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Greetings from Edinburgh and advice about Unimat Model 3 Lathe needed

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Austin O'Hara02/12/2019 22:51:44
20 forum posts
10 photos

Hello everyone,

Having no dedicated workshop and very limited space which is already taken up with my photography and electronic interest ( Arduino) as well as Art, my current objective is to find a miniature lathe. My two current ambitions is to complete the simplest steam engine Building the Myfordboy Steam Engine and a gravity swing clock escape mechanism. The books “Simple model steam engines” by Tubal Cain and “Basic Lathework” by Stan Bray arrived today. I would have loved to have gone down the Cowell’s 90ME route but the new unit plus numerous accessories would not past mustard with the other half. Currently on eBay is a Unimat Emco Model 3 . My thinking is to use this to improve my skills and when we do move to a property which has a garage or workshop then upgrade. Any advice gracefully received.


Cornish Jack03/12/2019 09:06:59
1121 forum posts
159 photos

Hmmm - in principle, it would suit some of your wants - (owned and used one for over 20 years and have 2 plus at present) HOWEVER, there appears to be a bidding war on that one and, for what's there, the price (at the moment) is excessive - No milling support or head or accessories. Unimat 3s are nice little machines as combined mill units but not terribly special as 'stand-alones'. I have a Cowells, Pultra and Taig/Peatol for comparison. The Taig has (in my opinion) advantages but if a Cowells was out of the question, I would look at the Sherline as next option.

As to skill progression, yes, the U3 (or similar) will introduce you to metal-working basics but techniques don't (for me) read across to my ML7. Lack of rigidity and limiting cut depth mean extended working time but may not be a factor for you.

Any further questions, feel free - on here or PM



Kiwi Bloke03/12/2019 09:10:19
425 forum posts
1 photos

I'm sure you'll find a warm welcome here, Austin. There's a wealth of information here - most of it sound - and no-one need be shy about asking even the silliest-sounding questions.

Reading about the subject, before jumping in, is obviously a good idea. Tubal Cain was a true authority, but I don't think the author of your other book is in the same league. Unimat-related books by Rex Tingey are interesting, if only to see what determination can achieve in trying to overcome the limitations of the Unimat. If you search a bit, you'll find free downloadable copies of Unimat-related books on the 'net.

The unimat lathes are attractive, in a funny sort of way, and have been used to turn out impressive work. However, they are extremely limited in many important areas of performance and capability. I believe that it requires quite a bit of knowledge and experience to use them effectively, if only to be able to know what to try, in order to get around their limitations. I think there's a real risk that novices could get discouraged. The Cowells 90ME is much more capable, albeit at a silly price, new, with full factory back-up. If you can find a good-condition second-hand one, I don't think you'll lose money if you later decide to sell it. Perhaps that also goes for the Unimat, but the point is that, over the duration of ownership, both have a zero capital cost, but you would have got far more out of the Cowells. I own both.

Bigger lathes are easier to use and can do more...

Mick B103/12/2019 09:33:08
1576 forum posts
84 photos

I ran a Unimat 3 as my only machine for about 20 years, and I made a Stuart 10V engine on it that runs very well. It was quite taxing on ingenuity to machine the engine standard on it, but it could be done. I also made quite a few small gun parts on it for classic and antique firearms - though I don't know clock parts well.

I should perhaps add that when I bought it, I was already a moderately experienced industrial turner, so I wasn't trying to learn on it from scratch.

I also have at the moment a Sieg C0 'Baby' lathe, which is in many ways a Unimat 3 copy, and occasionally use it for small parts. It has a few advantages over the Unimat 3, but is not quite as well-made or as pleasurable to use in some respect- and I think that for work like clockmaking the Unimat is *probably* significantly better.

From looking at exhibitions, though, it's obvious that the Cowells is very much the machine of choice among clockmakers - as ML7s and derivatives used to be among general model engineers.

Austin O'Hara03/12/2019 13:26:23
20 forum posts
10 photos

Thanks everyone for responding. A second hand Cowell's 90 ME has come up. It is £1590 but does not come with any accessories not even a chuck. Any thoughts whether it is a good purchase?

Cornish Jack03/12/2019 13:53:35
1121 forum posts
159 photos

Thought 1 - overpriced!

Thought 2 - when purchased, it surely must have had the basic chucks and tooling , so these have been stripped out for extra profit .no

Thought 3 - you may well be a 'natural' machine user - I wasn't 'm not! Damage done during the learning process will nag you when you become proficient.

Thought 4 - If possible, find a local ME club and join. Get all the advice you can and, you could well find a useful 'starter machine' for sale within the membership.

Thought 5 - My 'contributions seem to be negative ... only so because a bad move now could sour your enthusiasm and that would be a shame.

Keep asking - the answers may well be unwelcome but they are well intended!



Just a PS re. the Cowells - the listing doesn't specify whether it is a 14 x 1.5 or a 14 x 1mm nose thread. For accessory availability that is important!


Edited By Cornish Jack on 03/12/2019 13:57:03

Former Member03/12/2019 14:48:49

[This posting has been removed]

SillyOldDuffer03/12/2019 15:44:14
5772 forum posts
1230 photos
Posted by Austin O'Hara on 03/12/2019 13:26:23:

Thanks everyone for responding. A second hand Cowell's 90 ME has come up. It is £1590 but does not come with any accessories not even a chuck. Any thoughts whether it is a good purchase?


As one who agonised as a beginner, my advice is to worry less about who made the lathe and more about what condition it's in. By asking about brand-names, I fell into the trap of thinking that somehow there was a shortcut to getting a really capable machine in superb condition for silly money without having to understand what I was doing! Buy a Myford and you can't go wrong mate! (You can.)

Choosing a new lathe at the start can be bewildering. There is a lot to understand and it's possible to waste years of valuable workshop time worrying about trivia. Contradictory advice is common because so much depends on what the owner wants of his machine. A retired machinist, a serious modeller, a professional, and people like me have different requirements. In the end I decided my top priority as a beginner was to learn what lathes do, their controls, limitations, tooling, and interaction with materials.

For my purpose a mini-lathe is as good as any. I cut the crap and bought one from Warco, other suppliers available. I learned a lot, and then upgraded. The point is buying a new lathe de-risks the first purchase financially. And after using the machine, rough or not, for a year or two, its owner will develop clear views on what he really needs and be much better placed to look at alternatives. There is no substitute for experience.

When chaps spent their demobilisation money on new Myford's after WW2 they were making an expensive once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Today we have an alternative - much cheaper machines that could be dumped without breaking the bank. Maybe a mini-lathe that lasts long enough to teach you the ropes is 'good enough'. Bill's point about Learner damage is true too. Smashing a mini-lathe is annoying, doing the same to a nice Cowells is tragic.

You asked about the ME90. Brand new from Cowell's, these are well made lathes with a good range of accessories and much appreciated for small work like clockmaking. If you can afford it, why not? Second-hand though, all bets are off. Yes it was made by Cowells, but then what happened? Whilst there's a good chance an expensive lathe in private hands will have been looked after, there are also lathes badly worn, abused, dropped, refurbished by Coco The Clown, poorly maintained, or stored 10 years in a wet cellar. Spare parts for quality lathes aren't cheap, not a problem if you're running a serious workshop, painful if paying for them steals food from your child's mouth.

Really good advice (unless small work is your speciality) is to buy the biggest machine you can. Size matters. Cowells, Sherline, Taig, and the C0 are all too small for me, whatever their merits. While my mini-lathe met 90% of my needs, I soon decided it was a shade too small for general purpose use. Not only that, but my ambitions had grown as a result of using it. For very small jobs the mini-lathe would be a better choice, but my big lathe has much greater range. I was delighted with the bigger machine.

Bottom line is look deep into your soul and find out what you want of a lathe. If you must own a British or Western classic, that means tackling second-hand risks. How the machine is powered needs looking at, a 3-phase motor needs 3-phase power. Does anything expensive need fixing? (Sometimes spares cost more than buying the lathe will!) I wouldn't buy a second-hand lathe without inspecting it carefully and using it to cut metal, but people do and come away happy.

There are always special cases. Club members will often help an enthusiastic newcomer with advice and bargains. Perhaps a dead neighbours relatives will give you his workshop. One pitfall (I feel) is that well-known brands - especially Myford, tend to start feeding frenzies. Less popular makes are likely to be better value for money simply because fewer people chase them. At the end of the day most machines would keep a newcomer amused, within limits, good work is done on poor machines. Probably not smart to buy any of the small cheap pre-war British lathes like the Adept, or indeed any very cheap lathe.

On the other hand, if in a rush to get on with learning the best answer is buy Far Eastern from a reputable UK supplier! They come with consumer protection in the event the machine is a dud, can be bought blind, and the supplier sorts out delivery, which should be quick. Buying Far Eastern direct or from ebay, is riskier. There's a suspicion that rejects and factory seconds are sold by this route, and there may be zero technical support. Read the Terms & Conditions: one I looked at had a genuine money back guarantee but required the buyer to pay for shipping the lathe to a Return Centre in Germany. Ouch!


PS.  Forgot to mention Metric vs Imperial which matters if screw-cutting is a requirement.    Modern work is mostly Metric, older modelling (from plans or the original), will be Imperial.  Chaps of a certain age are more likely to think in Imperial than youngsters.  Metric materials and tools are slowly squeezing out the Imperial equivalents, some of which are already unobtainium, premium priced, or New Old Stock. 


Edited By SillyOldDuffer on 03/12/2019 15:58:59

Austin O'Hara03/12/2019 20:12:55
20 forum posts
10 photos

Many thanks Dave and two Bills for leading me away from the white elephant path.

I have decided I will ask ArcEuroTrade to supply me initially with the Sieg SC3-400 and later with the Sieg SX2P Mill when it is in stock.


Former Member03/12/2019 20:16:20

[This posting has been removed]

Austin O'Hara05/12/2019 15:07:22
20 forum posts
10 photos
Posted by 34046 on 03/12/2019 20:16:20:

Excellent advice from Dave -- quote -- Bottom line is look deep into your soul and find out what you want of a lathe

I started with a Cowells but it soon went as far too small and expensive for accessories.


Edited By 34046 on 03/12/2019 20:17:02

I have discovered the Edinburgh Society of Small Engineers which is a short drive from my current location and they have workshop equipment available for members to use.

In London, there exists the Society of model and experimental engineers Ltd which runs a number of training course including one on building a Steam engine. These groups will allow me to look deep.


magpie05/12/2019 16:46:07
456 forum posts
80 photos

Austin, good advice from Dave, and an excellent choice to buy from Arc Euro. Our local Men in Sheds bought a mini lathe from them about 4 years ago, it really gets tested by some of the most ham fisted blokes I have ever encountered and is still running well. Although my machines a bigger, I have been buying tooling from Arc Euro for very many years and always found the very helpful and good on price. No connection to the company, just a satisfied customer.


Neil Wyatt18/12/2019 16:09:47
17893 forum posts
706 photos
77 articles

Hi Austin

Welcome to the forum,


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