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Serious question, What is a Mini Lathe?

Are all Chinese lathes Mini Lathes

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Ian P05/08/2019 21:47:27
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In a recent posting on this forum regarding the use of a mini lathe the writer mentioned using an ER32 collet. Whilst the ER32 system is not a massive, its nearer the larger end of the ER range.

It set me thinking on what defines a mini lathe, smaller than a 4.5" Myford maybe?

Ian P

not done it yet05/08/2019 22:19:08
3375 forum posts
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Aren’t most myfords sized at 3 1/2”? Different than with modern lathes - that quote swing rather than centre height?

Same with ER collets. Any lathe accommodate cope most ER collet chucks - one way or another - but they are not necessarily used with the maximum sized cutter they will hold. ER 32 goes down to 2mm, I think?

Lightweight seems to define mini lathes, more than anything else?

Likely small but not with the precision of a watchmaker’s lathe?

So, just a faddy description of a cheap and cheerful lightweight lathe that is only good enough for average precision and attractive to those with not much space and/or money?

Neil Wyatt05/08/2019 22:42:17
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Certainly not all Chinese lathes - there are those you can park a car on and some you can park a bus on...

I suppose there are 'mini lathes' and 'Mini Lathes'.

A mini lathe is any very small lathe, probably less than 3 1/2" centre height, and would include Unimats, Taig/Peatol, C0/Baby, C1, Cowells 90 regardless of origin, but probably not including 'watchmaker's lathes'.

I wouldn't actually call any 3 1/2" lathe a 'mini lathe' as this is generally accepted the size that is needed for 'typical' model engineering tasks - few people would classify a 7-series lathe as a 'mini lathe' (although there are some people who use the expression as synonymous with 'hobby lathe' - but where does hobby machine end and professional machine start, clearly they overlap.)

BUT...

In the early 90s a small lathe design came out of Russia which was copied in China by various manufacturers as a standard design. By the end of the decade had become widely available in the UK.

It had a respectable 3 1/2" centre height, but originally only 10" between centres, though soon many 12" versions appeared.

These 3 1/2" x 10" (or 7x10 machines as they were known in the USA) were much more 'compact' than typical model engineer lathes (i.e. the 7-series) and the name 'Mini Lathe' was used and became the accepted name of these machines and their descendants, some, but not all, being sold under this name or at least with it on their labels.

There are now 3 1/2" x 16" versions which can do most things a 7-series can do (aside from not having a gap bed), I would argue 'compact lathe' would have been a better name for these as it reflects modest overall size rather than limited abilities. But the horse bolted twenty years or more ago!

Some people apply 'Mini Lathe' to larger machines like the SC4 and even larger machines. I think this is very misleading, as the SC4 is somewhat bigger than 7-series in centre height with about the same between-centres capacity.

My advice is to use 'Mini Lathe' (in capitals) to mean C2, C3, SC2 and SC3 lathes and those of similar design like the Chester Conquest and Clarke CL300. This will confuse the fewest people, as it's what MOST people mean by 'mini lathe', although a 1999 brushed motor 7x10 C2 lathe doesn't really compare to a 2019 7x16 SC3 with brushless motor in terms of quality, capacity and capability...

For the very small lathes - I'd use 'small lathe' rather than 'mini lathe'.

Neil

Bob Stevenson05/08/2019 22:43:12
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I think that the term 'Mini-lathe' was originally coined to describe the Chinese mini-lathe, which was developed in 3 different Chinese factories from, I think. a Russian design.....the essential idea of this was a medium sized lathe somehow reduced in size.

So, while headstock and tailstock would accept relatively large tooling and decent sized chucks etc., the overall length kept the thing 'mini sized'......like a Smart car, ie., two ordinary size seats and normal steering wheel and windscreen giving the illusion of driving in a a normal car...which actually does not exist if you are unlucky enough to crash!

The original Chinese Mini-lathes had MT3/MT2 tapers and 4 inch(?) 3 jaw chuck with reasonable centre height....but would only accept workpieces less than 8 inches long. All for an apparently bargain price.

Neil Wyatt05/08/2019 22:44:47
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Posted by not done it yet on 05/08/2019 22:19:08:

So, just a faddy description of a cheap and cheerful lightweight lathe that is only good enough for average precision

Cheap and cheerful maybe, but I think a lot of Mini Lathe owners will be offended by the tail end of that, me included.

Neil

Michael Gilligan05/08/2019 23:02:15
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For the very small lathes - I'd use 'small lathe' rather than 'mini lathe'.

Neil

_______________________________________________________

 

Fascinating, but probably irrelevant, Fact:

The Pultra 17/xx was, and is, described as a Micro Lathe **LINK**

https://www.smartandbrownlathes.com/our-lathes/pultra-lathe/

MichaelG.

.

Edited By Michael Gilligan on 05/08/2019 23:05:22

Bob Stevenson05/08/2019 23:08:38
302 forum posts
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The chinese mini-lathe is a great thing and we should all salute it's legacy which has arguably affected all on this site in one way or another. The mini-lathe offered a lathe facility to anyone with a corner table and the very idea cut thru all the 'lathey crap' which makes lathe use difficult for the uninitiated.

The first mini-lathe that I saw was in the workshop of a maker of brass musical instruments and he got the idea from the workshop of an artisan making suits of armour for films.......he was using it to make the pivots in the armour.

not done it yet05/08/2019 23:15:24
3375 forum posts
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Posted by Neil Wyatt on 05/08/2019 22:44:47

Cheap and cheerful maybe, but I think a lot of Mini Lathe owners will be offended by the tail end of that, me included.

Neil

Well, not in the league of a Cowell’s?

They were, and still are, clearly aimed at the cheaper end of the market or for those that would otherwise have insufficient space or primarily first-time buyers. Great for getting into the hobby with a new lathe but not necessarily the lathe they finally settle on (although for some the minilathe might be their one and only size).

Sorry if you take offence, but they seemed to cover a particular niche right at the outset. True they have improved, but the modern minilathe is not the same as when they started, but the description has been marketed for decades, now - simply because it is a fad - just like myfords. Buy into the name because it has history?

I’m surprised some did not develop into something like ‘a compact hobbyist lathe’ for more up-marketing, but I suppose why fix it if it ain’t broke and people still envisage these ‘larger’ minilathes on the market as the same thing, even though larger capacity than the myford was.

Barrie Lever05/08/2019 23:20:27
323 forum posts
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Posted by Bob Stevenson on 05/08/2019 23:08:38:

The chinese mini-lathe is a great thing and we should all salute it's legacy which has arguably affected all on this site in one way or another.

Speak for yourself on that one, I have not been affected at all by these lathes, it does make any difference to me if there is never another Chinese mini lathe made.

The mini-lathe offered a lathe facility to anyone with a corner table and the very idea cut thru all the 'lathey crap' which makes lathe use difficult for the uninitiated.

Really !! What difference is there in how a mini lathe works to any other lathe when it comes to ease of use?

B.

Edited By Barrie Lever on 05/08/2019 23:21:09

Bob Stevenson05/08/2019 23:35:46
302 forum posts
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There is no difference in how a mini lathe works....bu there is a hell of alot of difference in how many mini-lathe users view the comparison with the 'lathey crap' and the people who spout it.......

I used a chinese mini-lathe for 10 years and was told several times that what I wanted/needed was a Myford/boxford/cowells/etc.....what these experts did'nt know was that I also had a colchester Master in the workshop but the mini-lathe was my house lateh for relaxing late at night when i made my clock bits.......

.........And I would'nt be too confident that you are well insulated from the nasty mini-lathes influence either.......the mini-lathe has had a MASSIVE impact on the model engineering hobby and has afected the products that suppliers carry along with attitudes to home machining in general.. Without the mini-lathe our world (actually YOUR world as I only make clocks) would be much reduced and you would be complaining even more.........

Blue Heeler06/08/2019 03:48:16
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189 forum posts

Lathes are like penises, its not the size that counts, its the way you use them.

Brian John06/08/2019 04:23:39
1452 forum posts
579 photos

My Optimum TU 150 3V could accurately be described as a mini lathe. Anything bigger, I would simply call a lathe. I am currently looking for something bigger but we do not have the large range of brands available in the UK.

Edited By Brian John on 06/08/2019 04:24:41

Niels Abildgaard06/08/2019 06:09:23
236 forum posts
74 photos

Mass is a better classification

Micro less than 25 kg

Mini 25 75

Small 75 200 kg

Mick B106/08/2019 08:08:06
1191 forum posts
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Posted by Niels Abildgaard on 06/08/2019 06:09:23:

Mass is a better classification

Micro less than 25 kg

Mini 25 75

Small 75 200 kg

I'd say that's more-or-less it. Perhaps the Mini ceiling should be a bit lower - any lathe that can be carried by one reasonably strong person.

roy entwistle06/08/2019 09:03:01
1033 forum posts

Many years ago a gentleman used to advertise in ME shown carrying a Myford. He carried my S7 about 200 yards and placed it on my home made stand without any help. The lathe was complete and included a gearbox. I believe he was ex Navy and had a business in Cleckheaton

Roy

Nick Clarke 306/08/2019 09:14:22
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Posted by roy entwistle on 06/08/2019 09:03:01:

Many years ago a gentleman used to advertise in ME shown carrying a Myford. He carried my S7 about 200 yards and placed it on my home made stand without any help. The lathe was complete and included a gearbox. I believe he was ex Navy and had a business in Cleckheaton

Roy

And I always thought a lathe carrier was something used for turning between centres! laugh

SillyOldDuffer06/08/2019 09:15:31
4723 forum posts
1010 photos
Posted by Niels Abildgaard on 06/08/2019 06:09:23:

Mass is a better classification

Micro less than 25 kg

Mini 25 75

Small 75 200 kg

My take is closely related. To me a mini-lathe is:

  • One of the many clones of the original Russian design, a straightforward modern general purpose screwcutting machine with a built-in motor, intended to be easy to manufacture.
  • Enough power, stiffness, swing and bed-length to satisfy many hobby requirements.
  • Portable in the sense it's almost light enough to be lifted by an individual on to a table, and does not need a stand or to be bolted down.
  • Quiet enough to be used in a domestic setting.
  • No problem for household electrics.
  • Affordable

I don't confuse mini-lathes with the sort of small specialist lathe favoured by watchmakers and other precision workers. Mini-lathes aren't aimed at that market.

Comparing mini-lathes with a Myford, I'd say it would be impossible to tell the difference in a blind test between a length of brass rod turned on a mini-lathe and one turned on a Myford Connoisseur. What a well-made lathe gets you is silky controls, repeatability, a faster work-rate, a high duty-cycle, and pride of ownership. It won't make you a better craftsman.

Dave

Barrie Lever06/08/2019 09:25:29
323 forum posts
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Posted by Bob Stevenson on 05/08/2019 23:35:46:

.........And I would'nt be too confident that you are well insulated from the nasty mini-lathes influence either.......the mini-lathe has had a MASSIVE impact on the model engineering hobby and has afected the products that suppliers carry along with attitudes to home machining in general.. Without the mini-lathe our world (actually YOUR world as I only make clocks) would be much reduced and you would be complaining even more.........

Bob

I am very confident of my insulation from the 'Mini lathe', I only buy parts and tools from one vendor within the model engineering supply chain and he does not major on Chinese products, further more he tells me that business is good.

All my other parts are bought from industrial suppliers or second hand on Ebay. I am careful how I select my second hand Ebay purchases and I end up with absolutely top condition equipment at very reasonable prices.

I have three choices for my next new lathe and they are all European !

In the same way those 'lathe experts' should not have made presumptions about your lathes, please also don't fall into the same trap when considering other peoples equipment.

Regards

Barrie

Nick Clarke 306/08/2019 09:25:32
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Posted by Barrie Lever on 05/08/2019 23:20:27:
Posted by Bob Stevenson on 05/08/2019 23:08:38:

The chinese mini-lathe is a great thing and we should all salute it's legacy which has arguably affected all on this site in one way or another.

Speak for yourself on that one, I have not been affected at all by these lathes, it does make any difference to me if there is never another Chinese mini lathe made.

The mini-lathe offered a lathe facility to anyone with a corner table and the very idea cut thru all the 'lathey crap' which makes lathe use difficult for the uninitiated.

Really !! What difference is there in how a mini lathe works to any other lathe when it comes to ease of use?

B.

Edited By Barrie Lever on 05/08/2019 23:21:09

While I agree that the particular lathe one uses is irrelevant, the advent of cheaper new lathes to add to the pool of existing, possibly very old or very well used machines, means that our hobby has become far more accessible.

The trade in tools, materials, castings and even magazines and websites depends upon numbers - and without this new equipment and the extra participants that it enables to join us , these might all become uneconomic and disappear.

Barrie Lever06/08/2019 09:33:17
323 forum posts
1 photos

OK Mini Lathe in my opinion was a name/term coined by manufacturers who did not have enough presence to establish a name within their brand, it was also by definition associated with small lathes.

So names user by established manufacturers were Super 7 in the case of Myford, Compact 5 in the case of EMCO, D6000 in the case of Wabeco and the list goes on.

You will see from my truncated list that manufacturers come and go, this will be the case with the 'Mini Lathe' manufacturers, various forces (government directives, commercial pressures, environment issues etc.) will force them to move onto what might seem like greener pastures, very few of them will be recognisable in 25 years time.

B.

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