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Q. I have an odd question for
you. I am thinking about
buying a mini-lathe, but find it
hard to spend that much money on just
one tool. Can you give some reasons
why a hobbyist would want to buy one
for their own use?
— Troy Alexson
A. The first thing that needs to be
considered is, if it is really needed. There are a lot of parts that
can be bought that would meet your
needs. Sometimes they are not the
best fit, but they can be either modified, or the rest of the project’s design
altered to fit the parts. Even if you have
the tools to make the parts yourself,
many hobbyists still look for existing
parts to use first before resorting to
making them themselves. In most
cases, it is less expensive to purchase
parts than to build them yourself.
But it is always nice to have your
own tools to make the exact parts that
you want. Sometimes this is for function, sometimes it is for appearance,
and sometimes it is to save money.
When people need a special or critical
part they can’t buy off-the-shelf, they
are left with three choices: abandon the
need for it, have someone make it for
you, or make it yourselves. If you have a
friend make the parts for you, you
usually end up compensating them for
their time. If you go to a machine shop,
this will cost you more money than having a friend make it for you. Depending
on what the part is, a machine shop
may be the only practical option.
In my case, I bought a mini-lathe to
save money. Well, I always wanted one,
anyway. I had a project where I needed
some special hubs to mount some R/C
tires to an axle and hold a sprocket to
Figure 1. Lynxmotion Wireless PS2 Controller.
Figure 2. Lynxmotion PS2 Adapter Cable.
the hub. I made up some drawings and
sent them to local machine shops. The
quotes I got were around $600 for the
set of hubs. Well, at that time, the
mini-lathe I wanted cost a little less
than $400. So I bought a lathe and
about $100 worth of tools to go with
it, and made the hubs myself. In the
end, I got the hubs made, saved a
$100, and got a lathe for a bunch of
other projects. So buying the lathe can
actually save you money.
For most people, making parts
with their own hands is what brings
them joy, and it is the main reason why
they buy the tools for their hobbies. It’s
a really addicting passion, making precision parts to make machines work.
This is why the whole robotics hobby
exists, making things for yourself.
If you decide to get a lathe, I
would recommend that you get a
bigger lathe than you think you will
need (assuming you can afford
it). Eventually, you will want to
make things bigger than the
lathe you are currently looking at
can handle. The machines themselves are usually the cheapest
part of the expense. All of the
tooling that you get to use the
lathe eventually costs much
more than the lathe does. And if
you end up getting a bigger
lathe down the road, you may
find out that all the tooling that
you currently have no longer
works with the new lathe. So, to
save money in the long run, get
the bigger lathe up front.
16 SERVO 01.2007