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Atlas vs the others

Discussion in 'ATLAS & CRAFTSMAN MACHINES' started by macher, Dec 19, 2012.

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  1. macher

    macher Brass

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    i have started looking for a small bench lathe for my garage shop. I am looking for a 10 or 12 inch machine. The comments I see on some web sites don't hold the Atlas in very high esteem. Based on what I see an Atlas is not much good for anything. Is this a "MAC vs. PC" type of argument or is there some basis to what I have read. We had South Bend, Logan and Sheldon in our college shop. The South Bend and Logan worked good, but we always seemed to have problems with the Sheldon.

    I will primarily be making parts for my antique woodworking tools, wood and metal screws, and some other small parts for basket handles.
     
  2. GaryK

    GaryK In Memory Rest In Peace

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    I had an Atlas for 25 years and it's fine for making small part like you are talking about. I have used it for metal as well as wood. I have threaded a lot of rifle barrels as well as
    made some steam engines.

    It is true that the Atlas is at the bottom end of the 10"-12" market, but it was meant as a economical lathe sold by Sears and not for a production environment.

    That's my 2 cents anyway.
     
  3. Bill Gruby

    Bill Gruby Global Moderator Staff Member Supporter Active Member Director

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    I have seen and heard all the arguments on Atlas. Most are biased to say the least. Yes they have their limitations, the biggest of which is the operator himself and what he believes the lathe can do. Don't sell it short, go for it, the Atlas will serve you well for what you wirh to do.

    "Billy G" :))
     
  4. eweissman

    eweissman Brass

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    the most serious criticisms i have heard about some atlas lathes seem to regard the back gears / some other gears in the gear train being made of zamak (sp?) and breaking easily. there are also later atlas branded lathes which i believe were made by clausing and seem to be of a higher caliber. i think they also possibly didnt have the highest quality spindle bearings, and the ways are often plain ways vs the prismatic ways you see on some higher end lathes. still probably better than most any of the chinese stuff you'll find new, and probably cheaper for a 10 or 12 in swing model. i second the line about the operator being the most important component. one big point in the favor of the atlas lathes is that there seem to be a lot of cheap parts out there for them. i have a southbend 9 and it seems like parts are very expensive for them. hope that helps.
     
  5. Dranreb

    Dranreb Active User Supporter Active Member

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    Have to agree with what has been said so far, if you go for a 10" the QCGB is essential, as the lead screw reversing box on the change geared models can be problematic.

    The 10" ones are cheap enough to buy in good condition, light enough to move easily, but I have found they need to be very rigidly mounted for best results (I am waiting for my new concrete base to cure as I write) and they look so nice!

    As to the Zamak, look up the properties compared to cast iron, it isn't as puny as some would have us believe, chip damage can bad sometimes though.

    Bernard
     
  6. pdentrem

    pdentrem Active User Active Member

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    I remember seeing these lathes in many a service shop back in the 60s and 70s. As most do not need a 1440 lathe, these smaller but very useful lathes were everywhere, that is why complete lathes and parts are so common today on the used market. Same with Southbend, they are both more common then most, though SBs are more expensive!

    I used my Atlas for everything that I needed to do. I only broke the two gears inside the traversing case, but I think that they were damaged earlier as the replacements lasted the next 15 plus years. Most issues with broken parts etc are related to the operator.
    Pierre
     
  7. jgedde

    jgedde Active User Supporter Active Member

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    I figure I'd chime in as an opposing view - as a former Atlas owner. It's long since sold and I've never missed it - not even once.

    If you're used to South Bends and Logans you'll likely be unhappy with the Atlas. It's a very light duty machine with a lot of weaknesses. Mainly rigidity. Parting off can be problematic with the Atlas. Also, the change gears and half nut lever trunions are Zamak. They break easily. Yes Zamak has many properties similar to cast iron, including its poor performance with regard to operating in tension.

    Also, the lack of zero set dials and the VERY small dial markings are a an issue too. There are retrofit kits to get around this however.

    Stick with somehting that has more beef and V-ways and you'll be better off in the long run. Mind you, the Atlas does have capability, especially if you're a seasoned machinist, but you'd do better spending a few extra bucks (if possible) to get a SB (especially the "heavy" models), Logan, Clausing, etc.

    BTW, don't even consider an Atlas w/o a quick change gearbox. I never single point threaded for many years knowing I'd have to fight with the gears...

    John
     
  8. AR1911

    AR1911 Active User Active Member

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    +1 on jgedde's comments.
    I've had several 10" Atlas lathes, don't have any of them now. I do have a Southbend 9" and a Enco 10", both are keepers.
    Logan, South Bend would be my first choice in older US-made.
    The Encos and Jet's made in the 1980s are plentiful and were taiwan-sourced, not China. Apparently capitalism makes a difference.

    The smaller Atlas 618 is a different matter. In that scale, the drawbacks - zamak and flat ways - are less of an issue.
     
  9. tripletap3

    tripletap3 Active User Supporter Active Member

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    \

    I agree. I have had several Atlas lathes and the only problem with Zamak was caused by people. Lack of lube, crashing, and even I damaged one by dropping it.
     
  10. AR1911

    AR1911 Active User Active Member

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    Sure, but try to find an Atlas without a cracked rack gear casting.
    Or one of the early ones with the reversing box on the leadscrew, made entirely of zamak. Whole assemblies are precious, parts are scarce.
    And I've thrown away Zamak gears that were worn to sharp points. Doesn't happen with iron gears.
    Zamak has a purpose, and that is fast, low-cost production.
     
  11. tripletap3

    tripletap3 Active User Supporter Active Member

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    I agree with that too. The Atlas lathes were designed in a way that made it affordable to the average Joe who otherwise would have never been able to own a "personal" machine tool. I imagine that even the price of one in 1950 was a far stretch for the average guy and you would have to think long and hard before spending that amount of money for a hobby tool. Still if the machine has been cared for it will last it's new owner a very long time. Everything wears out eventually. I’m not real happy about having to buy a new Asian lathe but one of the reasons I decided to buy a new lathe was I have been down the road of old machinery twice. I was given my first Atlas 6" and spent a ton "fixing it up" more than I would have if I had just paid a premium for a decent one. It was nice when it was done but I wanted more so I bought a better 10" and made that mistake again when I had to buy the missing accessories. Opinion ALERT:::: There are Atlas / South Bend machines out there that are in very good ready to use condition with all the tooling and accessories but they are VERY few and far between and generally require money or luck, patience and a drive. I know some guys here have very nice older machines but I don't think that is easy to find anymore.
     
  12. pdentrem

    pdentrem Active User Active Member

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    Yeap, Microsoft vs Mac, Ford vs Gm:))
     
  13. Alan Douglas

    Alan Douglas Active User Active Member

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    I owned a small Atlas for a day; I thought it would be a step up from my Unimat but I was wrong. The main thing I remember was the planetary gearbox made of pot metal; it had a lot of play in the gears and rattled like a Tin Lizzie.

    My 11" Logan needed some work but I've been much happier with that.
     
  14. wa5cab

    wa5cab Global Moderator Staff Member Supporter Active Member Director

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    I think that you're right, Pierre. I have an Atlas 3996 with all of the accessories except three or four. I bought it new and wouldn't trade it for anything that you could find today, new or used. I've never broken anything on it and don't ever expect to.

    On the Atlas versus Clausing comment, Clausing didn't make Atlas lathes. Atlas bought Clausing circa 1950 and continued both product lines. The company name was later changed to Clausing (rights to which Atlas still owned) because of some other areas that Clausing had a name in, not small lathes. My 1980 3996 nameplate still says Atlas, with Clausing in small print.

    Zamak is not pot metal. Although I do agree that Atlas made a few parts of Zamak that they shouldn't have. Not the gears though.

    I never before heard the one about poor quality bearings. The early Atlas machines used line bored split babit bearings, which was common practice at the time on most low speed machinery or all sizes from small lathes to huge generators. When they began to offer tapered roller bearing spindles circa 1938, the only brand ever used was Timken.

    Robert D
     
  15. AR1911

    AR1911 Active User Active Member

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    That 3996 was the best of the breed, with 1/2" ways instead of 3/8". Those go for premium prices, and I would not turn one down.

    On bearings, Atlas did use Timken, but they used standard bearings, equivalent to automotive grade, where Logan and others used precision grades - class 3 IIRC - at a much higher cost.
     
  16. atwatterkent

    atwatterkent Active User Active Member

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    My dad who has been a machinist for over 60 years has an Atlas MK6 lathe, which still looks like brand new, for the last 30 comes over to use my 10" SB for threading and tapering and fine finish work.
     
  17. Newmetalmark

    Newmetalmark Active User Active Member

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    I have an old Atlas TH42 without the QC and it can be tedious to change the gears for threading. But as a hobbyist machine, it does everything I ask of it, and I think it's a great machine to learn on. Yeah yeah, flat ways, not real stiff, small dials, can't cut A2 fast, can't hold .0005 etc, etc, quitcher cryin' they are good machines. Affordable and user friendly.
    And dont mistake zamak for pot metal. It's Zinc Aluminum MAgneseum and Kupfer (German for copper) They cast the parts by injecting it into dies at high pressure producing finished parts , that's how they made so many lathes at low prices.
    "Pot metal" usually has just about anything with a realtively low melting point-including lead- in it and its just cast and trimmed, like lamps, old toys etc.

    But really, I've learned a lot on my Atlas and now I'm ready to move to a bigger and heavier lathe with confidence. And that's why I'm using my Atlas to restore a Clausing 12" I bought. ;-)
     
  18. Alan Douglas

    Alan Douglas Active User Active Member

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    "Pot metal," as I've always seen the term used, could be many alloys, but was not "anything they threw into the pot." Some of the 1920s alloys were found to have poor long-term stability, from corrosion in the grain boundaries. I've seen my share of piano action parts and radio parts that have swelled and cracked, many within a few years of being made. I have no doubt that Zamak was one of the improved alloys, but I don't think it should be used as a generic term for all casting alloys, unless it really was universally used. That I don't know.
     
  19. jgedde

    jgedde Active User Supporter Active Member

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    Zamak is an alloy of zinc and aluminum with a teensy weensy bit of magnesium and sometimes copper. It is basically a high grade "pot metal" using ultra-pure zinc to prevent "pest", casting inclusions and voids. Problem is, while it has good wear characteristics, it isn't very strong in tension and becomes brittle with time due to a reaction with hydrogen (the exact chemistry eludes me at the moment).

    Zamak is still an active product and is available in several "flavors."

    John
     
  20. Tony Wells

    Tony Wells Administrator Staff Member Administrator Active Member Director

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    We're sort of derailing this thread into the metallurgy of Zamak, but it's part of the basis for the argument against Atlas, so it is in a way pertinent. This is an enlightening read on Zamak:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zamak
     
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