By Jose F. Rodriguez

	I remember way back around 1978 while still in the 
service and brand new to the Washington DC area, I 
decided to visit the Washington Doll's House and Toy 
Museum as I had just been thoroughly bitten by the 
miniatures bug. There I met the curator and some of her 
employees which led to a discussion about the lack of good 
miniature power tools to help in the production of fine 
miniatures. The Unimat metal lathe emerged into the 
conversation almost from the start as it was the staple tool 
of the times. It was of course, a very good metal as well as 
wood turning lathe, but it could be magically transformed 
into a very good table saw. I was honored when one of the 
museum staff members offered me her Unimat to take home 
and sort of get my hands wet on it. Since that time I always 
wanted to own one or at least something like it. 
	My budding career in miniatures continued to 
blossom but I still did not have a "proper" miniature lathe. I 
had settled on a very cheap but fairly capable Dremel moto 
lathe. For almost 20 years it did its thing down in my shop, 
producing all kinds of tiny spindle work required by the 
1:12 scale furniture pieces I was being asked to make. It 
finally just up and died and I  put it to rest in the local 
dumpster. I was at that time that I discovered The Home 
Shop Machinist - Live Steam and Projects in Metal. Man, I 
was instantly hooked but became a bit panicked that I may 
get so involved in this new hobby that I would neglect the 
scale miniatures. After all, the miniatures were making 
good side money for me during all those years. It took 
some thought to arrive at the logical conclusion that it 
really wouldn't interfere but actually help in many new 
ways toward the same goal. I began to foresee all the 
different things I could do in scale with a small 
metalworking lathe. I mean, the world of miniatures is not 
only about wooden furniture. It includes any and all other 
items found in a home. Many of which are made of metal. 
	OK, I had talked myself into that situation pretty well 
so the next step was to look for the right lathe for my 
situation. I wanted something that would be small, very 
versatile, accurate, strong and had a good number of 
special purpose attachments while at the same time not 
putting me in the poor house. I looked at Sherline, Emco 
Meyer, Prazi and a few others. Although they were all 
excellent tools, I couldn't believe their prices. Then I began 
to receive my copies of HSM and in a small advertisement I 
saw the TAIG Microlathe. I instantly remembered it from 
the 1970s, as it was being utilized by several manufacturers 
as the basis for several versions of miniature lathe, mostly 
in some sort of woodturning mode. It looked very nice and 
the price was incredibly low. That sort of made me hesitate 
for a while but I finally bit the bullet and placed the order 
for the lathe in kit form ( around $130. ) and purchased a 
large number of extra tooling and accessories to go with it. 
The complete price came to $349. including shipping. I had 
the items in my hand in 6 days. I already had about 6 or 7 
spare 1/2" shaft 1/4 to 1/3 horse power motors occupying 
floor space in my shop so I took one of them and assigned 
it to power the new Taig. I did not order the factory 
mounting board although If I had to do it again I would just 
get it and not have to bother with having to locate and 
drilling the mounting holes for it. Not a big problem either 
way. It's just that I'm naturally lazy. I did have several 1' x 
2' pieces of laminated particle board on hand. The kit lathe 
comes in several sub-components but nothing requiring 
major installations. By following the assembly instructions ( 
maybe not too clear in some points ) I had the complete 
lathe put together and adjusted in less than 30 minutes. The 
tail stock end of the bed cantilevers out just like a watch 
makers lathe does. I wish it didn't but maybe it's just me. It 
doesn't seem to cause any problems during normal 
machining operations. The pulley set that you must buy for 
it is beautifully machined from solid aluminum bar and 
perfectly balanced. After all, this baby will do up to 5500 
rpm if asked to. Once you have attached the lathe to the 
board and located the motor's  position, it's time to install 
the pulleys. The trick here is to make double sure that they 
are running perfectly co-planar to each other, specially 
while actually running. If they are a bit out of alignment, the 
tiny 3M drive belt will wear out much sooner than the 
projected 5000 hours lifetime. Adjust the motor so you can 
change spindle speeds easily but you are not causing belt 
slippage during a semi heavy cut.   
	Another component that must be purchased as a 
separate part is the drilling tail stock & center. This is a 
lever operated tail stock which operates the action of ram. I 
find it a real good feature in drilling most of the tiny holes I 
have to make in my parts. The body of it is dovetailed and 
slides along the lathe bed to lock to any position as well as 
self aligning itself when tightened down. The tail stock can 
also be moved laterally away from center to purposely turn 
long tapers, and it rides on dovetails as well. The tip of the 
ram has a hardened 60 0 point and a 3/8 - 24 thread to 
accept a normal drill chuck. The carriage has a set of 
bronze ( not plastic ) gibs that ride on the back side of the 
dovetailed steel bed and the cross slide gibs are on the 
right side of the cross slide dovetail. These are adjusted in 
the conventional manner via set screws and locking nuts. 
The top of the cross slide has two "T" slots running parallel 
along its length. They are 1" apart and will accept any 
common hardware square 10-32 nut. The Sherline does not 
and you have to either buy theirs or make your own thinner 
ones. This allows the 1" square 1/4 " capacity tool post to 
be located at any angle or positions along the cross slide 
"T" slot as desired or needed for any type of job. I love that 
feature. By the way the head stock and tail stock also have 
"T" slots all over them for attaching just about anything you 
might want. Right of the start I wanted to see what this little 
baby could do so I spun on a three jaw chuck to the 3/4-16 
spindle and chucked a piece of 1/2" diameter brass rod. I 
ran the spindle at about 550 rpm and began to take some 
test turning cuts. I could take very light cuts of about a thou 
deep or plow out cuts of .080" to  .125" without any weird 
sounds coming out of it. At least the finishes appeared 
smooth and pretty. Cuts to around .060" deep are possible 
with it although the finish won't be as nice as a .010" deep  
3200 rpm finish pass with cutting oil. The moral here is 
realizing that you only have a tool weighing around ten to 
twelve pounds even fully loaded and you just can't expect it 
to handle like a 400 lathe. In fact, it's the feather weight 
feature that makes it so popular in the miniature to 
subminiature model making world. It can be set up in 
minutes in a hotel room, creating no more noise than a 
small portable fan. At home you do not have to worry 
about waking anyone up so you can just pass the late 
hours happily working on any of your favorite projects 
during those nights where you just can't bring yourself to 
fall as sleep
	You probably have now set up your little Taig on a 
nice piece of laminated board and are eager to begin 
cranking out some great looking steam projects. Before you 
begin those creations, there are a few basic modifications 
you can perform to it in order to make it a lot more efficient 
during use. You will notice that many of the lathe's controls 
are loosened and locked via set screws. You have to locate 
that elusive allen wrench which will more than likely not be 
where you left it last. You should consider replacing all the 
locking set screws where applicable with matching thread 
knurled knobs. I don't mean you should spend hours 
making these items from scratch unless you really feel like 
it. The basic 10-32 and smaller set screws widely used in 
the Taig can be substituted with plastic threaded knobs of 
the same thread sizes found at any large home center's 
hardware department. I replaced the following set screws 
with matching locking knobs in the following areas. The 
central gib screw in the rear edge of the carriage so you 
can lock or adjust the snugness of the carriage travel. The 
central gib screw on the cross slide. The top locking screw 
on the tail stock lever actuated ram. The tail stock to lathe 
bed locking screw and the side screw that locks the top 
portion of the drilling tail stock into lateral alignment. All 
these replacements cost me around $6. for top of the line 
threaded knobs. Of course now that I have a bit more skill, 
I might make some nice brass ones just for their good 
	Now, you might be wondering what types of 
operations are possible with the Taig  supported by a few 
of the available accessories. Work up to 4" in diameter can 
be machined with turning and facing cuts although that 
pushing the envelope a bit. If I have a great need for work 
that large I would have considered a larger machine. The 
normal sizes encountered in most miniature engine projects 
are easily tackled by the Taig. If I ever need to machine 
something larger than 4" diameter ( actually the maximum 
swing over the bed in something like 4-1/2" ) I would install 
the riser blocks on the head and tailstock. I have them but I 
haven't used them yet. Turning of around 9" in length can 
be accommodated but you have to reposition the tool post 
to the opposite "T" slot of the cross slide to be able to 
reach the full length of the work piece. The carriage body 
does not allow for a full length turning cut to be performed 
without repositioning the tool bit. Work longer than 3" to 4" 
should be chucked and center drilled and supported by the 
tail stock center. The standard center is of the "dead" 
variety but a special spring loaded ball bearing center is 
available as an extra. The accessory steady rest can be put 
into play during cuts where the end cannot be supported 
with the tail stock center. This a dovetailed sliding unit with 
three bronze bearing guides. A nice little extra that can 
swallow almost 2" of round bar stock. You can buy a full 
set of 1/4" square lathe bits from Taig for a very 
reasonable price or just do as most of us do and grind your 
own. It's not that difficult and you'll save quite a bit by 
buying the unground high speed bits in ten packs. Several 
tool posts can be purchased as they are only a couple of 
bucks a piece. This way you can have the bits you use the 
most, mounted and always ready to use. Boring bars can 
be made by the user or you could buy Taig's for a few 
dollars. This cutting tool fits the standard tool post and is 
used to very accurately enlarge previously drilled holes in 
chuck held workpieces. Drilling is done mostly after facing 
off the surface destined to receive the hole. A 3/8-24 
thread mount Jacobs drill chuck is mounted to the tailstock 
drill ram for drilling operations. The lever operated ram 
works great although I soon replaced it with shop made 
one twice its length. More leverage and sensitivity during 
drilling is the payoff here. Taping of freshly drilled holes 
can also be accomplished by just replacing the drill bit with 
the proper size tap. The tapping operation is done by hand, 
spinning the chuck by hand as you allow the tap to enter 
the hole to be threaded. The drill lever is kept unlocked 
during tapping to allow the tap to enter the work 
unhindered. Threading with dies can also be easily done by 
using the tail stock die holder to securely hold and guide 
the round dies during cutting. This device of the spindle 
chuck is spun with a 3/16" diameter Tommy bar. Cutting off  
your work is also easily done with the cut off tool also sold 
by Taig. I would further grind the cutting edge to a thinner 
width to allow easier cutting off without excessive chatter. 
So you need to hold a small round piece of ground rod as 
accurately as possible. No problem with one of the Taig 
collets. This can be purchased individually or as a full set 
with a collet closer for about $25. Blank collets can be 
obtained and machined to hold non standard diameters. 
The Taig head stock can also be purchased with a WW 
taper spindle for an extra $26. More accuracy but much 
larger expense per individual collet. Short taper cuts on the 
end of a shaft are no problem with the compound slide. 
The compound is a slide identical to the cross slide except 
it has a special mount that slide into any one "T" slot on top 
of the cross slide. It can be rotated to any angle in a 360 
degree circle and locked  in that position. The top of the 
slide also has two "T" slot and special tool bit holder. 
	All we need to do is be able to perform some basic 
milling cuts. Hey, no problem! A really nice vertical milling 
slide/vice is available for just $50. that will allow you to 
hold and mill all those nice little engine parts with minimum 
effort. At least no more than on any other milling 
attachment. The Taig company sell a bunch of very nice 
extra attachments that at least I couldn't make for less 
money. One of those is a beautiful 4" diameter 1/2" thick 
"T" slotted solid steel faceplate that threads directly to the 
3/4-16 spindle to hold oddly shaped workpieces. For wood 
turning, there's a two inch diameter solid steel face plate 
that I've seen sold by others at four times the price. Special 
slitting blade arbors, drill chuck arbor, a grinding stone 
arbor and a nifty adjustable chuck stop is available for a 
few bucks each. A nice little blank arbor is sold for 
something like a $1.25 that is nothing short of great. One 
end is pre-drilled and threaded to 3/4-16 to mount to the 
spindle. The other end is left unfinished so you can drill, 
ream and make milling bit, or slitting blade arbors out of 
them. Very similar versions are also sold after a bit of 
polish for around $30 by a famous small lathe 
	I have made a dividing plate that attaches via three 
equally spaced screws to the inside large face of the head 
spindle pulley. A tapered indent linked to a small block fits 
in one of the "T" slots of the top of the head stock so you 
can lock the spindle in any position. The plate has  rows of 
40-50-60 holes so many possible divisions can be obtained. 
I also made a small block with a 1/2" diameter hole at the 
lathe center so a Dremel flexible shaft can be inserted and 
used on the carriage as a drilling rig. Coupled with the 
dividing plate, you can then drill equally spaced holes on a 
cylinder head or anything requiring equally spaced holes, 
radial slots or anything else you are able to cut using the 
drilling rig. Very handy and I've used the very same set up 
in all of my engine projects with perfect results. I have also 
made a sort of lead screw attachment so I can advance the 
carriage toward the headstock in increments of .001". Since 
it is not directly linked to the carriage like a normal lead 
screw, I'm able to retain the ability to move the carriage 
with the rack and pinion crank. The screw is made from 
1/4-20 threaded rod, passing through a bushed block of 
aluminum that is attached to the side of the lathe bed 
extrusion. The tip of the long screw bears against the side 
of the carriage against a small square of brass plate. The 
dial / crank is fully graduated to fifty thousands per turn. 
The engravings were easily done with the work held on a 
mandrel ( like gear cutting ), and engraved with a side 
cutting tool held in a shop made tool post. I used the 50 
hole row on the plate to mark out each of the .001" 
divisions. Every fifth division was engraved longer and 
deeper that the single divisions. The depth stop rod was 
used to control the length of the graduations. They all 
turned out perfectly.  Not bad for poor man's work!
	I'm sure that there are several more capabilities I 
just haven't discovered yet. It's just a matter of time and 
maybe a bit more thought. There is just one thing that the 
Taig will not do and that is to cut threads with a single 
point tool. I have cut 3/8-24 threads on steel for a drill 
arbor with a tailstock held die, having them turn out 
perfectly concentric so I'm not too upset with that small 
	So far, maybe you all can tell that I am very satisfied 
with my Taig as I has done everything that its 
manufacturers say it can do plus a lot more. Following this 
article I will be submitting construction and project articles 
involving the Taig Microlathe system. So for now, go ahead 
and use your Taig and get as familiar as you can with it 
and just enjoy! 

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