot of these considerations together IMO that explains the large number of 36" between center lathes out there.

04-09-2009, 11:31 AM
Long means floppy or heavy or both.
my 36" Barker would be better a lot,lot shorter. Dont lean on it while its taking a cut! :eek:

04-09-2009, 11:34 AM
My garage is 36'x50' with a 12' x16' wing added on the end. I COULD have almost any size machine made. But there has to be a practical limit. I have never used all 36Ē of my wood lathe, but that is what was available to me at the time. I won't be turning driveshafts with this machine, but I won't be making jewelry either. I restore cars and motorcycles. I build furniture. I maintain a house, and a boat, and a camper. Iím your average Joe. Iím sure that no matter what I get, sometime Iíll launch into a project where I wish the thing was biggerÖ or smaller. Iím just looking for the logical compromise.

04-09-2009, 11:45 AM
I would say the only way for you to know is to envision or predict the future needs of your projects, it's been often said you can turn smaller jobs on a bigger lathe but it's hard to do it the other way.......all of this is within reason of course. I would consider spindle bore, and swing as much as between centers but I work on a wide variety of stuff, course this could give you an excuse to purchase multiple machines.........LOL

04-09-2009, 11:55 AM
My Pacemakers are 30" (actually about 32" between centers) and I wish they were 54", but that is more because I'd like the comfort knowing I could handle longer jobs, not because I often need to handle longer jobs. :D I can't think of a good example where I had to machine something longer than what would fit in 20-30 inches. You always have the option of going through the headstock, if the material is small enough, or removing the tailstock and putting it through a steady, so long as you don't need to machine the whole thing.

For a hobby shop, 20"-30" is probably just right. That's my .02

04-09-2009, 12:57 PM
The long bed of my 1440 is nice, but practically anything that I work on that is long enough to need all 40" between centers is usually small enough that it will fit through the 1 9/16" spindle bore... I don't do much work between centers, I prefer to resort to the 4 jaw and tailstock center as required.

I am about to (for the third or fourth time in 4 years) set up a job that will use all of the 14" turning dia though.

The last 12" of lathe bed is typically parking for the steady rest 80% of the time.

I don't think my Dad used any more than 16" of the 12 x 36 lathe from his shop. That antique has about a 3/4" spindle bore.:rolleyes:

04-09-2009, 01:23 PM
I went from a 15x50 down to a 12.5x20 10EE. The bed really does feel short when you put a chuck on it and have a roller tail in, but I can still do 99% of what I need to do on it without any problem, and with a little head scratching I think I could do the rest. I really enjoy using the 10EE, the scale is right, the DC drive is wonderfully smooth and powerful, and threading is easy with ELS and cross feed stops. This is the 5th lathe that I have used extensively over the years and my favorite by far.

04-09-2009, 02:01 PM
As a gunsmith, there are quite a few times when my 11x24" Rockwell is too short. Even though I can put most work through the spindle, I can't taper barrels longer than about 22". Since most of my work is single shot target rifles, that leaves me unable to do part octagon/part round barrels. For my purposes, 36" would be good, 40" would be great.

Montezuma, IA

04-09-2009, 05:05 PM
I'd bet that if you get the Monarch you'll be pleased. I know I really like mine.

04-09-2009, 05:35 PM
I have a Sheldon with a 13" swing and a true 36" between centers. I would not want much shorter. True, I only use the full bed length infrequently, but when I do need it, there is little that can be done to get around it. I do some gunsmithing and model work, and when drilling a barrel for a liner or line boring for instance, the length is needed.

I did have a short bed Atlas for a very short while, and could not get rid of it soon enough, not because it was an Atlas, but because of the limited bed length.

I think you should sit down and make up a realistic list of what you would use a lathe for. You seem to want one, but have made several posts asking about widely different machines. The Monarch can be a good machine, but it can also be a never ending project, especially if it is in the condition of the one you posted a link to.

In my opinion, a 13" swing with 36" between centers is about the ideal size for the home shop. My Sheldon is a 13" X 56" overall bed length, the machine is about 5-1/2' overall length. The 14X40 imports can be considered in this same size, but most industrial 14" lathes are getting pretty big.

04-09-2009, 08:00 PM
A 13 X 40 is a very nice size. With a steady rest and follow rest, it can do things that are longer than 40" as well. They can get heavy, though. My Enco is around 1,500 lbs. with the stand and it's light compared to some of the non-Asian ones in hat size range.


04-09-2009, 08:00 PM
my 14 1/2" s-b can do about 50" between centers. i have used it all a lot of times and wished for more.

Roy Andrews
04-10-2009, 12:07 AM
my 10K is 48" and my clausing is 36" i thought 36" would be plenty but in the 2 years i have had the clausing i have needed to use the extra length of the south bend 3 times. which always makes me glad i kept it.

04-10-2009, 02:16 AM
20" is too short when you need to turn a 3 foot bar. I think for a home shop lathe the ol 14x40" is perfect. I have a 20" (monarch) and a 48" (southbend) lathe and they both catch each other when one falls off the needs. But I could replace both for a nice clausing 14x40, not that its gonna happen, but one would do it all, for me. JR

04-10-2009, 09:44 AM

I think Camdigger is about right. Bed length is only really important when the spindle bore diameter is too small. I'd rather have a 20" bed and a 3" bore than a 120" bed with a 1" bore.

No matter a how long the bed, almost all lathes are wore within the first 12" to 20" of the chuck face. I've never seen one wore out at the tail.


loose nut
04-10-2009, 10:38 AM
Since your doing this for a hobby do you really want to do a restoration on the lathe, if so then quite reading now.

Monarchs are great lathes but what kind of condition is it in. Restoring a clapped out lathe is a big job, if it's in fair condition then maybe you can do it. Do you have the skills for this, Monarchs are not your run of the mill lathe, they are a precision lathe and restoring one to something near it's design specs. could be a real tough job.

You only want a 10" or slightly bigger lathe but it is worth considering a 12, 13 or 14" on the grounds that the bigger they are the heavier they are and more rigid too, mine is 1350 plus two custom stands I made that weigh 250# each that can be filled with another 400# of ballast if I want more weight in them (the monarch would have these qualities already). The reason I went bigger (I'm a hobbist too and most of the stuff I make is fairly small) was that my 9" would do the job but the lack of stiffness meant everything took longer because of light cuts and chatter was frequently a problem. It didn't have all the features I wanted too but that's another story. None of these issues would be a problem for the Monarch so it comes down to the restoration and if you can do it.

Up to a point bigger is better. Longer is more versatile but shorter is more ridged.

04-10-2009, 11:11 AM
I do this for both a living and hobby.
That said I have several lathes in the shop,
from 20" x 80 " down to a 10" x 30 "
But most (80%) of my work is done on a 15" x 50" Colchester

So if you can fit it in your budget and shop go with a 15 x 50
and there will be little you won't be able to do!

04-10-2009, 11:13 AM
I need a longer machine simple as that. If you have a 20" lathe and you want to work into the end, as in boring work, of a 10" piece, you are near your limits without taking the tailstock off. I want to work into the end of 16" work and at least double that length would be nice. A nice 20"x54" or even 72" machine would be nice.