Having now left France and returned to UK,we will be moving to a new house in the New Year. As a present to myself I intend to purchase a lathe.
I have little idea how to use a lathe,which one to buy,new or secondhand,or even what size. up to £700 It would only be used for the sort of jobs that occur withScott ownership,plus the enjoyment of learning a new skill. I would not want a lathe that I would ”grow out of” in a short period of time.
OK guys, what lathe ???
Myford ML7, Boxford CUD and the like are popular home hobby type machines at 4-5″ swing. Go larger and you are into full gearbox machines and 3 phase which are the way to go if you have the space and 3 ph or a converter.
By one with as much tooling and accessories as you can otherwise they can easily cost more than the machine itself!
You’ll only get a basic Myford for £700 without a feed gearbox (these can cost £500 on their own) and if you go for a CUD whatever you do DON’T buy one without screwcutting, they are extremely undesirable and hard to sell on if you upgrade.
If you go bigger to something with three phase a converter is a bad idea, these have a habit of overheating older motors plus it makes the machine noisy believe it or not! An inverter is a better option as you can vary the speed but the motor has to be altered from ‘star’ to ‘delta’ (the way it is wired inside); books are available and it is straightforward to do.
A couple of lathes in your price range are the Colchester Bantam or Colchester Student but beware, many have been used in industry and are pretty much worn out so if it’s noisy and is full of oil (I have seen a couple where the headstock gearbox has been run dry) give it a miss.
When buying a machine ALWAYS ask to hear it run or you could get stuck with one that has been messed with and needs hours of work to get it going again. Someone I know bought a Harrison M300 which was claimed to work but they lied, all the switch wiring had been cut and it took two days of work by someone who knew what they were at to get it going!
A good site for research is https://www.lathes.co.uk/ which also has a classified section where both traders and private sellers advertise machines.
As Richard says, buy a lathe with a good selection of tooling, many dealers split this off and sell it on then want the earth for the machine even though it has sod all with it! Leave people like this well alone and also be careful and make a list of what is with a machine when buying privately, my father and some of the other traders have been caught on this when the seller pinches bits off after you have bought the machine (but before you collect it) then acts like they were not there then tries to get more money for the bits!
I can point you in the direction of a couple of dealers who don’t split machines from their tooling one of which is my father who has several Myfords in but none are cheap, he doesn’t sell worn out tat.
Send me a PM if you would like their details.
I have a colchester student (flat head later type) myself but I’d avoided mentioning it as it weighs over a tonne and has a 3.5 horse 3 ph motor which I run off a phase converter. Although a very capable and accurate machine you cannot get a usable one for less than a grand (unless it has terrible bed wear, worn out headstock etc) and it is not exactly moveable.
If I had to buy another lathe with similar capability (full geared headstock, full gearbox screwcutting rather than swapping gear wheels, power crossfeed, coolant sump and pump, gap bed, quick change toolposts, 1500rpm+ etc) I’d buy another Student, but I realise it is too big and heavy for most hobby users.
The biggest issue with the Students is worn bronze headstock bushes which you can easily make yourself, worn bed centre sections which are expensive to regrind, and worn screwcutting leadscrews. Get one without those issues and you have a machine for life though.
I forgot to mention that I run with a static converter without any problems BUT you need a converter that has switchable capacitors to get the correct setup to match the motor. The only thing a static converter cannot do is to start the motor under heavy load such as a heavy lump in the chuck and at the top end of the gear ranges. You need a rotary converter for those and they cost more than the lathe…!
I use the same converter for my other machines ranging up from a 0.1hp coolant pump to by speedhone up to the lathe.
The Colchester Student weighs about 3/4 of a ton while the Bantam weighs about 0.5-0.6 of a ton, this one can be moved with a little difficulty by one person. I have moved a few of these machines, it is not difficult as I can lift the light end (just!) while two people the other can slide it. They can also be moved on rollers but it is faster on concrete to use either an engine crane or a pallet truck. If you have a gravel drive some thick ply is a must or you have no hope of shifting it.
Lathes this size come in handy for skimming brake drums and shoes while a Myford/Boxford are too small to do jobs like these easily if at all. Many chucks have been damaged by trying to turn too larger job, it breaks the scroll inside the chuck or the jaws themselves.
The bigger the lathe the bigger the cut but there are limits!
There is a benefit to buying a three phase machine, they are cheaper because home users rarely have three phase though I do. Some larger lathes were made in single phase but these are rare.
Older motors DON’T run well on converters (which can be unreliable) but they will run perfect on an inverter. The difference between true three phase and a converter is very noticable in both the noise the machine makes and how well it runs. A couple of lathes have run terribly on a converter yet run perfect on true three phase. I had a Bridgeport milling machine on an inverter, ran smooth as silk from a 13a socket! You can burn out the suds pump motor on a converter, only run this when the main motor is running. If the load on these is wrong damage can be done which could get expensive.
In general I agree with the previous posts but be warned, if you were to go for a larger, more industrial machine like the Colchester Student, they are very heavy and not that easy to move without a good team. For almost all motorbike sized jobs a 4 ½’’ is as big as you’ll need and a lot easier to shift and accommodate.
By and large avoid far eastern machines, build quality is, in my opinion, questionable, it is within my experience to find significant quantities of casting sand still adhering where it’d do no good at all. That speaks to the level of local quality control although the more reputable UK importers claim to do their own inspecting.
Do not under estimate the bed length you will need, you might not need it often but when you do you’ll be stuffed without it! Long bed versions of the popular makes are around and worth looking for.
Certainly I’d put a Q/C gearbox at the top of my list of desirable features. These gearboxes, sometimes referred to as “Norton” boxes, are if anything, even more useful for varying cutter feed rates than for screwcutting and you’ll be doing more machining than threading!
Buy an imperial machine if you have a choice, particularly if you are into old British bikes because you will be cutting mainly Imperial threads and inch diameters so it is nice to have the graduations in imperial too. It also happens that, by and large, it is easier to arrange the gearing to cut metric threads on an imperial machine than inch ones on a metric job. To that end a 100/127 tooth compound gear is a desirable addition. Make sure that the full set of change gears comes with the machine too; they do tend to “go walkies”. Check to see if the change-gear banjo has two slots or one, two is better, more versatile.
If you can only afford one good chuck then buy a 4-jaw first. You can do everything in a 4-jaw that you can do with a 3-jaw but not vice versâ. A good set of collets are a good thing to have, most collet adaptors will accommodate both imperial and metric collets but few machines up to 4½’’ centre height will accommodate anything over ½’’ diameter.
Some machines have induction hardened bedways and are worth looking for, less risk of wear but as bed regrinding is not humongosly expensive an otherwise good machine at the right price should not be dismissed out of hand.
The Myford is an excellent lathe much favoured by the model engineering fraternity, as a result there are lots of “goodies” available. They also have a “T” slotted cross-slide which makes small milling jobs possible. It is however a fairly light machine.
The Boxford or its earlier incarnation the Southbend, at 4 ½” centre height, is a slightly larger machine. It has a marginally longer bed than the Myford, (both Boxford & Myford can be had in long bed versions). The model ‘A’ version is the one to look for, they have Q/C gearboxes and power feed for sliding and surfacing cuts. Both makes are relatively light machines but are nevertheless capable of serious work.
As previously stated the Colchester Students are a solid lump and are a good general-purpose lathe, I particularly favour the older round head version, which to my mind seem a stiffer machine.
Avoid the Colchester Chipmaster, it is a good machine but badly let down by the Kopp Variator drive which hides under the headstock, it is thus “out of sight, out of mind”, but is prone to oil leaks and if not kept properly fed will soon develop problems and become very noisy. Service replacements, the only viable option, cost the proverbial arm & leg.
Finally is worth noting that machines such as the Myford, Boxford, Southbend brands are/were aimed at the amateur/experimenter, small workshop user and have more versatility built in than the more industrial types such as those by Colchester, Harrison, Holbrook etc. which are built for a single purpose. The penalty is that that the Myford etc. lathes are less robust but with the addition of readily available accessories they are far more versatile. Given that production rates are not likely to be an issue for the archetypical “man-in-a-shed” versatility is the more desirable feature.
I happen to own a pre-war Southbend, (flat belt drive ‘an all), that is still capable of ¼” cuts on alloy steel and of accurate work too so don’t dismiss a good old ‘un!
On the subject of phase converters: The faint hearted may care to bypass this bit – it’s more Jimmy’s Food Factory than Silicon Valley!
My Alexander milling machine happened to be fitted with a 440V two-speed motor, which by its construction precluded conversion to run on 240V, now that presented a problem with only a 240V single-phase supply available. I could have changed the motor for a one phase single speed one and an electronic speed controller but they don’t come cheap and I am singularly impoverished so I hunted around for an alternative.
Firstly I found a firm in Basildon, Essex who built an immaculate step-up transformer for me at a very fair price – voltage problem solved. (Unless you are in the same voltage dilemma this part you do not need.) The next item required is another 3PH motor of a slightly larger HP rating and a healthy pile of capacitors. Given my previously stated impecunious finances I went skip diving, look for places that are having the lighting re-fitted, what you want are the capacitors out of the old fluorescent fittings. The idea is to use the big motor as a “pilot” to create a psudo 3PH supply for the motor on the machine. The capacitors are selectively juggled to balance as far as possible the current delivered by each psudo-phase, you’ll need a clamp type ammeter for this. Once a reasonable balance has been achieved it only remains to box the thing up with due regard to electrical safety. If you are lucky the pilot motor will self start but if not you will need to resort to a starter cord on the pilot motor’s shaft. There are plenty of detailed instructions to be found on the web, I found https://www.waterfront-woods.com/Articles/phaseconverter.htm particularly useful.
What an interesting thread!
I wanted to add another point about the metric vs imperial. Many machines built in the 70’s and 80’s had dual graduations. My Student has both metric and imperial grads on the handles, you just pull a button in/out to show which you want. Also the screwcutting feed gearbox has a lever to switch from metric to imperial which makes it very convenient to use without messing about changing the drop gearwheels.
If you can find a dual grad machine it is a useful bonus.
Actually my first lathe was a 4 1/2″ Atlas made sometime around WW1. It had 3 belt pulleys and a simple feed gearbox but it was surprising what you could achieve with it and it was small enough to hide in a corner when not in use. After that I had a 5″ Kerry AG Mk3 which was again a very good machine but lacked the power of the Student. It was however less than half the wieght which made moving it much easier.
I notice they have one for sale here:
At a rather hefty price for what looks like a well used example, you can get them privately for half that and indeed only a year ago my father sold mine without me knowing for about £550 with all the tooling and chucks etc. I was not happy…..
I too have a belt driven Southbend of 5″ capacity, from 1947.
With 6″ chucks and 5C collets it is very versatile, and quiet in operation.
Accessories and spares still frequently turn up on Ebay at reasonable prices. Mine is running off a single phase 240v motor so I can only manage 1/8″ cuts …….
Do not get too paramoid about bed wear as there is bound to be some, its more important to spend time setting the bed up carefully so that it cuts parallel.
1929 2 speed Sports.
Another thing worth looking for on a lathe is a mandrel bore of at least one inch. i have two lathes the youngest was made in 1921 they do the work that i need. i would add i am not a turner just a metal butcher. Regards DF.
Thanks for all the replies. Out of interest I looked on the LATHES.Com website at lathes for sale and the first item is a russian universal 3” lathe for £475. Not knowing the ins and outs of lathe construction,what do our lathe owners think of this?.
That’s a lot of money for a very small lathe plus it is round bed, this method of making lathe beds went out with the ark. You want something with v bed (Myford’s are flat bed) with a minimum of 4.5″ swing otherwise you will quickly out grow the machine. V bed (like on Boxfords) gives better accuracy.
Another thing to consider is the way the chuck fits on. Many are screw on some have the continental system of being bolted to a faceplate which stays on the machine (slow and a faff). The best system is camlock which is three or more pins permanently fitted to the chuck/faceplate etc with the cams contained in the headstock. It is rare to get this on smaller machines but it does make it better as these are standard where the screwed on type vary massively between makers.
I would advise you NOT to buy a modern machine, most are just not a patch on an old Brit built lump of iron. The problem is there is just not enough metal in newer machines plus, as already mentioned, the quality control is crap if it is done at all that is.
ive seen quite a few boxford lathes on e bay there a bit stronger than a myford, the boxford aud has a factory fitted gear box the bud is the same lathe without the gearbox the cud is a training lathe
The model engineering fraternity are VERY much in favour of the Myford 7 Series lathes such as the Super 7, and these are easy to find. Unlike many of the makers previously mentioned, Myford are still trading here in Nottingham, and spares are available off the shelf. They also sell reconditioned machines, but they are not cheap. There are also a lot of books around aimed at beginners based on the Myford ML7 and Super 7 which should be a big help.