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Thread: Precision Bench Lathes

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
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    Ontario, Canada
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    Default Precision Bench Lathes

    Hello, long time lurker here.

    I haven't used a machine in quite a while, it was a hobby and life got in the way. Getting married, having 4 kids, and living in a house without a proper workshop will do that to you. I had a Logan 821 a number of years ago, but ended up selling it as I'd rather see it go to someone else and get used than sit in storage and get rusty.

    I'm getting the hankering to get another lathe though, as I'm finding machining intersecting somewhat with another hobby of mine, building fishing rods. I want to start building my own hardware, as I sometimes can't find what I want through existing suppliers and the prices one some of this stuff is outrageous.

    I don't have a ton of room, so it would have to be a smaller machine. That got me thinking a small Atlas, Myford, or South Bend, but the prices I see for some of the worn-out lathes is just crazy. Plus it I think a lot of the work would lend itself to collets, so double the price of the machine. Got me thinking - I see some precision bench lathes (Pratt, Cataract, Ames) come up for sale once and a while and they might fit the bill. Small, accurate, designed for collets. I don't really think that I'd need to do much if any threading, the threads I need could easily be done with a tap and die.

    Is there anything in particular I should watch out for when looking at these lathes? Any pitfalls or shortcomings? I see it as getting a higher quality machine with some limitations as compared to getting a worn-out machine with features I don't really need.

    Thanks

    Tom

  2. #2
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    Jan 2013
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    Michigan
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    Default

    Please put your location in your profile, because it makes a huge difference.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
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    Chilliwack, BC, Canada
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    Default

    These days it's not much of a deal to set up the lathe with add on collet chucks. So I would not focus too much on trying to find a lathe that uses collets directly in the spindle. Otherwise you're looking at some very seldom found machines with big prices when you do find them. Plus collets are not good for the holding non round stock like hot rolled steel. So you still need a three or four jaw anyway.

    It sure sounds like you don't need a big lathe either. But I'd suggest something bigger than the mini lathe option. It's not that the mini would be too small for what it sounds like you want but rather that most owners will acknowledge that they really need some modifications and tuning up before they can do good consistent work and so the lathe parts all run smoothly. And do you really want to put the time into doing such modifications right out of the box? If you would be fine with that and see doing the modifications as part of your learning then fine, go ahead. But keep in mind that each modification comes with a cost in time and money. So the basic mini lathe might well end up costing as much as the next step up the food chain by the time you fix some of the basic stuff and buy some upgrades.

    With that in mind I'd strongly suggest that if you go with new that you opt for a size and price point one step higher and go for an 8 to 10" swing model which will have quite a few less basic things that need attention. They cost more and will likely as not still need SOME improvements to some areas. But they should be closer to running well right out of the crate than what the mini lathes provide.

    Mind you size wise it doesn't sound like you need much more than a mini to 8" size lathe.

    For used if you can I'd lean more towards Logan or Southbend. Or the Myford and other names you mentioned. Atlas lathes are certainly usable but not as heavy and thus a bit more chatter prone than the others in the same size range.

    You'll also want to consider some sort of table top milling machine pretty soon if you want to be able to make a wide variety of parts. Some milling can be done in the lathe with a suitable milling attachment. But it seems like everyone that has such a rig openly admits that it's rather limited for movement and size of cut. As in mostly they are good for milling keyways or flats on round turned things. And certainly they end up with very limited travel distances. So sooner rather than later you'll likely want to add a mill to the shop.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    Flint, Michigan
    Posts
    702

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    I very much enjoy my Hardinge Cataract lathe. I set it up with a 3/4 hp DC motor and KBIC drive. It is a 5C collet spindle and uses a hand-wheel closer. No countershaft on this one as I do not need it for bench work. That keeps the noise down to a pleasant hum. It took years to find chucks, steady rest, and other orphaned tooling. Tailstock is mt-2. The really early lathes may use a proprietary taper on the 3c version. Your setup should be sturdy enough to provide several pounds of tension on the flat belt.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Toronto
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    10,664

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    its hard to beat a spindle mount collet for precision, look around, its how all the most accurate instrument and watch lathes are set up. The downside of a instrument lathe isn't just no threading, but no power feed, i.e. no carriage. I've got a few and really like them, but wouldn't want it as my main lathe.....a Emco or Myford well accessorized and in good shape would be my preference if you could only fit one.
    .

  6. #6
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    Dec 2015
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    Chilliwack, BC, Canada
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    And something else to think about which pushes the choice towards a lathe and mill that is a trifle bigger is that while the lathe and perhaps the collets might work for the small things you want to make often we end up making jigs and tooling to hold the small parts which ends up considerably bigger than the actual parts. So it's nice if the scale of the machine tools is big enough to work on that tooling as well.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Location
    Green Bay, WI
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    3,467

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    Cart before the horse here a bit ...
    If you want collets, then I think you want to know what size you'll need and use that as a guide for lathe selection.
    My friend makes flyrods and he has a Clausing 12 inch Lathe , But I know he uses collets all the time .
    I am not saying to get a Clausing , but to be aware of the lathe spindles
    There is a huge difference in collet capacities in small lathes , and particularly collet availability of those no longer in production
    Rich

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Ontario, Canada
    Posts
    113

    Default

    Thanks for the input gents.

    Trust me, I'd like nothing more than to set up a shop with a decent sized lathe and mill but it's not in the books right now. Perhaps in the near future as we are looking to move in the next year. This is just to get me up and running now, rather than sitting in front of the TV in the evenings.

    I'd like to get something that takes 5C collets. They're easy to get and will handle everything within my size range at the moment. Plus I believe there are chucks with 5C adapter if I need a bit more capacity. I believe my Logan would have taken 3C collets, but they only go up to a 1/2" capacity if I remember correctly. I guess the other option would be to buy a 5C chuck or ER chuck and use that for the larger capacity.

    A small import lathe is also an option, but I worry about how much work would be required to get it set up and running with the precision that I need. For example, with making ferrules for rods you need turn the male part about .001 oversize and then lap to fit. Trying to do that reliably and consistently with an import lathe might be a headache. I would think that a precision bench lathe would have been designed to do this type of work.

    I've got a buddy at work who has a 12" lathe and mill and can make tooling for me when I need it. Right now I just want to start making parts.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
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    Chilliwack, BC, Canada
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    Default

    An import lathe that has the ways and dovetails in even half way decent condition and the gibs set correctly is easily capable of working to portions of a thou provided the index dials are of sufficient size to let your eyes see the divisions. You've nothing to worry about on that count.

    It's a great way to get a spirited discussion going but the simple fact is that a whole lot of us with import lathes in the mid and smaller sizes have no issue at all working with final cuts that come out right on target within a quarter thou either way from our last correctly set finishing cut. It simply requires a good reading of the nearly finished diameter, setting on the right amount for the final finish cut and removing the metal to size with a good well sharp tool in a correctly set up machine.

    If it won't then either the operator is doing something wrong, the cutting tool is woefully dull or of totally the wrong shape or the cross slide and compound slide gibs are poorly set and things are floating around loose.

    If you want to work mostly with 5C collets I'd suggest you just buy a 5C chuck with the proper back plate and use it. Or a great learning project would be to make your own collet holder and draw bar like I did.




  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Missouri
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    30,947

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich Carlstedt View Post
    Cart before the horse here a bit ...
    If you want collets, then I think you want to know what size you'll need and use that as a guide for lathe selection.
    My friend makes flyrods and he has a Clausing 12 inch Lathe , But I know he uses collets all the time .
    I am not saying to get a Clausing , but to be aware of the lathe spindles
    There is a huge difference in collet capacities in small lathes , and particularly collet availability of those no longer in production
    Rich
    The general deal is that you want a machine that will take 5C collets, which are arguably the most available collets aside from ER, and which have a god range of sizes. If it takes them in the spindle, so much the better, as they will be as accurate as possible then, which is what you WANT from a collet.

    If you use a separate collet chuck, then there are a number of added tolerances that affect the system. You have the centering of the chuck base on the chuck mount, the centering of the collet mounting on the base, the goodness of the machining of the collet taper and body bore in the collet mounting part, etc. The chuicks are commonly made in china, with the resulting variable quality.

    If you use a collet closer in the spindle bore directly, then you have the spindle bore centering, the OD taper of the closer, and the closer ID and taper as variables.

    if the collet fits the spindle directly, as with Hardinge, Rivett, and so forth, then the only variable is the spindle machining.
    1601

    Keep eye on ball.
    Hashim Khan

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