Learning to lathe

There’s a super TED talk where Josh Kaufman insists that you can learn anything in 20 hours.  Sure, it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, but 20 hours gets you over the hump.  I’m hoping this talk will be as life-changing as that other TED talk about tying your shoelaces.

Kaufman’s program plays out like this:

  1. Deconstruct the skill
  2. Learn enough to self-correct
  3. Remove practice barriers
  4. Practice for 20 hours

Applied to using the lathe, let’s break it down:

  1. Deconstruct the skill.  I ultimately want to be able to turn wheels.  This means I need to be able to do the following:
    1. Set up stock and tools
    2. Sharpen tools
    3. Turn to diameter
    4. Face
    5. Bore an accurate hole for the axle
    6. Make an indent in the face
    7. Part off a part
    8. Use a form tool
  2. Learn enough to self-correct.  Okay, they said 20 hours of practice, not 20 hours of learning.  I need 3-5 resources like books, DVDs, courses.  Personally, I prefer books as they’re faster than watching DVDs.  I checked the local library and they actually had nothing.  Not even a single book on machining.  So, I’ve ordered Tabletop Machining by Joe Martin from the Sherline website along with a couple of accessories I think will be useful.  Does anyone have any great suggestions?
  3. Remove practice barriers.  We don’t even own a TV.  Check.
  4. Practice for 20 hours.  Given we’re about to enter the silly season around here, and work is chewing up most of my time, I will aim to get those completed around Christmas.

29 thoughts on “Learning to lathe

  1. Try this:
    “Model Engineering: a Foundation Course” by Peter Wright.
    ISBN 10: 1854861522
    ISBN 13: 9781854861528

    Quite possibly the only book on metal working that any of us will ever need.


  2. Joe Martin’s book is terrific. I have a copy. It’s funny – I have had a milling machine for several years now but have not found a reason to use it, until I started working with Andy Malette on brash-bashing USRA 2-8-2s into CNR S-3-a Mikados. I’ve used Andy’s machine quite a bit – and that experience is making me want to set up my own so I can work at home too. The experience with Andy is also pushing forward my desire to get a lathe to go with my mill – in fact, I’ve found a local company from which to procure the lathe I want, and it’s only a matter of finding time to get to their store.
    Obviously, tutoring was the thing that worked for me…
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  3. A friend who is a retired medical instrument design engineer and who knows his way around machine tools, told me that when it comes to most of his modelling, he simply uses 800 rpm on his Myford, taking light cuts when he wanted a good finish. He commented that such a “heathen approach” wouldn’t be acceptable in a production factory (too slow), but for modelling purposes he was likely to move onto using files (very carefully, the tang in a handle, and the other end held in his dominant hand), wet and dry abrasive paper and polish for things like domes, and time per item was not a consideration.

    The main thing is to get some bar ends of various materials, and start playing, taking bigger and bigger cuts until you get a feel for the capabilities of the machine. In theory, you use paraffin for aluminium, mineral oil (lathe-milk) for steel and machine brass dry. In practise, for most of our needs dry cutting with lighter cuts, or a mist of lathe-milk from a simple hand-held spray from the kitchen, will suffice for us amateurs.

    There are some good tutorials on YouTube, too: search out “Gandy Dancer Productions”, but don’t blame me if you move into constructing live steam!

    1. Sounds like 20 hours of practice to me! I’m sure I can resist live steam for now. I’ve been told I can have trains in the basement or trains in the garden, but not both.

  4. Rene;

    You and my son seem to have conspired to get me thinking about metalworking again. The timing is perfect.

    I’ve posted a few of the books collected over the years (on MRH) and hope to find a logical start point. Not many mentors around here.


  5. Rene,
    MIT produced a series of matching basic videos on YouTube. Some of them are quite old, but the content is good.

    Here’s the series on Lathe work.

    I’ve been watching the series in my spare time so that when the someday of owning machine tools comes I will have a basic understanding.

  6. Practice Log:
    Dec 27: 30 min parting AL
    Jan 1: 90 min cleaning chuck, parting AL
    Total so far: 8:30

    Still can’t part exactly where I want to. Typically parts come out .2 mm too thin. However, at least the chuck seems to hold the work through several partings, which it didn’t before cleaning.

  7. Jan 8th: 1 hr form tool
    Total 13:30

    Getting good at forming without chatter (if I do say so myself), but still can’t get a repeatable diameter. Found that the first one is smaller than the subsequent two, so will investigate backlash theory.

    By simply turning until a black mark on the flange disappears, I can come within .09 mm over five tyres. This may be acceptable if I can’t figure out the backlash issue.

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