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Buying a Used Machine - What to look for so you get a good one.

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Richard King 2

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#1
Hi everyone,

I have been getting asked all the time on " Rich I am finding machines to buy, but how can I figure if it's a good used machine and how to discover if the machine I want to look at is a good one?"

As many of you know, I am a professional Machine Rebuilder and have a lot of "tricks of the trade" I like to share. Next time your considering buying a used machine remember the old saying. "Don't assume anything, prove it". In my 50+ years of being a detective and being around a few good used machine dealers and several bad ones. Here are some simple things to look for.

If the machine is not connected and can be run be suspicious there is a reason the owner does not want to run it. Buying a machine and not running it is like buying a used car and not taking it for a test ride.

If you find a machine on Craigslist or Ebay that is on the other side of the country do not believe what is told to you. I have seen people buy a machine that way and many times they get screwed over. One friend I know who is no dummy and owns a multi-million dollar company bought a HBM from a small company in Ohio by only talking to the owner and seeing photo's via email. He sent me pictures and I told him to fly there and see the machine run or hire me or a local machinery rebuilder to go (fly for me) to inspect it. He didn't and said "the guy sounds honest". Bad mistake as I visited the fellow who is near Tulsa OK a few months later and saw the bargain he bought.

It had birds nests inside the electrical cabinet, a hand brushed over dirt paint job that was shinny in email pictures, The electrical pendant was held up with a bungee cord, the machine had to have been sitting in an unheated building for years as everything looked terrible.

He could have spent $300.00 for a coach ticket to fly up and look at it. He didn't and paid $12,500.00 for the machine, another $1000.00 to have riggers load it and $5000.00 to ship it to Oklahoma. He ended up scrapping it. So PLEASE do not buy anything with out looking at it first.

Another friend bought a Bridgeport Mill from a rebuilder who advertised it on another forum and my friend who again is no dummy trusted the guy he met in a forum who asked for a cahiers check and when my friend got in inside his shop and hooked it up...it rattled ...discovering the spindle bearings were in upside down. Horror stories because they were to cheap to go look at it buy paying $300.00 for a coach ticket. I am sure many can tell of how they got a deal and never had a problem, but do you want to take that chance?

If you can go and look at the machine, before turning it one and it has a good paint job look at the Allen screws and see if the paint covers dirt inside the hex wrench hole, look for back lash in the screws, try to slide a feeler gage in under the way wipers, open and smell inside the electrical cabinets. If it smells burnt, walk away.
On a lathe it is so simple to crank the saddle down to the tail stock end and take a flashlight and look at the gear rack. under the headstock the rack is new as it is never worn there and then look at the gear teeth down toward the middle where the saddle is used 90% of the time, if the teeth there are sharp and worn open, walk away. Or be aware the machine is worn a lot. Look if the machine or shop is clean, if the machine is a mess and the area around it is....think about the used car again....want to buy a car that is dirty and full of trash? I will add some more info later and hope others will contribute so everyone can benefit from our experience. Have a great weekend. Rich
 
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eeler1

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#2
Beware new paint on old machines!!!
 

P. Waller

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#3
If the machine is not connected and can be run be suspicious there is a reason the owner does not want to run it.
Often perfectly good machines are simply replaced with faster machines of a more modern design, selling perfectly good old manual machines is difficult at best and often not possible so they go to the scrap yard.
 

GoceKU

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#4
Very good advice Rich, I as a newbie when buying my first lathe i looked at couple of old leather belt machines on which i passed simply because they were worn out, but then i found the one i own now is also very worn but still has lot of life in it, and still produces very precise parts and the power is awesome, when i first went to look and test it out, i brought a round piece diameter 30 mm 4140, the machinist who was selling the lathe said what you going to do with that, pick your teeth, you need a bigger piece to see what a real lathe will do, so i help him lift this 500mm diameter big piece and chuck it up and he dial in an 9 mm depth of cut and engage the feed, the lathe cue it up at only 40%. At the time if i know your advice i would save myself some time and wouldn't have had to redo the entire electrical, thankfully i was able to do it myself and had the parts already so it did not cost me anyting, here is a link you can see how horible my lathe looked when i went to look at it: https://www.hobby-machinist.com/threads/new-member-from-kumanovo-macedonia-europe.60652/
DSC_0028.JPG
 

C-Bag

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#5
While all the aforementioned info is great the analogy of buying a car is very appropriate IMHO. The #1 thing for me is don't get buyers fever that blinds me to problems that if I'd had not gotten so carried away I would have seen. I always start off with the question of why are you getting rid of it? That gives me time and distance to start communication and breaks the ice.

And that there are a ton of variables that depend on your skill set. Like the electrical GoceKu found was not a hindrance to him(but would be for me) and would probably be a good way to get the price down. Some folks get wowed by shiny paint and very clean, but it's like when I go to buy a used car and the engine is steam cleaned and new paint. That gets my spidey sense tingling and want to know what they are hiding.

If I'm not familiar with a machine it's always a great idea to do a search to get an idea of prices, parts availability and if there's common problems.

My experience so far is as long as I have done my homework I've not gotten hurt and if it dissapeared while I was getting it together I figure it wasn't meant to be.
 

cg285

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#6
Often perfectly good machines are simply replaced with faster machines of a more modern design, selling perfectly good old manual machines is difficult at best and often not possible so they go to the scrap yard.
yep. i aquired an okamoto automatic surface grinder, winslow exactamatic drill sharpener and a microvue comparator that way - before the scrap yard
 

Bob Korves

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Even if you are a novice, when you go to look at a used machine, have these two words on the tip of your tongue -- Show me.

Show me that all the speeds and feeds work, show me the motor running at all speeds. Show me the inside of the headstock. Let's cut some test parts... When you get a negative reply to any of those demands, simply say that now we are talking scrap metal, and the current value of scrap metal is $$ per ton, owner delivered. Prove to me that this is a fully functioning machine, and not scrap metal.

You can of course test it yourself, if the seller agrees and makes the machine operational.

I agree completely with Richard: DON"T PAY GOOD WORKING MACHINE PRICES FOR SCRAP METAL!
 

bhigdog

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OTOH it's sometimes possible to snag a perfectly sound machine that has poor cosmetics and needs a bit of TLC for near scrap prices. Don't be dazzled by shiny looks. Old quality American machines were made to last a life time and usually wore out a couple of generations of users before they did...............Bob
 

markba633csi

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#9
Sometimes the value of the parts exceeds the value of the machine as a whole- I find the rise of Ebay has made things a bit more challenging in that regard- if the seller can't get what he wants for the whole machine he'll just part it out- makes buying a decent whole machine for a decent price more difficult. I found this out myself recently when buying an Atlas 12" lathe, but I sensed the seller really didn't want to go to the trouble of breaking down the lathe (which was pretty greasy) so I came away with a pretty good deal
Mark
 

Richard King 2

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Thanks everyone for contributing. That's why this forum is so great. We have hobbyists and professionals contributing.

A few more important thing to look at is:
Does the owner have the machine sitting on leveling pads under the leveling feet? I have a friend in California who bought a Revitt lathe sitting on 4 x 4's for 30 years. Before he knew it was suppose to be sitting on the built in 3 - points in the base. The machine was cutting a taper. He moved the 4 x 4's so they were under the 3 points, as one originally was not and it is now cutting straight.

When you can always read the service manual for the machine so you level / align the bed the way the factory tells you too. If the machine seller has the manuals I would be more inclined to buy that machine. Another way to get the value of the machine is to look under the "sold" items on Ebay. If it is more of a professional model you can put an "wanted" ad on Surplusrecord.com and machinetools.com for free. You will get quotes from machinery dealers nationwide. Remember dealers will deal with you. Normally the expect another dealer will expect a 10 % machinery dealers discount.

Another important thing to consider when buying a used machine, can the owner load the machine onto your truck or trailer? If You buy one and need to ship it cross country via a freight company or LTL trucker. Be sure to say you want an air ride and the machine has to be tarped

I look for a trucking company that uses sliding tarp Conestoga trailers as they load faster then the old type flatbed. If you ever need help with this please message me. Rich
 

C-Bag

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DON"T PAY GOOD WORKING MACHINE PRICES FOR SCRAP METAL!
THAT could have been the name of this thread :) I love the fact there are so many here keeping these old machines from being scrapped along with the leader of the pack Richard King. With it the knowledge to use, maintain, repair and rebuild. But there are so many different motives outside preying on the good motives. But we tend to share our crazy scores but not our pigs in a poke. Cjtoombs thread on his 1875 Ames planer will teach a lot how that same machine went from working price to a price where the dedicated like he, can afford to restore a piece of history. But it took a lot of patience and skill on his part.

eBay has helped and hindered like Mark's example of his lathe. I've been threatened more than once with the "well, I could get more for it if I parted it out". My reaction has been "don't threaten me with a good time" as more often than not they fold. We both know what the thing is worth. I because I've done my homework and he because he knows the major amount of work he's going to put out for his mistake of getting into the machine in the first place. And there is no guarantee he's not going expend a bunch of effort and get a fraction in return and still going to be stuck with a frame he can't get rid of. I hate to dicker so if it's a fair price I never try to screw the price down. But I always go in with I'm just shopping and am prepared to walk no matter how the seller wants to make me feel guilty for "wasting his time".

When I was young I always drove fixer uppers and got adept at spotting those that could drive while I fixed what came up. My machines have followed that rule. Not perfect, not collectors machines, low prices because they were not perfect, but not so bad they couldn't be fixed and their problems were in the realm of what I could repair. It can be a tricky hodgepodge of price vs condition vs present utility.
 

Bob Korves

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#12
THAT could have been the name of this thread :) I love the fact there are so many here keeping these old machines from being scrapped along with the leader of the pack Richard King. With it the knowledge to use, maintain, repair and rebuild. But there are so many different motives outside preying on the good motives. But we tend to share our crazy scores but not our pigs in a poke. Cjtoombs thread on his 1875 Ames planer will teach a lot how that same machine went from working price to a price where the dedicated like he, can afford to restore a piece of history. But it took a lot of patience and skill on his part.

eBay has helped and hindered like Mark's example of his lathe. I've been threatened more than once with the "well, I could get more for it if I parted it out". My reaction has been "don't threaten me with a good time" as more often than not they fold. We both know what the thing is worth. I because I've done my homework and he because he knows the major amount of work he's going to put out for his mistake of getting into the machine in the first place. And there is no guarantee he's not going expend a bunch of effort and get a fraction in return and still going to be stuck with a frame he can't get rid of. I hate to dicker so if it's a fair price I never try to screw the price down. But I always go in with I'm just shopping and am prepared to walk no matter how the seller wants to make me feel guilty for "wasting his time".

When I was young I always drove fixer uppers and got adept at spotting those that could drive while I fixed what came up. My machines have followed that rule. Not perfect, not collectors machines, low prices because they were not perfect, but not so bad they couldn't be fixed and their problems were in the realm of what I could repair. It can be a tricky hodgepodge of price vs condition vs present utility.
Well said, C-bag!
 

ddickey

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#13
A nice video on how to check a lathe for accuracy and/or wear.
 

Ken from ontario

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#14

cascao

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#15
A dial indicator is your best friend. Do not rely only in your eyes.
 
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