Unimat SLs, etc. These are those mostly green machines that had 2 round bars acting as a bed that millions like me lusted over as kids at the local hobby shop. They had a wonderful brochure that showed they could do anything with the right accessories. In a sense they were a table top Shop Smith. Basicly my opinion on machines that can do everything is they do none of it well. These were also prominently featured in all kinds of projects shown in the magazines of the day and were super popular. They almost seem to have a cult following today based on the prices, in a sense it is a little like the muscle cars today but a lot less money. Guys that always wanted one now can afford to have one and they lust after all the accessories.
What I didn’t like about them was the tolorences are sloppy, the center height is low, they are a pain to clean the scarf out of and the carriage. Now this is my number one and two complaints about these and these and both apply at all models of Unimats and Sherlines! The carriage is not easily removable and is controlled by a hand wheel on the right end of the bed. The lathe must be mounted up high or at the edge of the bench to leave room for your hand. The removable feature is so you can do hand turning without all this carriage stuff in the way.
The other feature I don’t like is it screw barrel tailstock these lathes have. Your hands get tired turning that handwheel while peck drilling tiny holes.
Unimat 3, These were the much later often white lathes with cast iron beds. The tolorences were much better as were just about everything however my big 2 complaints still exist.
Sherline, These are by far the best when it comes to overall quality, looks, fit & finish, support, etc. They also have a matching milling machine that takes many of the same accessories. I should also mention that both Jerry and I have recived awards by the Joe Martin Foundation which is the parent of Sherline. Thank You!
Taig, This is what I use most of the time. I think I even wrote the review in the Scale Cabinetmaker nearly 40 years ago. But the version I use is not an out of the box Taig, it has some crucial modifications. For years the Taig was not sold as a ready to run out of the box. The motors offered over the years changed. I like those I think 1660 rpm ones he was selling for $20 ages ago. They were super smooth and quiet. I don’t like the DC motors and changing speeds with the belt takes seconds and is easy. The two modifications I do are first a collect nose to take the WW style collets which Sherline makes and I use. While Taig makes a WW spindle the collet is too close to the front of the headstock not giving room for your hands and blocking your vision. I machine one of Taigs blank arbors and turn down a Sherline draw bar that puts the front of the collet about 1 1/4” out in front of the headstock. I also use the Sherline chucks, especially the 4 jaw universal, with an adaptor ring. The spindle threads are same size but the Taig is longer. The Sherline chucks have much smaller jaws and are therefore safer.
The other modification I make it a woodworking style Tee rest. I started this ages ago by drilling and tapping holes in the bed and mounting a shortened Unimat 3 tee rest. I have since made my own patterned after that. Now days both Lee Vally and Taig offer a tee rest that fits without modifying the lathe. I just prefer mine. A key to this is being able to remove the carriage instantly, this take about 5 seconds.
A word on the carriage, it operates on a gear and rack hence no lead screw and therefor no handwheel at the right end of the bed. It allows for much faster travel of the tool over the work giving you much better control of you cutting speeds. It is much easier to like light cuts. This feature along with Taigs lever operated tail stock makes drilling and turning small parts lightening fast. Some parts I can do faster than CNC.
The bearings on the Taig are great, I have never worn any of the out! The alinement or the tailstock could be better.
Anyway, those are my basic feelings on little lathes.....