I know this question gets asked a lot, but most of the answers I found
wer from '97-'98. Things change...
I've been working on electronics for robotics applications for a
while, and I am now ready to start working on the hardware. I decided
to buy a lathe and mill, and after a few days of searching, have my
sights set on Sherline.
I'm going to need to make small parts, mostly out of aluminum, as well
as gears and threads. Will the sherline machines be adequate for
I was looking at the Emco machines as well as the ones sold by harbor
freight, but most of what I read about them had them dismissed as
"toys". While I have heard a few people dismiss Sherline as "toys",
it is not nearly as often as the other machines I've been looking at,
and Sherline is at about the maximum of my price range.
Has anyone successfully made gears on a Sherline, or is that just a
I'm also interested in the CNC capability. Any comments on that? Is
it worth it?
Can anyone suggest a better machine for around the same price as a
Any help, suggestions, or insights would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance...
I don't have any direct experience with the Sherlines but I do know that
they're more of a "micro" lathe and are very limited in what you can do with
them. I'm also fairly sure that you can't cut threads on them.
As for the Harbor Freight and other mini lathes take a look at this site. I
think it might change your mind about them.
Also, when you say that the Sherline is at about the maximum of your price
range it's probably worse than you think because you're probably not
figuring in the cost of tooling. As a general rule of thumb most people say
you'll spend about the same for tooling as you do for the lathe. Of course
that varies depending on where you buy your tooling and what jobs you plan
to do but you will definitely have to spend a fair amount on tooling.
I have a JET 9x20 myself and it's kind of like a larger version of the
Harbor Freight mini so I don't have any direct experience with the minis but
it looks like the best deal out there is the Homier 7x12. It's only $299
and they do a travelling truckload tool sale so if they come to your area
you won't have to pay shipping. Go to their site and sign up for them to
email you whenever they'll be in your area. They don't post a schedule so
that's the only way you'll be able to find out.
If they won't be in your area anytime soon watch for a sale on the Harbor
Freight lathe. I think it was only $329.99 last month for Inside Track Club
members (or maybe it was $369.99) and they ship any order over $50 for free.
Of course if you have a local store that's even better because you can go
and look at one yourself. :-)
"I'm not grown up enough to be so old!"
The Sherline won't do threads unless something has changed (haven't been to
their site for a while) so that lathe is out. I'd go with something larger
anyway as you will always like the additional cap. of a larger lathe. A 10"
or 12" Craftsman or Atlas lathe is usually a good lathe to have and are
often available for fairly cheap.
I might also note that I'm not a fan of the multimachines as they tend not
to do any particular chore very well.
Losing weight is easy! If you ever want to lose weight, eat and drink less.
Works evevery time it is tried!
How small? The Sherline is *tiny*. It is really a *micro* lathe rather
than a mini lathe. They're fine little machines, and there's a ton of
accessories available for them, but they are *tiny*. A similar machine
is the Taig (which I own). Neither will natively cut threads, though
there are ways around that.
Emco or ENCO? Big difference.
The Taig is a bit less expensive than the Sherline, and a bit more
robustly built too.
Well, lets just say it would be a *challenge*. Straight spur gears are
possible, but any other gear form is going to be very difficult. I'd strongly
suggest you consider *purchasing* gears, or salvaging them out of other
equipment, rather than trying to make your own with a micro lathe. You
might have a bit better luck making them with a mill and rotary table.
I think that CNC would be more helpful on the little mill they sell than it
would be on their lathe.
You really need to tell us more about the size work you're going to do.
If you're familiar with Battlebots, give us the class closest to the size of
the robot you're building. That'll give us a better idea what sort of
machinery to recommend. I'm thinking that unless your robot is going
to be a flyweight, you're going to need bigger machinery than Sherline.
Then I'm guessing it won't do. I'll have to find something else.
Had no idea there was Emco and Enco. I was referring to the modular
lathe/mill/drill unimat thing. But from what I heard, it's pretty
cheap, so I dismissed it.
Well... I actually WANT to make the gears. Any of the stuff I've made
over the years I could have bought for far less money, but that was
never the point. And I wasn't suggesting doing it on the lathe, but
with the mill and rotary table as you mentioned. But forget the
Sherline, is there ANY mill that can make decent gears for around
$600? If not, then screw 'em.
My aim is to build a small, two-motor, autonomous robot, probably one
foot long at most, ten pounds maybe. No saw blades, or cannons, or
spiked balls, just wheels. I also would like to be able to machine
parts to modify paintball guns and other small mechanical devices.
And then, in my search for a lathe I've also come across various
examples of small steam engines and so on, built with small lathes and
mills, and I now have an itch to try that out too.
I really want to be able to make threads and gears. If I can't do
that, it's not worth it for any price. And I mean to make gears on a
mill. I'm actually in the market for a lathe AND mill, I've just been
saying lathe a lot cause I'm lazy. Sorry.
So I'm gonna back away from Sherline. Now I'm thinking of getting an
Atlas or Craftsman as suggested by Bob May, or a Grizzly 7x12. I read
somewhere that the Grizzly and Harbor Freight 7x12 were almost the
same machine, but the Grizzly has more features. So any
And as for the mill. Grizzly and Harbor Freight have a mill too. Any
comments on those?
I'm hoping to spend about $2000 on a lathe, mill, and tools.
Thanks to everyone for the help, I really, really, reeeeeeally
I really like my Emco Compact 5 with the milling attachment, had two of them
about 7 years now and have made everything including gears and done
threading. They're slightly smaller than the 7x12 Chinese machines but are
much better built and can do more accurate work from what I've seen.
I have a buddy that's converted a manual machine to CNC and Don Nichols on
this board has one of the factory CNC versions he seems very happy with.
Here's a link:
I see them on e-Bay regularily at half that price.
Nothing improves until someone stops
and questions an accepted assumption...
Amen! I've got an Emco-Maier Compact-5/CNC, and for its size,
it is a really nice machine. Austrian precision.
Has anyone here ever made herringbone gears? :-)
Also agreed. You'll need some form of index head in combination
with the milling machine to cut the teeth, and the lathe to turn the
gear blank to dimensions before cutting the teeth.
Well ... on the lathe, it could add threading capacity, given a
proper index plate and sensor on the spindle.
Better for what? New or used? The Taig is about the size of
the Sherline, and is more rigid overall, and probably has a more
powerful motor than the Sherline (at least mine does, I believe), but
there are more accessories for the Sherline (many of which can be used
with the Taig just as well.)
For just a bit larger, in the used category, I would suggest
watching for an Emco-Maier Compact-5. (Note that there are three things
called Compact-5. One is the manual lathe with thread cutting gears.
One is the CNC version with built-in computer (which I have), and one is
the Compact-5/PC which requires a PC and a special interface card and
software to use it.
My preference is for the Compact-5/CNC (since that is what I
have), but it costs a lot more than the manual one -- even on eBay.
I went through this whole process myself a few years ago. I don't have
any recommendations on specific tools, but I have some general advice:
Go to enco.com and sign up for their flyer. You'll get a new one every
month, and its always got almost all the same stuff in it month after
month, so don't be worried that you have to "act now" or miss the
sale. Anyway, the reason I say to get this flyer is so that you can
see what kind of tools/accesories are available. Lots of the stuff
that enco sells is not the best quality, but it will do for hobby use.
You don't have to buy everything at once. In fact, you probably can't.
I bought one machine and some tools to start with, then seemed to be
ordering more tools about every other month for quite some time. Its
one of those situations where you make something, then later you're
looking in a catalog and then you see *why* you might want bore gauges
or roughing endmills or whatever.
Don't buy the imported 116-pc drill set. Instead spend your money on a
good set of number drills. You can get fractional drills anywhere, and
you can go a whole lifetime without *needing* a letter drill.
Cutting threads on a lathe may not be as important as you might think.
You can also cut threads with a die. Speaking of which, Grizzly sells
an excellent HSS tap & die set for only $55. I think I use that tap
and die set on just about every project I make.
You don't need a full set of reamers. Sets are too expensive. Just buy
what sizes you need as they come up.
Get a cheap, expendable scientific calculator for the shop. You'll use
it ALL THE TIME.
You can make a lot of usefull stuff on a small lathe, but be carefull
about getting a mill that's too small. IMHO, I think that some of the
small mills on the market are just too small to be usefull. You have
to consider how you are going to attach your work to the mill's table.
Clamps, vises and rotary tables take up a lot of real estate on the
table. I really think that anything with a table less than about 7x20"
is going to be very frustrating to use.
Start going to flea markets. You never know what you might find, but
I've found something usefull (and cheap!) every time.
Make sure to also budget for some Socket Head Cap Screws with washers
and nuts. If you're making robots, you'll need a good supply of them
in a few different sizes. Keep in mind that if you buy long screws,
you can trim them down to whatever size you need. Also get an
assortment of set screws. You'll use set screws in your robots, and
you'll also need to replace set screws in many of the tools you buy
(new imported tools often come with really bad set screws, used tools
have worn-out set screws).
Not new price, but perhaps you could find used equipment for that
amount. What you really want for gear cutting is a horizontal universal
mill with a gear driven index head. That'll let you cut helical gears as
well as straight spur gears. Used horizontal mills are often pretty cheap
because most hobbyists want "something like a Bridgeport", even
though a vertical mill often isn't the best choice.
I'd suggest making a list of all the threads you need to cut, and figure out
how to make those parts on the lathe you intend to buy. For instance, I
needed to buy an extra 100 tooth gear to cut coarse threads on my
Sherline, while cutting metric threads (39x1mm) wasn't a problem, even
with a 20tpi lead screw. (127 tooth gear is standard :-) )
Zack Lau W1VT
I believe that one of our resident gurus, Leigh at MarMachine
(catruckman@aol) has a very nice Emco (not Enco) for sale. IRRC, it
uses 5c collets, and his asking price was VERY reasonable.
"You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle
behind each blade of grass." --Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Horizontal?? Now thats something I never thought of. I've yet to
come across a horizontal mill in all my searching.
If I got a horizontal mill for gear making, would it be any more
annoying to use it for general milling as opposed to a vertical mill?
And if the index head could stand vertical, then would a horizontal
mill be unneccessary?
very big snip-------->
Judging from your updated description, I would suggest that it would be a
mistake for you to buy small machines. I strongly encourage you to buy a
knee type mill and an engine lathe, quick change equipped if possible, no
smaller than a 9", with at least 20" between centers, more if possible.
Otherwise, once you have the machines, you'll kick yourself almost daily
because they won't do the size work you want to do.
I wouldn't go overboard on size, especially on the lathe, for large machines
don't do a good job on small parts, but small machines have a difficult time
with average sized work, even if you can get the part in the machine. For
example, you wouldn't want to buy a 17" lathe to make ½" diameter parts, for
which you would need much higher spindle speeds. My personal choice were I
in your position would be a lathe around 12", but with "modern" speeds.
Old machines tend towards slow spindle speeds.
Good luck, sounds like you have some great projects in mind.