View Full Version : help selecting a lathe to buy

08-03-2011, 12:33 PM
i am getting to the point where i would like to have my own lathe to make small parts like dies for my bead roller and bushings and pins for projects that i get into. i never need anything very long or big and really dont know a whole lot about lathes. i see the mini lathe advertised at places and wonder if it might work for my needs?
what are the basic different typs of lathes and what do the different types do best?


Jim Stabe
08-03-2011, 01:11 PM
Personally, I would look for an used 13" or 14" lathe if you have the room. You say you want it for small parts like bead roller dies (which aren't that small) but you will also eventually want to have capacity for bigger projects - trust me. I kept an eye on Craig's List and eventually ran across an estate sale where the guy had a 13 x 40 3 hp lathe for less than I could buy one of the Chinese minis for new. It weighs 1,700 lbs and has plenty of rigidity to take decent cuts in decent sized workpieces. I built a rotary phase converter and was in business. It is the exact same lathe that Grizzly sells for $7,000.



Tin Head
08-03-2011, 08:35 PM
I second what Jim is saying, find a decent used lathe in your area. In that part of the country, there should be plenty. I had my Monarch 10EE shipped from Racine, Wi to Kansas. Just love that lathe and it's 68 years old now. 3 phase as well, but running on a static phase converter.

Jim Stabe
08-04-2011, 07:43 AM
I originally had a static converter on mine as well but it wouldn't start the motor when in the fastest spindle speed without giving the chuck a spin by hand. The static converter cuts the power of the motor drametically. I built the rotary and it works great now. Simple to do and I can email you some info on doing it if you send me a PM

Michael Moore
08-04-2011, 08:16 AM
Some of those minilathes can entail a lot of work to get them useable, much like some of the small bandsaws do. A friend probably doubled the price on his, replacing plastic gears with metal, hand scraping in the tail stock and carriage, etc.

As with many things, some kind of tool is usually better than no tool at all. But spending more than "bottom of the barrel" tools require often gets you a much more useable tool.

With used lathes a $2000 lathe may be 3-4X nicer/capable than a $1000 lathe. But an $8000 lathe may be only 30% nicer than the $4000 lathe.

Many people will talk about how cool "old iron" is, and sometimes that is the case. On the other hand, many people will be better off with a brand new Grizzly etc lathe that doesn't have 50 years of accumulated wear and neglect. An ace machinist may be able to make good parts on a junk machine, but the junk machine is mostly going to make a lot of aggravation and scrap for the newbie.

Mass is generally an indication of a sturdier machine. But if you are a hobbyist you may not need the ability to peel off 1/8" of steel with each pass, so a lighter machine in better condition may be a better purchase.


has a reference library of different lathes and mills which may be useful if you are trying to figure out if a particular brand of lathe being offered to you is worth considering. Keep in mind that a broken lathe that has zero parts support has a good chance of staying broken.

In the early 1980s I bought a new Taiwanese 10x24 bench lathe, and that was a light industrial kind of lathe that you'd probably have to go to a 12-13" now to find something similar. That gave me many good years of service and is now a friend's first lathe. I replaced it with a 17" Mori Seiki and while it is undoubtedly more lathe than I need, it sure is nice to use. Everything works smoother and easier than was the case on the bench lathe. But you can get a good workout if you've got to shove the tailstock back and forth a lot, as it weighs about 1/4 of what the entire bench lathe weighed!

Keep in mind that bigger lathes will want bigger (more expensive) tooling, and getting the lathe is only the first part of the spending process. You can easily spend another $500-1500 on tooling it up. If you can spend a bit more and buy a lathe with a lot of tools (including any OEM steady rests, threading change gears, etc) included in the package you are probably going to save money over buying a bare lathe and then tooling it up.

FWIW, Southbend lathes have gotten to be collectable so you'll pay a premium for one.

My Mori was pretty expensive, but I wanted to get something nice enough that I'd never feel a need to replace it: