Vektor's Definitely Subjective Mini Lathe Buyer's Guide! Apr 12, 2021 2:56:58 GMT -5 Obi-Shane, sandpeople, and 3 more like this
Post by Vektor on Apr 12, 2021 2:56:58 GMT -5
SABERSMITH’S LATHE BUYER GUIDE
For us saberbuilding enthusiast, a lathe is an essential tool for creating hilts. Saber hilts are most often cylindrical, so it would be very difficult to create this kind of items with any other tool out there. Lathe is also extremely versatile tool to have, and working with lathe counts as fun hobby on itself as well.
When I was searching information for my first lathe purchase, around 2007 or 2008, the internet was full of tool elitists who most often worked professionally in machining, and considered anything smaller than five-digit priced tool room precision lathe utter rubbish. I even heard a story about one machinist, who quit his job because he had spent six months just centering a workpiece into lathe chuck perfectly. Obsessive precision? Snobbery? A saberbuider craves not these things. And we can go really far with the so-called benchtop “hobby” lathes. While I’m not a professional machinist, I have had a number of lathes in my workshop since 2008, so I gathered my experience with them in this post, hoping it might provide some help for aspiring saber builders, going through the same process I did 13 years ago.
Chapter 1: The Chinese connection
One of the most popular alternatives in this class is the Chinese 7x12 “mini lathe”. They’re offered in many different variations, different brands (usually named by your favourite hardware store) and different colors, but they’re all basically the same body and they come from same manufacturer, SIEG in China. SIEG makes a wide range of other lathes as well, from very tiny micro lathes to fair sized CNC machining centers. I have owned now three different SIEGs, a small C1 sized bench lathe, their biggest CNC lathe and now the latest acquisition is a 7x12 (mine actually has 16” long bed, though). I also have had a SIEG-originated X-2 mini mill for few years.
I’d probably discard the smallest C0 and C1 lathes, because in that size and price segment there are better alternatives. The C1 I had was alright for beginner, but soon ran out of capacity for saberbuilding purposes and accessories are far more few than for bigger, more versatile C2 (7x12). Also thread cutting with this C1, albeit possible, was VERY cumbersome.
The bigger C2, more commonly known 7x12, 7x14 or other 7xXX variation, is actually very good machine for our purposes. The capacity, as long as you go for 4” chuck, is good, and the weight is just fine for eliminating most of the vibration. Mine is actually 7x16” version, because the dealer had one on sale, but even though I don’t need the extra length very often the added weight amends a lot for stability.
These C2s also usually come with generous kit. You get power feed, top slide, lots of accessories like changewheels for thread cutting included. I only needed a good set of tools, tailstock drill chuck and a bull nose pipe center (which I had already and trust me, you'll appreciate one in your arsenal too) as additional accessories at this point. What would make this set ideal was the availability of large bore 4” chucks, but those are more reserved for bigger chucks and bigger lathes. Other than that, the number of accessories for these machines is satisfactory, and finding information online is easy too.
When addressing the problems in these 7x12” lathes, one thing arises above everything else: electronics are usually shotty. The speed control board in my C1 broke only after 6 months. It broke the very first week in my X-2 mini mill. The first thing to go in my SIEG CNC lathe was electronics (automatic tool changer switch board) and the speed controller in my current C2 already has a bit of alarming behaviour, only after a month of use. New speed controller PCB costs just over 100 bucks, which isn’t terrible, but given the short lifespan of that component, feels a bit redundant cost. And it also consumes your workshop time to replace one.
Also, some of the 7x12” kits come with rather low power motor, so keep your eyes peeled for that detail. Mine has 370W, which is on the low end of the scale, but I have limited my lathe work for just 2 hours per day. I was thinking about converting this lathe into belt fed machine with external motor, but I haven’t got around to that yet, and I’m not sure how I can keep the thread cutting ability after the conversion.
Would I recommend this machine? Yes, if you’re able to score a great package deal with 4” chuck for starters. Then you have saved some cash for upcoming electronic repairs. And you have a delightfully capable lathe on your hands too.