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Looking for a first mill and lathe

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makingstuff99

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Hi Everyone,

I'm new here. I've literally zero experience in machining. I'm an engineer by profession and education so I guess that's my starting point.

I'm looking for some guidance on getting a mill and lathe for a home shop setup. I'm looking to be budget and space friendly. I might be able to spend about 2500 plus some tooling over time for both machines. In terms of space, I have a little bit of space in the back of my garage for a small knee mill and a smaller lathe. I have standard 110 electric service out in the garage, but I'm willing to upgrade that in the basement or the garage if necessary. I have other projects that make that more reasonable. I'm hoping someone can point me to some good rules of thumb for what I want to do. There is too much information out there.

I'm willing to extend the budget if it makes sense and I would likely not loose a lot of money on resale value of machines and tools. I want to make a number of things such as: custom bicycle tools, puzzles/puzzle locks, various locksmithing tools and modifications, small robots, various mounts for cameras and basic linear motion systems. I have one thing that requires thread cutting--it's a custom tap size that is otherwise very expensive. Most of these components can be made from plastic or aluminum and occasionally machinable steel. I know there will be more projects with my boys as they grow. I want them to learn some machining because I think it will keep their little minds busy.

I've been looking at some used mills. I see some older Bridgeports that would fit in the garage. A shop in my region wanted nearly 4K for what looked to be a 1970's Bridgeport. Is it really worth 4K? I saw a millrite MVI for 1500 and another bridgeport for around 1250. I've been wondering if I could get away with much cheaper option. I definitely want it to function, but I don't need to make huge cuts and do large parts. How do I determine the right "strength" of mill for my needs? I'm willing to spend more on better quality as long as it would retain some value in resale. I would like the option of upgrading in the future.

I know the 3-in-1 machines and the mill/drill options aren't ideal for everything, but are used machines really that much better?

I appreciate any guidance!
 

benmychree

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You can do small jobs on large machines, but not the opposite; don't go cheap if you can help/afford it.
 

Maddogmech1

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If the majority of what you want to do are smallish parts, a mill/drill is a good option. I have an RF-40 and it has taken some good abuse for some of the things I do (recently milled out a 14” circle with step out of 3/4” plate for a scrap lifting magnet core cover). They won’t take huge cuts, but hey, I get paid by the hour. My first lathe is an atlas QC-54, was my grandfathers and I’ve done quite a bit on it. Since upgraded to a Monarch 10-ee. I still have the atlas and use it from time to time since it has a longer bed. You really need 220v to run anything with a decent amount of power, but that is a small investment compared to the machines themselves. Personally I would not be happy with a 3-in-1, I feel like I’d run into a lot of things I wouldn’t be able to do on a machine like that.


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jbobb1

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Any possibility you know a machinist? It would help you if you had someone with you that knows mills/lathes enough to help guide you, if you look at used equipment.
A 70's BP is steep at 4K, unless it is well tooled.
 

markba633csi

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Vertical milling machines come in two basic flavors, knee type (the table moves up and down) and bench type (the head moves up and down)
Knee mills are recommended but are larger and more expensive. The Millrite knee mill is a good space saver since it's about 3/4 the size of a Bridgeport.
Lathes: many beginners start with an Atlas, a South Bend or Logan (older American lathes), or one of the new imports from China or Taiwan. There are a few small american made lathes such as Sherline but they are quite small and probably you would outgrow it quickly.
Spend some time getting familiar with what's out there and how to inspect used machines. Worn sliding surfaces on machine tools are the only thing that really can't be fixed easily or cheaply. Everything else is less important, although new spindle bearings for some machines are very expensive
Mark
ps this is a big topic to cover in one or two paragraphs, so I kept this reply brief- have a look at www.lathes.co.uk and http://www.mermac.com/index.html
 
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GrayTech

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If i were going to teach kids to use them i would go with seperate bench top mill and lathe for that reason alone.
Used machines worked for me as i enjoy fixing and rebuilding them. Tooling and mods for the bench top stuff is generally a lot cheaper. Based on your posted experience i would advise you to buy new, fully functional with warrranty.
 

rogerl

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I started out with a Enco Mill/Drill 23 years ago. I used it for MANY MANY projects. It is not a production machine but it will make hobby parts all day long. I sold it and bought a knee mill because I wanted a knee mill. If you get a mill drill get one without a round column. The round column requires you to plan your work better because if you need to move the head up you need to re-zero.
I also bought a 10" South Bend lathe from a friend of my dads. It was a very nice lathe and I again made MANY MANY parts on it. I sold it when my dad passed away and I took his 11" South Bend Lathe.
I would suggest for starting out to get a mill drill and a 9" or 10" lathe. They are out there. Craig's list is your friend or worst enemy. We are only 2 hours apart. I live north of Akron Ohio. If you want to stop I can show you what I have and discuss different options.
I have been working with the Science Olympiad program for the last 7 years. I coach the build events. I have had lots of kids in my shop using the mill / drill and the lathe making parts for the projects. The kids are excited to learn this because they do not get it in school anymore.
Good luck with your quest.

Roger L
 

Jim Huel

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I started out with a Enco Mill/Drill 23 years ago. I used it for MANY MANY projects. It is not a production machine but it will make hobby parts all day long. I sold it and bought a knee mill because I wanted a knee mill. If you get a mill drill get one without a round column. The round column requires you to plan your work better because if you need to move the head up you need to re-zero.
I also bought a 10" South Bend lathe from a friend of my dads. It was a very nice lathe and I again made MANY MANY parts on it. I sold it when my dad passed away and I took his 11" South Bend Lathe.
I would suggest for starting out to get a mill drill and a 9" or 10" lathe. They are out there. Craig's list is your friend or worst enemy. We are only 2 hours apart. I live north of Akron Ohio. If you want to stop I can show you what I have and discuss different options.
I have been working with the Science Olympiad program for the last 7 years. I coach the build events. I have had lots of kids in my shop using the mill / drill and the lathe making parts for the projects. The kids are excited to learn this because they do not get it in school anymore.
Good luck with your quest.

Roger L
If you have one specific thread that you need, check that a prospect lathe can do that, or can be modified to do so. Metric vs imperial, and the tpi.
 

BGHansen

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Welcome to the rabbit hole . . . Fortunately you live in an industrial area so you'll have plenty of options for decent used equipment. Like everyone else will tell you, get the biggest/best your budget and space can afford. Try the search engine www.searchtempest.com to look on Craig's List and eBay for your area and budget. Here are a few lathes/mills currently on CL in your area:

Clausing 12" lathe, asking $1400

Sheldon lathe and Clausing vertical mill for $3900

Probably the best approach is to be selective as you've gone this long without a lathe and a mill, do you really need them today? My first lathe was an Atlas 12" that ended up being OK, but I paid way too much for it initially as I had my panties in a bunch and wanted something right away. In hindsight I'd have been better off picking up something different that I really wanted, but back in those days there was no internet, eBay, Craig's List, etc. Just newspaper ads. I did learn a lot on that Atlas and ended up selling it for about half of what I had into it.

Old US iron will probably require some modifications with different change gears to do metric threading. So used import might be the route to go if you plan on doing a lot of metric single-point threading. Metric taps/dies work fine if you're doing standard threads.

Plus side of buying used (as you noted) is you'll probably get your money back if you decide to resell. Stuff depreciated to a point and if it's still working, should hold its value. Just in case you decide to upgrade and/or start parking your cars outside of the garage to make more shop space . . .

Good luck with the hunt!

Bruce
 

Janderso

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Welcome to the forum, it’s a great place to hang out.
A budget of “$2,500 for both machines, plus tooling over time”, is inadequate IMHO.
Tooling alone is a big portion of any budget.
The used Asian mini series will be the closest route to achieve your machine tool quest.
 

bill70j

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I'll voice a rather unpopular opinion.

I would suggest you look for a used Smithy 3 in 1 machine, preferably the Granite 1324. This is a great machine if If you're space limited, and are sure you will not need a mill that requires tight rigidity and a lot of travel.
  1. The lathe is good, and can be made very good by adding a QCTP, solid toolpost, and an inexpensive DRO, such as an Igaging set-up. Plus a stout, well made bench that is firmly secured to minimize vibration and allow for bed leveling would be a must
  2. The mill is limited in travel, especially in the Z. But like any machine, you would know this going in, and would also realize your depth of cut would be limited
  3. Smithy has a pretty good reputation, and their customer support is excellent
As others have said, if you have the space, think you will be doing larger projects in the future, and have the cash, then separate machines would be a much better alternative. But if not, then $1500 for the machine would still leave $1000 for tooling to start out.

I've had a Smithy Granite 1324 for a long time and eventually acquired separate lathes and a BP clone. But I kept the Granite, and use that lathe much more often than the others. But I haven't used the Smithy mill in a long time.
 

bob308

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first thing buy once cry once . don't wast your time or money on a smithy I have used one once never again. mill drill is a joke. for the price you can get knee mill from central machinery .a knee mill is the only way to go. a 8520 would do you well. I have had one for 35 years. a lathe a atlas is a good starter lathe you can still pick up a good south bend 9 inch.
 

markba633csi

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I think you could come in within 2500$ especially in your area; many machines were produced in and around Ohio.
For comparison I own:
6" Atlas lathe- 500$
12" Atlas- 840$
Diamond horizontal mill with vertical milling head- 1K$
misc tooling- 200-300$

Total: 2640$
Take away the small lathe and that's only 2140$
and machines are not as plentiful and more expensive in the west
of course, I acquired these machines one at a time over a 3 year period
 

rogerl

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I agree. I think that the $2400 budget is doable for the machines with some tooling. Tooling is a life long gathering anyway.

Roger L
 

ezduzit

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Be patient, but relentless, and watch for a quality machine, in excellent condition, with comprehensive tooling. Avoid bare and neglected machines. Don't be afraid to extend your search radius.

Condition and quality are only everything.
 

Janderso

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I agree. I think that the $2400 budget is doable for the machines with some tooling. Tooling is a life long gathering anyway.

Roger L
In Northern California, $2,500 get's you a worn out ready for the scrapper Bridgeport with no tooling and a Chinese vise.( In my experience).
There are the occasional sweet deals from time to time but you better be the first one with the cash.
 

Aaron_W

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Personally I would not suggest a new 3 in 1 machine, because in reality if you compare to similar dedicated machines they really don't save you much in space and even less money. However if you are really interested in the idea, used is something else entirely as you can often find them cheap, much cheaper than buying a separate lathe and mill.

I frequently run across them on CL for $1000 or less, and in this area that makes them cheaper than most 9-10" lathes.


Location plays a large part in pricing, so take suggested prices here with a grain of salt, they are often not apples to apples, you need to find out what realistic prices are for your area. As an example I have a small Clausing knee mill. Out here in California, $2000-2500 is the going rate for these mills. There are places in the country where the same mill can often be found for $1000 or less simply because they are a lot more of them those areas.


Bigger often does not mean more expensive, in fact taken to extremes it often means cheaper. New a bigger machine costs more, but on the used market small machines hold their value better. Anybody can find room for a small machine so there is more demand for them by hobbyists and small shops. If you have the room and need for a bigger machine, there may be more deals out there. On the other hand, they take up more room, are harder to move (a couple hundred pounds vs 1000+), and may require 220v or conversion from 3 phase. None of these are that difficult to overcome but are potentially an added cost / hassle if a small machine is adequate for your needs. These are also reasons small machines hold their value.

Used can provide you with some savings, but also headaches. It helps a lot of you have somebody with experience to help you sort the junk from the good stuff. You can find a lot of machine tools in home shops that were bought, used a few times and then gathered dust. You can also find junk that has been cleaned up and painted to look nice and fresh, not always easy to tell them apart when you are starting out.

New import machines (and nearly all are imports these days except for Sherline and Taig which are quite small) can be really nice for a beginner as they come with instructions, parts / tooling support, and a warranty. Precision Matthews has a pretty good reputation, Grizzly is another popular choice for new. Both companies offer a wide range of options and sizes.

$2500 for a lathe and mill will be tough to do with new machines unless you stay to the very small side, mini-lathe and small bench mill. Used you are unlikely to get a large lathe and Bridgeport size mill, but being patient a 9-12" lathe and a bench mill or mill-drill would not be too hard to pull off and may be just fine for you.

Do not underestimate the value of tooling, it can easily equal or exceed the value of the machine.
 
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rogerl

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Well $2400 will not buy a full size Bridgeport and a 13" South Bend lathe in Ohio either. For $2400 you can pick up a 9" or 10" South Bend or similar lathe and a bench top Mill / Drill machine. If you are just starting out you do not need big machines. People say "buy once cry once" that makes sense if you know you want and need a large machine. For someone who has never used any machinery and wants to get started buy a good quality used machine that many people know about and can help you with and start making things. If you find that this is not for you then you have not put forth a large investment and you can probably get most of your money back if you sell them. If on the other hand you find that this is LOTS of fun and you really like making things you will do your research and find the machine that is going to do what you want it to do then "buy once cry once" and get the best machine or machines that will fit the type of work you want to do.

Just my 2 cents
Roger L
 

markba633csi

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You never find exactly what you are looking for, usually a lot depends on what you find nearby and your budget. As far as used machines go there is a lot of junk out there no doubt, but even a worn lathe can make usable parts, you just don't want to pay new prices for a worn machine- this is where newbies get taken advantage of by the crusty old machinery dealer spitting tobbaco juice on your shoes
 

ThunderDog

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A couple of things:

Open your search radius if possible. Having lived in central Maryland I always extended my search as far as Harrisburg, PA and down into northern VA (A 2-hour commute one way for either location). Opening up the possibility of travel has allowed me to buy some really good stuff over the years. A large surface plate, large straight edge, a camelback, my first two milling machines, and my current milling machine(purchased in VA). Lesson learned: be willing to travel.:)

I started with a small lathe (Myford "M" series). It taught me ALOT. I eventually purchased two tiny milling machines(A Jefferson mill and an Atlas mill).
I kind of regret selling the Myford, it was a fantastic little lathe with alot of tooling. But, I was not disappointed to sell either milling machine and upgrade to a proper vertical mill. The tiny machines are nice and compact, but the tiny work envelope is a royal pain.:mad: Lesson learned: Buy the biggest you can fit into your workshop.

My very first cutting tools were some cheap import mystery tooling purchased from eBay. The first 3 all broke on the very first cut using the lightest cutting pass. Complete garbage and I remember throwing the styrofoam box of "new" cutters in the trash can. Lesson learned: BUY ONCE, CRY ONCE.

Tooling is important and I agree that it should be equated into your decision for a purchase.
If you're willing to do some cleanup work, there are some deals to be had. All of my machines looked bad when purchased but with some dedicated effort, they look and function exceptionally well. Lesson learned: Don't be afraid to put in some elbow grease. (It should go without saying that I'm not suggesting purchasing something that is clapped out or missing some major component)

I don't want to start a brand war, but I would steer clear of "most" Atlas lathes and even the milling machine. And I personally would never consider those three-in-one things. My reasoning is because it goes against my lessons learned as mentioned above.

Anyway, just my observations from my experiences.
 

pacifica

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Another consideration is size and weight of the machine. Machines weighing under 500 # can usually be moved easily and- less expensive. It could cost $1k per machine to have it moved by a professional. And- would you want to move a 2500 # top heavy mill without the proper tools and experience?
One of the reasons I bought a new lathe is that it was shipped to my front door, which saved me time and money.
 

ezduzit

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...Machines weighing under 500 # can usually be moved easily and- less expensive. It could cost $1k per machine to have it moved by a professional...
That methodology could lead one to buy an inadequate machine.

I was able to easily relocate my 2,000 lb knee mill across the shop using a toe jack ($100 new), pallet jack ($150 used) and toe bar (<$100 new), all of which I already owned.
 

MikeInOr

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Deals do come along if you are patient enough and persistant enough. I have been wanting a decent sized air compressor that would run my blast cabinet with more blasting time than recharging time for MANY years. Last weekend I finally found the 2 stage 80 gallon 5hp 1ph compressor I have been wanting for years for $400. I have my list of wants and know what a good deal is for what I am looking for.

Moving heavy machinery is very intimidating. A few basic tools will make the job much easier. A trailer that is lower to the ground than a pickup bed makes moving much easier. A gantry crane gives you a lot of lifting power. I built my gantry out of laminated 2 x 4's with trippled 2 x 12's for the header. I have used it for unloading the 80g compressor, a 13" South Bend lathe and a 2500 lb mill without issue. Once the machine is up off the trailer I pull the trailer out then lower the machine onto a heavy duty wooden base designed to be easily moved by a pallet jack.

You aren't going to find a great deal on a mill or a lathe the first time you look on Craigs list. You have to look often and be patient. I have seen the 6 x 24 and 8 x 30" knee mills come up on craigslist in the $1000 range occasionally... one of these should give you a lot of functionality in a somewhat compact package. Personally I would opt for a smaller mill that is tight over a larger mill with worn ways and sloppy adjustments... same for a lathe.

What is the thread pitch you need to cut and what is it for?
 
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RYAN S

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I started with a mill drill that I got for $400 used. It worked great for me, however I sold it (for a profit) and bought a Bridgeport. One thing I did not hear mentioned on the tooling side of things is compatibility. Since my first machine had a R8 spindle, I was able to use everything I had for the Bridgeport. It sure was nice to “grow” the mill and not have to buy any new tooling. As for moving machines it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as some people make it sound. As an engineer, I am sure you are able to think several moves out (chess not checkers). Just remember to be safe and that gravity has an impeccable track record!!

Looking forward to hearing about your journey!

Ryan
 

bakrch

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I am a 3rd generation machinist with many inherited tools from my Father and Grandfather. I still spent a mint on tooling building a hobby shop in the garage. Granted, I didn't need a Bison chuck or Dorian QCTP, but even without those, it cost me several thousand to get to a comfortable point.
 

macardoso

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I live in Cleveland (Hello from Ohio!). There is a place called HGR on the east side of the city that sells used equipment. I bought my 12x36 lathe from them for $1100. They have a highly rotating selection, some stuff is in good shape, some not. It is worth keeping an eye on. https://hgrinc.com/

If you are up that way, I'd be happy to show you the small shop I have. I bet my mill and lathe would be more than adequate for the jobs you are talking about.

I also know a guy who has a home business of machine rebuilding in Columbus. He has offered to sell me a few machines and they are in good condition and reasonably priced. If you're interested, PM me and I'll give you his contact info.
 

macardoso

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ThunderDog

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I started with a mill drill that I got for $400 used. It worked great for me, however I sold it (for a profit) and bought a Bridgeport. One thing I did not hear mentioned on the tooling side of things is compatibility. Since my first machine had a R8 spindle, I was able to use everything I had for the Bridgeport. It sure was nice to “grow” the mill and not have to buy any new tooling. As for moving machines it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as some people make it sound. As an engineer, I am sure you are able to think several moves out (chess not checkers). Just remember to be safe and that gravity has an impeccable track record!!

Looking forward to hearing about your journey!

Ryan
This is a great point!! My Wells Index Super 55 vertical mill was originally equipped with a Brown&Sharpe taper(not common). I had to weigh that option out and ultimately decided to go through with the purchase. I immediately had it reground to an R8 by Wells-Index to bring it up to modern times.
 
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