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Hi. New guy here

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  • Hi. New guy here

    You've probably read a hundred of these kind of posts so this will be a hundred and one.

    I'm new to machining and I'm looking for advice on how to get started. What do I want to build? Well, a lot of stuff: chess pieces (metal ones), engines (Stirling, steam, gasoline, maybe a rotary), rocket nozzles for hybrid rockets, wood gasifier, tool repair, and guns. Plus a lot of stuff I haven't even thought of yet.

    I just got a Millermatic 211 for home repairs, DIY powercranks for my bike, the gasifier and other stuff and I'm looking for info on lathes, mills, DRO, CNC, duplicators etc. What do you like? Why do you like it?

    Is a Sherline lathe and mill set up adequate for making a small gun? What are some "gotchas" that you wish you knew before getting into machining? That kind of info.

    Anything you got would be appreciated.

  • #2
    You might want to post your location. I'd start witha 12"x 36" min size lathe for gun work but you can always up size & upgrade. Welcome to the forum.


    • #3
      Originally posted by flylo View Post
      You might want to post your location. I'd start witha 12"x 36" min size lathe for gun work but you can always up size & upgrade. Welcome to the forum.
      Thanks. I'm in Denver metro area. Some day soon I'd like to be able to learn at the Colorado School of Trades in Lakewood--one of the best gunsmith schools in the nation. I'm not a young kid. I'm an engineer with twenty years experience in aerospace.

      Are there "grades" of lathes and mills? Some are more accurate than others. How do you tell which is which and what you need?


      • #4
        Welcome to the forum!

        You will get a wide range of opinions on machine tools. I have a Harbor Freight 9x20 lathe and a round column milling machine that I have found quite adequate, although they have involved some adjustment and modification. Much depends on your budget and your ability and inclination to tinker with a machine, vs just wanting to be able to do accurate work in a short period of time.

        Some people recommend getting "old American Iron" machines, many of which need extensive rework, and/or high initial cost. Some have had good luck with cheap Chinese machine tools, but it's a "crap shoot" and some are good right out of the box, while others need a lot of TLC and may even have "fatal flaws" that just can't be fixed. Top of the line US and Western European or Japanese machines are usually $10,000 or more.

        I have no experience with gunsmithing. You might want to check out the videos of the amazing gunsmithing work done by a young woman named "Luna", who is a member of this forum. She also lives in Colorado with her husband and dog(s). This shows her small shop, with moderate size Grizzly milling machine and lathe:

        Last edited by PStechPaul; 12-17-2016, 06:13 PM.
        Paul , P S Technology, Inc. and MrTibbs
        USA Maryland 21030


        • #5
          [QUOTE=Are there "grades" of lathes and mills? Some are more accurate than others. How do you tell which is which and what you need?[/QUOTE]

          Yes there are. All the way from the equivalent of Chinese imitations of $5.95 Estes kits to genuine Saturn V complete with Lunar Rover. You will have to figure out what you "need". That part is entirely subjective. And lots of fun.


          • #6

            Sherline makes some good little tools for the hobbyist. Well suited for people who have little room to work in. People make some very fine model engines and other small things like clocks and watches. Might even make a few small parts for a gun with them. But they neither big enough nor powerful enough to do some of the things you wish to try.

            Flylo, like many here, often recommends larger used machines that may or may not be suitable for many due to shop size, power availability, and available egg money. Or even totally unsuitable for the desired job. Watchmakers don't need a 12x36 lathe. On the other hand, a gunsmith will get scant use from a Sherline. And you may live in a tool desert with little to choose from.

            You kind of know what some of the things you would like to do are. Next question should be "How much money am I willing to spend". This hobby ain't cheap. One can spend a couple thousand on a machine and then spend as much or more again to even get the tooling it takes to even run it. And tooling is consumable. You will buy it over and over. Milling machines are notorious for making you bleed cash.

            New, (probably Chinese), vs old used. Many here are staunch believers in only Old American Iron is worth owning. And will go to great lengths to obtain and then recondition those tools to their satisfaction. That can be a fine hobby and endeavor for those who like that stuff. But do you want to fix a machine before you can even use it or do you just want to use it? If you fall in the latter camp, then you may wish to look more towards new machines. And since you are an Engineer, you should understand that when purchasing, it's often less about the machine, and more about buying a vendor. Buy a good vendor! And every used piece of equipment I bought has all had the same 4 word warranty - As Is, Where Is. Not much recourse if it goes up in smoke the very first time.

            There are no "Grades" of machines. A machine is either suitable for the job or it is not. Accuracy comes from the operator, not from the machine. A good operator can make great parts with junk machines and poor ones make junk with great machines. But also remember, accuracy costs money.

            So no real recommendations from me. Too many variables at play. But if you think about and prioritize the things I have talked about, it will lead you to the machine you want to buy. Whether that turns out to be a Sherline or a big 16x144 lathe.

            Oh, and Welcome! You can learn much from everyone here.

            If you think you understand what is going on, you haven't been paying attention.


            • #7
              The general consensus would be that if you actually don't have room for a larger machine, then choose what you can fit- otherwise don't start off with too small a machine. I'm not a gunsmith either, but there have been times I could have used a longer lathe. I currently use an 8 x 18 lathe and a round column mill- and for the most part they are capable enough- though I would like to upgrade both. I'm just a hobbyist too.

              A few easy considerations- if you are going to be doing barrels you need the length. If you are going to be turning large diameters you need the swing. If you are limited to the power that can be supplied you need to stay within that envelope. Do you have 220 available, or limited to 110? That will determine the size of motor you can use. How much weight can your floor handle? How much weight can YOU handle. That will also determine the size of lathe you can install. Going down stairs with all this gear? Personally I've come to the conclusion that the 11 x 27 is about the minimum size I'd upgrade to- for someone without a lathe already this might be a good size to start with, as chances are it would be all you'd ever need. You can make small parts on a large lathe, but not large parts on a small lathe. If you're only ever going to be making small parts, you will need spindle speeds on the upper side- this is pretty much the only area where a smaller machine would shine, excepting weight, size, and power limitations for the installation.
              I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-


              • #8
                Welcome aboard, Steve-O.
                Lets narrow to a miniature revolver project. Lathe, mill, dividing head, boring head and bars, turning tools and holders, drill bits, grinder for sharpening and shaping tools, heat treat equipment, bluing equipment, good selection of files, vices for bench and milling machine, calipers, micrometers and gages, flat surface like a granite, layout fluid, feeler gages and blocks, cutoff or band saw, and a large shop vacuum for the mess. Hmmm, did I forget something?
                Now widen the project list...whew! You get the message. That's why we call it a slippery slope.
                Whatever you choose, think ahead. I, like many, bought a whole lot of used tools over the years. My goal was to have the right tool for the job for any job I ran across. Problem with that is by the time I got there many years after beginning the voyage, I find I am way overcrowded. If space will be a problem, think versatility. Kind of like the Shopsmith solution, where a lot of capability packs into a small space. If you think you will have the room, then dedicated machines are far more capable and easier to use. Although many say buy small and upgrade, that is not an easy bite to take later if all your vices, rotary tables, and so on are mini size and you want to move up to a full size machine.


                • #9
                  IMO with that list of things you are interested in working on ... I would say the Sherline won't be big enough.

                  At least get a 9 or 10 incher ... As another said, a 12x36 is a great hobby machine.
                  John Titor, when are you.


                  • #10
                    When I graduated from CST, they were installing their first South Bend Heavy 10 lathe. All the lathes they had before then were South Bend 9's with about 28-30 inches between centers. Because the hole through the spindle was about 3/4 inch or less, all barrel threading was done with a fixed center in the headstock and a steady rest. The South Bend 9 is much more capable than the Grizzly 9x20 and similar others, because of the greater weight and length. The weight adds to rigidity. Logan, Sheldon, and Clausing are all brands that are better than the South Bends and do not have as much brand recognition among most hobbyists, so they are often better bargains.

                    A lathe is easier to find on the used market if you already have a lathe. Therefore any lathe in good condition can be a worthwhile addition to your shop if it does not deplete your resources to the point you can't add another when it turns up. Just avoid any lathe that can't cut threads. A small lathe can be used for making screws, pins, etc. while a larger lathe is set up for a job you don't want to interrupt.

                    If you have a question about any equipment you might be interested in, many here can help you. Welcome to the forum.
                    North Central Arkansas


                    • #11
                      Welcome aboard! I can sense the keeness even over the eather....

                      The Sherline might be able to make a lot of the small parts. But unless you're making something the size of a North American Arms mini revolver you'll fast find that it's way too small for a lot of the parts of something along that line.

                      Consider too that a pretty big part of maching metal is jigs to hold parts for different operations. Often these jigs can be larger and quite a bit heavier than the items they are used for making. And that means you really don't want too small a machine.

                      But how big is "big enough"? Well, that's the $64 question...

                      If you aspire to much at all to do with motorcycles or cars then I'd consider a 12x36 to be a nice size. And as it happens this is a pretty good size for most gunsmithing.

                      If you don't feel a need to feed that side of the equation then there's much to be said for some of the 10x22 to 11x 24 size machines. Just go into it knowing that these tend to be a little more lightly built and tend to have a smaller through hole in the headstock.

                      I've got a 12x36 myself. And truth be told I could do probably 95% of my work on a 10x22. But when I do need the longer bed or bigger head stock through hole it sure is nice.

                      All in all I'd echo the suggestion for a 12x36 unless you're strapped for room. Then I'd say go with a 10x22 and just temper your dreams that last 5% and live within what you have. And really? It won't be an issue much of the time.

                      Machines vary but MOST of the 9 inch stuff I've seen tends to be far lighter than what you get when you jump to 10". For anything to do with machine tools weight is good. Much of what you are buying with "better" machines is simply more cast iron. And it DOES make a difference. But it may be many years of machine work before you can tell that difference. Much of it is that last couple of percent. You know... the last 2 or 4% that costs twice as much as the other similar size but way cheaper machine.

                      In terms of quality levels? Oh sure, they are there. But the reality is that most of us can't afford the higher priced stuff. It's an expensive enough HOBBY as it is. But if you've got the cash to spare we'd be happy to guide you on spending it if you let us ride along and drool. Does Hardinge still make tool room lathes? Can you afford the "cubic cost" price tag that goes with it?

                      Lathes basically make "round things" and mills make "flat and square things". Now that's really simplifying it but at the core this is the nut of the matter. So you'll want a mill as well. Now if you trip over a "Deal Of A Lifetime" on a used Bridgeport far be it for me to say that it won't go well with your "small" 10x22 lathe. But just be sure you don't mind the cost of the VFD to make it turn and that your ceiling is tall enough.... and the fact that I'll drool on my monitor when you post the pictures.

                      Mostly though I'd say that a 12x36 calls for either one of the larger bench top mills or one of the smaller knee mills. But if you end up with a 10x22 then one of the nicer bench top mills would be what I'd consider a "balanced" companion.

                      To go with your machine tools you WILL want a metal cutting bandsaw. I went with a 4x6" saw that can be run in a vertical mode. I use it in the vertical mode at least half the time. This one feature has kept me from "upgrading" to a larger bandsaw simply because the smaller 4x6 saws are the only ones with this vertical mode ability. And I don't have the room for a separate vertical metal bandsaw.

                      You're set up for welding with a lovely machine. So you're laughing there. But... plasma?

                      Consider too that tooling for the lathe and milling machine will cost you about half again as much as the cost of the two machines put together. Most of this will be put towards the mill. But the lathe will demand and get it's own pound of flesh too. Don't forget that when setting your budget.

                      All in all from having played with a few lathes over my life that are both larger and smaller than what I have now I'd have to say that we really can't beat a 12x36 for a home shop if the size of the shop will support it. I can't recall the last time I wished for a bigger or better machine. And since I set it down on a nice solid pair of pillars at a better height than I tolerated for too many years I have to say that it's like it has a whole new life and I'm even more happy with it than I was before.

                      And for all that it SEEMS large and bulky if you don't know what they can do I just finished making two small parts for a Steven's Little Scout rifle from the early 1900's. So it can do small parts just fine too.
                      Chilliwack BC, Canada


                      • #12
                        Wow, thanks folks. This is good stuff! Please keep it coming. I especially appreciate the talk about brands and bargains. I ain't made of money either so I gotta rein it in.

                        As far as space goes, I have two cars in a three car garage. My wife and I keep talking about moving. If it happens we both agree to move to a place with a few acres and an out building (barn) for some proper space.

                        Budget? Geez! Budget. I dunno yet. I could save up for a nice 12x36 but I get the impression I'd be trying to run before I crawl. Is that justified or should I just bite the bullet? I get the idea that you can make small stuff on a big lathe and not the other way around but would using a 12x36 for freakin chess pieces be a little unwieldy or not at all?

                        What about CNC? Seems like the most expensive thing you can buy for a shop. Is it a lot of buck for the bang or is it worth it? What about DRO?


                        • #13
                          Since you are in the Denver metro area, I would schedule a visit to CST and pay close attention when going in the machine shop area. Note what they are using now and that it your starting point. Do not be afraid to ask them why they are using those. I would bet they will be honest as to any issues they have with them. It would give you a head start knowing how the machine runs when you start school.

                          When I went there, they still had the South Bend 9 as the main lathes with 2 other larger machines, both South Bends but I do not remember which ones but if i were to guess one was a 13 and the other a heavy 10. The 9's were the work horses. All of the basic projects were done on them and they were not exactly babied. Most students had no machine shop experience when they began and some mistakes happen.

                          The Sherline is small and while useful for some gun work, the size will limit what you can do. Mostly pins, screws and bushings are what it will do best. It will allow you to get your "feet wet" in machining.



                          • #14
                            Steve-O, yes that size of machine is bigger than you need for making chess pieces. But what will you be doing either side of the chess pieces? And then either side of that? THIS is the question you need to ask yourself and answer.... and it's the right time to actually be honest with yourself

                            On the other hand the little gun part I just finished off was made from a 2 inch piece of 5/16 drill rod which was turned down and ended up being just about 7/8" long in total. Working on the portion that was .149 in diameter by a touch more than 5/16 long was not hard at all. So it's not a big deal to work on small parts on a bigger machine. Besides a lot of folks don't consider a 12x36 to be big. It IS large for home shop use when it's all for fun.

                            If the whole schtick will be strictly a hobby then you can buy machines and simply choose projects to fit the machines. But you already mentioned doing some gun smithing. So will there be any barrel work in there? If the answer is "yes... maybe?" then you need a lathe large enough to accept a barrel in some way or form either through the head stock or between centers.

                            If you are willing to give up on doing barrel work you can STILL do a LOT of gun smithing on a more modest size machine. Hell, most small parts could be done on one of the small 7x14 table top machines. Or even the Sherline lathe. Or the Taig. I don't recommend going that small but the simple truth is that likely 8 out of 10 things I make could be done on a machine of that sort of size. But those other two? They would not even fit in that size of machine

                            You mentioned some engine options. What sort of size? If they are the sort that end up not much larger than a big tin of soup you can do that sort of stuff on a 9 or 10 inch swing bench top machine just fine. But this is why I suggest that you need to sit down and figure all this out.

                            Now I'm not a big fan of the very small table top lathes. They can quickly become crowded when working with a slightly larger piece and full size tooling. For me the really nice compact size machines are in the 9 to 11 inch swing range with beds from 18 to 23 inches. After that you may as well jump up to the 12x36 size. The reason why I'm not a fan of the really small machines is that once you start filling up the working room with regular length drill bits and chucks you run out of space really fast. On some of the 7 inch swing table top lathes you literally could not have a 2 inch piece in the 3 jaw chuck and then use a 1/2 inch drill bit in the tail stock chuck. There's simply not enough bed length on the smaller versions to fit it all in. But I do see that Grizzly has a rather decent looking 8x16. Now for smaller hobby size work THAT could prove to be a not bad size and weight. But other than making firing pins, screws and other small parts you could kiss any gunsmithing goodbye with that size of machine.

                            Here is one I found that is nicely on the cusp. Precision Matthews has an 11x27. It looks like it might just be the King of the bench top lathes. It's also got a 1.5" through bore in the headstock so you could even be back in the running for most of that barrel work.

                            Check it out;


                            But before you leap stop and really figure out the sort of things you want to be able to do with it and then figure out what a good size for that sort of stuff would be. Keep in mind too that if you want to do a lot of work in steel that bigger and heavier is better to some extent. With aluminium and brass you can do some pretty big stuff in relatively small machines. But working with steel puts a lot more load on the machines You CAN whittle out parts from a 12 inch bar of 2 inch diameter steel. But you'll need to be VERY patient doing such work on something like the relatively lighter 9x18 machines which are out there. The same job on something like that 11x27 with the heavier bed would still be a big job but not nearly as painful.
                            Chilliwack BC, Canada


                            • #15
                              Welcome, I'd love to hear about the aerospace bit (unless it's a "if I told you id have to kill you" aerospace job, don't laugh please) whatever size lathe you think is too big, multiply that by 2 to get the right size for you, lathes are like bust size I discovered, I've been recently caught in top secret negotiations (hidden from wife) for a 17 X 80 DSG, note to self, close computer properly.
                              You wouldn't go far wrong with a Bridgeport, and a small surface grinder is very useful, esp for parts with some "finish", somthing I avoid myself, good belt sander makes pretty finish when welded up stuff is what your about.
                              Whatever you get, just have fun, you only live once for definite, and I discovered that money (apart from being made up by banks) isn't everything
                              Btw at least 90% of us are certifiably, clinically insane, who also write things down without thinking so try not to get offended as they/we don't actually mean to be rude, maybe we should be using Skype or somthing as well
                              Anyway welcome to the farm