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First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

 
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Old 02-18-2014, 02:06 PM
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First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

Hey guys, I own/operate a small gunsmithing business here in the mountains of western N.C. for the last 8 years. Since I served as a sniper in the Army for 3 years, I built my business around long range precision bolt rifles and AR's. I guarantee my rifles to produce 5 shot groups at .5 MOA or better - and so far (knock on wood) haven't built one that hadn't performed.
Up till this point, I have been building my rifles by ordering Remington actions from Brownells, as well as short chambered, pre-threaded barrels. I then blueprint the action and lap the locking lugs, square the bolt face, etc, using both Manson and Brownells precision hand tools, and finish cutting the chamber by hand. I then use hand tools to cut target crowns with a slight counterbore (45 degree step down to 11 degree crown).
Well, lately, I have been turning down several possible builds because the client was requiring a chamber like 6.5x284, 338 Lapua, etc, since (to my knowledge) short chambered barrels are not available in these calibers. (Yes, I know Midway has a 6.5/284 Shilen barrel, but its factory contour, and I dont use barrels that are any lighter than a standard varmint contour.
Now, I have operated lathes before at previous jobs, and I do run a small milling machine, so I am not a stranger to precision metalwork - that being said, I have not ever had to do anytthing that requires the precision of cutting a barrel chamber. I am selling my motorcycles to pay for this lathe - so I am looking to spend around $1500 - $2200.... I can possibly push it to $3000 if theres no other options. All the advice thus far has told me to buy one with a spindle bore of no less than 1.5" - but all the ones I find that do this (Like the Grizzly G4003G and Smithy MI-1237L) are too high for me to afford without additional financing - which I'd like to avoid at all costs..
I have read many great things about South Bend and Jet brand lathes - my local Jet dealer has nothing with a spindle bore over 1" thats under $7K... But I did see a South Bend SB1001 on Grizzly's website thats right in my price range...
Grizzly.com
It has a spindle bore of 1 1/8"... I know thats not enough, (and I will be purchasing the 8" 4 jaw chuck as well) - but ALL I want the lathe for is chambering and crowning. I have absolutely NO interest in "turning" down the barrels, changing tapers, etc... With a 1 1/8" bore, shouldn't I be able to chuck even a fairly large blank mid-barrel somewhere for chambering? Most of the blanks I'd be ordering would be straight taper, 1.25" to .930 at muzzle.. and I would turn down the chamber end and thread it, chamber it, and crown it... Can I do these operations on this lathe?
If not, the next step up would be the larger lathes I mentioned earlier.
Also, is there anyone here using any of the Smithy combo mill lathes? The Granite combo's seem like a decent unit - but I worry that it wouldn't have the capability of either a dedicated mill or lathe would.
Sorry for being long-winded, I just wanted to consult the elders before dropping 2 grand on a piece of machinery LOL.
Thanks in advance for any and all help and/or suggestions!
-Chris
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Old 02-18-2014, 02:50 PM
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Re: First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

Unless you're going to chamber using the steady rest or between centers you'll need a lathe with a spindle bore of 1.375" minimum, 1 1/2" would be better. If you planned on chambering between centers or with the steady rest bed length comes into play. A combination machine, like the Shop Smith, will make you plenty of tomatoe stakes, it's just not enough machine. You really need a bigger machine than you have discribed to be able to do acceptable work. Two Grand, as you put it, is nothing to spend on a lathe. Plan on spending that much or more on tooling and accessories.
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Last edited by shortgrass; 02-18-2014 at 05:12 PM.
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Old 02-18-2014, 03:30 PM
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Re: First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

+1 on shortgrass

I'd recommend saving money until you can get what you need.
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Old 02-18-2014, 05:31 PM
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Re: First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

About the best size, overall, for a gunsmithing shop is 13" x 40" or 14" x 40". Longer than 40" wouldn't be a deal killer, but anything over 60" would be exessive for gun work. You want a lathe big enough, 'cause it'll help make a lot of tools instead of buying them. On the other hand, a lathe that's too large will deny you the sensitivity that I like for chambering. I did cut a couple of chambers on an ancient Monarch 16" x 96" but it was quit unwieldly. Look over the 'used' market. Your within reach of a couple of metropolitan areas that'll have used machinery dealers.
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Last edited by shortgrass; 02-18-2014 at 06:04 PM.
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Old 02-18-2014, 05:33 PM
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Re: First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

I'm like the rest, Buy a lathe with at least a 1&1/2'' spindle or you will regret it.

I also recommend a gear head lathe if you can find one.

I compromised and found a General Machine 14x40 gap bed with a gear head and 1.6 spindle diameter and I have seen no loss in precision.

There are many times that for one reason or another The spindle saved me lots of time. in some cases I could have used a 3'' spindle diameter.

Don't compromise, keep looking.

J E CUSTOM
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Old 02-18-2014, 06:09 PM
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Re: First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

I drive a 19.5" x 96" Summit on a regular basis. I would NOT want to use it to chamber with! Another thing to mention,,, you don't need a taper attachment. It'd be a nice addition, but is not a "must have". Barrels come already contoured from the maker. I turn away re-contouring jobs in my shop 'cause I have no means to stress relieve after turning. As far as I'm concerned, that's the barrel makers job.
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Old 02-20-2014, 11:54 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: Western NC
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Re: First lathe - South Bend SB1001 for gunsmithing?

Exactly what I wanted to know, and exactly why I posted my question here and here only

Well, looks like I am going to have to put in 3K+... I am only intending to chamber/build perhaps 15 rifles per year - if that number goes up, I can also sell the cheap chinese lathe and get a tool room quality unit.

Out of these 2 models, which would be YOUR choice? Both seem to be gearhead, both have adequate spindle diameters, and the Grizzly comes with a 4 jaw chuck, however I would obviously purchase one for the Smithy as well. As far as tooling goes, I already have a Manson floating reamer holder, as well as several PTG facing and crowning cutters... I also have finishing reamers in .243, .308, .300 Win Mag, and traded someone out of a new .338 Lapua rough, so additional tooling hopefully won't be too terribly bad.

Grizzly G4003G
Grizzly.com

Smithy MI-1237L
MI-1237L Gear Drive Lathe | smithy.com
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