This author has 35 years' experience as a successful owner-operator of an auto repair shop and buyer and seller of auto repair equipment.
If you are in the market for a brake lathe, you may have considered buying a used one. There are an amazing range of makes and models that can machine disc rotors alone or disc rotors and brake drums using a separate cutter bar. The West and some others will also machine flywheels and other flat surfaces that can be mounted.
The only non-brake machining I have ever needed to do on my brake lathes is to polish or resurface the cups and holding tools from the brake lathe itself, so the flywheel option was never of great interest to me.
Different makes of used brake lathes differ in whether they have a good supply of parts, back-up service, and design faults you may have to work around.
In this article we discuss Ravagioli, the FMC 600 series, Aamco, Kwik-Way, Repco, Techno-Due, West, and Zanrossi.
Note: The suggested prices here are as of 2011.
For example, the early Ravaglioli may be a make to avoid. It had an aluminium alloy cutting head fixed on one side. When the aluminium wears, which it does, it is very difficult to set it up the brake lathe to do an accurate cut, and it is inclined to resonate and vibrate the disc during the machining. Parts like the diaphragm or concertina that covers the feed shaft are expensive and can be hard to find too.
Both problems can be solved with some innovation, so if you have lots of skill and little money, you may want to take it on. They are otherwise very good brake lathes.
Pay up to $4k for one with no faults. Pay $1.5k for a sound machine that needs some repairs.
Disadvantages of the Ravagioli:
- Parts can be difficult to find.
- The design of the drive is antiquated.
- The arbor location lock is poorly designed.
FMC 600 Series
A very good brake lathe that can still be found in good order, although getting a bit jaded because the later model one was better fitted out, with less problems to keep it adjusted and running smoothly.
Things to Look Out For With the FMC 600 Series
- When the off/on switch gets replaced, if it is not sealed properly it can fill up with oil.
- The belt and electric motor pulley can get very worn and interfere with the cut.
- It is important to run later model bull-nosed cutters in these models for best results.
- They break detent springs.
- The crossfeed shaft adjustment is finicky and unreliable if the operator is not on the ball; it will move on its onion nut. These shafts can be upgraded to the JB special model which is simply a later model FMC, and retains most of the original lathe.
- The main drive nut wears out quickly if not kept well lubricated, and is quite expensive to replace: so expensive that I made a few for myself out of the same high quality materials in the original.
Pay up to 3k for one in mint condition, 1k for one that needs tooling up and refurbishing.
There are still a lot of parts available for the early 600 model and tooling is no problem at all as the newer model tools are identical.
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All Ammco brake lathes, regardless of model, will do what they were designed to do and do it longer and better than any of the others listed here.
With the heavy duty model disc/drum Ammco you can get a truck kit, which consists of a massive arbor, all tools including truck disc mounting cones, and cups and support for the large truck drums.
I have refurbished, re-tooled and completely rebuilt dozens of early model Ammcos, some more than 40 years old. They have all been capable of running to new machine specifications after being repaired or re-tooled and adjusted.
Pay up to $8k for a later model with a chuck fully tooled up, $3-4k for an early one in good condition, or $1-2k for one that needs a lot of work.
The Kwik-Way is a small brake lathe with a standard lightweight cutter similar to the on-car cutter heads. It works well, but will not handle the heavy work that an Ammco, JB, FMC or anyof the other leading names that use a heavy cutter head to avoid vibrations and oscilations that take place when machining discs.
- Parts are getting harder to find but as long as the main drive is still in good shape most other bits can be found.
Pay up to $3k for a mint one with all tooling, $500 to 1k for one that needs any work.
This Australian-made brake lathe is beautifully built and has the strongest cutter assembly on any brake lathe I have seen. It is very heavy with huge bearings and gears. These lathes are not common any more, but a good one will do a perfect job on any disc.
Having a tailpiece for the arbor, it is somewhat like a metal lathe, as is the Ravaglioli above.
Nevertheless, the arbor being portable is not an ideal system. It is portable so that the disc can be mounted before the arbor is located, but the drive can be damaged with time or careless tooling. In addition, parts are hard to find.
Pay $3k for one in top condition.
The Technodue B600 is another very good brake lathe that has few problems and a strong heart. These are very nicely finished, well made and reliable in the main.
The Technodue is not my favourite though, as tooling is quite specific and oddly different, so it can be hard to tool up. Also, I don't like the way the cutter assembly is mounted, as it tends to be too sensitive to set up. Having the one bolt and a long offset to the cutting head puts a lot of force on the sliding part of the cutter.
I may be a bit biased here! I have spent a lot of hours working on West's early 3-motor model. Beautifully built and badly conceived, it had a chain drive on the feed, which was piss-poor and broke regularly.
The motors and switching are complex and expensive to repair, if you can get a technician who will even work on one.
The new West models are much simpler and seem to be OK, but I will wait and see.
The attractive thing about Qwest is the price. If you shop hard for a late model one you will get it pretty cheapm compared to a used Ammco or JB as they are a lot cheaper new. The later model West also machines flywheels.
Pay up to $4k for a late model West. But don't buy an early model West unless you are an expert, and even then you will need another one for spares.
If you want to grind your discs instead of machining them, then Zanrossi is one of the best of the grinder types of brake lathes. These machines will rip off as much as an eighth of an inch of material, so save time on badly grooved discs that have a lot of metal left before the minimum cut thickness is reached.
Setting up is similar to a brake lathe with cones to lock the disc in place.
Suitable for resurfacing discs where metallurgy is outside standard parameters, or to do special jobs where machining is not suitable. Fitted with the newer cubic boron nitride grinders, the Zanrossi does a very accurate and finished job in one pass.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.