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Old April 8, 2013, 09:07 AM   #26
mattL46
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Wyop thank you so much again for your outstanding share of information! I'll be sure to remember that!
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Old April 8, 2013, 01:52 PM   #27
wyop
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You're most certainly welcome.

The machine tool industry has gone through a huge change in the last 50 years or so. First, manual machines took a back seat to CNC machines. Today, if you're running a machine shop based on manual machines, you're typically not making much profit. CNC machining is the way you crank out volume with rapid turn-around.

We used to make a huge amount of machines and machine tooling here in the US. The midwest and northeast were filled with companies that made machines and machine tooling.

Today, there is NO US company left that makes a manual (ie, non-CNC) lathe that would be a good fit for gunsmithing. None. There are plenty of companies that are making tooling, fixtures, reamers, gages, etc, but there are no manual machine manufactures left other than Hardinge/Bridgeport, and they're making Bridgeport mills, not lathes. What little is left is just support and parts for previously manufactured machines.

OK, so where to look if you're looking for a new lathe for gunsmithing?

There are plenty of guys running the Grizzly lathes mentioned up-thread. I've used one of these, it seemed like an OK machine. The president of Grizzly is the captain of the US F-Class team and a very experienced rifle shootist, so he's certainly sympathetic to the needs of gunsmiths. Many of Grizzly's machines are made in the PRC and some are made in Taiwan. You can tell just from the price which is which - if you're looking at a 13x40 lathe and it costs from, oh, $3500 to $6K new, then it is probably a ChiCom lathe. Around $8 to $11K? Taiwanese.

The Taiwanese lathes are generally OK. You'll see lathes with all manner of names... but if you compare them closely, you'll notice that their controls on the headstock are in the same place, their specs are the same, etc. These lathes are indeed the same - with slight (very slight) differences like lights, coolant pumps/nozzles, paint jobs, badging etc. If you look around, you'll notice the same thing about ChiCom lathes too - you can see the same lathe sourced with different details to Grizzly, Jet, and several other companies.


These lathes are OK for light use by a single owner who doesn't push them hard - and that's gunsmithing, in a nutshell. In gunsmithing, it's very rare that you'd try to take the sort of cuts and feeds that you'd take in a production machine shop. In a modern production machine shop, they use lots of carbide tooling and the chips come off the workpiece a smoking-hot blue. There's no fooling around with light loads. In some production shops, if the boss comes by and sees that you don't have the machine loaded down to 80% or more capacity on the motor, he's going to ask "What are you doing?"

I honestly can count on one hand the number of times I've loaded a machine to 80% capacity when doing gunsmithing work, and all of those times, I was working on fixtures or tooling, never on actual guns.

If money is no object, there are some nice manual machines available out of Europe. For most people, money is a consideration, and these machines are generally priced out of reach for most people.

Lots of people will tell you to get an older American machine. OK, that's a nice idea. But it depends on the condition of the Older American Machine. There are some people who have found the legendary NOS (New Old Stock) machines that have been sitting in warehouses, slathered in cosmo, just waiting to be sold for dimes on the taxpayer dollar (many of these NOS machines were bought by the military contractors or government... and then forgotten for decades). You'll read of people bragging on boards about how they found some cherry machine, and you should try to do the same. If you're waiting for one of these machines, I've got news for you: I hope you're young, because you'll be waiting for quite some time. They're very rare now.

Then we get to the lathes you can find in your area, in good condition. If you live in Michigan, the northeast (NJ, CT, MA, PA, NY), southern California or Texas, you might very well be in luck. These are hotbed areas of manufacturing and there are dozens of small(er) lathes, sitting in businesses, basements, etc.

If you have plenty of time, you could get a lathe that needs serious work - and fix it up to have a really nice machine for a very modest investment. If you don't already have access to machines to make replacement parts, or you lack mechanical skills, this might not be a good way to go if all you really want to do is work on guns.

If you're in one of these areas, start sniffing around. You can find some screaming deals... but you're going to have to learn what good machine tools look like. It takes some training and experience to be able to walk up to a machine and in five minutes, make a "buy" or "leave it right there" decision. The learning will serve you well, and if you can find a good machine at the right price, by all means, go for it. These classic American-made lathes work very well for gunsmithing. Look at the list I gave you up above and start making a list of machines you'd consider. Do some homework on the various brands/machines/sizes, so when you see an ad pop up, you know that the machine is in your list of "possibles."

If you're not in one of the manufacturing centers of the US, where machine tools were widely available... you could hunt for a lathe for a long, long time. This was my problem, and why, while I have the know-how to evaluate machine tools, there's almost nothing in "gunsmith size" in my region (Wyoming) to be found. You can find nice manual lathes from 17" swings, 6 to 8 feet between centers and larger, but you can't find many small machines. So that's how I ended up with a Taiwanese lathe...

Last edited by wyop; April 8, 2013 at 08:20 PM.
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Old April 8, 2013, 02:02 PM   #28
Rifleman1776
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wyop, good response.
I don't do machine work but I do woodworking.
Most of my tools are Grizzly. When guys gripe I am sending money to China I tell them to check where their American (name) tools were made. As you said, often off the same Chinese or Tawian assembly line.
Chinese made doesn't mean bad quality, BTW.
Not defending it, I would much rather my money go to American companies and workers. But, my first loyalty must be to my pocketbook.
BTW, I don't, and won't buy any foriegn made guns. The only foriegn made gun I own is my Italian, Pedersoli made Brown Bess musket.
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Old April 8, 2013, 09:32 PM   #29
mattL46
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As rifleman said I'll probably just have to go with grizzly or jet. Considering they are the most readily available and pretty decent (for the cost) unless I can accidentally find something of higher quality for a good price. I'll be learning anyhow. No sense in spending 12grand when I only half know what's going on. I have a very good teacher (my dad) who was quite skilled in machinery years ago. I look forward to it. Just need more projects to help justify a few thousand dollars spent. I thank everyone who contributed to helping me!
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Old April 8, 2013, 10:22 PM   #30
51.50
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Lathe

My father had a Sheldon Lathe with a 9" swing. It was very accurate.
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Old April 24, 2013, 07:44 PM   #31
257x50
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If a 10 EE make sure you can get parts for the drive systems.

Hardinge HLVH. Easiest threading in the world.

Don't forget the Europeans.

Graziano, now owned by Deckel Maho is very nice.

Dean Smith & Grace is the Rolls Royce of lathe.

If you get a new lathe, drain the oil. Now. Then run it thru a filter, coffee type.

Break it in and change the oil.

You will thank me later.

Questions?
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Old April 24, 2013, 07:49 PM   #32
257x50
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One Other Bit.

John Brownings Brother was the machinist. IIRC. ;-))
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Old April 24, 2013, 08:12 PM   #33
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If not already stated

Be careful.

A lathe is the most versatile machine in a shop but also the most dangerous.

Caution to those who teach themselves.

simple things like leaving the chuck key in the chuck, setting the cutting tool on center etc., no lose clothing or long hair.

youtube will show screw ups but a lathe can kill you.

so proceed but proceed with caution.
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Old April 24, 2013, 08:42 PM   #34
257x50
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^^^^^^^^^^
what he said
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Old April 24, 2013, 09:03 PM   #35
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Lathes for smithing.

I'm a Rigger interesting to read this stuff, seen lots of old machines go to the scrapper kinda makes me tear up seeing that old iron go :-/
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Old April 25, 2013, 08:27 AM   #36
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Grizzly 4003
12x36
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Old April 25, 2013, 08:31 AM   #37
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There is a model now made just for smith
It has a g after the model number
I have used my Grizzly for twenty years
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Old April 26, 2013, 11:37 AM   #38
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Older lathes can be found at reasonable prices and is usually the cheap part. It's the tooling and other goodies that you discover you need that will get into your pocket. Some you can make yourself if you are so inclined. On older lathes bed wear is a factor. You usually find the wear close to the chuck so you will want to check to see how much wear before you start. It can be compensated for in some cases. Chuck wear is another factor. You want to be able to get your hands on a 4 jaw chuck so you can dial in work that must be true. A steady rest and follow rest is a must (to me) for barrel work using an old lathe that has a small diameter headstock. I'm now retired but have my own little machine shop that I spend most of my time in. After 40 years of running machinery I'm still hooked on it. I have a very old Barnes 9" pedal powered lathe that I still use and a 12X36 Grizzly gear head lathe. The Barnes will do everything the Grizzly will do it just takes longer and setup is different when working on rifle barrels. The only reason I bought the Grizzly was it was damaged in shipping and I got it for a 3rd of new price with all the attachments. The most important factor is to make sure the lathe has all the attachments since they can be hard to find and expensive. One machine I did buy new is a Grizzly combination horizontal/verticle mill. I have made chambering reamers with it and I am very happy with the quality. I think the Chinese are putting out a good product.
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Old April 26, 2013, 01:40 PM   #39
257x50
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One way to protect yourself is to have an expert look at a used machine.

A machinery repairman may charge $75 an hour to look at a machine. You know what you are getting, and any repairs needed can be haggled over. Before the sale.

Machine repair is expensive. Rebuilding a compound on a Hardinge 59 was $2500.......30 years ago.

Bearings in the headstock of a 13x30 lathe can cost $3500.......plus installation. That was 20 years ago.

Just be careful of bargains.

Another way is to get a cheap lathe, run it and findout what you REALLY want/need in a lathe. Keesp the first one for polishing and such.
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Old April 27, 2013, 12:23 PM   #40
Dixie Gunsmithing
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You need, at a minimum, a 10 X 36 lathe, with a good size through hole in the spindle, that can easily take a large barrel through it. The main thing, though, is installing the lathe. It has to be on a good, firm, and level base. If the base isn't level, it will throw the lathe bed out of level, and it can be enough of a twist to cause it to cut a taper on a straight part.

On phase converters for 3 phase motors, you need to remember that you will lose 1/3 of the HP of the motor, when running it on 220 VAC. That is if you're using a static phase converter. A rotary converter will give you the full motor power. Some lathes, though, are coming with reversible single phase motors, which will give you full torque and HP during operation.

Grizzly has some decent prices on lathes in this range, though I haven't tried one of their South Bend models, the others I have.
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