I have to admit I was pretty angry with John ("Shoot first and ask questions later)" Martin for his judgemental heckling, the ultimate effect of which was to interfere with the genuine help I was getting in the thread "rack and pinion". But, after considering the matter, I decided that he actually did me a favor by, in effect, pointing out how fragile the support is that I can expect from rec.crafts.metalworking.
I have been quite impressed by the depth and breadth of the combined expertise of this newsgroup, and I remain so. I have been equally impressed by the good will and congeniality here and by the high level of commitment on this group to helping people at all levels of competence, and that is still my feeling. But the simple fact is that, in real life, I don't have any friends with whom I can get together to discuss machine tools or who can show me things or who can help me pick up the pieces after a disaster or who can tell me whether conditions in my shop are safe. Nor are there any courses available to me (I have looked!) that can make me more self-sufficient. That being the case, I have no other source of advice about metalworking than this newsgroup and the question is whether I can proceed with just that support, given the many other severe constraints I am operating under, many more than I have mentioned above.
Based on excellent advice I got from Don Nichols, I was on the verge of ordering a Taig lathe and HarborFreight milling machine but now I have decided to go with the HarborFreight Item 40102-3 VGA, "8 in 3 multipurpose mini machine". Don correctly advised:
In my case, however, the following considerations are more important:
(1) It costs under $200, including with shipping and handling. That means I'm not investing a lot in the experience, unlike with the Unimat 1, which winds up costing almost $450 after all the extra costs are added, or the combination of Taig lathe and HarborFreight mill, which cost even more. (2) Because it has such a puny motor, I am a lot less likely to hurt myself using it.
Without a solid commitment to as much support as I actually need, which is a lot more than I can reasonably ask of anyone, and which is a lot harder to give by email and USENET than in person, I think this is the most sensible way for me to proceed. After I'm more experienced, I'll consider getting more powerful machines.
I won't post to or read this newsgroup again until I've built something, however tiny or crappy.