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Watchmaker’s Lathe – Made in China?

by J.Peter

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When I was in watchmaking school I had access to some of the best lathes made today. We had a Schaublin 70, a Schaublin 102, and 16 Horia lathes all with just about every attachment available. I learned to use them all and I got spoiled. We were manufacturing parts and making our school watch, so we needed quality lathes, and we used them heavily.

In my shop currently, I use an old american watchmaker’s lathe. It was the owner’s grandfathers and has been a part of his family for more than 70 years. It was probably well taken care of when his grandfather used it, and when his father used it. Since his father got out of the trade it has been used by other watchmakers with no attachment to it and it hasn’t been cared for as well as it could have been. It is free of rust and dents and since I serviced it, it runs pretty good, but it is really lacking in the attachment department. I mostly use it for cutting out broken balance staffs, re-burnishing pivots and some tool manufacturer and it suffices, but it doesn’t “shine.”

I would love to be able to make some custom pieces but in order to do that I would need some better equipment (face plate, 3 jaw chuck, cross slide, larger collet selection, drilling tail stock, large stepped chucks, etc). It is also lacking when I need to re-bush a watch because it doesn’t have a face plate. The lathe has a selection of about 12 collets (the largest being about 3mm), a couple of wax chucks, and a balloon chuck. It has a tail stock but there is no drawbar for the tailstock and no drilling attachment. It has a T-rest but no cross slide. The motor is attached to the base and sits about 5 inches behind the bed so it is hard to get a burnisher back there to polish pivots the way I feel most comfortable. Perhaps the most annoying feature is the variable speed pedal from a Foredom flex-shaft tool for speed control. It is hard to get good surface finish when your lathe doesn’t turn at a consistent speed.

I would love some new attachments, but I would really like a high-quality lathe.

I read about an ebay seller who is selling Chinese made watchmaker’s lathes on timezone the other day. The article is here. chinese lathe I realize these aren’t going to be Horia lathes, but I would love to know how good (or bad) they are. As you can see from his eBay store you can get a lot of lathe for under $1000. (I don’t know how much he charges to ship from China). The one person on timezone who actually purchased one says it’s not too bad. I don’t know what that means, but he doesn’t give a good enough review for me to risk buying one yet.

I shared some information about the lathe with fellow members of AWCI and I got bombarded with all kinds of remarks from individuals who have no experience with this lathe. They feel (without experiencing the lathe) that there is no way it could possibly be well made and that I would much better off spending my money on a quality lathe at this point on my career. For many of them, this means an american made lathe like the one they have been using for the last 40 years. Unfortunately I don’t have the $30,000 it would take to buy a fully equipped lathe like I had in school. I could start with the basics and build from there but my problem is that the lathe isn’t really going to generate very much revenue so I have a hard time justifying a large purchase. Especially since I am salaried and my income wouldn’t change even if I was using the lathe to increase productivity or generate custom products.

Lucky for me I know a watchmaker, whose opinion I trust, who is doing some experimentation and research about this product. When I know more, I’ll add to this post.

If you have any information about these lathes or recommendations for other lathes, let me know.

For more discussion on lathes and some links to different makers visit this thread at timezone.

If you would like to help me purchase one of these lathes so I can give a formal review please donate to my blog. Every little bit helps.

27 Comments

  1. Patrick
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    I use a Marshall American Lathe and Horia Turn but over a year ago, I came accross a guy whose father imported one of these Chinese lathes direct from the manfacture years ago to evaluate but the father later passed away and never tried it. So I purchased it in new condition from the son for cheap as I was curious more than anything else. And then a few months ago, I noticed the ebay seller with these same lathes and I ended up buying some accessories from them. The son didn’t know anything about the Chinese manufature but mine does have a name plate with Chinese writing which I’m wondering would give a clue to the actual manufacture.

    Unfortunately I have not had the time to try it out because I want to break it down first to clean and oil as mine has been sitting around for some time. My first impressions though is that it looks to be made very well and the headstock and tailstock line up perfectly. I wouldn’t compare it to Schaublin, Horia or Levin quality but for the price, I am impressed. Even the accessories like the tool rest, compound slide and milling attachment appear to be made very well. But the real test will be how well it makes chips and longevity (quality of the materials). And as far as I can tell, these Chinese lathes are identical to the German Vector lathe so it appears they are importing the same lathe.

    I plan on getting my Chinese lathe running very soon so I’ll definitely let you know how well it works.

  2. Horst
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    From all I know, dont touch.

  3. Kirk
    Posted March 26, 2008 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Too bad the chinese lathe isn’t made on the same pattern as the WW.

  4. Kirk
    Posted March 26, 2008 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I bought a set of the larger chucks because Sincereclocks said they are 8 mm. The chucks fit into my Levin lathe but not my Peerless.

    The threads are not 275 tpi so I let them sell me a draw bar to match their threads, it came too short but they made me another one.

    The quality seems fair but I wish they would make them on the universal, WW pattern. He seemed interested in doing this and asked many questions, in the end, he said it would be too big of a project for them to make the parts WW type threads.

  5. Dave
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    The St. Paul Technical Collegte uses these lathes and attachments in their watchmaking school. I happened to see them a couple of weeks ago. The instructor advised that they are perfectly satisfactory for instruction, but commented that he wouldn’t want to spend 8 hours a day on one. They don’t have the finish of a european lathe, but I would rather have one of these that an old abused Peerless.

  6. J.Peter
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Dave,

    St Paul uses Vector lathes which are made in China also but under contract of a German company which oversees quality control. The people I have talked too say this is a knock off of that lathe. The vector lathe is an acceptable lathe, but it certainly isn’t the best thing on the market.

  7. Posted April 22, 2008 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    At F.W. Derbyshire , Inc. we have a tradition of building the finest quality instrument lathe anywhere. In 1918 we bought the American Watch Tool co. and have made Webster/Whitcomb and Magnus collets ever since. The original Webster/Whitcomb (W/W) collets are 7m/m nominal od on the thread x .625 m/m pitch . You will not find a better lathe anywhere and you will will find the cost far below the numbers you have cited for the American built Lathe.
    Douglas Smith
    F.W. Derbyshire , Inc.

  8. GREG
    Posted August 29, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Tianjin, China is where this lathe comes from. Tianjin City and the surrounding area, is the center of the watchmaking industry in China. Ironically, the Tianjin watch movement factories are actually operated with 100% Swiss and German machines that mass produce the wheels, pinions, staffs, and bridges. The Chinese Government who are the majority owners of these factories, buy the best in the world to produce their own parts. The lathes mentioned here are all copies of German or Swiss machines..for the local China repair shop and export market. Better to buy a used 8MM Levin or even better a Derbyshire lathe on Ebay for much less than $1,000. Then you can always get WW collets and repair parts and add accessories when they come up for auction. Then you own the best.

  9. J.Peter
    Posted September 1, 2008 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Hey Greg,
    Thanks for the information on Tianjin, China. I knew that the lathe I was looking at was a knock off of the Vector lathe which is Chinese made for a German company. One can only hope that the German quality control keeps those lathes up to pretty nice standards.

    I haven’t bought anything for my home shop yet. I will probably go for a WW or a Boley at some point. The appealing aspect of the chinese lathes is they come with a ton of attachments for the price. I want a face plate, a three jaw chuck, a six jaw chuck, a milling attachment and a drilling tailstock plus a full range of collets, a cross slide with several tool posts so I can do some real manufacturing work on my lathe.

  10. greg
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Boley lathes are super too, but the Levin and Derby WW models are number one in my book. Good luck hunting down what you want!

  11. c brandram jones
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    hi i have lorchs wahli schaublins boley lathes and work as a self employed restorer and have used these chinese watchmaking lathes ,I found with a small amount of fettling like gently stoning the slides so they glide(the same way you used to run in a car engine ) you will find they will give you good results and offer fantastic value for money but you will have to have the ability to know how to finish these lathes ie the differences how skodas use to be and how they are now under vw these lathes are good but need time spent on them to take them from a cheap tool to a well running machine but they are built well enough to become a good machine when they come out of china the have not had enough spent on their final assembly but then that is how they come in at the price they do ! rather than you pay for a vector lathe , so if its all you an afford and are starting out and need a watchmakers lathe with gear cutting ability it offers fantastic value and would advise you to get one and when you have gained your knowledge and wisdom in horology and purchased a levin on a schaublin you will thank me for this advice and will have sold on this cheap chinese lathe to some other up and coming horology student , it is suprising how many skoda drivers smiling for they have worked out they might not be high fashion they drive around in a good car that is cheap and hold there value owing to there good build quality ,these chinese lathes are cheap but are not badly made the just need a small time spent on them to work nicely but most of the second hand old parts that are of the same price of lorch wolf jahn boly are worn out and need rebuilding which is much more difficult and costly (I have ben there)go for it and good luck

  12. Chris
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Hello,
    I was wondering if you have purchased a lathe yet and to see which brand/model that you may have chosen. I too have looked at these Chinese lathe mentioned and cannot find myself brave enough to try. I have been looking at Derbyshire and Cowells. The Cowells really looks promising! As always, I really enjoy reading your site and am interested in your comments.
    Chris

  13. Posted April 18, 2009 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I just got the Chinese lathe with all the attachments. After 3 days of lapping an refitting the parts,,, i would not buy a used lathe. I do repairs here in town and use the lathe a lot. I have sold the old lathe to a friend and plan on keeping this one for a while.
    I recommend it highly for the price.
    Word of caution ,,,, You will need to redress the lathe. the Finnish work on the lath is minimal. it took me 3 days to take it apart and re assemble. The effort is worth the trouble.

  14. J.Peter
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I personally haven’t purchased a lathe yet, but you can see others have. I am still working on setting up a shop at home but very slowly. I expect I’ll purchase attachments for the WW lathe I have at work and then when I set up shop at home I’ll buy a nice ww lathe, there are a lot of them out there and they are fine lathes if you can get the nice attachments for them.

  15. Francisco
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I have just bought one of these lathes, with quite accesories…

    Gator, could you explain us better the works you made to improve your lathe?

    Thanks,

    Francisco.

  16. Posted July 14, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have the Chinese lathe in question, but i’ve seen them and they don’t look half bad.

    I have a small 6mm Lorch lathe with a really nice selection of collets, but that’s about all.

    I’ve been working with metal and machining since before i was in high school so i plan on just making my own attachments, if you know what you’re doing you can make really good attachments and modifications and save a huge sum of cash, you don’t need anything fancy, just make sturdiness and user-friendliness your number one priority. The first thing i’m going to make are some flying gear cutters and a gear cutting set up.

  17. Martin Burnett
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    THe Chinese mini lathe and milling attachments are rather decent. The mill is exceptional also but the paint job leaves a little bit to be desired. Not every can afford a matched Boley or a Matched Levin lathe set up so this is ideal set to buy. I have a peerless with a levin mill but I also have a Chinese version that I use more. I will most likely sell my others for the money. For me it wasn’t the shiney looks that some people like to show off to there friends but I bought the system on a recommendation from an old watchmaker said it was great equipment for the money but it was also functional and rugged. Apparently they copied the lathe and added there own touches.

  18. Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Hello again, i purchase a few of the things for the Chinese lathe, i got a 3 jaw face plate, grinding attachment, a 3 jaw center chuck, and a few collets and adjustable length drawbars.

    First off, the collets are great, better than expected, the adjustable length drawbars aren’t all to great but because it’s length is adjustable it can’t fit into the end of the headstock perfectly like a normal drawbar, which is acceptable since it would be impossible to have it any other way.

    The 3 jaw face plate is alright, but i have an older C&E Marshall jaw face plate which is much better, functionally the older jaw face works better because of the way the small screws that keep the jaws level are attached to the jaws themselves instead of being free like the Chinese ones. Also the Chinese one is pretty small in diameter, so less capacity.

    The grinding attachment is great for the price, from a more prominent company, even used, grinding attachments are usually very expensive, however the markings for the rotating headstock aren’t very accurately placed on the Chinese-made one, they don’t line up perfectly on both sides and it’s very important to have that aligned perfectly for some operations.

    So for the price they’re good, but if you can find an old used one from Boley, Webster Whitcomb, Peerless, or whatever i’d go for those, they’re usually not that much more than the Chinese ones if you just make sure to buy used anyways.

  19. Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    I forgot to mention the 3 jaw center chuck but i haven’t received it yet, so i won’t be able to report on that for another week or so. Shipping is very slow by the way.

  20. Peter Chamberlain
    Posted November 14, 2009 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    I too am interested in Gators approach to tidying up his Chinese lathe. I am interested in purchasing one as the cost of a decent used alternative is expensive and very hard to come by. I have been trying to get a slide for my IME but no such luck so the Chinese lathe might have to do.

  21. George Sharkey
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi my name is George,I.m a Bulova school of watchmaking graduate,whose been working as a tool and die maker for the last 30+years.Any one can make ww collets useing even half hard brass you know the old saying practice makes perfect.the chinese ww dies work,but I prefer to chase my threads(40tpi)for accuracy.As for what I,ve seen the chinese stuff isn,t too bad.As for cutting wheels I too cannot afford wheel cutters.I make my own, not fly cutters but 4 flute cutters.you can find this information on how to make these cutters in Malcolm Wild,s book Wheel and pinion cutting in horology.

  22. Posted November 11, 2010 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    HI
    A chronometer specialist in the UK has bought the box of 70 collets all 8mm, and says they are between Schaublins first and second quality. He has the inspection equipmernt necessary to tell how accurate they are. This sounds encouraging.
    Regards
    Geoffrey

  23. Posted November 21, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Good Day, PJ!

    What is it that You would like to know about the Chinese lathe?

    C6104 is the same lathe which is sold by G. Boley in the Geneva style range under the trade name “Vector”, cost is somewhat less than EUR 2800 for a fairly comprehensive set.

    http://www.boley.de/en/Content/Product.aspx/pg1617/px_685000_1617

    You have my e-mail address.

    Cheers

    Dushan

  24. Dave Arnold CMC
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I bought one of these with all the accessories from “Sincere” off Ebay.
    I disassembled everything upon arrival and lapped all the sliding and turning surfaces with 1200 grit lapping compound, cleaned, reassembled, and have been using it for a few months now and have been quite pleased. The headstock runs true and the collets are accurately made and hardened. The tailstock lines up well and milling attachment works well, without any chatter. I paid $1700 with a motor (which I would avoid) but including every accessory they offer and for the money, I couldn’t be happier. I had to grind the jaws on the 3 jaw to true it,(it was way out,) but now it works well. Overall, I am pleased. No, it’s not a ball-bearing Levin, or a Schaublin, but it works reasonably well for what you pay. There is a great deal of snobbery when it come to tools, and if money is no object, wonderful. But for a poor soul trying to make a living at the bench, this is a reasonable investment, in my opinion.

  25. joel goodwin
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I have recently purchased one of these lathes. I have purchased tools made in china
    and know that you need to disassemble and
    cleane out all of the remnants of casting sand and grinding dust.
    I did not like the paint job on my lathe so
    I striped it down to the bare casting.
    To my suprise, the castings arn’t too bad.
    Some of the collets do not go into the head
    stock but the seller is willing to help correct this. What I had, I was able to correct myself.
    This lathe was purchased to work on clock parts. I can’t imagine trying to make a staff for an 18L pocket watch since the seller does mension the concentr.
    If you are willing to put in the time and effort this lathe makes a good clock lathe.
    I hope this was helpfull to you. :-D

  26. Geoffrey Walker
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi. This is second hand information, but from a friend who is a chronometer specialist. He bought some chinese collets, and when he checked them he said theya re somewhere between Schaublin’s first and second quality.
    Hope this helps
    Best wishes
    Geoffrey
    Manchester UK

  27. Drew
    Posted April 22, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Hello,

    We currently use the Vector lathe at the Oklahoma State University school, and yes, we have 2 Schaublins, with servodrives and fully outfitted, and the strange bedded Horia lathes as well. We are spoiled- but only after we learn on the Vectors.

    We all have our own Vector to use here, each fully outfitted. The Vector is the German DIN spec certified version of what you see on ebay. The ebay model cannot be made as nicely for the price, since all that German inspection means holding tolerances. However, the Vectors are lacking in areas, the crossslide lock is a cam lobed hex screw, and it slips sometimes. The collets are not true 8mm WW collets- they are unique threads to the Vector, unfortunately. If your Chinese version comes with a 3rd drawbar that has a ring cut into the aluminum handpiece- DONT use it for Vector collets! If the basic Chinese one has this like the Vector, that drawbar is meant to work with WW collets ONLY. You will ruin collets of either type if you don’t know this.

    Milling and grinding attachments look nice, haven’t used them yet. The biggest complaint is the lantern on these- the toolholder. Even on a Vector, they break as the slot was cut way too deep for the tool, close to the t-slot. We made our own on other machines- be careful of this- don’t crank down on them.

    Overall, I’m like the 5th person to say it, but it’s not a schaublin, or a ball-bearing Levin insstrument lathe, but for the money, they are very nice if well taken care of.

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  1. [...] The estate came with a nice Boley lathe with a pretty nice set of collets. At long last I have a lathe at home, now if only I can find time to use it. I didn’t even have to buy a Chinese lathe. [...]

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