I've been thinking about getting a mill and a metal lathe, and I'm trying to sort out whether it's a reasonable idea or just a symptom of tool acquisition syndrome.
I've got a little unimat lathe that I picked up cheap off FB marketplace recently, but I haven't used it yet.
1. For those who use machines in their shop, what are the most common tasks related to double guns?
2. Is a benchtop/mini mill or lathe useful (as opposed to a Bridgeport and a full size lathe)?
3. Any other thoughts on machines in the amateur gunsmith's shop?
I cut my chokes on my lathe, you will want at least a 13/40 for that.
The small bench top mill/lathes are handy for small stuff., turning screws and pins etc.
A full size bridgeport/lathe gives you tons of options but if you need that I can not say.
Pro-tip....if you can find someone selling out a whole small shop or selling tooling combined you are way ahead. Tooling can easily cost more than a machine. I bought a pile of machinery when first set my shop up, sold off what I did not need and more than covered my initial purchase price.
I have the same inquiry. Needing a lathe for my shop but unsure if I just need a mini lathe or a full blown floor models as most lathe work for a double is small screws and parts, etc. Same concern for is it worth it getting a mill.
And if you are lucky to find a shop "selling out" maybe you can snag a Gerstner wooden machinists tool chest with the green felt lining each tray- you have the "Steinway" of all-- I have a South Bend "hobby sized" shop lathe- 6" swing and a 38" bed- belt compound drive. Do not have a milling machine, wish Bridgeport made a smaller series for general gun shop work--Good luck in your search RWTF
One of the "advantages" of a tiny shop is that some things are not really an option. So for me, it's probably a benchtop or nothing.
I've been looking at the Little Machine Shop lathe and mill, which are both fairly small and cheap. About $1k for the "hi-torque" mill, and $600 for the lathe (currently on sale).
Here's the mill: https://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_view.php?ProductID=3990&category=
And the lathe:https://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_view.php?ProductID=4959&category=1271799306
I've gotten the impression from some online info that the benchtop setups might not be well suited to precision work with steel.
I would have some other non-gun related uses for both, but I'm trying to think realistically about whether it's worth the investment.
I started out with a Jet Mill Drill that uses R8 collets and a 6 inch atlas lathe you had to manually change gears to change speed and cut threads. Then moved from the Atlas to a South Bend 9x24 with quick change gear box. I was in heaven. But I have found that the South Bend is lacking in two areas. The hole in the headstock is only 7/8" limiting the diameter that I can put thru it. Currently you are looking at doing "little stuff" but that can change quickly over time and you can't make the headstock hole larger. The other area that is a problem is the length of the bed and travel, currently about 20" if I push it. I have not done a number of things over the years because of these two limitations and instead paid to have them done by someone else when I was more than capable. My advice is buy as big as you can afford (10" with 1.5" hole in the head stock and 24-36" bed). It should have a quick change gear box. A 3 jaw chuck and 4 jaw chuck and a set of collets is nice for smaller items. My jet drill mill has worked well for me over the last 15 years or so. As others have said finding used with lots of extras is a must unless you have deep pockets as building up what you need will double the cost of each machine. One last thing. If buying used find a machinist and have them go with you to check out the machines. They will know how to check things like backlash and runout.
Oh and if you have to move the machinery you will find the number of friends you have to help reduces proportionately based on the weight of the equipment. Speaking from experience some won't even answer your phone calls in the future....LOL...
For someone not "in the business", it is hard to beat a 12x36" (54"bed) Atlas, preferably with quick change gear box. These lathes are American made ( similar size foreign made lathes are generally OK too), parts are available and cheaper than better known lathes, often can be found with a lot of "set up", missing set up can usually be made or "jury rigged"( gives valuable experience), the slow speed is 28 RPM, which I prefer for reaming, and it has power cross feed which is generally not found on smaller ones. The spindle bore diameter is only 3/4", which is a little disadvantage, but you can do barrel work between centers( chamber between a center and steady rest). When you are learning, this is actually an advantage because you can take it out of the lathe, try it, and put it back in at the same place). I prefer mine for barrel work, even though I have both a Clausing and South Bend. You can do very minimum milling with a milling attachment for the lathe until you find a bench top mill( Atlas or "off shore"). If you need a full size mill, you will know from the job you want to do, that the small one won't do.
I’m a toolaholic, yes I have a problem.
With that said, think about what you want/need to do before deciding on machinery then buy the biggest that you can afford and/or house.
Mini lathes are good, still have one in the shop….but serious limitations. And accuracy is not there.
Mini Mills are junk, too flimsy, you will never be able to take a decent cut not enough HP/Mass, you will take forever machining .050 at .002 a pass. And you can only mount a litty bitty vise on that table...wont hold much or very well. heck a decent Kurt or Parlec vise prob weighs more than the machine. For a mill, take a good hard look at “Knee Mills” where the knee is dovetailed to the base. Those bench top mills where the head cranks up and down are a real PITA for any type of precision.
Also, keep in mind the amount or real estate available on a small mill. Mount a vise, rotary table, indexer v-blocks etc.,,, and you run out of table real quick.
Thirty years ago, I started out with a mini mill and a drill press.
Today: two full size lathes (14x40 & 10x36), three Bridgeport manual mills, a horizontal mill, a Bridgeport/True-Trace tracer mill, couple of surface grinders, and a crapload of buffers/sanders.
If you asked me what I could do without…none of them, need them all for the work I do or may do…that’s why I have them. BUT keep in mind I make barrels, and any other obsolete part needed.
Also keep in mind tooling… it gets expensive. Carbide endmills can easily run $30-$80 each, stay away from imported HSS lathe and mill cutters, total junk.
Play with the Unimat, see what it can do, as your capabilities start to grow, so will your tool collection.
Thanks all. There seems to be a concensus of sorts: start learning with what I've got and upgrade as possible; buy used; budget for tooling; get a machinist to look at a tool with me before purchasing
I do have one counter balance to my small shop space, lack of experience, and tight budget...
I have a friend who is a machinist and he has recently decided to start his own shop. Sounds like it's full of some nice stuff, including a Bridgeport with a 42" table. I think he would let me use them and give some instruction. He might even be willing to let me use the shop on regular occasions as needed.
If so, I could add to my shop the tools that I get sick of driving downtown to use.
That’s the absolute best situation, a friend with the machinery and willing to teach….awesome, I wish I had that when first starting out….spent a boatload of $$ on stuff I really didn’t need.
Some random thoughts, suggestions:
Look at joining /participating in forums such as Home Shop Machinist, lots of very good info there, and they are willing to teach. Practical Machinist is another good site, but is very much geared towards the “professional”... They really don’t suffer fools or newbies kindly.
For tooling.. Buy quality and buy it once. That imported stuff may look bright and shiny, but that’s about it. I’ve had too many problems and wasted too much money on imported tooling. If you wouldn’t own a double manufactured in X country, chances are you wouldn’t want tooling from there either.
EBay is an excellent place to buy tooling, look at used/pre owned, quality tooling generally doesn’t wear out quickly, and you can generally get it for dimes or pennies on the dollar.
Quality end mills and lathe bits are expensive, for end mills look at “reground” or “Refurbished” save you a ton of $$$. Reground generally means undersize, so a .500 inch EM may be reground to .485 dia, not a problem for most cuts, and it will give you good practice on “shop math”. Indexable lathe tooling will confuse the heck out of you, may want to look at decent HSS or carbide tipped tooling starting off.
Don’t plan on using your buddy’s lathe/mill cutters, bring your own, time can be discounted… cutters. Not so much. Buy a few extra for your friend that will go a long way.
Lots of knowable folks on this site.. Keep that in mind. Also post WTB in the Buy/sale/trade section on this forum. Never know what someone has..
The most valuable thing you have is a machinist friend, you can help each other. He will need help moving things around and setting up. You can learn a lot by helping him and he will be happy to advise you and give you tips. You will need to make all kinds of "do-dads" to support the equipment you do have, such as " dog plate", cross slide stop, etc. When you make something, show it to him, he might advise how to do it quicker or better. Also, he might need one himself and if you make one for him, you will never "want" for help or "drops" to make your stuff with. You can make small equipment act a little "bigger" by bolting it hard to the bench with a reinforced top, fastened to the wall, and all your bullets/lead/ wheel weights stored on a shelf underneath. You will find it harder to get small foreign equipment to turn slow enough, than fast enough. You can use cheap carbide cutters in the lathe, but you will need to have a "green wheel", and sharpen them first. In the long run, "high speed steel" will teach you more about grinding cutting tools than anything else. Someone above mentioned a round post "mill/drill". You would find a mill/drill useful; but today you can find "square post" ones pretty easily. Good luck, have fun.
I agree with what Mike said, and I personally would consider lending an occasional hand as far as moving materials, maintenance, or sweep up just to let your buddy know that you don’t come around only when you want something. It’s kind of like hunting access, some folks will just get a no, but others might be told, don’t worry I know who you are, go ahead.
sounds like good advice. And will certainly make me feel better about using his machines. Especially since its a hobby for me, but a livelihood for him.
Guess I am a contrary old cuss.
My machines are old and replacement parts are not available.
Made enough mistakes on my own learning to use them, even with some experience.
Will make most any part for neighbors or friends, but don't allow them to use my machines.
Experienced machinist might be different, might learn something. Don't have the patience to teach.
Anyone who will let you use their machines is a Saint and should be treated as such.
Anyone who will let you use their machines is a Saint and should be treated as such.
Id be happy just to learn by watching him. That alone would be worth the price of admission.
I can get you the very best quality 1/2" and 3/8" coated carbide end mills for a very reasonable price.
Benchmaster mills are small and work on a knee so you can do some pretty good stuff you can add a Chuck and do really accurate drilling.scope mounts etc.but a bridge port is much more versatile I have a Logan lathe that I added good chucks.
I’d highly recommend getting full sized machines if you can make the floor space work. A 9x42 Bridgeport tucked in the corner doesn’t take up much room, and in fact when done in this manner will take up about the same floor space as a hobby/small mill. You’ll never regret the extra mass and HP. Same for the lathe. With a VFD you can run 3-phase machines on single phase 220v.
Often times you can find full sized machines for the same price or less than the hobby sized machines. I have two mills Currently, didn’t pay more than $1000 for each. One is a MINT piece, 2hp, Y axis box ways, variable speed, 9x49, little use. That was a steal.
I paid $800 for my Supermax YCM40 CNC mill, granted it needed a new controller. I bought it for the iron.
In the past I’ve also had a 9x42 manual Hartford mill I got for $800. Well used but worked better than a hobby mill. Sold it two years later for $1000.
Anyone seen the picture of the Scottish gunmaker whom shares his shed with a full size mill and lathe? Talk about limited space!
An English gentleman, Harry Eales, did some very nice work in his bedroom.
Bench mill and small lathe, complete action build. Gone now and missed.
Now there is a man I really miss. Harry was quite a guy.
I wonder where his Borchardt is now?
Agree, Brent. Not sure he ever finished the Brochardt. Was close before his health failed.
Always appreciated his critique of my builds, always saying "You can do better."
His method of fitting a square breech breech block into a receiver is known as the "Harry Eales' Method".
I know for sure he did not finish it. I was trying to figure out how to get him a barrel. Totally not trivial in England.
The Harry Eales' Method, I love it. We were trying hard to get him over here to take in a match at Raton or elsewhere, but it never happened. He was a heck of an interesting guy.
For those with a basement shop, floor space is often not the constraint for a full size mill; it is often headroom or access to get the machine into the basement. Of course, access may be a problem for a full size lathe also. BTW, the Atlas bench top mill is a knee type horizonal spindle machine, but a vertical spindle conversion can be fit up. My conversion is shop made with a separate motor and unusual spindle taper; but now commercial conversions are available that use the existing motor as well as standard spindle taper.
Anyone seen the picture of the Scottish gunmaker whom shares his shed with a full size mill and lathe? Talk about limited space!
He Mark Mitchell and a year or so ago he built a bit larger shop.
Talk about limited space!
... built a bit larger shop.
Here's an update on my situation:. I've decided to close in a two car carport and turn it into a multi purpose shop. The current shop will revert to a lawn mower garage / shed.
I think it will take me 6 months or so to get that done, so that gives me plenty of time to look for a good mill and lathe
Good call, I never have enough room. I have a two car garage with a 12x24 addition on it, a larger portion of my basement, two spare bedrooms and part of my living room(my desk) all devoted my shop.
Spring for a rotary phase converter and you will not regret it. All my larger machines run on 3 phase.
SKB advised buying 3 phase equipment, especially a lathe and mill. What he didn't say was at local auctions,3 phase equipment is often very much cheaper than single phase because 3phase line power is generally not available without obligating yourself to pay extremely high monthly rates. I was at a SBA auction that included two mills, an Index and a Super Max, I wanted the Super Max. The first one up was the Index, but no one wanted to start the bidding. To move things along, I started at $50 and "son of a gun" I got it. SKB's advice to buy a rotary phase converter is one way to run 3 phase, and the motor runs at almost full power, plus you can "instant reverse", which is a handy feature. Another way to run 3 phase is with a "static phase converter". This runs the motor on the two legs of 220 volt "house power" and starts it with help from a capacitor in the converter. This way, the motor runs at only 2/3 power and you must stop the motor to reverse it("instant reversing" may destroy the capacitor). The way I chose was to use a static converter to start a "donated" 3 phase "slave motor" and run the equipment on two legs of "house power", with the third leg being generated by the slave motor( by running w/o a "load", it uses insignificant power). This is basically how a rotary converter works, so it has the same advantages( to protect the capacitor, "switch" it off, after starting the slave motor). If you buy a static converter, it will include instructions for wiring it this way( I didn't think this up, someone much smarter than I did). For a single person shop, if you size the system for the largest motor and wire them in series, you can run several pieces of equipment with the same system. There are other ways to start the "slave" motor, but this combines convenience with acceptable cost. In the long run, 3 phase equipment may be cheaper and more capable than single phase.
I have an old Quincy air compressor, cost me 50$ because it was 3 phase. I need to rebuild the compressor motor because it leaks oil badly but to buy a comparable compressor today would be 5-6K new.
Mike is correct, 3 phase can be a real bargain.
Most of your “commercial” machinery will be 3 phase, as noted above don’t let that scare you, I’ve replaced most of the motors (buffers, belt sanders etc.) in my shop to 3 phase. I would stay away from static phase converters, they may be cheap and easy to install, but you lose so much, keep in mind that a BP mill motor is only a 1 or 1 ½ horse. Also, when looking at used 3 PH commercial machines, ensure that they are 220 and not 440.
Something else to consider are Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs), the prices have come down considerably, provides soo much more control over the machine. You can adjust the speed of the machine with the VFD; think no more belt/gear changes on mill/lathe. Just turn a knob or push an up/down button.
Mike brought up a good point with the Wells-Index, Bridgeport’s are not the only mills worth considering, and in fact they are pretty light weight compared to other brands: Wells-Index, Van Norman, Pratt Whitney etc. Now with that said, there are only two makes that are easy to get parts for: Bridgeport and Wells-Index. Lots of aftermarket parts for BP, and Wells-Index still supports all machines built since 1940.
I passed on a Wells-Index mill once only because the spindle taper was not R8. So Mike if you want to dump that ratty old “Index” mill.. let me know.
Mike Hunter makes a good and valid point about the electronic VFD's coming down in price and they work wonderfully well on a vertical milling machine. When I bought my vertical mill it had a static converter which I threw in the trash without even running it and purchased a VFD.
He also makes a excellent point (indirectly) about the weight of the vertical mill. Find one that is really heavy and one with a long bed and you will be happy. The long bed is really useful for building double barrel rifles with shoe lump barrels as you can mount a rotary indexer on the bed with the barrel between centers with the indexer and rotate the barrel to mill the barrel where the shoe lump with fit onto the barrel properly. I also built a rig to mount to the left end of the bed of my vertical mill where I could mount the double rifle barrels horizontally hanging from the left end of the bed (muzzle downwards). I could then mill out around the breech face of the barrels that I needed for the third fastener extension as well as the extractor slots. But you need for the vertical mill to be good an heavy to do this task without movement of the bed..
For the guys who have lots of room and wide doors to their shop a large horizontal mill can be bought for near nothing these days( a few hundred dollars as no one wants them or knows what do with them---we live in a CNC era). They are wonderful machines (weight a ton or more) and you will find tasks for them on occasions. I did not have room for one of them in my shop and bought a small horizontal mill, which could be used for cutting slits and so forth, but not much more because it only weighed a few hundred pounds. If I had a had a good heavy weight horizontal mill I could have milled the third fastner extension into the barrel breech end using it with little effort.
Another point for you that are considering outfitting a shop is the lathe. You can spend a great deal of money on rebuilding a used lathe (I mean a "real" rebuild where you have the bed reground and new headstock bearing and so forth). You will find that you need a couple of lathes of different sizes for your work. As to cost of a rebuild, "I have done that and been there" having found one of the last South Bend heavy 10 lathes built (1980's made) before they went out of business. It was one of the desirable ones with D1-4 headstock and 54 inch flame hardened bed. I bought it for $500.00 and spent $5,000.00 on making it perfect with a reground bed job, headstock rebuild, new tailstock and adding a electronic variable speed controlled carriage/apron feed screw. However today I would not do it because the quality of the Asian lathes have increased so much that I would spent the money and buy a new one from Grizzly or some other firm that met my needs and had a headstock hole larger enough for gun and rifle work. For example, the super accurate 3 and 4 jaw 6 inch chucks that I bought for my heavy 10 would now cost several thousand dollars for the pair. The best money you will ever spend on your lathe is the money you pay for a first quality chuck.
A quick side comment about VFDs, the better ones are somewhat pricier. Consider looking for a totally enclosed model, the slotted open sided ones don’t care for much for shop grit, particularly metallic.
Good 3ph motors can be moderately priced and worth considering just changing the motor on a piece of equipment. The output on my VFD has an outlet socket and I plug in the machine I want to use. A good option for hobby use, I suppose bad if it goes down, but each machine does not need a dedicated setup.
Good call on water, dust/swarf resistant VFD’s, I use KB Electronics KBAC 27Ds in the shop, claim to be “wash down” resistant (IP-65). Run around $300-$350, will handle up to 2 HP.
When I built/installed the rotary phase converter in my shop it ran $600-$800, if VFD’s were that cheap 15 + years ago, that’s the route I would have gone.
That is the model VFD I have. I could never use it the way you likely do, but it is a quality item, no doubt.
If you have a chance at a good deal, but it is running on 440, don't turn it down until you check the data plate on the motor itself. Many can be run on either 220 or 440 and the data plate usually shows wiring diagram for both, if that is the case.
Good point on the Horizontal mill, you are also likely to get a vertical spindle attachment, a slotting attachment, and maybe a dividing head. My B&S universal no.2 1/2 has a B&S #7 taper in the vertical attachment, which is a little small, but I don't have it wired up anyway.
This type of request is on the lines of "how long is a piece of string?" I was also asking my self the same question before I retired after spending a lot of time over the years in and out of machine shops and production plants. So I would like to put another view on things, firstly I had to decide on what I wanted to do with the Machine tools I was about to purchase and come to a firm decision. Now I did have a very old mini Lathe and a large size bench drill press with a must feature an adjustable angle table plus a Morticing attachment though not often used but it takes the hard work out of jointing timber. The drill press was going to stay, but a replacement lathe was needed. The one piece of good advice I was given in the past was this "a lathe is the cheapest part of setting up a workshop that is a one off cost, it is the tooling for it that is a never ending requirement for your money" never a truer word was ever spoken because I am still purchasing some thing or other. The choice of lathe size etc. My first thoughts was the bigger the better and I had this in my mind for a long time until I realized if I wanted to turn something large I had plenty of contacts who would let me use one of their larger lathes for a couple of hours, also there was a big down side to large lathes high cost of tooling. The next choice was new or second user, after hearing so many tales of woe from people who had purchase second hand machines it was going to be new for me!! The choice on this side of the pond I found was expensive Brit made machines like Myford or look else were and China is the only other choice. Now the next important decision size and what I wanted to do with it? Manufacture Repair large or small items I decided middle of the road medium size items larger items I could have some time on a large lathe elsewhere. Being in Brit land there is one very important thing to take account of Imperial or Metric because we use both here though Metric is now the largest share but in restoration Imperial threads are extremely common and BA is still used here a lot.
Things now started to come together, for value for money Chinese not to large a machine because there is a lot more tooling at much lower prices for hobby machines, than the larger varieties. Now over the years I have found that no machine can be perfect in every persons eyes, so a compromise for me was on the cards.
This was my compromise a Chinese manufactured 9 X 20 available under many names with a large span of prices. My list of reasons :-
Large headstock taper MT3.
Tail stock taper 2MT.
Headstock spindle bored through at 3/4 inch.
Good center to bed and between centers size for the money.
Set over tale stock for taper turning.
Came with Face plate, fixed and traveling steadies. 3 & 4 jaw chucks with the 4 jaw having independent jaws, having 3/4 Horse motor.
The 3/4 Horse motor is not to underpowered for turning large stock.
Cuts Metric & Imperial threads, not the full range but enough.
Norton type screw cutting gear box as standard, very useful.
Best of all tooling for this size lathe is very cheap and readily available.
** While replacing the headstock spindle pulley I removed the Chinese main headstock bearings and fitted a better quality TIMKEN set, because the bearings are a common size they are relatively low cost to purchase for an improvement in quality.
The Down Side:-
The drive belt system is not so good, I will go as far as saying poor under some circumstances. It uses a Gates 5M710 very thin mane drive belt, you can break it easily plus they are not a reasonable cost to replace.
Low speeds are not low enough (no back gearing)
Top slide does require the four bolt modification (you can make or purchase).
No saddle lock. Simple bolt required to correct this.
There are a large number of modifications to be found for this machine on the internet to improve things no end all simple and low cost.
The main after market things I recommend are a 1 horse 3 phase motor with a VFD both items are not that expensive especially the VFD this improves low end speed and torque, remove the other belt and intermediate pulley ending up with just a motor and head stock spindle pulley's adding a larger drive belt I used a 3/8 cogged SPZ V belt and tensioner. As luck would have it the headstock spindle is a standard size for a taper lock pully bush no machining required and many off the peg pulleys you can try. Purchase a vertical slide to convert the lathe for milling, finally a good quality six inch independent four jaw chuck, the chucks supplied are ok but quality ones do improve things no end..
I have had this lathe for fifteen years now and never once taken a part to be machined on a larger lathe.
This is just my personal findings, you could ask a dozen
other people and get a dozen differing opinions.
As an after thought. I did not say a lot about the chucks that came with the machine, they are adequate the self centering 3 jaw chuck supplied needed to be what I would say overtightened to grip well, not a good thing for the chuck scroll also the two sets of jaws inner and outer where not numbered including the chuck itself.
So it was a case of finding the best position for each of the three jaws then mark the chuck and both sets of jaws. The 4 jaw chuck is 4 inch no problems with it at all but by adding a 6 inch chuck enables much larger projects to be held utilizing the machines full potential.
After writing this, out of curiosity I spent some time looking at suppliers web sites, this machine is still available as standard with an uprated version having a VFD Motor and updated drive at a much higher cost than you could update a standard machine using higher quality parts costing much less.