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Book Review: Lathework – A Complete Course by Harold Hall

Units: (mm)

“If fear of the unknown is all that is preventing you from embarking on the satisfying hobby of model engineering, then this is the book that will banish your concerns. Author Harold Hall has established his reputation as a mentor to model engineers through the pages of Model Engineers’ Workshop, of which he was the editor for a number of years.

This book assumes no previous experience and using the medium of twelve lathe turning projects will lead prospective model engineers through all of the basic techniques needed to tackle ambitious projects. All of the projects are extensively illustrated and full working drawings accompany the text. Once followed through, the reader will have amassed a wealth of practical skills and a range of useful workshop tools and equipment.” – Excerpt from the back cover of the book.

Skill Level: Beginner
Type: Project-Oriented
Projects: 12 (lathe)
Measurements: Metric
Pages: 165

knurling-toolThis book is a great place to start if you prefer a project-oriented approach to learning a new hobby (versus a book that digs deep into theory, but lacks educational projects for you to build).

Chapter 1 is a short “Getting Started” chapter that covers lathe basics and accessories (different lathe chucks and their strengths/limitations, the steady rest, cutting tools, types of metals and materials, etc.). This first chapter is very short (7 pages) and covers a bit of theory that really helps orient the beginner to the lathe.

Chapters 2-13 are all project-oriented and cover 12 projects ranging from simple to more complex. Here’s a complete list of the 12 projects, with a few links to images:

  1. Mini Surface Gage (Chapter 2)
  2. Precision Square (Chapter 3)
  3. A between-centers test bar (Chapter 4)
  4. Hole Gages (Chapter 5)
  5. Distance Gages (Chapter 6)
  6. Tailstock Die Holders (Chapter 7)
  7. Precision Tapers (Chapter 8 )
  8. Screw Jack (Chapter 9)
  9. Jack Continued – Screw Cutting (Chapter 10)
  10. Getting To Grips with the Face-Plate: Making a Two Wheel Knurling Tool (Chapter 11)
  11. Mill Drill Spindle (Chapter 12)
  12. A Milling Cutter Chuck (Chapter 13)

Overall, I think this book is a nice place for a beginner to start, especially if you’re looking for some useful projects to turn. You’ll even learn how to turn cast iron when you create the Screw Jack (if you decide to purchase the casting that was used in the project). The project drawings are complete and easy to follow, and the projects follow a logical progression (except for the Mini Surface Gage in chapter 2, which is a bit more complex than the projects in chapter 3-4).

However, I should point out a few things:

  1. I wouldn’t say that this book is a complete course in lathework. But then again, I don’t know of any book that covers all of the nuances of lathework. Perhaps a more accurate title would have been “Getting Started with the Lathe”.
  2. The picture on the cover isn’t a picture of any of the projects in the book, so don’t buy the book expecting to learn how to make what’s pictured on the cover.
  3. Also, the measurements are in mm, not inches – but don’t let that prevent you from purchasing the book. If all your tools measure in inches the projects in this book might prove to be a little more difficult. Just keep in mind that it would be better to purchase used metric measuring equipment (micrometer, caliper, etc. – try ebay) than to convert all the measurements to inches. But even if you never complete a single project from the book, it’s still full of great information for the beginner.

If you have any questions or if you own this book, please feel free to post a comment.

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About Tyler

Tyler is a hobby machinist and 3D printing aficionado. He teaches computer programming and web development at Highline College near Seattle. Tyler founded Projects In Metal in 2008 because he was frustrated by the lack of free plans available for hobby machinists.

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  1. Unfortunately I have to disagree. I purchased this book to try and understand the basics. It does not even mention how to do any sort of setup. To be told to take this cut or that cut is of absolutely no use to a beginner if you don’t say how. I have even written to the publisher (with no response) suggesting that this book being represented as for beginners is positively dangerous.

  2. Hi Loyd,

    I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed in the book. I don’t have any connection to the book or to the author, I just thought the book was a nice place for a beginner to start, especially if you prefer a project-oriented approach.

    However, I can see how it may seem like some of the absolute basics (like setting up for your first cut) are left out.

    There are several other books written with beginners in mind, one of which is Using The Small Lathe by L. C. Mason. However, Mason’s book is out of print and hard to find at the moment. I have a friend who is a machinist and a machine shop instructor who jokes that if he could only have 1 book on running the lathe it would be Mason’s text. If you can find a copy for a reasonable price snag it for your library.

    If you have any questions or you’re having trouble getting started, send me an e-mail and I’ll try to answer any questions you might have.

  3. Thanks Tyler,
    i only just got back to this…. I will try for the book mentioned . I’ll let you know. I have now purchased a lathe so its getting urgent!!

    Thanks again

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  4. Thanks Tyler,  now THAT'S the kind of book review I needed.  Perhaps you could do the same with the rest of the Harold Hall books? Or perhaps coordinate reviews of the various titles with others? Thanks again.

        – Don Ross

  5. Hi Don, I'm glad you liked the review.

    I'd love to be able to write more reviews, but they take a fair amount of time. Reading the book isn't too hard (that's the fun part), its figuring out what information would be helpful for the reader that proves to be the hard part.

    If you'd like to try your hand at reviewing I'd be happy to have you share your information with us here. If I had more time I'd be doing more reviews myself because I think it's important for these books to be vetted. There are a lot of texts out there, and many of them aren't all that helpful for someone new to the hobby. So one of my long term goals for this site is to include reviews of several beginner texts so that people can decide which to buy according to their interests.

    Seriously though, if you'd like to help with writing reviews I'd be ecstatic! You've already got an example of the format to work with, it's just putting your opinions down in print that takes time. Laugh