Finding Metalworking Equipment

Doug Harrison

Every home metalcrafter dreams of having a "real" metal lathe. So what is a "not real" metal lathe? Well, for many years mine was a drill press and a file. Before that it was a hand drill clamped in a vise - and, of course, a file. I made more than a few carburetor parts this way. Frustrating, but it builds hand-eye coordination (and wears out drills).

Before you go out and spend money on a lathe or mill, do some research. The first thing you should keep in mind is that machinists are fiercly loyal to their brands. You won't hear many good things about import machines because most older machinists don't work with them. What follows are FAQ's that I get.

Question: Aren't American lathes better than imports?
Answer: Yes, and no. The principle argument against import (Asian) machinery is that it is made of soft metal and wears out quickly. Yes, a Monarch 10E is better made than a Grizzly lathe from Taiwan, but a new Grizzly is far more accurate than a trashed Monarch and can be purchased for considerably less. As for the "softness" of Taiwan metal, well, I bought a Grizzly in 1992 for experimenting and ended up running it two shifts a day for about a year. We used it for roughing operations and got the motor so hot it smelled like burnt motor oil. This machine is still tight and accurate.

Don't assume that American made means "hardened" either. Clausing made a popular lathe with a variable speed drive that was notorious for stripping its change gears. It seems Clausing used mild steel gears in the quick change gearbox. And try buying replacements.

Question: "What about Enco lathes? I've heard they are junk."
Answer: Enco sells a lot of junk. Enco's service is junk. Enco's lathes are not junk. All of their lathes come from mainland China, where lathes have been made for more than fifty years. The factories are modern and employ sound manufacturing principles. True, an Enco lathe is not top quality, but it will turn close tolerance parts and you will never wear it out in your home workshop. An old South Bend or LeBlond will cost more than a new Enco and they will be worn out. And worn out means sloppy.

Enco is the best lathe bargain on the market today. Unfortunately, you have to deal with Enco. These folks have the worst service in the industry. My company tracks vendors by price, errors and rate of backorder. Nobody beats Enco's price. Their error rate is about 40%. The backorder rate has improved and is now about 35%, still not good.

I bought a Grizzly instead of an Enco because I could not get through Enco's phone system. This has improved and I would go with the Enco if I had to do it again. Both have good lathes, but Enco's price is slightly better and they have a showroom near me.

Question: What size should I buy?
Answer: Definitely get a 12" swing if you can afford it and have the room. Lathe weight is an important factor in the quality of finish you get. A nine inch lathe weighs about 250 pounds, a twelve inch lathe weighs four times as much. You get the point. Of course, you can do more with the bigger lathe as well.

Question: Where should I get my tooling?
Answer: Enco. Sure, you will hear that Enco tooling is junk, and it is. So is the low priced tooling you will get from J&L, DoAll or any other "quality" supplier. I did some research on this and found that all of them buy their cheap stuff from the same places. The "quality" suppliers charge as much as double and swear that they don't use the same sources as Enco. They're feeding you a line. We spent several thousand on tooling finding this out. If you want quality tooling, buy Kennametal, Sandvik or Iscar. You will pay more for the tools than you paid for the lathe. Take care of your cheap tools and they will work fine.

Question: What kind of milling machine should I buy?
Answer: Enco again. Bridgeport makes a very good mill and they sell for a premium price on the used market. Most of them are worn out, or the shops wouldn't be selling them. Worn out Bridgeports are worn out milling machines. They chatter and don't hold tolerance. Enco sells an 8"X36" vertical mill for $2695. It is a good machine.

If you can't afford a new Enco, look around for a used Gorton, Famco, or other non-Bridgeport. A badly used Bridgeport goes for $2000. You can get a Gorton for about $900 and it will probably be in better shape because the machinists in the shop it came from didn't like to use it. I've owned two Gortons and think they are more accurate than a Bridgeport. They are rather ugly though.

Question: Does the author of this article own Stock in Enco?
Answer: I wish I did. Actually, I have no Enco machines in my shop. When we were purchasing machines for our company, I couldn't get through Enco's pathetically incompetent phone sales people and ended up buying used American machines. We dealt with machinery dealers and got it in the shorts. I paid $3500 for a #2 Brown and Sharpe mill that was supposedly reconditioned and in good shape. It was so badly worn that all we could use it for was roughing. We bought the Gorton to do the work we bought the B&S for in the first place.

I have since purchased a new Supermax (Taiwan) CNC and think it is far superior to any Bridgeport I've used. My next lathe will be an Enco.


If you want an accurate machine for the home workshop, buy Asian stuff. If you have a problem with sending your dollars offshore, consider that even Bridgeport was building mills in Singapore until the cost of labor there got too high. And it wasn't until Americans started buying Hondas instead of Fords that our car industry started responding to our wants and needs. But enough of politics.

Next month (maybe) I'll compose something on how to inspect used machinery. In the mean time, you can email me if you have any questions.

Doug Harrison

March 1996

The above opinions are solely those of Mr. Harrison. Live Steaming takes pride in presenting them, but takes no responsibility for them.