Starting Out: Plan Carefully, and Invest in the Right Equipment
After writing the previous blog post on Kent USA’s ACU-MILL-series CNC machining centers (Starting a Shop: What Machine, and How Much Money?), I got to thinking about my first attempt at machine shop ownership and the miserable mistakes I made. Granted, it’s all water under the bridge at this point. There’s certainly no reason for me, or anyone else for that matter, to kick themselves for decisions made decades ago. The story’s worth sharing, though, especially if it helps anyone else who might be starting out to make wiser choices.
Starting Out: A Newbie’s Tale
I was twenty-two years old. Four years out of vocational-technical school. I was a decent machinist, but experience-wise, I was a total newbie. So eager was I to start making parts, however, that after a couple Saturdays spent wandering the used machinery graveyard, I jumped in and bought the only machines I could afford: a Logan 25577V Engine Lathe, and a fixed-headstock vertical mill whose brand name I can no longer recall. “Super accurate,” is what I do remember, this from a salesman only too happy to take my hard-earned cash.
About the only thing I didn’t cheap out on was a rotary phase converter, which I wired up myself one night after a couple beers. I’m lucky to be alive. Still, it did a good job, even though I could only run one machine at a time. The Logan lathe did a decent job as well, but the mill? A total dog. Over the coming months, I scraped together enough cash for an actual knee mill, not unlike one of Kent USA’s KTM-series milling machines. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford a digital read out. Several weeks later, I miscounted the number of turns on the hand crank and scrapped out a big job. Bye, bye, first and only customer.
The Moral of the Story
My wife took a picture of me at one point. There I was, standing proudly in front of my machine shop. It’s still around here somewhere, but aside from a few memories, that’s the only thing left. Sometimes I wish I still had those machines. I think I could make a go of it now, given my greater patience, the small amount of wisdom I’ve acquired over the years. I’m happy writing about it though, just as I’m happy to offer the advice someone should have given me when I was first starting out. Do your homework, take your time, and buy the right equipment. With a little luck, the rest will take care of itself.