Confessions of a machine tool junkie

It’s a pretty sure sign that you’re a machine tool junkie when you browse through the craigslist ads, see a machine that you have no room for, no acceptable source of AC power for, and no conceivable need for, but you still check the balance in your checking account.  Such was the case the other week when I saw a Sunnen LB hone for only $250. I have no immediate need for one, though there are a few projects in mind where it would be useful. There’s hardly any info on them available (entering ‘sunnen model lb hone’ into google yielded as the first result… …that very craigslist ad), and this one was in need of new belts at a minimum (I had stopped by to have a look at the unit, being only 5 minutes away from work). Still, after pondering it overnight, I left a voicemail for the seller the next day telling him I’d take it. I got a voicemail back informing me that it had already been sold. Phew, what a relief!

I have a number of machines currently in my possession, though in this post I’ll just talk about the lathes, as the newest one is the source of most monetary expenditures as of late.  A puny little Grizzly 7×10 lathe was my first machine tool purchase many years ago, and it was so small that it’s not even offered anymore, having been replaced by the 7×12.  For those unfamiliar with machine tool lingo, calling a lathe a “7×10” or a “12×36” is roughly analogous to calling an engine a “305 cubic inch”, as the ‘displacement’ is essentially what is being described – the first number refers to the size of the largest diameter part that the lathe can hold, and the second number refers to the longest length part that can be turned ‘between centers’, which is a common method of workholding.  In the case of the 7×10, it could work with a short stubby piece of 7″ in diameter, or a long thin piece of 10″ in length, hence the 7×10 designation.  It wasn’t a great lathe, but it had all the features I wanted, especially the ability to cut threads.  I knew I’d probably wind up getting a larger unit someday, but this one sufficed just fine as a ‘trainer’ model.

The poor little 7x10 now sits unused under piles of debris in the garage
The poor little 7x10 now sits unused under piles of debris in the garage

Sure enough, many years later I really needed an upgrade, as the little 7×10 just didn’t have the torque, rigidity, or capacity that I needed.  Plus, having to swap gears (plastic ones, no less) to change thread pitches was a pain.  I eventually worked out a trade with Doc Nickel, who was also on the upgrade path – I had a bunch of solenoid valves, and he had a Grizzly 9×20 that he had outgrown. It was just the thing I had been looking for, and it certainly had a bit of history behind it, having modified countless paintball guns into custom works of art. Of course, I then wanted to modify the machine after a time, and I decided to replace the 3-jaw chuck with a 5C collet chuck for improved workholding on round pieces (getting a good grip on parts with a 3-jaw chuck generally leaves unsightly dents in the part where the jaws have dug in). Not being exactly sure of what mounting system I needed for the chuck, I called New England Brass & Tool, and Bob Cumings made certain to get me just what I needed, even throwing in a depth stop as a freebie, as he knew I’d find it useful. The 5C was indeed a great addition, and in fact I never took it off.

The well-used 9x20
The 9x20, with 5C collet chuck and quick change toolpost

While that was all well and good for workholding, the toolholding still needed attention – like the 7×10, the 9×20 had only a turret style toolpost. Not that a turret toolpost isn’t bad, but the stock toolposts on these little import lathes simply aren’t very good – they’re poor imitations of ‘real’ turret toolposts, and are used simply because they’re inexpensive to manufacture. I bought a Phase II piston-style quick change tool post, which, as the name implies, allows for quick changes of tools, each held securely in its own dovetailed toolholder. Additionally, I removed the compound from the lathe entirely, as they are not particularly rigid on these lathes, and I couldn’t forsee turning many tapers. Instead, I mounted the toolpost to a thick aluminum plate which itself got bolted to the cross-slide (which thankfully has T-slots perfect for this). This served me well for quite some time, but of course it couldn’t last. Once I moved up to a full size vertical mill I naturally needed a lathe to match, especially after taking a lathe class at MATC – after using a Summit 18×40 for a semester, I could barely even look at my feeble 9×20.  (Not to mention that the class lathes were outfitted with DROs, Aloris (real Aloris, mind you) wedge style quick change tool posts and a full complement of Kennametal tooling)

I first had my eye on a used Jet 14×40 at a local machine tool dealer – it needed some parts, but it had a big 3″ bore through the headstock.  The dealer wanted $3000 for it, and I figured I could save up the cash for it.  Naturally, though, someone swooped in and bought it.  I then had my eye on a nice big Andrychow TUG-40 from the same dealer – certainly a nicer, bigger lathe, but with a pricetag to match – something like $5700.  Ouch.  I figured I’d have to make acquiring a big lathe a much longer term project.  I browsed craigslist for months on end, hoping to find just the right one at a price that wouldn’t kill me.  Then, in January, I found the one I had been waiting for.

Keiyo Seiki KM-1800C
Keiyo Seiki KM-1800C

What a beauty – a 17×48 monster, even larger than the lathe I had used in class.  With a 7.5HP motor, this beast should easily be able to chew through anything I dare to feed it.  And a full quick change gearbox – no more messing with change gears or even belts for speed changes!  The price was a steal at only $2100, and I knew that I better nab it now or live a life of regret.  Of course, buying it and actually taking delivery are two very different things.  I called Big Red Movers for a quote on actually moving it home, but they tossed out a price of $1000 for the service. Yeah, like I’m going to drop half the cost of the machine on just transporting it. A bit of chatting with coworkers finally hooked me up with someone with a truck and dump trailer who was able to help me haul it over to work. It was forklifted onto the trailer at the seller, and forklifted off the trailer at work, where I could temporarily store it while figuring out a way to transport it home.

I decided on building roller bases for the lathe in order to get it home and into the garage, as these had worked very well for my vertical mill. As long as the unit could be loaded onto a rollback tow truck, it could be rolled right off the truck bed (using the truck’s winch to gently lower it down the bed) into the garage. My dad managed to dig up most of the metal needed for building the roller bases, and I welded them up at work. I used the same Fairbanks swivel casters as I had on the mill bases, hoping that they’d be able to withstand the heavier load of the lathe. Once I had the bases built, I forklifted the lathe onto them, and wonder of wonders, they held. After that, it was a simple matter of hiring a rollback tow truck, rolling the lathe onto the bed (via the loading dock at work), and then bringing it home. I asked dad if he could help me with the unloading, as it makes me feel a lot better having someone around who has far more experience in such matters. Fortunately, the lathe came down the bed extremely smoothly, and we parked it neatly in the garage with a minimum of fuss. I’d deal with unloading it from the roller bases at a later time, but for now I could simply smile with satisfaction at finally having a ‘real’ lathe.

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