Steam engine kits buildable with just a lathe?

Hi All:

I'm recently become interested in hobby machining, and would like to work on some steam engine projects.

Since I'm just starting out, and don't know if I'll actually end up with a shop full of expensive tools, my research leads me to believe that I'd be best off starting out with a mini engine lathe, and get into a milling machine later, if I find out that I enjoy it.

So - I'm looking for recommendations on both:

a) A decent quality small lathe ( like a Taig, etc. ) b) Small steam-engine kit(s) that can be completed with just a lathe and hand tools. I'd like something appropriate for a beginner, but not just a "file a few bits and bolt the rest together" - I want to do enough work to see if I like it. ;-)

Any suggestions? Recommendations? Errors in my thinking? :-)


- Rich

-- Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.

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You don't say whether you have any machining experience or not. If you don't have any, it would be good to start with a basics course so you can at least find out if machining would be enjoyable to you. As we say in blacksmithing: "the lyfe so short, the craft so long to lern".

In some areas of the country, there are vo-tech schools that have "Machine shop 101" evening courses. Try to find one.

Books have lots of value, but having an instructor who can give immediate feedback is superior. ---Even a few hours worth. Even if you can't find a course you can take, ask the vo-tech instructors what they would suggest to get you started.

This general question comes up often. You WILL end up with a shop full of expensive equipment; why not?

There is a little book entitled "Building a Steam Engine from Castings". It's 30 0r 40 years old, but shows how to do it usiing only a lathe. I think you need a milling attachment for the lathe at a couple of points. I can't find my copy.

If you are going to buy any kind of lathe, space and money would be my first considerations. Buy as much lathe as you can afford and have space for.

I'm a hobby metalworker and I use my mill as often as I use my lathe.

Go here:

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for starters. I would not call most of their "castings sets" beginner's kits.

Pete Stanaitis


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Cheapest way in, new, is a 7x10 or 7x14 mini-lathe Budget about $600 US to include some tooling and upgrade parts.

Used heavier duty machines are available if one is patient, lucky, or in a good location.

If you get a mini-lathe, they work well in addition to having a bigger lathe, as you can switch jobs back and forth between lathes set up for different purposes, rather than tearing down your setups. More than one lathe is good! One lathe is a good start, though.

Check out,, and google for Varmint Al's mini lathe page.

Get a couple issues of Home Shop Machinist magazine. Read the ads as well as the articles.

Campell Tools

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Tiny Power
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Blue Ridge Machinery and Tools
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All above sell steam kits as well as tools. There are others.

Cheers Trevor Jones

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Trevor Jones

As I said earlier, you really should get this book. 7 of them at, about $12. It will help you get an appreciation for the kinds snf drpthd of processes involved.

Building A Steam Engine From Castings. by Westbury. Edgar T.

Pete Stanaitis


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A 7x10(12,14) import provides a lot of bang for the buck, plus it does threading which the likes of Taig and Sherline won't as-purchased. There's any number of model engines that can be built from bar stock without a mill. Live Steam magazine, Home Shop Machinist and Machinist's Workshop are Village Press publications that have articles and ads for such, see their web site. They also have compilation books from the same publications.

If you're in a major metro area, see if the library has back numbers of The Model Engineer. This is a British publication that in later years concentrated mostly on live steam locomotives and such, but earlier issues had a lot on making do with what you had in the home shop, usually a light lathe and some add-on jigs. You can do light milling in the lathe with the right setup.

Little Machine Shop carries parts for the 7x mini-lathes. Also have some engine kits, last I looked at their web site.


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