Small Metal Lathe Recommendations?

I’m looking into getting a small lathe for our team this fall and was looking for any recommendations people have? The only thing it would be used for is turning/parting hex shaft and spacers for said hex shaft. Anything larger and I can have a sponsor or myself make it at work. I’m just tired of having to pull favors for such tiny parts, and with our rather limited space, am wondering what I can get away with.

This is what I’m looking at currently, mostly because it’s local. I’m not opposed to spending a little more should it improve the bang for buck, but in terms of size, anything much bigger probably isn’t practical for us.

If you want a 7x12, the Harbor Freight one is quite a bit cheaper. Do you have a Harbor Freight store nearby? Where are you located?

There’s a YouTube channel called This Old Tony which produces a good review of this style of minilathe (I think he had something a bit cheaper (harbor freight) and 7"x14".)
This one claims to have a spindle bore of 20mm, which seems probably okay for FRC use (I highly recommend you find something you can fit a half inch hex shaft through, if you find yourself needing a long modified hex shaft.)


I have a little harbor freight lathe. Once you get them tuned up they are pretty great for all those small items like spacers, drilling and tapping shafts. I picked up mine basically brand new (a shop made 2 parts on it when their main machine was down) and gave it to me with tooling for 400.

There’s also always Grizzly or Little Machine Shop, but idk how much shipping would be for you.

They are actually priced about the same. The price listed on OP’s link is in CAD. In USD that’s somewhere around the $750 mark. Which after things like shipping and import fees is going to run them about the same. Plus, they’d be supporting a local business.

@Nessie didn’t realize they were in Canada.

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Ok, so our team uses this lathe. (Different supplier but same super OEM so whatever.) For a team that currently does not have a lathe in their build space, I would recommend at least getting this lathe. The difference between having no lathe and having this little thing is night and day! Being able to go turn a quick part at a meeting has significantly reduced situations that would have blocked us for days or weeks in seasons past.

That being said, it does leave a lot to be desired. While it is a lathe and boasts all the traditional lathe features, it’s not great at all of them. For example: Cutting threads. It can do it in a pinch, but it may be frustrating. At least it has been for us. Though it sounds as though in your situation you have “out of house” options for the more complicated parts. (We’ve been doing the same with tricky parts.)

For most parts FRC teams are making, this will get through them. As a bonus, it’s a great teaching instrument. Especially for newer students.

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May I ask why you use the Lathe to cut threads? Doesn’t seem very necessary for FRC purposes.

The way I learned to cut threads with the assist of the lathe was to use the tail stock to apply pressure to a die and then with the lathe in neutral turn the chuck by hand.

As Nessie mentioned above, we are located in Canada (London Ontario to be specific). So anything State side would involve us needing to deal with shipping and import fees unfortunately. Not to mention the exchange rate.

From the sounds of things here though, it looks like the unit I’m looking at is probably a decent option for us currently. Again we can still outsource larger/more complex parts. If we had no access to outside fabrication, I’d look into something larger and trying to find the space. But that’s not necessary in this situation.

I used the term “cutting threads” as the operation. The end result we were going for in 2018 were not “threads” per say. The part(s) in question can be seen here:

We ended up just doing them on a floor standing lathe at another mentors workplace. The benchtop lathe just does not have enough power at low speeds and trying to feed on time at high speeds is difficult. This was an edge case for us. I think all our parts that made it onto the robot in 2019 were done “in house”.

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[oops, negative, spindle bore is too small for 1/2 axle, unless you step up to a 5C headstock]

leaving it here for reference tho.

Honestly, if its JUST 1/2 axles youre trying to turn down and part, a Taig or sherline mini lathe is going to be fine. its so small its portable.

Canadian dealer.,330,50260

dont forget the cost of tooling to make ANY lathe more user friendly, like a quick change tool post you can buy on ebay or something.

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I’ve used both a sherline and a harbor freight unit, and prefer the harbor freight one by a wide margin. The gearing (vs pulley) and slight bump in power make it possible to work aluminum with some patience, where I’d really only do plastic on the sherline.

We have had the harbor freight at our workspace right now as our only lathe for the last three years. I’d recommend it.

I think I replaced our stock toolpost with a quick change setup (from Little machine shop?) - would definitely recommend that if the tool doesn’t come with one.

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We got a Grizzly G0765 - 7" x 14" Variable-Speed Benchtop Lathe ($779
+$99 Freight ) last year and several students learned how to use it very quickly, and we haven’t had any product-related issues with it. We used it for delrin spacers and pulleys, aluminum gearbox standoffs and spacers, etc.

There’s also the Grizzly G8688 - 7" x 12" Mini Metal Lathe ($675
+$99 Freight) but I haven’t used it personally.

Both are rated 4.7/5 stars.

My team used to have a small tabletop lathe, but the plastic gears inside destroyed themselves (same on our old mill actually). No one has brought up yet getting a new one, but if we did it’d be nice to have one that holds up better.

The plastic gears are another one of the things that’s not so great about benchtop lathes. Especially if you are going to be cutting a bunch of harder materials. (Which most FRC teams probably will.) Breaking the plastic gears is a real thing. You could either shop around and replace them with metal ones or just buy replacement plastic ones for when the old ones wear out or break and chalk it up to “maintenance costs”.

We wrecked something this year. I can’t remember what it was. Possibly the plastic change gears? This little machine our team uses has been through a lot. But a little tlc every now and then keeps it going. I’m always wishing we had the money and space for a “real” lathe. But I’m so glad we at least have a small benchtop available for turning parts when we need them.

Yeah we gave that one away almost a year ago. We recently got this mill from Precision Matthews that’s been really good for us, so I’m hoping we can set aside for a lathe from there as well.

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Check for used lathes. There are frequently South Bend or other bench top lathes available

We just got a few of these at our school. Looks like they come with more options than the op. Plus the dro is nice for kids just learning.

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This was my first thought, too. I have a Taig lathe which certainly has the power to part off hex stock, turn it round, and do snap ring grooves. But, to do these operations efficiently I would consider it a minimum requirement that the lathe be large enough so the hex stock would pass through the bore in the center of the headstock. It’s possible to do these operations with my Taig, but it takes way longer than using the larger lathe in the 2363 robot shop. It’s necessary to spend a bunch of extra time setting up to securely hold the stock. If you pass the stock through the spindle, and grab it with a 3 jaw chuck, it’s WAY faster.