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You meet the nicest people with a Cowells

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Bill Pudney02/02/2022 23:19:09
611 forum posts
24 photos

With apologies to Honda.

I've never had a Cowells lathe but have always admired them. As a result I generally read posts relating to them.

It occurred to me this morning that all the posts I have read concerning Cowells, have had a pleasant tone, with none of the sharpness or rancour which sometimes invades this Forum. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy a bit of verbal argy-bargy as much as the next bloke....but it is rather nice to read pleasant, helpful contributions. I wonder what it is about Cowells gear which encourages such friendliness??



Ady103/02/2022 01:25:05
5091 forum posts
736 photos

I've got a Cowells lathe

Pero03/02/2022 03:34:35
162 forum posts

Could it be that we had to trade in all our anti-Chinese lathe/mill angst to raise the funds for the Cowells? ( I have both so I have a foot in each camp ).

Possibly the answer is that they are just fundamentally nice little machines that do the job that they are designed for very well. They only complaints I have seen ( infrequently ) are cost - however you have to pay for quality - and capacity - it is very difficult to get a propeller shaft for the QEII between centres on an ME90, although I'm sure someone has tried!

Perhaps the only grumble is that not a lot is written about DIY accessories for the ME90 or other Cowells machines, however almost all accessories are available from Cowells, professionally made to the usual high standard - albeit again at a cost.

Despite having other lathes available I for one, and I suspect most other owners, will be hanging onto our Cowells for many years to come. They are just a nice thing to have , even if used infrequently.


Jon Lawes03/02/2022 06:24:01
927 forum posts

Before I buy a car I used to scour forums to check for common faults, or more often how many faults you can expect (and if they are serious or just niggles).

What I soon came to realise is that people are more vocal about things that don't work than they are about things that quietly get on with the job in hand with no issues. IPeople don't join the car forums to have a rant at how well its all going... maybe its a similar principle. I confess I don't know anything about Cowells equipment.

JA03/02/2022 08:51:19
1359 forum posts
80 photos


Thank you.


Andy Carlson03/02/2022 08:58:31
432 forum posts
132 photos

I'm the owner of a somewhat early Cowells... before it was actually called the 90ME but that's basically what it is.

There are plenty of minor design niggles with it. I'm sure the same is true of any machine but somehow we don't get too wrapped up with the negatives.

I don't think there is really one clear 'home' for Cowells discussions. I'm also on the Facebook group and a fair few mods and DIY accessories get discussed there but traffic is somewhat infrequent. You'll also find some things here and also on the Model Engine Maker forum. Another factor is that there is a huge range of ages of lathe out there - mine is over 40 years old but there are some folks out there with brand new ones. I suspect that we think about things somewhat differently. I think it tends to be the owners of older examples that post more about DIY mods and bits.

Just my two penn'orth

Morse Homology31/03/2022 13:47:41
9 forum posts

I don't think there's anything else Cowells size which does Cowells quality jobs. I have the lathe and the mill. I also have a Proxxon FF230 mill, and a Unimat-3 in a shop on another continent and have fooled around with Sherline gear in a friend's shop.

The rigidity and the backgear of the Cowells lathe put it in another category of machine from anything else of similar size. The backgear in particular is a real game changer for boring jobs and screw cutting. Couldn't do anything like that on the Sherlines or Unimat. 

Similar story with the mill. As a mill, it is absurdly superior to the little Proxxon. The Proxxon has a bigger, though less substantial table and vice, it has a bigger reach, and a drilling lever both of which are useful for drilling jobs. On the other hand, the Proxxon column is literally tubing, and it has an absurd tilting spindle which is a constant source of problems. Besides the difficulty of tramming the thing, the spindle housing is a chunk of aluminum with a weak clamping force; if you take a deep cut, it is guaranteed to knock itself over forcing you to retram. For mills of this size, this is a huge self-own. The Unimat-3 has a similar, smaller column mill attachment, but it didn't give me anywhere near as much trouble. I might just pin it at some point; it could certainly have come with that capability by default.

Cowells mill, not so useful as a drill press because of its configuration, but as it is made of cast iron and has an adjustable DC motor, you can do all kinds of milling jobs which are impossible on the Proxxon. For a little mill, you can take nice beefy cuts, and the collet system is absurdly superior to the one on the Proxxon. The Proxxon is cheaper and does adequate double duty as a drill press, but it isn't that much cheaper once you accessorize it enough to make it useful as a mill. It was definitely a case of buy cheap buy twice for me.

For my little workshop the Cowells tools give me capabilities I couldn't get with similar sized Chinese gear. Maybe something like a fully equipped Myford would allow me to do similar jobs in a similarly small amount of space, but nobody makes those any more, and it would probably cost more if I could find a good one. So, I'm pretty happy. Plus Colin is an incredibly nice person and it's great to be able to reach someone so close to the production line (I never asked; just assuming he is the production line). Try finding that with your Chinese tools.

I could probably squeeze another workbench/tool in the room at some point (I'm building a little hacksaw that doesn't count as it will live under the workbench most of the time). I could imagine finding uses for a larger lathe but for the types of things I'm interested in doing; little motors and clockworks, I feel pretty well equipped.

Edited By Morse Homology on 31/03/2022 13:50:37

bricky31/03/2022 15:32:05
575 forum posts
68 photos

I started out clock making with a basic turns and then I was fortunate in buying a Perris lathe ,this was a great machine and I learned a lot from using it.The Cowell lathe is an upmarket version of the Perris and is good machine for it's size.


SillyOldDuffer31/03/2022 16:52:43
8694 forum posts
1967 photos
Posted by Andy Carlson on 03/02/2022 08:58:31:


There are plenty of minor design niggles with it. I'm sure the same is true of any machine but somehow we don't get too wrapped up with the negatives.


I agree - all machines have shortcomings. What matters is how well they do the job in hand and that varies. Niggles that are deal breakers to some users, don't matter at all to others.

My feeling is Cowells hit the sweet spot for the sort of work they're used for: not overly expensive, table-top, quiet, fast, and with effective controls and accessories. For what they do, not controversial at all. A keen clockmaker with a healthy bank balance can confidently buy them.

Mini-lathes are controversial. Unlike the straightforward Cowells, these machines have a rich mix of pros and cons. Their country of origin touches a nerve with buyers who don't understand why well-made British machines lost a commercial competition. Sadly, most hobbyists aren't prepared to pay for good machines that are too expensive. So mini-lathes are aimed at people who spend money on a budget. They're made down to price and some are too rough. They're small enough to attempt clock-making, but lack the Cowells delicate precision features. They're big enough to tackle larger jobs, but not as capable as a Myford sized lathe. Not as well-finished or as smooth as they could be, but capable enough for most purposes, and affordable.

Inexpensive lathes having loads to like and criticise open the door to endless debate! Everyone can have an opinion.

As a starter lathe, Cowells, Taig, and Sherline were all unacceptable to me. Their sin was requiring a fair whack of money to be spent on a lathe too small for most general purpose work! For what I wanted to do a mini-lathe was the better choice. Nothing to do with how well-made the two machines were: my requirement was doing relatively crude work in the next size up, ideally delivered, guaranteed and accessorized within my modest budget.

Worked out well for me, not a horologist. It turned out to be too small for about 10% of what I was doing but I learned a lot from it! It was a better machine than the critics had led me to expect, working straight out of the box with some minor fettling later on. Buying it, I half expected to enjoy the hobby so much I had to upgrade later to an ex-industrial machine. Not so, confident it would do what I needed, my next lathe was also Far Eastern, just bigger. It has niggles galore, but nothing serious.


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