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  • bang for the buck

    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

  • #2
    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.
    Try to make a living, not a killing. -- Utah Phillips
    Don't believe everything you know. -- Bumper sticker
    Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
    There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
    Law of Logical Argument - Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.
    Don't own anything you have to feed or paint. - Hood River Blackie


    • #3
      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.
      Jim H.


      • #4
        More echos....

        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.


        • #5
          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


          • #6
            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.


            • #7
              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.


              • #8
                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?


                • #9
                  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.


                  • #10
                    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.

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


                    • #11
                      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.



                      Try G-Wizard Machinist's Calculator for free:


                      • #12
                        bang for the buck

                        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.



                        • #13
                          Here's what I'd do

                          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


                          • #14
                            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.
                            Try to make a living, not a killing. -- Utah Phillips
                            Don't believe everything you know. -- Bumper sticker
                            Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
                            There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
                            Law of Logical Argument - Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.
                            Don't own anything you have to feed or paint. - Hood River Blackie


                            • #15
                              Welcome to our world

                              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.
                              The curse of having precise measuring tools is being able to actually see how imperfect everything is.