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Toolroom lathe?

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Andy Carruthers18/03/2019 10:30:33
279 forum posts
23 photos

This is not another "which lathe should I buy thread" as I have narrowed down my "want" list - simply asking whether there is any benefit to acquiring what is advertised as a toolroom lathe as opposed to any other lathe

For example - Smart & Brown and recent advert for Gromatic spring to mind, can anyone explain why a toolroom lathe would be a better (ha - define "better" purchase than a similar size Boxford / Harrison / Colchester

Some context may be helpful, I have a Warco WM180, a great lathe to learn on and in truth I haven't explored all possibilities, and my feeling is I want something with greater than 12" between centres with separate screw cutting lead screw. As mentioned in a previous thread, the lack of a screw cutting gearbox doesn't help either, an in truth, I had to start somewhere and the WM180 was available at a fair price. I don't have a project or specific use in mind for the lathe, just a hankering for something a little larger (up to 36" between centres) and more capable as I'm probably now "borderline competent"

Thought please

Hopper18/03/2019 10:44:45
4804 forum posts
105 photos

Depends on many things. A toolroom lathe may have been built more sturdily and precisely for daily professional use -- when it was new. But if it spent 30 years being flogged to death all day every day, it might be clapped out , or not. A good one could be a nice machine. A clapped one a money pit.

Boxfords are cheaper and less money to risk. Many from home workshops and schools etc have seen little use . But again a clappedexample can need work.


Edited By Hopper on 18/03/2019 10:48:13

Plasma18/03/2019 10:45:03
443 forum posts
1 photos

Hi Andy

I believe tool room machines are built to a high degree of precision with better bearings etc.

That's all well and good if it's not worn set up properly and used by someone capable of precision work (which I'm not).

I would not think it worth your while finding a toolroom lathe just for extra capacity.

And do you really need to turn items at that length? Just may be as a one off wouldn't justify me taking up shop room.

A decent lathe is supposedly the only machine capable of making another lathe. So capability of the machine isn't the issue, just like ne it's the capability if the operator.

Dobt fet me wrong I'd love taper turning, hydraulic copying, auto everything but they are just bells and whistles on the basics.

Just my opinion, other opinions are available,terms and conditions apply.


Andy Carruthers18/03/2019 11:01:32
279 forum posts
23 photos

Thanks guys

I'm not after automation, copying etc but like everyone else, just the best I can get at a sensible price. I don't need to turn 36" items, but 12" is too small, I'm conscious of the general advice "bigger is better" and it's easier to turn smaller items on a larger machine than larger items on a smaller machine

I take on board the potential risk of acquiring a clapped out example - caveat emptor and all that

Precision is something I hope to develop with practice... I am a long way off that yet

I had assumed the term "toolroom" implied use for one-offs rather than production line, so I am educated at least on that point

Howard Lewis18/03/2019 11:02:01
3608 forum posts
2 photos

A really good high precision lathe will be a thing of which to be proud. But will the extra accessories that YOU may need (Faceplate, Steadies etc ) be available? No point in paying more for facilities that you will never need, and be short of ones that you do.

That IF it is still in good condition. If worn out and abused it will be a source of frustration and a black hole of time and money. An unreliable Bentley is less use than a new Ford Ka.

(A friend has just disposed of his lathe. In all the years that he had it, he never used the Collet set or the Taper Tuning Attachment that came with it! )

I rarely use the all extras that came with my lathe, which is a good machine, but not a Toolroom machine. It does all that i have wanted so far. Maybe i should widen my horizons?


Andy Carruthers18/03/2019 11:13:05
279 forum posts
23 photos

I doubt I will ever use a taper turning attachment...

At the heart of my question is whether a sufficiently decent condition toolroom lathe offers any advantage over what could be considered more mainstream ie non-toolroom lathe, maybe I'm getting unnecessarily tied up with semantics

I can't see anything obvious - initial build quality and subsequent wear notwithstanding

SillyOldDuffer18/03/2019 11:21:02
6328 forum posts
1388 photos


Given the slightest excuse I bang on endlessly about the need to look at condition rather than descriptions and brand-names. Smart & Brown made good lathes, but they can and do end up as scrap.

A new tool-room lathe would hold better tolerances than relatives destined for production. May include better materials, more expensive bearings, and other extras plus a certain delicacy. Designed for precision work, not hacking metal. Generally a desirable object but more than needed in the average workshop and likely to bump the price up.

BUT! Is a tool-room lathe still in tool-room condition? Before CNC caused large numbers of manual machines to be put on the market in good condition, the advice was to take great care buying ex-industrial machines. It was common for machines to be worked until they were 'Beyond Economic Repair', and tool-room equipment was far from immune:

Stage 1: new tool-room lathe installed in tool-room and carefully maintained.

Stage 2: tool-room lathe becomes slightly worn and is transferred to less demanding shop-floor work, and thrashed.

Stage 3: beaten up tool-room lathe can't meet production targets and is transferred to rough duty like removing rust in a lean-to out back.

Stage 4: Stored in a damp out-house for 20 years...

Today, the chance of getting an ex-industrial machine in good condition is much higher. If you find a good one, hurrah! If not, worry about the cost of spares compared with "lesser" machines like Harrison etc, themselves 'reassuringly expensive' in the parts department!

Your WM180 experience is valuable in that it gives you a good idea what to look for in a second-hand machine; Enough to see a tool-room lathe is functional, but probably not enough to prove it is working to tool-room specifications. Even so, if the very high standards of the tool-room don't matter and the price is right, go for it.


Mick B118/03/2019 11:30:55
1728 forum posts
91 photos

A screwcutting gearbox is a seriously desirable feature if random threading work on diameters too big to use a die or tap is likely to arise.

I have a Warco WM250V which I very much like - but I do occasional volunteer machining for a steam railway and (more) occasionally amongst that a screwcutting requirement arises - and that means a lot of faffing time setting up a gear train and returning the lathe to standard afterwards, plus careful thought sequencing the ops to isolate the screwcutting so I don't have to use power feed whilst the thread's set up, because most thread pitches also give a completely unacceptable turning feed rate. So if you're often going to thread multiple sizes bigger than, say, 1/2" or so, I'd think such a gearbox is pretty much essential.

I know some lathes are described as 'toolroom', but as a turner on and off since 1975 I can't say I really know what that means. Maybe geared handwheels so as to be able easily to position tooltips accurately within tenths? Excellent concentricity from all chucks and collets, parallelism, mild and even wear on all slides and ways would also be important - an alleged 'toolroom' lathe that's been casually set up or harshly used might not deliver what it once said in the advertising.

I can certainly turn within a few tenths on diameter and a few thou on lengths on my Warco, and so far the vertical slide's met all my milling needs too. There are lots of folk who swear by Myford 7s, and I've seen those in a few toolrooms, too, alongside other 'ordinary' lathes that've clearly been well looked after. If you can get a long bed variant with a gearbox in good nick - and are confident enough to recognise what's what and what's not - and are prepared to afford it - maybe that's what you want.

Even after 40+ years engineering at varying levels of engagement, I think it's very difficult to know in advance what'll work best, even for myself, never mind anyone else! I still sometimes get surprised about what I can do, and what I can't.

MalcB18/03/2019 11:40:43
257 forum posts
31 photos

Andy, what Dave has just said is spot on.

I served my time and spent early years on toolroom lathes such as Harginge, Monarch, DSG, Lorch to name but a few. In those days very few lathes had DRO fitted so good accurate dials etc were a bonus and in the main expectation

When in good condition they ooze with quality and are a joy to use. They do achieve very high precision. As they wear then not so much. They however have their limitations in that not many have gap beds, tailstocks on lathes such as Hardinge and very heavy, the swing over bed is not usually great.

I thought about getting my own Hardinge as I loved them along with the Monarcs, but in the end settled for a good used example of the Harrisom M300. I am so glad i did as with or without the DRO I fitted it has great capacity, facilitated with the removable gap bed, has a great speed range supplented with the inverter if required ( but not act necessary ). It is as accurate as ever i would want.


Edited By MalcB on 18/03/2019 11:43:20

Edited By MalcB on 18/03/2019 11:57:51

ega18/03/2019 11:43:33
1812 forum posts
153 photos

The Gromatic advertised seems to be the one illustrated on and, perhaps, the only downside the lack of a separate power feedscrew.

Michael Gilligan18/03/2019 12:18:54
16369 forum posts
714 photos
Posted by SillyOldDuffer on 18/03/2019 11:21:02:

BUT! Is a tool-room lathe still in tool-room condition? [ ... ]

Stage 1: new tool-room lathe installed in tool-room and carefully maintained.

Stage 2: tool-room lathe becomes slightly worn and is transferred to less demanding shop-floor work, and thrashed.

Stage 3: beaten up tool-room lathe can't meet production targets and is transferred to rough duty like removing rust in a lean-to out back.

Stage 4: Stored in a damp out-house for 20 years...


The once-lovely Habegger, that Karl is working to restore, being a clear demonstration: **LINK**


Andy Carruthers18/03/2019 13:10:14
279 forum posts
23 photos

Thanks guys, I am conscious of the wear and general condition issues but appreciate the contextual information

I hope my ex-toolmaker buddy will be able to spot issues far more readily than I will, assuming I can get him to travel

I have approached the Gromatic owner for photos too

Bazyle18/03/2019 13:37:27
5471 forum posts
206 photos

Continuing SOD's list:
Stage 5: lathe bought off grieving widow for peanuts by garage trader and flogged on ebay as immaculate barn find.
Stage 6: bought by 'expert' who knows it was described as toolroom lathe on Tony's site. After asking for advice on this forum about why it has a lever on the front of the hanging down bit the current 'toolmaker' owner cleans off the rusty bed with an angle grinder and repaints it.
Stage 7: The fully restored reground toolroom lathe is back on ebay at the same price it was sold for 50 years ago.

Genuine tooroom lathes are not necessarily better equipped. For example the CVA QCGB still needs a gear train change halfway through the commonly used range ( 22tpi I think) because in a toolroom the extra time doesn't matter like it would in production. Meanwhile the M300 with its highly convenient dual metric /imperial QCGB cannot be described as toolroom because the metric threads are all approximations.

The OP started by mentioning Smart & Brown. Their big 1024 was a toolroom lathe but the little Boxford sized Sabel was just a small parts and school lathe.
In a similar vein to this thread a lathe is not as sometimes advertised a watchmaker's lathe just because it is smallish, nor in the 'states a gunsmiths lathe just because the previous owner is doing time for modifying weapons.

Martin Hamilton 118/03/2019 13:46:41
182 forum posts

Andy what are your thoughts on the little WM180 lathe now that you have used it some, perhaps your experience with using it will benefit others looking towards WM180 or similar size lathes whilst keeping in mind there limitations. Regards Martin.

Andy Carruthers18/03/2019 13:46:52
279 forum posts
23 photos

Points taken

M300 is on my list along with Boxford AUD and various Colchesters, a visit to 2nd hand dealers with my mate is approaching to get a feel for what may suit me best subject to availability

I may still look at others, I'm not in a hurry to buy

Barrie Lever18/03/2019 14:43:55
688 forum posts
76 photos


Are you still looking for a lathe?

I nearly buckled a couple of weeks ago to call you about the Compact 5 but changed my mind.

I was going to get a just about new Wabeco 4000 for £1125 but realised it is hardly any bigger than the Compact 5.



Andy Carruthers18/03/2019 14:51:32
279 forum posts
23 photos

@Martin - some thoughts on using WM180 recognizing these are my opinion only from an inexperienced user, and none of the below prevent excellent results from being achieved

  1. For smaller parts up to ~20mm diameter particularly with Brass / Aluminium the lathe is excellent, for larger parts I feel less confident, possibly due to inexperience
  2. There is a fair degree of flex in the basic design particularly with the toolpost mount when machining larger diameters making accuracy more difficult, mitigated by taking smaller cuts and more time in machining - creeping up on the final OD rather than approaching with gusto
  3. With 300mm / 12" between centres the bed can be somewhat cluttered particularly if using a fixed steady when starting a job, and the tail stock takes up quite a bit of space, using a collet chuck helps, but it's not always possible
  4. The splash guard is a little too close to the work though is easily modified to create more space and is an interesting project in it's own right
  5. The gear train can be quite noisy, probably not specific to my WM180, and possibly due to my inexperience in setting up, and with a single lead screw for both screw cutting and power feed, it's too easy to make a mistake by engaging feed with high gearing. I remove the banjo when not required having the added benefit of reducing motor load. I have a preference for manually feeding as I can "feel" how the lathe responds rather than just let her go on her merry way
  6. Warco had supply issues with QCTP tool holders, I recently made my own when I acquired my Tom Senior
  7. Cheaper to fit a DRO than to rebuild as a metric machine and will be more accurate too - that is, if I keep it
  8. No screwcutting gearbox. I looked at various build on the Internet but all come with a weight penalty and space is very limited. Reducing the gear train to 0.5 module will alleviate some issues then Robert made a very helpful suggestion of using a stepper motor to drive the lead screw - one of my current projects
  9. No lead screw reverse though others have created a modification to interject an extra gear though 8. will solve
  10. No selectable slow feed, creating a slow-feed banjo is another option which again 8. will solve
  11. Lack of stops for repeat work, easily corrected by making bedway blocks to restrict movement
  12. Setting compound angle is a pain, moving the compound to expose the screws takes time, I modified mine by drilling two holes through the compound resulting in less movement to expose the screw heads, holes plugged with 3D printed plugs
  13. No slots on cross slide, only a single post for mounting the tool block meaning the tool post cannot move. I haven't found this an issue, only a minor inconvenience when setting up for a cut, occasionally requires a little more thought
  14. WM180 is not a robust machine for heavy repeat work, it is great for lighter parts, but not ideal for bulk manufacture, there are reports of motors burning out - I added a fan to mine in the hope prevention is better than cure

Now the positives, which far outweigh the above

  1. Footprint is small enough to be accommodated almost anywhere, a single person lift (I am not the strongest of people)
  2. Using TC to rough out, and HSS to finish, I get excellent result (for me anyway, others may disagree), perhaps this is a "style" thing and just the way I compensate for perceived limitations
  3. Most of my work is <10mm diameter which the WM180 excels at
  4. Given I bought this machine on a whim to see if I would enjoy metal bashing, I am delighted with it as an introduction, not too much money (£500) to learn new skills and hobby on, where the risk of breakage would not be an issue
  5. I enjoy the mental exercise of planning out a project and executing. It doesn't matter whether anyone else appreciates my work, I am doing this for me and not for a wide audience. I may never master hobby engineering, but for now I am enjoying the journey
  6. Confidence with starting a project is easier with a small lathe rather than a mid to large lathe, perception I think
  7. Basic tooling is more than adequate, fixed and travelling steady, faceplate, 4 jaw chuck, change gears. fixed MT2 tailstock centre - adding tailstock drill, die holder, floating centre, (not so) QCTP have been good investments
  8. Owning my lathe has led to several projects, mostly copies of work others have done but some new things too. I really enjoy modifying the lathe to mitigate some of the minor annoyances and it is this which more than anything has caused me to question ownership - is it better to extend the basic lathe or acquire a more capable lathe?

In summary, I'm delighted with my WM180, it's not perfect, but certainly more than capable even in my clumsy hands. Most importantly, a good entry into our hobby and points to requirements for my next machine. Some 3 years into ownership I doubt I could have made a better choice given the circumstances and skills starting point, I just feel it's time to acquire a more capable machine. And I have learnt loads, sometimes it feels like a mountain to climb, but I'm not aiming at being "the best" or perfect, simply sufficiently competent

Edited By Andy Carruthers on 18/03/2019 14:57:58

Plasma18/03/2019 14:52:07
443 forum posts
1 photos

The newer model Boxford lathes are pretty good, a lot of different models including tool room designated ones.

They are referred to as X10 models with a variety of model designations to state what they are.

Have a look at the lathes website and compare them to the M250.

Best of luck

Martin Hamilton 118/03/2019 16:30:23
182 forum posts
Posted by Barrie Lever on 18/03/2019 14:43:55:


Are you still looking for a lathe?

I nearly buckled a couple of weeks ago to call you about the Compact 5 but changed my mind.

I was going to get a just about new Wabeco 4000 for £1125 but realised it is hardly any bigger than the Compact 5.



Barrie, sent you an email. Regards Martin.

Dave Halford18/03/2019 20:09:20
929 forum posts
9 photos

There was also a far eastern lathe sold under the Engineers Toolroom banner that is a hobby lathe and not a toolroom lathe.

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