To start with, what I want is really simple. A tool that allows me to create a tube/ring that can be securely mounted on a lens, like an enlarging lens, and then mate to a helicoid or a lens mount, with precision, and if it looks nicer, that would be a bonus. I probably don't even need to do threading initially, but I would love to be able to create threads like M39 or M42 that can easily work with other standard parts, but cutting threads is probably not easy with a mini-lathe.
The world of the lathe is full of confusion for beginners like me. The dazzling variety of them is already headache inducing, but it's the accessories/tools needed to make the lathe work, that really screw my head and sometimes I feel I am slipping into a coma out of helplessness. One resource I highly recommend, is Frank Hoose, whose site www.mini-lathe.com is an excellent source of information. However, I am more of a visual person, and Frank's Youtube videos are detailed, easy to understand, and well presented. If you are thinking of getting a mini-lathe, be sure to check out his site/videos. I learned a lot from him. But, reading and watching video can only help so much. There is no substitution for learning by doing, so I have decided to jump in with both feet :)
Buying a lathe is not like buying a camera or a lens, that you can hide from your significant other, so it's probably a good idea to clear that first with him/her. I talked to my wife, with my oiled tongue, extolled the virtue of a machine that can do amazing things, like making useful household gadgets for the home. Unbelievably, she went with it, and even encouraged, as long as I can cough up the money myself, which means I have to sell some of my toys, er, tools first :)
The tough part, of course, is deciding what to get. I have a small house and space is limited. Noise is a factor too as I share walls with neighbours. I don't want something so small that it's uses are severely limited, but on the other hand, not something very big and noisy.
At first, I thought about the micro lathe/mill combo that you can put together like Lego blocks. These usually have a small 30-60 Watt motor, which really is not suitable for working with metal. But, they are very small, and relatively cheap at around $350. Great for teaching kids or learning, but probably not able to do what I want.
My next target is the Taig Micro Lathe II. This is an extremely popular lathe for home hobbyists and is available in Toronto through Lee Valley Tools. It's very compact, well made and crafted in the USA. The basic kit is reasonably priced and there are immensely vast number of accessories/tools available to make it into a full blown CNC lathe/mill machine. But, in its basic form, it does not have power feed, thread cutting, etc. Adding these features costs a lot of money and for beginners like me, might be a challenge to setup.
The last group of machines I consider is either a 7x12 or 7x14 mini lathe. 7x12 or 7x14 describes the size of material you can work with, which is 7 inch high by 12 or 14 inch long. In practice, the length is 2 to 3 inches shorter, as you will need to account for the chuck and the centre that support the stock/work piece. Usually, these machines have power feed and thread cutting with a variable speed DC motor. On the Taig Micro Lathe II, speed is set by using different sized v-bells on an AC motor, although one can make a DC motor option for the Micro Lathe II.
What makes finding the right mini lathe so frustrating is the lack of availability of low end models in Toronto, unlike in the USA, our lucky southern neighbours, or our friends in China whom I envy for having such affordable and variety of lathes. There used to be more variety of models and cost a lot less, when I looked at them few years ago, but now very few machine/tool shops stock low end metal lathes. The lowest price ones I found is the Taig Micro Lathe II, costs around $380 without the $150 motor, and the King Canada 7x12 (probably made by Sieg of Shanghai, China) for a cool $1000 CAD. When the Micro Lathe II is configured to have the features of the 7x12 lathe, the price is probably more, or close to $1000.
I am leaning towards the 7x12 mini-lathe. If I am not able to find a reasonably priced used one, this is probably the one I will get, but it will probably be a couple of months before I get one, and it would take even longer for me to get familiar with it to make it useful. But, I am excited and look forward to the new tool. There are so many possibilities!
True Love Cafe - Nikkor-H 48mm f2 rangefinder lens from Nikkorex 35 on Sony A7 at f2.