Author Options:

I am interested in starting metal work and I was wondering whether to get a lathe or a milling machine first? Answered

Hi there,
I have done metal work on lathes and milling machines at school and I found it very interesting and good fun. I am interested in doing some metal work of my own as a hobby. I do not want to go into it all guns blazing straight away incase I do not get on with it very well. My question is should I buy a metal lathe or a milling machine to start with, I have a maximum budget of about £400 but I still want quality machines.  It seems to me that I can make a wider range of projects with a milling machine but a lathe allows me to make screw threads and bore holes etc which would be useful. I have seen lathes which have a milling machine attachment on them but I think it would be better to have it as a separate unit. 
I would be very grateful for people opinions on this, but remember that I am a complete beginner with a budget!!!
Ben B.


Thank you for all of your comments and options guys. I think I have decided on buying a Chester lathe. I'll post pictures and stuff on here if or when I get it!!

Just found this one on Chester Machine Tools, what do you think?

I have a conquest -There are some adequate reviews about for it and the pattern is followed by many Chinese lathes e.g. Clarks, Axminster etc.

The essential problem is that they aren't very rigid - this can lead to chatter and poor quality finishes as well as a lack of accuracy.

If your prepared to mess with it , keep adjusting it then they do their job reasonably well.

I have made small steam (air driven) engines with it and can turn a piston and bore a cylinder close enough so the piston will not fall into the cylinder, over time it will fall in but in air pressure is holding it back. That's more than accurate enough for small model work.

The distance between chuck and tail stock isn't excessive. and the cross slide is a little light weight IMHO.

It will only take 10mm tools, and you can't cut from the back of the work.


Although they talk about a different make they are exactly the same (possibly same factory.

It seems like to cons heavily outweigh the pros because I wouldn't be confident enough to do all the modifications Ive read about. How complex are the necessary modifications bearing in mind I am a complete beginner with no other metal work tools?
They do look better than some of the lathes I've seen for the money and have some good features so I might condsider getting it.

Not at all complex initially - For the most part all you need to do is make sure it's set up correctly - example on mine the tail stock wasn't aligned with the chuck, this took about 1/2 an hour to sort ans check.


Is a wealth of information and support. Chester are very good as well.

All you will need at first are a set of spanners, some Allen keys and a decent screwdriver.

Add to that some cutting tools, personally I don't like Tungsten tipped tools on small lathes although lots of people do because they don't need sharpening just change the tip.

You will need a set of drills in sizes you will use, and a boring tool if you want to make things with holes in them


as a good source.

You will collect things as you go along and as you need them.

Oh right ok, that doesn't sound too bad. So are the other modifications you have done to make it more accurate etc. and would you recommend for me to do them? Have you run into any major, costly problems with your lathe?

Not at all - just make sure it is set up correctly, well lubricated and you will be Ok.

If your not used to using a lathe you will find you tend to use too low a speed at first - this causes problems that are easily fixed by increasing speed - BUT this required confidence, so little at a time.

I would start by turning nylon rod, move on to aluminium and then a steel that has a good lead content - i.e. free turning steel.

You nee to start with test bits not a project in mind. if you can turn to size, to the 1/1000 inch then you are doing OK. It takes practice,.

Ok thank you very much you have been very helpful. I am fairly confident now that I will buy a Chester lathe and do some simple tinkering on it to make it accurate and functional enough.
I'll post pictures and updates on here if I get one.
Once again thank you

I agree with Rick. Get a lathe first. Axminster have some excellent deals on little lathes.

I bought my small 12 inch between centres 6 inch swing from http://www.chesteruk.net/products/detail/3

Conquest Lathes - they gave very good service.

made in China though I had to dismantle it nd service it before I used it for anything serious.

Looks a bit tall in the saddle to me.

Steve, Myford user from birth.....

I wish - I know where a Myford 7 lies unused and unloved in a garden shed BUT the guy who has it isn't interested in selling (or better giving) his dads pride and joy to someone who would use it :-(

I have one, from my late father, we now have three, and I would be happy to send one to a good home. .....

I would even loan it to you. He would like to know its being used well.


Your a very tempting person Steve :-) Need to discuss further

TBH Rick, its just getting rusty :-(( We have two Myfords here in the workshop anyway. Its got a Dickson toolpost, and the faceplate, and the 4 jaw......

Want to see some pictures ? I'd really like to see it moved on to someone else that will love it.


If you have some Pics I am interested. Ill PM my Email


I just checked the Spec: Swing 180mm DBC 325 mm

The most unfortunate things about all of these small Chinese lathes is the lack of real rigidity. IMHO The cross slide hasn't got enough mass and requires constant adjusting to keep backlash to a minimum.

Don't rush into it.

Could you accommodate a lathe as big as a Myford ML7 ? They are superb model engineering lathes, and are always coming up on Ebay.


Yeah I've seen those lathes and try look really good, sadly though it would be too big. I live in a terraced house and I need to be able to get it trough the house and then I have limited space in my shed. It's a shame because they look good

Look for a second hand Emco. There's a place in Sheffield I know that had a shelf full of them, second hand. They probably go for a couple of hundred quid.

He he, yes, but don't forget second hand sources like Rick suggests. I rang the other guys and they sold ALL their Emco stock - and Myfords start at 550 anyway. And go upto 1500 !!


I have a 24 foot by 24 foot double garage as a workshop - Not often the cars go in there.

At present it is half full of marquees as I hire them out with a friend and the Jubilee and other summer events has created quite a lot of work.

Usually they are stacked neatly in his garage.

Thank you, these comment have got me thinking. I have looked at the Clarke CL250M and I think that is about the largest I would want and about the most I would want to spend, does anyone have an opinion on this lathe?
I have considered making a miniature cannon, and a hammer with interchangeable heads with a lathe if I get one. Does anyone have any other simple projects I could do on a lathe or milling machine.
Ben B.

Looks fairly solid, should be sufficient for basic machining. The obvious issue is what tooling you can fit on a machine that small, but that is largely unavoidable without going larger and spending more, so that lathe should be fine unless you intend to start doing fairly complex projects.

Simple tools make ideal starting projects and will allow you to make even more later. Try making a die holder or some screwdriver/file handles.

I'd go with a good quality second-hand lathe. You can get some good deals from the workshop clearance companies that advertise in model engineering and horology magazines.

You should look at what attachments or kits are available if you intend to add additional capability such as CNC, power feed, thread cutting, gear cutting... If you intend to use it for milling, I strongly suggest you get a lathe that has a cross-slide with T-slots to mount additional equipment.

As for the budget, you need to consider the additional cost of the cutters and things that you will need if you are starting from nothing. For cheap material, see if there is a local machine shop, as they will often give you bar ends for cheap.

What kind of capacity do you want ? The standard measure is "swing over bed" - the diameter of the biggest bar you can work.

Much depends on what you intend to make.

Overall the lathe is the most versatile machine.


has much good reading on metalworking.