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To Lathe, or not to Lathe? that is the question.

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  • To Lathe, or not to Lathe? that is the question.

    Hello, newmember here trying to decide whether or not I really need and would use a lathe. Intro - I am a cutler (a blacksmith who specializes in knives) and have been for about 9 years. So, I have some knowledge of working with metals - just from a 'fire, hammer and anvil' point of view rather than a machinist. I have recently started adding guards to my knives which requires cutting a slot in the metal for the guard for the tang of the blade to go through - a difficult task by hand. So, I got a cross-slide vice for my 14" Jet drill press, a mill holder and mill set. Much easier, but, I've read, hard on the drill press spindle bearings. I started looking at mini-mills and mini-lathes with a milling attachment - a rather expensive solution to a small problem. So, the question becomes, what else would a guy who's into knives, guns, fishing, camping (outdoor kinda stuff) use a lathe for? I see a lot of you good folks make small engines for the fun of it. Or, maybe you are into race cars or go-carts and use a lathe to support those hobbies. I guess I'm looking for suggestions for what else I could do to justify spending 600-1,000 dollars on equipment. In a nut shell, what do you do with your lathes??

    I hope the question makes sense.
    Jacque (pronounced 'Jack')
    Eagon Leather & Knives

  • #2
    HiJack! (Sorry.. I like that one!)
    Welcome! You sound like a darn handy kind of a guy... so ya.. you could use a lathe or mill. Handy kinda guys end up making a lot of their own tools and fixtures with machines. Far more than you can imagine.
    Sound to me like you have just scratched the tip off the iceburg. Wait til you get a machine or two. You'll go nuts making everything you can dream up.
    My very first lathe.. a little Unimat.. I started making firing pins for old shotguns, made a few parts for our old trap machine out at the shooting club, polished thousands of rounds of brass casings on it and so on.
    Get one.. thank us later
    I have tools I don't even know I own...


    • #3
      I use my lathe to make guns and parts for them. Bullet molds and swage dies. Lube dies. In short anything that I want and can be made on a lathe.
      The mill allows me to make gears, bullet molds, receivers for guns, flute reamers, and anything that I want and can be made on a mill.
      They are both very useful, but I do not make money to pay for them as this is a hobby.



      • #4
        Welcome '',conviently near Texas'' LOL. I have a lathe and a mill and use both of them regularly,if I were forced to give up one it would be the lathe.A hundred other posts will probably be split 50/50 . I think you could do more on a vertical mill that would fit knife making better than a lathe. I don't have any experiance with a combo machine , but that would be an option also that would give you more versitility. After you have had a mill or lathe for a while you will wonder how you ever got by without it (them) .The only thing that will limit what can be done is your immagination. .


        • #5
          I'd vote for getting a mill for what it sounds like you'd be doing. I'd suggest getting the following accessories for it:

          1. a rotary table
          2. a boring head
          3. a lathe

          Any products mentioned in my posts have been endorsed by their manufacturer.


          • #6
            Jacque,like many tools,once you have it you will find more uses for it.
            My lathe was bought mainly to build a steam loco,but I find I have repaired many a household item that would otherwise be in a landfill.I also build model engines,like you mentioned,and bits of tooling for both lathe and mill-drill.
            If I had to choose between them,I would always opt for a lathe,because with a vertical slide you can do light milling on the lathe.
            I have to confess complete ignorance of knife making,so I don't know whether a lathe would help you in that respect.But for guns,I'm sure you would be able to do many things you can't do now.There are many people on here repairing or even making their own guns.
            Fishing,well,if you're really keen you could make your own reels,though I doubt if it would be any cheaper than buying one.But that's half the fun for amateur machinists.
            All I can suggest is,find somebody who has a lathe,and see if they could give you some time on it,under supervision,of course.Then you will soon work out whether it is for you.Hope I didn't drum on too much.


            • #7
              I bought a mill for my first machine tool. A big old piece of US iron that was still in somewhat usable shape. I bought it for a similar purpose as to what you describe, but a different application. I bought it to use only to slot brackets I was making. I was quickly hooked on it, and used it all of the time for all sorts of different things.

              I bought a Larger lathe about 3 years later, once I got the lathe, I found even more stuff to turn on it than I could have imagined. The Lathe is by far the most versatile tool in my shop. I found myself questioning why I had not bought a lathe first. There is no shortage of widgets and thing-a-ma-bobs that need turning, and the tools you can make with a tool! Good God, it is an amazing thing to have!

              So, yes, I think you should buy one of each. Of 'course coming to a machinist board and asking if you should buy a machine tool is kind of like going to church and asking the priest if he believes in God...

              I own a 4wd fab shop that I run in my spare time. I have machined things I didn't even know I needed once I got the machines. My best friend, who is a kindred of yours, kind of, sort of... A farrier, he is over all of the time tinkering with my machines now too. Knocking out horse shoe blanks and about any other odd or end that strikes his fancy.

              Just think of the possibilities, once you get a big enough mill you can buy old beat up anvils and re-face them. You can turn your own custom burners for a home made forge, you can build a nuclear reactor... The sky is the limit .

              Welcome to the board, show us lots of pictures when you buy the machines (which we are all sure you will do). Buy as large as you can afford so you don't have to upgrade every 2 years like the rest of us.



              • #8
                I used to work in a small knife-making shop, but we didn't smith our own steel. We did use the mill for some blade work; mostly removing metal along the edge, to save lots of grinding. The lathe was used for lots of different functions, but was primarily used to make the butt caps from brass. I think you'll find plenty of uses for machine tools in your blacksmithing work. I can't imagine trying to do it all with a hammer!


                • #9
                  I use the lathe to make parts for the mill, and I use the mill to make parts for the lathe. That way, everybody's happy.


                  • #10
                    My shop is at least half a blacksmith shop, mixed with a lot of ornamental and high end fab work.
                    So the main focus of what we do is forging, welding, and cold bending.

                    But I have a big lathe in the back room- and, while I dont use it every day, it sure comes in handy.

                    Here are a few recent things I used the lathe for-

                    Cutting threads on 18 pieces of 1" round stainless bar, that was used as custom anchor bolts for large sculputres. Buying these premade would have been very expensive- but cutting my own threads, I could make them exactly the right size and shape.

                    End drilling thru a piece of 1 1/2" round bar for a lamp base.

                    Turning ornamental nuts to hold the handles on a giant purse- I didnt want to use just plain nuts, as the piece goes in front of an art museum, so I made my own fancy "acorn" style nuts- these were stainless, and made to fit 3/4" bolts.

                    End drilling the ends of table legs, which then got tapped, for adjustable height feet for levelling.

                    Making rivet setting dies for my hydraulic press.

                    Making tenons for a table that were then hot peened over after assembly, effectively making the whole big piece of round bar a giant rivet.

                    Making jigs for the drill press or milling machine.

                    Making custom barrel hinges for outdoor gates, or pivots for windvanes.

                    I use my milling machine for similar tasks- tooling and support tasks for the main metal shop.

                    As mentioned, in addition to this kind of stuff, there are uncountable ways a lathe comes in handy for firearms repair and modifications, fixing tractors and equipment, making tooling of all sorts, and just putting a big smile on your face.


                    • #11
                      One point about a "3-in-1" machine - it can be a PITA to constantly have to switch setups: Do the turning operation, take off the compound, put on the vise/rotab/angleplate, check tram and setup, do the milling operation, then decide whether you really need to switch back to "lathe" mode again. So you need to plan out complex jobs to minimize changeovers. Or have a separate mill, which I intend to do eventually.

                      I've got a Maximat 3-in-1 and wouldn't swap it for anything. Since I'm just doing hobby stuff, the time isn't much of a factor; but in a working shop it would be.
                      Pete in NJ


                      • #12
                        Look at . If that machine is not totally trashed, it will do what you want. If you don't have 3 phase power, get a vfd or small rotary converter and you will be good to go.


                        • #13
                          After you get a lathe and a mill your new question will be how did I ever get along with out them? If you are a blacksmith you are a guy who thinks about how to improve or fix things.

                          Adding new tools lets you think differently knowing the capabilities of your machines will have you thinking differently about how you make the bits and pieces you need and bits and peices you never thought of because you did not have the capability of making them.


                          • #14
                            After you get a lathe and a mill your new question will be how did I ever get along with out them?
                            Yeah and once you get 2 lathes you'll wonder how you got along with just one!



                            • #15
                              Originally posted by winchman
                              I'd vote for getting a mill for what it sounds like you'd be doing. I'd suggest getting the following accessories for it:

                              1. a rotary table
                              2. a boring head
                              3. a lathe

                              LOL Good one Roger...I'm still chuckling but so very true.
                              Ernie (VE7ERN)

                              May the wind be always at your back