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Which Lathe or Mill should I get? Help me machinists!!!

12549 Views 62 Replies 18 Participants Last post by  lordjw
I am currently looking at buying a lathe. I am interested in making wheels, axles, spacers, chassis parts, and other assorted parts for slot cars and hobbies.

Few questions:

1. My budget is approx $400.00 US, new or used.
2. Should I get a lathe/mill unit that has both? LATHE/MILL
3. Speaking of Harbor Freight, the $299.00 MICRO LATHE it any good? I know they sell cheap stuff, but does this also apply to their machinery?
4. I have been looking on eBay, the used Sherline and Unimat models appear reasonable, opinions? The Unimat "Cool Tool" looks cheap and plastic, but the older ones look accurate and sturdy.

Any thoughts, opinions, etc is appreciated.

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Here's my two cents. Take with a grain of salt; I'm an adult apprentice 3/4 through my apprenticeship.

I have heard some horror stories of Chinese lathes - casting sand in gearboxes, motors that die quickly, etc. If you can buy one locally with a warranty, and a lot of places sell the Chinese lathes, do so, even if you have to pay a bit more. Realise (if you haven't already) that there are a handful of Asian manufacturers that sell these things, and a lot of importers (HF is one) who buy them and put their name tag on it. You're taking a big gamble buying from Harbor Freight because if you have to send it back it's going to be costly. This is not to slag HF, but there's a reason they can sell a lathe for $300. By the way, even with the exchange rate figured in, we pay more than double that for that same lathe here in NZ.

My advice is to keep your eye out for a good used benchtop lathe. I have never touched a Sherline, but I've never heard a bad word said about them, and if they're good enough for the King Of Aftermarket Wheels, well... Their accessories range is enormous, and their founder Joe Martin has written a book - title has the words "Tabletop Machining" in it (it's out in the shed...). I highly recommend the book - he covers all the basics. There's lots of stuff about his own product, of course, but he never gets preachy. Even gives plans for some small projects.

I've seen a small early Unimat - these are quite limited by size and rigidity, but if all you want to do is make bushings and wheels, I'm sure it would be plenty. The newer mini Unimats look quite plasticky and toylike, probably not suitable, but I've never used one.

I've recently bought an Emco Compact 8 - probably 25 years old, been run hard and put away wet. I'm in the process of replacing some of the bits on it (new toolpost, etc) and haven't made any chips yet, but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I look at it.

I'd love to have a nice Myford, but even used ones are out of my price range (3-4 weeks' pay). If you can find one that's been taken care of and you can afford it, by all means jump on it, but they don't come around often.

Realize that if you buy a used European/British/American lathe, you'll get most of what you paid for back if you decide to sell (more if you are clever). If you wish to upgrade from your Asian lathe, you'll be competing with new Asian lathes.

Some resources - - lots of spam, but good stuff too. - great magazines!

Good luck!
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I would buys Sherline, TAIG, or used, BUT my buddy Tom bought a HF and it was a good. I am told it is a crap shoot. Buy it at a local store and you won't have to pay shipping. HF will ship large items to the local store and you don't have to pay shipping.

I have a TAIG mill and lathe and mainly mill plastic. Remember you will spend more on attachments than on the machine - look at Sherline then at HF on attachments. Make sure you get a machine with lots of attachments available. Grizzly sells machines from the same factory as HF gets their machines. Difference? What they demand of the manufacturer.

My TAIG has moved up slightly in value. Many attachments can be adapted to any machine. The attachment I find to me VERY important is the milling vise.

Ddyke, you beat me to the punch. My next question was what do you guys think about the TAIG MICRO LATHE II ? It gets great reviews by it's owners, and there are a ton of personal websites that promote them. I've yet to hear anything bad about them.
The bad about a Taig?


The way the motor hooks to the board on the lathe - an easy fix.
Little explanation about what things do.

The cheaper Jacob's chucks.


One bad electrical connection. I fixed it myself.
The stupid vise. They ought to give it away with each sale until they are gone.

The thing has been faultless otherwise.

The Best thing?

Nick Carter's website for Taigs. He is a dealer. If you buy a TAIG then buy from him all your parts and the machine unless the factory gives a super package. His advice has always been correct. He even tells you when another brand's parts work.

Some lathe/mill accessories are universal. My new milling vise will come from ENCO.

I got the cutting tools from Harbor Freight and they worked better on some things than the TAIG originals.
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The Taig, although, being a robust machine for it's size, and, about the same price as the 7x10, is, about only 20% as much value as the 7x10.

The Taig, has no Swiveling Topslide. This alone, would make me not even consider the Taig. Also, it has no power feed to the saddle, nor, any gearbox type feature which are standard on the 7x10. Nor, a lever to disconnect the saddle from the leadscrew (something I sorely miss on my sherline) which is also standard on the 7x10

TheTaig is more like a Skateboard than a Vespa in comparison. It's basicaly a toy, a very robust toy, but, considering it's price, still very much a toy in value comparison to the 7x10.

The 7x10, is basically a big lathe shrunk down, the Taig, is a big lathe shrunk down, and, all the most important features removed, but, selling for the same price. So, really not much of a decision here on which one I would buy.
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hi guy,s, this is getting to be an absorbing topic! you can ask a hundred guy,s about lathes and you,ll get a hundred answers, everybody has their favouite since they have been around since ancient times egyptian i believe that is a lot of answers. my own clark,s model was subject of an introductory offer @ 625.00 inc delivary and very heavyso i wont be moving it any time soon. i think that if you (like me) are starting from scratch you need to consider buget and cost of ancilliary fittings. i agree , buying the best and the most accurate will seriously dent your wallet but you will be able to tackle most jobs with confidence.don,t even think about axles, they are ground, and that is a whole new ball game, and can wreck your lathe bed and investment if not kepy clinicly clean. i use a tool turret on the tail stock when making wheels, saves wasting loads of time changing cutting tools when working. also for the same reasons stay clear of brass,it tends to chip when being cut and the chips if not cleaned will ruin the slides. bwa will probably challenge that statement. get the book by l. h. sparey "the amateur,s lathe and it will open up a whole world of possilbilities making your own fitments springs cutting threads etc.all in all i,d say that the lathe is one of the best investments i,ve made. "chronos" engineering of st.albans is a most helpful company and will give advice if asked and is a place to purchase types of metal in smaller quantities. i use aircraft grade ally for wheels as i find i can get a good finish.don,t expect to jump on your new aquisition and expect to produce wheels to the accuracy of bwa in an afternoon, seriously guys it takes years!do,nt think i had an apprentiseship in engineering i am self taught over the last twenty years and have made mistakes as i went, but all i can ask you to do is practice,practice,practice regards peterjon.
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QUOTE bwa will probably challenge that statement
Er, why, keeping your equipment (ANY equipment) clean is absolute top priority for long life and accuracy.

I built extra guards and shields to keep the crap out of the ways and slides on my Myford.

Some aluminums will chip just as well as brass, and, some give off dust like swarf that is even worse than the brass chips.

QUOTE and expect to produce wheels to the accuracy of bwa in an afternoon

I wouldn't expect to produce that kind of accuracy myself. Other than the prototypes I make myself, all my wheels are done on a half million dollar CNC turning center in the same shop that produces parts for Boeing 777s and the new 787. So, not only aircraft grade material in my wheels, also aircraft grade machining.
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I'm leaning towards a gently used lathe or a new Harbor Freight 7x10. The Taig is OK but the website is misleading.
QUOTE I wouldn't expect to produce that kind of accuracy myself

QUOTE all my wheels are done on a half million dollar CNC turning center

Very practical comments.

Some items are still more cost effective and better quality to buy off the shelf…no need to re-invent the wheel each time, just modify it to custom suit the application in some instances.

The sky (read wallet) is the limit to what you want to achieve and expect with these machines, achieve and expect all comes down to $$.

My only concern is of what others have said about the reputation of that lathe supplier. A reputable supplier will stand by the equipment they sell regardless of where they are made.

Your best first experience with a lathe is to watch somebody else use one and explain the whole principle and terminology. Then read some of the books already mentioned and it will make more sense.

The 7X10 is a good start!
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I just got myself the 7x10 or here its name is Einhell 3000. Looks good and tolerances are good. Very nice lathe. I am in the process of removing very thick storage grease and will oil the components with synthetic oil. Any comments about which oil to use?


hi lordjw, i use multicut soluble oil from chronos in st albans i usually buy 5 litre plastic container. also o complete range of fluids all with added inhibitors every thing you need to keep the lathe whatever it,s origin in tip top order. regards peterjon.
hi bwa, way to go allan bet there is no run-out. regards peterjon
Here's a link to the 7x10 Yahoo group - didn't look through it but I've been on a couple of others and people there are very helpful.

Good luck!

I spent the day watching my (employer's) milling centre go back and forth die-sinking a vacuum injection mould at .75mm per pass.
I would try and spend a little more and get the 12 if you can spend a little more. These machines have all the right bits to make a good lathe BUT need some setting up to do good work. Things like the Myford are assembled by people that know what they are building the Chinese ones are just put together. But you pay for all the hand assembly,by about twice as much even for a second hand Myford.
Go to this site, a lot of good reading here.
This link will take you to a very good comparision chart of different mini lathes.
Also mini mills are also covered.
These are good people to deal with.
Good Luck,
QUOTE The little geezer doesn't even HAVE a crosslide.

Mine has a crosslide? Or are we working on a different definition?
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Yes, brain wasn't in gear. I meant swiveling Top Slide. Really important if you wnat to machine anything other than right angles, such as cones and tapers.

This really comes in handy when making wheels. Well, nice scale ones anyway.
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My Peatol(Taig) has a swivelling topslide, to which I bolt a little contraption which I made from a fax machine and an old mini-drill. I use it to mill out wheel spokes, etc. It has done everything from 1/43 rd scale to 1/12th. I also use Cike Carter's indexing attachment which was so cheap it was crazy. Buy your Taig (Peatol) belts from him too, it's cheaper than the English supplier.
There's no better lathe at any price and I've tried most over a 40 year career as a professional modelmaker. I would say, however that if you can find a cheap Unimat SL90 for drilling and light milling duties, grab one.
Leave the Unimat 3 alone, they have a tendency to cracked beds and drive belt breakage.

The Unimat PC was the biggest pile of sh** ever invented.

The Simat (Brian Wexler, Norfolk) was a very useful modernisation of the 2 1/4" Flexispeed and mine did some serious work, but I needed more portability. I swapped my Unimat PC crap-heap for the Peatol with a load of extras and the fool gave me money my way too!!
I've never looked back. I made some nice brass and steel locking knobs for the clamp screws, but frankly they got in my way so I happily went back to an Allen bit in a cheapo rachet screwdriver. Less elegant , but more practical. I'll be putting some wheel pics up soon to show what you can do with this wonderful little tool.

Good luck.
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QUOTE TheTaig is more like a Skateboard than a Vespa in comparison
Al has summed it up here!

C/S you may be very happy with your Taig,BUT IMO it is not a lathe,like the Clisby it is very toy like especially if you have used a propery lathe.
QUOTE (ClubSpecial @ 12 Apr 2009, 14:52) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>The Unimat PC was the biggest pile of sh** ever invented.

Good luck.

Interesting point of view - mine will hold a couple of 10ths - good enough for my home-grown skills. Fitted with a QC toolpost and carbide insert tools, it will tackle anything that I have had to do, turning-wise, for slot cars. Mine also came with a milling attachment which was really not rigid enough for any real work so it sits as a reserve in case the motor ever goes south. Someday I may even crank up the CNC bits that came with it.

I know that Taig does a very highly regarded mill (I plan to add one as a CNC tools when the bank account permits) and I am sure that their lathe is also a robust and practical tool but I find the power feed and large collet capacity of the Unimat to be very useful

The "POS" judgment is also at variance with the view of a rather well respected compendium of lathe lore:

Lathes UK

-An amateur's view.

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