C3 Mini-Lathe Metalworking Beginners
Materials for use on hobby Mini-lathe
There are many different types of raw material you can use to make things on your mini-lathe. Aluminium, steel, brass, the list is endless. These a few notes on the materials I normally use.
Buying Aluminium for use on mini-lathe
95% of the materials I use my mini-lathe is aluminum. There are many many different alloys of aluminum. The best ones I find for use on my mini-lathe are the 6000 series alloys.
I buy most of my aluminium from local suppliers. The best of the bunch is The Metal Supermarket. Sometimes I buy from RS as well, as they are just down the road from me. Another good local source for my is Ringwood Precision Engineering.
Places like the metal supermarket let you just walk in off the street and buy stuff, and they often have a shelf or three of offcuts that they let you have for virtually nothing. They will also cut stuff up for you to rough size - highly recommended service.
Most of the 6000 series alloys Anodize very easily. I normally keep a stock of 1inch, 2inch, 2.5inch and 3 inch round bar, and some aluminum tube of various types as well. The most common alloy I use is HE30, which is also known as 6082, or 6082T6.
The the USA there are quite a few online suppliers of engineering materials, which I am sure Google will reveal all on.
Cheap, aluminum lightweight tubing, and other bargain aluminium extrusions parts
In many DIY shops, such as B+Q, you can buy lightweight aluminum tubing, cheap aluminium bar. These alloys are crap for use on a mini-lathe. They are very soft alloys, they bend easily. You will not have much success making projects on your mini-lathe using lightweight aluminum tubing and aluminum extrusions from the hardware shop. I have tried to use lightweight aluminum tube and round bar for making small spacers and things like that, but I find it just bends whenever you get a tool near it.
Mind you, aluminum lightweight tubing, and other aluminium extrusions parts that you can buy in a hardware store become very useful in home anodizing. They are great for making up rigs to hold parts because they are so soft! You can twist a bit of lightweight aluminum alloy into a tapped hole in a 6000 series aluminum part without damaging the tap. You can also cut through lightweight aluminum alloy in seconds with a hacksaw!
Cast aluminum partsUsing cast aluminum parts on your mini-lathe is even worse than using cheap aluminum lightweight tubing and bargain aluminium extrusions parts from the local hardware shop. It will be very soft and hard to use. However, casting aluminum is a hobby entirely to itself, but not one I have ventured into yet.
The other material I use on my lathe is steel. Normally I buy 1inch or 2inch round bar of ground silver steel. This is fairly easy to machine on my mini-lathe, and can also be heat treated to harden it, if you want to make a tap or punch or something like that. Steel is an important part of making worm wheels!
A lot of people use plastic to make things on their mini-lathes. Although I am sure this works well, I don't like the idea.. plastic is inherently soft, and will therfore bend. Why make something out of plastic when you can make it out of aluminum and then anodize it black?
Recent Update: I have discovered the joys of Delrin engineering plastic.
Mini-lathe materials summary
I would recommend sticking to 6000 series aluminum alloys for most things, and silver steel if you need something hard and strong. Avoid Cheap aluminum lightweight tubing, and other bargain aluminum extrusions parts from your local hardware shop.
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