View Full Version : what to look for in when new to machining?

Hemi Killer
01-06-10, 03:11 PM
I have no experience machining anything. I am considering purchasing a mini lathe/mill down the road to make parts for my 1/12 and 1/8 cars. the lathe will be used strictly for model car building between 1/24 and 1/8 at the largest.

what are key features/components to look for?

what tools/attachments are necessary for making a wide range of model parts?

Im not looking for professional quality, but not junk either. what is an approximate price range to get started and ready to go?

it is overwhelming, where do I start? books, websites, etc.?

i have no experience with this stuff. what is required to make a part? scaling down the 1:1 dimensions?

01-06-10, 06:49 PM
Your first investment should be Tabletop Machining by Joe Martin. The book is partial to Sherline products but its probably one of the best reference books you can get, expecially when machining parts for models.

Hemi Killer
01-06-10, 07:00 PM
I'll check it out, thanks.

are any of the ones frmo Ebay any good? Im assuming alot are chinese, or am I better off spending the extra money for a brand name?

also I hear the Sherwoods are outstanding but are limited to very small stuff. would it cover most of the stuff for 1/8 scale, like wheels and engine parts if I needed to?

01-06-10, 09:29 PM
Google mini lathe, mini mill, mini machining. That should get you started with some info that I know will lead some of the answers to your questions. I have the True inch machines from micro mark that are chinese (Seig) imports. With a little elbow grease and time can be upgraded to perform very respectable. There are a group of home done upgrades that really make a bit of difference in them. Both my machines are now digital read out equiped by modifying harbor freight digital calipers, home made mountings and a readout display from Shars. They will both repeat accurately to .001 most of the time. They do have their limitations being table top machines but still not bad for the money and time invested. I also had an Emco Unimat 3 but is a little small for some things you mentioned.

01-06-10, 10:21 PM
I have both the x2 mill and the 7x14 lathe. These are respectively known as the mini-mill and mini-lathe. Here are links to the Grizzley site for both of them:

G8689 Mini Milling Machine (http://www.grizzly.com/products/Mini-Milling-Machine/G8689)
G8688 7" x 12" Mini Metal Lathe (http://www.grizzly.com/products/7-x-12-Mini-Metal-Lathe/G8688)

I have pretty much the same thing except in the Cummins brands. I bought both of mine on ebay. For what you are doing they will be OK. Harbor Freight and Micromark also sells versions of these machines as do other brands. You will need to take them apart, clean them up, and adjust them. Although you can use them "out of the box" (I did), they work better if you do the disassembly, clean and adjust first.

I CNCd the mini-mill and really been having fun with it now. The CNC really makes a difference in what you can do. I have my lathe tore apart because I was going to build a 4th axis for the mini-mill, but that idea went by the wayside. I also have a Clausing 12x36 lathe that I do most of my turning on now. I am looking for parts to CNC both the (whats left of it anyway) 7x lathe and the Clausing.

And...like you, I had no idea what I was getting into. I did not have machinist experience, although I work in a shop that has a machinist employed. My inspiration was Gerald Wingrove and the scale models that he builds. I bought the lathe first and figured if I could make something with that, I would then buy the mill. I have to say, for me, it was fairly easy to pick up.

Let me warn you...this gets expensive. If you do not have any tools, figure on spending the cost of the machine for the associated tooling (vices, clamping sets, micrometers, cutting bits...etc...). Throw in some CNC items in there and watch your money fly away even faster!

Feel free to ask anything of my machines and I will do the best to answer.


01-06-10, 10:54 PM
Hi, I'll second everything Brassbuilder says and add that Grizzly's service is outstanding. They are also one of the rare companies that has parts available should something fail. To answer part of Hemi's question, a couple of key components to look out for are your eyes and limbs. Wear eye protection and never touch anything that's moving.

Hemi Killer
01-07-10, 12:40 AM
I understand for the most potential you need a lathe and a mill.

what can a lthe do that a mille cant, and visa versa?

idealy I would like to buy a combo, but the budget wont allow.

what would be better for a frist purchase? immediately Im thinking of making rotors, hose fittings, cathc cans, pulleys etc.

how limited would I be without the mill?

01-07-10, 01:59 AM
The heart of the model makers´ workshop is the lathe. I think the most versatile of all miniature lathes is the Emco Unimat SL or the Unimat 3. For the really dedicated, there is nothing to compare with the Emconomat 7 or the Sherline or Smithys Lathes.
About the lathe attachments, the most important is some kind dividing head or rotary table. The marking out of the three or four spokes of a stering wheel is one thing but the drilling of between 20 and 30 holes on a diameter of about a quarter of an inch is quite another.
If you buy an Unimat 3, you can find on Ebay an Unimat Dividing Head; this attachment would be quite adequate for most of the work you will be doing.
Please sorry for my very bad english.

01-07-10, 07:35 AM
Yeah... definitely the lathe is the first purchase. I think Wingrove mentioned in one of his books that you can make parts manually without a mill because those parts are flat, but it is next to impossible making round parts without a lathe. He said something to that effect anyway...

I would stay away from the combination lathe and mill unless that is all you can afford. The problem with those is that you have to change your setup to go from the lathe to the mill and then back. Those are not quite as user friendly to CNC either.

I think I bought my lathe and messed around with it for about 4-5 months before I invested in the mill.

REMEMBER...set aside the same amount of money that you spend on the lathe or mill (especially the mill) to buy tooling, especially if you don't have some of the basics now (machinist square, machinist ruler, micrometers). I can't stress that enough...Been there...done that. :)


Hemi Killer
01-07-10, 09:47 AM
The heart of the model makers´ workshop is the lathe. I think the most versatile of all miniature lathes is the Emco Unimat SL or the Unimat 3. For the really dedicated, there is nothing to compare with the Emconomat 7 or the Sherline or Smithys Lathes.
About the lathe attachments, the most important is some kind dividing head or rotary table. The marking out of the three or four spokes of a stering wheel is one thing but the drilling of between 20 and 30 holes on a diameter of about a quarter of an inch is quite another.
If you buy an Unimat 3, you can find on Ebay an Unimat Dividing Head; this attachment would be quite adequate for most of the work you will be doing.
Please sorry for my very bad english.

Your english is excellent, thank you for the information.

Mike and everyone else, you have been more than helpfull. i will check out the book that was recommended and start looking at lathes.

a few last questions;

1. is there a huge difference in quality between the high end cutting tools and the chinese or lower priced stuff.

2. are there any lathes that are ready "out of the box" or do they all need adjusting.

3. are there any lathe packages, say with cutting tools and everything to get started?

thanks again.

01-07-10, 12:53 PM
Hi, For a lot of your accessories, cutting tools, and such a big industrial supplier like MSC can be a good source. They carry cutting bits, drills, and such in 3 or 4 grades, from economy import to premium US made. I've had great luck with their economy lathe bits. One tool you will need soon is a grinder, and if you use carbide tools, a silicon carbide or diamond wheel for it. A diamond wheel sharpens carbide bits real easily, and sharp bits do make a difference, carbide or HSS.

Hemi Killer
01-07-10, 02:22 PM
great info, thank you. i work with diamond abrasives daily, I am a natural stone refinisher, I may just have something that would work. either way, i will check out the book and do a lot of research first.

the most frustrating thing is I have enough $ to purchase the lathe, but not the tools and accessories, so it will give me time to learn some things.

Neanderthal Machinist
05-01-10, 08:59 PM
You asked about the quality differences between cheap and expensive tooling? When it comes to cutting tools buy the absolute best you can afford. It's impossible to get a better finish on your parts than the quality of finish on your cutting tools. Buy quality H.S.S. cutting tools and or carbide tool tips, Drills ect. that are made in the U.S, Europe, ect. All high speed steel and carbide are NOT created equal. There is also no such thing as good cheap tooling when it comes to lathes and mills. You really need to check out a few home machinists forums like the Home shop machinist bbs, Homemodelenginemachinist, ect. There are many and there are litterly hundreds of people more than willing to answer any and all questions. Believe me you will have lot's more questions. All lathes and mills really need fine adjusting by the end user no matter the money spent. Just due to shipping vibrations items can easily go out of adjustment.

Books are at this point your best buy, Google Tee Publishing in the U.K. Look in their model engineering section. There's a huge variety of titles for basic lathe or milling work. MSC or Enco are based in the U.S. and are a good source of quality tooling. They also sell the cheaper stuff too, But it's taken me many years to learn that with machineing you get exactly what you pay for. Both companies have on line catalogs. When buying a lathe or mill it's always better to buy slightly bigger than you think you need, You WILL find uses for the extra capacity. Little Machine Shop in California is also a great place to buy too. They have a few tips on their web site that will help. Machining is a very facinating hobby in it's own right. I wish you luck and if I can answer any further questions then don't hesitate to ask.


05-02-10, 02:35 AM
Check VIDEO marathon: basisvaardigheden in de werkplaats | CycleKart.nl » Racen in handgebouwde vintage go-karts (http://cyclekart.nl/?p=1429) for about 8 hours of tutorials on using a lathe and a mill.

Lee in Texas
05-03-10, 02:19 AM
I have a Sherline lathe and mill. I can't offer you a comparison with any other brands because these are the only machine tools I have ever used. I can tell you, however, that I have been very frustrated by "running out of room" on Sherline tools when trying to make parts in 1/8 scale. The lathe is too small to turn wheel rims 2" in diameter. On the mill, I've had to stack accessories such as a lathe chuck mounted to the rotary table, mounted to the tilting angle table. By the time those are stacked up, there's no room left for machining. There's a company called A2Z CNC that sells parts to extend all three axes, but I haven't had the funds to do that yet.

Again, I can't tell you what to buy, only what to look out for with the tools I have. For parts that don't push the size envelope, I have been very happy.

05-03-10, 10:58 AM
Hi Lee, There's a familiar story. I did some 1/1 bike parts that were nearly a big as the Sherline by bolting them to the table and running the lash up as a horizontal boring machine. Clumsy but it did the job.

09-12-10, 01:25 AM
Hi, new poster here, been into machining for far too many years to think about, same with modelling, I do own a few Unimat 3 lathes and an Emco MaxiMat and have adapted an X2 Sieg mill to fit to it. So here's a bit of a ramble from someone who only thinks he knows, others will certainly say so.

The first thing to get is a lathe, the SIEG brand Chinese made mini-lathe is about the best bang for your buck that you can get ANYWHERE.

Shanghai SIEG Industrial. Co (http://www.siegind.com/products-black-red.php)

These machines are "badge engineered" by many RE-SELLERS, the likes of harbour fright, grizzly, micro-mark and many more are out there. They are ALL the same machines, made from the same original drawings and possibly even from the exact same factory, the only difference is the colour that they are painted, those that will say otherwise, then please prove it.
Go and get the cheapest one you can find, from anywhere, with what money that you will save, you can now afford to buy the tooling you'll need, to make it a useful addition to your model making.

Here's the Sieg C3 lathe, which is a very popular size, it will do all you want in the scales that you have mentioned/suggested.

Shanghai SIEG Industrial. Co (http://www.siegind.com/product.php?id=17)

Now here's the same lathe from grizzly.

G8688 7" x 12" Mini Metal Lathe (http://www.grizzly.com/products/7-x-12-Mini-Metal-Lathe/G8688)

Lets look at harbar fright now.

7" x 12" Precision Mini Lathe (http://www.harborfreight.com/7-inch-x-12-inch-precision-mini-lathe-93799.html)

Micro-mark, it's just got a 2 inch longer bed, that's the only difference, still made by Sieg

MICROLUX 7x14 MINI LATHE (http://www.micromark.com/MICROLUX-7x14-MINI-LATHE,8176.html)

The MAJOR difference is, where the switches are placed and the names on the stickers, the only other difference is the coloured paint, which makes one brand a much better lathe than the other brand, yeh--------right.

Plenty of sellers will attempt to tell you that, choice is yours on that one.

To check out that they are all from the same factory and drawings, here's a spare parts list from "little machine shop"
Note that they have the exact same parts, whether it be for a 7 by 10/12/14 inch bed, now that's NO MATTER who's name is on it.

LittleMachineShop.com - Lathe: 7x10/12/14 Mini Lathe (C2/C3) Assemblies (http://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_category.php?category=1023914534)

Get yourself some of the CHEAPEST chicom made TOOL STEEL you can find and learn to grind it to what-ever shape you want/need. The reason I say this, is once you have learned to sharpen the cheap stuff, then when you go and buy the better quality tool-steel, your not going to waste the good stuff turning it into grinding dust.

DO NOT be frightened about sharpening the tooling, it does NOT have to be exact, near enough is all I use, here's a bit from the sherline site about it. The easiest way to learn is just copy what's been ground into it in the first instance, that's if you bought pre-sharpened tool-steel.

Grinding Your Own Lathe Tools (http://www.sherline.com/grinding.htm)

Now if you want too, go waste your money on expensive tool sets and lots more money on the expensive replace-able tipped tooling, for mucking around with bits for models, tool-steel is very adequate.

Do go and buy a few books on the subject of learning to machine, fore-warned is fore-armed on what to look out for, remember that anything that is spinning around is DANGEROUS, just be carefull and count your fingers each time after you've used the lathe.

Do a lot of google-ing on the subject of machining and get as much info as you can handle, it is all relevant.
You'll soon find out that you can even do milling on the lathe, OK, it's a bit limited, but it can be done.

Happy hunting with the lathe, remember this though, whatever you spend on the actual machine, be ready to shell as much again on the tooling to make it all work.

regards radish

11-04-10, 02:48 PM
Hemi -

Like you I started machinging with absolutely no experience. Being an accountant, I hadn't ever even seen someone use a mill or lathe.

I went with Sherline equipment across the board and it was excellent right out of the box. No matter what you buy, it's going to have to be adjusted every once in a while, but i found the Sherline equipment to be very well calibrated upon delivery.

Everything else said here is spot on. You'll use the lathe 3 times for every 1 time you use the Mill. But when you need a Mill, nothing else will do. The primary difference between the two is that on a Mill, the part is stationary while the cutting tool moves as opposed to a Lathe where the part moves and the cutting tool is stationary.

Unless you are building working engines where .001 tolererances are not enough, any of the machines talked about here will be more than adequate. Also, the comment about NOT going with a combo machine is spot on. As it is, you can easily spend 20 minutes setting up a part that requires 10 seconds to cut (and that's with a separate Mill and Lathe). I can't imagine how long it would take if you were using a combo unit.

The last bits of advice i'll add are as follows:

(1) Make sure to use a good cutting fluid as it will help you make smoother cuts and will reduce wear on your cutting tools.

(2) Everytime you turn on the machine, take a deep breath, remind yourself that you're new to this and DON'T RUSH.

(3) I've been machining for about 5 years now and I still usually have to make a part three times to get one just right. It's as much (or more) of an art than a science so don't let yourself get frustrated.

(4) WEAR YOUR GOGGLES!!!. Small Parts will sell you more metal if you mess up a part and Sherline, Grizzly, MicroMark, etc. will sell you replacement parts if you mess up your machine. But I don't know of anyone who can quickly ship you a new eye.

Finally, don't hesitate to ask questions. The modelers here are very skilled and even more generous with their knowlege.

Good Luck,