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Tools, Machinery Reviews:


ShopTask 3 in 1, by Brunhilda, from the rec.crafts.metalworking newsgroup:


    I have a 3-1; in fact, it's a ShopTask machine. I'm also a novice machinist teaching myself with the help of a couple of mentors, a pile of books, and this newsgroup. Here's my take on this, in a nutshell: Two separate machines are better. No doubt about it. But, that will cost considerably more than a 3-1, take up more than twice as much space, etc.
    So far, the biggest disadvantages I've run into with the Shoptask (and this applies to all 3-1's) is that a) switching from lathe to mill means tearing down the setup, so if you are fabricating a part that requires both lathe and milling operations there is a fair amount of lost time, and b) the milling head doesn't tilt, and c) if you swing the milling head aside to change tooling you'll probably never get it back to true center again.
    I have no complaints about the lathe, other than that it could use a compound rest. The table can be swiveled to emulate a compound rest, but there again, getting it back to truly perpendicular to the lathe axis is a bit of a chore. You can put witness marks on the table scale, but to do an accurate job of facing you will still have to use a dial indicator to get the table exactly square.
    ShopTask has an excellent lift attachment for the mill head that resolves the tooling change issue, and generally adds versitility to the machine. Basically, the lift emulates a knee mill. However, the mill-head tilt issue can't be overcome in any 3-1 that I know of.
    All in all, I'm satisfied with my machine and can recommend it, with a few caveats. The initial build quality was poor - no, make that atrocious - but after I took it apart and carefully reassembled it at considerable expense in terms of my own time, I have a very good machine. The castings and other parts seem to be of good quality but they were apparently slapped together by some Chinese peasant with no quality control. Then again, that seems to be true of any machine tool that is Chinese in origin. I've started avoiding anything made in China. I'm most satisfied with components made in the USA or Europe - probably no surprise there, eh?
    As I've become more proficient at machining I've been checking things like spindle runout, perpendicularity of the mill head to the table, etc., and I'm finding that the ShopTask is actually a very accurate machine. I suspect that the skilled workers get the critical tasks like grinding the ways, etc., while the peasants just in from the farm end up with the monkey work like final assembly and painting, and this is reflected in the finished product.
    Note to ShopTask: If you guys were to open the crates on new machines and invest 6-8 hours of cleanup and Q.C., you'd be getting far better reviews. I know you'd have to raise the price to cover your labor costs, but then again, if my machine hadn't arrived with the motors mis-wired and all the button oilers plugged with crud, and paint chips in the bearings, etc., then my review here and now would be "Five Stars" instead of "Three Stars". You've got a damn good machine, but  as it arrives from the factory it simply isn't ready to roll and the customer is left to finish the job. You guys need to ride the factory harder, tell them to get their shit together and start Q.C.'ing these machines before they ship them. So what if the price goes up $400-$500? Your customers, such as myself, would be giving you unqualified excellent reviews instead of saying that "It's a good machine, BUT...". You need to position yourself as THE premium 3-1 machine on the market then back that up by delivering a READY TO RUN machine. All the customer should have to do is clean off the cosmoline and do the usual setup tasks. No one should have to check all the electrical wiring or repack all the bearings! You're almost there. Just take that extra step and go through the machines before sending them to the customer!
    I will say this about ShopTask as a company: whenever I have called with a question or needed a part, I have received excellent service. My newbie questions were answered thoroughly and with patience, and the parts were always there the next day. One time they were out of the part I needed and they cannabalized a machine to get the part for me. Their customer service goes a long way to make up for the build quality of the machines. And as I said, once the machine is sorted out it seems to me, a newbie, to be really very good. I'm glad I bought the ShopTask instead of the Smithy.
    But... If I had the money and the shop space, I'd still rather have two separate machines instead of a 3-1.
    Now there, that's an honest review. I have no financial interest in ShopTask whatsoever, and after this review, they might not like me very much. -B



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