CL500M Lathe Review
A 10 year revue
Which now has run into 15 years with no change other than purchasing a separate milling machine for my own convenience
are curious about the Clarke
lathe, otherwise you would not be here, right?
want to know what it is like to own and work with a Clarke CL500M lathe? You want to
ins and outs? Whether it
reliable and easy to use lathe? Whether it will suit your requirements
and I'm sure you want the truth without any flannel, right?
owned one for the last ten years and
built many live steam models with it, from the rough and ready learning
up to a complete 1½ inch scale traction engine, you can use
my experience to
guide you along the way.
I first started off my steam engine model making hobby I was faced,
much like you may be right now, with the question of
of lathe to buy, and being
a little on the tight fisted side owing to
my doubt in my ability and totally inexperienced in
model making and workshop practice and also being
full of ambitious ideas I jumped in and got myself a Peatol lathe as it
wasn't too expensive for me to learn on (it’s the
Taig lathe, imported into the UK under the name of
that was a real disappointment to me!
I was taking two steps forward and
slipping back one in those early days.
was barely big enough to do anything
with. With a centre height so small at 2¼ inches, I would be
lucky to turn
anything larger than a golf ball. It was accurate, if you like watch
apart from the carriage travel, as there was no way you knew how far
gone, other than physically measuring the work being done. It was the
drilling. It was an absolute nightmare.
reality, I reckon they are only good for
sharpening pencils, and you have to watch that you don’t
strain it by
sharpening anything harder than a HB.
I plodded on for a year or so, making
attempts at fiddly little brass and gun metal models no bigger than the
width of your
hand as the lathe wouldn't cope with anything bigger, learning by my
the way, obviously realizing the scale of the lathe was important,
the need for a milling capability, and I was in a position where I did
to buy any extras for a lathe that I was so disappointed with.
had to do something about this lathe
predicament if I was to get any further in my live steam
adventures, so if I was to go down the path of purchasing a decent
I need to purchase a milling machine separately? And what about all the
extra tooling they needed? If
I bought a lathe/mill combination like the Clarke
CL500M lathe then I
birds with one stone, surely?
would save me some room in my
and at the same time free up what I had saved for the various castings
models I wanted to build.
was decided! So
the next choice was
bench lathes generally have a
3 to 3½ inch
centre height and this limits the diameters you can turn; many are even
and fiddlier than that (like the Peatol/Taig), almost watch-making
that old adage kept popping into my head ‘what’ll
hold a lot’ll hold a
and as the Clarke CL500M lathe had the milling arrangement built in (at
time for an extra £100 over the price of the basic lathe),
along with a 6 inch
centre height and a good distance between centres, it fit the bill
admirably, although looking back on it probably something a little
larger, like a Shop Fox M1018 Combo
Lathe/Mill would have been better for the same sort of price.
you need to think about is the size of the models you
want to produce. If you want to go down the path of railway engines or
a 1 inch traction engine,
then a 3½
inch centre height lathe may well suit you, but if you want to build
a bigger scale traction
engine or steam-roller, or anything like a 5 inch scale loco, then you
may well need something a little
because of the various parts needed.
wasn’t too sure about the metric
things back then either and wasn't too sure whether or not to get a
hand imperial lathe, as most of the drawings I was looking at were for
measurement, but the dual scale on the Clarke CL500M
dials convinced me,
although I found the threads are
metric on all parts and this means that the imperial scaling is just a
out. This needs to be watched out for if you still work in feet and
with a bit of practice the metric measurements seem to become second
nature (and I found it
is very helpful if you have a digital calliper for conversion purposes).
it was delivered I had to get some
help moving it to my workshop (my steamshed) as it is a solid lump of
3½ cwt (175kg), but the Shop Fox is
even heavier still at 478lbs, so it must be chunkier, so that was a
blessing in my limited space.
was purchased with the stand and that
lift to get the Clarke
CL500M combo in place took three of us owing to
available. I managed to get the milling head lifted in position myself,
although I had to remove it around six months later when I realized it
sitting square to the lathe bed and was drilling and milling cock-eyed
trying to complete a couple of the smaller models I was building with
my original lathe.
was very easily remedied, but once I'd got it off, like a
realized I did not need to remove it at all.
base of the milling head is shaped like
the bottom half of a ball sticking out of a flat base with the drive in
and this ball shape sits in
shape on the top of the lathe headstock. Obviously, the milling head
lining up before the four securing bolts are finally tightened up, and
did not do
initially. The instructions did leave a lot to be desired (as usual),
just placed it on, naively expecting everything to line up perfectly.
simply used a straight rod in the drill chuck sat in the milling head
and set it
square to the bed with an engineers square. Another option would have
sit the rod parallel to the edge of the raising
machine block in Clarke’s advertisement
found at Machine Mart
that came with it.
of raising blocks, sometimes there
are positions where the raising block is too high, and not having one
little awkward or even too low to work with, so a cheap and easy option
is to have
off-cut of a kitchen work-top, cut about the same size as the saddle,
holes drilled through to match your vice so that you can bolt your vice
mounted on top of your worktop to the saddle. You will obviously need
some longer bolts, but they are easy to find.
parallel, the top and bottom
face, relatively tough and durable, and this raises your work (vice) up
two together to give a further option
for height above the saddle if the need takes you.
also found that the milling
had a burr, a flashing really (poor
manufacturing standards back then in China –
nowadays) causing the milling cutters to sit off-set a
little and duly
this with a fine file.
milling chuck (tool holder) and the
drill chuck are both held in place by a draw bar pulling them into an
taper and the same taper is in the milling chuck as is in the
stock, so you can swap things around easily.
draw bar is basically a threaded shaft
dropping down through the milling head, and when mine was first
delivered I was
flummoxed as to how to hold everything in place when I first tried to
use it as
didn't believe in reading incomprehensible
much, and it eventually
dawned on me what the spare
rod was for and I duly installed it, only to find there was no way of
it to tighten the supported tool holder or drill chuck and that way
lock them in
found a couple of large nuts with the
correct thread for the draw bar top and screwed them on so they sat
the top of the draw bar, then tightened the lower one up against the
upper to lock
them in place.
now have one 19mm spanner to undo the draw bar
one turn and give the top a quick rap with a hammer to dislodge the
tapered end of the tool holder from the inside taper of the milling
on to the vice supplied with the
machine. This is not a good vice for milling or drilling purposes. In
best use for it is as a door stop! This is not an extra, so you pay for
whether you want it or not (I
suppose they have to get rid of them
happens is that when you screw the
movable jaw to grip your work, the gripping (movable) jaw tries to
tighter it goes. As you are screwing clockwise to grip your work, then
tries to rotate clockwise. It can move four or five degrees out of true
make a big difference to your milling surface if you are trying to be
accurate, along with not drilling squarely into your work.
second fault is that the movable jaw is
pushed at the centre, so if you are gripping anything in the top recess
jaws, say a piece of plate for drilling, then the moving jaw pivots
causing your work to be quite a few degrees out of level from front to
obviously needs the slack taking out of
it to achieve any good, but the easiest option is to dump it or weigh
it in as
scrap and purchase a proper, precision milling vice.
are sound. I have both the 5
inch, 3 jaw self-centering and the 6 (and a bit) inch, 4 jaw
independent, and have had very
good service from both. The 4 jaw is a little on the heavy side, but
packing underneath to support the weight while you bolt it on, it can
installed easily before the packing is removed for use.
have to admit I bought the face
too, but so far have only used it once, as the chucks cope
very well with
work. I must also admit that I tried the screw cutting
and succeeded very well with it, but for the sizes I use, there is
need for that function as I prefer to use taps and dies.
top of this I purchased a live
centre for the tailstock and this has
been used regularly. They do supply a dead centre with the machine, but
I prefer the live centre.
has the option of being driven along the bed by the lathe itself
cutting purposes or for surface metal removal, although that is about
its limit. The fact that there
is no travel stop has to be watched out for when in use. Also there is
across the bed, and the drive is disengaged when the milling tool is in
basically, the lathe is a robust model
with good workability, is highly suited to a novice engineer and
requires big arm muscles to cope with the lack of drives. It does
everything you want, is accurate, with only the
tail-stock needing centralizing on mine initially, an easy job, along
with the mill holder needing trimming.
mill is functional, but appears to be
more like a part that has been added on as an afterthought.
crib here, other than the height
adjustment with the raising block as mentioned above, is the downwards
or upwards adjustment.
on the lathe, all dials are calibrated
at 1/20th mm (almost 2 thou), the depth gauge on
the milling dial
shows only in complete mm, so any milling has to be done by feel and
needs constant checking for depth with a digital caliper. It's a bit of a pain, but you soon
get the hang of it!
first, when I tried the drilling/milling side of things, I was running
the drills backwards. The power switch is a rocker switch giving
forwards and reverse, and no mention of this was made with any details
I received. Luckily common sense took over and I soon realised the
problem, stopped the motor, flicked the switch into reverse and the
drill rotated the right way.
little problem I have had is with the
levers and some bolts. Whether, back then, the manufacturers used
inferior metal, and to
be honest China was well known for using inferior metals at that
or whether the levers are any stronger now, I don’t know, but
the few levers
and bolts that snapped on me were easily replaced with sturdier metric
ones. Heck, I
may even be just a bit heavy handed.
ones that first gave up (after about two
years) were the tool
clamp bolts in the tool post, and I now have one side of my tool holder
cannot be tightened owing to the threads being stripped. I could
out to a larger size, but as there are three other options, the need
arisen. I have more important projects to get on with.
all in all, the Clarke
robust work-horse with just a few little niggling problems, much as you
with any other lathe.
electrics are sound, unlike the very
early ones were, giving me no problems at all as they are very basic,
either on or off, being far better than the totally unreliable,
problematic variable speed options offered with the 3½ inch centre height lathes (or
smaller) from China, which
is where most modern day lathes and mills
are produced to a price, although
I believe the present day
controller cards are now produced in America and are proving to be much
better for reliability.
belt drive is very good,
but tends to be a bit
tedious when changing gears, so what I do now is to leave the lathe in
third highest gear unless I am working large diameters as then it needs
to be running as slow as possible.
slide-ways are sound (with a
touch of oil now
and then), and all the gears are sound.
nothing has gone wrong other than the
lever and bolt breakages, and I would happily recommend a Clarke CL500M
Mill combination from Machine
Mart in the UK or a similar machine like the Shop Fox from AMAZON to
the ten years of ownership, the drive
belts between the motor and the head stock have only been
once - it got to the state where I could not tighten the belts any more
as they had worn thinner through friction and sat deeper in the pulley
the belt for the mill drive is still original. This may well be down to
the fact that most of my work has been done in the lathe rather than
cutting tools go, the ones
supplied with the lathe are functional, but you will need a grindstone
them sharp. What I would recommend is that you purchase some lathe
tools with indexable
tips as they are much better to use. Also, you may well have very
for a 2 inch milling cutter – sounds good, but again very
my experience gives you a better
understanding of the Clarke
CL500M Combo lathe!