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Choosing a lathe

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David Harvey 329/10/2020 13:26:46
8 forum posts

Hi all, looking for advice I have just retired and going to buy my first lathe as I loved doing it at school I have a choice of a Chester 920 lathe new at £813 or a old atlas 5' power cross slide with indexing feature built into the head stock for £830 very good condition bare machine, before anyone asks I don't no what I will make with it just want a new hobby, which would be the Best Buy for first lathe.

Howard Lewis29/10/2020 13:51:05
3757 forum posts
3 photos

As long as it is not showing signs of abuse or wear, the Atlas may be the better bet.

But if you want accessories, steadies, changewhels etc later on, you may have problems in finding them.

Before placing a firm order, do look around. (My prejudice, born of idleness, for having power feed for both facing and turning )   You may be able to find something with a greater list of features.

There is always the possibility that one package may include features that you rarely, or never use (My lathe came with Fixed and Travelling steadies. Useful, when you need it, but only used once in 17 years!)

It may be better to spend the budget on a more versatile machine, with fewer accessories in the package, and to buy the extras as and when you need them.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the budget should include lathe tools and measuring equipment, if you do not already have them. A digital Calliper will do duty for a number of micrometers! (As an Apprentice, I bought a vernier calliper in preference to several mics )


Howard (Got rid of the smiley! )

Edited By Howard Lewis on 29/10/2020 13:51:45

Emgee29/10/2020 13:59:45
1763 forum posts
237 photos

Hi David

Best to have a good look through all forms of model making because you really need to know which branch you will be taking before getting any machines, if you decide to do clock making neither of the machines you mention will be the best choice, and perhaps not suitable if you want to build a 6" scale traction engine.


not done it yet29/10/2020 16:11:45
5124 forum posts
20 photos

As always condition is paramount when buying secondhand.

Likely a good price if it is a five foot lathe; possibly not so good if a 5 inch centre height example.

But the price may be negotiable?

J BENNETT 129/10/2020 16:30:01
47 forum posts

Is there a reason you are limited to these two machines. Don't forget the Chester machine attracts a £54 delivery charge, unless you are collecting. Similar charges will apply to other suppliers.

There is a wide choice of machines in this size/price range available from the likes of arceurotrade, Warco, Amadeal and others. Suggest you have a good look at the alternatives.

Apart from tooling cost you also have to consider what space you have and what you are going to mount it on. A solid stable base is essential if you want good consistent accuracy.

Just a few thoughts, I am sure others will be along soon with further suggestions.

David Harvey 329/10/2020 18:17:20
8 forum posts

In Northern Ireland we are very limited regards choice of machines, local machines don't come around to often I have been looking since March,I thought the atlas being able to turn 10' with power cross feed would probably fit the bill.I know the Chester comes with delivery charge, I like the look of the old machines compared to modern ones, also I know parts can be hard to source for some, I have seen some nice used lathes for sale across the water but it is a long way to travel to then find out its clapped out plus most of the firms don't seem to have the stock at the moment everyones help is greatly appreciated.

Pete Rimmer29/10/2020 18:34:10
807 forum posts
50 photos

The Atlas 10F does have a ring of index holes but it's not a feature you'll find use for often, certainly not significant enough for it to be a factor in the buying prospect. Other things about the Atlas is it's an aged machine with a soft flat bed that tends to wear so will probably BE worn, sticky at the ends and loose in the middle. It's not very rigid so small cuts only and parting only on a leap year. Parts are made from Zamak so there are some parts like the carriage gear support that will often be cracked or broken. The compound slide is held on by a really small pivot that tends to snap off in even a small crash, and the change-gears are clunky to change. The powered cross-slide travel is geared too high compared to the sliding feed so you have to change the gear train if you switch from one to the other to get a useful feed rate and the standard setup doesn't allow for reversing the motor.

This was my first lathe and I was never so pleased as when I saw the back of it.

David Harvey 329/10/2020 19:40:54
8 forum posts

Thanks for that Peter I think that rules that one out, my budget is approx £1000 plus tooling as and when I need it as I said not sure what I will make with one but I know I don't want one of the micro lathes I would like something in the range of 500mm between centres

Tomek29/10/2020 20:34:51
25 forum posts
10 photos

Hi David. 2 years ago i bought 920 from Chester and I must say it was the worst piece of rubbish i have ever seen. I think the actual thing supposed to go straight to the scrap skip but accidentally end up in the shipping container heading to UK. I had it for a week I think, and the longer i had it the more faults I was discovering. Play on the headstock bearing could be felled just by moving it, ways looked like were grind with angle grinder in few places, tailstock was miles from centre of the lathe. Cross slide travel wasn't perpendicular to ways and so on...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say avoid Chester shop. I've ended up putting lathe in the boot of my car and went to see Mark in Chester (luckily I live half an hour drive from them). Mark was very helpful, after short examination decide that lathe will be replaced with a new one, unfortunately they only had imperial one in stock and mine was metric. I was given two options 1 - wait for around 6 weeks for new shipment from China and 2 - I can go home same day with DB8VS for the same price. Well of course i took DB8VS and with big smile on the face I head back home.

I can assume that 2 machines came from 2 different factories or maybe 920 was assembled by a bunch of kids . What a difference it was! Db8 is a bit smaller but the quality of built is like day and night. I'm not saying all 920 will be the same, maybe I was simply unlucky getting the machine that shouldn't pass quality control.

But if you are still looking to buy a new lathe I can honestly recommend DB8 from Chester.


Ronald Morrison29/10/2020 21:28:07
44 forum posts

I also didn't know what I would be using the lathe for but I inherited a 10X24 inch Chinese made lathe with a gap bed. Now that I have had it for several years I know what I would use the gap bed for as I did need it for one project. It came with a steady rest which I also have found a use for. Bigger is better in my mind because I can still make little parts on a big lathe but no big parts on a little lathe. With that in mind, space available and how to handle the weight of the lathe getting it to that available space must be considered even before checking your wallet to see if you can afford it.

Vic29/10/2020 22:55:05
2642 forum posts
20 photos

The nice thing about the 920 is the Norton style thread cutting gearbox. If you plan, or end up doing a lot of single point threading this will be far quicker and a lot easier than swapping change wheels on something like the DB8.

not done it yet30/10/2020 07:57:43
5124 forum posts
20 photos

There are other lathes out there. Some with minimal/acceptable wear and lots of useful facilities.

I eventually found one with cross travel power feed, variable speed (from near zero to over 2000rpm with full power available at all speeds between 40 and 1750 rpm), back gear, screw-cutting gearbox, both 3 and 4 jaw (good quality) chucks, separate lead screw and power-feed drive shafts, auto long travel trip (very useful), over 600mm between centres, hardened ways, an honest one horsepower motor (output, not input, power), T-slotted cross slide (with rear parting tool-post), faceplate, fixed steady, quick change tool-post, fixed and revolving centres, over 25.4mm spindle bore and some tooling.

Likely weighed around 200kg - but possibly a little more with all the bits. Still moved (in a small hatchback) and installed single-handed. Cost was less than your budget, but I had to collect it myself (and inspect several machines before I located the one I bought). I did already have another lathe, while searching...

Edited By not done it yet on 30/10/2020 08:00:45

David Harvey 330/10/2020 09:30:04
8 forum posts

Thanks everyone for all your help I will keep looking and maybe up the budget a little.

Vic30/10/2020 09:57:21
2642 forum posts
20 photos

I was fortunate to get one of the last types of gearbox speed change mini lathes a BV20 from Axminster Tools. Given the number of stories I’ve read of speed controllers going bang on lathes and mills I’m not sure I’d want one. I have an inverter drive wood turning lathe and it’s been fine but a friend of mine had three motors and three speed controllers on his lathe before replacing it. Another friend had at least three speed control circuit boards go on his mini mill. It’s obviously much cheaper to fit a cheap circuit board rather than a gearbox.

Edit: the type is still available but it has grown somewhat in size compared to mine. laugh

Edited By Vic on 30/10/2020 10:06:34

Howard Lewis30/10/2020 10:38:58
3757 forum posts
3 photos

If you are looking for a lathe with a Norton gearbox, and power cross feed, you could seek a secondhand Warco BH600, Chester Craftsman, or a rarer bird like mine, an Engineers Tool Room BL12 -24.

Basically, they are all clones, in different paint schemes.

The BH600 (and its longer sister the BH900 ) were available in Imperial or Metric form, the Craftsman was only Metric, I think.

The BL12-24 is basically Metric, but dual dialled.

As a secondhand machine, it may well come within your budget., if you have the space available.

Mine came, new, with 3 and 4 jaw chucks, Faceplate, fixed and travelling steadies, and a 5- 3 MT sleeve for the Headstock. The standard toolpost is a four way.

The gap beds are induction hardened, and the power feeds are provided by a feed shaft, with the Leadscrew as a separate means of traverse.

The belt drive provides 12 speeds, including back gear. It is a heavy beast, 300 Kg, but the better for being rigid.

(As part of the deal, mine was fitted with VFD, so that there are only 6 speed ranges but all subject to the VFD, So a multiplicity in reality. )

Using the 120/127 main Idler it is possible to cut a wide range of Metric and Imperial threads.

Although quite accurate, it is not a toolroom lathe, nor one for watchmakers, since it will swing 12" or 18" in the removal gap.

Having a Tee slotted cross slide it is possible to fit a back tool post (Although through being careless I have made problems for myself. A little haste and a LOT less speed, putting it out of action for a few days while I made repairs! )


Noisy tumbler reverse gears (replaced by nylon ones, at some cost. )

The drive shaft / pinion for the Saddle traverse is soft, and does not survive collisions particularly well!

Another possible secondhand machine might be a Raglan, Little John, or 5 Inch, if you can find one in good condition. Based on my limited experience, a very useful machine. Ask N D I Y about his!



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