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Mini Lathe recommendations?

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Good advice all round! You don't really need a watchmakers' lathe unless you are doing extremely fine, accurate work like welfalck. The Unimat SL will be more than adequate, once you learn how to use it. I managed without the WW spindle and collets for years on my SL and was able to turn out quite respectable work. For high precision you will need more sophisticated equipment. But, are you really going to make fine gearwork?

Edited by druxey

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Certainly quite true, though I never really touched an Unimat except playing around with the cranks in a shop.

 

My main safety concern is the 3-jaw-chuck. When turning small parts, such as belaying pins, one invariably comes quite close with ones nose or other valuable body parts ... collets are a much safer option from this point of view. It happened to me that I hit the jaws of 3-jaw-chuck with a file or the jewellers saw, which propels these tools quite quickly towards your face ...

 

Incidentally, I am using for work on small parts a loupe-lamp (one with a retangular loupe) over the lathe. This gives you good illumination and protects your eyes from flying parts. Over the last few years close-fitting safety glasses (similar to the glasses worn by e.g. cyclists) have come onto the market. They are as comfortable to wear as normal glasses. I now wear them all the time, while at the work-bench. Mine have also small loups inserted at the bottom, which is an additional help, though being myopic, I am immediately getting 4 diopters when taking off my normal glasses. There are also safety glasses with optical lenses of different diopters on the market, which I use when doing really fine machine work. It is important that these glasses fit quite closely to the face, as flying parts may not always have a straight trajectory, but bounce off somewhere, or you may be turning your head at the wrong moment, so that something can fly between normal glasses and your face.

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On 8/16/2019 at 7:35 AM, bigcreekdad said:

Just a thought....While I now use a Proxxon mini lathe, 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.

    Rather than a drill, I just used my drill press set up as shown below.  I used a drill gauge to hold the lower end of a slightly oversized dowel in place and chucked the upper end in the drill press.  That's how I formed all the masts and gaffs for my MS Phantom.  Worked like a charm for me and I didn't need to buy another power tool. ;)

100_3742.thumb.JPG.14bfbd91f2f9b09f672359eda9ece1b0.JPG

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BETAQDAVE , I've been doing that for years too. Even done it with copper, brass, alloy and the odd bit of iron and steel.

I never kidded myself there was any precision involved, but with care it's amazing what can be done with the simplest of tools.

If you can find some old magazine features from the 20's, 30's and 40's those guys mostly had nothing but enthusiasm and imagination.

Hell, I was involved with producing a book called 'Engineering Through Trouble'.

The story I remember most was a wartime aircraft factory, building a prototype. They needed a new air-screw spinner, quickly. The tool shop began listing the new press tooling etc. they'd need. Argh! The cost! The time! One guy says 'Get old Burt from the factory floor to take a look'.

So they talk to Burt, who looks at the drawings. He takes a sheet of aluminium and sets it up on a lathe. He'd trained as a metal spinner in a pan factory before the first war. An hour later he pops the new spinner on the board room table. To everyone's astonishment it was nigh on perfect and turned within a thousandth of an inch to the drawings! Burt had been sweeping the floor over ten years. And that's the truth.

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6 hours ago, bruce d said:

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.

"In the spirit of full disclosure," the above isn't' exactly accurate. It does have a swiveling headstock, but turning tapers on a piece of any length will require providing your own method of offsetting the tailstock center or providing some sort of traveling backrest to prevent deflection of the workpiece.

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Tapers, where the length doesn't exceed about three to four times the diameter should work - just for any other unsupported turning. It also depends on how heavy the cuts are. I do such things regularly.

 

I have a collection of old shop handbooks, dating from the 1880s or so to the 1940s and there you find all sorts of useful tips serious modern CNC-trained mechanics would frown upon - not forgetting the health&safety guys ;)

 

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1 hour ago, wefalck said:

Tapers, where the length doesn't exceed about three to four times the diameter should work - just for any other unsupported turning. It also depends on how heavy the cuts are. I do such things regularly.

Thank you, exactly the way the nice people at UNIMAT had in mind. I have made a cannon or two using the headstock adjustment and would not think anything more ambitious should be attempted without support. You are right Bob, of course, and I hope nobody believed I was saying they could turn masts in this fashion.

The very first thing I made on a Unimat SL was a torpedo. I did the warhead end freehand and used the headstock adjustment for the tapering aft section. Worked like a charm and I felt like a master craftsman.. 

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One of the first things I ever learned about machine tools was that if you could only own one machine tool, it should be a lathe because the lathe is the only machine tool that can build another lathe and a lathe can build all the other tools. :D

 

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Mark, thank you for the 'how to' site, just had a quick skip through the contents.....just what I need.

 

I'd like to say; I'm relatively new to the forum and periodically smooch through old topics and find myself re-activating what to some are old news. Each time I get involved, it seems to prompt new activity in a subject. I do enjoy methodically working through forums; often coming across topics I never knew I needed to know about. And to me, that's what the forum is all for.

A delightful feature of my questions puts me into 'indirect' contact with the 'old hands' who invariably share their knowledge and experience freely. These members frequently put their input (perhaps for the umpteenth time) which must sometimes be frustrating. My appreciation to this community is profound. You are a fine bunch. Thank you.

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I think many of us remember those dark pre-Internet ages, when finding information and advice was quite laborious ... you had to get hold of some (old) books either in a library or through (secondhand) bookstores. So, I think many of us are happy to make life easier for the newcomers ...

 

I for my part was lucky that my university (ETH Zürich) actually maintained at that time a hobby-workshop for both, metal- and woodworking (it was also used by students/doctorands for project work, of course). The metal workshop was equipped with high-class, but obsolete machines donated by industrial sponsors from the area. It was run by a retired mechanic of the type 'shipman' was referring to (rather grumpy first, but very helpful, when you showed real interest and willingness to learn). From him I learned the machining basics, but it another ten years or so before I was able to afford my first lathe (from my first bonus in my first job).

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Wefalk, how right you are about the 'dark, pre-internet days'.

Looking back perhaps 30 years, nearly all schools had well equipped workshops often running night classes. Long gone.

My oldest friend is my school metalwork teacher. He was one of the old school and it was sad to see how he didn't cope with the changes in his field. The workshop environment totally went out the window. All his skills and equipment suddenly became 'redundant'. He's getting on now, but is still willing and happy to share his time and knowledge with an appreciative 'student'.

Sadly, they are rare as hens teeth.

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I have the opportunity to purchase the Microlux 7 X 16 mini-lathe with several accessories at a good price.  How does this compare? 

                     Walt

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1 hour ago, wefalck said:

To what ?

Compared to any other identical generic Chinese "7 by," the Microlux will cost a few hundred dollars more for the Microlux label. Microlux does have a nice add-on package of metal change-gears and adjustment wheels to replace the standard plastic ones for a couple of hundred bucks, though, if you are into putting lipstick on a pig. I think the Microlux-branded ones cost more because they have the factory clean the casting sand out of the gear boxes before they ship them out.

 

(But for the price, if you can get one that is fully fettled and tuned up, they are probably a step up from a Sherline or Taig, if only because you can make small stuff on a bigger lathe, but you can't make big stuff on a lathe that's too small for it. Tooling is also readily available, albeit in many instances of poor quality. I'd buy one from a place like Grizzzly Industrial before anywhere else, if for no other reason than that you can return easily it if defective.)

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A main criterion for me would be, whether you can have pull-in collets on a lathe, which means mainly that the spindle is fully bored through. In this case you can make adapters for such collets, if they are not readily available. Collets that have to be tightened with a nut from the front (such as the ES) are really only for spindle tooling and not for workholding. The nut also gets in your way.

Collets are a so much safer option for working on small parts than three-jaw-chucks.

 

Coming back to the original question: it also depends on what means 'several accessories'. Kitting out a lathe properly easily doubles the purchase price.

 

I am not sure that these Chinese lathes are a good option for someone, who does not have some experience and knowledge of machine tool adjustment and maintenance. I have heard (and Bob referred to this above) that they often bang them together without proper cleaning after casting and machining. They also don't seem to be properly adjusted. I would consider them as a sort of parts kit in advanced stage of machining. When you are happy with that, you probably can turn them into a useful tool, but you have to be aware of that caveat.

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I have one of those lathes.  

 

Wefalck, the spindle is open.  I've run dowels and brass rod out the end of the spindle.

 

Walt, here's two links.  This lathe has bit better "fit" in tolerances than the some of the others.  Not what I would call a heavy duty unit.  Anyway, there are things that can be done with patience by following the documents on these sites.   The MicroMark lathes are also the Sieg brand.    Read the links, and make a decision.   I would, knowing what I know now, I would buy one of the LittleMachineShop ones.  I have one of their mills and it's heads and shoulders above the Micromark mills.  Also, make room in the budget for items such as cutters, maybe 4 jaw chuck, etc.  I think I've spent more on tooling than the lathe. ;)

 

http://www.mini-lathe.com/Default.htm   Scroll down the page and you'll find links for using, setting up, etc.

 

https://littlemachineshop.com/default.php     Use the Learning Center link near the top of page.  The menu down the left side if for parts, etc.  Their lathes are under "machines", not mill (that's parts, etc.).

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4 hours ago, mtaylor said:

 I would, knowing what I know now, I would buy one of the LittleMachineShop ones.  I have one of their mills and it's heads and shoulders above the Micromark mills.  Also, make room in the budget for items such as cutters, maybe 4 jaw chuck, etc.  I think I've spent more on tooling than the lathe. ;)

Ditto on LittleMachineShop. Double-ditto on spending more on tooling than on the lathe! That goes with the territory with lathes and mills and that's just for what I'd call essential tooling just to get done the basic operations one would expect the lathe to do. :D 

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13 hours ago, thibaultron said:

If you get a 4-jaw chuck, make sure it has metal jaws! Some companies will sell you a cheap one with plastic jaws. These are useless for metal work.

 

I would think plastic jaws would be useless for just about any material.

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Proxxon is selling a plastic self centring 4 jaw chuck for their DB250 wood lathe. Not good for metal but quite reasonable for wood. I have used it many times to make parts of different wood species.

 

20200111_085715.thumb.jpg.7694e022837e52a893905e020dfdc25a.jpg

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I would have some reservations against a self-centring chuck made from plastics, but I think in reality the jaws are invdividually adjustable on this one. Plastic jaws (not necessarily a plastic body) are good for delicate parts, when metal jaws could easily mar them. I don't know what this chuck is made from, but one could make quite a tough chuck from, say, POM or Acetal ('silent' gears are made from this).

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Some plastic chucks are made for the 'UNIMAT 1' lathe which has been discussed before. I had one of these plastic chucks in a drawer somewhere with M12x1 mounting, the same as a Unimat SL/DB, so I tried it. Surprisingly, it was fine for turning light work such as softwoods. No surprise, however, was that as soon as I tried a fruitwood, I believe it was cherry, I needed extra clamping pressure on the jaws to keep the workpiece stable. This is not good news for a plastic chuck. Next was brass and only very light cuts could be attempted. 

So the plastic chuck is back in a drawer, ready to be sacrificed if ever a one-off job requires it.

By the way, I am not certain but the plastic looked like polystyrene. The injection moulding ejector pin marks are clearly visible on the front edge of each jaw. The plastic can be cut easily with any sharp piece of metal. I don't think anyone except a child should rely on these as everyday chucks.

The main question for anyone choosing a lathe remains the same as choosing any other tool: what do you want to do with it? Chucks made entirely of plastic are seldom part of the answer.

HTH, just my opinion.

 

Bruce

 

 

Edited by bruce d
finger trouble

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I'll agree with the rest who say get the little machine shop one. I got one from ENCO and did a ton of upgrades, mostly bought from LMS.

 

I would like have a set of acetal jaws for one of my chucks. I've machined a lot of it and it's really tough, seems like there are a lot of times it would be really useful for holding plastics and soft wood.

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Some time ago I bought a cheap (around 25€ from China) independent 4-jaw-chuck in die-cast zinc (I think) with a view to make jaws in POM/Acetal and/or to machine the existing jaws down for screw-on jaws in different materials and shapes. Didn't get around to do this yet ...

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