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My First Year With a Taig Lathe

This article is an account of my first year of lathe work, utilizing a Taig Lathe. I have been a jeweler and lapidary for six years, and have built simple tools for my use. As the years went on, I saw the need for different tools which my budget wouldn’t allow ,although they were necessary. My first lapidary grinder was a frankenstein like bulk of 2×4’s, pillow blocks and plastic buckets. Most jigs were made of wood, although I started using aluminum for bead reaming clamps.

As I realized I needed better skills and knowledge, I happened upon a few copies of HSM in a used bookstore and saw that there was an accessible world of knowledge which would help me to be a better lapidary and jeweler. The more I learned, the more I understood, and the jewelry and Lapidary trades became more understandable in the larger context of machining.

I had lusted after a lathe for two years , failed to get a unimat with the attachments at an auction (I went up to $230 and quit) In a year of searching, both newspapers and auctions, I did not find a single lathe for under $400. Finally, at the Tucson Gem and Mineral shows a lapidary carving acquaintance suggested I get a Taig, specifically for making phenolic diamond laps for stone carving, but also for a multitude of other purposes. So I “borrowed” money from our savings and sent away for The Taig. I have a small hoard of fractional horsepower motors, so I ordered the 1/2 bore pulley set, and although they sent a 1/10 hp motor for free, I used a 1/4 hp one. The basic lathe only comes with the bed, headstock, toolpost and compound, so I also ordered the drilling tailstock, which comes threaded to take a 3/8nf thread chuck, the universal three jaw chuck with soft aluminum jaws, the collet closer and blank collets, figuring I would make my own to suit my needs, the die holder and the compound slide. The total for this was $286.44, including shipping

The lathe bed is 15 1/2″ long, steel 45 deg. dovetailed bed mounted on concrete(?) filled aluminum extrusion. The carriage has 9.7″ of total travel, this becomes shorter with chuck, tailstock(8″ of travel) or other accessories. The carriage is driven by a handwheel meshing with a gear rack on the side of the extrusion. The handwheel is not graduated, which makes use of an indicator or ruler necessary for measuring travel. A headstock mounted depth stop is included. The cross slide has 1.9″ of total travel. The lathe bed to centre height is 2.3″, from the crosslide top to centre, 1.25″.

There are two t-slots on the top of the headstock, one on each side, two on the crosslide for mounting the tool post and other uses, and t-slots on the top of the tailstock. These can be very useful, and preclude the need for tapping holes for mounting accessories, or modifications. The t-slots use #10 square nuts as t-nuts, which do not need modification as they do with the Sherline. All parts are made of aluminum, except for the spindle, tailstock spindle, bed and hardware.

The carriage has a bronze(?) gib, with setscrews for adjustment. The tailstock is lever feed, 1.2″ of travel, spindle traveling in the split extrusion. The tailstock is offsettable. Both the crosslide and compound have dials graduated .001, with fifty divisions.

I later ordered the four jaw independent chuck, which is capable of gripping stock more tightly than the three jaw, and centering accurately with the dial indicator. I use the four jaw for almost all turning now, and would recommend it as the first chuck one acquires.The collet system requires the use of two wrenches, and I didn’t find that it was all that useful. To be fair, I didn’t get their collets and instead used their collet blanks which I finished. A friend later told me I should have ordered the Taig with the WW taper in the spindle, as the ww collets are more accurate and easier to use, although expensive for the beginner on a budget. I would recommend buying as many blank arbors as you can, as they only cost $1.40 each, and are the basis of many special tools you can make.

I needed some accessories which I ordered from ENCO, rh and lh carbide bits in c-2 and c-5, so my ignorance of bit grinding wouldn’t hinder me at first,and five hss 1/4 bits. I also ordered a vernier caliper, and dial indicator, which were tools I should have bought when I first started making jewelry. I ordered a boring tool and the combined drill countersink set. This proved to be a wise set of purchases. I didn’t have a fear that I couldn’t sharpen carbide, as I have somany diamond grinding tools for lapidary. I also had a good supply of drills and the like that I’ve bought over the years.

. I did a bunch of practice turnings that were frustrating as I didn’t understand about the need to shim toolbits. As someone in an old HSM said, sometimes it looked as if the workpiece had been gnawed by mice. I had more luck with brass, although I didn’t understand why my drills were grabbing. A quick foray in my reference library gave me the knowledge to sharpen them correctly, and I was soon achieving clean accurate turnings.

When I tried my first real turning, a spindle knob for my flat lap grinder out of aluminum, I had success, although the three jaw couldn’t grip the knob tight enough to tap on the lathe, and I had to move it to the vice for that. I turned a few file handles out of cherry and they turned out quite nicely. In order to use the boring bar, I constructed a toolholder out of a chunk of scrap aluminum, clamped to the crosslide, which I drilled 3/8 with a drill in the headstock chuck. Two setscrews clamp the bar.

Probably the best improvement to the Taig, and the best lesson in machining was afforded by the making of Knobs to replace the various setscrews that lock or tighten parts of the lathe. I First made a knob to replace the gib screw on the carriage. I turned a 1″” brass knob, drilled to a press fit on a 21/2″ allen screw and filed ridges to simulate crude knurling. I liked having the knob out from the body of the lathe, and this greatly facilitated locking the carriage, which required tightening a #10 setscrew blind. I might point out that it’s a good idea to buy a bunch of 10-32 screws of different sizes, so that all your fixtures have a uniformity. I couldn’t find a source of the square nuts where I live, so taig sent a whopping amount for $3. I then made a knob to lock and unlock the tailstock in place, 3″ long made out of a piece of 1/4 brass threaded 10-32, pressed into 1″ knob. This also has been an enormous timesaver. I made a 3″ long sliding t-knob for clamping the tailstock spindle in place, and adjusting the drag, out of more 1/4 brass, keeping the small washer that acted as a bearing for the lock screw. the t-knob shaft was 3/16 steel with two crude balls threaded on, and locked with CA. I keep meaning to make a knob for the toolpost, but will probably just make a quick change system in the future. The last knobs were for the compound slide, and its’ lock screw. This was a piece of 1/4(?) steel, turned to provide a shoulder, and threaded to the exact length of the original. the shaft extends through the t-slot the compound is clamped to a knob. This was my first beauty, turned out of more 1″ brass turned down and threaded to accept a setscrew for locking the shaft (with filed flat) in place. I knurled it with a straight knurl in improvised holder (taig doesn’t make a knurling tool).

I made spinner handles to replace the flimsy handles on the feed screws, drilling out and tapping the holes 10-32 and making spinner handles which were sliding fit on 2 1/2″ cap screw threaded in hole. Now I don’t get hand cramps. On a side note, I replaced the setscrews in the toolpost with cap screws, I suspect that the taig only uses setscrews to stay out of sherline’s patent (?). I think that actual hex cap screws would be better (or square) because the allen hole fills up with chips. They don’t make square head set screws in less than 1/4.

One of the things I did before I bought a four jaw chuck was to make a driven centre, for use with a split pipe dog, so that I could centre-drill drill rod. This in conjunction with my steady rest allowed me more accuracy than the three jaw afforded. The centre was made by drilling/boring a 1/2″ hole in one of the blank mandrels, and pressing in a piece of drill rod. The compound was set to 60 deg. and the drill rod pointed. I filed carefully and ended up with no detectable runout. The mandrel was tapped on the side for a 10-32 screw and this was used to drive the dog. The dog was made out of conduit, tapped for screw to drive the work, and sawn so that one quarter of the pipe for 3″ was left as an arm to contact the driving screw. Crude but useful. The steady rest was hacksawed and holesawed crudely, with three allen screws at 120 degrees, their tips capped with brass. This system allowed me to construct a useful coolant swivel system, for diamond core drilling, out of drill rod and delrin. The shaft had no detectable runout. and the centre hole was concentric. I can now drill agate quite rapidly and deeply, while preserving the drills. This is an example of the sorts of small jobs you can accomplish with the Taig.

One of the biggest limitations is the lack of change gears, splitnut and fine carriage feed. Having bought a Sherline mill, I appreciate the time savings in the Taig gear/rack feed, not having to turn a tiny little knob twenty times to get one inch of movement. I have used 1/4-20 rod to move the carriage, and the finish with a fine feed is better than even the slowest rack feed on the Taig. I am in the middle of designing a clamp on split nut & leadscrew for the Taig, so that I have an option of which of the two methods I chose. I don’t see why this shouldn’t then allow me to make a set of change gears for threading. Still given the pace of such projects, it would be nice to have the option of buying such a system. The same is true of the tailstock, as the lever feed is quick, but there are times you need a micrometer feed. Once again, the lever feed would be nice for the Sherline, as having to crank a little dial can get to be a pain. The set of change gears for the Sherline shows how expensive such options could be, immediately putting it out of the economy category.

I have recently taken an interest in Ornamental Turning, and have constructed a simple eccentric chuck for the Taig. I hope to make an elliptical chuck in the near future. If I can finish the leadscrew/change gear project, I should be able to do some intricate turnings. This underscores the extent to which the Taig is your lathe, capable of being modified to fit any special applications. Taken into account that there is no less expensive way to acquire a lathe, (other than being really lucky), the Taig is an excellent introduction into the world of machining. In the future I would love a larger lathe with an 8 or 10 inch swing, the capacity for threading and a bigger hole in the spindle (certainly I would welcome a gift, hint, hint), but for now the Taig is dealing with all my smaller machining projects. If even the Sherline seems too expensive (with all those accessories it certainly can be) and you have to get a lathe, consider the Taig, which within it’s limitations is an incredible value.

In the course of ordering parts from Taig, I often pose questions, here is a list of questions and their responses. Although terse, they are helpful.

Q: How much thrust can bearings take (i.e. can I spin metal?)
A: 100 Rpm 1800#, 5000rpm 200#

Q: Why do you not offer a faceplate with a lathe dog for center turning?
A: Use hose clamp

Q: Have you ever devised a way to cut threads?
A: No

Q: Why is hand wheel not graduated?
A: Cost

Q: Could spindle safely be bored 3/8″?
A: Yes

Q: Do you offer a steel jaw set for the three jaw chuck?
A: No

Q: I’m using a knurling tool, does this cause too much pressure on the headstock?
A: Causes pressure on crosslide screw and nut. (!)

Author: Nicholas Carter
Felice Luftschein and Nicholas Carter living in Philomath, Oregon
Jewelers and lapidary,
See us every Saturday at the Saturday Market in Downtown Eugene.

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