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List of basic tools to get started in hobby machining
February 19, 2011
2:17 AM
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smithdave467
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Broaches in genearl
are of different types dependent upon the functions they have to perform.

September 26, 2010
7:52 AM
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Rob
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[Please tell with me if you think I’m wrong or have overlooked something. This is going to be the foundation for an article that’s going to be featured on the web site when I get a chance to add some photos, links and double-check a few prices.  – Rob]

I think Dr's and Mikey's lists of tools are pretty good and mine is not that different.  I just want to make the point that you don't need to buy everything right away to get started machining, making things and having some fun. I didn't spend much to get started and I slowly bought more tooling when I needed it or found a good deal.  You can spend money forever, but I think that if you shop carefully you can put together a well equipped home machine shop with a mini-lathe, mini-mill, the essentials and some extras for somewhere between $1600 and $2000.  Some of the the things you’ll need, like drill bits, taps and dies, files, table grinder, hacksaw, vise, and a workbench are things you may already have, or might want to have, even if you aren’t going to do any machining or metalworking.

If you can’t afford to start with both a mill and a lathe then you’re going to have to decide which one to buy first.  I’m sure we could get a good argument started about that.  But I’ll let someone else do that and just tell you that I started with just a mini-lathe.  If you do the same you’ll be able to make some useful accessories for your workshop and model engines like HMEM’s EZ Build Engine, which is an excellent beginners project.  Don’t worry, you can make the square parts with a hacksaw and files if you don’t have a mill. (You can do amazing things with just a hacksaw, some files, patience and practice).  

My List

Lathe: The mini-lathe made by Sieg Industries in China is very popular with hobbyists and they’re sold all over the world under various brand names.  You’ll probably pay about $600 for one with tax and shipping (in the US).  Prices have gone up a bit, especially recently.  I paid $370 for mine in the Spring of 2007.

There are some bigger lathes that are also popular, such as the Harbor Freight 8×12 and the very similar Lathemaster 8×14.  I recently bought a used HF 8×12.  Its additional weight and horsepower make it capable of removing metal must faster than a 7×12 and it doesn’t cost much more.  

Some Links to Lathes

Grizzly G8688  7×12 – $495

Harbor Freight 7×12 – $549 (Look for a HF 20% off coupon)

Microlux 7×14 – $640 (A little bigger and it comes with lots of extras)

Harbor Freight 8×12 – $700 (Look for a HF 20% off coupon.  It’s also often on sale)

Lathemaster 8×14 – $870 (A little bigger with lots of extras)

Two more things about lathes

  • Your lathe and mill will probably hold their value pretty well if you take care of them.
  • You can buy an attachment for many lathes that will make it capable of doing some milling (producing flat surfaces).  You can also make flat surfaces with a 4-jaw
    chuck.

Other things you’ll need (tooling)

Lathe bits:  The least expensive option (assuming you have a table grinder) is to buy some HSS tool blanks for grinding bits.  They cost about $2 to $5 each and you’ll only need two or three to get started.  

You can also buy presharpened HSS bits.  I don’t know what they cost or if they’re even worth buying, but they’ll allow you to get started with a sharp and properly made bit that you can also use as a model to help you learn how to grind your own.  They will get dull, maybe quickly, and you’ll have to resharpen them on either on a grinder or with a handheld hone. 

Carbide bits are also an option but there are two things I want to warn you about.  First, carbide is brittle and you can very quickly ruin a bit by making common newbie mistakes or “interrupted” cuts.  For that reason it is probably best to start with HSS bits.  Second, don’t waste your money on the cheap imported carbide bit sets that many companies sell. They’re usually painted red and it’s generally agreed by everyone who has ever owned a set that they’re a complete waste of money.  

There are two kinds of carbide bits, indexable and brazed.  Indexable bits have carbide tips that are usually triangular shaped and held in place with small screw.  When the tip gets dull, which usually takes a long time, you unscrew it and turn it to another point.  So you get three cutting tips out of single insert, which usually costs about $4 to $7.  

Brazed carbide bits are very similar HSS bits except they they have a piece of tungsten carbide that has been welded on the cutting edge and ground to the proper shape.  They can stay sharp for a long time and when they do become dull you can often resharpen them using a “green” grinding wheel or a handheld hone. I’ve tried the American made ones that Enco sells and I’ve been very pleased with their quality.  Mini-lathe size bits will cost you about $4 or $5.  They come in different shapes for making different kinds of cuts.  You don’t need to buy all of them.  You’ll use an “AR” or “BR” most of the time, although it wouldn’t hurt to have some “AL” and “BL” bits also.

Table grinder: You'll need one to grind HSS lathe bits unless you switch to indexable carbide bits like I did.  I rarely use mine now.  

Indexable carbide tool bit holders and a Quick Change Tool Post (QCTP):  Many machinists like to use lathe bits that have been ground from HSS (High Speed Steel) tool blanks.  They claim, probably correctly, that the bits are sharper and produce a better finish, especially on a low-horsepower mini-lathe.

However, I very quickly decided that I hated grinding and resharpening HSS bits. I also didn’t like having to fiddle with shims to adjust their height. So I very quickly decided to ignore my budget and buy a set of indexable tool bits and a QCTP.  An A2Z QCTP set for a mini-lathe will cost you about $90 at Littlemachineshop.com and the tool bits about $30 or so.

I get very good results with carbide but there are some tricks that you’ll need to learn get the most out of them.  I still use HSS when I’m cutting threads on a mini-lathe. Ask if you’d like to know why.

Tailstock drill chuck and a set of center drills: about $25 from LittleMachineShop.com.  

A set of drill bits:  I’ve had good luck with the ones that Harbor Freight frequently has on sale for $10 to $20.  The used Drill Doctor 750 I bought for $60 keeps them sharp.  I’m still using my original set and I have a couple of spares stored away in case I break some bits.

Digital Caliper, micrometers and other measuring stuff: A 6-inch digital caliper is essential.  I use mine for nearly everything.  I’ve been very pleased with the stainless steel ones that Harbor Freight often has on sale for $10 or $15.  

Ialso have a large assortment of quality Starrett and Brown & Sharp micrometers that I’ve been given or I bought used.  They’re more accurate than a digital caliper but I rarely need the extra precision.  So don’t assume that you have to rush out and buy some.

Just so you know, micrometers have a limited range and there are different kinds for measuring outside diameters, inside diameters, depth and other things.  So you’ll need to acquire a collection of them if you really want to use them to measure a lot of different things in a wide range of sizes.   

By the way, I also have a 3-piece set of Harbor Freight outside micrometers in a nice plastic case that I got on sale for about $35. They’re accurate and I think their quality is pretty good.

You may also not need a dial indicator right away.  Although you’ll certainly need one if you get a 4-jaw chuck.  You may also want to get a dial test indicator if you do that.

You can still buy a traditional DI for about $12 at Harbor Freight when they’re on sale. You’ll also need a magnetic base with an adjustable arm to hold it.  HF frequently has them on sale for about $10.

To be honest, I sometimes get confused when reading a DI because I don’t use one very often. I found that sometimes it’s easier to use a digital dial indicator, at least when I’m tramming a badly out of square mill.  I haven’t seen them on sale at Harbor Freight in awhile, but I did get one for about $25 by using one of their 20% off coupons.   Here’s another reason why you might want to get a digital one.  

4-jaw lathe chuck: There are a number of reasons why you might want or need to buy a 4-jaw chuck.  

  • You need to hold something that’s bigger than your 3-jaw chuck can handle.
  • You need to hold something that is non-cylindrical or has flat surfaces.
  • You need to offset a work piece for turning or drilling.
  • You need to center a work piece more accurately than a 3-jaw or other self-centering chuck can.

You can also use a 4-jaw to do some of the operations you could with a mill, like making flat surfaces.  For example, you can make a round bar into a rectangular bar by mounting it in the chuck “sideways” and then facing it to make a flat surface.  You would then turn it to make the other sides flat.

You may not need a 4-jaw right away.  If you do, a 4-inch chuck for a mini-lathe will cost about $80.  You’ll also probably need to buy an adapter plate for about $20 and maybe some extra studs and nuts for about $4.

Taps and Dies: I already had a good SAE set that I’d bought years ago.  But I’ve had to buy some additional sizes.  I got most of them from Enco and I usually bought the best I could afford because I think the higher quality ones cut better, make threads that fit better and you’re less likely to have a tap break.  Although, I was desperate one night for some metric sizes so I went out and bought a cheap metric set at Harbor Freight.  They don’t say that they’re made out of HSS or another good tool steel, but they work well and I haven’t broken any yet (but I don’t use them that often either).

Reamers: Reamers are expensive but you may not need any for awhile.  When you do it might be to make a cylinder for a model engine.  If so there are alternative methods you may be able to use to get a good fit. You can also buy them individually instead of as a set.

Files: You’ll want to invest in an assortment of quality files, which I think should include a single-cut long-angle lathe file which you can buy for about $10 or so from Enco.  I also suggest you buy the small finish files that Harbor Freight frequently has on sale for about $3 or $4 set.  I have multiple sets, not because I wear them out, but because they get clogged with filings that are hard to remove.

High quality hacksaw frame and blades:  Here is why I suggest buying a well made hacksaw frame and high-quality bimetal blades.  I really like Starrett blades but I think Lenox blades are good too.  Don’t buy off-brands unless you want to add some frustration to your life.

Bench Vise with “soft” jaws: I would get a least a four-inch vise and either make or buy a set of “soft” jaws for it so it won’t mar your work.  I got a very nice vise on sale at Harbor Freight for about $30, which would probably cost about $40 now.

A sturdy workbench: This could be a topic all by itself.  I think a workbench should be big, strong, rigid, and heavy to absorb vibrations.  So I usually build my own.  Some home machinists put their lathes on roll-around tool chests.  They’re fairly inexpensive, sturdy, portable and you’ll have a good place to store most of your tools. A strong folding table, like a banquet table, could also be used.

Miscellaneous tools and supplies: Deburring tools, counter sinks, tapping and cutting oils, scriber, center punch, machinist’s scale, screw pitch gage, parting tool, boring bar, height gage and some other things I’ve forgotten to mention.  Most of these are inexpensive ($3 to $10 each), but they can add up.  Luckily you won’t need all of them right away.

Metal: I think that if you’re going to own a home machine shop then you should have a good assortment of aluminium, steel and drill rod on hand.  

Investing in some “good” metal can also make learning how to use a lathe easier. New home machinists often practice on hardware store bolts, the steel and aluminum rods sold in hardware stores or scrap they find in the trash. The problem with these “mystery metals” is that they often have poor “machinability” and it can be hard to get a nice finish on them even if you’re experienced and know what you’re doing.  So I think you’d be better off buying some 6061 grade aluminum, 12L14 “free machining” steel, or maybe even some W-1 (water hardening) drill rod to learn on.

My local metal dealers are inconvenient to visit and kind of expensive.  So I get almost all my metal by mail from Use-Enco.com, OnlineMetals.com or Smallparts.com.

– Rob

September 18, 2010
8:03 AM
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Mikey
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Sorry Dave. A screw-cutting attachment is an accessory to cut threads on a lathe. On larger lathes it is often an integral part of the machine but for some mini-lathes like the Sherline it is a separate attachment. To my knowledge the Taig lathe does not have this capability as an OEM accessory. It basically is a gear train to tie the carriage to the leadscrew so that threads of either Imperial or Metric pitches can be cut with a thread cutting lathe tool held in a toolpost on the carriage. Changing the gear ratios alter the thread pitches being cut.

One reason for cutting threads on the lathe instead of just using a die is to adjust the fit of that part being cut into the female threaded part so that it fits the way we want. Say we want a class 3 fit; this is a precision fit with little or no play. Even an adjustable die may not give us that fit; we need to check the fit of the female part on the work piece until we get the fit we need. This is especially important if the female part is not made by us; we need to fit our part to their female part with the precision that we decide we need. The only way to do that is to cut it to fit.

Another reason for screw cutting on the lathe is that we often do not have a die that will cut that thread. If I make a lens adapter for my camera it may have a fine Metric thread on the outside of a 2.5″ diameter barrel. No dies are available for it so it has to be screw cut.

Finally, remember that a part is held on a lathe with a chuck. While it is secure and rigid enough to resist the cutting forces of a lathe tool a large die is another story. If you try cutting a 3/8-16 thread with a die, without at least having cut most of that thread by screw cutting first, then the torque you must apply to cut with the die will spin that work piece in the chuck. The bigger the thread or work piece the harder it is to cut it with a die. On the other hand, screw cutting it is easy and you an get a more precise fit.

Internal threading has similar advantages and limitations. Internal threading is no harder to do than cutting external ones. Again, having exactly the right tap for the job at hand may not be possible. You also cannot adjust for fits if you require precision beyond what that tap is ground for.

Screw cutting capability on a lathe is, to me, a deal breaker. I need this capability and it isn't optional. If the lathe I am looking at cannot cut threads in the pitches I use then I won't buy it – period. Consider this advice very carefully, David.

Hope this clears that up for you,

 

Mikey

September 17, 2010
12:28 PM
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dr
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Thanks for this incredibly detailed list.  I'll be carrying this around with me at the flea market (where I see a LOT of good quality machine tool accessories) and seeing if I can get some good deals.

 

One question: You list a “screw cutting attachment” as a “necessary”.  I'm not clear what this is and it isn't listed as an accessory on the, for instance, Taig accessories page (http://www.taigtools.com/acces…..ories.html).  Gearing to set the pitch, etc?  If I limit myself to standard threads, couldn't I stick with tap and die?  Or is it something else or has some other use I'm not understanding?

September 9, 2010
7:38 PM
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Mikey
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Thanks Dr. I agree with the list but have a few more to add:

Hi David,

One bit of advice on buying
machine tools – buy the biggest lathe and milling machine sold by the brand you
decide on. Get zero-setting hand wheels on them if available.

Okay, minimum kit for the
lathe. This assumes you have a lathe with all the necessary attachments (steady
rest, 3-jaw chuck, tailstock drill chuck, live center, screw cutting
attachment, etc):

  • 4-jaw chuck
    with independent jaws. No other chuck is more precise or flexible. While a bit
    more cumbersome to use they are indispensable for accuracy and for off-center
    turning. Buy this with your package or after you find you like cutting metal.
  • HSS lathe tools:
    Right Hand, Left Hand, 60 degree threading tools and cut off tool. I would stay
    with HSS on a smaller lathe and learn to grind your own. They will outperform
    carbide on a small lathe and are much cheaper. Get these from whomever you get
    your lathe from as a starter set. Use an extra-fine diamond stone to hone them
    between uses and they will last for years.

If you have the option spring for a rear-mounted cut off tool holder –   you will be very, very glad you did. If you
can’t buy one, make one.

  • Drills: Buy
    in sets as you need them: 60 piece wire size, then fractional, then letter
    sizes. Buy good drills – Precision Twist, Chicago-Latrobe, Dormer, Triumph,
    Titex and others. Unless you have a tool and cutter grinder or know how to hand
    sharpen drills on a pedestal grinder I suggest a Drill Doctor at some point.
  • Zero flute countersinks. Used for chamfering and countersinking holes on the
    lathe. Use at low speed.
  • Boring bars:
    The cheap Chinese brazed carbide boring bar sets you can buy for $10.00 are actually
    pretty good! I often rough out a bore with these tools, then switch to a cobalt
    set from Borite for most work and Circle Machine inserted tip carbide bars for
    deep work.
  • Center drills:
    for a miniature class machine like a Taig or Sherline the #1 and #2 drills work
    well; go larger for larger work pieces. I like Titex and Keo.
  • Dial Indicator:
    You will need at least one DI so make it a fairly good one. An AGD group 2
    (2-1/2” dial) would work well, with a 0-1” range and 0.001” resolution. I don’t
    think going for more resolution is necessary to start but I do feel a good gage
    is. The best ones are Swiss-made. I use Compac but also own Mitutoyo and they
    work well.
  • A good 6” dial caliper: you will use this
    constantly to measure diameters, both inside and outside. Good ones are made by
    Etalon, Brown & Sharpe, Mitutoyo. Avoid the digital ones – they often can’t
    be repaired if they break. Avoid vernier calipers unless you have young eyes.
  • Micrometer:
    get this later if you need to work to tenths. Here again, quality pays. The
    best are Swiss-made. Etalon, Brown & Sharpe are good. The Swiss-made Helios
    and the Mitutoyo mics are very good also. I would buy a 0-1” first and add
    larger sizes as needed.
  • Taps and adjustable dies in the sizes
    you most commonly use. Brubaker, Titex, Regal, OSG, Irwin-Hanson make good
    ones. A full set is a good idea if you can afford it; otherwise buy them as you
    need them. If you regularly work with aluminum or brass look into roll taps;
    they produce a stronger, more precise thread and you won’t have to contend with
    chips.
  • Quick Change Tool Post: while this is not critical you will eventually buy
    one. They allow rapid changes from one tool to another but more importantly
    they allow you to set the tip of your cutters at center height very quickly and
    easily. I highly recommend this type of tool post.

 

That’s it. This will get you
started on the lathe. If you shop on eBay carefully you would be surprised how
cheaply you can buy every item above, except for the OEM stuff. Later on you
can build or buy a knurling tool, radius tools, gravers, reamers and so on but
with the above list you can make almost anything on the lathe.Think carefully before you buy anything – its very easy to get carried away.

 

A minimum kit for the mill is
a bit harder but I’ll try.

  • Dial test indicator: this is an important tool for the mill. You will use it often to tram
    your mill and line up your machine vise and numerous other tasks. Again, the
    Swiss make the best ones and I highly recommend Compac. Buy one in the 0.001”
    to 0.0005” range, ideally a long-travel version. I like the Compac 214GA a lot.
    Brown & Sharpe, Tesa, Mitutoyo make good ones as well.
  • At least one good machinists or accurate combination
    square
    . They are needed for layout,
    tramming the mill, and numerous other tasks. Buy a hardened one.
  • A good machine vise. You can buy one from the maker or an aftermarket one. For general use
    I like the Wilton MMP/SP-50 a lot but change to a Wilton 2” screwless vise when I need to be
    more precise. Neither is crazy expensive but both are very good for hobby use.
    If you can go for only one I suggest the screwless vise. Many import screwless
    vises are quite suitable for hobby use. I also like the Sherline vise for it’s
    small size.
  •  Starrett
    model 827A edge finder
    . This is one tool that is almost indispensable on a
    mill. It allows you to place the center of the spindle precisely over an edge,
    from which point you can use your feed wheels to position the cutter. Others
    make these but Starrett makes this really good one.
  • Parallels.
    These are a must have. I have a nice little set from the Little Machine Shop
    that are 3” long X 1/8” thick and work well in my vise. Enco also sells a small
    3” set for a few dollars and I use them for general work on the mill and drill
    press all the time. If I could have only one set it would be a 20-piece thin
    set; these are only 1/32” thick with heights in steps of 1/16” and allow you to
    drill close to an edge. Trust me; you will need this thin set eventually and
    import ones are fine.
  • Flycutter:
    this tool is necessary for squaring your work pieces prior to starting work on
    the mill, and for other things as well. If you buy a Sherline mill get the
    inserted tip carbide fly cutter, not the one that uses the brazed carbide tool.
    The inserted tip flycutter is far better in use. Later, you can make your own.
  • A good end-mill tool holder. This should be
    included with the mill. One option here is an ER-32 chuck. It is useful on the
    lathe and to hold end mills more accurately and securely than the typical end
    mill holder. Even more accurate is a collet held in the spindle with a drawbar
    but they may limit the size of the end mill you can use.
  • End mills.
    Here you will find an astounding variety but this might help narrow things down
    a bit:
    • Buy HSS or cobalt cutters. They are the
      most economical choice, work well, and will cut almost anything. Solid carbide
      is good but requires higher speeds and they are more fragile – don’t drop them.
      The sizes you buy are dictated by what you have to cut but get them with the
      largest shank your mill can handle to minimize flex and vibration. I like
      Melin, Niagara Cutter and Brubaker the best. OSG, Putnam, Regal are also very
      good. I will leave the number of flutes and helix angles for another
      discussion.

 

If
you buy end mills on eBay I suggest you only buy new ones. Buying used end mills is false economy because they
are often dull or damaged and need to be re-ground, which is expensive for
small cutters. Re-ground end mills also will no longer cut on size. Buy new.

  • If possible, get center-cutting tips so you can plunge
    with them. I also opt for square tips unless I have a specific need for a
    radius tipped one.
  • Buy fine-pitch roughing end mills. They
    will bulk out the work quickly and your finishing end mills will last far
    longer.
  • Corner rounding
    end mills, chamfer end mills and ball end mills are going to come in handy as
    you progress. Buy them as needed.
  • Be sure your drill chuck can be moved from the
    lathe to the mill. If not, buy another one for the mill. If you can, find an
    Albrecht on eBay – they are very good chucks and you will never go back to a
    keyed chuck.
  • Zero flute countersinks: these are available in 82, 90, and 100 degree models
    to suit the taper of the fastener being used. Most flat head imperial fasteners
    in the US
    have an 82 degree head. In my opinion no other countersink works as well and
    they are simple to resharpen. Keo and Weldon make good ones. You will need
    these to chamfer or deburr holes and to countersink surfaces for flat head
    screws. You will use this on the mill, lathe, and should have one mounted in a
    handle for deburring holes.

 

From this point the other items are less critical but have a
look.

  • Tilting angle table is an option that I find indispensable for many tasks. I usually mount
    my machine vise to it for cutting angles but it also fits my rotary table and
    allows cuts that cannot be done in any other way. Add this one when you can.
  • Rotary Table.
    I think this is an important accessory but can be purchased later. With a
    rotary table the mill can theoretically reproduce itself and I would not want
    to be without it. Sherline makes a good one for a fair price and it will fit on
    most hobby mills.
  • A boring head.
    This is semi-optional at this point but you will eventually need it to bore
    precision holes for which no reamer exists. One of the best is made by
    Criterion. I use an S-1-1/2A and it is worth every penny I spent on eBay to get
    it. Be sure your boring bars will fit your head.
  • One option that I highly recommend for beginning
    machinists is a guided spindle tapper.

    Also known as a piloted tap driver, this is your standard tap driver but has a
    shaft extending out the back that fits into your drill chuck. After drilling
    your tapping hole you slip the spindle tapper into the chuck and it guides the
    tap in straight and greatly minimizes tap breakage. Walton makes really good
    ones in the two sizes needed to cover most taps you will use. You will also need
    to buy or make a tapping block for hand tapping.
  • Clamping tools.
    You will often need to clamp things to the milling table that are too large to
    fit in the vise or an unusual shape. Buy or make strap clamps or edge clamps as
    needed.
  • Angle Plate:
    this is a right angle fixture that is bolted to the bed of the mill; parts that
    are difficult to hold in a vise can be attached to this plate. You won’t use it
    all the time but when you need one nothing else will do. Optional for now but
    they are cheap so get one eventually in a size appropriate to your mill.
  • Angle blocks. These
    are blocks that you use to position a work piece at a specific angle. They are
    reasonable in price and quite useful. A more expensive but more accurate option
    is a sine table or sine vise and a set of gage blocks. For the hobby guy the
    angle blocks will suffice and can be purchased as needed.

 

This will get you started. I
know that there are a lot of things I have not included here that may seem to
be necessary to a lot of more experienced guys. However, this list will get you
cutting and you can define what you need as you progress.

 

Try to find what you need on
eBay. Many of the finest tools made can be found for amazingly low prices
there.

 

One more tool that is
indispensable for stock preparation is a 4X6 horizontal/vertical band saw. Unless
you like torture this tool will save your arms and I suggest you eventually
purchase one if you stay in this hobby.

 

Good luck,

 

Mikey

September 9, 2010
7:59 AM
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September 8, 2010
3:29 PM
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Hi guys, David posted this as a comment and I thought it would be best to discuss it here so you can all chip in:

  • Great
    article and has re-ignited my interest. But once again I founder:
    There’s a lot of help out there on how to pick a machine, but not much
    on what else is needed. You mention “tools” including measuring, but
    don’t really give a comprehensive list.

    Obviously you can buy and buy and buy and never be done. But what is
    the minimum set of tools needed? And what dependencies do they have on
    each other? (i.e., if I find a bunch of reamers at the flea market that
    seem to be in good quality, should I get them even though I don’t have
    a lathe yet? or will I need to know the frobnitz number of the lathe
    first?)

I'll have to think about a realistic list of “must have to get started” tools, including why those tools are on the list. David's question is an important one and deserves a thoughtful answer so please give us your input.

 

Mikey

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