I GOT MY TAIG MICROLATHE... NOW WHAT?

By Jose F. Rodriguez

The Taig Micro lathe is by itself a very simple yet very versatile and useful little lathe. Although tiny in size, this does not seem to limit the number of simple as well as relatively advance machining operations that can be performed with it. What can one expect to achieve with a basic tool costing less than $250.00? The answer is quite simple! Just about anything that can be done with a unit costing ten times that, only proportionally smaller. There are only one or maybe two operations that cannot be readily done with it and that is direct cutting of threads and perhaps knurling. I didn't say that it would be impossible, only a bit difficult. One can, if sufficiently creative, come up with a way to do just about anything! The truth is that in the vast majority of cases, you can cut all of the required internal or external threads with taps and dies. Since the lathe itself is only about 4" swing and about 10" of between centers capacity, the more likely projects that will be tackled with this tool will be of a smaller scale to begin with. More specifically, small tooling, working scale models as well as steam engines in the 1/4" up to even 1" bore size. None of these projects would ever require any larger threads than around 3/8-24 and likely nothing bigger than 10-32. These thread sizes can be easily cut using the traditional tap or die held on the tail stock.

The Taig's Drilling Tailstock, with its lever operated ram, lends itself perfectly to these kinds of operations. You can also cut threads on work clamped to the crosslide by drilling and tapping from the headstock. The work is lined up and raised on top of packing material in order to bring the location being drilled to the exact lathe spindle center. A couple of strap clamps, screws and "T" nuts to secure the work piece to the cross slide slots and you're ready to go! Besides the normal bread and butter operations such as facing and turning, you can cut long, as well as short tapers and chamfers. Grooving and parting off cuts are also simply and efficiently done on the Taig. You just need to grind a regular 1/4" square tool bit to the correct profile for the job and proceed. Boring cuts are simple and result in extremely accurate bores. One can either use comercial boring tools or simply do as I do and make your own cutters and holders. Drilling with the lever operated tail stock is simply a pleasure as it mimics the smooth actions of a drill press but only with horizontal rather than vertical action. Once you have machined all of the cylindrical components on a given part, you can mount the work on the vertical milling slide/vice and proceed with any X/Y/Z type milling or drilling operations the part may require. Yes, you are limited to the size of work you can mill but again, you will more than likely be milling smaller components to begin with. The idea here is to carefully plan ahead what you are going to try to achieve and never attempt to exceed the tool's physical limitations. Of course, that would also apply to a tool of any size. So as you can see, without even lifting a finger to modify the stock Taig, you can achieve a vast variety of operations.

Holes, regardless of the diameter can be easily created on any lathe without much effort. What about a series of specifically located axial holes on a small cylinder head or valve cover? Although seemingly impossible, it is actually quite easy to achieve. You will need to make a simple accessory for the cross slide onto which a flexible shaft tool is mounted, so it is both perpendicular as well as at the center height of the lathe spindle. All that is required is a scrap cube of aluminum about 2". You will need to machine at least what will become the bottom surface to insure its flatness. I machined all six sides on mine as it produces more professional looking results. I also chamfered all of the sharp edges. Knowing that the Taig cross slide has a pair of length wise running "T" slots an inch apart I located and drilled out four vertical mounting holes. Four 10-32 cap screws and 3/8" 1/8" thick square nuts are used to slide the block on to and mount it to the cross slide. There will be enough lateral play so you can square the surface facing the spindle to the jaws' front surfaces. Once you have aligned it, tighten down the four cap screws. This has basically squared the block to the spindle. Locate the center point of the front face and mark it with a vertical scribe line. Mount a pointed tool like a center punch or even a needle to the chuck and by moving the cross slide, bring the point in line with the center mark you just made. Switch to a drill chuck and begin to drill the block. First with a #2 or so center drill, followed with ever increasing drill sizes until you reach the diameter of your flex shaft hand piece. I use a common Dremel shaft so the hole ended up at ". Next I drilled two vertical holes in line with the shaft mounting hole and tapped them to 6-32 for two set screws to lock the flex shaft during use. Since the hole was drilled with the headstock chuck, this ensured that it would be perfectly drilled at the exact spindle center height without taking any measurements.

Now you can use the flex shaft along with 1/8" diameter carbide type drills to produce hole circles along a freshly machined component. But,,, how do I divide and mark for say three equally spaced holes. You can use the jaws on your three jaw chuck to index from, as you mark the hole locations. I have a broken carbide drill which I reground to a blunt angled but sharp point. Sort of like a small version of a center punch. I mount this tool to the flex shaft and find the center of the work piece which can be seen quite easily on a freshly faced surface. Using the micrometer dial of the cross slide, I back off the tool until I have measured the radius of the hole circle I need. I bring the tool to lightly bear against the face of the work and rotate the chuck by hand to scribe what will be the center line of the hole circle. Now I shift the carriage away from the work and place a small block of metal such as a " square piece of key way material under the chuck jaws. I rotate the chuck in any direction until I trap one of the jaws against the metal block. That's position #1. Now I bring the tool point so it's touching the work face and make a horizontal scribe mark by moving the cross slide so it crosses the circular mark. Back off the carriage once again and rotate in the same direction so you trap the next jaw and repeat the marking procedure. Once you have done this three times, you will have three perfectly spaced cross marks than you can now center drill, drill and tap as required. You can drill the hole at a drill press but why not just use the same flex shaft to drill the holes. This will insure that they are drilled at the exact locations and are perpendicular to the work surface. A variable speed unit for your flex shaft tends to work a lot better than single speed tools for this purpose. If you need four holes just use your four jaw in the same manner described. Higher number of divisions would of course, require a more involved method of indexing. This can be done in a number of different ways ranging from the simple to the sublime. I've done it both ways and either way, the results are the same. Great!!! The hard way took a couple of evenings of work culminating in an indexing plate and indenting system that mounts to the upper surface of the Taig head stock as well as to the headstock pulley. Works great and once you are finished with all the effort of making it, it is simply a pleasure to use. The alternative is to use a special faceplate the holds toothed gears ( change gears ) of different pitch coupled with an indent from above that engages a single space between two teeth, to lock the spindle at exact positions. You can for instance use a 36 - 40 - 50 - and 60 tooth set of gears to obtain a vast number of divisions. These are two separate, distinct projects that will be discussed in full in a future installment.

Right now I am simply attempting to describe the many, somewhat more unorthodox procedures that can be performed on this tool. Along these same lines, I've also designed and built a heavy duty, fully enclosed, motorized, cross slide operated drilling unit than not only can be used to drill and tap, but can also perform milling operations such as those possible on a rotary table. This opens the doors to a completely different world of machining on a lathe. Imagine being able to mill perfectly square bottomed circular slots, grooves or arcs. Try to do that with a boring or slotting tool! The next powered unit I made was a vertical block for the flex shaft which bolts on to the vertical milling slide in place of the regular vice jaws. I allows you to mill from above either centered along the lathe axis or form the side of the work. You can cut on all three axis to produce just about any type of cut you might ever need. Think about being able to mill a hex head on a custom screw, as well as slotting the front of the head on that very same custom designed component for that very special project! A variation of this unit is a block for the flex shaft but this time orienting the cutter perpendicular the lathe axis so one can mill flutes, longitudinal slot etc. Depth of cut would be controled with the cross slide. Yes, these operations are a cinch on any milling machine but just imagine being able to do them on something like this little Taig lathe!
I'm going to leave you now that I hope I've stimulated your interest somewhat. On the next installment I will begin to describe some of the individual projects I've been tantalizing you with.

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