One of the oldest tools in metal and woodworking, the gunsmith lathe is one of the most popular tools for boring out gun barrels.
The lathe itself is a common tool for creating all types of pieces ranging from chair legs down to fashioning chess pieces. This makes it perfect for metalworking when precision work is needed in the case of gun barrels.
How a lathe works, is rather simple to understand. The materials are locked down to a plate which rotates 360 degrees at a speed that is controlled by the operator.
What is A Gunsmithing Lathe?
Lathes made for gunsmiths are precise instruments that allow for detailed work in retrofitting existing gun barrels or creating new ones. It is an essential piece of equipment for gunsmiths to do their work.
Mechanically driven lathes have been commonplace since the 19th century. This has allowed for the mass production of many items which include guns.
Gunsmithing by hand is now a quaint part of the past, although it is still practiced by some hobbyists. Today, most major manufacturers of guns do so with mass production items such as mechanical lathes to produce identical results in their firearms.
The mass production that is possible when using lathes has revolutionized the industry.
Making it possible to create as many firearms needed in a short period which both increase overall quality while reducing the price.
The 3 Best Gunsmithing Lathes
When you are in the market to choose one of the best gunsmithing lathes for the money there are a variety of different brands and options to chose from.
However, since these machines do not come cheap I recommend doing your best research and choose the one that’s ideal for you.
Based on consumer reviews I have found these three best in the market that offers great value for your money.
- Shop Fox Lathe
- Grizzly Gunsmith Lathe
- Precision Matthews Gunsmith Lathe
Among all, Shop Fox Lathe is the most efficient and precise. It’s available in stores such as Amazon and can be bought easily for all your gunsmithing needs.
Normal Lathes vs. Gunsmithing Lathes
Although lathes made for gunsmithing are remarkable similar in the basic function to a typical metal or woodworking lathe, there is at least one important difference.
A typical gunsmith lathe will have a device known as a spider found on the spindle towards the outboard end. This device holds the barrel in place so that it can be chambered or threaded.
It’s typical that lathe manufacturers will offer a standard lathe for metal or woodworking and then create a version designed for gunsmithing that offers the following features.
- Outboard Spider
- Spider Bore
- Different Camlock Chuck
- Roller Tips
- Different Quick-Change Tool
You may find some gunsmith lathes that are identical to standard versions with an adaptor for the outboard side of the spindle. This means that you can convert it from standard to gunsmith and back again by adding or removing the adaptor.
Why You Need Lathes for Gunsmithing?
Because the lathe allows you to lock down the barrel and turn it 360 degrees, it makes it possible to bore out a gun barrel quickly and efficiently. You can also finish the gun barrel far more quickly compared to methods by hand.
The lathe allows you to use a wide variety of tools to do the work and it is relatively simple in concept.
The materials turn usually in a horizontal fashion which allows the gunsmith to stand to one side and do the work.
Because the barrel is turning at a speed that is comfortable for the gunsmith, they can apply the appropriate tools to work on the inside or outside of the barrel.
This means that settings can be adjusted, tools can be changed out, and the right speed set for a particular type of work to be performed.
The most important element that a lathe brings to gunsmithing is precision. Because the device can be controlled in terms of height and speed, the gunsmith can use the right tools for the job.
The result is identifying and correcting any errors that might appear as the work is being done. Correcting for errors is a vital part of the work which is why the lathe is so important.
Although a relatively simple device in terms of its use, a typical gunsmith lathe consists of several parts that must be serviced and replaced from time to time.
This means that the lathe must be cleaned regularly, oil added to reduce friction, and frequent inspections to spot worn parts or other issues to keep the lathe working properly.
3- Available on Rent or Buy
One of the best benefits of using a lathe for gunsmithing is it’s available to buy or for rent.
For the hobbyist who wants to have a lathe as part of their gunsmithing efforts, it is possible to lease or rent this device depending on what is available.
Renting or leasing may be a good option if you only need the lathe occasionally. This is because they are expensive devices and it may not be cost-effective to make a purchase if it is not going to be used for long periods.
How to Find the Right Gunsmith Lathe?
Keep in mind that the most expensive version may not be the best for your needs. Instead, you should use the following guideline to help you make the best-informed decision.
Size: One of the most important considerations is the size of the lathe. This is not just the physical size of the device itself, but also the size of the materials that can be handled.
You will need to make at least two measurements to ensure that you are getting the right lathe for your needs.
- Center of the spindle to the bed of the lathe
If the measurement is 6”, then the diameter is 12” which denotes the size or swing of the lathe.
- The next is the measurement between the center mount of the tailstock and the headstock
The distance between the centers of the mounts for the tailstock and headstock will denote how long the piece your working on can be.
Getting both measurements will let you know the overall size and width of the materials that you can use inside the lathe.
Make sure that you do not pick the largest or the smallest lathe for gunsmithing. Rather check your purposes carefully and choose the best metal lathe for gunsmithing that can help you most in the longer term.
The heavier the lathe, the sturdier it will be when you are working. Of course, they may be difficult to install in your work area, but that is another consideration.
- Chucks can be used to lengthen the potential area for working, although they reduce the diameter
- Use steady rests and follower rests with ball bearings for greater precision
A gunsmith lathe like a powerful Grizzly gunsmith lathe is not just a purchase, but an investment. This is why renting a gunsmith lathe or leasing may be a good option.
Be sure to do your research in terms of overall quality, size, and features before you buy a gunsmith lathe.