Monday, November 27, 2006

Learning about the Lathe - part 1 - Starting out

I have just purchased a small - indeed micro - lathe to facilitate my building small live steam locomotives for use on my 32mm gauge garden railway. The period of time that elapsed between my deciding that I needed (and could afford) a lathe and actually ordering one (which arrived the very next day!) was really quite long, and one of the reasons for this was the lack of basic information and advice in any one place. This article sets out to rectify this situation, and bring together some of the information and advice that I accumulated as I went along my road to discovery.

First though, by way of preamble, a little background. I am, as I write, 45 years old. I have had no experience in metal turning since I left school with a GCE in metalwork at the age of 17, so I am in no sense of the word an expert. I have long harboured the desire to build working steam locos, that GCE was inspired by the model beam engine on display in the school workshop, but so far my albeit limited attempts at building locos have all been electric powered and kit based. Similarly my garden railway has been on the to do list for years, and has only recently become a reality, with a great of work still to do before it can claim to be even remotely complete, but, and this is the nub - I HAVE built it - I DO have a 50m continuous run of track that I can run trains around. It is achieving this goal that has spurred me on to the next one. Too long have I sat reading about other people building locos in their garages, my mind set firmly in the mould of "wow - I'll never be able to do that - they must be so clever." Overcoming this inertia is one of the hardest bits - and it took a fairly traumatic period in my life to jolt me out of that inertia mode and to decide to just get on with it, after all I had just built a garden railway, and there have been many occasions when I felt that would never happen!

Anyway, that's enough philosophy, the next hardest part, having decided to start out, is to finance the project, and there you are on your own! Suffice to say that starting from nothing has set me back about £750 so far, with a little more to spend in the coming months. So budget around that figure if you intend to buy all new equipment and tools as I did. I plumped for new stuff because frankly, while there are plenty of second hand lathes on the market, without the experience to assist, how could I tell whether they were any good - and what worse way to start than with a bent lathe? If this sounds a lot, let me put it into perspective - I would like to purchase a coal powered live steamer - these a currently starting at about £2000, and the one I want is 2.5 times that amount! The cheapest live steam (Mamods excluded) start at about £500. If all goes to plan, then without spending much more than a few quid for materials ( I have included my initial stock in my budget), I hope to be able to produce a couple, maybe three or 4 locomotives in the time I may be waiting for a coal burner to be made - thereby "saving" myself at least £500 for each one - and probably more in reality. My time is free, even though my free time is priceless! Then of course, there is the satisfaction of watching your new creation chuffing peacefully around the track while you watch with a huge grin and tell everyone in earshot, over and over again -"I made that! Look! Look at that! I made it!"

Are you ready to join me on this voyage then? In the next article I'll cover how I arrived at my final specification, and answer some of those simple questions that I had to ask first. In the meantime, I am only just setting out myself, my lathe hasn't been powered up yet, and I still have many unanswered questions myself.

All aboard!


Blogger Andy said...


"I am in no sense of the word an expert"

An Ex is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure, so no worries there. Thanks for sharing, It looks like we are on a similar journey in modelmaking

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

My husband bought his lathe in 2009 and we're just now getting to start on our own engines for the garden. We've got four people making the Brazil - my husband, his brother, a friend, and myself. Preliminary material for all four ran us about £80, and we probably will have a further £80 when we finally get to the fiddly bits - but that's for all FOUR locos. Each of us will in the end, only be contributing about £50 or so.

Looking forward to reading your blog, I'll add it to my reader :) And maybe I'll get around to blogging about our adventures building a loco, too.

5:53 PM  

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