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  • Help me get started!

    I just stumbled across this forum and was hoping for some advice from some of you guys and gals.

    I am interested in getting into some light machining. I am already an accomplished woodwoker, so I have some skill with serious power tools and such.

    The question is, where to start. I was think of buying a small metal working lathe and a small mill/drill. It looks like I can save some $ by buying a combo machine. What are the advantages/disadvantages of such machines?

    Would it be smarter to buy a lathe first and start to master it before I bought the mill (or visa versa?)

    Any recomendations on where to get equipment at reasonable prices? I was thinking that a few of Grizzly's machine look interesting and affordable. Harbor Frieght also has some cheap machines, but I suspect that they're probably 'Cheap' machines.

    Thanks in advance for any advice. I really appreciate it.


  • #2
    If I were you, I would get some of Rudys, or other machining videos, and beginner books.

    You can probably find them thru this website.
    Also find the nearest machining, or live steaming clubs and join up.

    Some guys would love to work with you. Some are in a "click" and will generally ignore you. Don't be dis-heartned by those turkeys.

    Some community colleges have machining technology classes.

    It's kinda hard to help a raw beginner untill you get basic terms down so you can ask an intelligent question.

    No insult intended.

    Welcome aboard.



    • #3
      Check this post from last year for some advice.


      • #4
        The combo machine question has been flogged to death; use the "search" feature and see what you can turn up. (Quick summary: better than nothing, but nowhere near as good as individual machines.)

        "Good used American" would probsbly give you the most for your money. The trouble is, starting out, being able to determine "good" can be tricky, and a not-so-good lathe or milling machine makes a dandy boat anchor. But give that some consideration, if there's any used machinery dealers in your area. Or see or Plaza Machinery or Dave Sobel who advertise in HSM and are reliable.

        For the imports: I don't know what your budget is, but even with imports the Iron Law of Economics prevails: you generally get what you pay for. Jet machinery (some of it, anyway) is pretty good. I like the JVM-836 mill, for instance. I have no experience with their lathes.

        metal mite's suggestion about clubs and classes is good. If there's an evening class in machine shop at a local tech school, that would be a good thing to do so you have a better idea of what's involved.
        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


        • #5
          The wood working analogy might be: lathe vs. router. Each has its own uses.

          In machining, the conventional wisdom says lathe first. I used to think that, but now I am not so sure, and this may spark some debate.

          Now that I have both, I find that the mill gets more use. In fact, a mill with a rotary table can do many things that a lathe can. Also, for small, short details you can chuck round stock in a collet or drill chuck in the spindle and clamp a tool bit in the milling vise. This last setup can be cumbersome but can be done in a pinch.

          The other side is that a lathe with a milling slide and endmill held in the spindle can do many milling operations.

          What kind of things do you want to make? Max diameter will determine the lathe size, although I once made a very nice 8" diameter aluminum lamp base on a Sherline mill & rotary table that would have been impossible on my 6" Atlas lathe.


          Weston Bye - Author, The Mechatronist column, Digital Machinist magazine
          ~Practitioner of the Electromechanical Arts~


          • #6
            Welcone to a great hobby (and way to make a living, I expect). I'm pretty new myself, having bought my first equipment just 3 or 4 years ago. Here's what I did:

            1) Roamed the net. This led me to the Taig and Sherline equipment, which is table top sized. I ended up with a Sherline 4400 lathe, and have been very happy with it.
            Later on I bought their 5400 mill, and was happy with that too, but then upgraded to something a little larger, the Prazi 400.

            2) Bought every machining book on the planet. Well, not quite, but I love books, and I've found that all the reading I've done has paid off. Our hosts have a lot of good books, including Rudy's and the Projects 1-7 series. I also recommend Guy Lautard's "Machinist's Bedsidee Reader"

            3) Get on the MSC Direct mailing list ( for a good source of tools, tooling, etc.

            4) Think up a few small projects and start making chips. Takes a bit of practice, but it's fun.

            5) Take a coursee at the local community college or VoTech.

            6) Yahoo has several machinist groups; search for sherline or 7x10.

            7) Harbor freight stuff is cheap, but sometimes that's OK. Lot's of people have taken their basic 7x10 lathe and improved it; there is lots of information out on the net on doing that (search for "Varmint Al", for one.) I bought a 7x10 as an accessory to my little Sherline, just for making the occasional bigger piece. Take a look at too, for more 7x10 info.

            Boy, are you in for some fun!


            • #7
              Depends what you want to do. If you want to build a live steam locomotive, the Lathe will be used much more often than the mill.
              If you want to make your own firearm receivers from castings, the Mill will be used most of the time. I guess thats a good analogy.
              Truth is that you will want both as soon as you start to use one or the other.


              • #8
                Wow, your advice is great. I've spent a lot of the afternoon reading old posts on this forum (no doubt much to my employer's chagrin!) and have learned an awful lot.

                I know that my intended projects have a lot to do with the direction I should move in, but frankly, I just don't know yet. Here's what got me interested in the first place. As a serious hobbiest woodwoorker, I have a lot of power tools. More than I care to admit. I see ways to improve many of them. For example. Some of the parts of my band saw are flimsy and difficult to work with. Better parts in some cases aren't available and where they are, they are far more expensive than they need to be. I have actually fabricated several parts already with judicious use of a dremel tool, grinder and tap and die set. In addition to this, I've gotten very seriously into wood turning in the last year. I think of it as 'machining' wood and came to the conclusion that turning metal would be really cool.

                Nonetheless, your advice has been invuable and is much appreciated. I will almost certainly being posting more questions.

                Thanks for being here.



                • #9
                  Oh -- one thing that may apply. Woodworking and metalworking tend to be sort of incompatible. Nicely finished wood doesn't like metal chips, and sawdust landing on nicely oiled machinery makes a heck of a mess. So for best results, keep your wood and your metal shop separate. It's not absoutely required, of course, but it's a lot less hassle in the long run.

                  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


                  • #10
                    Here is another site worth looking at, plenty of links too.


                    • #11
                      Welcome, I'd ask What kind of woodworking tools do you own, a Shopsmith or the individual machines? Some people are quite satisfied with a Smithy combination machine and some are not. It will do most things well but not all. The bed is short and the mill table is also. I'd second the notion of getting into a metal shop corse if there's one available. You might want to look at some articles in the Home Shop Machinist magazine or Machinist Workshop magazine. If you don't want to subscribe then you could call and order a back issue or 2. These are a valuable source of information on all kinds of stuff. Machine tool dealers,etc. You can build some awsome things with small eqpt. witness the stuff that Rudy Kouhoupt has done. I'd also visit a reputable used machinery dealer and see what he has to offer. Good Luck and if I can be of any help to you feel free to e-mail me or ask the forum. I'm sure that anyone here would be happy to help all they can.
                      My personal preferance for a starter set of machinery would be any good domestic belt driven bench lathe, and a small mill of the same pettigree. I'd stay away from gear driven stuff for a while for they are not forgiving. Mill drills are ok if you cannot find at least a modest knee mill. You will of course need much tooling and if you are married this will lead to many mild confrontations however.... this will pass...
                      Good luck and May The Force Be With You!!


                      • #12
                        I think the most important thing to getting started, is to have a strong desire to do something. With me it was(still is) to build a live steam locomotive. Once I started that, many other things started to pop up, Its like uses for your metal working tools find their way to you more or less. I first turned some axles, next thing I was turning was some steel pipe, turned the diameter down a few .001's so they would fit into the boats pedestal mount. THen I made a new bayonet mounting pin for my sks. I have countless other projects Im allways dreaming up.
                        Your need to improve your wood working tools is a perfect example. You will also be making stuff for your metal working tools as well.
                        Once you get going, you'll wonder how you got things done with out them.


                        • #13
                          Yes, Grizzly is a good place to look. Better support and parts availability then some, and cheaper then Jet. I assume you found out all you needed to about the combo machines during your search.

                          Once you get one machine, your need for the other grows greatly. I would probably get the lathe before the mill. You got me thinking, it would be very difficult for me to be without a lathe and mill, be kind of like cutting a leg off if I didn't have them. I guess I am going to be machining until someone pries the hand wheels from my cold dead hands!

                          Location: North Central Texas


                          • #14

                            Welcome to the club. It appears you have a serious case of Tool Guy / Shopitis, but not to worry, it's not contagious, and for those of us that have suffered from it for many years, we understand completely, however when the neighbors stop by and you just have to show them your newest machine, don't be disapointed if they just look at you with a blank look on their face. They don't understand us.

                            I have had both metal working and wood working equipment in the same 22x24 shop space. It is a hassle to keep the two from contaminating each other, however it is possible. I had covers on the machines when they were not in use and that kept the sawdust out of the machine tools and the oil and chips out of the woodworking tools. Ripstop nylon makes a nice cover material. Pick some up at the fabric store and give the little lady a project sewing covers to fit each machine. It will make her feel more involved in your hobby and not feel so left out when you spend hours out in the shop working.

                            As far as tools go and what to buy, you will get great information from this BBS.

                            My personal opinion is to buy the best quality you feel you can afford. You won't be sorry in the long run.

                            Once you start working in metal and you say you are in to wood turning, I saw some really great shop built wood lathes in Fine Woodworking magazine some years back.
                            You will want to be building your own woodworking tools from scratch.



                            • #15

                              You're treading on very thin ice there. Best hope the "little lady" isn't lurking on this board.
                              Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here