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jfinan

Mini Lathe recommendations?

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In the past, I have used a small plane to shape my masts and yards. I'm thinking it's time to invest in a small lathe with an accompanying chuck. I had settled on the one Mico-Mark sells only to discover they won't ship that item to Canada. I'm one disappointed Canuck! It seems to me the chuck is essential for this kind of shaping. Ideas (sources) are most welcome and thanks in advance!

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If all you want to do is shape masts,a drill press is fully adequate and a little more versatile. Specially if the base has a hole in the center of it. I've even seen a drill prss laid on its back for use as a lathe.

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Agree with Bill and even placing the mast in a vise and using a strip of sandpaper-back and forth works great. Depending on scale a mast might not fit in the proxxon.

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I would never tackle rounding a mast or any other spar anyway other than by hand with a small plane, taking successively tapered sections by hand although I know many use the lathe practice successfully. 

 

As an owner of a number of different lathes, if I had it to do all over again, I would choose the Sherline, as you can add to this as your skills develop and they are a great company making a great product.  Good luck with your search.  Taig also makes a nice tool, a little less expensive and there are Unimat 3's available sometimes on E-Bay but usually over priced.  I wouldn't consider any Unimat other than the 3 or the earlier SL.

 

 

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Depending on the lengths of the mast and spars you wish to make the lathe may not be the best choice due to deflection of the piece towards the center. Sherline does offer a steady rest but in a yard with an octagonal midsection this feature doesn't work well.

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The first decision is whether you want a wood lathe or a metalworking lathe, which will also serve for wood, but at a higher price, of course.

 

As said, if you are going to turn a spar, you will need a back rest, preferably one that travels with the carriage. This is a metalworking lathe item. On a metalworking lathe, you'll also want a tapering attachment of some sort unless you are going to taper it by eye, in which case you might as well use sandpaper.  On a woodworking lathe, you'll end up sanding to create the taper anyway, not cutting. In that case, a drill press will serve as well.

 

If you want a metalworking lathe, I concur with Biltut's recommendations. I have a Unimat DB/SL, but would advise a new buyer to go with the Sherline. The Unimats are great, but they now have a "cult following" and are expensive on the used market. They are no longer manufactured. Unfortunately their tooling is somewhat unique to the Unimats and sometimes hard to find. You can easily spend more on tooling for a Unimat than for a Sherline which not only has a lot of proprietary tooling available, but also accepts a far wider selection of after-market off-brand tooling than the Unimats do. If someone hadn't given me the basic Unimat DB/SL that I have (the DB and SL model designations are different, but the machines are identical,) I'd have gone for a Sherline. I spent almost as much as the Sherline would have cost on Unimat basic tooling and attachments on eBay. 

 

Bed length is an issue if you are turning spars. Most mini-lathes don't have bed lengths of more than eight or ten inches, so that will limit the length of spars you can turn. Allowing for "chucking waste" at either end, the spars you can turn will be a bit shorter than the maximum bed length, although bed extensions are available for some models, or can be shop-made. There's a limit to how long and/or thin a spar can be turned anyway. Too long or two thin and they'll start whipping as they spin if they don't have a rest of some sort. (i.e. support in the middle of the stick.)

Edited by Bob Cleek

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I use my small lathes (a Unimat DB200 and a Boley watchmakers') for turning belaying pins, master patterns for cannon, parrel trucks, deadeyes and mast coats. Never for masts and spars. They are always done by the old-fashioned four-square, eight-square then rounding off where needed using sandpaper strips. As pointed out, you'd need a longer bed lathe anyway, and your dollars (or whatever currency you use) could go to buy a lot of other tools or wood instead!

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Hi,

 

I purchased Proxxon for my self from Amazon.ca when the price was reduced in july. But in Canada, you have this distributor from which I also purchased x-y table from proxxon : http://www.chippingaway.com/

I saw the drill technic on web, but, just for the fun to explore woodturning, I decided to try Proxxon Micro Woodturning Lathe DB 250. May be I will try other stuff on it than wooden ship modeling.

 

Michel

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If turning spars is your goal,  a generic corded electric drill and a speed control -  not sure a dimmer switch will work,  but low cost if it does.

If you can set a remote ON a maintain  the internal speed control setting, no additional switch is needed.

Even 1/2 inch drills are significantly less expensive.

For this, a lathe is a sledge to kill a fly.

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6 hours ago, Bob Cleek said:

I have a Unimat DB/SL, but would advise a new buyer to go with the Sherline. The Unimats are great, but they now have a "cult following" and are expensive on the used market.

Hello Jfinan,

You have received a variety of points of view, so good luck with making your choice. My tool of choice is the Unimat SL but it can only handle modest lengths without using an accessory called 'extensions'. Bob in post #7 laid it all out. As Bob has said, the bits and bobs to add to the lathe to make it useful can cost a lot but, since I don't know where you live, thought it worth pointing out that in the UK the Sherline is not well known, expensive and (as far as I know) only available through one source. The Sherline has a good reputation but the North American market seems to have 95% of them. The second hand Unimats in the UK will probably hold their value but avoid the red plastic 'UNIMAT BASIC' which is everywhere. It is a toy and you will do better with a drill and a steady hand.

 

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Somebody's selling this "vertical lathe" drill press attachment on eBay for arouind $65.00. No comment on it. Just passing it along for those who may be interested. Looks like it could be easily shop-built for less than the  $65.00 they're asking. My concern would be the far (unsecured) end of the round rod "rest" getting a bit whippy when you got out towards the end. Model spars are a bit too thin to turn with regular lathe tools without a back rest, or so it's always seemed to me. It might be handy for resting a sanding block on. "Shopfox" branded: so it's probably not total junk. 

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vertical-Wood-Lathe-Tool-for-your-Drill-Press-Woodworking-Pen-Lathe-BUY-NOW-SALE/333261986036?hash=item4d97f658f4:g:0HoAAOSwmvpcV1qY

 

(For some reason, my firewall won't permit me to post a copy of a photo of it from the eBay page.)

Edited by Bob Cleek

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Following one of the related links on that ebay page, there are several very small lathes in the $40-50 range. I'm wondering if one of these might work for small spars. If When I get to the masts on my cutter, I'm planning to use hand tools. While I wouldn't want to try turning brass cannon on a cheap lathe, for small wood items it might work. I'd love a Sherline but can't really justify the cost. I am saving up for the Byrnes table saw and sanders because I'd get a lot more use out of them.

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On 8/16/2019 at 8:35 AM, bigcreekdad said:

for several years i mounted an electric drill upside down in a vice, and just used sandpaper held around the would in the drill to taper masts and spars. It worked fine.

This is what I also do. Thanks for sharing.

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I'm not convinced that a lathe is necessary for you, but that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be useful.

 

And it might actually be fun!  Of all my tools, the lathe has brought the most hours of creative enjoyment, and has proven profitable too by sales of small items such pens, tableware, and a chess set. 

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Hmpf! I've had two Unimat lathes for years, an SL and a later white enamel square shaped thing. I understand these are capable of tackling clock/watch work, so I would imagine 8mm brass belay pins would be possible. The trouble is, I've never used a lathe, so haven't a clue where to start. Speeds? Cutting tools? For such a 'simple' job I am in danger of over complicating what needs to be done. I've been toying with using an electric drill and files (which should be possible), then I remembered I have these lathes tucked away. Any advice please?

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5 minutes ago, shipman said:

Hmpf! I've had two Unimat lathes for years, an SL and a later white enamel square shaped thing. I understand these are capable of tackling clock/watch work, so I would imagine 8mm brass belay pins would be possible. The trouble is, I've never used a lathe, so haven't a clue where to start. Speeds? Cutting tools? For such a 'simple' job I am in danger of over complicating what needs to be done. I've been toying with using an electric drill and files (which should be possible), then I remembered I have these lathes tucked away. Any advice please?

I'm following this thread with great interest as I would love to be able to use a lathe to form metal parts.  I have a Proxxon wood lathe which I am very happy with for most wooden tasks ...

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Advice on what ?

 

You are living the model engineer's heaven/Mekka - there so many books on basic lathe operation, including one specifically on Unimat lathes, if I remember well.

 

Brass cutting tools have a zero top-rake for a start. You can fashion them from 1/4 or 1/8 tool blanks on a grinder and finish them off on a stone. There are tutorials for this on the Net.

 

Speed is not really terribly important in our non-commercial context. You have get a feel for it, when working with the lathe.

 

For brass belaying pins, I would roughen out the principal dimensions with cutting tools and finish off with files and wet-and-dry sandpaper and/or steel wool. Keith Aug recently showed a useful steady, for turning such slender parts. In my threads there are other, more elaborate versions of steadies for such work.

 

I found it difficult to get brass hard enough for such turning jobs. Therefore, I either use brass nails as starting material, because the material is work-hardenend from the stamping process, or steel (which is frowned upon by some, due to its liability of rusting, but blackening will help against it).

 

I hope you have some collets for your lathe(s). Working with such small parts, as belaying pins, in the three-jaw chuck can be quite dangerous, particularly when using files. If you don't have collets, try to find some.

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41 minutes ago, shipman said:

Hmpf! I've had two Unimat lathes for years, an SL and a later white enamel square shaped thing. I understand these are capable of tackling clock/watch work, so I would imagine 8mm brass belay pins would be possible. The trouble is, I've never used a lathe, so haven't a clue where to start. Speeds? Cutting tools? For such a 'simple' job I am in danger of over complicating what needs to be done. I've been toying with using an electric drill and files (which should be possible), then I remembered I have these lathes tucked away. Any advice please?

Yeah, you really don't need them. Just pack 'em up and ship them off to me. You can put the storage space to better use! :D

 

Just kidding. You've got a Unimat SL and what sounds like a Unimat 3, its successor model. Both are still in demand, although they haven't been in production for decades. Tooling is available on eBay... at a price. Until the Sherlines came along, they were state of the art for modeling. They aren't exactly "watchmakers'" lathes, but they will do that work if the watchmaking spindle is used. These are available second hand, but aren't cheap. As a general purpose mini-lathe and mill (they are combination machines that can be set up for milling and drilling as well as turning) they are great as long as you have the tooling for them and don't expect them to do very heavy work, which shouldn't be necessary for modeling. They also have table saw, jig saw, grinding, disk sanding, jointing and planing, and milling attachments, as well as a thread-cutting attachment. Modern quality scroll saws, and the Byrnes' table saw and disk sander are far better than the Unimat attachments, but in their day, they were the best there were for modeling. Brass belaying pins are a piece of cake on the Unimats. Grind out a tool bit to the belaying pin's profile and you can turn them out in a jiffy.

 

All of the instruction manuals and project books for the Unimats are online in PDF format. Google them up and print them out and put them in a binder. Follow those instructions and you'll be on your way. Don't worry so much about speeds and cutting tools. You won't be cutting exotic or super hard metals with it. All you need to know is in the manuals. Gerald Wingrove's The Techniques of Ship Modeling addresses the Unimat SL's capabilities extensively, including using them for turning out wood and metal belaying pins. 

 

In good shape and with only basic tooling and no optional attachments, the Unimat SLs are bringing as much as $800US on eBay these days. Of course, you can then spend $1,000 or more on a collet holder and collet set if one is so inclined! 

 

AAAA.thumb.jpg.49b928036cb87273d5e1fd32b22ee329.jpg

Edited by Bob Cleek

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The spindle-cartridges bored for WW-collets for the Unimats sell at 300-400 USD on ebay ... however, the Unimat is not really a watchmaking machine. It might work for clockmaking and is used as such by modellers, who do both.

 

With a screw-on collet-holder and ball-cranks with fixed handles, the Unimats would become much more useful.

Edited by wefalck

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WOW! Quick responses or what? Much appreciated guys.

I just pulled out the roll out set of (ex bank) drawers, which has been hidden under my worktop for 25-30 years.

My-my, what a find. Indeed I have an SL and a Unimat 3. And HEAPS of associated bits and bobs, which will probably take a full day to rummage through. The big 'find' is an original manual for the '3' and a copy of 'The Book of the Unimat' by D. J. Laaidlaw-Dickson. I'm gob-smacked; I knew it would all come in useful one day, LOL.

So things are looking up for a change. The nice feature of the SL is the adjustable 'head' for cutting tapers. I'll have to look into a bit of basic servicing. The SL is fitted with a home made tool holder but the '3' has a complete tool holder. Do you know if I can put or adapt that for the SL?

Thanks for your encouragement; it would seem I've now got a little winter project to have fun with.

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Of course, I hadn't completely forgotten what I had. Simply, I hadn't a job to put them to use until now.

I'm one of those inveterate collector and hoarder of all that has future potential. It's a cross I'm happy to bear, as is the derision from those I know who will never ever understand.

My biggest problem is knowing I have something but not entirely sure of its whereabouts!

By the way, what do these split cartridge collet holders look like? I wouldn't be surprised my heap of 'bits' includes one or two.

Edited by shipman
Added last sentence.

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I am coming from a hoarder family - it took my wife a long time to (partially) understand and (partially) accept it - the question 'what do you need this for' keeps being asked and the answer 'I don't know yet' still is being met with some shaking of the head ;)

Edited by wefalck

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Shipman,

You have recieved good advice above but I expect that to get started you should just focus on learning to use what you have. Unimats are far more common in the UK market than the Sherline tool and there are many bits available here at (I am glad to say) lower prices than the same item in the US. As you are making model ships and not watches, I suggest to concentrate on the SL. Unlike the UNIMAT 3 it has a built-in taper turning facility by adjusting the angle of the headstock. I assume you have a three jaw chuck.

Sharp tools are more important than correct speed. Take your time. Experiment with some round brass bar until you can get a smooth finish. Make a couple of cannons. See for yourself what happens if you use a rounded tool shape instead of a pointed tool. Now repeat the exercise with some hardwood, of course with appropriate tooling. Don't get a sleeve anywhere near the lathe. Wear eye protection.

Best advice: find out if you like using the lathe. If not, well .... good thing to learn before stocking up with must-have tools and accessories.

1 hour ago, wefalck said:

With a screw-on collet-holder and ball-cranks with fixed handles, the Unimats would become much more useful.

Quite right. There are screw on collet holders for the SL and U3 and the original factory pieces used E16 double angle collets which are no longer produced. ER16 collets will usually work in the Unimat E16 collet chuck and readily available, however there are some very poor quality pieces out there so tread carefully. If you go forward it may be worth getting collets but get to know how useful (or not) having a lathe is first.

 

HTH

Bruce

EDIT: CROSS POSTED, YOU HAVE MADE PROGRESS ALREADY. The book you have is the best starting point I know. Have fun.

Edited by bruce d

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I don't want to confuse and complicate matters, but ER collets are designed to hold tools or rods. They don't hold securely, being double-split, when the tool/work does not pass the full length through the collet. For workholding normally other types of collets are used. One needs to keep this in mind, when chucking up shorter parts.

 

ER collets have the advantage of spanning the nominal diameter minus 0.5 mm, more than most other collets. This means one gets away with just a few of them. Some years ago I bought a set of ER11 collets from China and I think the full set of 13 (from 1 mm to 7 mm) cost me something in order of 30€ at the time, shipping included. I use them instead of a Jacobs-drill chuck in the tailstock of my watchmakers lathe and they turned out to be pretty good for the price I paid. A disadvantage from a modelling point of view is, that the smallest diameter you can chuck with them is 0.5 mm. My watchmakers collets go down to 0.2 mm and I frequently use the 0.3 and 0.4 mm ones for both, work- and drill-holding.

 

 

Edited by wefalck

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