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Why should I NOT buy a 3-in-1 machine?

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strantor

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#1
I've been looking around mostly at lathes and somewhat at mills for the past few months. I wanted to buy an old used American lathe, but I think I've decided that there is too much risk involved. I would rather get something new. From what I've gleaned from the internet, I've concluded that chinese machines are the worst, and taiwanese are little bit better. I've also concluded (from reading the same thing over and over in different sites) that the lathe/mill combo machines combine the worst features of a lathe with the worst features of a mill. Now, I don't know enough about machining for that little tidbit to be meaningful - when I think of "the worst feature of a lathe" - I draw a blank; likewise with a mill. So what are people talking about when they make this comment?

Considering that I don't plan to buy used, my decision making process seems a little simplified. I don't exactly know what I'm looking for, but my rudimentary criteria are:
  • 1. as large of swing and bed as can be had for the money
  • 2. this shouldn't need to be on the list, but: rigidity, aka the ability to do it's job
  • 3. threading ability, preferably inch and metric - power feed and preferably power cross feed, and preferably feed in both directions
  • 4. the more tooling/accessories included the better
  • 5. as precise as possible - actually, I don't know where to draw a line in the sand, or what's considered good or bad
So these 3-in-1 combo machines seem to meet my criteria. The reviews I've read, do usually acknowledge that while they "are a compromise of both a lathe and a mill," that they "are surprisingly rigid and capable", So I think the 3-in-1 satisfies #2 and #3. The smithy in particular satisfies #4 very well. I'm taking #5 for granted.

Regarding #1, this is the heart of my question. These combo machines, on paper, have a very impressive swing. If one did not care about milling and were to base their lathe purchase on size of swing for the money, it would be more cost effective (from Grizzly, Enco, AND Smithy) to buy their 3-in-1 machine than their lathe of same swing. For example the Grizzly G9729 Swing = 16.5" for 2000$, and their cheapest lathe with same swing is the G0509G for $8000. Since size of swing is my #1 consideration, this question is burning in the back of my brain. something tells me that the large swing of the combo machine is too good to be true, and that there will be something to prevent me utilizing it. I suspect being underpowered will be the culprit.

Anybody have any input on this?

Thank you.
 

strantor

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#2
Here's a preemptive tidbit, since I anticipate someone saying "Well, it depends on what you plan to do with it"

The most immediate things will probably be:
  • making small pneumatic cylinders
  • turning electric motor commutators
  • maybe turning brakes (not sure if that's something you can do on a traditional lathe, but I don't see why not

In the future I plan to cast and machine electric motors (if that proves possible) and possibly small steam engines.
 
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#3
If your a tinkerer or a piddlelyer, (pardon my spelling) the 3 in one machine can't be beat.

But if you're wanting to do serious machine work, I would not encourage you to buy one.

The 3-in one machines like the Smithy have their place and will do a good job of machining, but there are limits of what they can do.
They have large swing, but if you was to try to turn a piece of material near the maximum capacity, I think you will find out real quick it won't work easily. But for basic light milling, drilling and light lathe turning, they'll work fine.

Just my 2-cents worth.
 

Pacer

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#4
(from reading the same thing over and over in different sites)
I think youve answered your own question with this quote...

Ive been following several different forums for several years and have read several hundred post/comments and cannot recall ever seeing an all out praise on a 3in1. Occasionally someone will dance around praise, but its always with a "but" somewhere. Then I have a good friend that bought one of the "big" (12"??) ones and while his lathe is fairly decent the mill part is awful.
 
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#5
"making small pneumatic cylinders"
"turning electric motor commutators"
Probably be ok.

"maybe turning brakes"
Maybe, iffy.

"In the future I plan to cast and machine electric motors (if that proves possible) and possibly small steam engines."

I think you better plan on buying bigger equipment in the future.
 

george wilson

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#6
Don't even think about trying to make something precision like pneumatic cylinders on a 3 in 1 machine. Turning brakes is a bit tricky. You have to have some way to get hold of them. My journeyman tried turning his brakes on a REAL lathe,and they came out terrible. They are best turned on a brake lathe which has the means to properly hold the brakes and cut both sides true and parallel. If not,your brakes will lurch and jump all over the place,and not be safe at all. If you got into a wreck,and it was found out that you turned your own brakes,you'd likely get blamed for the accident if it involved effective stopping distances,etc..
 

Rbeckett

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#7
Strantor,
I have a 3-N-1 machine and the following are my experiences and observations.
1) Tramming is tedious and must be repeated often
2) work envelope is rather small on the X-Y table of the milol.
3) height between work and quil requires a lot of extension or a riser
4)The Swing over cross slide is the max diameter unless facing.
6) the cross slide uses up a considerable amount of the usable length of the bed.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my 3-N-1 and have made a lot of very nice pieces with it. But I have also respected the fact that it is a small unit with attributes of a mill and a lathe combined. It will not do as fine a quality of work as each machine will seperately, but still does an acceptable job for my needs. If your shop is severely cramped as mine is, a 3-N-1 makes sense because I can get two machines in the space of one. If I had extra room I would have opted for a set of seperate machines if my budget would allow it. Unfortunately I did not have room and my budget was extremely tight, so a 3-N-1 made perfect sense for my situation. Your situation is probably different, but the end result is usually based on space and budget. A Smithy Granite or a Bolton or an HQ-800 in multiple colors all are very nice machines and will give you great service over the years and can be sold for reasonable reurn on your investment if you should decide to get bigger or seperate machines. In the meantime it will allow you to build your skills and experiment with doing projects and planning for tool changes and fixturing. All of those skills are neccessary and must be learned well to really be able to create high end stuff. So my suggestion is go with your gut and fill your space with the nicest most feature packed machine as you can afford and fit into your space. It will take many years to fully exploi that machine and when you do replace it you will have a very definate idea of exactly what will fit and exactly what you want it to be capable of doing. If you need help comparing different machines I or many of my peers will be glad to assist you and help by discussing the pro's and con's of various features like MT2 or R-8 bore size. Hope this helps.
Bob
 

randyjaco

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#8
Don't do it . A 3 in 1 is a compromise at best. You are going to spend all your time setting up and end up with mediocre results. You will enjoy the hobby much more with dedicated machines.

Randy
 

xalky

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#9
Here's what I've found to be the problem with any kind of multi-machine.

1) setup can take a lot longer, because of the various things that have to be moved/configured, especially when going from mill to lathe operations or vice versa.
2) Those types of tools do a little of everything, but they don't really do any of it well.
3) the working capacity is small

I think you can get some good used machines, if your patient.

In my local craigs list theres a 3 in 1 for sale...it looks brand new... wonder why he's selling it:thinking:
 

Starlight Tools

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#10
Stantor

I have been turning electric motor armatures for years. Even the Craftsman 109 by Dunlap I started out with did an OK job of turning the armatures.

But I was also doing other turning, quickly realized I had outgrown it and then went to a 9x20 Logan. It did a fantastic job on the armatures and just about anything else, but I found that I was trying the fit too large of items into it too often, think cutterhead for a 24" wood working planer, etc. That is when I went to a 14x40 lathe, which in my humble oppinion is about the best all around size for a small shop. If it is too big to fit into the 14x40, chances are it should be being farmed out to a bigger machine shop. And the 14x40 handles the small stuff really well. NB: you can usually do smaller in a large lathe, but it is im-passible to do large items in a small lathe. Also the rule of thumb is that you should look at getting a machine that will handle 75% to 90% of the jobs you will need to do. That occassional really large job will break the bank getting a machine that large.

Now as for the 3-in-1 As you have found, there are lots of compromises in getting a multi-purpose machine and they do not always work out to be the best features.

My biggest complaint with them, like the Shop Smith wood working machine is that there is an amount of set-up time to get to each application. It is not just flip a lever and you go from lathe to mill mode! So if you have an item set up in the mill and need to turn something, then you need to spend the time to reconfugure the machine and vise versa. also if you are working along and realize that you missed or goofed a step, you have to go back and re-configure the machine to do that step. Even worse if you have to make one more of a run of parts and have to go through the set up and tear down for each step.

I have found that over the years, I can often supply clients with one or more individual machines for similar or less money than it costs for a multipurpose machine, and they are generally happier as they can have each one set up and ready to do what it was designed for. Also if they ever need to upgrade one of the machines, they do not end up having to replace all of them, just the one that is needed.

The caveat to this is if you are working in a very small shop space and cannot fit the separate machines in. Then the multi-machine shines. It allows you, with proper planning, to have a very effective work space in a very small area. As they coined at Shop Smith, always remember the 5 P's


"**** Poor Planning makes Poor Performance"

Yes, I agreee with you about Chinese, vs Tiawanese, that is why I went that route as well. Even though the Tiawanese was more money, by over double the Chinese, the fit and finish was better and the electrics were Aces and Spades better.

My take, is if you have the room for the machines, and can afford them, then get individual machines. If you are tight for space and are willing to work around the idiocycracies of a multi-machine then go that route.

I did dispose of the drill press and use my mill for a drill press as I needed the extra space, but definitely do not regret getting both a lathe (14x40 Gosan) and Mill (10x50 Bridgeport Clone)

Walter
 

strantor

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#11
Wow, lots of good info here. Thank you very much. I will have to digest all of your comments and think about this some more.
 

12bolts

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#12
Hi Charles,
Not sure why you are so dead against 2nd hand but hey, each to their own.
Based on your info most of what you intend to do, (or sound to me like it is), is going to be achievable with a lathe so I would recommend getting as big a lathe for your application as you can afford, and then look at a mill down the track. Just remember that you will only get limited tooling with a new lathe, so budget to spend at least 1/2 again on decent tooling.
I have never owned, or even operated a 3 in 1, so I am probably not qualified to comment there.

Cheers Phil
 

strantor

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#13
Hi Charles,
Not sure why you are so dead against 2nd hand but hey, each to their own.
Well I'm not completely against used. If there were more used machines in my area in my price range, I would be inclined to go look at them and learn the ropes of sizing up a good lathe. I've read these tips for inspecting a lathe, but the thing is, they only come up for sale around here once in a blue moon, and as soon as they do, they are gone (and for way more than you would expect). So I feel relegated to buying from ebay from up north, and I'm a little hesitant to do that. Even if I wasn't hesitant, 90% of the lathe auctions say "local pickup only" or FOB "my shop floor." If I want to pay somebody (wouldn't even know who to contact about that) to go pick up, crate, and transport my lathe to TX, I'm not confident that it would arrive in one piece and that the shipping wouldn't cost more than the lathe.

I have another thread about a used logan - best specimen I've encountered "locally" - but I have to drive over 3hrs one way to go look at it (~200$ round trip gas cost).
 

12bolts

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Charles,
I hear you on the distance thing. I looked for 2 years before I found a used machine local to me, and that was still 3 hours away. Where I live it is 1.5 hours just to the nearest toolstore (and that is only a Harbour Freight comparison), a real toolstore is 6 hours away.
But I would have thought SE Texas would be a melting pot of machine shops selling off gear and/or closing down.
My personal opinion is that a good quality used machine will far outweigh any cheap import machine hands down. Its takes a lot to wear out a quality machine, most times you can repair or replace the worn part/s at not to great a cost. The opportunity for extra tooling thrown in cannot be overstated. Go and have a look at stuff local to you that even if it is out of your price range or size, at least you get a feel for what to look for. You would never buy the first 2nd hand car you looked at. Nor would you go by yourself the 1st time if you didnt have a grounding in mechanics. Take a mate, even if just for the conversation on the drive.

Cheers Phil
 

HerbHall

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I don't think it matters much where you live, a three hour drive for a good machine seems common and reasonable to me. Of course I drive over an hour to work each way. When I lived in South Texas we regularly drove 2-4 hours to do stuff, it takes an hour to get to the neighbors house down there. Of course gas was much cheaper in those days. I just factor the travel into the price and communicate with the seller enough to be 95% sure I'm going to buy before I go.

I bought a used Smithy 3-in-1 earlier this year. Like you I debated it for a long time. I wanted a new one, but I always needed the money more for something else and just couldn't afford one. When a really good deal came up on a used AT-300 I bought it. Even though it had originally been owned by a machinist and very lightly used, I found right away the machine will not do very precise work, I doubt that it ever could. I was missing some parts and found that most of the parts from the newer models still fit my 1980's AT-300. They haven't changed much since they first came out.

I've been a woodworking guy for ages and have very slowly added metalworking to my interests. I learned a long time ago with woodworking machines to buy the biggest and best you can afford. That often means used on my budget. I had many multipurpose woodworking tools and always ended up wanting stand alone machines. I had to learn the hard way (I always do) Metalworking tools follow the same rules. On the other hand, one of my first major tool purchases was a Shop Smith back in the early 80's, and while I hated changing setups, I made allot of stuff with that machine. I was in the Navy (Seabees: Construction Electrician), so I needed something that I could break down and move. There were times when I had the whole setup in a closet and worked in the living room of my apartment. (Funny, I still don't understand why my first Wife left me, I'm a real handy guy to have around the house. :nono:) The point being, in my experience a multipurpose tool will be a pain, but will work if it's the only thing you can use.

I knew I would likely upgrade later when I purchased the 3-in-one machine, I didn't expect to be looking within a few weeks, and as luck would have it as soon as I bought the 3-in-1 used equipment started popping up everywhere around me. If I had more cash I could have had a full shop. Life is funny sometimes. That's how it goes I guess. I ended up bringing home a 1920 Hendey 14x6 Gear Head Lathe. One and a half Ton of old American iron and a winter restoration project. :)) It's way bigger than I need, but the owner was going to scrap the machine if someone didn't take it quick and for $200 it was less than the used Smithy! Not nearly as easy to move I might add. I really hope I won't have to move this beast again in my lifetime.

In the short term do what you gotta to get things done, but in the long run it's cheaper to buy the right tool the first time than to buy it after buying several wrong ones. That's my advise, I just wish I would learn to follow my own advise...
 

strantor

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But I would have thought SE Texas would be a melting pot of machine shops selling off gear and/or closing down.
I'm as baffled by it as you are. Houston is an industrious city and I can't believe how slim the pickings are. The only logical explanation I can come up with is that I'm not looking in the right places. But, I check craigslist 10X per day, and 2 or 3 times per day I look at everything on ebay that pops up in a 200 mile radius for "lathe." There are several industrial surplus places around that sell used lathes, but they ask outrageous prices.
 

12bolts

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#17
The industrial surplus houses must be getting their stock from somewhere. Is there someone who conducts "real" auctions nearby? You know the type, take your cheque book, get a bidders tag, put your hand up at the right times, at the fall of the hammer you own it. Just dont get caught up in the excitement! Well not too much anyway. Rural clearing sales, farmers selling off unwanted machinery. Maybe speak to the realtors. They might have an idea about auctions.

Cheers Phil
 
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#18
Charles,
But I would have thought SE Texas would be a melting pot of machine shops selling off gear and/or closing down.
Cheers Phil
Phil,

Houston is the nerve center of the world when it comes to anything dealing with the Oilfield. The oilfield is HOT right now and is going in the third year of "blowing and going". There is no signs of it letting up anytime soon, either. There are over 3,000 machine shops, large and small, spread out over an area from New Orlands, LA to Brownsville, TX, on the coast going inlandland as far as 400-600 miles serving the oilfield. My small shop included.

Small machinery does not hardly exists for sale "used" in this area anymore. There are a couple of machinery dealers in Houston that have used machinery, but the smallest lathe any of them have are over 18" swing and cary a five plus digit price tags. I personnaly have not seen any small lather for sale in over three years. Last was a 14" Hendy cone head. I should have bought it to store, to sell later. I bought a 6 x 12 surface grinder from Ohio last year, shipping cost was almost double what I paid for the grinder. We ar forced to buy from other areas of the country and take our chances shipping stuff down here the South.

I don't like it either, but it's reality right now.
 

Starlight Tools

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#19
We just had an auction at the local auctioneer to clear out a bunch of school board surplus machines. There were 6 lathes, all beat to death and beyond and all fetched over a $1000 each! Non were worth my while touching.

Walter
 

wolframore

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#20
I have a Knuth DBF400 3 in 1 mill/lathe. It's my first machine and i chose it over the 7x and 9x20 machines (that was my budget). I went to the Knuth dealer here and they had one with a busted cross slide wheel and sold it to me new for $750 their MSRP is $2300. I bought a old sears hand wheel and machined it to fit... Couldn't pass it up especially when comparable machines go for $1500 and up.

I'm a better learner when I can try what I read and take things apart. I'm starting to understand how it works and how it's put together. Having said that there are some limitations. I wish it had a quick change gears with a tumbler and some sort of variable speed or gear set without the pully changes. The mill is very limited but usuable... i've used it to mill out some rough casting tools i got from harbor freight.

I love the lathe given the limitations listed above. I'm glad I have this one over the 7x mini lathes... cute. Maybe the 9x20 would have been a good choice but then I wouldn't get to play with a mill with R8 spindle and learn... there's a lot to learn about milling and lots of tooling to collect.

The mill has an R8 spindle which will be compatible with my next machine a Bridgeport. I don't have a drill press and this $750 machine saved me from buying one and losing the floor space. Plus it's a way better mill than a drill press!

To each his own. I'm still tweaking my machine and learning while collecting vintage tooling from craigslist and e-bay. You should check this link out... http://www.chaski.org/homemachinist/viewforum.php?f=27

there's also a yahoo 3 in 1 group.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/3_in_1_Lathe_Mill_Drill


Charlie
 

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#21
FWIW, my experience with a combo anything is that while it indeed can do "everything" to some degree of well, they almost never do anything really well, and the machine (whatever it may be) get's outgrown very quickly. I think you'd be better served to be a little patient and get a lathe with the features you want and then a mill, or at least, a milling attachment for your lathe.
 

strantor

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#22
Yes I agree. I've decided on a Logan lathe. I'll be picking it up on Friday. I think I can make or buy a milling attachment, which will give me a fully functional lathe and a partly functional mill, instead of a partly functional lathe/mill.
 

OakRidgeGuy

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#23
Maybe I am missing something here.. but a combo unit of a lathe and mill.. why is it called a "3 n 1"? When there are only two componets to the machine.
 

HSS

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#24
Mill, Drill, Turn
 

OakRidgeGuy

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#25
So a lathe or a mill is a 2n1 unit
 

george wilson

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#26
In case it hasn't been mentioned,consider the extremely SHORT length of the lathe headstock they unusually have. Not much of an invitation to spindle rigidity.

A non machinist car racer asked me about getting a 3 in 1 to work on his cars with. Even the salesman at MSC,who I know pretty well through purchases I made over the years,advised me that the 3 in 1 they sell should be stayed away from. I wish they had advised me to stay away from their big Pro Master lathe!!!! Most screwed up lathe I ever bought.
 

randyjaco

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#27
As stated earlier, Houston does not have a lot of cheap used machine tool. Mexican buyers buy them for good prices and haul them back to Monterey, etc. That being said, my whole shop is composed of tools I have picked up at cheap prices off of CL, flea markets and yard sale. You have to be quick. The good deals only last a couple of hours. I have passed on deals to fellow Home Shop Machinists here only to hear them say that they called the following day or on the weekend only to find out the deal was sold.

Here is a nice 3 or 4 in one for a mere $10K 8^)
http://houston.craigslist.org/tld/3332969862.html

Randy
 

strantor

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#28
Here is a nice 3 or 4 in one for a mere $10K 8^)
http://houston.craigslist.org/tld/3332969862.html

Randy
That beast has been on CL for weeks, along with the 3950$ smithy (that used to be 4500$) and the 3000$ south bend.

I emailed the guy with the smithy and informed him that, while he may have paid >5K last year when he bought it (doubtful), the smithy company was currently selling it for 3300$, in case he was wondering why he wasn't getting any bites. I made it clear that I was not trying to haggle - I could not afford the machine - I was just trying to give a friendly tip. Dude tried to argue with me about it. I finally said ok, you're right. It's worth every penny of 4500$. next day he lowered it to 3950, still 600 bucks over what it sells for brand new.
 

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#29
Here locally, I saw a CL ad for a Logan 850 that was in total mess and the guy was asking 2800 bucks for it. The pic was dark, it took a bit to even figure out which model it was. I wanted to make a offer, but I am afraid that it would prob insult him greatly.
 

wolframore

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Recently I went to get old tooling from a retired machinist to find that he sold his Hardinge for $300 and a 12" rotary table for $100! Ah was too late! But I got some really cool tooling all starrtt and name brand cutting tools for next to nothing... made a good friend and teacher in the process! tool few hundred... cool friend, mentor and teach - priceless.
 
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