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First Lathe - Colchester Triumph (1960s roundhead) vs Warco WM250v

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Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 11:18:10
34 forum posts
6 photos


Hope you don't mind me popping in for some advice - I'm looking to get into machining and am on the market for my first lathe. I'm considering two options at the moment:

1. A 5hp 1960s 7.5" Colchester Triumph lathe for c. £2500 - including a 3 jaw, 4 jaw and flat face chuck, a couple of steadies, centres, chucks and a bunch of tooling.
2. A new Warco WM 250v which I'd then have to purchase everything else for.

Obviously they're pretty different machines but I'm torn as it's a big investment. I saw the Colchester in action, really liked the seller and it's a beautiful machine but I'm not confident of the issues I should be looking for.

Benefits are it's got a lot of tooling, it's a much bigger machine with plenty of room to grow into it. I can easily get 3 phase at my property and also have the space for it.

I had a quick demo of the machine - and my one concern is the quality of the finish on the demo piece wasn't brilliant - felt rough to the touch with obvious lines in the finish. But it was done quickly with a carbide tipped cutter which the owner said was fairly worn - I can easily go back for a second demo and am wondering if it's worth asking to see the finish when using a freshly ground HSS cutter?

My questions are:

- What should I be looking out for as someone who's inexperienced with lathes?
- If I did need to get the ways reground how difficult/expensive would it be to get that done?
- What are the things that would make it an absolute no go in terms of purchase?



Thor 🇳🇴10/03/2022 15:26:24
1632 forum posts
46 photos

Hi Mike,

Welcome to the forum. If the Colchester is in good condition I would say buy it. The problem with such an old lathe is you don't know what kind of life it has had, and how much repair/restoration is needed. If you could get someone with more experience to check it out for you that would give you more information.


Dave Halford10/03/2022 16:09:01
2054 forum posts
23 photos

Did he turn something parallel and measure each end for you?

Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 16:54:46
34 forum posts
6 photos

Thanks for the responses:

I did get an oral history of the lathe - it apparently had fairly light use in a workshop for most of its life then went to the home of one of the staff when the workshop shut down. The current owner purchased it about 3 years ago. There wasn't an ounce of rust on it, it was well oiled everywhere but did look like it had been repainted at some point.

He didn't turn something parallel for me and measure each end - was just a short length of 1" thick rod that was turned down a couple of thousands about an inch down its length. I can definitely ask him to turn something parallel and have a set of Mitutoyo vernier calipers I can take to get a measurement at each end. Just purchased a basic DTI with a mag base as well I could take with me.

I'll attach a couple of pics I snapped - stupidly didn't get any good shots of the ways although you can sort of make them out in a couple of pics.

Edited By Michael Smith 26 on 10/03/2022 16:55:41

JasonB10/03/2022 17:03:51
22764 forum posts
2656 photos
1 articles

A couple of thou cut with a worn insert would not have been the ideal test. Better to take a decent cut with one and a lighter with some HSS.

Try to see it running in all gears under load and also with the power feeds to check they work and there are no nasty noises.

As for accessories make sure they include the hard to get ones like fixed & traveling steady, spindle sleeve (if it had one), full set of change gears, etc. The odd chuck or tool post is easily replaced but lathe specific ones less so

Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 17:05:20
34 forum posts
6 photos


Shot of the turned down rod - couple of points on this:

It was turned down twice, the first go left a pretty rough finish with the carbide tip. I asked if it was possible to achieve a better finish and he swapped the tip around and tried with a different point - this did leave a slightly smoother finish but on that run a small groove appeared which is visible in the shot. Such a visible groove didn't appear in the first turning.

He then demonstrated polishing the piece with a bit of sandpaper and emory - the shot shows the rod after polishing - unfortunately don't have a pic of it prior to polishing.






Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 17:06:57
34 forum posts
6 photos

It did have a fixed and travelling steady - I was able to see the lathe running through most of the gearing and sounded OK - no nasty noises and honestly quieter than I was expecting.

Not sure on the change gears - will ask on that one.

Thanks for the advice!

Nicholas Wheeler 110/03/2022 17:09:20
930 forum posts
87 photos

A lathe like that should easily manage that finish straight off the tool.

While I have, and like, a WM250, in your circumstances I would buy the Colchester.

Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 17:11:09
34 forum posts
6 photos

Power feeds were definitely working too - forgot that in my last post. As was the coolant pump.

Tony Pratt 110/03/2022 17:16:28
1967 forum posts
12 photos

Ah the perennial question, a piece of old British iron or a shiny new Chinese lathe, really only you can make that decision. Iv'e used most makes of lathe during my career, some good, some bad, some accurate, some clapped out but I now have a Warco 290V, rough round the edges but it does a good job & can turn parallel no 'polishing' needed, Iv'e worked on some old iron where 'finish turning' was impossible & the emery had to come out. Do you really need a m/c as big as the Colchester? No easy answers on this one.


Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 17:27:43
34 forum posts
6 photos

Just called the owner and had a good chat with him - really nice guy. I'm heading over Saturday to see a parallel turn with a HSS bit and we had a chat about him demoing screw cutting on the machine too.

It's got the original manual with, the spares catalogue and the change gears.

Leaning even more towards buying it.

Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 17:30:39
34 forum posts
6 photos

Thanks Tony - I definitely don't need the size (yet) as the core goal is to learn machining. I was originally planning on buying something smaller and new to work with but the lathe is literally 20 minutes down the road from me and seems a shame to pass up on it if it's in good condition.

Mick B110/03/2022 17:38:07
2192 forum posts
122 photos

I've been a turner since 1975, but I'd only buy an older lathe if I'd had the chance to test it properly, especially as the chuck has obviously suffered some unknown but heavy trauma around the key square.

If you don't know lathes well, I'd say the safer option is to buy new.

I too have a Warco WM250V, and for the work I do - which is of small to moderate size - I don't think it's easily bettered.

Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 17:48:50
34 forum posts
6 photos

Thanks Mick - I think those marks around that key square are deliberate to mark it.

The current owner mentioned boring out the 3 jaw chuck when he got it to take a slight taper out - and using that key square specifically whilst he was doing it - believe he marked it off and mentioned that he tried to always use that key square when changing out materials.

I'll ask for more details when I pop over on Saturday.

Rod Renshaw10/03/2022 17:57:12
376 forum posts
2 photos

I love the idea of the Colchester but it might be wise to consider how you are going to move it to your shop. These older ex-industrial lathes are heavy and awkward loads and a specialist mover may well be needed, and most of the cost of these moves seems to be in the loading and unloading rather than the drive down the road. If it does need a bed re-grind that will also be expensive and there are not so many firms around who can undertake this work as there used to be.


David-Clark 110/03/2022 18:09:51
220 forum posts

Hi Mike

There is one major problem on Colchester industrial lathes and it is not obvious.

The gears in the apron usually suffer from lack of lubrication.

This on its own may not be a major problem but because they are used in an industrial environment which normally involves soluble oil, oil mixed with water.

The oil uses gets lost leaving the apron rusting away in water. If the seller will let you, undo the apron drain plug and see what comes out.

A replacement gear cost about £600 in the mid 1980’s.

I seem to remember the cross slide lead screw nut wears out,

Let us know what you find.

Pete Rimmer10/03/2022 18:17:14
1233 forum posts
65 photos

That Colchester might have been lightly used for the time the seller has known of it but it bears all the hallmarks of a machine that's been round the block a few times and down the motorway too.

That chuck is almost certainly clapped out. If I had to guess I'd say that it's been heavily rusted and then brought back from the dead. The chisel and punch marks around the hole are where someoe has tried to shrink the hole so that the scroll driver doesn't flop about and bind up. The chuck is in dreadful condition so allow for buying a new one if you do end up with the lathe. You'd be just as well off with a 100 quid Indian jobbie from Vevor.

Looking at the peck marks all over the compound top and saddle tops I'd say that it's done a good bit of factory or job shop work they are caused by the operator setting drills and reamers into taper adapters.

Take someone with you who knows what they are looking at because if the spindle bearings are shot then you just added a grand to the cost and IMO even in great condition £2500 is too much money for that machine.

Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 18:20:33
34 forum posts
6 photos

Thanks for all the responses.

Fortunately transport and loading aren’t an issue - there’s a friendly farmer with forks to load it and I’ve got ground workers in for a couple of weeks at our place who can provide the trailer and a tractor for unloading at my end.

Thanks for the tip on the gears in the apron - i’ll ask about undoing the apron drain plug when I go for the second viewing.

Ady110/03/2022 18:20:48
5095 forum posts
736 photos

A very tough decision, especially for a first lathe

Headstock bearings are gamet and about 1000 quid a pop

Michael Smith 2610/03/2022 18:22:43
34 forum posts
6 photos

Thanks Pete - missed your response when I did my last reply. That’s very helpful advice - unfortunately no one I know locally who’d have any experience - I live in rural Cornwall and only been here a couple of years.

Edited By Michael Smith 26 on 10/03/2022 18:23:44

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