View Full Version : where do you find a good lathe for smith work

April 1, 2009, 11:38 PM
I'm taking a gunsmith corse & hope to take a mechenist corse this fall. I was woundering if you could tell me who makes lathes for gunsmiths & what the cost might be .I've seen them in Northern but I don't know what I need

April 2, 2009, 01:48 AM
There has been a lot of machining going on in Texas for a while.Economic hard times,you might find a good old lathe.

At a 10 in swing,you start getting a spindle hole size you can stick a barrel or a 5-c collet drawbar through.

Might be a South Bend or Clausing or Harrison or such,medium-light decent industrial machines.

Many have taper attachments,and most shops tool them with a 3 jaw,4 jaw,and 5-c setup.,and an Aloris type toolpost.Try to get the tooling with it

Good luck.

April 2, 2009, 11:16 AM
Be careful with some of the cheapo machines out there.... and there are a lot of them. Very lightly constructed and poorly designed. You could throw a lot of money at one of them without getting much benefit. What do you plan to do with the lathe? HiBC made some good suggestions, but there are alternatives, based on what you need.

April 2, 2009, 01:55 PM
A small tip,most industrial machines will have 3 phase motors.Not to worry,there are devices called "phase converters" that work quite well.

One place you may want to visit online is MSC(Manhattan Supply)

They have about everything,and are quite decent to deal with.

April 2, 2009, 04:26 PM
A small tip,most industrial machines will have 3 phase motors.Not to worry,there are devices called "phase converters" that work quite well

Yes, you can get a phase converter but there may be a cheaper way. Most gunsmith size lathes don't require lots of horsepower and the motor frames on them are pretty generic. You can get an aftermarket motor for less than a couple hundred bucks (less than a hundred if you know how to shop around). A good phase converter would cost more than that.

April 2, 2009, 08:36 PM
I thank yall for all your help sofar. I'm 36'' to a 40'' leathe to threed barrels crowning making small parts screws bolts pins. I allso want a small milling machine. what price range does a deacent leathe or milling michine cost. i know someone with a smithy for sale cheap but I dont want to through my money away on crap

April 3, 2009, 07:48 AM
I happen to like Grizzly tools. They are about the best of the asian imports. They sell a combo machine (lathe with mill) that looks like it would be perfect for a gunsmith.

April 3, 2009, 07:49 AM
what price range does a deacent leathe or milling michine cost A new Bridgeport will run from $12K - $20K and up depending on options and tooling. Used copies, in decent shape can be had for ~$2K and up, but sometimes you can find a deal. My brother just ran across an old Lagun (knockoff of a Bridgeport) for just a couple hundred dollars. Nothing wrong with a used Bridgeport, Lagun, Sharp or Tree. Decent lathes are kinda the same, price wise.

People can and do make very nice, precise parts by cranking handles, counting turns and approaching from one direction to minimize backlash, but I would highly recommend that you get machines with digital read outs; they'll make your life much easier. Both lathe and mill should have them, but more important on the mill.

Tooling will likely cost more than the machine. You'll need/want stuff like vises, angle plates, indexers, rotary tables, parallels, clamps, collets, chucks, boring heads, face cutters, end mills, drills, taps, boring bars, reamers, carbide inserts.... the list is nearly endless. Then you'll need/want measuring tools... ID, OD and depth micrometers, calipers, test and travel indicators, bore gages.... ad infinitum.

Then you gotta kinda know what you're doing. Machining gun parts should generally be fairly easy and most people could learn. But developing good machining skills is not for everyone. Decent math skills, good spacial perception, patience and practice are required for success.

Not to discourage you and I will say you can piecemeal a lot of the tooling and learn as you go, but I want you to know what's involved here. It's really not just buy lathe, buy mill, fix guns.

April 4, 2009, 09:53 AM
The actual lathe and mill are cheap, it's the tooling that well kill your wallet.

The all in one machines do not do either job well. If you have no space available then you might consider one.

Older industrial machines can be bought fairly cheap, converted to 220v they can be a good choice. They tend to be large and very heavy.

Not to discourage you and I will say you can piecemeal a lot of the tooling and learn as you go, but I want you to know what's involved here. It's really not just buy lathe, buy mill, fix guns.

+1 It can be a steep learning curve, there is a lot to know. The more you learn about being a machinist, the more you realize you have a lot to learn.

April 4, 2009, 10:12 AM
Get a good machine and a few pieces to start, and build all your vises, fixtures, and jigs while you're in school. Don't screw around. Take it seriously, or it will cost you big $$$ later. You will need a good variable-drive motor to turn both large and small work on a medium open bed lathe at the same time. That's more $$$, but well worth it. A digital readout is $$$, again-well worth it. You will need all kinds of measuring tools, but start with a good set of calipers and 0-1" mics, and one indicator each of .001", .0005", and .0001" graduations with a good mag base. Never skimp if you're in it for the long run. You can easily grind in a set of parallels, but put good money into tooling ans measuring equipment. Once you've found out what you want, there are plenty of auctions coming up weekly, since all our machining is now done overseas!:mad: Get a catalog from these guys:


Ebay is also a great place for tool values!


April 4, 2009, 11:52 AM
The all-in-one type machines like a Smithy are a compromise that severely limits their capabilities and the little Taig and Sherline type machines are really too small to be of real use for most gunsmithing tasks. For hobby gunsmithing use you might consider bench-top machines such as those produced by Jet, who's bench-top milling machines might be adequate. But I'm not sure their lathes will have a big enough spindle through-bore to accommodate a barrel.

April 4, 2009, 12:46 PM
Go to school first buy later after you learn how to do what you think and what is real is often very different. I would recommend you find a very good Gunsmith and offer to work for him to learn not get paid. Dan

James K
April 4, 2009, 06:17 PM
Get a lathe with a fairly large hollow headstock. Then you can do jobs like cutting and crowning without removing barrels and without using a rest.


April 4, 2009, 08:14 PM
I happen to like Grizzly tools. They are about the best of the asian imports

Huh? You can buy a Japanese 12" manual lathe for upwards of $50K, you must not know about high quality Asian machine tools. Better limit that quite a bit. We typically don't ever see the really high quality Japanese manual tools over here, lately they have been too expensive even for a production shop like mine.

I've purchased many machine tools over the last 20 years, Grizzly would not be high on my list. I feel Jet tools are higher quality than the Grizzly tools I've seen. That's not putting Grizzly down too much, all the cheap Asian machine tools will need tweaking in my experience.
Grizzly is not a high quality Asian machine tool. Jet and Grizzly and many others, even Victor among many other importers will cull the Asian market for bargains, they often buy real cr*p machines and sell the honor of their names for a few bucks.
Your Grizzly or Jet could be made in either Taiwan or PRC commie land, and may be either reasonable good or pure garbage. I bought a good name lathe from a much better named company than Grizzly or Jet and got a real lemon. I bought a cheap Jet 1236 belt drive once many years ago that was a great lathe.

Buy a cheap lathe like Grizzly, Enco, Jet etc.

Toss the dice!

Old Guard Dog
April 4, 2009, 10:07 PM
I would personally stay away from the lathe/mill combos. Grizzley does make two "gunsmithing" lathes, that although I have not personally used one, seem to be OK for the work. They have large spindle bores to accept barrels, and a support system for the barrel at the opening. This is what makes them a gunsmithing lathe.

Has anyone used either of these machines?

April 4, 2009, 10:50 PM
Words that I'll never forget from an old machinist "A lathe is the only machine that can reproduce itself", I was an apprentice in '72.

There used to be a big Gov't auction in TN, don't know if it's still going on. All mil-surp and some really good deals.

For gunsmithing I'd not drop to some Chinese BC. Buy the finest that you can afford and don't think that new is better. I'll put an old South Bend up against a new Enco anyday. I'm also old enough to trick the Enco or any other into doing what I want.

April 4, 2009, 11:32 PM
I thank thank yall for all the input.This is a very good web site with alot of good helpful folks. It seems that I have my work cut out for me. The work is the easy part the money to make it happen is the hard part. I worked at a mill for 13 years and have been a power lineman for almost 13 years guns has always my favorite Hobie I hope someday too make it a profession

April 4, 2009, 11:41 PM
Huh? You can buy a Japanese 12" manual lathe for upwards of $50K, As I toured Dr. Mori (Mori Seiki Machine) through my shop, I told him I really liked the old Mori Seiki manual engine lathes I used to run.... too bad they didn't make them any more. He said " Oh, we'll still make those for people that really want them." I said "Yeah, but you probably want $60K for one of those things". He laughed and said "I think twice that much might get you one". :)

longrifles, Inc
April 5, 2009, 09:24 AM
Anything "good" in manufacturing means expensive.

A Hardinge tool room lathe is almost tailor made for barrel work. They used to run about 20K but I've seen some going for under 10K on Ebay. Just gotta be diligent when shopping.

April 5, 2009, 12:16 PM
Hardinge tool room lathe ... and sweet little machines they are! I also really like Monarch EE's. We have a number of them, but last I looked they were $40K, rebuilt.

April 5, 2009, 02:07 PM
You guys!!I suspect our OP did not already win the Lotto!

Yeah,I really am partial to the Monarch EE,and yeah,a Hardinge is great to thread with and has a good tailstock etc...

Those are accurate,rigid,fine machines.I like Colchester and Cincinatti,too

I have worked on all those.

A 1941 South Bend Navy Signal Corp 10 x 36 ,if it is in good shape,is a dandy gunsmith lathe.

If the variable drive hasn't gone wobbly,a 10x 36 Clausing is quite nice

I ran a Harrison 10 in gearhead lathe for several years,I would like to find myself one.
An old Logan might be OK,too

All of these(I would hope) can be found in the $1500 to $3000 range,
I paid $400 for the South Bend ,a buddy and I overhauled it,and it has been gunsmithing for 30 years,and still serves.

Does it look clean and well kept?Does it have a lot of backlash? That can often be tuned out if it has a split nut,but it is still wear.Shake/wiggle the carriage and compound.Rattling like an old GI 1911 is not good here.Taking up gibs will tune it some,but it is still wear.Bonus if it has a leadscrew and a seperate drive shaft for feeds.The threading halfnuts are subject to wear and damage,check the threading engagement lever,how it feels.The usual issue is a wear pattern of semi-engaged,which makes threading frustrating.FRankly,on an old beater lathe,threading up to a shoulder,as in a bbl,I might put the lathe in neutral,turn off the breaker,engage the thread lever and leave it there through the whole job,and turn the chuck by hand.Very slow,and a pain in the...but,no wrecks.

Look at the ways in general.Dings,dents? Tools and whacking on the ways is not good.There will be some extra wear close to the chuck,how much?Score marks means hard chips and grit were likely blown by airhose up under the wipers(use a brush).The tailstock is important,look inside the taper for chip dents and scoring from spinning a chuck.

The tailstock ways,look at them for wear.Drilling and reaming are funny when the tailstock is lower than the headstock.

Look at the headstock spindle nose for marks left by folks not cleaning the tapers.(allways make sure all precision surfaces are immaculate before assembly,spindle tapers,chuck jaws,etc.
Unfortunately,usually you can't run a lathe that is on a pallet to go out the door.You can learn a lot with an indicator and a piece of ground round stock.

For a mill,I'd likely hold out for a Bridgeport.It is an arguable point about the cost effectiveness of the clones,but I like a Bridgeport.

Tilting the head,and being able to swing the head over and hang work over the side of the table is real useful sometimes.

The 42 in table is usefull with stockwork and octagon cutting.

April 5, 2009, 02:13 PM
One reason for 3 phase is ability to reverse the motor. A phase converter can be made by rewiring a motor and running your single phase into it and the out put will be 3 phase... it just sits there off to the side spinning...

April 6, 2009, 05:25 PM
One down side to the South bends, the old ones with the bronze bearings, you can't run them as fast as long as you can a roller bearing equipped lathe. They are a bit light for carbide tools IMO as they were designed before carbide insert tools came into being. Later South Bend lathes have rolling contact bearings and should run all day at max RPM and heavy cuts.
I'd take a cheap Asian gearhead lathe over a belt drive split bearing lathe myself, go through it, get the sand out of the gearbox (I kid you not! Have seen that more than once, casting sand left over as a special gift to you!)) and it will serve you well.
For gunsmith work though, a SB should do well, you aren't selling high speed production, your selling precision. An old South Bend will get you that. If it's hobby work you aren't even selling at all, and can make ten parts until you get that perfect one!

A man has to have a metal lathe. :D

April 6, 2009, 06:05 PM
I have too focus and start buying tools and quit guns. I bought a gun ever other month for 2 years

longrifles, Inc
April 6, 2009, 10:10 PM
I have too focus and start buying tools and quit guns. I bought a gun ever other month for 2 years

Get ready to spend real money. . .:D:D:D

My shop:

April 6, 2009, 10:35 PM
I have a Jet 12 X 36, with 1 1/2 in spendle bore, that I got in the early 80s that is still going good today. I'm put together a lot of Target Quality Rifles on it. I also have a Jet 16" Mill/Drill that I got about the same time that I use dern near as much as the lathe. Even fluted Barrels on it.

I also have a smaller Jet 6X18 lathe for smaller parts.

All these are over 25 years old, I don't know the quality of Jet Equipment now.

Set up and messuring are just as, if not more, important as the quality of the equipment.

April 8, 2009, 10:11 AM
If you take machining classes, a lot of time the school will let you use their equipment. I started learning machining years ago, and fell in love with it. You will develop your skills in relationship to how dedicated you are. I took an accelerated program that taught manual machining, and cnc. I helped keep the shop clean and maintain the equipment for my teacher, and he ended up giving me keys to the shop. If you want a good lathe, get a Hardinge. I have never seen one make bad parts, in spite of how old they were or how badly they were treated.

April 8, 2009, 12:11 PM
Nice shop longrifles! Six years later, I still regret selling off my shop. :mad: Meanwhile, I'll try and talk Mrs. Grymster into one of these. It would make a very nice gun-building tool. My employer owns one and it's a hell of a machine.

Mori-Seiki NL2000SY - live tooling tuning center with sub-spindle.



April 11, 2009, 11:01 PM
I HATE the 3 in one tools. Especially the ones that swing large workpieces. They by necessity have to have a lot of height between the table and the workpiece, so there's flex and chatter. Plus the crossfeed is minimal, drastically limiting their usefulness, and they usually do not take common R8 tooling, so you have to spend 3-10 times as much for collets, etc. due to the morse taper.

I'd call enco. I have gotten a couple machine tools from them, and they are; prompt, competitive, and have most the things you will need. Their website kind of sucks, but they will send you a free catalog. Here's a couple machine tool distributors;

www.useenco.com 1(800)873-3626
www.travers.com 1800-221-0270
www.mscdirect.com 1800-645-7270

I've heard good things about Grizzly, but have no personal experience. Mill wise, I recently purchased a SQUARE column bench mill which is REALLY cool. Large table and feed lengths, takes R8 tooling, features are very well thought out, and the gearbox makes speed changes very easy. Square column allows downfeed on the vertical bed with the spindle locked for more flexibility. These things haven't been around for long, but you get the capacity of a floor model with the weight and cost of a bench model.

Lathewise, I'd mainly be looking at through feed capacity. Some feed 25mm, which is .4 mm shy of feeding 1" stock. Things like that are worth considering. A gap bed lathe will allow significantly large pieces to be turned without increasing toolpost to bed height.

Happy hunting! :)

April 12, 2009, 08:11 PM
what tooling would yall start with. and here's a million dollar question, quality measuring equipment at a reasonable price. when I get the leathe $2000 will be about my starting max

April 12, 2009, 08:40 PM
I've never skimped on measuring equipment, they are the most critical part of the process.

I use Brown & Sharpe, Starrett and Mitutoyo in that order.

April 13, 2009, 10:06 AM
what tooling would yall start with. Measuring instruments from any of the manufacturers that Swampghost mentioned will be fine and those three brands comprise the majority of my tools, but you could find cheaper tools that are adequate for gunsmithing. I would have both a travel and test indicator. You can get them in .0001" resolution, but .001" for a travel indicator and .0005" for a test indicator will probably suffice and be a bit cheaper and/or provide more range for your money. Magnetic base indicator stand is a must. I like 2" range travel indicators and having a magnetic back-plate for one helps too. Outside micrometers in 0 - 3" should be sufficient and some 8" digital calipers. Tubular style inside micrometers are nice and accurate, but usually have a range starting with a minimum 1.5". Telescope gages will get you down to .313". They make inside micrometer calipers that are fairly accurate, but limit the depth you can reach. I'd probably buy pin and plug gages to get the range <.313".

Nice to have measuring equipment:
Granite surface plate
Surface gage
Sine bar
Angle plates
1-2-3 blocks
Joe blocks
Thread wires

Once you have your lathe you can select
3 or 6 jaw chuck
4 jaw chuck
Collet closer and collets
Square and hex collet collet blocks
Lathe dogs, for shaft work
Tailstock chuck - having several is nice
Clamps - Kant Twist and hold-down
Turning, threading and boring tools - you might consider ceramic insert tooling. It can add a lot of versatility, but to make sure you get the right stuff, don't buy until you settle on a lathe.

There's more..... lots more, but I grow weary..... :)

April 13, 2009, 11:01 AM
This is a surplus dealer that is pretty honest with condition and hours. http://www.sterlingmachinery.com/ I look for a heavy rigid machine, with enough size to do barrels. I travel 9 months out of the year and visit every gunsmith I can (80 to 100 a year) Cnc machines are for production work and I have seen very few in professional gunsmith shops actually none being used for just smithing. Most shops can't justify the expense or time it takes to set one up or program one for a single part. If you were going to built a run of parts you may be able to justify it but for the most part a manual machine will work for the gunsmith.

April 13, 2009, 11:20 AM
Cnc machines are for production work I agree that general gunsmithing doesn't require CNC machines, but they are not used solely for production. We use CNC to produce the vast majority of our work, which is non-production work; mostly one-off items, with the occasional lot of two to ten. And many times, I've disproved that CNC is slower for all but the simplest of tasks.

April 13, 2009, 11:47 AM
I bought a good second hand lathe, and separate mill/drill with heaps of cutters and tools for each off a guy that was moving for the 3rd time in 2 years, and didnt want to set up his machines (again) at the new place. I picked up the lot for $Au2k :D

I also build parts for Gyrocopters and Ultralight (microlite) aircraft, so my lathe and mill cop a flogging :D

I have made many parts for guns and of course the cannons and other norty things.....:eek:

I would suggest looking for second hand, either private or auctions. I dont think 3 phase is neccessary, however our standard voltage is 240v 50mhz here, you guys have 110v there, so 3 phase might be the go, like the others have said. I don't care what drives the lathe, just make sure the headstock and everything that is turned is well built, solid and straight. Mine is 38mm thru the headstock, bigger is better :D Make sure you get something you can use good quality tools in, that the size tools are cheaply and readily available. My lathe is set up for 16mm tools, so when I need a tool, I know if it is a 16 mm tool, it will fit my lathe perfectly.

Just remember, when you do get a lathe, you will get addicted to making all sorts of things :D and find you had friends you didnt know you had :eek:

April 13, 2009, 07:30 PM
as for lathes, I bought a 14in grizzly about 2 years ago(the only thing it didn't come with was the aloris tool post) the machine will turn 0.0005" as long as my indicators are in cal. (digital displays are a god send) as for a mill, I picked up 1950 vintage index in about 1992, (I rebuilt it) and added digital indicators to it about 3 years ago it will still machine to a half

April 14, 2009, 12:00 AM
I highly recommend calling those numbers and requesting your free catalogs before buying ANYTHING. Even if you don't buy from them, you can look at what's available, and peruse the tooling.

As to tooling for a lathe, I really like having a wedge (not piston, but they work well, too) type toolpost for switching RAPIDLY from one cutting tool to the next. You can set the toolholders to be at the right height, so you can switch from one to the next simply by pulling a lever and slipping another on.

Another thing that is really nice is indexable carbide tool holders. You can get a set pretty cheap, and the inserts can be rotated if you ding one up. Plus they will all take the same insert, so you can have spares.

A live center (bearings) to hold your workpiece is really nice to have, and dead (solid) centers can be handy, too.

One last thing to consider for basic tooling, is a boring bar for doing inside work on a workpiece.

My inclination is to say get some cheapo measuring tools and learn to use them well. If you even need to ask where to get tooling, you probably will not be served well by buying really pricey measuring tools. (JUST MY OPINION please spare me the wrath! :() You may not be able to hold better than .001" with cheapo's, but if you aren't used to using them, you probably wouldn't be able to hold those kind of tolerances even with higher quality ones.

My reasoning is that you will be better served HAVING all the measuring tools within your budget. A Dial caliper is a VERY handy tool to have. Not terribly accurate, but quick. Telescopic gauges and micrometers will cover most things requiring more accuracy.

The advice I am giving is based on the assumption that this will be somewhat a learning experience, and a hobby sort of thing. You can always spend more money, but for the hobby machinist, I think often having less than the best, but being able to budget in more tooling may make more sense.

Oh, and one last thing; BEWARE of Harbor Freight junk! I recommend you don't get your measuring equipment there.

PS With Enco, a lot of their stuff goes on sale, and the sale prices (including lathes/mills etc) are often substantially cheaper. If you can get a sale flier you might save a few hundred bones on the lathe alone.

April 14, 2009, 08:29 PM
Look in pawn shops,watch Craigs List,etc.Folks are hungry,and selling things off.

For mics,I'd get quality in a 1 in mic.Carbide faces,friction thimble,tenth vernier.B=S,Starret,Mitutoyo. Mine's a Lufkin,but thats old.

A good 6 in dial cal.I like Brown and Sharpe or Tesa.

A depth mic is useful chambering.I prefer the small base Starret blade type.The blade spindle does not rotate,and can be twisted to any orientation.

The 3 in set is probably enough.

A 5x jewelers loupe is very useful .

a good(starret or B+S satin chrome flexible 6 in scale is a must,get the .100 graduations along with fractions.

Later,space blocks are about $30 and gage pin sets are real cheap,for what you get.

Carbide insert tools for V threads and a small grooving tool holder will set you up for the sq threads in Springfields,Enfields ,Rolling Blocks,etc.

A nice thing about insert threading tooling,you do not lose your lead if a tool nose fails.
Gotta Go!