Who owns/uses a mill/lathe for gunsmithing?


December 6, 2010, 11:09 PM
I may have an opporotunity to aquire an older Bridgeport vertical mill and an old machine lathe. I know they both were functional a year ago, Ive had stuff made on them in the past, but they have been sitting outside for a while.

The lathe, I cant remember size or manufacturer, but I believe it has at least 4 foot bed, maybe larger but its at least 10 feet long.

Either way, I have ZERO milling and lathe experience other than watching other people work magic on them. I was thinking of buying these to bring back to life and to enahnce my gun hobby. I can imagine myself threading barrels, truing actions, cutting dovetails, serrating slides, custom bolt knobs, heck, maybe even a few Form 1 suppressors in the future. A couple of those would pay for the equipment cost Id have to buy it for.

So, who is familiar with this type of equipment and how did you get into the hobby? I was thinking of taking some night classes at the local community college just top learn basic machining.

Oh, and tooling? How quick can that get expensive?

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December 7, 2010, 12:01 AM
unless you plan on doing sight insallation or turning barrells you don't need it, unless you plan on doing gun smithing professionally.

Also most old milling machines and lathes are 3 phase power and you can 't power them up from a home, as homes don't have 3 phase power. other solution is to put new single phase 220v motors on them.

tooling and mill collets and lathe bits and spindals all cost mucho bucks.

December 7, 2010, 12:24 AM
unless you plan on doing sight insallation or turning barrells you don't need it, unless you plan on doing gun smithing professionally

Well, Im looking into the future as a retirement hobby/job, nothing professional, but definateley a side job at home. Theres a local guy with an old lathe and I believe he makes a modest income cutting and threading barrels, making thread dapters and the such.

For what I can probably get these for I would be at no real loss financially, even if I just scrapped them at the recyclers Id make money on them.

I though it would be a good investment if I learned to get good on em.

As far as wiring them up........I know a guy.:D

tooling and mill collets and lathe bits and spindals all cost mucho bucks

That is where I get nervous.

December 7, 2010, 12:26 AM
I don't know. I took a machining class in a local tech school for my last year of highschool. You can learn how to run manual machines in no time at all if you are even a little mechanically inclined, and from there you just have to practice doing various operations to get really good. Its true that tooling will cost you a pretty penny, but if I had the opportunity to get a mill and lathe, i would jump on it. With a mill, lathe, tooling and good measuring equipment, you can make a firearm from scratch, whats cooler than that?

Jolly Rogers
December 7, 2010, 07:27 AM
If you have the room go for it! I just hope they weren't killed by standing outside.

Eagle Eyes
December 7, 2010, 04:41 PM
Same Comment as Jolly ..... if they have been outside and you live in a moist climate you might have issues.

The tools, bits, collets, jaws, calibartion equipment etc. can cost as much or more than a machine new. The good thing though is once you get your first set of tools and bits, and become skilled, you CAN machine your own tools and parts so that dramatically cuts your costs down in the future. Some guys I know go as far as to machine out replacement parts for the parts that wear out the most in their mills and lathes and leave them in reserve.

You definately not only have to be mechanically inclined but good at doing math in your head as sometimes you need to make adjustments on the fly to not end up screwing up your job.

I would recommend you continue your classes and get some books then decide if you want to get some used machines. Nothing worst then shelling out the bucks then decide you don't want to or don't need to do what you want to do.

In many cases its cheaper to farm out your work to local machine shops and tag on the extra surcharge than deal with all the work and regular maintenance required to turn out accurate work. This is especially so if you only will be doing a few parts here and there.

Hope that helps....

December 7, 2010, 04:46 PM
You can get a phase converter and use most three phase things at home. My brother had a Bridgeport VTM, Lathe and surface grinder in his garage. Wasn't even vet expansive to have put in.

December 7, 2010, 08:07 PM
Tooling can be purchased new on ebay. I buy my indexable carbide lathe tooling for about 1/5 the cost of local shops, and 1/2 grizzly's prices...

Also, check places like ebay for a small surface grinder. You won't need it a lot, but when you do need one, nothing else will work.

December 7, 2010, 09:09 PM
Just depends on how committed you are. Old rusty machines can be rehabbed and brought back to their former glory. Couple magazines you might want to subscribe to are: Home Shop Machinist and Machinists Workshop, both publications from the same publisher. Several good websites out there, too.

Before you decide to take them to the scrapper, give me a chance at them (or at least give someone a chance).

December 7, 2010, 09:33 PM
That's why static inverters are made, so you can run 3 phase machines on single phase power, albeit at about 2/3 normal capacity. You can also use a rotary inverter, but they cost a bunch more.

In fairly short order, you'll have more invested in tooling than in the machine.

See this site for lots of good info: http://www.practicalmachinist.com/
Classes at the local J/C are highly recommended. Make sure the instructor knows that you aren't interested in the CNC (computer numerical control) classes, just manual machining. If he's any good, he'll take a special interest in you.

December 7, 2010, 09:41 PM
but they have been sitting outside for a while.

As others have mentioned, that is the worst thing that can happen to these old machines. Who knows what reconditioning will be needed to make them operational?
I'm not trying to discourage you, just making you aware that it may be a long road to making these machines adequately operational.
But it could be a good learning curve. You seem enthusiastic, but it will require gaining knowledge from wherever you can, books, people, and school, and also by doing.
I learned by working in a machine shop for many years, so don't be in a rush as the quality of your work will depend on you honing your skills.


December 8, 2010, 03:14 AM
A Bridgeport and a small engine lathe are two of the most useful items I've ever used in my life! They'd be invaluable for gunsmiffing, and I can tell you there's a market for small job-work for auto enthusiasts and such, I've had hell trying to find someone to do little machining jobs. Job-shops used to be common, damn hard to find them nowadays.

But, if you have ZERO experience with machining and plan to self-teach, it's gonna cost you LOTS of money in broken tooling and parts! Not to mention what's already been mentioned about the 3-phase, and the fact they've sat outside in the weather and will likely need some reconditioning. And damaged guns from mistakes? Oh my.

Not an endeavor for the faint of heart, IMO. I'd personally love to have them, but I was a machinist for many, many years and have a good grasp of what it's all about. And it's spelled with lots of $$$$$$.

Oh yeah, they'd need to be properly mounted to the floor and leveled, you can't just put some anchors in the floor and bolt 'em down.

December 8, 2010, 12:29 PM
search for "evaluating a used metal lathe" and mill.

A lathe that has worn ways or lead screws is worthless for any precision work without substantial repair costs.

with a Mill it's a whole host of other issues. lead screws being worn, head bearings being worn, gear train etc.

Repairing machine tools and the parts for them are hugely expensive.

December 8, 2010, 06:53 PM
i have a small lathe & i'm planning on buying a mill real soon.
for gunsmith work its best to have at least a 1" spindle bore on the lathe and a headstock thats under 20".
besides making the stuff thats metioned above you can also make custom square bridge type scope mounts, custom rings, sight bases, sights, barrel bands and tons of other parts.
i also find myself making bushings & other odds & ends quite a bit.

Eagle Eyes
December 8, 2010, 10:56 PM
Not to disagree with anyone but....

You really should get a spindle bore of a min of 1 1/2" if you plan to do fitting of replacement rifle barrels and have to thread or taper them.

December 9, 2010, 08:28 AM
As others have said, I too would be worried about the condition they are in from "sitting out". Rust being the main factor.

December 9, 2010, 08:54 AM
You really should get a spindle bore of a min of 1 1/2" if you plan to do fitting of replacement rifle barrels and have to thread or taper them.

Yes, and a minimum of 36" between centers with 40-48" being better.

The tooling, measuring tools and fixtures are hugely expensive.

I bought my machinery new as I'd already been the "used machine shop" route and all I accomplished was wasting a bunch of money.

Think about it.... a MACHINE SHOP has decided those tools were no longer productive and not worth the cost to put them back into the condition where they would be....

Thinking that for a little money and maybe great effort you can get those tools into the condition they need to be in to put out precision work is a bit of a stretch.

You can buy a new (gasp) chinese lathe that's plenty accurate and durable enough for many many years of daily use for under 3K that will come complete with 3 and 4 jaw chucks, follow rest, steady rest and face plate. You can buy a bench top mill that's plenty for any gunsmithing work for under 2K.

You'll need another 1000-1500 worth of measuring equipment and collets for the mill and likely 2K for all the basic tooling.

So for under 10K you can have a basic "shop" with basic tooling to do most anything you'll need to do.

Many years ago I bought a big bridgeport at a equipment auction for $900 that I saw run before the auction...... BUT they would not let you run anything under "load" where you were actually cutting something.

got it home and the first time I tried to use it I discovered that all the head bearings were bad. In fact so bad that the bearings had "spun" and destroyed the bosses in the head. A rebuilt head cost me twice what the mill did... then I found the lead screws would "slip" under load.... another 800 bucks.

When it was all over I had over 4500 tied up in a 30yr old machine that I could have bought a new Enco for and saved 1000 bucks....

December 9, 2010, 06:56 PM
a 1 1/2" spindle bore would be nice but its not necessary for the majority of barrel work.
unless your running some very large barrel blanks a 1 1/4" or 1" spindle is more than adequate.
90% of the sporter weight barrels you will run across can be threaded & chambered in a 9x20 mini-lathe with a 3/4" spindle, i have one that i reamed the spindle from .750 to .814 & i've done a few bull barrels on it.
i'm getting more into big bore riflels so i will have to upgrade to a 1 1/4" spindle bore lathe in the future

a 4 foot bed would also be nice but they way i look at that is it only costs around $30 to have any contour you want turned at the factory so its not worth my time to do much barrel profiling.

i also prefer to thread & chamber through the headstock so i can get by with a shorter length bed.

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