The Home Engineer, Part One

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Most men, and not a few women judging by the amount of lady machinists who have YouTube Channels, at some point or another in their lives yearn for a workshop. Now, there are a few, poor demented souls, that mess around with that organic stuff (Wood, I think it’s called) but the true Engineer, one to be worthy enough to be called Engineer, works in that durable, shiny, heavy stuff called Metal.

If the bug bites hard enough, and you haven’t been inoculated against its insidious side effects, you will find yourself buying magazines, usually kept on the top shelf of better class newsagents, magazines called Model Engineer, Model Engineer’s Workshop, and even go looking for the esoteric stuff from across the seas, The American Machinist.

Eventually you have enough time, money and permission from the higher authority in your life to go ahead and scratch that itch that is Home Engineering.

But first, you will need somewhere to indulge your addiction, hopefully somewhere warm, dry (most important), safe from the wandering hands of non-indigenous car-boot sellers, and spacious. I cannot stress enough the need for space, because once you start you will never, I repeat, never, stop wanting bigger, better, more powerful machinery.


So, you have your space, be it a shed, garage, or spare room (downstairs is essential, you definitely don’t want to be carrying a lathe or a milling machine up too many flights of stairs).
Once you have selected your workspace you will need to have electric points installed, lots of them, at least one per machine and one extra per machine, so, if you have 4 machines you will need at least 8 sockets. More is better.
Install a consumer unit with breakers (or get an electrician to do it for you).


Lots of it, as bright as you can get it, fluorescent daylight tubes are barely acceptable, in fact they can be downright dangerous. Fluorescent tubes flicker at mains frequency and greater, this flicker may be unnoticeable to the naked eye, but it can make moving machinery look stationary when it synchronises with the movement.

LED lamps can be good, but they can also be terrible, they too can suffer from mains borne flicker. Incandescent bulbs are best, at least for directly lighting the workpiece on a machine.
So, lots of light, vary it if you can, fluorescent main lights, either incandescent or good LEDs for work lights.


Shelves, drawers, cupboards, as much as you can fit in. I am always on the lookout for the A4 drawer sized metal storage units made by companies like Bisley. These can be picked up at auction sales or on Ebay, sometimes cheaply, sometimes not! They are great for drill bits, milling cutters, measuring tools and lots of other bits and pieces. Resist getting anything with deep drawers, stuff will get buried. Two inches high/50mm is a perfect drawer height, anything larger can go on shelves.


Lathe or milling machine, which to get first (face it, you will want both); if you’re particularly lucky you will be able to afford both at once, or inherit from a retired/departed friend/relative.

A lathe makes fat cylindrical things into thinner cylindrical things.
A milling machine removes metal from flat surfaces, like a very powerful metal plane.

Which you get first depends on what you want to do. You can do rudimentary milling on a lathe, likewise, you can do rudimentary turning on a mill. I suggest that you get the lathe first, it is inherently a safer (slightly) machine to use and you can impress your family with thin things turned from fat things.

My Setup

I have a shed, it’s tiny by engineering criteria. It is 8ft long by 6ft wide, made from treated 3/4” shiplap boards (shiplap is that wood stuff, you can’t avoid it) and is a form of tongue and groove, so it is weatherproof. I had it made specially for me with insulation and an inner plywood skin. It is dry, not that warm in winter but easy to heat with a small oil filled radiator. It is secure, because I have wired it into my home security system. The one thing that it isn’t is BIG. Every day that I’m in there I dream about somewhere 4 times larger, but it’s all I have space for.

I have the 2 long sides and the non-door end fitted with benches, really strong, heavy duty work surfaces.


Because of the way that British manufacturing has been slaughtered by successive governments most new machines will most likely be sourced from overseas, China, Taiwan and the like. Some of these machines are very good, some are average but with a little work can be made into useable machines, and some are downright dross.

You can buy second hand British made machines – these are usually very good, have been used by enthusiasts and have had all the problems ironed out, but can be expensive.

Another, now rapidly dwindling, source is ex school and technical college machinery. These will have usually had a hard life after being abused by generations of students who really couldn’t give a damn about looking after them.

Whichever route you decide to go down do your research, if buying online try to get a look at what you are getting and see it working! Take along someone who knows a bit about it if you can.

In my workshop I have the following machinery.

1. A lathe – unfortunately made in Taiwan. It needed some work after I bought it, mainly bearing clean out and casting sand removal.
2. A milling machine – again, Asian
3. A bench top drill press – variable speed driven by belts
4. A vertical bandsaw – for cutting thin sheet metal and thinner sections of bar and rod material
5. A horizontal bandsaw – for rough cutting of thicker stock, saves the elbow grease using a hacksaw
6. A small bench grinder – for sharpening drills, but more of this later

This lot, bought over a long period of time, has probably cost me somewhere in the region of £3,500. This does not take into account tooling and accessories for all of these machines, probably the same amount again has been spent, but again, not all at once.

So, this isn’t a cheap hobby, but other hobbies, like golf, sailing, going to PL football etc. are just as costly.

In the next part I will talk about the machines and put lots of photos of my workshop in.

© Grimy Miner, Going Postal 2020

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