Earlier this year I bought a Taig Tools bench top micro lathe, which is an awesome little piece of machinery. I just love how simple it is, and the fact that it is also very modular. They've got all kinds of cool parts and tools you can add on to it, and you can part it out when purchasing to build it to suit your needs. Price-wise I found it to be pretty decent for what you get too. Sure there are some other manufacturers that provide higher horsepower lathes with larger carriages and travels and whatever else for cheaper, but I am a believer in "you get what you pay for" and I prefer to buy things (especially tools) from some countries over others.
I'm also not here to turn out crank shafts or anything, so I don't need a lot of fancy features. What I did end up purchasing was a unit with the 5C head and power feed, which is two of Taig's more "premium" features.
Regardless, it is far from the perfect micro lathe, and immediately on my first cuts I knew there were improvements to be made. Most of these modifications are pretty trivial fixes, and they're probably not included in the purchased lathe to shave a little extra off of the final price.
No matter, we have the technology to overcome these hurdles. So, here is my essential fix to the Taig Micro Lathe countdown (in increasing order of necessity):
(PS, #1 and 2 are complete necessities, do them as soon as you finish reading)
7. Move the motor or get a chip shield
This isn't strictly required fix and is more of a personal preference fix, but it could make your life a little easier. The default setup is to have the motor sit next to the lathe head with the motor body running down parallel to the bed. This makes for a very compact lathe, which isn't bad in itself.
The problem is when the chips start flying.
The default setup is set up perfectly to allow chips to fly right into the rear cooling fan on the motor and get sucked into the rotors. Motor winding coating is tough stuff, but eventually enough shavings could wear through them and start shorting out the motor, weakening it and shortening it's lifespan (Not to mention potential fire hazard). Secondly, it is a little difficult to clean the chips out the area between the lathe and motor, as there are more hard to reach areas.
These can be solved two ways: either put up a chip shield to act as a barrier between the lathe and the motor to catch all the chips, or rotate the motor around 180°. If you flip the motor around, you will have to change the direction the motor spins. This is done by opening up the back panel and rewiring the terminals. Use the instructions, it's not as easy as switching the polarity of two wires, but it's close. I opted for the second option, as I knew I would be doing the next upgrade as well.
6. Replace the wood base plate
This, like the previous upgrade, is almost a personal preference.
I don't necessarily have a problem with the wood base plate. For the most part it seems rigid enough for the vibrations that the lathe produces, and it doesn't slide around or do anything "bad."
My concern is the screw heads that hang out underneath the plate, and the longevity of the plate. In my experience, wood will inevitably get stained with grease, lubricant, blood, you name it. Eventually you will want it looking nice again in some capacity, so either coat it with something that resists liquids or get a metal plate. I opted for a sheet of 1/4" aluminum that I then applied rubber feet to underneath, which made space for the screw heads to protrude and the lathe to sit flat on my bench.
5. Trim the screws on the motor
I'm not entirely sure what these screws are for, maybe for a face mount, but they come stock with the motor and hang out really close to the belt. Depending on your configuration, they might not get in your way, but I kept scraping my hand on them every time I would make a change on the belt/pulleys. I just ground off the one that was in the way and left the rest alone.
4. Add a dial indicator to the carriage
The Lathe by default has two carriage wheels to control your motion. But for some reason Taig didn't put indicator marks on the Z axis wheel, so you have no idea how far you've traveled.
Fortunately this can be solved with the addition of a dial indicator and a mounting bracket that connects to the lathe bed. I 3D printed my bracket which accepts a standard 3/8" dial, and used some 10-32 hardware for adjustment (same as the rest of the adjustment hardware on the lathe). Go with a dial instead of a digital, then you never have to change batteries or worry about the screen turning off.
If you want to use the same method I did, you can download the file to 3D print here: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3951112
3. Get a better mount for the motor
The Taig Micro Lathe uses the weight of the motor to tension the belt, which works out great. This is accomplished by cantilevering the motor off one of it's feet by two screws. The method here is fine, but the execution of it...
Basically the motor foot "adapter/mounting plate" has slots and the bolts slip every chance they get. When they do that, you suddenly have no more tension on the belt.
The solution to this is to make a new "adapter/mounting plate" to replace the factory one. One without slots. This takes a little bit of time and measuring, but it completely fixes the belt tension problem. I made one out of 1/8" aluminum plate that I can mount all the motor feet to and still cantilever the motor from the one side. It works like a dream!
2. Add a real handle to the tail stock
This upgrade and the next are completely essential to the function of the Taig Micro Lathe!
The Taig tail stock handle is the worst handle on anything I have ever seen or used ever period.! It exists because it is cheap (it's literally a piece of bar stock with two holes drilled in it). As soon as you try to drill into something harder than aluminum, you will want to replace the handle too.
So, replace it with something, anything, a tube, a pipe, if you're looking for lathe projects... turn out a fancy brass handle?
My solution was to use the existing handle and thread two half round bars of aluminum to either side, extending it out further, and giving me a nice solid handle to grip.
1. Switch out the socket screws for thumb screws
If you do only one upgrade to your Taig Lathe ever (you'll do more, trust me) this is the one for you.
All the adjustment screws on the Taig lathe (and accessories) are just simple socket head screws. (OK, one is a little thumb screw but it is the tiniest one they could find) They provide you with an allen key to make all your adjustments, but it just becomes so much of a hassle as you have to loosen, adjust, tighten, now where's the key, can't get the key in, tighten, over and over again.
Swapping these screws out for some kind of thumb screw just makes your life so much easier and carefree! Even if you just lock a wing nut or something in place, it saves you a lot of time in the long run, and you don't have to stop and think with every adjustment, you just do it (which is why every other lathe in the world has thumb screws or handles or knobs of some sort)
The thumbscrews I used I bought from McMaster-Carr, which can be found here https://www.mcmaster.com/57715k46
There are a lot more modifications and upgrades I want to do to my lathe going down the road, but these one's have been the biggest and handiest in my book. I hope that this helps you with your machining, or maybe gives you ideas of mods you want to create yourself.
If you have any other great tips or upgrades to your Taig lathe, please share your knowledge and comment!