View Full Version : Gunsmithing Machine Tools

January 1, 2002, 08:33 PM
Just curious as to what your concensus is on which machine tools are suitable for "smith" work.

A lathe is obvious. But which one and what type? What size? Belt drive or gear head? Which "import" lathe have you had the best luck with. (Grizzly vs. Jet vs. Enco)

What about a verticle mill? Which one? What size?
Floor Knee mill or a bench "Mill/drive". What's bad about Mill/Drills?

And finally, which machine tool accessories would you rate as absolutely mandatory.

I realize this is a "loaded" question. You could spend $500,000. or $5,000. I'm leaning toward "better" quality imports as they are the most affordable. And no, I'm not a machinist, but a reasonably skilled worker with my hands. Experienced with major auto and airplane repairs.

kurt IA.
January 1, 2002, 09:48 PM
I know smiths who use all three, brands of lathes, you mentioned. I like ones with a 1 1/2 or larger hole in the head stock, and a bed length of at lest 36". As for a mill I have a Jet JTM1 full size, and it has done every thing I asked of it. Tooling WOW that could go on forever.

George Stringer
January 2, 2002, 08:18 AM
I haven't used the import lathes. I'd recommend the biggest, heaviest one you have the money and room for. I think I'd probably vote for Enco because I have a full size enco milling machine and like Kurt's Jet it's done everything I've asked of it. Tooling, for my lathe I don't really have a lot. 4-jaw chuck, steady rest, follow rest, home made turret tool post, couple of jacobs chucks, floating reamer holders, home made collet closer for R8 collets and I just finished a making a milling attachment for it. For the milling machine I have a Kurt 6" vice on a swivel plate, palmgren 4" angle vise, a dividing head and a drill chuck/arbor. And the usual assortment of cutters and collets as well as a lot of special cutters just bought for one particular type job. I don't think you ever stop buying tooling. Everytime I get a sale flyer from J&L or Mcmaster I see something else I could use. George

January 2, 2002, 04:30 PM
Welcome to The Firing Line!

You certainly started out with a tough question.

I am in a similar dilemma- outfitting my small workshop with some decent tooling which also needs to be semi-portable in case I move...

What kind of work do you do/plan on doing? Rifle work mostly or pistol work? Wooden stock making? All of the above?

January 2, 2002, 08:31 PM
I am by no means a machinist, but have read some good reports on the Enco stuff as far as being superior for imports. I was under the impression that when I purchased a lathe for my shop, it would be a good used American made but now I second guess that. From reading articles on various web-sites, the thought is that most American machine are kept until worn-out and one is better off purchasing one of the "better quality" imports. So now, for me, it is back to research before making a major purchase!:confused:

kurt IA.
January 2, 2002, 09:04 PM
Rosedog One more thing to keep in mind, is most of these tools will be 220V and a lot will be 3 phase also.

January 2, 2002, 11:10 PM
Thanks DeBee! I'm specifically interested in rifle work. Barrels, chambering, actions, etc... I was/am a local highpower competetor and both my kids (16yr Daughter and 14 yr Son) are currently competing in Small Bore Matches and want to "move up" to highpower. I already work on bolt guns and am starting to work with Garands and M-1A's.
I love wildcats and experimenting. And, I will be forced into "retirement" from my current job in a few years and I'm going to work at something I love and hopefully make a few bucks for powder on the side.

January 4, 2002, 03:14 PM
I 've been pondering exactly the same questions myself. The only difference is that I am a machinist, its what I do everyday for a living, and I have made several guns from "scratch". I have access to a fully equipped machine shop owned by a friend of mine and he lets me use it as I see fit.

I have some of the best equipment made as related to machine tools where I work, unfortunately it's at a nuclear plant and making gun realted items is a definate no-no. I suppose I am a bit spoiled with the high dollar tools, and I get most of the catolgues for tools and associated times at work.

With that being said, I'll tell you what I'm about to get and the reasons why.

Im starting out with a 14 x40 " lathe. The 40" lenth should be able do any decent sized lenth of barrel. One could make do with a 36" but remember that the tailstock takes up a bit of that space.As previously stated , a definate plus would be a center hole of at least 2.5 inches, but these are not easy to find. With the hole that big, one could chuck a barrelled action without having to remove the barrell, in some cases making a project easier and quicker.
Another thing would be a variable speed control. This helps with harmonics as going to a slower speed or a quicker speed on your RPMS will usally eliminate chatter.
Generally, anything over about a 2 horspower lathe is going to require 3 phase power. Although an added expense, I'll probably go with just for the extra power it provides. Some lathes wont go in reverse without 3 phase power.
As for the tool post, I d go with one of the quick change varietys,
and stock up on the indexable carbide cutters and tool holders.
Also, a digital readout is the only way to go.

The milling machine...a definate must have for the serious gunsmith. I'm going with a Series 1 Bridgeport with power feed on all axis'. Im getting the hydraulic quick change tool bar feature, but like I said, I'm, spoiled. Most of the other bridgeport stlye machines are ok, and Bridgeports are a bit more expensive than some of their take-offs. One must have the digital readout on this machine, if you can only afford one readout, I would put it on the milling machine. For porting barrells or drilling and tapping scope mounts, you will have less than an .0005 error with most readouts. For porting , it will make your time much less and you will have professional results . I have seen a few examples of porting , and one hole that is off 15 thousands or so is noticable and will trash out the whole look.
If one wants to build guns than one would need an indexing head. It also helps to do various styles of porting. One just chucks up the whole action and spins the whole assembly in the chuck. It is a must for accurate results.

A drill press would be good for many jobs not requiring a miiling machine and would be quicker to set up. Another must is a pedestal grinder and for shaping of parts and a disk sander is a definate asset.

Another thing to remember is that a machine tool , if taken care of properly will long outlast you. It is better to get the best machine that you can afford, because in this trade you get what you pay for. If your gonna use it for 50 years or so, why not get the best ?

Something to remember is that one needs a good source and understanding of heat treating. A friend of mine is a professional knifesmith and I use his computer controlled furnace for the actions and other parts that need treating.This must be done correctly to prevent catastrophic failures from occuring, along with the laiblity that comes with it if something that you make fails and hurts somebody.

One can jump into gunsmithing as deep as he wants to. It is a fact that good gunsmith are getting harder and harder to find ,not many youngsters are picking up the trade. It can be very rewarding both financially and mentally.

January 6, 2002, 01:45 AM

Im posting this here becaus for some reason my e-mail isnt working quite right. I can get it, I just cant send it.

In response to your questions;

Glad to be of help. One disadvantage to a belt drive vs. a gear drive is
that the belt drive tends to "slip" if you are doing heavy machining. If
you are running a cemented carbide insert into some good metal, say 4140,
the reduction in RPM's could cause your bit to break as carbides are
somewhat brittle and need a constant speed. Chances are, if you are doing
gunsmithing, that probably doesn't qualify as "heavy " machining. If you can
get a good deal on a belt drive, get it. Another disadvantage is that on an
older lathe, you actually have to change the belt drive over to different
pulleys for various speeds whereas the gear drives are changed by changing
levers into different positions.

As for the mills, a Sharp, Enco or Lagun mill would be more than adequate
for the job, with a lot less money spent on them. They are all takoffs of
the Bridgeort. Pretty much everything is made in Taiwan now. The Grizzlies
don't seem be built as "heavy" as a Sharp or an Enco.

The mill drill combo's will do if you cant get anything else, but they are
not as precise as a milling machine and they are not as rigid. It's
basically a drill press that can take small milling cutters, with a moveable
table. They are better than nothing, but if you have ever used a good mill
you probably wont be too satisfied with them.

As I stated , I'm spoiled by the tools I use everyday.Once you are using to
driving a Cadillac its hard to go back to a VW .

Let me know how it goes. If ya have any more questions just e mail e.

Uncle Buck
January 23, 2010, 09:12 AM
What ever you decide to go with, make sure it is quality. My step dad wanted to do some machining (nothing heavy, just small stuff around the farm and because he liked to). He went cheap (Harbor Freight Cheap) and ended up having to replace a lot of the tools.

Quality will cost you more upfront, but it will not break the bank if you do not have to replace it over and over again.

Good quality vises, chucks, measuring equipment, etc are important. You can pick up a few good quality gauges (Run out, concentric, depth), micrometers, dial calipers, cutting tools at different pawn shops if you look often enough. Leave your name and number with them and they will usually call.

We finally talked him into getting the tools made by Brown and Starrett.

LongRifles, Inc.
January 23, 2010, 06:14 PM
Here's mine!