Metal Lathes

Precision Matthews 1640

In 2006, I bought a PM-1640 for myself as a Christmas present. It has a 7.5 HP motor and a built-in cooling system and weighs 4200 lbs. I quickly learned that a spinning chuck and a coolant system were highly efficient means of throwing soluble cutting oil throughout the shop, so one of the first modifications that I made was to rig a splash guard. Later, I mounted a small shelf on the back of the splash guard to create a convenient place to store my quick-change tool holders. I run the lathe off of a 20HP rotary phase converter. This is not large enough for me to start the lathe in the two highest speeds (1300 and 2000 rpm), but I don't really need those speeds.

Proper tooling is essential for achieving the full value of any machine. The lathe came with a 10" 3-jaw chuck, a 12" 4-jaw chuck, and a 17" face plate. I later acquired an 8" 6-jaw chuck, 5C collet chuck, a 2J collet chuck, a driving face plate, and a fixture plate. I also made a back plate for a 6" 4-jaw chuck. I have a 5C collet closer that I intend to mount when I have a chance.

The lathe has plenty of power for my needs. I've been able to take cuts with a 0.2" depth of cut and 0.010" feed in 12L14 without strain, but this was only a test: I prefer to be more reasonable. Someone told me that "you can machine small items on a large lathe, but you cannot turn large items on a small lathe." This lathe is rugged enough to drill a 2" hole in cast iron, but it is rigid I was also able to drill a 1/16" hole in the end of a 1/8" rod. For one project, I had to do this 58 times in a row, and I did it without breaking a drill bit.

Drilling a 1-13/16" hole in a cast iron disc Drilling a 1/16" hole in a 1/8" brass rod

Here are a few photos of some other projects:

Facing a threaded back plate Turning between centers on a mandrel
Turning a small part held in a step collet Boring a cast iron disc
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Facing a Cast Iron Disc

What I like

  • Combination of power and rigidity to allow heavy cuts in steel or drilling small holes in small parts.
  • Flood cooling helps prevent built-up edge, especially when turning aluminum.
  • The D1-6 camlock makes changing chucks a snap.
  • The quick-change tool post is faster to set up than the lantern tool posts on my earlier lathes; however, I have two lantern posts for this lathe, one of which I made to hold large tool holders.

What I dislike

  • Roller bearings on the steady rest tend to mar work pieces.
  • With my phase converter, I cannot accelerate the lathe to run in the highest speeds.

Problems (this was a new machine)

  • When the lathe was delivered, the coolant pump had fallen loose. I just bolted it back in place.
  • I had to adjust the foot brake microswitch clearance to get the lathe to run. This was easy.
  • One of the wires in the control circuitry was loose and needed to be tightened.
  • Some Chinese tool holders are too tight to work with the quick-change tool post. I remove about 0.005" with a dovetail milling cutter and then they work fine.

Other comments

  • The guard that I added is there to keep the lathe from slinging coolant everywhere. It is not designed to stop projectiles.
  • I replaced the original coolant nozzle with a magnetic base and segmented hose arrangement.
  • I have not added a DRO, and I have not really missed having one; besides, the scales might limit the carriage travel.

In Destroy All Monsters, Manda wraps around a viaduct in much the same way that long, stringy chips wrap around my work piece when I don't have a proper chip breaker and proper feed for the work.

Hardinge DSM-59

I wanted a small turret lathe to make some small parts for caving equipment, and in 2012 I purchased this lathe from Meridian Machinery in Kenosha, WI. I was living in Illinois at the time, so it was a short drive with a trailer to pick it up in person. They were very pleasant to deal with, and they threw in a number of 5C collets as well. During the test run, none of us noticed that the low/high speed lever was not working properly, but once I had the lathe back in my garage, I discovered the problem and was easily able to fix it. The only challenge was getting my large hands into a small space underneath the lathe to tighten a nut.

The picture above shows the lathe in my Michigan shop shortly after my move, so it is not tooled. Here are some pictures taken in Illinois where I had it tooled general purpose work:

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Trimming Planer Stop Pins

Here are some steps machining aluminum rollers for a caving descender. I start with an aluminum cylinder rough cut to length:

1. Stock positioning 2. Close collet 3. Face
4. Center Drill 5. Turn end clearance 6. Continue, forming rope groove
7. Finish turn the sides 8. Drill for Axle 9. Ream

Once these steps were completed, I needed to reverse each roller to finish the other end, much like step #3.

What I like

  • Once set up, the machine is easy to use and quickly makes accurate duplicate parts

What I dislike

  • It takes quite some time to set up for each part.
  • This lathe is limited to making fairly small parts.
  • There is no automatic feed for the cross slide, so I cannot thread long parts.

Problems (this was a used machine)

  • The connecting arm from the high-off-low speed lever to the cams for the electric switches was missing. I fabricated and installed a replaceent so that the speed selection worked properly.

Other comments

  • I have releasing tap holders and a geometric die head, but I have not yet tried I have not tried threading

Hedora is a Smog Monster. When producing many parts and using a sulfur-based cutting oil, so is this lathe.

Wards 2130 - a Logan Lathe

In 2004 I bought my Father's 10"x24" Wards (Logan) bench lathe. This lathe was larger than the Craftsman and had a few more features. Between this lathe and the G3617 milling machine that I purchased at about the same time, I started to develop a more serious interest in machining, and started learning the basic skills. This is the lathe that I used to make a series of dive lights out of turned aluminum. These feature knurled surfaces and a threaded bulb housing.

This lathe had a flat belt drive. The flat belt was adequate in theory, but in practice it was a nightmare. I never succeeded in getting the belt to work well. Although the lathe had a 2 HP motor, the belt would not transmit more than 0.2 HP before it would jump off the cone pulleys. I tried different belt materials, adjusted the alignment several times, and never solved the problem.

I loaned the lathe to a friend in 2006, but he eventually ran out of a need for it, and returned it in 2014..

What I like

  • I had a good set of accessories for this lathe, including 3- and 4-jaw chucks, faceplates, and a steady rest.
  • Although the cabinet is not designed to be a lathe stand, it is tall enough to make this lathe particularly comfortable for someone of my height.

What I dislike

  • Despite varying the belt material and spending dozens of hours trying all sorts of alignment adjustments, I have never been able to transmit more than 0.2 HP into a cut.
  • Changing speeds requires changing change gears. This takes time and is messy.


  • The flat belt drive is infuriating. Any attempt to take a heavy cut and the belt comes off the pulleys.
  • The double gear that engaged the rack under the bed broke a tooth, so I made a replacement.

Other comments

  • The lathe is mounted on top of a metal cabinet. While this made storing tools rather convenient, it really isn't a good stand.

Craftsman 101.21400

My Craftsman is a nice little 6" x 18" bench lathe. I bought it for small projects, but for many years I rarely had time to use it, and the limitations imposed by this lathe limited my motivation. I managed to adapt a tool post. vise to this lathe, and used it as a milling machine when I made perhaps my most useful items made on this lathe: custom safeties for my CMI UltrAscenders.

What I like

  • This lathe is simple and easy to use.
  • The V-belt drive is simple and reliable

What I dislike

  • Changing speeds requires changing change gears. This takes time and is messy.