Is an old domestic lathe worth the same as a new import lathe?

tyronejk

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Around where I live outside of Atlanta, I frequently find old lathes on Craigslist listed for about the same as new import lathe (using PrecisionMatthews lathes as a reference, since they're supposedly one of the good import lathes). The lathes I'm looking at are around 10"-12" by 20"-28".

I see a lot of guys find old South Bends and the like for $600-800 up north, so I'm not sure if $2500 for an old South Bend (and most don't seem to come with much tooling) is worth it. I have a couple of years of experience machining as a hobby, so it's not enough to be able to restore a really beat-up machine and I'd like to get started making parts rather than turning the lathe itself into a project.

So for roughly the same cost, would you recommend sticking with old iron or new chinesium? I'd be using the machine for hobby projects. 90% of it will probably be aluminum <2" diameter and tolerances of +/- 1 thou is probably sufficient.
 

Dave Paine

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I think many of us have wrestled with this question or a similar question of old domestic iron vs used import iron. I wrestled with the latter.

I was looking to get my first metal lathe around 2014. I had been looking at various lathes on Craigslist. I had seen a Grizzly G9249 about 2 hrs drive but did not go and look at this. I am also a hobbyist. I was expecting to be working with mostly aluminium, some steel, and perhaps some operations with wood which were giving me issues on my wood lathe such as drilling deep holes.

I purchased a well used Southbend Heavy 10 in May 2014, about 1 1/2hr drive. I spent the time to clean it up from the decades of grease and compressed air having forced chips and dirt into every crevice. I spent a good month cleaning this up. It only had a 6in scroll chuck and lantern style tool post. Very little tooling.

I replaced the felts in the saddle when I had this apart. I replaced the bearings in the QCGB when I had this apart. I cut off the old flat belt and replaced with flat nylon/rubber belt. I added a Phase II QCTP.

I replaced the single phase motor with 3 phase motor and VFD. By October 2014 I was beginning to appreciate features which I desired in a lathe, such as DRO and a flat top compound which was easy to mount a magnetic base. I also found the short bed to be too short from some of the wood drilling I wanted to perform.

I started looking around again. I found another used Grizzly G9249 about 15 mins drive which had DRO already installed, an Adjust-Tru style chuck, a Phase II QCTP and the original 6in scroll chuck, 8in 4 jaw chuck and 10in face plate. I went to look at this and decided to purchase. The seller was likely the second owner. I think the first owner was a company. Well taken care by the seller, but some wear over time. I decided to get this lathe and use it often. I still have the Southbend but may sell this.

Once I got the Grizzly G9249 which has a dial on the carriage as do many lathe today, then went back to the Southbend, I really missed having a carriage dial. I know I can use a dial indicator and stops, but I love being able to read off from a carriage dial.

The seller replaced the Grizzly G9249 with a Grizzly G4003G. He wanted this lathe for potential gunsmith work. He added DRO and replaced the single phase motor with 3 phase and VFD. He is very happy with the lathe, gets good tolerances. He does miss the Adjust-Tru style chuck from the old Grizzly.

If I had to choose between old iron and NEW good quality Asian import for similar price, I personally would go with a new good quality Asian import. This is likely a very personal decision.
 

ttabbal

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You're in the same boat I am apparently. When I started looking into machines, I kept hearing "get an old US machine for $500 with tooling". Yeah, maybe in some areas. Not here. A decent condition machine here goes for $3000ish without tooling. You usually get a chuck, maybe one home ground HSS bit. It's just supply and demand, but it sucks. :)

There are a couple reasons I have a PM-1127 on the way.

As I haven't run a lathe in years, and never set one up, I don't have the experience to properly evaluate a used machine. It could be crap that barely runs, or it could be great. I would be guessing. At the moment, I'm interested in using a lathe, not fixing one. Assuming it can be fixed. Wear on the ways could be near impossible to fix without other machine tools I don't have. I can see how fixing up old machines can be fun, but I would need a working machine to fix many things.

I get support and warranty from a US based company. In this case, PM. They are well regarded around here for taking care of their customers. So if I get it and have a broken part or whatever, they will help me out. A used machine is as-is 99% of the time. If it's broken, you get the keep both pieces.

A new machine comes with a good set of accessories. Steady/follow rests, usually 3 and 4 jaw chucks, change gears, etc.. Those parts add up fast. If I'm not getting the machine cheap, I'm out even more money trying to hunt down those parts, if I want them. It doesn't help that a lot of people list them as "vintage" to try to get more money for old used tools. For the same money, I'd rather have them up front, knowing they are in good condition and will fit my machine. In my case, it also comes with a QCTP, most used machines I've seen locally have a lantern style toolpost. Particularly old US iron. Adding one often involves some machining on the compound. I get one pre-installed and ready to go.

I find the disdain for "chinesium" amusing. Just about everything is made there these days. You can't get away from it. Not everything is Harbor Freight quality from there. They build to the price/specs of the customer ordering things. To be sure, you can get a ton of cheap crap there. But you can get good quality too, you just have to pay for it, like anywhere else. A good importer will walk the line trying to get the best quality for the money. A cheap one (HF) will cut every corner and leave a rounded off bolt. From what I can tell PM is a good importer. I'll know more in a few days. I also considered Grizzly. I went with PM in large part due to the reputation they have here and that when I compared all the features and included accessories, PM was a better value.

As mentioned above, it's a personal decision. It depends on what you are after and what you want out of the machine. The best any of us can do is tell you why we chose the way we did. Now, if I could get a new US made quality machine for a similar price range, I'd be all over that. But it doesn't exist. We don't make things in the US anymore. And those that do have largely gone the corner cutting route. Even what used to be good brands. For example, I blew the gearbox in a Makita drill last night. My wife couldn't believe it, her father had one that lasted 20 years that worked harder. Crap plastic gears. I was drilling a hole in wood, going from 3/4" to 1". Nothing particularly tough. My older Rigid with crap old batteries plowed through it, and another one without a pilot. I need new batteries, sadly, their "lifetime" warranty works, but they take a couple months with the drill and the batteries to get replacements. sigh. I'd happily pay a little to have replacements sent directly to me overnight and ship the old ones back, but they won't do that. I can't even buy new batteries, they don't make them anymore.

Sorry about the wall of text, it got away from me. I'll stop venting now. :)
 

4ssss

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Why not just buy the lathe from "up north"? I drive to and from Dothan, Al. when going to visit relatives in a day, and use less than 180 gallons of fuel for both ways. Atlanta's 5 hours closer. Now I understand everyone doesn't get into trip mode and drive the way I do, but you can rent one of those heavy duty U-Haul trailers for something like $20 a day that will fit an old SB. I know it will take the load because I've moved Bridgeport mills with them. For a rough estimate, just add $450, (certainly under $650 if you stop for a night or 2) to the price of the "up north" lathe and figure out if it's worth it. Now before I start hearing about fuel prices and how it can't be done, the Southern states he would drive are probably a dollar cheaper a gallon than any other. Fill up before crossing the Mason-Dixon in VA, and you'll have enough to make it up to CT (if that's "up north" enough for you) with enough fuel to spare to get you back to re-fuel in NJ on the NY-NJ-PA border where it's also cheaper. This might sound like a rant, but a little planning and you'd get a nice used machine for a decent price. Too many guys whine about shipping costs when all you have to do is go get it yourself if you really want it and if the price is right. And before you ask, no, I won't do it for you for expenses. Fishing season is fast approaching and the machinery is being put to bed until next fall. Sorry.
 

wrmiller

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"Is an old domestic lathe worth the same as a new import lathe?"

Depends on the viewpoint of the person answering the question. For some, the answer is 'yes', for others the answer is 'no'. This is probably one of those questions that you are the best person to answer. Because you will have to live/deal with the answer, long after everyone here has forgotten the question and moved on.
 

Nogoingback

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The New Chinese vs. Old American Iron question is a never ending topic around here with valid points on both sides.
There is pretty much no question that the older American lathes were built to a standard that the Asian imports can't
match. But the older stuff is just that: most of them are getting pretty old and as such it's getting harder to find machines
in good condition with tooling. As those machines become more rare, their prices go up. It also very much depends on
what the local market is like.

It's also true that as a result, the machines themselves become projects. Some people like that and some don't. I've noticed that a lot of the folks in the O.A.I. camp just say "be patient and a good machine will turn up". It's true, but I've
noticed most of those folks already own lathes. For a newb, it's tough to spend what can be a long time finding the right machine when what they want to do is just get started on their new hobby. And, that assumes they have the skills and desire to work on an old machine which you possibly can no longer buy replacement parts for.

I went the old iron route and spent months and lots of $$$ bringing back an old machine to life. I learned a lot and
gained some satisfaction from having done so. But for what I spent I could have called Matt and gotten a new machine
with a full set of tools and no bed wear, not to mention a warranty.

It sounds like you answered your own question by saying that you want to just make parts rather than having the machine
become a project. And while Chinese machines in general have poor reputation, it seems that PM machines are the best of the bunch and their owners seem to like them.
 
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mikey

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Really like the thoughtful responses in this post. What really amazes me is the quality and features found on the larger (11"+) Asian lathes, especially for the price. Trying to find an old lathe at any price with a D1 camlock spindle, +/- 0.0001" spindle runout, hardened and ground everything, no bed wear and all basic tooling is going to be nearly impossible.

So for roughly the same cost, would you recommend sticking with old iron or new chinesium?

To answer this, I would suggest you buy a new Taiwanesium lathe from PM. Dollar for dollar and bang for the buck, they are a good choice.
 

toploader

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For me this discussion revolves around what size lathe you want/need. If I was in the market for a south bend/craftsman/atlas I would most definitely go with a newer import

If you're looking for 14" swing or more old iron is gonna be the better bargain. In my opinion.
 

SSage

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I looked at a few South Bends and Logans in the SE and the prices were too high for well worn machines. I wanted a bigger lathe, so having it shipped to my house was a major plus.

I'm tired of fighting old iron, my fairly small 1200 pound or so PM1236 is less hassle, easy to read dials, warranty, yep... Buy new. I spent less on the 1236 with tooling and accessories than some of the SBA 9's went for around here with modest tooling.

My first Asian lathe, it's nice and new, 3 year warranty. It's more precise than the old iron I've been around. It's a Chinese made machine, so the paint is typically china style finished, but I'm making good parts on it.
 

Ray C

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When making a decision, consider if you want to make metric threads. I was recently considering an industrial piece from the late 70's that was in very good condition. -About a 4000lb machine and very good price. Chucks were in great shape, had a collet closer. It was coming from a tool & die shop and was operated and maintained by professionals. Saw it, ran it... Clean machine -but it did not cut metric threads. -Deal breaker!

Ray C.
 
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