About 8 years ago I made the decision to buy myself some metalwork machines to assist me in building some railway models and for the simple reason that I was interested in metal work and wanted to learn some new skills. So these purchases were never just about railway modelling but that was the primary focus.
I did a lot of reading and some watching of YouTube videos and concluded that a Seig X2 mill and long bed Sherline lathe would suit my needs. Both machines have seen some use but I would say that both would have been used a lot more if I’d actually chosen to embark on more locomotive building projects in the years since I purchased them than i actually have. Tools of any sort don’t tend to get used if you’re not making anything where they are needed!
However, I must admit that this lack of progress is two sided: while the Sherline lathe does have its limitations due to its diminutive size, it’s an excellent machine made all the more so because I had the foresight to order mine with digital readouts. If you ever find yourself in a position where you’re considering buying machines of this type, take my advice and buy them with DROs if this is an option. Nothing else you do or buy as an add on later will make a bigger difference to easing the learning curve.
Purchasing the Seig X2 was a mistake. Even after doing some upgrades and adjustments which has improved things somewhat it is still a pain to use and in an unmodified state I would question whether it’s fit to be marketed. I’ve learnt some lessons on my X2 but almost none of these has been the kind where you gradually build skills and knowledge. The lesson I learned was that I wasted my money.
Just over 3 years ago I was having a discussion with my partner about purchasing a table saw with a cast iron table. She’s a bit of a Gumtree addict and so I’d asked her to keep a lookout for listings that might suit my needs. I eventually purchased a great 2nd hand saw but about 2 months later she was still looking and she sent me a link to a listing for a Myford ML7 lathe. I’m not sure how an inquiry about a table saw morphs into a metal working lathe but I almost had another heart attack when I saw the photos of the ML7 and the asking price. The owner wasn’t giving the lathe away but neither was he asking a price that a collector of rare vintage machines might have asked. I made contact and bought the thing from him quick smart. As I was loading it onto the tray of my ute he mentioned that someone who lived over 2000kms away was willing to drive up to Brisbane if I didn’t want it. I saved him the trip!
Why did I buy this lathe, especially when I already owned a lathe that I’d decided was more than suitable to meet my needs and which had seen limited use? The answer to this question is complicated but a big part of the explanation is that I’ve been aware for a long time just how sought after these machines are mostly by UK based hobbyists. There has to be a reason the Poms get so fruity about the things surely? Another part of the explanation comes down to my own experience of using the Sherline lathe and the X2 mill. Even with my limited experience my expectations had bumped up hard against the limitations of what was possible with these machines. A Myford wasn’t going to solve all my problems but with the sheer number of people out there still using them, if and when I came upon a problem chances are someone, somewhere would already have come up with a solution I could copy and adapt to my needs.
Was it a good purchase? As my primary hobby is railway modelling and not machining metal I can’t claim that the frequency of my metalworking has gone up significantly since purchasing the Myford. However I can tell just by turning the hand-wheels that this is a quality machine and is in a separate universe when compared to the X2 mill. The purchase price of this 69 year old lathe was about 40% more than the purchase price of the brand mill but as I consider the mill a waste of money the Myford comes up as value for money.
About 3 months ago I was working on the tender of my NSWR D50 and had the thought that I’d really like to be able to machine some of the brass castings that came with the kit. Nothing terribly challenging in a machining sense but getting a good grip on the tiny parts had proven difficult in the past. About the same time I was watching a UK hobby machinist by the name of Steve Jordan fitting an ER40 collet chuck to his Myford lathe:
It occurred to me that it would be very handy to have this type of collet chuck available as an option on my lathe, especially with the indexing feature available on the lathe which was the subject of the video. However it also seemed that I might be able to hold the small round castings in this type of collet far more successfully than had proved the case when I’d tried to grip these parts in a 3 jaw chuck. Of course these collets are not designed to hold brass 7mm scale castings but as I wanted the chuck anyway it was worth a try.
So I set about acquiring the parts I would need to fit an ER40 collet chuck to my Mford ML7. Buying the chuck from the Chinese supplier proved to be fairly easy but getting the associated wrench to tighten it was not so easy as the manufacturer I purchased my chuck from didn’t sell the wrench to go with it for some inscrutable reason. I eventually tracked one down at the Myford Web site. To fit the chuck to the lathe I would also need a suitable back-plate to bolt it to. While you can literally turn back-plates from just about any suitable piece of cast iron, including old bar bell weights, here’s the clever Mr Jordan demonstrating that this is possible.
However, to do so would require skills, experience and familiarity with Myford lathes I do not yet possess. So I bought one from a company called Chronos who I purchased my quick change tool post from and about which I’m very happy. My main reason for buying the back plate from them rather than from Myford was that they have cheaper postage options available compared to Myford. Myford have as their cheapest postal option an international courier firm which, while stuff arrives in under a week, adds 50 pounds to anything you order.
The Chronos back-plate arrived in under two weeks and wouldn’t fit my lathe’s spindle. It was then I came to the realization that I didn’t have the measuring equipment to measure the bore on this new rather expensive cast iron paper-weight to find out how much it needed machining to allow it to fit. Turns out that these Chronos parts are “part machined” which means you have to finish the machining yourself. This was not going to happen for a number of reasons, including my inability to accurately measure the bore on the thing so I gave up on the cheaper postage option and ordered a back plate from Myford with their gold plated postal options.
Needless to say the genuine Myford part fitted perfectly and I was able to start the lathe and actually make some chips (as all the good machinists I watch on YouTube who actually know what they’re doing say). I wanted to make a very simple facing cut across the face of the plate to ensure it’s square to the lathe’s motor shaft. You’ll notice I ordered the plate that has the ring of holes around its circumference which allows indexing if I ever decide I need this at some point in the future. I’m not sure I ever will need this but you never know do you? 🙂
At this point I need to fess up and admit that this is the very first time I’ve ever cut metal (or any other material for that matter) on this lathe. There are more than likely a range of valid reasons I could list for why it’s taken me almost 3 years to use the lathe but the two that are genuine are that I’ve been a bit intimidated by it and secondly, I haven’t actually had any need to use it. I now have a need to use it and I got over being intimidated by it when I saw the Australian dollar cost of a cast iron back plate! If I’m going to have to pay that much for a bloody part I’m going to use the thing!!!! 🙂 I put one of my brand new (never been used) 10mm insert tools into my brand new (never been used) quick change tool post and made a beautifully clean facing cut across the face of the plate on my brand new (69 nine year old) lathe.
How good is hobby machining? If I didn’t love it I’d sell the lot to that boof-head who was willing to drive from Melbourne to Brisbane to buy the lathe from the bloke I bought it from!