The Compleat Idiot's Guide to Machine Shop
February 27, 2008 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Machine shop for dummies?

I've always wanted to learn my way around a machine shop. My uncle (NASA engineer) learned in college, and is an excellent machinist. Unfortunately my local community college doesn't offer machine shop. The big university nearby does, but that's out of the question for now.

I'm mechanically inclined, and I've done some very basic work on a lathe, but I'd like to learn more. I'm considering getting a low-end mill from Harbor Freight, or perhaps a used one. I'll still be farming out big stuff to a pro, but I'd like to learn the basics and be able to make some small, one off parts, while learning the tricks of the trade for when I do have to farm out work. I am mostly interested in this for automotive purposes.

So, there are a few books on Amazon, and a few online resources. But what's the Bible of Machine Shop? Is there a "Machine Shop for Dummies" that can get me started? And once I have the basics down, where do I go from there?

Also, am I wasting my money on getting a cheap Harbor Freight mill? I was leaning this direction because I'd eventually like to add CNC capability and I'm not afraid to DIY. I'd like to spend under $1000USD.

posted by kableh to Technology (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The harbor Freight drill press, I can attest, is a complete waste of mineral resources.
posted by notsnot at 10:34 AM on February 27, 2008

I started with Tools and Their Uses, which is geared mostly towards hand tools though.

I'm really curious to see what other people suggest because while I've done some metalwork, most of it is from what little I remember from High School shop. Good Luck.
posted by drezdn at 10:35 AM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: Machinery's Handbook
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:41 AM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: Judging from your server, it looks like you're in Orlando. It looks like TechShop is expanding there this summer. TechShop is beginner-friendly and offers lots of classes.
posted by zsazsa at 10:45 AM on February 27, 2008

Response by poster: Whoa. When I first read about TechShop in SF (on MeFi of course) I was wishing for something like that nearby. I actually floated the idea of opening a chapter here with a business buddy. Awesome!

notsnot: is your experience only with the drill press? I ask because the HF mills seem to be popular on the internet among the DIY CNC crowd. Probably due to cost... I'm looking to make automotive parts so I guess they might not have the necessary power?

Comrade_robot: I suppose I should have just googled for "bible of machine shop", huh? =) Is this Machinery's Handbook something you've had a chance to read?
posted by kableh at 10:50 AM on February 27, 2008

By the way, I meant "profile" above, and not "server."
posted by zsazsa at 11:02 AM on February 27, 2008

The Machinery's Handbook is indeed quite useful. I would look for a prior edition or used one which you can get for much less than a new current edition.
posted by caddis at 11:07 AM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: Instead of harbor freight, consider Grizzly Industrial. Their tools are also made in China, but I believe their quality is better than Harbor's.

Also, there are several Yahoo groups and similar forums worth checking out that focus on machine tools fpr the hobbyist. This page has a nice collection of links to these.
posted by mosk at 11:08 AM on February 27, 2008

This may be less high-tech than you're really looking for, but for the money you can't go wrong with Dave Gingery's books. The classic is Build Your Own Metalworking Shop from Scrap.

You start with a charcoal foundry: "Build a complete working foundry from a 5 gallon pail, fire clay and a steel pipe. Will easily melt aluminum with grocery store charcoal." and then use that to build your next thing, as so on. Good, old info on how it used to be done.
posted by dammitjim at 11:11 AM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Machinery's Handbook should be in Borders or the like, you should definitely swing by and take a look. If you're just starting out it'll be mostly over your head, but I find it doesn't take long before it becomes useful.

The Harbor Freight equipment can be useful, but at least in the case of the mills/lathes you have to be prepared to do quite a lot of fixing-up work. As in: completely disassembling the machine, cleaning every element, realigning everything, and then putting it back together again (possibly with some selected modifications to the device). If you're approaching this from the perspective of someone who wants results, rather than to have a fun time tinkering with power tools, you may be better off avoiding HF and their ilk.

Personally, I'd go Taig/Sherline first, but realistically TechShop would be the least expensive way to figure out if you really enjoy this kind of thing or not. Also, depending on what you mean by "automotive parts" you may be talking about pieces that are too large to be reasonably handled by benchtop equipment.
posted by aramaic at 11:15 AM on February 27, 2008

I have read Machinery's Handbook (not the whole thing) -- like your uncle, we (mechanical engineers) had to learn how to machine in university. It is an excellent reference, and always had anything I needed.

They had reference copies in the machine shop. At MIT, everybody has to buy one.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:15 AM on February 27, 2008

Machinery's Handbook is the Bible for machinists, but it's not for dummies. Somewhat more accessible is the New American Machinist's Handbook, which is out of print.

I haven't used any of HFT's recent offerings, but the little bench lathe I worked with years ago was better than a toy, though not by a lot. The belt that drove the headstock was pretty dainty.

If you have the room, try for a used Bridgeport. Do not buy a Hartford, or a New Haven, or a Danbury, or any other flavor of Chinese Bridgeport knockoff. Their ways were not hardened, and after they wear in (out), it's impossible to do accurate work with them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:24 AM on February 27, 2008

A friend bought some tools for his home shop from Enco. I don't know anything about them personally, but it is another potential resource for you.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:49 AM on February 27, 2008

If future CNC compatibility is a deal breaker, this probably won't help you.

But it seems like a lot of high schools, community colleges and even regular machine shops have been liquidating their lower-tech, traditional metal working equipment fairly cheaply on auction sites and in classified listings as they update their own equipment to modern standards.

Just like used film camera equipment got cheaper and more available as digital cameras took over, the same happened to older machine tools as digital taook over that world, as well. You'll have to shop around and transporting a large, heavy piece of equipment can be a hassle, but it might be worth your time.
posted by OilPull at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2008

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