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Lathe & File Question

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  • Lathe & File Question


    I am looking to buy a lathe. Are you better off buying an old American lathe like a South Bend or Atlas or one of the new imports like Grizzly, Enco or Harbor Freight? Of the imports witch one is the best. As for files are Nickerson & Simons still the best.



  • #2
    Oh, man. You really need to learn how to use the search engine. Do that before opening this can of worms... again...


    • #3
      Files- I once bought a set of files, made in - who knows where- they weren't Nicholson or Simmons or ? What they were was absolute crap. Then I bought a Simmons, and I found some Nicholsons used- all are good files. Don't know if they still are, but I somehow expect that they are still good.
      I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-


      • #4
        For a first lathe, I recommend import. Easyer to get parts for, More likey to be a machine and not a long project, Etc.

        As a first time buyer, you won't know how to inspect a used machine for accuracy, and you won't have the abilitys to make/refurb existing parts without access to a 2nd lathe and/or mill.

        HF is the worst of the imports, Grizzly and enco are much better. You get roughly what you pay for.

        That said, Try and aim for a 12x36" class lathe. They are the biggest lathe you can get before the price REALLY jumps, and they have all the features one would expect and want in a lathe. Also look for D1-X (X being a number) camlock chuck, as opposed to threaded.
        Play Brutal Nature, Black Moons free to play highly realistic voxel sandbox game.


        • #5
          I have repaired machinery for over 25 years and I have to agree with Black Moons. Most used machinery needs some work and many of the older machines can be hard to get parts for. Though Clausing does still carry a lot of the parts for Atlas, and old Clausing models. When looking at lathes also consider if you want automatic feeds and threading capability. Many of the home shop lathes do not have these functions. It can be difficult to impossible to get a good finish with hand feed. So IMHO you have to at least have automatic feed.


          • #6
            Simonds moved all their file making to south america a few years back. I suspect the quality declined since. I would look for NOS simonds or heller on eBay. There is a seller on eBay that was a former simonds employee selling USA made files.


            • #7
              Head to the flea market, garage sales, even pawn shops. A lot have buckets of loose and random tools. A friend's dad grabbed about a dozen different files for $5 or $10 years ago, still has them, and they're as good as when he bought them despite spending that time in a toolbox used to modify other tools and make parts for Mac trucks work smoothly. Just make sure they're made in the US first.

              A good old American machine is better than a good new import. A good new import is worlds better than a worn old American machine, and sadly many are worn. Don't buy used unless you want a project and have someone knowledgeable to inspect.

              Also, as far as I'm concerned, do not buy anything that won't cut threads, for a primary machine. Personally, I can deal alright without an automatic feed (but I do have the ability and love it!) but anyone that runs a lathe will want the ability to cut threads before too long. Don't rely on threadcutting dies--without at least a few threads to start it, they won't cut straight if your life depended on it.


              • #8
                Yards Sales Rule

                Just picked up a Kennedy Machinist Box (missing front cover) with the bottom drawer full with old American files. With out going to the garage and counting I would say at least 25-35. All kinds and sizes and shapes and all in great condition.
                The other drawers had about 75 HSS American drill bits. Plus about 5-6 American taps HSS and 4-5 American easy outs. Plus other odds and ends that I don't remember right now and a Starrett Ruler.
                Was force to pay $10.00 for all. It's a hit and miss as far as yard sales go but every so often you can make out.

                I found my 1937 Craftsman 12X36 lathe on Craig's List with several hundred pounds of tooling (3 chucks, 3 face plates, 3 drill chucks, milling attachment, steady rest, dial indicators, and I could keep going on an on) for $300.00. Brought it home and plugged it in and went to work. I am the 3rd owner of this 72 year old lathe and it only had 2 owners in the first 70 years. The 2nd owner was 90 when I bought it.

                I can get any part I need in a couple of days off Ebay. And if I am not in a hurry I can really get a deal. Atlas/Craftsman parts are all over the place. I am not doing any aerospace projects and most others are not either. Just making air rifle parts, peep sights, muzzle breaks, bushings, tools etc. 90% of every thing I do is 6061 or brass. There is more accuracy in this old lathe then I will ever use. No printed circuits to go bad, no cheap Chinese motors etc.

                If a nice South Bend comes along at the right price I will grab it.
                Last edited by bobbyjim; 03-23-2011, 10:19 AM.


                • #9

                  Your choice:

                  buy an OLD cheapo machine (atlas, S-B, etc) for which others have done the upfront work to get the problems out already, but which has new ones from wear and age.

                  Buy a NEW cheapo machine (Grizzly, Jet, Busy bee, lathemaster, harbor fright, etc) and do the upfront work of getting the problems and lack of workmanship, fit, etc out of it yourself.

                  C) buy an older "real" machine (leBlond, Clausing, etc) that is too big for most, and restore it, or use as-is. Most of those can be far better than the A or B machines, but take considerably more work to restore.

                  B is a good choice if you don't think you'll ever care, or don't consider it a problem.

                  A is a good choice if you want to do some restoration, but it's possible to get a goodie.

                  C is not an option for most.

                  All have problems. NONE have good parts support, although at least Grizzly tries harder, to the best of their ability. But with the factories thousands of miles away, and NOT under the control of the importer, some parts will not be available at any price.

                  If you are asking the question, probably you SHOULD buy an import. Your chances are better that way of getting a machine you will be able to use as-is with NO work.

                  Many of the imports (but NOT the "9 x 20" types) are built heavier than typical Atlas and Southbend, which is desirable.

                  I think all files other than Swiss are trash these days.....

                  Keep eye on ball.
                  Hashim Khan


                  • #10
                    +1 for buying via flea markets/yard sales/auctions. Some tools just have no resale value such as files and punches, so why buy new?

                    Machinery is what it is, machinery. It cant think for itself and cant fix/adjust itself. Many here will tell you to spend thousands buying new imports that may need as much or more adjustment from the factory than good old American Iron at less than half the price. My suggestion is to head over to the PM site (sorry George) and read as many of the restoration threads as possible and learn what an ok condition machine looks like, then find some others in your area that have restored machinery in the past and get their opinions/experience. I have personally restored quite a few old pieces of iron and enjoy using them more to restore other tools than anything else. The bad machines are out there, but if it was truly a professional grade machine that wasnt abused, then likely it has plenty of life left in it and will be more than accurate enough for your needs. The majority of "modern" (new enough to have hardened bedways) machine tools I have worked on needed little other than a good cleaning and some minor adjustment, but can do ten times the work as their lower quality, more expensive cousins from overseas. Look for school auctions for older machinery. Its likely seen little use and was at least decent (if not top) quality. Dont worry too much about parts support, ebay will have most any popular machine, you shouldnt need much once its up and running anyway, and you should be able to use the machine to make quite a few parts too.

                    Let the flaming begin now...
                    "I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer -- born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow."


                    • #11
                      Lathe and file

                      I inherited a really good small Atlas that I used for years and was my only machine tool. I bought a milling attachment for it as well as a three jaw chuck. It still works very well.
                      Then I ran across a Logan 200 buried in a barn and bought it for cheap.
                      Found all of the missing parts on ebay.
                      Ended up replacing even the worn out ways from ebay. I still have it but it chatters on some cuts. I haven't bothered to try to fix it. Fact is it has been almost more trouble than it's worth to bring it to usable condition.
                      Then I bought an import 6X26 mill from Wholesale Tool. It has been great and done everything I could ask.
                      Last year I found another Logan 200 in great condition with lots of tooling for $200.
                      So now I have three old American lathes, two good and one not so good and a good import small mill.
                      All that having been said, I would advise you to buy a new import machine.
                      Who needs the trouble if all you want to do is make chips?
                      American iron is a crap shoot and gets worse every day because all of the good stuff is gone or has been scraped.
                      I would buy new American in a heart beat if I could afford it but it just doesn't exist.
                      I cut it off twice and it's still too short!


                      • #12
                        None of you asked the main question that should have been asked first, what are you planning to use the lathe for? What kind of materials and work do you work with or plan to work with?

                        Are you just getting a lathe or plan on getting more machines? An atlas has more attachments then a import. So if it is going to be your only machine it would be nice to have an option for attachments to do the work that other machines would do.


                        • #13
                          Basic Questions


                          1] Where are you?
                          Can make a huge difference in what is available if you decide on "old"

                          2] How long are you willing to wait? See # 1 but applies to new too

                          3] How far are you willing to travel and if need be, properly rig a load?
                          See # 1 and # 2 and you are also getting into the idea of "new" but used as opposed to old and who knows

                          4] What sort of space do you have? Here I am thinking more electrical connections. Most issues can be "fixed" but can involve more time and effort/hassle...just something to be aware of, I would think esp if you go the route of buying a size that is just outside of most home shops (often those can be "better" deals but can also come with inherent problems since they are now going to be outside of a true industrial setting); I have found ads for some really good lathes that even fit in my space but sorry, 575v just is not going to happen

                          5] $$$; IMO most new really high quality (and even that is an opinion which will vary) are big bucks and if you go the older route and get something with little tooling that ends up to be an "odd" or rare size that means more waiting to buy (and less likely it will turn up) and more cost when/if you do find it; again, just an opinion, but this can effectively limit the choice of older machine and if you want some sort of support (group w machines from common mfg) that also reduces the choice

                          6] get a size as large as example, from experience, it can be a pain if 5C or the larger ER series collets do not fit


                          • #14
                            My first lathe was a Craftsman(Atlas) 12" X 36". It was terrible to ever get anything done on it without taking many more hours that it should have,due to having way too light a bed. Wore out pot metal half nuts every 6 months.

                            Next lathe was a 10" X 24" belt drive Jet bench lathe,similar to 12" X 36" imports offered today. It was a real eye opener. I could make ACCURATE parts in 10% of the time spent on the Atlas. Half nuts of bronze did not ever wear out.

                            I have a 1986 Grizzly 16" X 40" lathe that is exceedingly accurate,and a Hardinge HLVH that I use most of the time.

                            I have been quite happy with the Grizzly,though it was a very cheap lathe when I bought it,and I would never recommend it for production work. It has been just fine for home shop use. Turns true cylinders,and faces FLAT.

                            I was Master Toolmaker at Colonial Williamsburg from 1986 to 2009. Before that Master Musical Instrument mMaker there from 1970-1986. Started doing machine work at home in 1974.
                            Last edited by gwilson; 03-23-2011, 10:30 AM.


                            • #15
                              I never buy anything but imported machines and when I look around the established machine shops around town just about everything that have is imported too.