One of the most frequently asked questions that I get is, “What size and type of mill and lathe should I get, now that I’ve ordered the machine shop course from AGI?” OK, here goes . . .
Having learned to use the lathe and mill at Adult School, and then at Lassen College during the summer NRA classes, I can tell you that I REALLY wished I’d seen Darrell Holland’s course first. Darrell is an excellent instructor and you will learn what you need to buy to get the job done. The way to do it, is to watch the lathe and mill portions first, THEN buy your lathe and mill.
Used is good. If you pay attention, you will get way more for your money. Then do the course and cut as you watch. You will find that you will be re-watching it several times as you go.
That being said, to answer your question, I have used a 9×42 Bridgeport with a 2hp motor, and what was a new (when I bought it) Chinese geared head 12×36 bench lathe. 12×36, or 10×30, is big enough to do anything a gunsmith needs to do. The Enco and Jet mills are fine as are the Laguns. A 42” table is plenty, 8 to 12 speed is fine and you don’t have to spend the money for a variable speed. Spend it on DRO’s (Digital Readouts, 2 axis is plenty) and a power table feed.
Darrell uses a belt driven 10×30 South Bend bench lathe in the course. He says, as do most belt drive devotees, that they provide a superior surface finish. Belt drive . . . Gear drive . . .you say toMAYto, I say toMAHto, I like redheads and he likes brunettes . . .
For lathes, the first class used machines would also include Clausings, Jets, and Republics, among others. The $2000 Chinese bench lathe I have has worked just fine for me. It costs more now and appears to be the same one Enco, Grizzly, Rutland Tool (now MSC), etc. are still selling 15 years later. Same lathe, different paint, different prices. I like the short distance through the headstock since I like to chamber and crown in the headstock. I can do barrels as short as 17” this way. Way shorter if you make a spindle bore diameter piece of aluminum about 14” long with a 60º counterbore in the chuck end, about an inch in diameter. Use the counterbored end to center and support the end not in the chuck and keep it from sliding out by tightening the spider screws down on it.
These lathes work fine if you are the only one who uses them. If they are used by a bunch of people in a shop or class (who didn’t pay for it) they will not last. I DO wish I’d spent the extra $800 and gotten the floor model. I miss the magnetic foot brake and the coolant pump. The coolant can be set up with a muzzle end fixture to flow through the barrel and out the breech end while chambering, thus decreasing the amount of time it takes to do the job dramatically.
See the course first, then buy your ‘chines. That’s my strongly held (and fairly informed) opinion. ‘Til next month, break some new ground ‘smithing and shooting, and please introduce someone new to each.