Gunsmith Lathe Guide: How are they Different?

Gunsmith Lathe Guide: How are they Different?

Gunsmith Lathe Guide: How are they Different?

Guns have a complicated build, and there is a lot that can go wrong with them. They need to be maintained regularly to keep them in working order.

Gunsmiths do this using a special type of lathe called a gunsmith lathe.

These lathes are usually smaller than regular lathes and are designed to produce small-sized, precise parts.

Gunsmiths use these machines to create gun parts like barrels, stocks, triggers, sights, etc.

This article discusses everything you need to know about gunsmithing lathes.

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What is a Gunsmith Lathe?

Making gun barrel on a gunsmith lathe
Making gun barrel on a gunsmith lathe (Source: Rifle Shooter)

Gunsmith lathes are machine tools used to make precision parts for firearms, such as the barrel, receiver, etc. A typical gunsmith lathe consists of a rotating spindle that houses the workpiece, and a cutting tool is used to perform asymmetric machining operations like boring to carve out a gun barrel.

The cutting tool is usually in the form of an interchangeable chisel or gouge, which can be set at any desired angle relative to the surface of the workpiece.

Types of Gunsmith Lathes

Turn-only Gunsmith Lathe

A turn-only lathe
A turn-only lathe (Source: Grizzly)

Turn-only gunsmith lathes have a similar setup to a conventional turning machine. You mount the workpiece on the spindle, turn it, and work on its internal or outer diameter.

Combination Gunsmith Lathe

combinational-lathe
A live tool on a combinational lathe (Source: Grizzly)

A combination gunsmith lathe is basically like a miniature version of turning centers.

It has an added live tool that moves along the Y-axis and allows the lathe to perform milling operations on the part.

These lathes are a good choice for gunsmiths wanting to turn and mill gun parts like muzzle breaks, compressors, extended barrels, etc.

How do Gunsmith Lathes Differ from Conventional Lathes?

Purpose of use

Gunsmith lathes are specifically designed to work with firearm parts with higher accuracy than a conventional lathe.

This allows them to make repeatable parts with similar designs and intricate features.

In addition, gunsmith lathes can perform almost all the operations that a conventional lathe can.

Size

A gunsmith lathe also differs from a regular lathe in terms of size.

They are usually shorter in length than conventional lathes because they are designed to make small-sized objects with high precision.

Torque

The torque on a lathe is the turning force that can be applied to a workpiece by the cutting tool. It is very specific to the type of lathe that you are using.

In general, gunsmiths' lathes have a higher torque rating than regular lathes.

Power

Since gunsmith lathes are used to shape metal workpieces, these lathes use a high-powered motor compared to regular lathes.

Holding Devices

The holding device is a machine tool accessory that provides rigid support for the workpiece. They can be either fixed or mobile.

Gunsmith lathes use specialized holding devices to hold the workpiece, tools, and fixture.

Advantages of Using a Gunsmith Lathe

Gunsmith lathes are versatile tools that can be used for a wide variety of jobs, from making gun barrels to turning stock for chair legs.

Some of the advantages of using a gunsmith lathe include:

  • It allows you to make high-precision gun parts that other lathes can't make.
  • In addition to metals, you can use them to turn other materials like wood, plastic, etc.
  • You can use it with different cutting tools and accessories specifically designed for gunsmithing applications.

Parts of a Gunsmith Lathe

Parts of a Lathe
Parts of a Lathe (Source: Kingston lathes)

A gunsmith lathe consists of all the basic parts of a lathe with some special parts like a spindle spider.

Lathe Bed

The lathe bed is one of the most important parts of a lathe. It provides support to important components like the tool post and tail stock.

It is one of the heaviest parts of the machine, and in most machines, it is made of cast iron.

Work-holding Device

Gunsmith lathes normally use devices like a 3-jaw or 4-jawed chuck for work holding. It has jaws that can be opened and closed.

The jaws can have different configurations depending on whether they are used for holding hollow or solid workpieces.

For most work applications, gunsmiths use a 3-jaw chuck which allows automatic centering of workpieces. 4-jaw chucks are used for off-centered workpieces.

Headstock

The spindle on a lathe is housed on the headstock. In general, gunsmithing lathes have a narrow fixed headstock.

With a narrow headstock, you can easily fit your lengthy gun parts like barrels through the headstock.

Spindle Bearings

Spindle bearings are cylindrical parts that are used in a lathe. They help reduce friction and wear between the spindle head and the machine’s main bearing.

The spindle head is mounted on a shaft, which rotates with the spindle bearings. The shaft is usually made of steel or bronze, while the bearings are made of bronze or some other metal.

Gunsmith lathes generally use oversized spindle bearings so that you can have enough room for the workpiece to go through the bore.

Spindle Spider

Spindle Spider
Spindle spider (Source: Little Machine Shop)

A spindle spider is a tool used in gunsmithing lathes to help turn work on a lathe. They are attached to the threaded spindle and are located at the outboard part of the headstock on most machines.

It consists of an arm with a hook at the end, which is attached to the lathe's spindle by an adjustable clamp.

The hook has two or more projecting arms spaced around its circumference and held in place by pins or screws.

These arms have serrated teeth on their inside surfaces, which grip onto the workpiece to hold it against rotation while it is being turned.

On most gunsmithing lathes, the projectile is four brass-tipped screws that support the barrel.

Tailstock

A tailstock is a device used on a lathe to support the workpiece at the end opposite to the headstock.

The workpiece is usually screwed into the tailstock, but you can also clamp it in place with cams or lathe dogs.

Most gunsmith lathes come with a tail stock having a square drive. It allows gunsmiths to use a torque wrench to lock the tailstock in place.

Locking down the tailstock every time at the same torque is critical. Otherwise, you'll have to zero the part and the tool again and again.

If you use too much or too little force, there is a chance that the tail stock will be a little off, thereby affecting the precision of parts.

Tool Post

Tool post of a lathe
Tool post of a lathe

Tool posts are used to house the lathe cutting tool used during the machining process. The tool is generally mounted perpendicular to the rotating axis of a lathe.

Gunsmithing lathes use tool posts made out of hard metals like cast iron or steel. Machines having quick change tooling are very easy to work with.

Foot Switches

Foot switches are used for various purposes in the lathe. They can be used to start and stop the spindle rotation, change the direction of rotation, control the speed of rotation, and control other functions of the spindle.

It is typically mounted on a metal base bolted to a machine table or floor.

The base includes a metal box that houses the switch mechanism and an electrical cord connecting to an electrical outlet.

Applications of a Gunsmith lathe

Applications of gunsmith lathe
Applications of gunsmith lathe (Source: Scottsdale Gun Club)

The primary application of a gunsmith lathe is in the arms industry, and they are largely used to make cylindrical parts like barrels for shotguns, rifles, and pistols.

Shotgun barrels are one of the easiest parts that can be made using a gunsmith's lathe. They are usually threaded to fit easily on a gauge pump.

Apart from that, you can also use a gunsmith's lathe to turn stocks and other woodworking projects.

Things to Consider When Buying a Gunsmith Lathe

Size

The size of the machine is an important factor to consider while selecting a gunsmithing lathe.

If you are just starting out in gunsmithing, then it would be best to purchase a smaller machine that can perform all the basic operations.

But if you plan on undertaking large-scale projects like making rifle stocks or shotguns, it would be best to invest in a larger machine with more power and capacity.

A good starting point will be a 12" x 36" lathe having a 12" swing and a 36" distance between centers (DOB).

Workable Materials

Since parts of guns are generally made from metal, you must ensure that the lathe you plan to buy provides enough rigidity to deliver strong cutting force without affecting the precision.

Gunsmith lathes, in general, will be able to work with metals like carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, iron, etc.

Speed, Power, and Torque

Lathes with a high-powered motor, generally having a power of 2hp or above, is best suited for gunsmithing applications.

Turning speed is the rotational speed of the lathe, and it is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM).

The faster it moves, the more material is removed from the workpiece. You'll need an adjustable speed between 60 - 2,000 RPM for gunsmithing applications.

Controls

Make sure the lathe has all the controls you might need. It allows you to perform the job effectively.

For example, a gunsmith lathe with a foot brake lets you stop the spindle rotation at your own pace.

Controls like speed, coolant on/off, hydraulic clamp/unclamp, etc., are essential and can enhance your productivity.

Build

Lathes with a rigid build offer better accuracy and allow them to perform repeatable jobs. This is because the machine parts are all held well in place, providing stability.

So when you're cutting, it's less likely that the part will move and become inaccurate.

Remember, heavier lathes minimize vibration. In the case of a gunsmith lathe, this stabilizes the spider, which offers a smoother part surface at completion.

Price

The price of lathes is one of the most important factors for a customer when they are buying a new lathe.

In general, you will be able to get a good-quality gunsmith lathe from an authentic brand at a price of $5,000 or above. On average, a professional-level gunsmith lathe costs around $7,500.

Best Gunsmith Lathes

Grizzly G0791

Grizzly G0791 gunsmith lathe
Grizzly G0791 gunsmith lathe (Source: Grizzly)

Grizzly G0791 is a 12" X 36" combination gunsmithing lathe/mill. It has been designed with the needs of gunsmiths in mind.

It provides the ability to perform the operations of a lathe and a mill on a single machine, making it perfect for gunsmiths who need to work on different types of firearms.

Grizzly G0791 is powered by a 2 hp lathe motor and a 3/4 hp mill motor. The spindle bore on the lathe measures 1.57" and is MT 5 tapered.

Its effective swing over the bed is 12," and the distance between centers measures 36".

You can adjust the lathe spindle speeds in 9 steps, ranging between 70 and 1400 RPM. The mill spindle has 4 speeds in the range of 250–2300 RPM.

Grizzly G0791 comes with a 1-year warranty, and for support, you can contact them via phone or email. They have a dedicated support team for technical support, sales, service, etc.

Bolton Tools BT1640

Bolton Tools BT1640 Gunsmith's Lathe
Bolton Tools BT1640 Gunsmith's Lathe (Source: Bolton Tools)

Bolton Tools BT1640 is a professional gunsmithing lathe. It is a heavy-duty machine that can be used for light and serious jobs.

It has a cast iron build and is powered by a 3hp motor. You can adjust the spindle speed between 65-1800 RPM.

BT1640 allows you to perform threading operations within a 4–60 T.P.I range.

Its swig over bed measures 16," and the distance between centers is 40". The work area is large enough to machine parts for hunting rifles.

BT1640 has a built-in coolant pump and comes with a face plate, steady rest, follow rest, 8" 3-jaw, and an 8" 4-jaw chuck.

You can also get additional accessories from their website, like a digital read-out display set, tapper attachment, etc.

Bolton Tools provides BT1640 with a 1-year warranty. For queries, you can contact them via phone or by an online contact form.

Final Thoughts

A gunsmith lathe is one of the most critical tools in a gunsmith’s toolbox, and they are used for all sorts of operations, from making stocks and barrels to turning screws.

These machines have been used for decades and are still largely used for arms production.

Over the years, these machines have advanced mainly for the large-scale production of repeatable gun parts.

Now most manufacturers who produce arms in large quantities use numerical control integrated lathes, also known as CNC lathes.

These machines significantly increase productivity by increasing the output and require less workforce.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a spider on a gunsmithing lathe?

A spider on a lathe is a machine tool used to hold lengthy material in place while it is being machined. They are primarily used for holding lengthy parts like a gun barrel.

Can you use a lathe to perform rifling of the barrel?

Yes, you can use a lathe to perform rifling of the barrel. Rifling is a process that makes the inside of a gun barrel smooth and even. One can do it by hand, but this takes a lot of time and effort. For this reason, gun barrels are usually rifled using machines like a gunsmithing lathe.

What parts of a gun can a gunsmith lathe make?

Gunsmith lathes can make most parts of a gun. This includes stocks, barrels, and triggers. The gun part you cannot make in a lathe is its receiver, where the firing mechanism is housed.

About John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNCs and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNCs and writing about CNCs for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNCs. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNCs and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNCs and writing about CNCs for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNCs. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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