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Opinions on a starter lathe/mill

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  • Opinions on a starter lathe/mill

    Hi I am looking to buy a lathe/mill combo for home/light duty commercial use (20-50 parts a month?). I am new to machining and am not sure what I will need.

    I plan on making small parts, 2-3â€‌ diameter 8-10â€‌ long most things should be smaller than that. The main part I am thinking about is .75 x 4.5â€‌

    Precision need to be in the thousandths.

    Standard 110v is pretty much a must.

    Primary material will most likely be Aluminum, Nylatron, Delrin, possible SS.

    Cost is an issue however I have read about mini-lathes wearing out in as short as a couple of months. I don’t want something I will have to replace too soon.

    I cam across the Shop Fox M1017 @ $3000 its about the most I would want to spend.

    The Emco Maier compact 5 seems pretty nice?

    What do you guys think of the mini-combos.

    What would you buy if you had



    Thanks for your help.


  • #2
    -j The folks here will tell you to buy good used American tools, and probably advise against combination machines. They're probably right if you have room and can take the time to search out good used machines.

    That said, I bought a JET 9x20 lathe and a Rong Fu mill/drill and have been very satisfied with them. But I'm not building things for sale! The bill was a bit under $3k.


    • #3
      My impression is that the Emco Maier stuff is pretty good. I don't think you'd go too far wrong with that.
      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


      • #4

        I think the ShopFox was talked about a few days (or weeks) ago, I can't remember the thread name, it should "pop up" with the search function. I have a Grizzly G0516, without the mill. I like my machine, not perfect but I think it should handle what you ask in your post. I think the ShopFox is relatively new, but I don't know if others are importing that machine. This style of combo, is not as limiting as the "Smithy" style, because you can buy " spare parts" to make it two stand alone machines. There is a fair amount of info on the web about the G0516 and the mini mill, so plenty of successful mods to choose from.
        Today I will gladly share my experience and advice, for there no sweeter words than "I told you so."


        • #5
          I am somewhat opposed to the whole concept of "starter" machines.

          That concept is essentially that you get something of limited capability that you know you will get rid of/replace, on the theory that you are "testing the waters" so to speak. That seems to be a somewhat silly premise, if you have a job to do.

          I would instead get a suitable machine or machines, import or old, that are of decent type, and will do the job you want to do with some reserve capability beyond it. The amount of reserve is debatable, too much and the original job becomes a problem.

          Picking machines that way, there is a decent chance that you now have the tools you need, and won't have to "churn" your stock. Remember, the features on most machines are ones that 100 years plus of machining have determined to be useful. YOU are probably not going to need all of them right away, but why assume you will need hardly any, or be satisfied with partial work-arounds on a limited capability "starter" machine?

          With chinese machines, watch out for stupid stuff, like a 150 rpm minimum speed on a 12" lathe..... Yes I have seen that, in Grizzly, I think. Apparently they never heard of back gears (because they cost more)
          CNC machines only go through the motions.

          Ideas expressed may be mine, or from anyone else in the universe.
          Not responsible for clerical errors. Or those made by lay people either.
          Number formats and units may be chosen at random depending on what day it is.
          I reserve the right to use a number system with any integer base without prior notice.
          Generalizations are understood to be "often" true, but not true in every case.


          • #6
            What J Tiers said...
            Don't forget, good quality machines usually have good resale value, if in the future you decide machining is not your cup of tea, you might be able to redeem a good portion of your expenses.

            As for combo machines, my first machine was a 'Shop Task' and I hated it from day one.
            Combos look good in the brochure and can make a lot of sense, but are no substitute for a variety of reasons.
            Most people I know that owned Combos, got rid of them or just quit the hobby out of frustration.

            Over the years I have set aside about 10% of any income to go back into tools for my shop. It was surprising how fast it built up.

            Tom M.


            • #7
              The ShopFox is a pretty capable looking lathe, and may not be a bad choice if space is limited. It approximates the EMCO and other quality combo machines, being a milling attachment installed on a real lathe.

              The only real drawback to these machines is the limited size of the milling table.

              Jim H.


              • #8
                I can't say much about the combo machines (since I've never had one) but I didn't get one because the vast majority of what I read about them was that they were a pain because you couldn't leave a setup in either one when you needed to use the other function.

                I bought the mini-lathe and mini-mill from Grizzly. Both have worked well and I bought them as I didn't plan to work larger materials. It didn't take long before I found projects that were to big for the machines. The other thing about smaller machines is that they don't have certain features like power crossfeed and they lack a level of rigidity and mass.

                Now I'm planning to get at least a 12x36 lathe and full knee mill. In the years I've been doing this hobby, I have firmly come to believe that you have to put as much as you can in the base machine to get as much capacity and features as possible because no very know what you will need down the road... the only thing you can be certain is that it will be exactly 1 inch larger than you can handle.



                • #9
                  Starter lathe

                  60 years ago I got a 9" three foot bed C model South Bend lathe with a change gear set. Since I did not know alot about lathes I was very happy with it and could do most things the A model could do except I had to hand change gears when I thread cut. I even made my own thread dial. Over the years I got very familar with lathes in general and upgraded to the A model when the price was right. In the last 20 years I have had a few 9 SBs, one 10K, two 13". and now a beautiful Heavy ten toolroom South Bend lathe.
                  Lately I have seen 9" C model South Bends for $ 300 to $ 500. A great learning experience and bide your time till a better deal shows up. Over the years I have seen and got some very good deals within driving distance that avoids the high shipping cost and the fact you get to inspect before you buy.


                  • #10
                    Starter Mill

                    I bought a Shop Fox 9 x 49 milling machine. I couldn't be happier. It's a great machine. I have had no problems what-so-ever! The machine is very quiet and the x,y feeds move very smooth. I have no problem holding tolerance to about .001"

                    I have cut all types of material, from delrin to titanium and it doesn't miss a beat.

                    Even though I don't know much about combos, I'd still recommend the Shop Fox



                    • #11
                      A starter machine should be one that is fully functional, is affordable, and will fit in your work area. It should also be one that you are willing to keep, throw away, or be able to sell at a profit in the future.

                      A small lathe such as a Taig, Sherline or Mini 7 x 10 can be good for model making, etc. They have different capabilities, but all are useful for small parts, can be good learning tools, and may hold their value fairly well if kept and used for more than 2 or 3 years. The 8 x 14 Chinese lathe is more capable at about the same cost as a 7 x 10 if it hasn't been removed from the market(I have not seen one for sale lately but have not searched.)

                      The 9 x 10 is probably too light and flimsy based on most all reviews I have seen to be an investment or a joy to use.

                      The larger Chinese lathes may have quality problems or be deficient in some capabilities. Each individual lathe would probably need to be evaluated on its own merits, but none would be likely to appreciate in value over the years.

                      Older industrial lathes that are in good condition or that can be reconditioned will hold their value as long as they are properly maintained and cared for. Many of them will have better ergonomics and capabilities than the Chinese imports.

                      Any lathe you buy should be at least partially disassembled and checked before operating it for the first time. What to look for will vary depending on whether it is a new, quality lathe or a cheap import or used. On the quality lathe, you are looking for loose fasteners, proper adjustments, and bits of packing where they do not belong. On a cheap import, you are looking for the same things, plus defective parts, sand, sharp corners, etc. On a used lathe, look for wear and breakage, missing parts, and correct assembly, in addition to all the other things already mentioned.

                      Realize that most hobbyists need at least three lathes, one 8 x 14 or smaller, one 10 by 24 to 14 x 40, and one with at least a 16" swing x 60 inches between centers. Get whichever comes along first, then look for the others. If you search for a particular machine you will find none that are usable, affordable, or available; but you will find others. As soon as you buy a lathe of any kind, then you will begin to find others that are a better buy. This is the reason to buy the first good lathe you can afford, it will attract bargains. It is also the reason to make your first lathe one that you are willing to keep as a second lathe or as an investment.

                      Mills are about the same, though I don't own one and can't afford to look for one right now. My current lathes are a Delta/Rockwell 10x24 in good condition except for the motor and it lacks the taper attachment, and a SB Heavy 10 in poor-fair condition that has the taper attachment and 5C collet adapter and draw bar. Depending on how they clean up, I may keep both; the Delta because of it's bearings and higher speed capabilities, and the Heavy 10 because of the taper, collets, spindle bore, and feel.
                      North Central Arkansas


                      • #12
                        You're better off to go with good American used equip. When you go new - whatever - & things don't work out you eat the difference from what you sold them for. A nice South Bend & an older Bridgeport would be a nice start & alot off parts still available.


                        • #13
                          I own a Smithy three-in-one machine. Truly smithy's quality has been exceptional for the money i spent and the service is incredible. They sent me a new chuck and oil can after i screwed them up. Really great people to deal with and lots of replacement parts incase you screw something up! Look at if you have your heart set on three-in-one. That said, if i were you and had 3000 to spend i would buy a lathe first and worry about a mill later. I wish i had the room and money to buy a larger lathe. I use it the most by far. If space is permitting, absolutely get two sperate machines. Mine works great for me because i'm limited to my parents garage (i'm just a highschool student) and have limited funds. Otherwise i would certainly go with two seperate machines and focus most of my attention on getting a really nice lathe. You'll want one with half-nuts, threading dial and quick change gear box at some point. Mine has none of these and i'm already regretting it.