See What You’re In For When Buying And Moving A Lathe

Sometimes, with patience and luck, one can score a sweet deal on machinery. But for tools that weigh many hundreds of pounds? Buying it is only the beginning of the story. [Ben Katz] recently got a lathe and shared a peek at what was involved in moving a small (but still roughly 800 pound) Clausing 4901 lathe into its new home and getting it operational.

The lathe had sat unused in a basement, but was ready for a new home.

Moving such a stout piece of equipment cannot simply be done by recruiting a few friends and remembering to lift with the legs. This kind of machinery cannot be moved and handled except with the help of other machines, so [Ben] and friends used an engine hoist with a heavy-duty dolly to get it out of the basement it was in, and into the bed of a pickup truck. Separating the lathe from its base helped, as did the fact that the basement had a ground-level egress door which meant no stairs needed to be involved.

One also has to consider the machine’s ultimate destination, because not all floors or locations can handle nearly a thousand pounds of lathe sitting on them. In [Ben]’s case, that also meant avoiding a section of floor with a maintenance trapdoor when moving the lathe into the house. Scouting and knowing these things ahead of time can be the difference between celebratory pizza and deep dish disaster. Pre-move preparation also includes ensuring everything can physically fit through the necessary doorways ahead of time; a task that, if ignored, will eventually explain itself.

With that all sorted out, [Ben] dives into cleaning things up, doing function checks, and in general getting the lathe up and running. He provides some fantastic photos and details of this process, including shots of the 70s-era documentation and part diagrams.

Watch the first chips fly in the short video embedded below. And should you be looking at getting a lathe of your own? Check out our very own buyer’s guide to lathe options.

46 thoughts on “See What You’re In For When Buying And Moving A Lathe

    1. I remember being over the moon when I got a good deal on a used starter lathe! Only 500$! Then I bought a quick change tool post and varies other accessories and quickly blew past what I paid for the machine…

      In hind sight the machine and tooling was definitely worth it and it’s paid for it’s self but be prepared to spend a ton on tooling and getting it set up.

      1. I think it’s a decent approximation to spend as much on tooling on a lathe as you spend on the lathe, and about 2x the purchase price for tooling on a mill as the mill cost.

        1. So far for my little clockmakers lathe that hasn’t proved true, as I’ve still but to spend a tiny fraction on the machine cost on extras – but that is a really sturdy little machine with a second motor for gear cutting and not made in China, so price was…

          My mill on the other hand is still kinda small but was made in China and then given some Quality Control in Europe, so I’ve spent more than the mill just on the essential collet sizes for its spindle…

          Thinking I need to upgrade a little though, my lathe isn’t going anywhere but has at times been found wanting in size and the mill really isn’t bad for the price I suppose, but kinda garbage – Which leans me towards getting one of the large bench size lathe with milling head combos. Be a mill with more working area than my current one, and a much bigger lathe but should still fit in the space. It is only the cost of all the new bits I’ll need to actually make it useful once I have it that is putting me off really – just can’t afford that (not even sure I can really afford the machine right now either, but one can dream). And I really can’t afford the space to keep the old crappy one to use and build up the tooling for the new one as I go…

      2. After careful consideration and study, I decided to buy a new lathe. I intend to use it to build parts and I did not want a problem that I would have to work on. 1236 Precision Matthews.

      1. I have a $1300 chinesium ebay 8.7″ lathe. I have been using it regularly. I regret absolutely nothing about the purchase, only in that I couldn’t afford the $$$ or the space for a bigger lathe like this one. But I’ve made do and turned 6″ stainless steel pipe on it even.

        1. I’ve moved full size lathes that weighed 3000 lbs, and required a front loader to pick up with careful rigging. Never a 10,000lber, but at that point if you have the money to keep something that absurd in a normal basement that’s not a professional shop, if you’re not paying for professionals to move that you’re probably nuts, bought the wrong machine, or knew what you were getting into when you got it.

          Ironically I have also owned a boat, a sailboat. I can absolutely say 100% that the adage of owning a boat is absolutely true especially compared to a lathe.

          At least the lathe makes money. The boat required never ending repair work even when it was in good condition.

          I really don’t feel like it’s a fair comparison.

    2. I paid 5 weeks wages for a 1947 Harrison L5 and it’s one of my favourite possessions. I’ll own it until my eyesight fails. Nobody I know regrets their lathe purchase but everyone I know with a boat has at least occasional regrets!

    3. Can someone explain why anyone would ever choose a lathe in preference to a 3 or 4 axis CNC mill? A lathe can only do circularly symmetrical objects (“volume of revolution” type shapes), a lot of things one can need to make are not that sort of shape.

      1. Cost. A multi-axis CNC with the same working area and rigidity will cost multiples of this lathe. Making a 4 axis CNC out of aluminum extrusion and some NEMA steppers is not the same thing as a proper metal lathe.

      2. I have 3 lathes; a watchmakers lathe, a small lathe mill combo, and a 26×30 lathe. The big lathe has a milling attachment so I can mill splines or whatever on a shaft. I only paid $600 for the whole set up. I spent anoth 600 on a tool post and some tooling. I still am at a fraction of the cost of a 4 axis mill.

      3. I run 5 axis mills for a living. This is legitimately a good question.

        The truth is a few things. Multi-axis mills have kinematic calibration issues that have to be dealt with constantly to “cut round stuff like a lathe”. They often drift, and they are not as accurate as an actual dedicated axis lathe in centerline accuracy of the rotary center, unless they are stupidly high end machines 500k$ and up- and even then often not as accurate unless new.

        They also don’t have the rotational speed capability often of an actual lathe.

        There is a class of 5 axis machine called a Mill Turn, that has a dedicated high-speed bearing in the table that functions exactly like a very high-end lathe which allows normal lathe surface speeds for larger objects, and the use of turning tools in milling tool holders that stay oriented to actually act like a giant lathe, but these are not normal 5-axis machines and typically much higher end. They are also normally much bigger than a standard 5-axis mill (although those come in many sizes).

        Basically they aren’t the same thing even though they can do similar work they can’t do it with similar speed or accuracy unless you get crazy complex and crazy expensive and even then the dedicated lathe will be more accurate and easier to troubleshoot, rather than trying to calibrate a multi-axis nightmare at the level of accuracy a standard cnc or even manual lathe has.

        The real advantage of a 5-axis mill on round things is the ability to freeform trace complex shapes as it rotates, such as the profiles of hereingbone gear teeth, 3D wrapped spherical shapes, etc.

        And for that matter a lathe can do much more than simple round things, if you use things like offset chucks, and taper attachments, etc. IMHO the most useful thing for the price is a live tooling equipped lathe, which is one that has powered tool holders that allow milling capability on several axes of a turned part. Those are typically much cheaper than a 5-axis mill or, by far, a Mill Turn machine.

        1. Don’t forget that a Lathe is like for like cost and scale wise also generally much stiffer and more powerful so can often take deeper cuts, get better surface finish etc than the more normal 3-5 axis CNC.

          So for its size/price and with the right tooling for the job in had it can be way quicker/better than the default CNC mill – though obviously not universally as really what is a CNC lathe but a 3 axis CNC on its side? So often its pick the right base machine for your work and then add in an extra axis or two from the normal lathe frame if that is the right choice for you.

          1. Oh also the cutting tools for a lathe are much much easier to grind/regrind than the cutting tools usually used on mills, and usually massively cheaper to buy off the shelf profiles too!

  1. Having done this numerous times, the methodology they used is pretty familiar.

    I was surprised at the nice room in the house that now has a non-trivial machine tool in it. Hope he’s still happy with that hardwood floor and the wall behind the lathe after a few years of making chips because it’s all gonna look different…

    1. That is the likely fate of one of my mills. Down the stairs is a lot easier ten or twenty years ago than up the stairs now. Broken down, there are still parts in the 75 to 250Kg range.

  2. When moving lathes, if its a full size engine lathe, I highly recommend you watch Tom Lipton’s video on moving his Monarch 10ee. He shows how to make simple machinery skates that make moving one like pulling one of those old fashioned toy wagons behind him, makes moving it very easy.

    As you are inevitably going to have to probably move a lathe over rough floor, it also helps to have traditional machinery skates, or even the heavy plastic wedge type ready that you can literally skate over the floor. A hydraulic Toe jack set is invaluable for this. You can lift one end and get it on the skates and then lift the other end and get it on skates completely by yourself.

    The easiest way to move them anywhere in America at least is a 40 ft bed Sunbelt rentals truck with a hydraulic lift gate. If you can get the thing on to the lift gate you can get it on to the truck and strap it down with a couple friends of help.

    If you’re not sure how to safely move the thing yourself, it is best to hire riggers. The going rate for riggers is about 175$ an hour in Pittsburgh last I checked. Not cheap.

    Last thing I will mention is never ever ever Jack the lathe up from the middle of the bed. Only Jack under the headstock and tail stock ends and try to do that is evenly as you can or you can twist the bed and you won’t be able to tell.

    I have helped move a lot of large equipment on the job and off. Hope this helps some people. Moving large equipment is totally doable as long as you plan it out. By the way the easiest way to move a Bridgeport Mill or anything like that is to take it apart in sections if possible.

    1. FWIW, I got my 1945 LeBlonde 13″ into the back corner of my garage pretty cheaply and easily – the guy who sold it to me had an overhead shop crane that we used to pop the lathe onto a pallet I’d reinforced. Once bolted to the pallet, we craned it onto the bed of a flatbed/tilting wrecker I’d hired for $150. The driver was able to back the wrecker up to my garage door and tilt it back over the threshold of my garage. We then put a pallet jack into/under the pallet and using the wrecker’s winch, slowly slid it off the bed onto the garage floor. With the pallet jack, I was able to get it into the back corner of my garage. Now getting the pallet out from under the lathe was another story . . .

      1. Folks- when you really want to make stuff with this kind of equipment this is the kind of person you normally become.

        When you really know you need an actual lathe a proper one, you figure out how to move things like this or you make friends with people who do.

        Yes it can be difficult at times but it is totally worth it. Nowadays if you have money there are plenty of smaller bench top lathes available that aren’t crazy heavy and you can still make somewhat decent things on. You don’t need something from 1940 that weighs as much as a tank to make good parts.

        1. Also the machine from 1940 probably needs a month or two scraping the ways back in and taking out the excess play here and and there to really make it what it should be again…

          I would really like to get such a thing one day, as it seems like a great project with wonderful reward at the end. But that sort of project takes a space I don’t yet have.

  3. Great story. Having moved many machines under similar precarious circumstances I can say in earnest that I feel his pain, all 800-ish lbs of it. Until someone embarks on a machinery move it’s hard to fully appreciate the mass involved and the effort required to move it. It’s all in the preparation and planning, and it looks like he nailed it. This is probably the first of many for him. Putting a machine shop in an apartment, ehh. Better check with the landlord first. Well done and godspeed in your future metal cutting adventures.

  4. As the proud owner of a 1T 1960 lathe that is still at the vendor site, I can assure you that moving a lathe is not complicated, it’s just difficult to find a relatively cheap truck with crane in a timely manner.
    For this look at heart moving contractor, you can hire them for a few hours to do it as they have the machinery for this, or know people who regularly move machinery.

    Once at home, buy four heavy duty dolly and a toe jack and you are fine.

  5. One of Home Shop Machinists’ “Projects” books gives instructions on moving a lathe into a basement. In particular a lifting eyebolt was secured to the bedways, and the thing was moved with an engine hoist. Much less hazardous than lifting from below!

  6. I’ve been watching “Cutting Edge Engineering Australia” recently, so this lathe move looks trivial compared to the monsters he’s dealing with. Every once and a while I think “Gee, it would be nice to have a metal lathe, I wonder…” and then I watch one of his videos or read an article like this and I think “Nope, nope, nope, I think I’ll stick to wood and 3d printing for now….”

  7. HaD did an article a while ago called how to move heavy things.
    I’ve moved a fair amount so far, and specifically staked out the garage in my now current house during the buying process for eventually hosting some real-iron machine tools someday.
    I helped move a huge safe over a tile floor by putting plywood down to spread out load. That worked well.
    Moving a lathe- usually you can take the machine apart somewhat. Remove headstock etc. putting it back together properly and in alignment is entertaining. There is an ancient book called “how to run a lathe” (called how to RUIN a lathe) by my dad as well as “Rollie’s Dad’s Method” to level and align the lathe when you have it back together.
    Sweet score!!

  8. How do you like the 8.7″ lathe? I have a 7″ lathe and was thinking about upgrading to one of the super long (30+ inches) 8.7″ lathes. I would love to go bigger but I need to be able to carry the machine around for moves without trouble and the 8.7″ lathe is about as heavy as I can carry.

  9. I feel like HaD should honestly do an exhaustive and master article on moving lathes and mills safely, but I’m betting it’s either a lack of expertise or liability issue or both.

    1. I like that idea, though I don’t think you can really do exhaustive – the real world throws so many unique challenges at you in moving stuff. Can certainly get close with a good effort though!

      I don’t think liability would really be an issue – just state up front this is a guide that works for us and in no way do we accept liability for your attempt to follow it. Basically the same boilerplate ‘we make no guarantee’ that opensource software generally uses.

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