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Looking into getting into Lathing.....for Dummies


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Apologies for re-raising this issue, but I would like to put my own spin on it (pun intended), I would like help on getting started in the world of lathes.

I have reached the point where not having the ability to make parts on a lathe is starting to hamper my watch making development. However, I have never owned or used a lathe and have no practical knowledge of them, quite an admission from a 25 year Chartered Mechanical Engineer who is also a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.... but there you go!  I can design in 3D CAD and program for a 6 axis CNC machine, but stand me in front of a manual lathe and I wouldn't have a clue.

Anyway, back on topic.... I am a great believer in the 80:20 rule, so looking for a set up that will allow me to cover most of what I need (when starting out anyway) without breaking the bank on getting all the bells and whistles that would sit on the shelf for 99% of their lives - I can work on those over time. I am also looking for a setup that isn't some obscure brand or setup/size, as I want to be able to look up instructional videos etc.

Not having any experience I need a volunteer(s) to "lead me by the hand"....."Scott, buy this and this and this..... there you are done!" kind of thing, also, any recommendations on YouTube/videos and other resources on using a lathe for watch making would also be great.

Confession over... and thanks in advance for the help and advice.

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As almost all watchmaker lathe makers are now defunct, it's good to get a brand where you will run into accessories and parts without too much trouble. I strongly recommend going with an "American" style lathe, with what's called a Webster Whitcomb bed. Here some quality makers are Derbyshire, Levin, G. Boley, Boley Leinen, Wolf Jahn, and Lorch. Of those, my absolute favorite is Boley Leinen. One of the main reasons being that the tailstocks always line up, from one machine to the other, mixing and matching*. They also accept commonly found 8mm collets from Schaublin, Boley, Leinen, Levin, and others, in my experience. Some of these machines are made to take 10mm collets- you definitely want to stick with 8mm, far more available second hand. I would go for a machine that comes with a collet holding tailstock as it opens up so much the utility of the tailstock.

 

A lot can be done freehand turning (well, all, if you really want to), but having a slide rest is incredibly useful. Unfortunately most made for this type of lathe leave a lot to be desired. After all my years doing this, I have never found anything close to the quality and utility of the slide rests from Levin. They don't come up for sale everyday, but are worth what they go for. Watch out- they came in both metric and inch versions, metric being the preferred one.

 

You can find boxed sets with loads of accessories, but most of the little bits and bobs will sit in the box unused as they have done already for decades. A good basic lathe, a good slide rest, and a good set of collets is enough to have you making parts. I use my lathe daily and it's rare to need anything other than that. I do have some scroll chucks and such with are handy for certain work.

 

Some info on Webster Whitcomb

 

*On the Boley Leinen- there were two "eras" older and newer. Older ones had a very slightly different bed size, and wont mix with the newer ones. Newer ones always have straight black locking levers for the head and tailstock, older have more bulbous fancy ones. You want the newer style. The machines were made with both plain bearing and ball bearing headstocks, either is fine, the latter tending to be more expensive.

 

And finally, I've read on other forums (check out Jerry Kieffer's posts here) where some folks have been super happy with Sherline lathes even for doing tiny watch parts. As an adapter is required to use 8mm collets, I have a hard time imagining that you can chuck up a small part and get it to run truly true, and there are some other limitations. But those machines are very affordable brand new, and can do some stuff that is very difficult on a watchmaker lathe, like cutting screw threads.

 

For new machines, the only one I can see as being worth any investment is the apparently very high quality Chinese made CZ-50. It appears to be a sort of homage to the ball bearing head Leinen machines, and they have a lot of very happy customers. I think the base price is around 6k dollars for the lathe with collet holding tailstock and cross slide, so not something one would buy as a first machine necessarily unless that sum is palatable.

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I recently bought a Star Lathe from Switzerland, 1920's more or less. I am learning watch makers turning but I am familiar with larger lathes and would recommend it. Nice solid lathe up to you. lets learn together best Jules

By the way I also bought the book "The modern watchmakers lathe and how to use it" Archie B Perkins, what a book I haven't finished it yet but highly recommended. Cheers...Jules

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  • 3 weeks later...

Quick update:

I, I mean, Mrs W. just purchased me the following Sherline lathe for Christmas 🎄:

image.png.2471469e1a1ed64ccbf78a5ce1f8caaa.png

They are offering a good discount right now, so couldn't resist, hopefully I didn't act too impulsively and done something stupid! 😟

Here is are the details:

image.thumb.png.ff7bbc69aa4ea9dd471d1affd2e6f668.png

image.thumb.png.30b8a19d28a3f7d7b103bed5557c4b5c.png

Edited by Waggy
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Model is the 4000 (4100), I would initially be looking to use it to make some tools etc. from brass, then as I start to get better and build up experience/confidence, start on the smaller more challenging stuff like staffs stems etc. I think it will be one of those tools that you don't realise you need until you have one and then will not know how you managed without it.

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I have coming with my lathe a 2.5″ 4-Jaw Independent Chuck, but I am looking to add a 3 jaw self centering to compliment it. The recommended part from Sherline is below and I believe this is due to the spindle thread being 3/4"-16 NC. The price isn't crazy expensive from Sherline at $109.20, but when posting is added this makes it almost double that price, hence, I have been looking online for 3 jaw chucks but the majority seem to be M14 thread. I could buy/make an adapter, but NC is now an obsolete thread (or so I believe from my reading on the subject) replaced by UNC. I have tried to see if NC and UNC are compatible ie can you screw UNC into NC but the documentation online is difficult to interpret and most links talk about the interchangeability of UNC and UNF not NC and UNC.

Can anyone advise if NC and UNC are compatible?

image.png.456bb11994bb889886a2a7c08596dd09.png

I also purchased a set of 8mm collets (with adapter) in sizes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6mm any additional sizes that are a must have? I can build up over time, so just looking for any must have sizes that I am missing.

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On 10/25/2023 at 8:55 AM, Waggy said:

Apologies for re-raising this issue, but I would like to put my own spin on it (pun intended), I would like help on getting started in the world of lathes.

I have reached the point where not having the ability to make parts on a lathe is starting to hamper my watch making development. However, I have never owned or used a lathe and have no practical knowledge of them, quite an admission from a 25 year Chartered Mechanical Engineer who is also a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.... but there you go!  I can design in 3D CAD and program for a 6 axis CNC machine, but stand me in front of a manual lathe and I wouldn't have a clue.

Anyway, back on topic.... I am a great believer in the 80:20 rule, so looking for a set up that will allow me to cover most of what I need (when starting out anyway) without breaking the bank on getting all the bells and whistles that would sit on the shelf for 99% of their lives - I can work on those over time. I am also looking for a setup that isn't some obscure brand or setup/size, as I want to be able to look up instructional videos etc.

Not having any experience I need a volunteer(s) to "lead me by the hand"....."Scott, buy this and this and this..... there you are done!" kind of thing, also, any recommendations on YouTube/videos and other resources on using a lathe for watch making would also be great.

Confession over... and thanks in advance for the help and advice.

If buying a manual lathe i would also suggest something micro in the watch makers arena. Due diligence is very important when buying used lathes as many of them are not fit for machining micro components and holding tolerances. I myself as an engineer with 30 years precision engineering and machine building background have come across some nice looking used lathes however on closer inspection they were not up to the job for precision or micro machining. It would be a good investment to buy a used machine and over all it by converting it to a CNC controller. If i can be of any help please fire a message, I just picked up a used Boxford Lathe and starting stripping it down to be updated with new CNC controller and motors.

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Can't wait for you to post some of your work with this new lathe!!

I am addicted to lathes and have way too many WW lathes.  Now and then, I run into a situation where I need to handle larger stock, so I have had my eye on a Sherline.  If I already own six lathes, adding one more is only 17% increase.  I can get that by the accountant, or maybe I just hide it from her!!

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NC and UNC are effectively the same. But, even if you made an adapter to the highest level of precision, i.e. in a larger lathe that can cut threads, and it was "perfect", you would still see concentricity issues, and also rigidity issues from spacing out the chuck that much further from the spindle bearings (plus just having an additional coupling between the chuck and spindle). Even at 220 bucks with shipping it's a ridiculously low price for the quality of the Sherline chucks.

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@nickelsilver all great points, just ordered the Sherline chuck, they have good discount on at the moment so got around $35 off the list price.

On 11/17/2023 at 10:31 AM, Waggy said:

I also purchased a set of 8mm collets (with adapter) in sizes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6mm any additional sizes that are a must have? I can build up over time, so just looking for any must have sizes that I am missing.

Looking to take advantage of Serline's sale, so any advice on collet sizes to get?

PS

The collets listed above that i got in the small set are WW collets - learning as I go 🙂

 

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Well, you really need all the collets, haha. But, as a start, just to work with nominally sized stock, from 0.5mm to 6mm in 0.5mm increments is good. In the sub-1mm sizes you really do need them in 0.1mm increments (you can even get them in 0.05mm increments). Above that, or perhaps above 2mm, a lot of folks seem content with 0.2mm increments, but if you find yourself using the lathe a lot holding existing parts, having a set in 0.1mm increments is the best.

 

The collet is designed with a straight bore, that is exactly the size marked on the head. If you put a piece of 4mm bar in a 4mm collet, the piece is held all along the collet bore, very securely and (ideally) accurately. If you put a piece of 3.8mm bar in a 4mm collet, it is held only at the end of the bore, so the piece can nutate in the collet. This leads to poor work, perhaps damage to the workpiece, and eventually damage to the collet itself. You don't want to put oversize stock in a collet.

 

So yeah, you want to make a winding stem, start with say 3mm stock. Ultimately the largest diameter on your stem is 1.2mm, and you need to put it in the lathe now holding that diameter. 1mm won't work, 1.5 is really pushing it (I would not do it). So, finally, you really do need as large a range of sizes as you can get your hands on.

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