Preparing For A Lathe: How to Move 3000 Pounds of Iron

You say to yourself, “Self, I want, nay, need a lathe”. Being a good little trooper, you then did all your research, having chosen Import or American, Imperial or Metric, and all your feed options and such. You then pulled the trigger and the machine is en route to your shop. Now what?

Choosing a Spot for a Serious Tool

First and foremost, you need to figure out where to put it. Sure, you probably should have done that before you bought it, and maybe a pulling a tape measure would have been a good idea. Never let pesky details like that get in the way of buying something cool, though. You can make room. How badly do you really need a refrigerator? In a pinch you could sleep under the workbench and gain all that space taken up by the bed. Get creative in your shop layout.

If you bought a bench-top machine, you will of course need bench space for it. Some smaller machines, such as watchmaker’s lathes, can be stored in a cabinet and pulled out for use. Anything larger will need a permanent home, and should be bolted to the heaviest bench possible. The more mass you can inject into the system, the fewer issues you’ll have with tool chatter. Mass also damps vibrations when turning stock off-center or spinning up oddly-shaped things. Make sure the bench location you choose is close to power, because extension cords are to be avoided for machine tools. You’ll also likely need a bit of room behind the machine to access fuses and such.

If you bought a large floor-standing machine, be aware that these often require access to the back side of them for some types of adjustments and setup. This can mean anywhere from a few inches to several feet, depending on the machine. Large lathes are often placed in the middle of a shop partly for this reason. Big lathes also often need access to an overhead crane or chain fall for changing large chucks, or manipulating heavy stock.

The author’s Precision Matthews lathe, bolted to a steel bench, with plenty of space behind and to the left.

Regardless of the type of machine, make sure to leave space to the left of the headstock. You need room for long stock to protrude through the spindle. If you’re limited to only working on stock that fits entirely inside the spindle, you’ll limit your projects quite a bit, and you’ll be forced to waste a lot more stock.

I also recommend giving a thought to cleaning. Machine tools throw chips everywhere, and all the shields and trays and guards in the world won’t prevent it. Make sure you’ll be able to clean in, around, and behind the machine. You don’t want oily chips piling up forever. In some cases, this can even be a bit of a fire hazard.

Next, you want to look down and see what’s there. If your shop is in a bouncy castle, you’re no doubt having fun, but perhaps machining is not for you. (Small children also tend to gum up the change gears, which are a hassle to clean.) A concrete floor is ideal, whether under the machine itself, or under the workbench the machine is sitting on. Wood floors are not ideal for a floor-standing machine, because it shifts and warps. Less stable flooring can be okay, but you’ll need to re-level your machines more often. The same goes for mounting a bench-top machine on a wooden bench.

Delivery Day is About Heavy Lifting

The author’s Precision Matthews lathe on delivery day.

With all that sorted out, it’s time to think about taking delivery. New bench-top machines are likely to come on a pallet. Unless you have a loading dock, that means you’ll need lift-gate delivery service, which costs extra. If you’re buying used, don’t assume the seller has any way to put it in your truck. You’ll also need a way to get it off your truck and on to your bench in your shop. An engine hoist (sometimes also called a cherry picker, engine picker, or shop crane) is a great tool for all these jobs. They fold up nicely and are incredibly useful for lots of things around the shop. The rule of thumb for these is to get one at least double the size you think you need. If your machine weighs around 300lbs, get the 2-ton crane. The reason is that the ratings for these are based on the shortest extension of the lifting arm, which renders them useless. They operate (typically) at one-quarter their rating at full extension of the arm. Note that engine hoists can handle up to medium-sized floor-standing machines as well. Just make sure you really know how much it weighs.

Using an engine hoist to set a small lathe on its stand. Note the use of a lifting sling, and the properly-chosen lift point around the ways webbing.

For a large floor standing machine, you’ll need to get more creative for loading in your truck. Forklifts and front-end loaders are a good option, and can be easily rented. If the seller has a gantry crane or overhead chain fall hoist of some sort, that’s also good. Failing all that, it is possible to winch them up a ramp on to a trailer, but don’t underestimate the difficulty of this for 3000lbs of cast iron. It can easily be an all-day job to load this way, and it’s not the safest option. Unloading is the reverse of loading, as the saying goes (not really — I just made that up). If your machine came with a manual, be sure to follow the lifting instructions therein. Machines often have an unintuitive center of mass, so it can be tricky to know where and how to lift it. Use proper lift slings and good crane etiquette. This means absolutely no meat parts under the load at any time, be in control of the momentum, and always assume the worst is about to happen.

Using round bars and a prybar to move a large milling machine.

Once in your shop, floor-standing machines can be moved with various methods. A pallet jack is a great option if the machine is already sitting on something that allows you to get under it. Failing that, a common method is to go Full Egyptian. You can jack up the machine a little at a time and slide round steel bar stock under it. With a piece every foot or so, you can roll and slide the machine with a large prybar. It’s possible to move huge machines by yourself using this method.

I’ll close with the word that sows dread into the heart of every machine shop enthusiast. That word so heinous that many dare not speak it aloud: Stairs. Yes, the real world often has stairs in it, and people have moved huge machines down narrow basement death ladders. The first rule of doing this is to reduce weight as much as possible. Tear the machine down as far as you can. I’ve seen people strip lathes all the way down to a bare ways in order to slide pieces down the stairs one at a time. If you’re doing a restoration project, this is no big deal because you were going to dismantle it anyway. Plan ahead for this, though. It can be a long project in itself to dismantle a large machine, and you don’t want to be doing that on your front lawn on a school night in the rain.

Once you get your machine in situ, it’s time to get set up. Next time we’ll talk all about the fine art of lathe leveling.

90 thoughts on “Preparing For A Lathe: How to Move 3000 Pounds of Iron

    1. Looks like a small, residential noninsulated shop. So my guess is no but I am not the author here and would have to defer to them.

      Fortunately, these days getting 3 phase from a single phase 15A or 20A 120V US power supply (provided you don’t need too much amp draw and are ok with mostly Chinese made VFDs) is surprisingly easy and inexpensive to obtain. For something like this benchtop lathe, that should certainly be easily and cheaply possible to get.

      1. Easiest way I’ve heard is to acquire a second three phase motor (IIRC it needs to be 20% larger capacity than the motor you’re trying to drive, so if you had a 1 HP motor you’d need a 1.2 HP motor for this), and you wire one phase of the motor to your existing power feed (One thing I can’t remember though is if you wire it to 240 or 120) along with one phase of the three phase motor you wish to run, and then you wire the other two phases to the two remaining phases of the other motor, you have to spin the shaft and then apply power as it won’t start on its own, but it basically turns it into a generator.

        1. Motor-generator phase converters have been obsolete for about 10 years. You can get a VFD to drive that thing for about $200. AND they’re tiny and actually make the lathe a better and more usable machine. The frequency control on the VFD gives you precise control of the the speed of the chuck without having to change gears.

        2. If you really have to got the rotary-converter-route, then please spend a start or run capacitor to this contraption. A stalled induction motor draws huge power (around 10 times nominal). You do not want to prolong this state unnecessarily.

        3. Save yourself some time and skip the low initial cost vfd. Automation direct has inexpensive vfds for about $40 more than the POS vfds with lousy support and documentation. I have a router spindle with cheap vfd. Still working but wasted lots of time with manual setting it up. Second vfd for mill failed after 90 days. Replaced this with vfd from Auto direct which worked out of box and has a useful manual.

      2. I second the VFD route. I am converting a South Bend 13″ from 240V/3 to 240V/1 with an Hitachi SJ200 inverter. It’s cheaper, more efficient, and has way more capabilities than a rotary phase converter. You can wire up a braking resistor and stop the spindle very quickly than normal.

      3. I have a mill with a three phase motor. I used a VFD off ebay and a two twenty volt outlet for power. Works great, is smooth and variable speed. I highly recommend that approach for anyone with single phase 210v in their shop. I purchased two more and plan on one motor for my band say and the other for the lathe.

      4. The inverters are pretty good, but connecting them can be tricky. Remember, you can not break the connections between the motor and VFD. So it can require a good bit of thought and rewiring to get it to work properly with the controls on the lathe. I do not like VFD’s for mills. This is because I want both instant reversing and the ability to coast the motor. This is mainly used for power tapping. Here I much prefer the rotary converter approach.

        1. It really isn’t difficult to get braking or coasting out of most VFDs. Granted, you cannot use a contactor to do this, but every VFD I’ve ever used has a way (digital input) to “let go” of the motor. This is your coast control. Ramping the speed down to zero is your braking operation, where the speed of the ramp and whether you have a dynamic braking resistor determines just how fast you can brake.

          My particular setup uses a 230 single phase to 230 three-phase inverter (derated the inverter due to the additional load on the input side due to single phase input), then a 230V -> 575V step up transformer, then the motor. This is only because it was cheaper for me to find the transformer than it was to rewind the motor. The added benefit is that the transformer serves as a bit of a load reactor, helping to protect the motor’s windings from high frequency stress that comes with any VFD.

    2. No I have 220/1 phase 60A for my welder. Look on ebay for vfd’s. The VFD converts 220/1 to DC and then three inverters make three phase variable for your machines NEW three phase motors.

  1. “Yes, the real world often has stairs in it, and people have moved huge machines down narrow basement death ladders. ”

    Or rent a power shovel, dig a hole next to the basement wall and punch a hole through it…,
    Place a large door where the hole is, large enough for an ambulance gurney.
    B^)

  2. Having moved a ~500lb cabinet maker’s table saw into my basement through my tiny head-busting bulkhead, I cannot agree more with disassembling as much of the machine as you can.

    Luckily the saw’s cast iron table came apart in three pieces (most of the weight,) and the motor/blade carriage came out in one piece through the hole left behind. I needed help with the table top pieces, but the motor carriage and stamped steel cabinet I carried myself.

  3. “Yes, the real world often has stairs in it, and people have moved huge machines down narrow basement death ladders. ”

    Brings to memory an old movie of two guys ( was it Laurel & Hardy ? ) trying to deliver a piano to a place on the first floor.

  4. Moved a Mill down into a basement the other day. Ended up having to remove the stairs and winch it down. Super scary but it worked out. Safety first thankfully. Sadly the basement has no head clearance to get a Engine hoist to get it on its final resting place. So window + winch + ramp is the next nightmare in the making. My toes are grateful for safety straps

  5. SAFETY — that is the first word that comes to my mind when doing these sorts of things, and I don’t see much (any?) mention if it in the article. If something gets out of control or tips over doing this kind of thing, people can get hurt in a bad way. We used an engine hoist to move a fairly light mill-drill into my shop and although it was “only” 350 pounds or so, it was sobering and quite a challenge. So not hurting anybody is the first priority, and getting the job done (without damage to equipment) comes second.

    Having lots of hands available can be a help, but don’t get fooled about what your real limitations are, and watch out for the machismo nonsense that can arise with a bunch of dudes trying to get something done.

    If I had anything really big and heavy (like a Bridgeport), I would probably pay someone with proven experience and the right gear to do the move.

    1. If you’re moving hundreds or thousands of pounds and the first thing in your head is ‘don’t get squished’ you probably shouldn’t be moving so much mass.
      This isn’t a how-to and HaD isn’t OSHA and unless your shop is a business OSHA doesn’t apply.
      Safety third.
      Don’t count on other people to make sure you aren’t where you aren’t supposed to be. The ambulance may not get there in time, so it’s on you to keep your body intact. One eye on the load, one eye on your escape route.

      Gravity is Theory but Murphy is law.

    2. If you can afford it, let some pro’s do it. Seriously. If you paid a pretty penny for a nice big lathe or milling machine.. Let someone else sweat over moving it.

      I used to move pianos as a side job decades back. Just the boss and myself and we could easily move a 1000 lb concert Steinway. But the trick is, is to have someone who really experienced manhandling the weight. If you don’t it can turn into a real disaster.

    3. I have a bridgeport (well a Hartford) mill in my garage. I rented a truck with a 5000lb lift gate to get it to the house, and borrowed a 5000lb capacity pump cart from work to get it off the truck and into the garage. It’s still on the heavy wooden pallet though, I need to figure out a way to lift the thing an inch so I can put it on the floor directly.

  6. “Egyptian” method works very well for large equipment as long as the floor is reasonably flat: rollers, wedges and crowbars. Black iron plumbing tubes make great rollers, and you can cut up a few 4x4s to make wedges. Then it’s pretty straightforward (albeit slow):

    1. Crowbar up a corner of the machine, just a fractional amount
    2. Jam a wedge under
    3. Repeat for all corners
    4. Go back to first corner, crowbar a bit higher and kick the wedge in. Repeat all around
    5. Eventually you’ll have enough clearance to get the rollers under. Also a good way to build a pallet under machines.

    Then you just use the crowbar to lever the machine in the direction of travel, and eventually one of the rollers will pop out the back. Grab it, move to front and keep repeating. You’d be amazed how big of equipment can be moved this way. Just go slow and keep hands/toes away from the exposed bottom in case things go south. You can go up/down ramps as long as it’s smooth enough for the rollers. Use winches and come-a-longs depending on the direction of travel.

    It’s probably safer than swinging a large, unwieldy machine around with a sketchy engine hoist that is probably at the edge of it’s weight capacity.

    Source: Moved a mill by myself onto a trailer, then off and around my shop using this method.

    1. I watched a pro move a Bridgeport like this and it looked smart and civilized. He had a special lowboy trailer with a bed just inches above the road surface. I don’t know how he got it up onto the bed — but that trailer would certainly be the thing to have if you made a career out of moving big machines.

      1. Yeah, I’m jealous of that trailer. I looked around trying to find a low-profile trailer to borrow/rent/steal, but could only find the standard models. You’ll never look at an extra two feet of height the same as when you’re trying to get a multi-ton machine up that two feet of ramp :)

        1. I rented one from Sunbelt Rentals yesterday. They were the only company in town with that type of trailer. ~$90/day where I live. It made the lathe move super-easy- only need a few pieces of black iron, some 4×4 skids, and a come-along.

      2. In regards to the trailer, lowboy trailers separate just behind the goose neck. The load is put on the trailer and then the trailer is reassembled. A similar type of trailer is the landoll, which works much like a roll-back car transport truck’s bed. The landoll’s axle assembly moves toward the goose neck and the rear of the trailer will lower toward the road surface forming a ramp. Also, +1 to the “Egyptian method.” I’ve helped my dad move lots of heavy stuff in that manner. It is slow and tedious, but extremely safe and easy to control. As an aside, if you aren’t sure what to do next you have all the time in the world to stop and plan your next move while the load sits there and waits for you!

    2. Really? You’re gonna lead off with the tired trope of ;everyone I disagree with is racist;?

      Your smear that they’re all gun toting jesus praising rubes doesn’t even hold water. The same rubes you have such contempt for wouldn’t think aliens did it as that would clash with their belief in the bible. Most of the ancient alien crowd are new age types. If you’re gonna mock people at least get their foundational principles right so your mockery might accidentally hold some educational value. It’s not like it’s hard to argue against ancient alien hucksters.

      1. Ignore those people, they’re just t.r.o.l.l.s that try to stir problems… or have a superiority complex: i.e. they’re the racist ones…
        Oh and as to what race did what first… Evolution dictates that the “white man” learnt how to geometry before they got a lack of sunshine for a few hundred generations.
        P.S. it was never a race thing:
        Psychopaths wanted control of everything and required fanatic maniacs that’ll follow their every (usually deceptively) idealogy… those ideas will change over time to finalize into a mono-control over all people irrespective of race.

        Additionally people like who you (Leithoa) are talking against:
        They have in the past (collectively/like-mindedly) accused a young “white” girl who dressed as a geisha of “yellow facing” and tried to paint her as racist… until the Japanese (en-mass) debunked the SJW-trol’s claims. The Japanese welcome such “reenactments” as the Japanese are a multi-culturally influenced people with a strong liking to things like cos-play, reenactments, etc (among many other traits/features… of the good and awesome sorts BTW).
        It must enrage them even more when they’ve been proven wrong by the entire “race” (I prefer breed… because: “Dayum shee’s a fine breed” ;-D) they’re trying to pseudo “defend”.

        Body count (band) – Mommas gonna die tonight
        This song paints Ice-T’s mother as the type of racist in the same manner as the @W comment author paints them selves as.
        BTW Ice-T is a “black” guy (actually appears mixed-breed with a light brown skin) who wrote the Mommas gonna die tonight song to point out that even “black people” can be racist.
        Ya’ll should listen to it.

        BTW… I’m a firm believer of it is: Good-intentioned VS evil-intentioned people
        and NOT race A people vs race B,C,D,Etc.
        It has always been that way, those of us who chose to flee (northern native American tribes) the scene of chaos that was of the evil people to create a shared land of peaceful people, instead, some of us should of stayed behind to clear the disease that formed in the main continent. However we survived over 6K years before the lands we walked were falsely possessed.
        I’m a guy in england who has had past-life transgressions of a native American plains-land traveler (collectively labeled as the Sioux tribe)… So I KNOW it isn’t a race-hate thing:
        bloods and crips came to a truce partly because they knew their feuds were being fueled by propaganda by our (UK) Government(s).

    3. PLEASE keep in mid that lathes are –VERY– top heavy. they don’t look it,
      but they are. I rolled over (dropped on its face) a South Bend 12″ lathe in
      my (stupid) youth by rolling it on pipe. It was on 2″ pipe, and just went over
      as the last pipe was being removed. You wouldn’t think that 2″ height on
      one corner would do it (I sure as hell didnt) but it did. Over she went, Than God
      no one was hurt.

  7. > Next time we’ll talk all about the fine art of lathe leveling.
    I am quite curious about this next article. I genuinely want to know “how hard could it be” I suspect the answer is something along the lines of “much harder than you think”.

    1. It depends on how many points of contact the machine has with the ground. If it’s 3, it’s kinda straightforward, assuming the manufacturer had half a clue about Bessel points and designed a rigid enough machine around them. Level the machine with a precision machine level, leave it a while for stresses to ease, check and re-level. Then as long as the machine ways weren’t re-scraped at some point whilst the machine was not level, or unevenly worn, you should be good. It’s the starting point anyway. Sometimes with older machines perfectly level won’t give the best results, especially if you have 4 or more contact points when twist needs to be accounted for in the feet. Sometimes it’s a case of measuring how out of level the bed is at points along its length and finding the footing where the average is least out of level. Sometimes you might know that 95% of machining will be done in 20% of travel, and you might level to minimize errors at that point.

      Mills can be less forgiving than lathes to level. An imbalanced lathe cross-slide creates a radial dimension error of the difference between the Adjacent and Hypotenuse. In reality that is likely to be less significant than the errors introduced by imbalance in the axial direction. With a mill, all 3 axis can be thrown out by leveling issues. resulting in milled planes that aren’t actually planar (eg, concave or convex, possibly even concave in one axis and simultaneously convex in another, or ridged), or planes cut not parallel to the table, vertical walls that aren’t vertical, etc.

      A key principle is that everything flexes. If your Z support isn’t leveled, the column will bend and throw the cutter out of tram. If the bed isn’t leveled to the column, the ways will be out of level. Everything has to be just so to cut parts in square, and there are more factors to understand. For example, a spindle mounted out of tram on a correctly leveled Z axis, and a spindle mounted in-tram on an out-of-level Z axis can both result in the same poor surface – a face-milled plane will have ridges because one side of the cutter cuts deeper than the other. However, the out-of-tram spindle cuts with the cutter head in a consistent position in X and Y regardless of Z position, where-as the out-of-level Z axis results in the cutter head moving in X and/or Y as Z changes.

  8. I purchased the Grizzly version of that exact lathe two years ago. My wife and I were in MO and stopped by the store. The price on the lathe in the scratch-n-dent section was way TOO good to pass up. Bought the lathe and we loaded it onto my 2010 Prius. The car listed to the right all the way back to North texas. Got and engine hoist and pulled/lifted it out of the Prius; onto a roll cart, then transferred it to my pre-made stand. Big fun that was slightly terrifying.

    1. Many years ago I had just gotten a 3/4 ton Dodge pickup, and my friend enlisted me to help him pick up a lathe for him and his dad, since they didn’t have a big enough truck. I think it was somewhere in the order of 3000 lbs (My truck rode real nice on that drive!). We’re about halfway home when my friend goes “F***K!!!!” and I was like “What?” And he responds “They used a forklift to get the lathe into the back of your truck, how the F are we going to get it out?” We ended up building a ramp out of scraps and used a combination of that, closet rods as rollers, and an engine hoist to get it out of the truck and then the six feet into the garage :-P

        1. Truck manufacturers know that customers will abuse the weight ratings.
          As long as their next model up has a proportionally increased load range…
          (It kind of gives owners/manufacturers “bragging rights”)
          That could be seen in the 1970’s when Japanese companies began importing pickup trucks to the USA.
          E.g. my Datsun 610 and 720 were each “1/2 ton” trucks, but that may have included the weight of the driver and passenger. I do recall hauling 1000 lbs. of sacked cattle feed in the 610 a couple hundred miles once, I probably wouldn’t have worried loading 2000 lbs. if it had been a Ford F100.

        2. First off, please don’t think badly of me for this story. When you’re in a rural mountain area, you do what you have to do to get work.

          Mid 80’s-ish F-150, with two skids of stone (unknown weight really) stacked as high as the cab. And for some reason a dog (Who had gotten into something that was just god awful nasty.I don’t remember what, or why the dog was even with us.) So I’m riding with the boss man in the cab, and the dog is standing on top of one of the skid, and I’ve got my arm out the window, holding on to his collar, trying to keep him from falling off.

          The truck is very close to just sitting on the axles. While it moves you can feel it bottom out regularly.
          The guy at the quarry says. “Got a full load there eh?”
          Boss: “Nope. Full load would be another dog on the hood.”
          We drive 30 miles across a mountain pass. (Liberally sprinkled with white road side crosses.” to deliver the stone.

          Boss man’s motto. If it didn’t break, it wasn’t over loaded.

        3. I know this is old but I just came across it. The “ton” names for trucks don’t mean anything but roughly what class they belong to now. 1/2 ton is your typical gas truck, 3/4 ton is a bit beefier with a diesel a lot of times, 1 tons are almost all diesels that get special work license plates and some are capable of towing enough to need a CDL. Without knowing what his specific truck was configured as, it likely had a 9000 GVWR and weighed around 6000lbs, meaning 3000lbs of payload was within its legal rating, and well within what most would consider ‘safe’.

  9. Consider breaking down the machine into major subassemblies. My Atlas lathe could easily be taken down to 3 major subassemblies: the ways, the headstock, and the tailstock, each of which is almost trivial to move around.

    Be aware though that you may need to tackle precision realignment (such as the headstock in the above game).
    But you would be well served to check alignment anyway after moving a lathe or mill.

  10. Also talk the the manufacturer if they are still around, they can give you tips on the best way to rig their machines since they do it all the time. I contacted monarch for my lathe and they told me exactly where to lift and where to move things so it was balanced when I picked it.

    Also never pick up a lathe by the spindle. Sometime people put a strap around the spindle nose or put a bar through the spindle through hole. This can bend the spindle and is kind of hard on the bearings.

  11. I have moved a lot of pianos, grand and upright. I would rather move them than sofas fridges mattress etc. The piano has two handles and a keybed at the right height. Lift just enough to get a dolly under one end in a tilt lift. Most dollies have the wheels on the corners,which is wrong. When tipping to get over door threshold etc. the dolly stays flat on the floor and bad happens. The wheels belong 4 inches or more in from the ends so the dolly tips with the load.

    A picture in an old Geographic zine shows in India a nuke reactor vessel being raised 50 feet to slide into position. It sits on stacks of railroad ties, no crane in sight.

  12. In the UK a cherry picker is the kind of machine used to service streetlamps. No use at all for moving a lathe. Perhaps the stateside version of a cherry picker is more like a telehandler?

    1. Same usage across the pond as far as I know. Though I have never once seen a lift truck with a bucket used for picking cherries either. I also haven’t lived near any cherry orchards, so who knows. Perhaps it’s a popular term in gearhead / custom car circles.

    2. That’s pretty much what a cherrypicker is here too, more or less a crane with a basket on the end of it, but some people refer to a small shop crane, which is usually referred to as an “engine hoist” since primary usage is lifting the engine out of a car, as a “cherry picker” even though that’s not really correct

  13. I had fun with an 800lb benchtop mill that was on a Lista type castored bench. The bench made loading easy – with the mill lashed to the bench it rolled straight onto the truck from the loading dock at the business I bought it from. I also had help from a couple of the employees.

    The other end was not so straightforward, even with a liftgate. My driveway has a steep slope towards the garage with no level spot to be found. I pulled out my climbing gear and used two belays to lower the mill down the bed of the truck and to pivot it 90 degrees onto the liftgate. I kept one belay locked off at all times to ensure nothing moved faster than I wanted it to. Lowering the liftgate was itself a process as each belay had to be given enough slack in turn to allow for vertical extension, but not so much to let the wheels drop off the lift. Drop 18″, give some slack on each side, repeat, until the liftgate was on the ground. Then I pivoted the whole thing off the liftgate. Two of the castors are non-pivoting, so I rolling it straight off would have been impossible. The high center of gravity, steepness of the driveway that the liftgate was sat on and the 3″ step height combined to make that a tippy prospect anyway. The whole operation took about 90 minutes, basically by myself with some visual spotting help from my wife.

    A word to the wise folk embarking on such a habit – ensure that you have or can get the power needed for the machine tool, the practical limit on residential 230V is about 5HP. Starting loads for motors above that are higher than most power companies expect. A VFD can eliminate that problem, but most VFDs capable of 5HP or above only work on 3 phase power, so you’d need to get a rotary phase converter installed too.

    Also, check your heights and clearances carefully. I needed to disassemble part of the ATC to clear the garage door, and I have about 2″ of clearance to the ceiling. I’d measured and was ready for that. Don’t find out that you literally cannot get the machine into the garage/basement/shop when it’s already sitting outside. If you need to remodel a doorway, better to let SWMBO know ahead of time.

    1. Oh, one more thing. If you need a liftgate and don’t have a business account to rent through, go with Enterprise. Budget don’t have liftgates, and Penske dicked me around TWICE by confirming a liftgate rental only to not have one available. The first time they told me it was a clerical oversight so I rescheduled. The second time they admitted that they only actually reserve liftgates to business customers and whilst they were happy to take non-business “reservations” for liftgates all day long, the odds of actually getting one in my area were effectively zero. Enterprise were amazing in comparison. They made it easy.

      1. Trucking companies screw over the enterprise customer too. Whenever we order anything that has to be delivered with a liftgate, the truck shows up with no liftgate, and the driver says “where’s your loading dock?” at which time we point out that the papers in his hand say “LIFTGATE DELIVERY REQUIRED” right on them.

        We always allow one or two extra days for delivery because they have to take the machine back to the depot and switch trucks. It’s like they just love to burn extra diesel.

    2. I’m using a VFD derated 33% to convert two-phase 230V to three-phase. You need to derate it because the input diodes are now working harder at load with only two phases supplying the current. Unfortunately my motor is 575V so I have a 230V-575V three-phase transformer after the VFD. Good in that it protects the motor windings, bad in that it’s bloody expensive.

    3. Do you really suggest to use a rotary phase converter to drive a VFD? I would consider this only if I get both components for (nearly) free. Otherwise I would buy a suitable VFD. It’s the task of the VFD to make 3 phases if I need them.
      But if I really need 3 phases I would probably upgrade the supply to the workshop. We have 3ph in the building for the apartments with electric cooking or heating. It was a little short sighted to tell the electrician that I don’t need it, when they renovated the supply lines in the house, but 10 yrs ago I had very little money and I did not really need the 3ph supply in the meantime

  14. “Small children gum up the change tears, which are a hassle to clean” – couldn’t agree more, nothing harder to clean off the change gears than minced “young Tom” and mothers get upset too.

  15. My Dad moved a 3000 lb Bridgeport pattern mill from one building to another by himself at age 87. I was not around when he did it. But figured out he used a tilting bed trailer, electric winch, pipe roller, wedges and pry bar. I eventually found the pipe rollers which were identifiable because they were all just the required length. He removed the head and motor, but that was all.

  16. We moved an 850 lbs lathe recently on to its stand using a 2 ton engine hoist. A load leveller from Harbor Freight was cheap and really useful. As mentioned in the article, the lathe just doesn’t hang evenly from its mid-point. And the engine hoist became extremely difficult to move once it had the weight of the lathe on it. Two people, pushing the hoist while watching the lathe, making sure not to squish the lead screws or the carbon based parts was an adventure.

  17. About a year ago, we received a second hand CNC router at work. The machine is ~1800 pounds and almost 6ft in each direction.
    We have a loading bay, barely big enough to get the machine inside, but the shop floor is 4 feet below ground level. It was kind of sketchy getting that huge chunk of metal down there with our not-so-well revised manual stacker. Plus, the weight / height started to get out of the specs of the stacker… A lot of weight shifting (putting the spindle of the machine as close as possible to the stacker) and straps, it was tense, but ok.
    Now, the real problem : we have the machine inside, how do we get it to it’s final position that is all the way across the shop, with a couple of stairs, a step in the ground level, and obviously no door big enough ?
    Well, first thing is tearing the machine apart. Got rid of everything we could, uncabled all the electrics, removed the wiring cabinet, vacuum pump, etc… Once we had the chassis, it was time to put it on it’s side. The cassis alone weighs a bit more than 1000 pounds, so using the stacker, a bunch of straps and some beams, we pushed it against a wall and started lifting. It’s kind of hard to explain, but we used the wall as a stop to create a pivot. There were some frightening sudden slides, but it worked, the chassis was vertical on a euro palette.
    We built a small ramp to pass the stairs, went through a door just barely, and here is the step in floor level. Time to build a deck, using cinder blocks and wood beams. By the way, there was a wall there. I work in a building that is mostly concrete, designed in the 60’s by André Wogenscki and it’s “classed”, so we can’t touch anything that is from the original plans. Fortunately, somewhere in the late 80’s, they closed that original wall with cinder blocks, so we had a 5ft hole that we could destroy, so destroy we did.
    Once again, some careful lifting on the deck with the stacker, a palette truck on the other side, and here it is in it’s room. Time to put it back horizontal, using the same method as before, pushed against a wall and some careful lowering using straps and beams.
    Then it was just a matter of rewiring everything and checking that everything works. We also lifted the laser cutter in that room since we had that hole and that deck.
    It was mostly a 2 person job, took us almost a week, and I didn’t have safety shoes but still got my toes and fingers…

      1. Your review was helpful, and well written, thanks for posting that. I live in Pittsburgh about 10 miles from Precision Matthews, been looking at a new lathe turnkey accurate for a while thats reasonable. Might go physically there and check it out.

  18. I was expecting someone at least mention the floor carrying capacity. You just talk about concrete vs wooden floors. But if you add a ton or two of steel into your house, you should better know how much your floor is built for. If you have a location that is built for machinery and heavy weight, good for you. but if you have a standard house, nobody designed your floor to have tons worth of heavy machinery installed.

  19. I have moved my two 2000+ lb lathes 3 times in the last two years (and I am done moving!). I believe I have it down to a syste m at this point- rent a 10k lb hydraulic drop deck trailer and a diesel pickup to pull it ($120/day for both), and then move the machines using a six foot riggers bar (pry bar) and rollers (which are really sections of 1″ black iron water pipe) which are slightly wider than the machine. It is not ultra fast, but I can load a large machine by myself in an hour or two. Unloading isnt hard either, use the prybar to get the rollers under the machine, and then come-along the machines out of the trailer.

    I would encourage everyone moving a machine to get very familiar with their local equipment rental co- it can really help simplify the move.

  20. For a nicely detailed description of moving a lathe into a basement, check out (interlibrary loan?) the Home Shop Machinist book, “Projects Two” (ISBN 0-941653-01-3), p. 42-47, “Solving a Weighty Problem” by Bill Davidson. In particular, he recommends an appropriately-sized forged lifting ring bolted to the bed, with wooden blocks placed to prevent movement. A sling merely placed around the lifting point could slide, especially if the machine is going downstairs.

  21. When planning to get the device into difficult locations, take pity on your spouse/kids/executor and leave a plan for extracting it if you happen to be run over by the proverbial bus. a) it is something that has lots of value and b) that value can be offset by a large removal bill or (worse) repair to the building.

  22. I just bought a 300 pound plus joiner today. We had to get it up 6 steps out of the guys basement. We wound up doing it but it reminded me of something that I built for my house and if you own a house, you should consider making. It is a wooden stand that is exactly two steps high on your staircase and just a bit shorter than the width of the staircase, and built to take a lot of weight. Once you get the hang of using this it makes a lot of medium nasty jobs much more manageable.

    You get your load started up the steps like normal with a lot of lifting and grunting. As soon as you have the far end up two steps, you lift the neat end and a not strong helper (my wife) can slip the chock in place and the load is totally stable. You can catch your breath and than lift and push the far end up another step, and than lift the neat end, and again, have your non stong helper chock it. Catch your breath and repeat.

    It does not make the load any lighter, but it is so nice to be able to take breathers with no one stuck holding the load.

    Getting that joiner out of the basement this AM would have been a whole lot easier if we could have done it one step at a time. We kind of did do that, but the poor guy on the bottom had to hold it while I got positioned for each lift and pull, instead of him being able to just let it sit there on it’s own and took our time about it.

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