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Tool Talk Discussion Forum

Re: Mini-lathe and mini-mill advice?

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03-21-2013 15:25:54

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Rossow: I have both a mini lathe and mini mill and have done lots of home/amateur gunsmithing (among many, many other projects) on both--the latest project was fabricating a side-mount scope base to fit on a .30-40 Krag. The majority of the units sold by the major importers (Grizzly, Enco, Northern Tool, Harbor Freight, etc.) are essentially the same machines, from the same Chinese factory, with just different paint and a few features added or subtracted depending on price point. That means you can often mix-and-match tooling, accessories, etc. and parts, service, etc. isn't all that hard to find if you know where to look. While it would be nice to have a big Bridgeport or similar setting in my garage, I have access to larger stuff if needed, and manage to get by just fine with my little units, providing you understand their limitations, both in terms of size (as was mentioned, don't figure on being able to use the entire capacity--you'll always lose some space for clamping, etc.) and tolerances. Also heed the advice that quality goes up with size--the slightly larger units are more robust than the smallest ones, and have more features. However, the flip side of that is that everything costs more--tooling, fixturing, clamps, chucks, etc. all go up rapidly in price as they go up in size, especially if you're buying new. You'll find that threading takes a good deal of practice, and oddball threads, while doable, aren't easy for even a good machinist. Still, both my lathe and mill have paid for themselves many, many times over, and I tend to use them even more than the larger equipment as they're more user-friendly than, say, the old 9" South Bend lathe that sets next to them. The mill has a geared micro-adjust on the quill, so making 0.001" steps is no problem at all. The link below has literally hundreds of pages of info on these and similar tools, and is an invaluable resource for these handy little tools.

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