There are many old lathes that would work for gun smithing. Too many people fixate on the South Bend Heavy 10, aka "10L", as it is one of the more popular "brands" of lathes in the days when we Americans made manual machines in the US. As a result, the SB "Heavy" 10L (which is anything but heavy.... it's actually a pretty light machine, just heavier than the 10K) is bid up in price in the used iron market.
Off the top of my head, here are some lathes that would suite a gunsmith if he wants to put the barrel through the headstock:
- SB Heavy 10
- SB Heavy 13 (you won't be able to do short barrels, but 24" and longer will work)
- Clausing 5913/5914
- Rockwell 11"
- Emco (NB NOT "E*n*co, but eMco, a swiss maker of machine tools) 11" lathes
- Colchester "Student"
- Logan 14x40
There are others. There's actually quite a few in this size range of the old iron market.
Now, there's a huge mis-conception out there that you "must" have a lathe that is short enough through the headstock to allow you to set up a barrel in spiders on both ends in order to do anything with gunsmithing. Not true.
This whole "through the headstock" idea got going with the benchrest community in the late 80's and through the 90's. Golly, guns had been around for some time before this, no? So how did gunsmiths work on rifle barrels before some smiths started setting their barrels through the headstock?
In a steady rest, that's how.
If you give me any lathe with a good, true, long bed (40" between centers or more), I can do a barrel from a blank. That includes: chambering, fitting to the action, crowning and turning the taper/contour/cylinder. You don't have to work through the headstock of a lathe in order to do good work. When you learn how to work barrels through a steady rest, suddenly lathes anywhere from a South Bend 9" (I'd prefer a SB 9 A, if I had to deal with a SB 9 - I like quick change gearboxes) to a 17 or 18" swing beast of a lathe will work.
I don't like light machines. I own a light Taiwanese machine, but it's not my preference in a machine - it's what works in my situation. To me "light" is anything under a ton in weight. Some of my most favorite lathes come in between 4,000 and 6,000 lbs in weight. The finish on their cuts is superb, they're accurate, and cutting gun parts is so easy, the machine doesn't even know you're doing something. So don't turn up your nose at larger machines if you have the room to fit one. In "big" lathes (over 14" swing), the Cadillacs of the machine tool market in the US used to be American Pacemaker and Monarch. Unless you're ready to deal with a very heavy machine, you probably won't be able to take on one of these machines - and their prices in the used market often reflects the knowledge of machinists that these lathes were some of the very best quality ever made in the US.
Now, as to collets: 5C collets are very useful. I use them all the time. But they're hardly the only collet family out there. If you crack open a Machinery's Handbook, you'll see that there's something like two dozen families of collets out there. 5C and R8 collets are simply the last two collet families from the Grand Old Days of American Machine Tools that are still hanging on.
But unless you're a machine collector, why worry about which collet family you're going to use? You're worried about getting something done, not whether you have a historically accurate collet set to go with your lathe.
For a guy with a tight pocket, here's an idea that would serve really well:
Consider dispensing with the old collet families entirely. Make or buy a ER32 or ER40 collet holder, then buy a set of ER32 or ER40 collets and a collet nut. Making the collet holder is pretty straightforward lathe work. Making the nut isn't - which is why I recommend buying the nut.
Put the collet holder into your 4-jaw chuck, dial it in, then use collets as needed. When/if you get a mill, you can use the ER collets to hold your tools there too. You can get ER32 or ER40 collet holders that go into a R8 collet Bridgeport-style mill. ER collets grip better, hold a wider size range of parts, and are available all over the place in the modern market.
Last edited by wyop; April 7, 2013 at 05:11 PM.