Mini Lathe for Lightsaber hilts, what to look for?

So thinking about upping my hilt game, maybe first of next year getting one of those sub $1K lathes I keep seeing on Amazon.

The goal would be to LEARN how to use a lathe (I have some welding and no machining experience, but gotta start somewhere).

The objective to reach the goal is to make some small diameter yougling hilts (1" x 7"). but would also like to do full size hilts (1.5" x 11") as well.

Something I’ve seen is that when mounting a drill bit to the tailstock of a 7x14" lathe, the work area can shrink to as little as 6". There are more expensive 8"x23" lathe’s out there, but I guess my question is, will I need all that length for a hilt?

(been spending waaaaaay too much time watching videos like this…)

At any rate, I have neither the room nor budget for a “real” full size lathe, and since this is a first lathe to learn on, I just want to make sure I get something I can have some fun with, make some neat things on, and learn enough to see where I want to go next.

So all that said, Does anyone have any strong opinions on Must have’s, or things I should look for when shopping for a hobby lathe for saber parts?

Looking to start/learn by making a hilt similar to…

I have a lathe, but I am not an expert, so please take this with a grain of salt…

  1. Most small lathes are absolute junk. They flex and bend in ways that make precision machining really hard. However, if you’re not planning to machine steel, it may still work. What makes lathing fantastic is that even a bad lathe can produce really nice looking results.
  2. You almost always need a bigger lathe than you think. Work holding is difficult, and having some extra space to work with is crucial when doing things. Not really sure if 14" is enough to work on lightsaber hilts or not.
  3. Be prepared for a lot of additional expenses. Tools, grinders, knurdlers, indexers, fast-swap toolpost, drill chuck, oil, cutting fluid, DROs, hss tools, carbide holders, carbide insets, 4-jaw chuck, etc. It adds up pretty fast. You obviously won’t need all of those, but while you’re learning it’s really hard to know what you don’t need, and the experimentation phase is expensive.
  4. For some practical how-to advice, I highly recommend the videos from “this old tony” on youtube. He’s an old hand at machining, and the videos are quite entertaining.
  5. I have a Grizzly G0602 lathe. I don’t use it much, and when I do I feel like a moron every time, because it takes me HOURS to do things that a CNC machine could do in seconds. It is fun though. I got mine used, so I didn’t spend full price. It weighs 400+ lb, so figuring out where to put it and what to put it on is an important consideration.
  6. There is a lot more machinists on the TRA forum, so you might want to talk to people there. In particular, I recommend checking out Thexters build threads as I know he does some awesome stuff with a fairly small lathe. There is also a sub-forum particularly for small machines.
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There’s always a trade-off, better-cheaper-faster, pick 2. As far as “bench” lathes I’d do the research and yes, there’s a few Fb groups that cover this stuff. There’s even a forum but I forget the name that has some very usable budget minded (and more just make it work right mid-budget) mods that address the weaknesses in bench lathes. IIRC Sebastian at Starlight Saber Services even semi-modded one to be able to consistently do blade tube work so look into it all. As far as actual pro advise I’m biased because I’ve connections and access to a shop I used to sub work out to that has Bridgeport and Jet machines. There’s even the $5000 basic one I mess around on. Robert Sotomayor in the Fb Universal Lightsaber Community is another person who you can hit up.

Have fun and share the spoils of failure and success with us.

I can second the opinion that a large lathe is always better, even for small jobs, but I have used a small bench version for aluminium work. It is certainly good enough for things that are mainly cosmetic and don’t require much precision. If you want to do functional features like large diameter threads, however, only a larger machine will give you the stability and repeat precision you need.
I use the small “toy lathe” for simple jobs, because it’s in a more accessible location for me. When I need big league stuff, I need to ask a friend to let me borrow his workshop.

I played around with a very simple wood lathe to make light saber shaped items. They wouldn’t stand any real use, of course, but at least I made this candle stick:

My wife liked it. (I am a very lucky guy, I know.) :slight_smile:

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Something else to consider would be local Trade School or Junior College opportunities. I’ve used anything from local R.O.P. at the Junior Colleges to the STEM, Machine Shop, Robot Program down at Los Gatos High School. Talk with the instructors as sometimes you can have a two way street. I volunteer and also do mentoring so I get access or someone will make it happen for me. I’ve even taken a class for the sole purpose of access to the equipment and just had it as a Pass/Fail. The best part of the last one is that then gave me a channel through a local specialty machine shop that does stuff for space application. He machined and even anodized something for me that to do on my own would have been $$$$$ just for the machine alone.

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