I've been looking for a small metal lathe for maybe the last couple of years. Not for a specific project, but more because I kept doing projects where at some point I thought "man this would be easier if I had a small metal lathe". The small printing press I made this spring, multiple times on the car when I needed a spacer or custom bolt, or just needed to modify a part in some way that needed to be more accurate than I could do with a hand drill and hacksaw.
My semi-regular hobby of scrounging around estate sales finally paid off when this lathe was still at a sale on day 2:
$300, complete, with all the tooling I could find that fit. The sale was for a guy who was a gunsmith (among other jobs), and this was not his main lathe just one he picked up from a neighbor for small work. He was also selling a larger lathe that I would have wanted if I had the space for it. I've seen a couple of other mid-size lathes this summer at different sales, but I really don't have the space for anything bigger than this tabletop size.
The appeal of this one in particular is that it's 8x12, which is a size larger (and magnitude heavier) than the more common 7x12 size many places sell now. This one also came with a full set of tooling and a rather primitive quick change tool post, and seems to have all of the change gears, so it's surprisingly complete. This model is discontinued now, but it was sold by Harbor Freight as a 8x12 and by a company called Lathemaster (now gone, apparently) as a 8x14, same machine.
The downsides as compared to other hobby machines are that the spindle speed is changed by belts, rather than a motor controller, and the lead screw speed is set up with change gears rather than a gear box, as might be found on larger lathes. That means a little more planning for order of operations, especially when setting up for threading, but speed changes only take a minute or two now that I've done it a few times. The good parts are that it's a pretty beefy lathe overall (250 pounds), and the belt drive means that low speed also has a lot of torque, and it avoids some of the headaches in common 7x lathes, such as a far easier way to swivel the compound slide.
My friend Andy helped me haul it out of the guy's basement and into my basement, on an old drafting table that sits at a decent working height. I did a lot of cleaning, taking each area apart for a good inspection, cleanup, lube, and adjustment. I'm glad I did this first, because I learned a lot about how the lathe is set up and now I know that everything is in working order. No real surprises, it was mostly grungy from lack of maintenance but nothing broken or worn out. I don't think this machine has a ton of hours on it.
This is the lathe after a good cleaning and setting up a workable space:
The table is now reinforced with plywood sides so it's much stiffer, and I added some shelving around for the various tools and whatnot that I need for making work and maintaining the thing. I've done a few small projects to work out the kinks and finally got it bolted down and leveled properly. This photo is after an afternoon of creating an alignment bar and setup. Bed twist is down to 0.002 over 4", and the tailstock is now aligned within 0.0003" taper over 8", so I'm pretty happy with that for the parts I'll be making.
I also quickly got tired of using a wrench the tighten the tailstock and made a quick release using this design but with the lever located on the back side to keep it out of the way. I don't have a ball turner yet, so I used a worn-out rear shock link from the Triumph as the lever.
And now off to make some more chips