Getting What You Want

Am I alone in growing up in a family that believes it builds your character to put off getting what you want until you can afford it, that saving for something is preferrable to borrowing and that no one ever died from having to wait a little while to get some of the personal possessions they want? I talked about and planned on getting a woodworking router for over 15 years before finally making the purchase. Ok, I’ll concede that putting off the purchase of a tool for 15 years is possibly taking my parents’ dictum a little far but at least no one can accuse me of rushing decisions 🙂

Last week I achieved a long-term goal when a small Sherline metalworking lathe arrived by courier from the US. For me the interesting feature of this purchase is that it was  originally prompted by my consideration about whether or not to purchase a 1:43.5 brass model of a NSWR (C)38 class Pacific from Precision Scale about 2 years ago. At least it didn’t take me 15 years this time! 🙂 At that time I decided to put a bit of money aside in a savings account and add to this when possible to allow me to make the purchase if and when I decided I wanted one of these locomotives. To be honest, I couldn’t in any way justify such a purchase on the “operational” needs of my current layouts or any I’m likely to build in the foreseeable future. They just didn’t run Pacifics up the Morpeth branch! But this was never going to be about practicality and the operational needs of my layout: it was about the purchase of a model of a favourite prototype from a company that produces outstanding products.

So if this decision was about the owning of a beautiful thing, as opposed to the practical needs of my hobby, how come I ended up with a lathe, which I’ll admit is a fairly practical purchase? Thinking about whether or not to spend so much money on the loco actually clarified for me that the area I really wanted to take my hobby was into the scratchbuilding of O-scale locomotives. Perverse I know, but our needs and desires rarely run along straight tracks. The reality is that the needs of my career has required me to move all over the state over the last quarter century or so and to some degree this has prevented me from settling in one place long enough to accumulate the machinery I’ve always wanted to allow me to get into scratch building in a big way. So to summarize, my thinking ran along the lines that: ok I’d like a 38 but what I’d really like to do is build one myself. Result? I decided to buy a lathe and a mill! Simple ain’t it? 🙂

Luckily for me PSM took a lot longer than expected to release the 38 and so my savings accumulated to the point where I could easily purchase the lathe I wanted with some left over. Well ok more than some, I have enough to buy a 38 as well. Am I going to buy one? You’ll have to wait on that, I’m yet to finally decide. The real point of this post is not to boast about my capacity to follow my mother’s advice and save for what I want but to emphasize that you should aim to follow your interests in the hobby and not apologise to anyone for making the choices you do. You only get one shot at this, life is not a rehearsal. Don’t let the fact that you know nothing about a topic stop you from going out and getting involved in it: I know virtually nothing about metal work and workshop machines but that’s probably the main reason I’m so interested in this side of the hobby.

So to the lathe itself: why Sherline and why this model? After research, talking to people who know about these things, looking at endless YouTube videos, working with my Chinese manufactured mill and agonizing over the final decision for ages I came to the following conclusions:

– If you’re talking small, table top lathes the choice really comes down to three options: cheap(ish) Chinese machines, extremely expensive (but gloriously accurate) German machines and middle of the road US machines. In the end I didn’t feel I could justify the cost of a German lathe (even though I was sorely tempted) as my first machine. In addition I’m not convinced that the quality of the readily available Chinese machines is worth the money charged. If you have to spend the purchase price again upgrading the thing then where’s the price advantage? The Sherline seems to me to be a good balance between price and quality. I haven’t turned a single piece of metal on it yet and I can already tell it’s quality knocks the quality of my Chinese mill into a cocked hat!

– The Sherline has the great advantage of being light enough to allow you to mount it on a base and lift it off the work table for storage. I built the workbench you can see in the photos specifically to house my mill and lathe but this doesn’t mean I can’t use it for other purposes when I’m not using my lathe. None of us has unlimited space in our workshops so this is a feature that should not be overlooked.

– The packages available from Sherline make it easy and cost-effective to get into this area of the hobby. The company seems very aware that many of the people who buy their machines are just like me, they know bugger all. I bought a package that included everything I need to start turning metal. This does not mean that I won’t have to buy lots of accessories but at least I can use the machine. My mill arrived with nothing but a chuck and some spanners so I spent weeks researching what I needed and buying a wide range of expensive parts and accessories.

– I was able to get a lathe with a factory installed digital readout. Take my word for it, if you’re thinking about buying a lathe or a mill, get one with a DRO no matter what the brand.

So there you are, another item ticked on the bucket list. If you want to track down Sherline the company, just Google the name but if you live in Australia can I suggest you contact Ron Sher, the original founder of the Sherline company at My advice would be to make your purchase through him and not some of the more “sexy” online retailers. I saved a considerable amount of money buying my lathe from Ron and I highly recommend the service he provides.

3 thoughts on “Getting What You Want

  1. Hi Trevor, I agree with your sentiments about scratchbuilding; my lathe is an ancient Qualos Junior, made in Australia in the 1960’s. It has slack and slop in places that are not conducive to accuracy and I have had to add shims here and there to correct misalignment caused by wear and abuse, but as I master techniques for working around these issues, I am amazed at the accuracy that can be achieved. A huge help to me are the pages by Harold Hall , I often refer to his website to find solutions to problems at hand. Regards, Paul.

    • Paul,
      It’s funny you say that about about your lathe because there’s an Australian made Hercus lathe sitting in the metalwork room at my school right now that I could probably buy cheap if I’d be prepared to haul it away. The thing that makes me hesitate is that it needs re-wiring and I have no real way of checking it for wear till I get it home and get it running. As a school lathe it has probably been used and abused for years. Equally it may not be in too bad a condition. One thing I’ve come to learn about lathe/mill/metal work is that upgrading your machinery and workshop, getting the best from old machines and making jigs and gadgets for your machines is an integral part of the hobby itself. I have a lot to learn.

      • Hi Trevor,
        Even a brand-new lathe is not guaranteed to be accurate, and how you use it has a huge bearing on the result you get. I had to learn a hard lesson on tool spring-back (and patience) before I was able to machine cast brass wheel centres accurately and repeatably – the springiness in the structure of the lathe mean’t that dialling on a cut of 0.2mm was giving an actual depth of cut of perhaps 0.15mm, and I couldn’t understand why I was never arriving at the finished size I was looking for. However, reducing the cut to 0.1mm eliminated a lot of the spring-back. I have just completed a batch of wheel centres which have to be a press-fit inside a commercial tyre with an inside diameter of 20.00mm. I am deleriously happy to be able to say I am achieving 19.89-19.93mm o.d. on the castings consistently – this is the first time I have ever obtained the result I wanted, and what’s more, I did it on a rattly old lathe which I was just about ready to give up on. I model NZR 3’6″ on O-gauge track, 9mm:foot scale, by the way, so everything must be hand-built, very little in the way of commercially made supplies. Regards, Paul.

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