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Any suggestions on my first lathe???

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  • Any suggestions on my first lathe???

    Hello all,

    I am new to the HSM forums.

    I am in the market for a lathe. I have a small amount of experience and will probably use the lathe as a lathe, but also as a milling machine until I can get enough money approved through congress (wife) to get a stand alone milling machine. I would like to start working on some of the projects which come up in the magazine. I love the looks and function of some of the small steam engines.

    I have my eyes on the following:
    Grizzly 11 x 26
    Harbor Freight 12 x 36

    The money is tight at no more than $1,500, but for a starter lathe, I probably shouldn't spend more than that anyway.

    I would love to get a used South Bend like my dad use to have, but I have a tough time locating any...

    Any help, pics, stories of success, stories of failure would be a big help.

    Thanks all.....

  • #2
    Where are you located? The folks here will be able to help you much more if we've got a rough idea of where you are. Alot of guys here know of used machines and machinery dealers but it all depends upon where you are.

    I'm not a fan of the HF one at all. I looked at it in a show room and the fit and finish were so bad I decided I would never buy a large piece of machinery from them. Not sure about the grizzly ones. Personally, I think the best route is to buy a cheap beater lathe that you can learn on and then buy an old used lathe that needs a little love. You need something cheap to get a feel for everything and build some skills.

    For instance, I bought a smithy machine and learned alot. My expierences with that machine, although often frusterating because it was so small, built up my confidence so I could buy a used machine and repair it. Once you figure out what your doing (somewhat anyway) then you know what to look for in a used lathe - i.e. whats easily fixable and whats not, etc.


    • #3
      Fasttrack... Was gona asked the same thing. Where he located. I have a extra lathe for sale.
      Wow... where did the time go. I could of swore I was only out there for an hour.


      • #4

        Wow, quick responses. I am located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

        I saw on Ebay a South Bend in NJ, but just wasn't sure about it...



        • #5
          The east coast is usually rich with machine tools. Keep looking around for used machines. You might look over on Practical Machinist forum too, they have a for sale section. You can post wanted ads too. Thats how I found my two lathes, actually.


          • #6
            Generally bigger is better as the machine with greater mass should give more stability and damping during cutting. The metal peels off quietly instead of the machine chattering away (usually ).

            Try to avoid a threaded spindle nose. They are a thing of the past we can live without as they are a hazard if you add a VFD (now fairly cheap) for speed control and reversing (great for tapping).

            Spindle support for a 5C collet closer is very handy for precision work on smaller parts, common in engines and instruments.

            In the size range you are looking at, be careful as some of the 11" and 12" machines have thinned down, light weight versions as well as more robust versions that will perform much better.

            Be sure to make some parts to fix broken household items to show the wife that the machines pay for themselves. Nothing like a $40, aircraft aluminum door stop to replace a $2 piece of cast junk from a home store to prove it



            • #7
              The 11x26 lathes are pretty light, and are not much of a step up from the 9x19 imports that many have a love/hate relationship with. But for your budget and part of the country you should be able to find a good used lathe with some tooling if you take your time. Keep an eye on Craigslist and the local paper, but just remember to be a little picky. With the downturn in the economy, a lot of people are cleaning out garages and shops to raise a little extra money.


              • #8
                I am not a great fan of Chinese machines. I would have bought American, if I could find something usable, at the cost of a new ComChi machine.

                After a year of searching, and finding only machines with extreme wear/rust/missing parts, (I didn't want a project), I was forced to buy new Chinese. If you live in an area with decent used American hardware, take a couple months and learn the market. If you see nothing, buy Chinese.

                Any lathe is better than NO LATHE. (Unless it's so worn/rusted/missing parts that it can't be fixed.)

                Before I retired, I used many machines, all fine American machines. I insisted on a QC gear box for threading, YMMV.

                It depends on your style, do you want to make parts tomorrow, or spend six months renovating machinery. Both will be a valuable learning experience.

                Dave J.


                • #9
                  Threaded Spindle will be more common at 1500.00 level

                  Nothing wrong with a SB and 1 1/2 x 8 threaded spindle. 9 or 10K

                  D series, L series, Spindle stuff is out there, just not as common (South Bend wise anyway)

                  The Flat Belt drive is very forgiving for a newbie.

                  I am with Evan on this, 23 years on a SB 9 in, and Never had a spindle unscrew in reverse... Plenty of LH internal threading and backgear work.

                  As to VFD making it unscrew.. Thats what accel/decel settings are for. If the Lathe had a 2 or 3 hp motor, possibly a problem, but at ~ 1/2 horse level.....

                  I don't do much tapping in the lathe... Single point threads mostly.
                  Drill press and Bridgeport much handier for tapping...

                  Last edited by Bguns; 09-07-2008, 01:23 AM.


                  • #10
                    True, the $1500 level has some limitations but it depends on how abundant machines are in your area. There should be some nice Clausings in that range with L00 spindles (ok, very good but not as easy to outfit).


                    • #11
                      The Harbor Freight 12 x 36 is an excellent choice for a lathe, although I doubt you can now buy one for $1500 with the stand. The quality of this lathe is equal to the Grizzly or Enco models and all three will perform quite well as lathes for model makers. I use my HF 12 x 36 for machining model engines and have found it is just the right size for most of the projects I have worked on, including those in the HSM Magazine. One of the advantages of the HF lathe has been that you could actually see one in the store, however HF seems to be discontinuing that practice so that now you must special order the lathe and then pick it up at the store. You still get to examine the lathe before you take it home.


                      • #12
                        L00 Chucks (Small enough to fit SBs)

                        Decent light SB Chucks with L00 back Are Hard to find.......

                        Nice system tho..

                        Clausings are different animal of course... And variable speed ones with a wonky Mechanical speed unit can be fixed up with VFD.

                        Should be able to find a decent US lathe with some tooling for 1500.00 , back East easily.

                        Clausing, Sheldon, SB, Logan,


                        • #13
                          Slow down there!!!

                          Originally posted by dingpud
                          I am in the market for a lathe. I have a small amount of experience and will probably use the lathe as a lathe, but also as a milling machine until I can get enough money approved through congress (wife) to get a stand alone milling machine. I would like to start working on some of the projects which come up in the magazine. I love the looks and function of some of the small steam engines.
                          The Original Poster (OP) - "dingpud" said he was new to this forum. He did say he was (relatively) new to "machining".

                          I have a small amount of experience.
                          If he is an experienced machinist, telling him to "shop around" (presumably for "good-used" USA) stuff might be well and good as he might have the experience to make informed decisions.

                          That might not be the case if he is "sent off" and "cast adrift" to cope on his own if he does not have the experience to make those assessments and decisions.

                          Consequently, what "we" may do, and do well (or not!!) may not be the case with the OP.


                          • #14
                            Consider your experience when choosing a lathe. I have many years in the trade and have considerable machine tool rebuilding exprience so I could buy a worn out lathe of reputable name with greater confidence than a noob. Thus, I would never suggest a noob to start his shop with a machine having cinsiderable wear. A noob working in isolation on a worn out machine tool is almost a certain recipe for discouragement.

                            I suggest you pay the extra money and buy/scrounge/talk your way into a fairly new low time machine. Far better to buy new or nearly so and try to wear it out that buy into a worn machine and suffer the doubt and frustration.

                            Quite frankly $1500 won't buy you much of a new lathe but you might find a very satisfactory low hours used machine from an estate.

                            A new shop starts best when the owner establishes roots in the home shop machinist culture and gathers a network of like-minded people and businesses. Often near larger cities there are clubs with regular meetings, exhibits of modelmaker's recent projects, or communitiy colleges where metalworking skills are still taught. A new shop can be better established when the fine art of scrounging and horse trading is acquired, rescources discovered and mapped, and trade routes implemented. Thus much reinvention of the wheel becomes unnecessary and people will be aware of your desires and tip you of opportunities for nearly new equipment coming available early in the game.

                            I don't know what's available in Maryland but there is certaily an industrial base withing 60 mile of you to support your beginnings.
                            Last edited by Forrest Addy; 09-07-2008, 11:35 AM.


                            • #15
                              Heh! ... As you no doubt can already tell from the different answers that you wont get a consensus on a recommendation

                              Anyway, I'll add my thoughts .... I feel I can maybe understand your situation because I was there about 3 yrs ago. Had retired, been fighting a clapped out 9" South bend for yrs and wanted to get something better. I'm self taught, so I needed info on what to move to, and like you, I thought SB would be great ((like a new condition heavy 10 ... Dream on!!) but I'm down here in machine wasteland and there just wasnt ANY tools, and like mechanical magic, I started to HAVE to look at the Chinese tools.

                              I started doing research (Google is your friend) and found the yahoo site for the 12x36s (and similar) ----
                              and pretty quickly decided that one of those would suit me. As Forrest pointed out you dont wanna have to rebuild before you can make chips, youll likely get frustrated. The new Chinese lathes will pretty much be 'ready to go' and, INMHO, I think they have improved significantly over the last 2-3 yrs

                              Go over to the yahoo site and dedicate some time to read back thru the posts and you should get a 'feel' of the owners opinions of them. Also, if your funds are gonna limit you to 1500 and under spend some time at the yahoo site for the 9x20, that is one popular hobby lathe, and for less than a $1000 can fit in many home shops.

                              I agree that $1500 isnt quite gonna get you into the better range of lathes, they seem to start with the 12x36s which is gonna be $2000 + --- but, there is a marked difference there and you would be well served to save your nickels and go for one of them. I chose a Birmingham, but as time has gone by and I have followed the yahoo forum, I think any one of the 12x36s would be fine for the HSM -- yes, even the HF comes out with good reports!
                              If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something........