Lotus Elan

Machine tools for maintaining your cars?

PostPost by: bilcoh » Thu Sep 15, 2011 5:02 pm

After doing some searches in the archives, I've not found this issue addressed.

I grew up in a family business where we had a big drill press, arbor press and lathe, plus torches, forklift and loads of heavy tools and space. This was great when I was restoring a Europa and then my Elan, but alas, no more. I've got a 2-car garage now, definitely need a drill press, and see numerous situations where a lathe would be handy. Plus, I'd like to learn more about machining. After 20 years away from "making stuff" while pursuing a career pushing bits and bytes around the web, I'm really enjoying working on my Elan.

Question: Since space and funds are limited, I'm considering either mini-lathe/drill/mill machines (as seen at www.littlemachineshop.com), or a combo unit like a Smithy, Shoptask or Grizzly. Full-size separates like are South Bend lathe and Bridgeport mill are an option only in my fantasies, and I'm well aware that anything less is a compromise. Anyone here have an opinion and/or experience they want to share?

I've trolled several machining forums, and this question is posed regularly with the regular holy war responses between old-timers chanting "big American iron" and those who wish they could, don't have the space, and use combo units with reasonable success. I don't mean to bring that debate to this group, only to get opinions from anyone specifically within the confines of owning/maintaining Loti (though I currently only have one). Oh, I should mention that it is my aspiration to eventually go racing locally, so I expect that would greatly increase my need to be able to "make stuff".

Thanks so much,

Dave
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PostPost by: garyeanderson » Thu Sep 15, 2011 5:32 pm

:)
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PostPost by: GrUmPyBoDgEr » Thu Sep 15, 2011 5:50 pm

A lathe can't be too big!
Buy the biggest you can fit in, new or old.
You'll curse that sweet little lathe that's just not big enough for the next job & doesn't have the power to take a decent cut.
Chinese machines are much maligned but I've had one for 7 years & am still happy with my purchase.
Beware, buying a lathe is just half of the story; you will spend as much again getting all of the tools, drills, taps, reamers, chucks, collets etc., etc. all together.

A small vertical mill will do all of your drilling work, but so could a lathe.
But a small milling machine will do those little milling jobs that a pillar drill can't but don't expect it to do bigger jobs.
Here again the Chinese have cheap machines that will do the sort of job Mr. Average will want to do.
Tooling, well the same applies here as with lathes.

My tip is to buy new, older machines can be badly worn or damaged & the "respected makes" charge a lot for their bits!

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PostPost by: garyeanderson » Thu Sep 15, 2011 6:48 pm

Bridgeport and Big lathe is a Minimum, you can do almost anything.
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PostPost by: elanman999 » Thu Sep 15, 2011 8:16 pm

I agree with all above but would add a welder and press.
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PostPost by: bilcoh » Thu Sep 15, 2011 9:04 pm

Seems we can't help ourselves :lol: . No matter the question, the answer is always dedicated machines, as big as possible, right?

I agree and concede that point, so thanks for the affirmation. Restating the question....anyone have any experience with either "mini" machines or combo lathe/mill/drill options? Assume that you will fail this test if the answer is "big iron". :) Not being cheeky, at least not intentionally. Just looking for any opinions from the counterculture of modern but cheaper machines.

BTW, one reason I've continued to consider the 3-in-1 combo unit is that there are almost none of them for sale. If they were the junk and useless items so many competent machinists claim, shouldn't there be a lot of them on the used market? Trust me, I understand having access to the good stuff, and seeing anything less as an unacceptable compromise. But again, those simply not an option, so what do you do from there. Take everything to a machine shop instead?

Thanks,

Dave
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PostPost by: GrUmPyBoDgEr » Thu Sep 15, 2011 9:32 pm

bilcoh wrote:Seems we can't help ourselves :lol: . No matter the question, the answer is always dedicated machines, as big as possible, right?

I agree and concede that point, so thanks for the affirmation. Restating the question....anyone have any experience with either "mini" machines or combo lathe/mill/drill options? Assume that you will fail this test if the answer is "big iron". :) Not being cheeky, at least not intentionally. Just looking for any opinions from the counterculture of modern but cheaper machines.

BTW, one reason I've continued to consider the 3-in-1 combo unit is that there are almost none of them for sale. If they were the junk and useless items so many competent machinists claim, shouldn't there be a lot of them on the used market? Trust me, I understand having access to the good stuff, and seeing anything less as an unacceptable compromise. But again, those simply not an option, so what do you do from there. Take everything to a machine shop instead?

Thanks,

Dave



It's difficult to advise on such a subject.
With any machine there are compromises, price being the biggest one.
I looked at some of those lathe/milling machines which were commonly available from large DIY stores but my'oh'my they did look extremely crude & the ones I played with had stiff & jumpy slide movement.
Apart from that I like to get my head over the machine to get a look good at what its doing ( no don't lecture my you H&S men) & that milling head right over the place I want my own head to be---no thanks!
My "Warco" BV20 is a lovely little lathe with geared headstock, magic----different spindle speeds without moving belts around, but hey it would be better if it had a leadscrew gearbox as well.
Oh & the whole tailstock needs moving forward if the hole I'm drilling is more than about 30mm deep, what a pain!
Yes & it would be nice if the bore in the headstock was big enough to accept larger diameter bar stock :roll:

Do you understand where I'm coming from?

If you feel that a multi-machine will fulfill your requirements then why not go ahead; it'll produce as much swarf as any lathe given time. :lol:

Apart from machines an Oxy-Aceteline welding kit is very handy, not just for welding but brazing & a great heat source, wish I still had one.
A compressor for compressed air is also a handy piece of kit but here the same rules apply; the bigger it is, the more uses you can put it to.
Nevertheless a small one is good for clearing debris from bores, inflating tyres, small paint jobs, inflatable dolls etc.

Yes taking things to a machine shop is an option.
In order to do the jobs you may want to do you will need the required tooling, the machine shop will already have that (or should do)
To have a lathe set up to do most jobs needs a lot of extras, as I mentioned before, you will need to budget at least the same amount as a reasonably priced lathe for the tooling to go with it.
You may need to take a couple of goes at getting the job right & in the process produce an amount of scrap.
At the machine shop you pay for what you get
You will need time to acquire the necessary skills & probably lots of advice from people who have those skills.
I learned to use a lathe many years ago but now I'm still learning about the capabilities of modern indexable tool tips in comparison to the HSS tools I grew up with.



Cheers
John
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PostPost by: ardee_selby » Fri Sep 16, 2011 12:31 am

GrUmPyBoDgEr wrote:A lathe can't be too big!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxA6DsbN94g :roll: :wink:

Dave,

Apart from the big stuff you've got in mind, have you got a handle on tooling to use for working on the rear struts...i.e. getting hubs off, shafts out, bearings off etc etc without risking any damage?
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PostPost by: bilcoh » Fri Sep 16, 2011 5:33 am

LOL! Richard, that's one big lathe. Imagine line boring the block that crank will go in!!

To all, thanks for the responses. I suppose I was hoping someone would say "Yeah, I've got a Grizzly multi-tool and I've been able to do everything I've needed for racing a Formula Ford and working on my Elan, and it's been great."

I think that's what every person that's started one of these threads in all the other forums is hoping for. Universally they are people like me, wanting to try their hand at some machining, but without the knowledge and budget to know if they should jump in deep. They want someone to reassure them that it's OK to give it a try with a lesser machine. Most responses are from the old hands who've had real tools and always wished they had a bigger one.

Anyway, I think I got what I was expecting and will probably look at a used multi, figuring I can get in for under $1,000, get out for $500 and consider the difference my tuition to learn about machining. Again, thanks for the feedback, and I hope I wasn't too pissy on my last response.

John, I hear you on the tooling. I'm amazed at the cost of the accessories. Almost like the nearly free computer printer. It's the ink that gets you.

Years ago I realized that air tools were a god-send on an Elan, and bought a CH upright 80gal single stage compressor. Almost nothing it can't do. Also just bought a small sandblasting cabinet, just big enough for an Elan rear A-arm, but small enough to put on a shelf when not using it. Same with a small solvent tank. Already have the Oxy/Acet torch, access to MIG welder until my dad (DPO of the Elan before me) needs it back and many tools I need.

Again, thanks for the suggestions and feedback. I'll keep you posted.

Dave
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PostPost by: 69S4 » Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:08 am

bilcoh wrote:To all, thanks for the responses. I suppose I was hoping someone would say "Yeah, I've got a Grizzly multi-tool and I've been able to do everything I've needed for racing a Formula Ford and working on my Elan, and it's been great."
Dave


If anyone does come up with a response like that I'd be interested in what they have to say as well as I've been considering buying a lathe for a number of years now but all of the arguments and advice seem to go round in a circle - "don't buy small, you'll outgrow it in three months, don't buy Chinese, they're all badly made and inaccurate, don't buy old British stuff, it's overpriced and worn out, don't (= can't) buy anything "professional", it's much too expensive and overkill for my needs".

Not having a background with any sort of machine tools I've no experience to call upon in trying to resolve this so for the moment I'm just leaving it for time to resolve in one way or another! Over the years I have bought other workshop items, mostly when there was a specific need for it. The MIG welder and pillar drill have been worth their weight in gold, the compressor less so but still worth the expense and there are a few other items such as the blast cabinet that hardly get used. The MIG welder is an interesting case though because years ago I was in the same position with welding that I'm currently in with machining. The local agricultural college ran welding evening classes and after two years of Monday evenings there I knew enough to decide what welding technology would suit my needs best and which features were essential / live withoutable. The welder I eventually bought has severe limitations but was within my budget and has done what I need for the last 15yrs. Referring back to the last of the lathe arguements above, having used professional kit in the evening classes I know what it can do and it would definitely have been overkill for my needs. A more limited, and cheaper set, bought on the basis of some experience and knowledge was the most cost effective answer.

Unfortunately the college is now a housing estate so the same approach isn't open to me again. There are also very few local engineering companies (that I know of) so "sub contracting" stuff isn't an option either. Buying and DIYing looks like the only practical route but even cheap stuff is expensive if it doesn't do what you need (here endeth the philosophy lesson!).
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PostPost by: gerrym » Fri Sep 16, 2011 8:54 am

Well my small addition:

My space is very limited (just half a small UK sized garage (say 7ft by 10ft) so yes I would love a Big Lathe and Bridport etc, but no way would they fit.

My Tools include a very strong steel bench (made in pieces by local blacksmith and then bolted together) with a good quality STEEL vise (ie no cast iron rubbish), A Chinese lathe with a much more powerful and reliable treadmill motor and quality American DC drive (added because the original stuff was rubbish and underrated). On the lathe I use very good quality tooling (Cormorant tool holders mostly and decent positive geometry inserts). I have a Milling slide attachment and this takes a while to install on machine but is quite versatile. for the milling cutters I use throw away end mills plus replaceable insert cutters for larger sizes where the sharp cutting tools compensate for lack of power.

When It comes to drilling, I have the option of a very small drill press (just 350Watts) or mostly I use a Magnetic Drill mounted on a very large Anvil (outside so can cut very large holes in large bits of steel). Very powerful and as well as annular cutters I have a Weldon Shank chuck for small twist drills plus some Spade drill holders with replaceable bits for drilling precision holes (very round and smooth) between 9.5 to 22mm. Mostly the workpieces I am drilling are held in various drilling vices bolted to the anvil.

When it comes to welding I have a 130 Amp MIG machine which is fine but anything thicker than 10mm or safety critical get farmed out to the Blacksmith.

Also handy is a Blowtorch powered by MAPP gas which gives a flame almost as hot as oxy-acetylene but not so focussed. Good for Silver brazing.

Last "must have" is a hydraulic press: aim for a good one with say 15 metric tonne capacity. With the above tools one can make most bespoke tools or fixtures needed to maintain and modify Lotus Cars (and a few moderns as well).

As John says, expect over the years to spend a lot more on tooling than on the base machines but this can be done as and when required. I figure that the tool is what does the work, the machine is only there to support the tool and provide the power.

Overall, enjoy!
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PostPost by: gerrym » Fri Sep 16, 2011 9:00 am

Stuart, just reading your post.

I would not hestitate to recommend speaking to Warco who will sell you a Chinese lathe that is not too bad at all. They have enough backup to guide a novice through the buying, setting up, getting started and repairing phases.

For a very modest sum you can get started and take it from there.

My Chinese lathe has a capacity of 5" swing over the bed and with this you would be surprised as to what you can do.

Regards
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PostPost by: elj221c » Fri Sep 16, 2011 10:01 am

bilcoh wrote:
BTW, one reason I've continued to consider the 3-in-1 combo unit is that there are almost none of them for sale. If they were the junk and useless items so many competent machinists claim, shouldn't there be a lot of them on the used market?

Dave


Could it be that there's none for sale because nobody buys them new? :wink:

GrUmPyBoDgEr wrote:
Apart from that I like to get my head over the machine to get a look good at what its doing ( no don't lecture my you H&S men) & that milling head right over the place I want my own head to be---no thanks!

John


Quite so, John. Can't agree more.

Personaly I went the old English Iron route, mostly because it was what I used at school. Of course you don't need a mill as you can mill in the lathe but they are nice to have and setting up is easier on a dedicated machine.

I would also say that a pillar drill should probably be the first item on the shopping list.

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PostPost by: bilcoh » Fri Sep 16, 2011 4:04 pm

Stuart - you exactly understand the conundrum, and it really does become circular logic. Without any knowledge/experience, but desire to gain some, I'm beginning to resolve this with the idea that for the base machine, I'll just have to set some money to jumping in and gaining experience. Buy a cheaper, smaller machine, see how it goes, and accept that I'll either enjoy it, want to upgrade and have lost some money as the cost of making the decision, or...that I can make do with the equipment because my needs are reasonably lightweight. I can easily see myself justifying the jump to big/used/heavy machines that are fantastic, only to feel like an idiot as they sit and collect dust when I realize that after the 3 things I can think of needing them for, I don't have any more projects.

Gerry - Thanks so much for the post. Really helpful and quite inline with my thinking and priorities. Drill press (pillar drill, I believe you call it) is highest on the list, with the lathe right behind.

Everyone, thanks for hearing me out and your feedback. Hope you all have a great weekend of motoring.

Dave
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PostPost by: rgh0 » Sat Sep 17, 2011 6:40 am

I looked at small combination machines versus a straight lathe as I had limited space but concluded I could do what i needed on a lathe and a pedestal drill with a cross feed vice. Other key machines are a 12 tonne press, oxy and mig. Plus a lot of smaller specialist tools and jigs you collect over the years for specific tasks.

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