Adair

Weighing the merits of a lathe in the shop

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Adair   

Howdy,

 

I have the opportunity to pick up a very old 18" conehead lathe for a song.  I've wanted to tinker with a big lathe for a while,  but I also want to keep my focus on forgework.  I'm sure everyone understands the appeal of a new machine tool. 

 

This acquisition would mean trading 12" of shop wall space.  I'd be putting the lathe in an environment that is probably hostile to its livelihood.  Since I don't have much training with machine tools I can't say for sure that I will get the use out of it to justify the trade-off in shop space.  It is rather long for what I imagine using it for, but it is a beautiful old machine and in fine shape.  I don't make a living with the shop, but I'm trying to stay disciplined in keeping an orderly space for creative things to happen. 

 

Does anyone want to chime in with their experience and talk me out of a lathe at the price of scrap?  I should add that I currently have a Southbend 9A which is great for all the little bits. 

 

-Adair

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Gromgor   

Get it. Trade it later if you find you don't use it, but with a proper lathe you can manufacture all the pieces you need to make all the pieces you need to make all the pieces you need for an entire shop.

 

Wanting to stick to forge work is great, but I don't know a single carpenter that doesn't also have tools to work on a vehicle. Nor a mechanic that doesn't own a hammer, some nails and screws and a few tape measures.

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Always better to have a big lathe than a small one.  The retired instructor when I was in college use to use the 8' lathe to turn new watch stems for a friend that would break them all the time.  can't do big work on a small lathe

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JNewman   

A lathe can be a very useful tool in a blacksmith shop as can many other tools.  But the one thing you have to be careful of is not to fill your shop with so many useful tools that you can no longer work efficiently in the shop because you don't have enough room.  I have seen too many shops that are so filled with tools etc. that it is impossible to work in the shop. 

 

I got an old conehead  southbend lathe a few years ago  for free and while I did use it for a few jobs I was disappointed with the performance of a lathe  that old.  Without the change gears it would not thread and I finally sold it cheap to free up room in the shop so I could keep my smaller power hammer when I installed my Massey. 

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knots   

Congestion in your shop can have disasterous effects on productivity.   The problem is that, in a well ordered shop, every tool, piece of material, and item of equipment must have its own dedicated space in order to be able to easily locate and use the item or tool without the necessity of constantly moving stuff out of the way.  A huge amount of time can be expended looking for or moving out of place items every time you undertake a task.  Plan ahead.   The operative fact is that you cannot put something in it's place if it has no place.

 

Is there space to build extra new storage to offset the lost space ?   If the older larger lathe can be put into service without delay, could you sell the South Bend ?    That alone would give about 1/3 of the required space.  

 

Last year I moved the contents of two shops into one.  The resulting congestion is now largely improved but it would have been far better to have been avoided.  

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Jim Coke   

Greetings Adair,

 

If you already have a lathe you must consider how much you would use such a large machine .   If you only have a few projects for it I would consider farming them out and saving your shop space.   If you have enough outside storage you could always tarp it for later consideration..  Your call..

 

Forge on and make beautiful things

Jim

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Adair   

This is valuable feedback.  Thank you all for taking a moment to post your thoughts.  There aren't a lot of lathes that become available around these parts, at least not ones that are so affordable and have all the accoutrements.  I hate to do a nice machine a dis-service by keeping it outside under a tarp.  In this climate that's machine cruelty.  I also have the fear that the lathe may be scrapped if I don't save her.  I have fifty other projects that could use the money, time and attention,  but there is something so alluring about this piece of old iron. 

 

In the end I suspect for the amount of use it makes the most practical sense to shop out any project requiring a big lathe.  Why can't I be more pragmatic? 

 

-Adair

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DSW   

Once I picked up my small lathe ( 12" x 36") I found all sorts of uses for it. I'd really like a bigger lathe ( 13" x 40" minimum), however right now due to the weight of a larger lathe, it's not really convenient. I've found all sorts of uses I'd have never imagined I'd have for a lathe before I got one, and if I had a better lathe, say with a DRO and some better tooling, I'm sure I'd make even more use of one. Same goes with my small mill.

 

 

There's all sorts of time saving things that can be done with a lathe. While  say turning down tenons and all may not be "traditional", in some cases it can quickly and neatly refine work already done at the forge and make some things easier.

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My small lathe is an 18.5" x 54" Monarch. I wouldn't trade it for anything as I use it for so many projects. It kills me that I don't have access to it at the moment. It is still at my folk's estate, and I don't have so much as a carport at my new place to put it in. As said before, it is easier to do small work on a big lathe than it is to do big work on a small lathe.

Get it if it is priced right. Resell it if as you say lathes are hard to come by in your area.

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knots   

I know that the following suggestion will likely bring howles of indignation but here goes :    The lathe in question was almost certainly designed for a function for which it wil never be used again.  That is the extreme length of the bed, 12 feet as I understand it,  makes the lathe an unusual find.  It actually is probably the reason that the lathe is a bargain because the space requirement .  A heavy duty functional lathe is desireable however the length of the bed may be the only reason that it is not marketable.  In most of the cases that I have observed, I believe that the bed could be removed and shortened to a more practical length.  Other than the bed the feed screw would be the  about the only other part that would need to be modified.  

 

If you pass on this lathe because of it's size it is really likely to be carelessly stored outside and eventually be junked.  The point is  -  if the lathe is in decent functional condition and you do not need the extra length modifying the length so that it will fit into your shop may be the act that ultimately saves it from being scrapped.  If it really is 12 feet long reducing the length to say 8 feet still retains an unusual capacity worthy of any small shop.   

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yahoo2   

if you are looking to use it as a precision lathe, the bed needs to be in good condition, a lot of old lathes wear the bed close to the head and they struggle to make a parallel cut in harder materials.

 

if you are looking to justify it on saving time and materials in lathe jobs, it needs to have a decent sized spindle bore. The ability to fit 2 inch stock in the bore lets you lathe and part off rather than using a steady and regripping the job, this speeds thing up a lot.

 

However, there are still a lot of things that you can do with a big old (cheap) lathe that I would be reluctant to do with a $20K new one. Building up parts with a metal spray attachment on the oxy torch and grinding come to mind. your imagination is the limit. I have even used the bed of one to bolt down a precision welding jig.

 

they are also great for making bushes in soft metals, hardwood timber and plastics

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Jim Coke   

Greetings Adair,

 

You stated that your inside enviorment  is not the greatest  for that lathe.. I have saved many machines and have had no problem with a heavy oil spray and a tarp..  I use a sheet of roofing on the top to direct the rain and a wood platform for a base... Good luck

 

Forge on and make beautiful things

Jim

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I wouldn't even think twice about it...Get it & enjoy tinkering with it. I've a lot of time for these old girls. Far too many machines end up as scrap where in my opinion it's an absolute waste & a shocking end to perfectly good machines.

 

You'll find use for it.....Better to be looking at it than looking for it..

 

I've 6 lathes btw lol  

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I was at an Woodworkers Shop Auction last week, there was an old but great shape Southbend Lathe there in the basement. About 6' with all the extras with it. It sold for $30! There was a Representative there from a Rigger/Mover outfit who said it would cost at least a $1000 to move it out of the basementThe outside wall had to be removed, no headroom for equipment to get in there, etc. etc. I think the buyer might have asked before bidding. I had.

Did get a 5" post vise that after selling off other stuff that came with it didn't cost me anything and a Bandsaw for not much. A Fisher Anvil, about 175lbs. went for $300
nice shape but I was being cheap and didn't need it. Wanted yes Needed No!

A lot of nice old woodworking machines went for scrap because of no OSHA compliance guards and cost of moving.

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Stopped by the shop today talked with a neighbor who said he saw the Southbend leave Friday on the back of a salvage truck not looking all that great. Sad ending to a fine machine but a lot of blame to go around. A shop that a month ago was well stocked fully operating as it had for 2 generations, owner had tried to sell complete and he wanted to be rid of it all. Today not a thing left in the building. An auctioneer who did an all around bad job of advertising the sale, only ad seen was the day before.

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arftist   

Stopped by the shop today talked with a neighbor who said he saw the Southbend leave Friday on the back of a salvage truck not looking all that great. Sad ending to a fine machine but a lot of blame to go around. A shop that a month ago was well stocked fully operating as it had for 2 generations, owner had tried to sell complete and he wanted to be rid of it all. Today not a thing left in the building. An auctioneer who did an all around bad job of advertising the sale, only ad seen was the day before.

Sad story bro, but thanks for telling it. 

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arftist   

Howdy,

 

I have the opportunity to pick up a very old 18" conehead lathe for a song.  I've wanted to tinker with a big lathe for a while,  but I also want to keep my focus on forgework.  I'm sure everyone understands the appeal of a new machine tool. 

 

This acquisition would mean trading 12" of shop wall space.  I'd be putting the lathe in an environment that is probably hostile to its livelihood.  Since I don't have much training with machine tools I can't say for sure that I will get the use out of it to justify the trade-off in shop space.  It is rather long for what I imagine using it for, but it is a beautiful old machine and in fine shape.  I don't make a living with the shop, but I'm trying to stay disciplined in keeping an orderly space for creative things to happen. 

 

Does anyone want to chime in with their experience and talk me out of a lathe at the price of scrap?  I should add that I currently have a Southbend 9A which is great for all the little bits. 

 

-Adair

Greetings.

The lathe is the king of all machine tools. It was invented by a blacksmith. I used my 26"swing by six foot bed to build a power hammer, a muller, a roll former(powered) and a hossfeld bender. 

I make dies for the hossfeld and the role former (pipe, tube, flat bar the hard way, angle iron, what ever I need to bend) 

I also use the lathe to make hot bending forms, plugs to splice pip (for structural welding), and a great many ornamental jobs involve turnings of one type or another. 

 

Small jobs can be milled on a lathe, with an angle plate and ingenuity. 

 

I can't run my business without a lathe but;

1. It is a business.

2. I am a machinist. (these days that doesn't seem to mean much but it did at one time)

 

Bottom line, I highly suggest you acquire the lathe. 

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Adair   

Thank you all for the input.  I did get the lathe.  Brought it home this weekend and rolled it into the shop.  Looking forward to cleaning it powering it up.  It's an attractive old machine and it doesn't hog the shop as much as I thought.  I think I have improved the layout dramatically because I was forced to move just about everything but the platten table. 

 

WP_20140628_002_zpsf65e8688.jpg

 

http://s43.photobucket.com/user/orracle1/media/Lathe/WP_20140629_001_zps25d20841.jpg.html

 

http://s43.photobucket.com/user/orracle1/media/Lathe/WP_20140629_011_zps9a422533.jpg.html

 

-Adair

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In my History of Western Technology there is mention of a renaissance "red metal turner" in Nuremberg that kept inventing better lathes against the wishes of his guild---so when you say it was invented by a blacksmith could you provide more details?  (I have a feeling you mean the screw cutting lathe as metal lathes go way back...)

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Adair   

Tommy,

 

That's great.  I had considered mounting my 9" south bend on the tail end, but now I can imagine wanting the full length. Now that this new lathe is in my shop, I find I'm not as cramped as I thought I would be.  I moved one of my fab tables out so now my platten will have to do double duty. A cabinet below the lathe with tooling for many of the other machines will be a great space saver too.  The wall behind the lathe will be great for storing tools that I don't use frequently.

 

-Adair

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arftist   
On 6/30/2014 at 11:39 AM, ThomasPowers said:

In my History of Western Technology there is mention of a renaissance "red metal turner" in Nuremberg that kept inventing better lathes against the wishes of his guild---so when you say it was invented by a blacksmith could you provide more details?  (I have a feeling you mean the screw cutting lathe as metal lathes go way back...)

I was hoping he meant to buy a screw cutting lathe.

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I own a metal lathe and 2 wood lathes. It would really stink to not own a lathe.

Say I need a pulley, a shaft, a bushing, I just make it.

I can even turn a part in wood for a pattern, make a mold, cast it in metal and machine myself new parts.

A lathe is like a pick up truck, once you have one you don't ever want to be without one.

 

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