Craftsman (Atlas) 12x36 lathe - opinions?

I want to get some thoughts on this brand of lathe - is it good, bad or ugly. I seem to recall some previous posts from folks on this list who have or have had this lathe but don't really remember what the consensus was. I would be doing mostly small home shop hobby stuff like making model IC or steam engines, etc. Thanks.


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They're light duty home hobby type lathes, but they will cut metal and there are lots of parts for them and support for them. There is one coming available soon in the Bellevue, Washington area if anyone around here's looking.


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Grant Erwin

The 10x36 has been an excellent first lathe for me doing small hobbyest work and learning how to use it.

Its also good for making one off gadgets and repairs to musical stuff

In a few years it might get phased out for a lathe of much more significant manufacture but its not a bad tool

Better lathes exist but from an availability perspective if they are unavailable then that does not matter

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In my experience it was a good way to get started, but I'm a lot happier with a Clausing 5900-series lathe, which weighs about 3 times as much for the same work envelope.


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Mike Henry

Whatever you do, make sure you get a quick change gearbox. I have had a

10" for with manual change gears for over 25 years. And have made a lot of stuff on it, both as a hobby and to make money. I have also used other lathes like South Bend 9" and heavy 10, some Colchesters up to about 20", an ENCO 12 X 36, some Clausing 12" lathes and some Doall 14 X 40's. All of them are more rigid than my Atlas. But I get along. The issue here is that when you put on a 10 thou cut, you'd like 10 thou taken off. The less rigid the lathe, the more "spring" in the whole system and the less you take off. You calculate that during roughing, but when you get to the last cut, if you need half thou accuracy, it's harder to do with less rigid lathes.

The problem, IMHO, with getting a "first lathe", as somebody suggested, is that you start buying tooling for it and pretty soon, you are sort of tied down to that machine, because you have so much invested in its tooling. And then, when you get that "better" lathe, most of that stuff doesn't fit. Particularly true with the Atlas, not because its a bad machine, but just because it is what it is. If this doesn't make sense, to you, email me and I'll tell you more.

Other limiting factors of that lathe are the 3/4" bore in the headstock and the 1 1/2"-8 spindle thread. I guess the spindle bore will never be big enough for that next job coming in the door, but 1

1/2" bore or 2" bore would be nice real often for me. AND, this allows for through collet setups that hold bigger stock. Also, IMHO, it is very valuable to have a lathe with a D series spindle. If you have a particular lathe in mind, check the quality of the 3 jaw chuck carefully. If it isn't concentric within 0.001 in 3 inches, reduce your offer price by $300 or so and buy a Set-True chuck when you get it, or you'll hate your lathe forever.

Summing it all up; If I were you, knowing what I know now, I'd have mortgaged the house to get a better lathe to begin with. Remember: I am not flaming the lathe. I am a guy who has one and who uses it at least every other day when I'm around here.

A decent lathe isn't going to loose value, so it's not like buying a car. OTOH, if you can get the machine for, let's say $1000, well tooled, and $1000 is all you can scrape up, get it. But be warned that this is an obsessive thing and you will be forever addicted to watching E-Bay or Craiglist looking for that next accessory whatever you buy!

Pete Stanaitis


Siggy wrote:

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I'll echo what others have said. It's a light lathe for home hobby use. The later ones were labeled "Craftsman Professional" but that was a bit optimistic. Having said that, there are 2 generations of 12x36 Atlas/craftsman lathes. The early lathes had a rounded "art deco" headstock. What you'd want is the late-model (approx 1960 & later) characterized by a squared-off headstock and (almost always)an underdrive cabinet. Most also had ways that were 1/2" thick rather than the 3/8" of the earlier models. They also had the QC gearbox, optional on the earlier models. If you find one of those in pretty good condition for $600 or under, it might be a good deal. They often sell for over $1000 "well tooled".

The "cons" of the Atlas lathes are twofold: The flat ways are more flexible and less accurate than the prismatic ways used by most all other lathes. The only good news is it's very easy to measure wear. Extensive use of Zamac - pot metal - for everything from gears (all of them) to handles. For example, there is a little gearcase that holds the intermediate gears between the bed rack and the handwheel that moves the carriage. It is housed in a Zamac casting, and is almost always broken, but working. Replacements are scarce used , and pricey at Clausing - if they still carry them.

But for your purposes, if you find a nice one priced reasonably, it will meet your stated needs.

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I really like my 1938 Craftsman. I did not need a 3rd lathe, but it is getting used. The accuracy of the Atlas is great, as it has had very little use and lots of careful maintenance.

The power is terrible at 1/5 h.p.

But I don't use if for making pounds of chips.

Reply to
Clark Magnuson

Greetings- Never seen a 12" with that casting mentioned above. Have it on my

10". I also have the 12" with "Art Deco" headstock and use it often. I consider it a very good lathe. Also own a 11" Rockwell which is heavier , but not that much better than the Craftsman Atlas. Jim
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I've not tinkered with the late 12" Atlas. I understood that it had the same carriage drive gearcase as the earlier ones. I defer to someone who actually knows whereof he speaks :)

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