While a well-equipped machine shop will feature various types of grinders, a heat treat oven, a laser, an EDM — or any number of other tools — arguably the most important devices in any facility are the milling machine and lathe. Sort of the ying and yang of machining, a mill rotates a tool that moves over a part, where a lathe moves the actual part. The need for these tools is no different in a garage shop, and after you’ve obtained a milling machine or CNC router, you will also likely consider an inexpensive mini lathe from the shores of China.
The question then is what can you expect from these machines, and depending on the answer, how can you improve on its performance? To answer both inquiries, YouTuber This Old Tony goes over the initial performance of a 7x14 lathe in the first video below, followed by dual upgrades of replacing the headstock bearings — along with swapping out the compound with a riser block for the cutter.
If that terminology sounds foreign, he does a great job of introducing everything, making the videos a great source of information for those that would like to learn more about the subject. Noob gearheads will also appreciate his discussion of tapered roller bearings versus ball bearings and sealed angular contact bearings at around 5:00 in the second clip.
On the other hand, if you only want to work with soft materials, today we have the option of 3D printing — additive manufacturing. These videos will give you some idea of whether or not you want to go the machining route, or perhaps just serve as fun mechanical entertainment!