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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm thinking seriously about getting a hobby lathe for my personal gun projects. I'm not considering anything heavy duty or super expensive, in fact, I'm looking in the $-500 range. I know that is limiting, but these are not heavy duty projects. One example is since CA will have lead bullets outlawed in June of '08, it will effectively shelf my Win 94 BB 375, since there are no suitable bullets made for it in non-lead.

One answer is to get some Barnes TSX's for the 375 H&H, that are sprire point, HP (barely) and cut them flat faced and center bore them to HP suitable to open and function in the 375 Win. I've done all of the above, except making it a hollow point, to the Hornady 270gr spirepoint with good results, so I see no reason it won't work on the TSX.

I've been eyeing a couple at Harbor Freight, but was wondering if you guys know something bad about them I SHOULD know, or if another brand is better for the price, or one with a better price.

This is one I'd been looking at, for $449.

http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=93212


Am I on the right track? In case you hadn't guessed I know mostly nothing about this but it seems like fun to learn.

Also, what add ons would be the necessities?

Thanks in advance.
 

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I haven't bought machine tools for years now, so what I know may be out of date. Here goes, and others can correct this if it is no longer right.

Most of the inexpensive machine tools are made in China, mainland or Taiwan. They are made to the specs of an importer such as Grizzly or Jet (or perhaps Harbor Freight). Tools may look identical, but function very differently because of things like sloppy bearings, loose tolerances, etc. I even recall lots of drill presses that were dirt cheap because the spindle bearings were used, and in many cases worn out right from the factory.

With that in mind I recommend you research the company that is importing the tools, and pick one with a constant presence in your community or at least in the country. Make sure that they have parts and service available, if you are not able to take care of that yourself. My training as a machinist and a machine repair person allowed me to save a tool that others may have had to scrap out. I made the mistake of buying it from one of those companies that set up a tent in the Mall parking lot and you never see them again.

To learn how to run that new lathe you may want to consider adult education classes at a local high school or tech college. There is a lot to learn, and it pays to know what you are doing. It makes things safer, and allows for better results.

I hope you find one that works well for you. They can be lots of fun.
 

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KeithL and Quickdoo have given excellent advice.

The made-in-china home hobbyist machines as sold by Harbor Freight represent the bottom level of quality in machine tools imported from China. You may get lucky and get an accurate, well-fitted, affordable benchtop mini-lathe, or you may get a $500 headache that you will sell asap. From the examples I've seen, examined, and worked with, you will likely get the latter. A brand name such as Jet and Grizzley will give much comfort when it's time for replacement parts or service. The next higher grade are mini lathes made in Taiwan, eastern or western Europe, and of course the domestic Sherline and Taig.

Important considerations for your bullet modifying projects are: spindle accuracy, repeatability of cuts, headstock accepts 5C collets. Accessories will include a steady rest, follower rest, drill chuck, and full set of boring, turning, facing, cutoff, and knurling tools.

You may consider a larger benchtop or lathe on a cabinet stand for your intended use in gun hobbies. A bare-bones used 12x36 Atlas can be had for about $500, and it is much more lathe than the mini you are considering.

Spending more on a higher quality machine will give more satisfaction in it's use and help the learning curve. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to learn and develop good machining technique on inadequate tools. When it comes time to upgrade, your better quality machine is more saleable than the economy job.


HTH
John
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
OK guys thanks for the advice, it might pay me to wait a bit, but boy do I hate waiting. :(. I know it would be cheaper to buy the bullets and have a REAL machinist do it, but I'm a do it yourself guy.

OK back to research.

Quick, thanks for the links, I forgot about craigslist.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
looking at the Grizzley site I see one similar size and price. Will keep looking.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I just found what seems to be a very good article. Thanks for making me look farther. The HF unit gets a pretty good rating from this guy, but the size issues are worth considering.
 

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I worked in and around the Machinist trade for 30 years as a designer, engineer, etc. And I am planning on upgrading my home shop to add both a lathe and a milling machine next year. I WILL NOT be buying Chinese junk. I will find an older, probably pre- 1950, American made machine tool. They will cost just little more than the Chinese stuff and are so well built that your grandchildrens grandchildren can still be using it.
I would strongly suggest not buying something you will soon come to regret.

alan
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I understand exactly what you're saying, but if I did everything like that, I'd own a Rolls Royce, not a Honda, shoot a $4000 custom rifle, or a $1500 Weatherby and not Savage's. The biggest issue, is this will be a hobby. Used about 3-4 times a year, so I really don't want to spend an arm and leg. for ANY brand.

I'll keep looking, but for what I want, It will have to be under $500, maybe lower.
 

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I have an Atlas 618 that came with a bed extension, I use it to turn, thread and chamber barrels. If you can find a machine with a spindle hole large enough to pass the barrel through then you can get buy with a shorter lathe. Larry
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I got to thinking of my earlier post and wanted to make sure you guys didn't think I'm blowing off your advice, I'm not. I might have come off a bit rude, if it seems that way I aplollgize.

I just wanted to emphasize, this is a SMALL hobby idea, and I didn't want to really be "gunsmithing" in the truest sense with it. Not like I'm going to try and re-chamber a barrel, or even re-thread one.

I wouldn't have a clue how to start that and don't have the time to learn. I just need a bit more repeatability than I get from my Harbor freight mini cut off saw and the drill press. Those two get it done, but a lot more work to do it than a lathe would be. I think even the lower level lathes would be more accurate than my current setup.
 

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Handirifle-
I was in your spot a year ago...just wanted a small lathe for 'stuff'. I bought one of the Grizzly 9x19's and it seemed to be a better fit than the smaller machines. The motor burnt out, called Grizzly and I had a new one in a week. Regardless what size machine you choose, I HIGHLY recommend Grizzly customer service! My only thought for you is I wish I had held out for the next size larger machine--it is easier to do a small project on a large machine than to make a small machine grow! Goode luck and enjoy!
 

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If you are wanting to make bullets, buy a lathe that accepts collets, it will be about 10 times easier to make them if you can just feed the stock through and lock it in. Larry
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
trotterlg said:
If you are wanting to make bullets, buy a lathe that accepts collets, it will be about 10 times easier to make them if you can just feed the stock through and lock it in. Larry
What purpose does the collet serve? Why not feed the stock straight through? By the way, I'm not really " making" bullets as I am modifying already made ones.


Dusty,
That goes along with the article I linked a few posts up. Just wondering about where the extra $$$ might come from.
 

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A collet on the headstock end of a lathe serves to hold the workpiece (an individual bullet, copper rod, etc) and allows rapid installation/removal of the object being machined. Being precision ground, it is more accurate than a 3-jaw chuck, and holds a bullet better without damaging it. Collets are made to hold round, square, triangular, hexagonal, octagonal, etc and other geometric shapes.
 

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In the price range Handirifle is working in I doubt he will be able to find much that isn't made in China. They own the low priced market for now, but I suspect in the near future the former Soviet Block eastern European nations will be competing. Even used American equipment in good shape will cost more unless Handirifle finds the deal of the year.

I would tend to buy an older lathe and overhaul it, but not everyone has the knowledge or easy access to the equipment necessary to get that done.
 

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That is good to know. I admire companies that start as imports then move production to the U.S. I may just have to get one of those little lathes...

One more point: For the extra $100 I would get the longer bed. I think it is well worth the money.
 
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