Starter Lathe

cattleman99

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I’m 19 years old, just about 20. Full time college student. Gunsmithing has been a dream of mine for over 10 years and I finally want to do it. I planned on shopping around for a lathe last summer but didn’t get to it.

What lathe would you recommend to start? Around $4,000 new or used. Any tips or pointers would be much appreciated.

Thank you
 

Shanerbanner10

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I started my business in the exact same way. I was a little older as I went to the military then college, but bought my first lathe in college, taught myself how to spin up a barrel and now own a company spinning up barrels. There is a learning curve, but for someone with a mechanical and technical mind its really not a steep learning curve at all. There is nothing difficult about spinning up a barrel, its just tedious.

There are a ton of options out there in your price range. I picked up a Romi 13.5 for under 2500$ and man, its one hell of a machine. 50-2500 rpm, 5 hp motor (can take .2" cuts like its nothing), big spindle bore, shortish head stock (can do 21" though the headstock), inch and metric threading without change gears, decently heavy and Romi is a huge Brazilian company with lots of support for the machine as well as extra parts.

Realistically, any good old American machine in good condition will do the trick. Taiwanese lathes like Grizzly or Precision Matthews can produce pretty good darn good results. Nardini is another one I'd look into. Clausing 6908, Rockwell-Delta, Southbend (obviously), Kent and plenty of other options. I'd stay away from Chinese or Japanese built machines. Check auction sights like Bidspotter often. You can usually pick up a good machine for super cheap.

When I was making this purchase, I really wanted something that was fairly simple to work on, had parts available, wasn't going to require constant maintenance, etc. This mostly because I knew next to nothing about machining or lathes in general. So i didn't really want to dig into an older machine. In the long run its really not hard to figure out at all, ask the right questions and practice quite a bit! If you have any questions whatsoever feel free to shoot me a message and I'll help however I can.

As for tooling, be prepared to spend about 1.5K$ for tooling (i have receipts I can send, i think...).

Power converter - unless you have 3 phase, you'll have to find a way to power the lathe which will more than likely be 3 phase. Spend the money up front on rotary converter and don't look back. You'll be glad you did. I am electrically retarded.. like can't wire a light bulb if my life depended on it... and I figured out all the wiring in about 30 minutes.


Where are you located? Maybe I can suggest a smith or two in your area to go see and potentially clean their shop to pick up some info.
 
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cattleman99

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I started my business in the exact same way. I was a little older as I went to the military then college, but bought my first lathe in college, taught myself how to spin up a barrel and now own a company spinning up barrels. There is a learning curve, but for someone with a mechanical and technical mind its really not a steep learning curve at all. There is nothing difficult about spinning up a barrel, its just tedious.

There are a ton of options out there in your price range. I picked up a Romi 13.5 for under 2500$ and man, its one hell of a machine. 50-2500 rpm, 5 hp motor (can take .2" cuts like its nothing), big spindle bore, shortish head stock (can do 21" though the headstock), inch and metric threading without change gears, decently heavy and Romi is a huge Brazilian company with lots of support for the machine as well as extra parts.

Realistically, any good old American machine in good condition will do the trick. Taiwanese lathes like Grizzly or Precision Matthews can produce pretty good darn good results. Nardini is another one I'd look into. Clausing 6908, Rockwell-Delta, Southbend (obviously), Kent and plenty of other options. I'd stay away from Chinese or Japanese built machines. Check auction sights like Bidspotter often. You can usually pick up a good machine for super cheap.

When I was making this purchase, I really wanted something that was fairly simple to work on, had parts available, wasn't going to require constant maintenance, etc. This mostly because I knew next to nothing about machining or lathes in general. So i didn't really want to dig into an older machine. In the long run its really not hard to figure out at all, ask the right questions and practice quite a bit! If you have any questions whatsoever feel free to shoot me a message and I'll help however I can.

As for tooling, be prepared to spend about 1.5K$ for tooling (i have receipts I can send, i think...).

Power converter - unless you have 3 phase, you'll have to find a way to power the lathe which will more than likely be 3 phase. Spend the money up front on rotary converter and don't look back. You'll be glad you did. I am electrically retarded.. like can't wire a light bulb if my life depended on it... and I figured out all the wiring in about 30 minutes.


Where are you located? Maybe I can suggest a smith or two in your area to go see and potentially clean their shop to pick up some info.
I am located around the Lincoln, NE area. I’ve been looking into the Grizzly gunsmithing like but know I’m going to have to put a lot into tooling as well. I don’t mind old as long as it’s consistent. I’ll have to look at some of the brands you’ve mentioned.
 

Praeger

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Solid advise from @Shanerbanner10, and two points to add. First off is power. With the availability of Variable Frequency Drives (VFD), you can easily run a 3 phase 220 motor from single phase 220. Additionally, the VFD will allow you to program a variety of other motor parameters including motor speed, acceleration & deceleration time, and allow other inputs such as a proximity sensors. Do a little research, they are easy to install and widely available.

Second point relates to buying a used machine. Depending where you live, there can be an abundance of quality used machines. However, without an experienced eye, it can be very difficult to identify a machine that has had crash, run without oiling of the ways and bearings, and a host of other issues. A classic lathe can turn into a restoration project, and that will delay your barrel turning/gunsmithing. Several good YouTube videos on what to look for and avoid when buying used (tubalcain, oxtoolco, nyccnc).

Consider buying a new lathe. While you won't get the fit and finish of a restored American lathe, you will get a warranty, replacement parts, and often an active user community to assist in set up, tuning, troubleshooting, and upgrades. Check out Hobby-Machinist Forum, particularly the Precision Matthews section. There are some quality machines being produced in Taiwan. Even if it's not your forever lathe/mill, you can be up and running in a matter of days, and the resale value is surprisingly strong.

Either way, plan on spending a significant amount on quality tooling and accessories. There are no free lunches here. Buy once, cry once, you know the drill.
 

cwinston

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I was where you are and taught myself. I went with the Grizzly G4003G lathe and it has done really well for my first lathe. Check out the Tooling from Arthur Warner, they make some really nice high speed steel insert tooling. A turning, boring, and threading kit will get you into the game. The chucks and tool post that comes with the Grizzly are not that bad.

You don’t really need a ton of tooling to fit barrels, but once you get into this be prepared to spend some money because you will be constantly saying “ if I had x then I could do Y”. And it never ends. I started with a lathe, now have a mill, bandsaw, TIG and MIG welders, surface grinder and more. This hobby has taken over 1/3 of my garage. But I have no regrets.
 

cattleman99

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I was where you are and taught myself. I went with the Grizzly G4003G lathe and it has done really well for my first lathe. Check out the Tooling from Arthur Warner, they make some really nice high speed steel insert tooling. A turning, boring, and threading kit will get you into the game. The chucks and tool post that comes with the Grizzly are not that bad.

You don’t really need a ton of tooling to fit barrels, but once you get into this be prepared to spend some money because you will be constantly saying “ if I had x then I could do Y”. And it never ends. I started with a lathe, now have a mill, bandsaw, TIG and MIG welders, surface grinder and more. This hobby has taken over 1/3 of my garage. But I have no regrets.
The Grizzly G4003G is the main lathe that im eyeing currently. About what were the costs of the three kits you mentioned? I look forward to the adventure, but it will be a slow endeavor as my college budget can be cruel sometimes.
 

Dolomite_Supafly

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Mesa tools makes some nice insert tooling but the inserts can be a little pricey. I like their internal threading tool.

I recently bought this threading tool off of Amazon and it really surprised at the quality versus the price. Works as good as anything I have used. The inserts can be bought for cheap but they ship super slow. The tool itself, with 10 inserts, came in a few days though.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076J9XF7C/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

When buying tooling that uses inserts check the pricing of inserts and how easy they can be bought. I bought some insert tooling because the price was CHEAP. Unfortunately I could never find inserts for it that weren't insanely expensive. I used the inserts that came with the tools and when they were no longer usable I tossed them in a drawer.

And Harbor Freight sells brazed tooling for CHEAP, less than $20 for 10. You have to dress them yourself but they are great for making custom shaped tools. Dressing carbide requires a certain kind of grinding wheel and those are a little pricey compared to regular grinding wheels.

I have a Grizzly G0709. I am self taught and started on a cheap Smithy 3-n-1 I bought for $400 to learn on. It was a miserable POS but I was able to learn on it. Then I sold it for $800 and bought the Grizzly. I was looking at the G4003 and my wife told me to pay extra for a foot brake. I only use it for emergencies and it has saved me serious injury or catastrophic damage at least three times.

And as @cwinston said once you get started you will end up buying more and more as time goes on. I have a MIG, TIG and a bunch of tooling.

At a bare minimum I would buy these to start learning. They let you learn on the cheap before moving on to more expensive tooling. You will break things while learning, it happens so buy cheap in the beginning.
Cut off tool
Threading tool
Thread pitch gauge
5 pack turning tools
All these are on Amazon but you can shop around and get them cheaper from other places like Ebay. And buy decent measuring tools, they are very important and will last a very long time if taken care of.

Also buy enough quick change tool holders for each tool you have. Nothing sucks more than swapping tools constantly.

The one thing that sucks about Grizzly machine is the oilers. They are a ball bearing sitting on a spring. Push it in too far and the ball bearing slips off the springs leaving and open hole. Also, I bought a different tool holder for the tailstock. I bought one that you tighten by hand instead of using a chuck. It just makes things go quicker. And finally, buy some padded cupboard liners to put on top of the headstock. Tools always end up there and having a pad there helps.
 

468shot

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All excellent advice given above.

When I started looking for a lathe I learned as much as I could about different brands, both old and new. I decided to look for an older machine, but there wasn't anything worth looking at in a days drive of my area. I ended up getting a good deal on a new Clausing M300 (13x40) with a DRO installed. It's a great machine and serves my needs well. The Taiwan lathes tend to be better than the mainland China offerings. Buy the best you can afford and start making chips.

Tooling is another topic... You can get started without a huge investment, but it has been a money sucking black hole for me.
 
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Quickshot

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I don’t see many Precision lathes near Lincoln, NE. You may have to travel. I suggest looking for a previously loved and cared for lathe. Condition matters. You don’t want to fight the lathe while you’re learning. Here is an example of the minimum amount of lathe to buy.


It is important to review the documentation for the lathe. Read through this one. It is fairly comprehensive.

Cheers,
 

chevy_man

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It's about a 99% chance you'll find a much larger (heavier, more stable, more capable) 3 phase machine for the same price as a single phase.

As an electrician, do NOT use a rotary phase converter. They will drop voltage under a heavy load and brown out a winding. A "buck boost" (2 xfrmers in open delta) is a better solution but more expensive.

A VFD is the way to go. You can ramp up and down, brake, and speed control. A good rotary is $4-500, a VFD is going to run $5-900.


What you'll discover is you get what you pay for in the machine tool industry. It's not cheap to turn out good quality.
 

RonA

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Don't believe everything you hear about Asian built equipment. There are good brands, and there are bad. Most will do gunsmithing work(which isn't really hard on a machine), but longevity is important, and where the dividing line is on lathes.
 
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Wannashootit

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Having two older American machines- a South Bend and a just added Sheldon- I love their utter simplicity. Something breaks, its quickly obvious what it is (though, not much on them to break). Youll hear a lot.of chatter about 3,000 lb machines and rigidity- which is not required for barrel work unless you plan on doing a lot.of heavy contouring (that is rare, if ever).
Working on 1" hollow steel tubes requires a tight machine, but not a large one nor a lot of horsepower.
best to have someone knowledgeable help you check out a used machine, though.
 

Yasherka

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I've been following this thread and am in a position similar to the OP (except I am several decades older).

Would any of you "in the know" sorts consider this a possibility https://denver.craigslist.org/tls/d/canon-city-south-bend-10-machinist-lathe/6896740356.html, assuming it is as described? Otherwise I was thinking of the Precision Matthews PM-1236 with the preferred package https://www.precisionmatthews.com/shop/pm-1236/

Both are in the range of my budget but what I know about machining right now you could put in a thimble and still have room for your finger
 

Bwells

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Can't add to much to the great advise already posted. My only advise would be if your going to focus on gunwork I would have a 1.5"ish spindle bore minimum and a headstock that's not overly long.
 

bmicek

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I’m 19 years old, just about 20. Full time college student. Gunsmithing has been a dream of mine for over 10 years and I finally want to do it. I planned on shopping around for a lathe last summer but didn’t get to it.

What lathe would you recommend to start? Around $4,000 new or used. Any tips or pointers would be much appreciated.

Thank you
I have nothing to contribute other than to say I’m a fellow Nebraskan and graduated from UNL a few years ago. Hope you can get up and running and maybe I’ll have you thread some barrels for me 😁
 

Praeger

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I've been following this thread and am in a position similar to the OP (except I am several decades older).

Would any of you "in the know" sorts consider this a possibility https://denver.craigslist.org/tls/d/canon-city-south-bend-10-machinist-lathe/6896740356.html, assuming it is as described? Otherwise I was thinking of the Precision Matthews PM-1236 with the preferred package https://www.precisionmatthews.com/shop/pm-1236/

Both are in the range of my budget but what I know about machining right now you could put in a thimble and still have room for your finger
A limited knowledge of machining shouldn't stop you from buying a lathe, but you should be clear eyed about what you are getting into. Either import or old American machine can be successful, but whatever you have budgeted for the machine, plan on half that again for tooling, accessories, and equipment.

The South Bend 10 would make a great hobbyist lathe, provided it is decent shape. Impossible to tell from photos. Several good videos on buying old American lathes. Do some research, but better yet, join a forum and find someone knowledgeable to go with you.

The PM is a nice import. If you choose this path, I'd recommend stepping up one level and getting the PM 1236 Ultra Precision https://www.precisionmatthews.com/shop/pm-1236-t/. It is made in Taiwan rather than China and has precision spindle bearings. PM has a great reputation and customer service, but even with them, any repairs - warranty or otherwise - have to be performed by you. These machines are good quality and are not complicated, but expect to spend quite a bit of time learning how to set up and use them.

Be honest with yourself and figure out what you'd like to make, and do you have the interest, time, and budget. Consider whether you'll need a mill as well.
 
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Wannashootit

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On that SB heavy 10...
Ask seller for a copy of the receipt to verify work done. Reground bed also requires the saddle, tailstock, headstock etc all to be built up with Turcite or Rulon, rescraped, etc.

Doesnt look like a hardened bed model as those ways should look pristine unless its been in commercial shop use in the 15 years since rebuild
 
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Yasherka

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The PM is a nice import. If you choose this path, I'd recommend stepping up one level and getting the PM 1236 Ultra Precision https://www.precisionmatthews.com/shop/pm-1236-t/. It is made in Taiwan rather than China and has precision spindle bearings. PM has a great reputation and customer service, but even with them, any repairs - warranty or otherwise - have to be performed by you. These machines are good quality and are not complicated, but expect to spend quite a bit of time learning how to set up and use them.

Be honest with yourself and figure out what you'd like to make, and do you have the interest, time, and budget. Consider whether you'll need a mill as well.
I looked at the lathe you mentioned but having to buy the stand separate put it out of my budget. As it's a learning process for me (and I am starting machining classes this week at the local community college) I likely wouldn't be able to exploit the precision of it for a while. On the plus side, metal lathes in good condition have very good resale value around here, so when I am ready to take the next step I won't be out too awful much.

I'm actually an IT guy, but I want to be able to work on my own guns. A simple threading job on a 22/45 took seven months a few years back.

On that SB heavy 10...
Ask seller for a copy of the receipt to verify work done. Reground bed also requires the saddle, tailstock, headstock etc all to be built up with Turcite or Rulon, rescraped, etc.

Doesnt look like a hardened bed model as those ways should look pristine unless its been in commercial shop use in the 15 years since rebuild
Thanks for the info on that. I think I am leaning more towards the new PM. I'd love a South Bend, but really don't need to buy a pig in a poke, and with the 3 phase motor I'd have to incorporate a phase converter. Not that it's hard, but that's money that would probably be better spent on tooling.