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  • Miniature lathe options?

    Over the weekend, I had to make some itty-bitty parts. Well, really just modifying some 6-32 screws, but it was still a task quite a bit undersized for my Sheldon.

    I don't do that kind of thing often, but when I do, I keep thinking I should grab a mini-lathe specifically for it. Something small enough I can just leave under a bench 'til I need it. Yeah, if I had the room, funds and need, I'd pick up a Levin or something like that, but that's a bit of overkill.

    At the moment this is just idle speculation, I'm not planning on making any purchase at the moment, Just for the sake of the conversation.

    The two main options I can see are either a Sherline, or one of the many variants of an Asian import minilathe.

    The Sherline is certainly capable- Clickspring rather famously makes top-quality parts using one. It's also more likely of the two to be ready to go out of the box. On the other hand, an Asian minilathe is generally set up a little more conventionally- that is, a keyed chuck, and a standard apron-mounted traverse wheel. The tradeoff there is that they tend to be more like partially-assembled kits, and generally need a lot of fettling to cherry them up.

    Just idly looking around- and checking out the latest issue of HSM- I'd personally lean towards a 7x12" or 7x14"- again, it's just for teeny parts, I have regular lathes for anything bigger.

    Seems like either choice (Sherline or Asian) has plenty of options for accessories and tooling, and there's plenty of how-tos to trim up an indifferently-assembled Asian. so it's kind of a toss-up as far as I can see. which would you prefer, if you had the need, or which one do you have an use?

    Doc.
    Doc's Machine. (Probably not what you expect.)

  • #2
    Hi Doc,
    I"ve had a Sherline 4000 series lathe since the early 90's and I still love it. A good machine, it will still repeat to .001". The sherline 3 jaw chuck is only ok, after all this time it will turn the part loose at the very wrong moment. I do have the 4 jaw chuck, and it still can be relied upon, so that is what I use mostly.
    It was all set to go out of the box, without any of the "Asian fixes". I don't have the compound attachment, so realigning the head stock after cutting a taper is it's biggest drawback.
    I don't have any experiences with the asian lathes, so take it fer what it's worth.

    HTH,
    David

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    • #3
      Taig makes a small lathe, owned a couple over the years.

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      • #4
        I have one of the Chinese 7 X12 mini lathes, there are lots of ways to improve the working of the machine, which is quite sturdy for its size. The spindle nose takes a MT3. Take a look on the mini lathe website which covers all the shortcomings and the improvements that can be made easily.
        http://www.mini-lathe.com/Default.htm

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        • #5
          I recently acquired one of these, chosen because the DC drive & motor were reputed to provide more torque than the run-of-the-mill Asian import lathe. I haven't seriously tested the available torque yet, but the claims appear to be true from my experience so far:

          Click image for larger version

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          https://littlemachineshop.com/produc...ProductID=5100


          I've been an LMS customer for about 8 years, and am quite satisfied with them.

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          • #6
            Most of my very small turned parts are made on a Derbyshire WW 8mm watchmaker’s lathe. I have a lot of the standard WW size accessories, including a cross slide, but I do most of my turning using gravers on the flip over tool rest. This works like a woodturning lathe, but is more effective than it sounds to one not experienced in freehand turning.

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            • #7
              If being able to put it away on a shelf after use is a criteria, a Sherline or Taig would probably be a better bet. The Asian mini-lathes (or Atlas 618) are heavy enough that moving it from bench to shelf and back again will get old pretty quickly.

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              • #8
                How much time do you want to devote to fettling an Asian import lathe? I went through the link in Old Mart's post above a few years back and realized pretty fast that if I got a mini lathe that it would be at least a month of spare time to do the modifications to "fix" a lot of the shortcuts taken in the manufacturing of a mini lathe. Now that's fine and lovely if we want such a project. But do you?

                I've also thought more than once that I don't really need a whole other lathe. But it would be nice to have a wider range of higher speeds for small parts and to have a smaller tool post for smaller tools and also a lever style tail stock to aid with more sensitive feel for drilling.

                I had a mini-EUREKA!.. or more accurately a "eureka..." moment when I thought about the option of a spindle mounted morse taper shank motor and small drive setup that would work with ER25 collets and a morse taper arbor sensitive drill ram for the tail stock and just a different small size tool post on a riser block. That would give me the faster and adjustable speed range and the ability to work with smaller size drills and tools for small detail parts.

                But then I thought about the time to swap the chuck, tool posts and tail stock drill chuck and laid down until the feeling went away.....

                I still like the idea of a small lathe for small parts. And more than once I've considered a Taig as a suitable machine for this at a reasonable cost. It's not like it'll be used constantly after all. And it really does fit the idea of a lathe on a small riser tool cabinet that clamps to a regular workbench to make a few small parts and then can be easily put away on a shelf. And it doesn't cost enough to break the bank. And it's ready to use right out of the box without the need to fix a lot of shortcomings.

                Now I do still like the 7x14 size. I think a lot of good table top work can be done with such lathes. But once we're used to how bigger and smoother machines work I don't see a lot of us being happy with a mini lathe until some of the shortcomings are fixed and we can make reasonable cuts without a lot of chatter or other issues.
                Chilliwack BC, Canada

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                • #9
                  TLDR: In my experience there are mini-lathes that work well out of the box, needing only the standard lube and adjustment of sliding parts.

                  I've owned 3 of the mini-lathes, and helped my neighbor learn to use his. I did not need to alter any of mine to get acceptable service from them. I did CHOOSE to upgrade them in a couple of ways, but they were more for convenience than necessity. My current model has imperial leadscrews (compound, cross and saddle) and I've picked up some spare change gears to make it more convenient to cut metric threads.

                  My neighbor was impressed by how well my lathe worked and jumped at the chance to pick up a similar used one. He immediately declared his lathe to be a piece of crap. He could not cut much of anything. I offered to see what I could do. I looked over his shoulder as he put a HSS tool in the tool holder and went to town on a bar of aluminum. His use of an unmodified HSS tool BLANK that was not on center was problem #1. Problem 2 was that none of the adjusting screws were adjusted. The gibs were loose, the crossfeed leadscrew nut was binding and nothing had been lubed in ages. In less than an hour we had it adjusted, lubed and supplied with the correct size tooling. He was amazed at the change.


                  Sherline and Taig have a reputation for being "ready to use" but you still have to check everything to ensure that their QC department was doing their job. You can find instances online where they praise one of the two manufacturers for quick and efficient response to problems with new systems. It happens to all of them once in a while.
                  At the end of the project, there is a profound difference between spare parts and extra parts.

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                  • #10
                    The newer models have the much improved brushless motors which help as there is no back gear, and only two gear ratios. Some can be supplied with 4" three and four jaw chucks, which are better than the 80mm ones, especially if the lathe is a 7 X 14. If I was going to buy one now, it would definitely be a 7 X 14, that extra couple of inches makes all the difference. The supplied 1/2" tailstock chuck as best kept in its box and a 3/8" one actually used, which will be shorter, these mini lathes struggle with drilling larger holes. Also, all of the MT2 arbors in the tailstock benefit by being shortened as the tailstock is self extracting and the shorter MT increases the quill travel and increases the length of the centre distance.
                    Last edited by old mart; 11-04-2019, 03:08 PM.

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                    • #11
                      Something else to consider too.... I just checked and the working weight of the Grizzly 7x12 is listed at 75 lbs. That's a fair bit of grunt to lift onto the bench and put away. I think I'd want a stationary spot for something that heavy.

                      Mind you the cost for a Taig setup with all the parts we generally consider to be standard gets up there pretty fast. Roughly the same cost as a mini lathe.
                      Chilliwack BC, Canada

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by BCRider View Post
                        Something else to consider too.... I just checked and the working weight of the Grizzly 7x12 is listed at 75 lbs. That's a fair bit of grunt to lift onto the bench and put away. I think I'd want a stationary spot for something that heavy.
                        ...
                        The LMS lathe I mentioned earlier (7 X 16) weighs 90 lbs.

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                        • #13
                          Re: weight and portability.

                          I chose to buy my first 7x10 because it was ~80 pounds. I had a back injury so even that was a stretch but I chose a place to store it that was a convenient reach. 75 lbs is not as heavy as it seems when you can use both hands to get a good grip on it. I ended up leaving it on a mobile table and just moving that around. My current 7x12 has occupied the same spot on the bench for 10 or so years but there was a time when it was pushed to the back of the bench when not in use.

                          Dan
                          At the end of the project, there is a profound difference between spare parts and extra parts.

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                          • #14
                            Have you looked at the Asian watchmaking lathes being sold on Ebay? https://www.ebay.com/str/watchmakerp...onlatheandtool Lots of options there for accessories to outfit it for your needs, light and portable, lower cost than a Schaublin or Levin. I'd imagine that anything much larger than the WW collet you could put in a 5C in the Sheldon and handle a lot more efficiently that way.

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                            • #15
                              The sherline 3 jaw chuck is only ok, after all this time it will turn the part loose at the very wrong moment.
                              -Which is why I like the idea of a keyed chuck. Not a dealbreaker, but it's on my list.

                              Take a look on the mini lathe website which covers all the shortcomings and the improvements that can be made easily.
                              -Oh yeah, there's about ten sites like that, to say nothing of a bunch of people's individual pages. Lots of interesting little tidbits, and most of them are easy enough, especially if you have other, larger machines to make replacement parts on.

                              Most of my very small turned parts are made on a Derbyshire WW 8mm watchmaker’s lathe.
                              -While I'd prefer to have a conventionally-configured lathe, one of the things I was thinking about was the ability to use WW collets, which appear to be realtively common, if not particularly cheap. Sherline in particular has aftermarket WW accessories available, but I'm sure it wouldn't take a great deal of effort to set up a typical minilathe with a similar arrangement.

                              WW, as I recall, only goes up to like 3/16". Is there a draw-in style collet a step up from that? Something that maxes out closer to 3/8" or even 1/2" (but isn't so uncommon that single collets go for $80 each?) I know that there's a multitude of ER adapters for the minis, but as discussed in the "fun with collets" thread, there's a certain minimum part length- a draw-in collet would be more tolerant of short pieces, and allows the option of step collets.

                              but I do most of my turning using gravers on the flip over tool rest.
                              -Yep. You see Clickspring doing that kind of shaping all the time, and he's damned good at it. I've tried it a time or two, but I never got around to making any proper gravers. I'd probably have to if I set up a mini-lathe.

                              The Asian mini-lathes (or Atlas 618) are heavy enough that moving it from bench to shelf and back again will get old pretty quickly.
                              -Realistically speaking, I likely would find a semi-permanent home for it, but the idea is that it could be moved and stuck in a corner, if extra bench space were needed for a larger project.

                              How much time do you want to devote to fettling an Asian import lathe?
                              -That's a solid question. At the moment, I really don't need another project, even a relatively simple and straightforward one. (In this case, for an Asian lathe, a lot of it would just be following already-tried-and-true instructions from dozens of people that have already done it.

                              As noted in the OP, however, at the moment this is largely academic. A mini-lathe would be a nice little addition to the shop, but is by no means an important one, or very high on my list of things I need to do.

                              these mini lathes struggle with drilling larger holes.
                              -I have bigger lathes for that. I'd likely really only use a mini for workpieces under 1/4" OD, and probably would never drill anything bigger than 3/16". Agin, this wouldn't by any means be an "only" lathe, just an additional specifically for tiny parts.

                              Mind you the cost for a Taig setup with all the parts we generally consider to be standard gets up there pretty fast. Roughly the same cost as a mini lathe.
                              -Like with all machine tools, I assumed accessories would be extra. And really, the price between a decent Sherline kit and a 7x14 is only $100 or so- and I figure I'd be dropping another several hundred after that, on either one, for accessories. (Quickchange toolpost, some 1/4" HSS, whatever collet adapter setup I decide to go with, etc. One benefit of the Asian lathe is most have an MT2 tailstock, and I already have some MT2 accessories from the bigger lathes.)

                              Have you looked at the Asian watchmaking lathes being sold on Ebay?
                              -I have not. I didn't know where were such things. But looking at the prices, for about the same cost, I'd much rather have one of the more conventional Asian or Sherline lathes, both of which will have a wider potential range of accessories.

                              Doc.
                              Last edited by Doc Nickel; 11-04-2019, 11:06 PM.
                              Doc's Machine. (Probably not what you expect.)

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