View Full Version : Metal Lathes and Mills - Selection

November 29, 2001, 10:10 PM
The search function has been disabled so I couldn't search for any past posts on this.

I have been using a friend's metal shop for the occasional lathe and mill work for the past year and I think it is time for me to consider the purchase of some of my own machine tools. I am by no means a machinist, but am dangerous enough since I have had a class many years ago. Thankfully, my buddy takes the time to insure I don't screw my parts up!

I have no desire whatsoever of doing rifle barrel work at my place. My friends equipment is available for that if I changed my mind later. The only thing I am really interested in doing is fabrication of small parts, pistol barrel fitting work, and pistol slide modifications.

My friend is equipped with a South Bend lathe and a Bridgeport mill. Nice equipment but WAY TOO LARGE!!!! I am looking for something an order of magnitude smaller for the reloading bench/toy room that doesn't take up all the space of full size equipment; but, can still handle pistol slides and barrels.

I am familiar with the smaller equipment brands out there and was wondering:

What do you use?
What cut depths are you using with smaller gear?
What tooling did you initially purchase?


kurt IA.
November 29, 2001, 11:17 PM
You mite like to look at ENCO, they have 9X20 lathe and mill-drils, or Grizzle would have them too, these would be the least cost. Priza ( ? on spelling) has some good small lathes also. I would get the lathe with both X & Y power feed, some only have a crank you turn for the X feed only. On the mill try to find one that takes R8 colets, lots of tooling maid for them. As for cuts, .01 to .02 off the OD, is about all you will be able to take, in steel, about the same with mill. Just a rough idea. It will depend on the metal you use, and the bits.

George Stringer
November 30, 2001, 07:41 AM
slickpuppy, my first "milling machine" was a Sheridan table mill. I still use it occasionally. I've installed many a Bo-Mar and Novak sight with it, not to mention a few fully ramped 1911 barrels. I found it accurate enough for the work just a bit slower than my full size mill. They also make small lathes but I've never owned a small lathe. I've also known several smiths who used the Unimat lathe/mill combo but I don't have any experience with it. I'd stay away from Smithy combos. I've heard and read nothing good about them. George

November 30, 2001, 09:30 AM
Have a catalog for the Smithy that is running a special offer on one of their smaller mill/lathes. Quite a savings and ONLY about 500 lbs. Sale ends Dec 31`st this year. Can provide specs and info on company if you want.

December 1, 2001, 12:55 AM
The Smithy SEEMS like a good idea, but every serious gunsmith and machinist I have spoken with enthusiastically slam the machine...

Is there such a good thing as a quality 3 in 1 machine in a practical size?

Slickpuppy, having access to fine machinery like that is a blessing... By the way, how big is big?

My search for a South Bend continues...

December 1, 2001, 06:09 AM
How big is big? Well the Southbend is a 10x33 - drop dead beautiful piece of work. The Bridgeport is one of their Series 1 models. If I wanted to drop around 30 grand I would buy those myself!

As for the 3 in 1 and 2 in 1 machines, I am trying to stay away from those really. I just prefer stand alone machines that I can keep set up. I hate the idea of doing some lathe work and having to rip my setup apart to do some milling on something else. What can I say? I am a lazy bastard I guess :D

I didn't want to lead the discussion by mentioning brands at first. I appreciate the feedback.

What I am considering right now in lathes is something in the size range of a Myford Super 7 - the shortbed model. It looks pretty good feature-wise and should be big enough to do stuff I want, yet small enough to fit on a relatively small bench. I also looked at the Levin and Derbyshire lathes. Primo quality but a bit small.

As for the mill, I am considering the Cowells mini mill for right now. It looks to be a pretty stout unit for its size, well made, and plenty accurate for my needs. I had looked at the Sherlines and the Taig. They both have a good following. Myford also makes a mill, but I haven't seen any data sheets on it yet.

I looked briefly at the Prazi machines. Plastic gearing in those turned me off real quick. They do look pretty good and would be plenty accurate for me, but the plastic kinda scares me! Guess the older I get the more hard headed I get.

I would love to find one of the FW Derbyshire mini mills, but I am in dreamland there. Those never show up on the used market.

kurt IA.
December 1, 2001, 10:29 AM
Guys try this www.surplusrecord.com There are LOTS of machine tools.

4 Eyed Six Shooter
December 1, 2001, 12:10 PM
For a small lathe, you can't beat the 7X10 lathe offered by Harbor Freight. It can be had for about $375.00 with free shipping. I bought on as my first lathe and it does really good work for it's size. They also offer a variable speed mill for about $500.00. I have since bought a full size mill and lathe but still use the 7X10 lathe for small parts. The accuracy is good and it does threading also. Stay away from the combo mill/lathes, they are hard to use and not very accurate.
Best Wishes, John K

December 1, 2001, 12:38 PM
Varmit Al's site has some info on a small lathe. I don't have the address right now.

December 1, 2001, 12:58 PM
is Varmint Al's machining page.

He has a heck of a background. Someone with his skill level could do amazing things with any piece of equipment on the market.

As for me, I need something that is pretty much ready to roll out of the crate. I make no claims to being a master machinist by any means.:D

I have read a lot of stuff on the web concerning the Chinese gear and there seems to be a general consensus that these things arrive in more or less a kit form with hit or miss quality. That is why I would prefer to stick with a US or European manufacturer.

I did some more homework and found that the Myford mini mill(not lathe) is actually contract manufactured for them in Taiwan to their specs. and then Myford adds the electrics in Britain.

December 2, 2001, 01:13 PM
I wish I could fit a Lathe AND a Mill into my little shop let alone afford both...

I'm drooling over your friend's South Bend... must be a newer one with the 33" centers... To me, that's like an original Oberndorf Mauser... I'm going to blow my gun budget for years to come on machinery...

I'm hoping to do some limited milling on my lathe... Trying to get a bargain on a Milling Operations in a Lathe book. I have visions of integral 1/4 ribs and square bridged Mausers- just visions...

I might not even be able to get the South Bend in my shop-- I have to get it through a 27" doorway... Got any accurate width dimensions??? Can the chip tray be removed from the cabinet?

I can see I need a bigger shop too...

Kurt- Great link!

December 2, 2001, 02:43 PM
and this one:

There is a lot of really neat info there and one of them may have a book that would interest you. I don't have any width dimensions on the SB lathe. It is relatively narrow, but you may want to email SB for an exact dimension. I would put the length probably around 5 feet for the cabinet.

There have been a lot of SB clones made. Did you look at the Boxfords at all? I think the width on their undermounted models that have the electrics underneath are around 20 inches. There seems to be a fairly good supply of them on the market at reasonable cost. They are supposed to accept SB tooling.

One thing is for sure and that is the tooling will eat a wallet alive. There seems to be a lot of good information, plans, and stuff out there to get tooled up for a lot less if you make it yourself.

I have collected a boatload of links over the past few weeks trying to get more educated on things to avoid getting ripped off.

kurt IA.
December 2, 2001, 04:01 PM
Here is another link, I have delt with them before. www.blueridgemachinery.com