Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A message to Gingery lovers/loathers

If you've arrived at my blog by googling 'Gingery' then you probably know that there's a small war going on between people who like Gingery and people who don't. Usually, the argument from those who don't like him is that his machines are inferior, and that it would be quicker and easier to buy the machine instead. I just thought I'd put my two bob in. I find myself agreeing with both sides of the Gingery war: true, his machines will never match commercial machines in terms of accuracy or longevity. At the same time, I completely sympathise with the idea of building a machine as a learning process. I find myself, however, coming out with more respect for the pro-Gingery party - not because they are correct about everything, not by a long shot - but because I feel the anti-Gingery mob are missing the point. People who build Gingery lathes do so for different reasons than people who buy lathes. Some of the reasons include: they can't afford to spend much money on a lathe, they relish the challenge, they need something to fill their time, they want to learn to cast. The list goes on. Some of the arguments against building these lathes include: it will never be as accurate as a commercial lathe, aluminium is a poor material to make a machine tool from, it will take much longer to end up with a lathe, etc.

To these arguments I would respond thus:

If you are careful, you can get decent accuracy, but at the same time, how accurate do you actually NEED your lathe to be? If you're building it yourself, you're probably a hobbyist, someone who can't justify buying a lathe, but wants one anyway. For this sort of person, accuracy to a tenth of a millimeter might be just fine. You have to take into consideration what you actually want your machine to be able to DO. If, like me, you tend to work by eye, then absolute accuracy is probably not important. If, also like me, you tend to make things on a lathe that aren't part of fiddly little engines, or of critical, life-saving devices, then likewise, how much accuracy do you actually need? Personally, I would be happy with 10th of a millimeter accuracy. Better is better, but I'd survive with that.

As for aluminium, yes, it's not a very good material for machine tools. So what? The builder can choose a different material, like ZA-12, or iron. These things are possible in the backyard. Another option open to the  maker is to cast only the parts he can't fabricate, and fabricate the rest out of steel. Personally, I think Aluminium is probably fine for small work, and the fact that with a furnace and the pattern handy I can whip up a new cross-slide pretty easily means that breaking parts is a hassle, but not much more. The other option open to the maker is to start with aluminium, and upgrade over time. I for one plan to complete it in aluminium, then slowly build up to iron casting and replace the pieces bit by bit.

And yes, it certainly will take longer. But if you're not a professional machinist, who cares? For hobbyists, it's all part of the journey. Some people are time-rich but money poor, this is perfect for them. Others aren't in any particular hurry, and would rather use the money for rent/food/grog.

My response to the pro-Gingery mob who are up in arms about these issues would be to think about what you need and modify Gingery's plans to suit. I feel certain he wasn't being prescriptive when he wrote his guides; feel free to change them! I am, my bed is made from steel box-section and will be filled with concrete, it's also a metre long! Do your own thing, using Gingery as inspiration and for basic methodology.

So there's my two-bob.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I built the Gingery lathe. My thoughts on the gingery lathe after it has been complete are that I am surprised at how big of a cut I can make with this aluminum lathe on mild steel. Aluminum also cuts smoothly. The lead screws need to be redesigned there is to much back lash and poor design but Gingery intended the lead screw to be temporary til the lathe was complete.

    So far on my accuracy test I have been in the tolerance of under one thou. I don't know if it is half a though or less but I am surprised how accurate of a cut I can achieve. The cutting finish can use improvement it is to course but that could be due to my inexperience.

    I plan on replacing the aluminum castings with some homemade zamak concoction. I read that once you introduce a small percentage of aluminum to zinc it makes it much better to work with such as tapping, cutting, milling and scraping. The density would upgrade the Gingery lathe I'm hoping.

    To conclude there are somethings about the Gingery lathe that I was disappointed on for example you can't turn the lead screw manually without removing the auto feed belt which is a pain and I can go on with other issues but the truth is I can now eliminate all these quirks now with the knowledge I obtained it is just going to take time. It is definitely a journey and it is not for everybody but I personally have never had so much fun building something in my life like the Gingery lathe and other gadgets. In the end I am so glad I did it so the Gingery bashers can talk all they want all I know is now I have a lathe and the means to make many parts and machines....... Micscience