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Tools, Machinery Reviews:


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


   I have a Shoptask (the model previous to the current model). I like it as a large swing short lathe, but I'm not as happy with it as a mill. Milling setups have to be creative (riser blocks), and you can't really hog to hp capacity with it (lack of rigidity, chatter, due to the relatively long moment arms and a fairly weak column locking mechanism). A RF30 mill/drill is better (and I bought one). Still, if you're a bit patient and restrict yourself to lighter cuts, you can do good milling work on the Shoptask. You'll never be able to use its full hp capacity, though. (I'm talking about milling steel here. If you work mostly in aluminum or other soft materials, the less than stellar rigidity as a mill may not be an issue, though the need for creative setups will remain.)
    As a large swing lathe, it really shines. You can actually turn brake drums or rotors with this machine (and a mandrel). Most HSM size lathes can't do that. It is surprisingly rigid to have such a high spindle. I can get nice finishes in situations I expected would suffer chatter.  It'll work to full hp capacity, and can spin up fast enough to make carbide tooling happy.
    It doesn't have a quick change box, and that's a bit of an annoyance. But fitting change wheels is easy and relatively quick because of good access. The tee slotted cross slide/milling table and toolpost design makes it easy to mount tools *behind* the work. The chuck isn't of the threaded type either (bolts to an integral flange on the spindle). So you can do things that many of the popular small lathes won't let you do.
    It doesn't have a large spindle hole, and that can be a major problem if you want to crown a target rifle barrel. The short between centers distance can sometimes be a limitation too, but lots of lathe work is done near the chuck on short workpieces, so it is less of a limitation than it might seem at first glance.
    I did buy a 14x40 lathe, though, to handle longer work, and larger thru-spindle work. If you don't have a need to do that sort of work, and your choice for a separate lathe indicates you probably don't, then the Shoptask will probably be fine for all of your lathe work.
    In summary, while I think that the 3-in-1 machines aren't bad, I did wind up buying bigger separates in the end (and I already owned a heavy drill press). Now I have the *room* for separates. If I didn't, I could do many of the things I want to do with the Shoptask. But it is easier, faster, more convenient to have the bigger separate machines available, and sometimes it is essential, because the jobs won't fit on the Shoptask. (There's always some job that won't fit on your machines, no matter how big they are, but bigger is better.)
    I've kept the Shoptask, though, and find it convenient to use for a multitude of secondary operations that I don't want to setup on my larger machines (because I may have them setup for something else). I also have a tiny little Taig for those fiddly little jobs that are sometimes difficult to do on bigger equipment. (This is a little jewel, well worth considering if the size of your work is small enough to fit on it. IMHO it is by far the best bang for the buck in the tabletop machine category.)
    Another plus for the Shoptask is that it comes setup to accept CNC conversion (stepper motor mounts, cog pulleys, etc). That's something I plan to try when I get the time. I expect that will be fun, and likely will increase the usefulness of the machine. I've laid hands on the necessary stepper motors already, and just need to build the driver electronics. (I plan to use EMC on a Linux box to control it.)
    My Shoptask is *not* a "piece of crap", contrary to what some of the China bashers here will say. It has limitations, some worse than I expected, fit and finish isn't up to old US machine tool standards, etc, but it is a useful tool nonetheless. Even though I've bought other machines, I'm still satisfied that I got my money's worth from my Shoptask purchase, and it still has a useful place in my shop. It let me start making chips a lot sooner than I would have if I'd waited to find and rehabilitate old US iron.
    (This really isn't a Shoptask commercial, most of what I said applies to Smithy and makers of other 3-in-1 machines too. Any 3-in-1 is a compromise, but it may be an acceptable compromise, depending on what you want to do.)

Gary Coffman KE4ZV  | You make it  |mail to 
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