my "desktop machine shop"

thought id show off my "desktop machine shop", give some of you guys with bigger machines a good chuckle :)

it's a teeny tiny manual lathe and mill.

ive done a fair few modifications to make them useable

can machine small items in brass, ally and softer iron with a +- 0.01mm tollerance.

have done a few usefull things with them, brake caliper mount adjustments, suspension bushings, customizing/resizing bolts, parts for my robots.

it cant cut threads, but i have a tap and die set so not an issue for me.

all in (including accessories, bits and bobs) they cost me around £700-800.

any questions or comments are welcome.


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10 kW
Details please!
I’m grateful to have a reasonable hobby woodshop … but have neither space nor budget for a full metalshop. Nor frankly the need … most metalwork I would do is small scale. Would value info on your experience — what machines you have, what mods were needed, would you get same setup if you were doing it over, etc. Thanks!
I'd like to hear about it. I've tossed around the idea of finding and modifying an old wood lathe with modern parts for light machine work, but I think the old 1800-1900s lathes like that weren't very precise and it would likely be a huge amount of spent time and effort for something more expensive than a new bespoke unit at the end of the day.
you can get the machines on ebay or ali express etc. they have many names like "the first tool" or "8 in 1 lathe/mill"

they are really "educational tools" or childrens toys....mostly alluminium extrusion and other not great materials.
they appear to be a copy of an older design by "emco" called unimat
although emco used t-slot alluminum and these newer version use v-slot or dovetail.

i ended up getting a prebuilt lathe and mill and finally a full kit of bits and spares. both use the 60w motor but i bought the lathe with the smaller 24w and used the 60w motor in the bits-kit on it.

they are very setup dependant. you need to make sure its got minimal flex and is square/true. they can only take light cuts(0.05mm max) but i still get a good finish.

the through-spindle ID is 7.5mm but you can fit much larger diameter pieces in the chucks

i had to do a few mods to make them acceptable.

1. large heavy metal base, to reduce/dampen vibrations and to have something for the magnetic base for my run out meter to attach to.
2. thrust washers on the lead screws, they come with normal washers that add friction. this makes it feel super smooth and you can tighten the gib adjusters more to get more rigidity.
2a. the handles are loose on the lead screws, i added one layer of ally tape to the mating surface and a grub screw to stop this
3. a 4-jaw indepedant chuck is much better at getting the part centralised than the 3-jaw auto chucks they provide.
4.various extra bracing plates have been added. these mostly came from the extras kit. but you can just cut your own out of metal.
5. a good set of end mill bits is a must. a nice set of drill bits with the lathe.
6. they are either off or on, but you can add your own controller to vary the rpm.
7. i got a much longer bottom bar for my lathe.. i havnt really needed the extra length but i found it a nice addition.
8. the mill up-down axis as standard wasnt great so i ended up making my own version of it. (see pic)

i ended up with a lot of spares (see pic) i could probably make another lathe or mill, end sander or mini scroll saw with the spares and sell it. but ill just keep those for justin.

if you were a bit smarter you could probably get away with one of the prebuilt mill or lathes and the larger bits kit to drop the price and youd still have two machines with far less spare bits.

i ummed and arred between these and the next step up, which are the bigger 7x14 metal lathes, but after tooling it would be over double the price, and id only have a lathe. by all "youtube"accounts they come needing just as much modification/setup to be good.

for random one off jobs that require accuracy, especially on bike parts or smaller rc stuff, they have been invaluable to me and a great learning experience.

in the year ive had them, i havnt felt the need for anything larger.


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Staff member
Well done. Even a humble set-up such as this is a great start.

The first level of materials for cutting on a hobby lathe includes wood, plastics, aluminum, and brass. Lots of things you can get creative with...
itll do iron/steel too. just dont expect to be taking deep cuts.

got a new flycutter for the mill today and the right length belts to make a reduction gearbox for the lathe.


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100 kW
I do CNC machining on machines with 60 inches of travel and lathes with 35hp spindles. This definitely doesn't give me a chuckle but more of a thumbs up! These little machines are awesome. Wish I had the motivation to setup something similar at home. Its not all about how much material you can remove. Sometimes just being able to make complex templates and precise jigs is all you need to transfer patterns to larger parts you can saw or grind with more powerful tools. You could definitely do lots of amazing stuff with a "mini" machine shop. :bigthumb:
thought id show how id modified the hand wheels to be far more usable.
i finally got around to tapping holes for m3 grub screws, and freeing up the dial travel indicators so they can be zeroed.
its an m3 tapped hole in the silver body and a 3.2mm hole in the red part.

you can also see how ive recessed the rear to accomodate thrust bearing washers.

here are said thurst washers in situe on one of the lead screws.

the only annoying thing is i dont have any m3 grub screws right now :lol:


100 kW
I have in my shop:

a ~2200$ beginner CNC router, and plans for a much larger, DIY one, than I currently own...
A Mini-Lathe...
An Airco tig machine
An Airco arc machine,
A MH-1 Benchmaster horizontal knee mill...
A small drill press...
and my newest addition.. A Central machinery round column mill that I pulled out of the junkyard and cleaned up, paid for it right out of the pile. It was next to a Clausing 8525, on its side, rusty and broken. Three old band saws, and a jointer. They wanted 300$ for the Clausing. Poor thing was crushed in the jaws of a 60,000lb. Caterpillar.

Access to a Smithy Lathe-Mill-drill, a couple 14" swing lathes, a big belt driven MT3 drill press, a Vulcan 215A tig welder, and have plans to build a CNC plasma cutter for a friend. Yeah. I got tooling, for days on end, and am in line, to inherit a whole lot more some day. My dad ( and the Machinists Handbook) taught me how to machine. He is a good traditional machinist. I have been taught pretty good. I like doing it. I am a good mechanic. Have a store of tool steel, that probally adds up to a ton or more, on the shelf ready for the machining and hardening. All shapes and sizes of graded metal. Tubes, billets, bar stocks, hex and round, square, stocks, you name it. My dads shop.

Someone scrapped this for 3.00$ a hundered.

It is about 250 lbs..

I paid 100$ for it. Not a bit of rust on the dovetails, or the table. Tight. Just needed a cleanup and greasing, and a drawbar. Like new, dumped off the back of a pickup truck, at the junkyard.


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im always suprised what some people throw away.
i get annnoyed with it most the time. UK tips dont usually let you "salvage items"
my heart aches most times i go to my local tip. or when i see whats in the back of a local scrap truck.


Staff member
This is my sole decent machine-shop tool
an ancient South Bend lathe found for free on Freecycle nearly a decade and a half ago. It's not in great shape, but it works, and I've used it enough to be worth having around, though I am barely a beginner as far as knowing how to use it and what I can use it for.

APL has a much better-shape version of more or less the same lathe, posted in one of his threads. (his still has paint)

I have a harborfreight desktop drill press too, but it's not "decent"; I might be able to fix some of it's problems by replacing all the drill-shaft bearings (too much runout, it wobbles a lot), if I ever get around to that. (I tend not to think about it until I need to use it, then by the time I'm done using it I'm either too tired or frustrated with it to deal with taking it apart to find which bearings it needs to then locate better ones).


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Staff member
Wow! That lathe is a blast from the past. Does it still run on flat belts? A good friend had one similar to yours that he had to convert to V belts. Once he got his cleaned up it worked fine. He got a lot of good work out of that machine.

Here is my drill press after I added the cheesy X-Y vice to the cool 2.5" UHMW Polyethylene table I made for it. I found the material for the table on ebay for $10. It's not a mill by any means, but I can use it like one on wood. Originally I think I paid $100 for the drill press. The chuck was worth more than that. Over the years I added a bunch of stuff to it. Light, fence, foot switch, depth gauge, link belts, laser indicator light, new 1 hp USA motor, vices etc. etc. It started out as a cheap worn out Taiwan press with a broken table from a bankrupt machine shop, Now it's pretty nice with almost zero runout.

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Staff member
nicobie said:
Wow! That lathe is a blast from the past. Does it still run on flat belts? A good friend had one similar to yours that he had to convert to V belts.
Yes, it still uses a flat belt (which I made out of an actual "belt", using the staples that came with the lathe for the purpose).

I don't think I ever considered converting it to v-belt; it seems like a lot of work; I'm not sure what's involved but I would guess Practical Machinist forums probably have at least one thread about it somewhere, if I ever get adventurous. ;)


Staff member
footloose said:
Nicobie — possible to get some more detail on the drill press table? Looks very useful.


It's made out of two pieces of used UHMW plastic like this that I got a killer deal on;

The plastic can be worked using regular woodworking tools. I used a router to make the slots with that hold the blue aluminum T-slots that the red clamp is attached with. I clamped the plastic to a cheap X Y compound sliding table that's then bolted to the original drill press table.

The fence came off of a Nova drill press that can be bought separately at Amazon.

The 'good enough' DRO can be found wherever cheap Chinese tools are sold. The blue Record vice I've had around forever.

The Rikon laser indicator I found used somewhere. I don't use it a lot but do find it useful for repetitive hole jobs. I was given the cheesy red aux table and made the light and foot switch out of stuff I had laying around.

Not counting my workbench, the drill press and my 89" x 6" belt sander are my most used stationary tools.
I've done a rejig of my mini lathe. ive moved the main way, inline/undernearth the spindle, more like a regular lathe.
This was mainly to get rid of the offset and weird forces that were made by the old config.
Now its cutting forces are pushing down into the bed/main way, rather than levering it at an angle.
Cuts even better and using a parting tool is about half as detrimental to my sanity :p
The handles and other adjustment screws are all more accessible, which is a nice ease of use improvement.
how the tailstock work now means its a lot more straight/rigid and drills a lot nicer.
the only downside is working length is reduced but tbh, i havnt made anything large enough to require the length yet.

In heinsight the extra long bed isnt really needed and this could work with a regular length one.

all in all. pretty happy with it still.


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Nice compact setup you‘ve got there! I might just steal your idea of installing thrust bearing on the lead screws and hand wheels. I own a Proxxon MF70 that could benefit from that mod.
thurst bearings make a world of difference.....the handles spin a lot easier, meaing you can/could tighter the slide gibs a little more for some extra rigidity.

im currently going through process of adding backlash mitigation into my sllides now, in the form of a custom split nutt arrangement.
An important distinction when buying a mini lathe ( the type of motor — get a Hi - Torque motor — a BLDC motor) is the motor. Get a MOTOR like most of the ebike motors we use — BLDC. But keep your belt snug.

I have found this lathe/mill & attachments supplier USA quite useful:

thats a good shout/idea
my machines use a 540 size brushed motor. both rated at 60w. they have potential for an easy brushless upgrade (rc motor kit about 40 - 50 quid).
i ended up doing my gearbox conversion add-on to reduce the speed and add torque instead. it works quite well although finding the right size/length belts was a bit of a pain in trial-purchase and error.