Central Machinery (Harbor Freight) Model 5980 Multipurpose Machine

This is a combination mill, drill and lathe that I purchased from Harbor Freight in September 2007. I use this machine in my knifemaking so I thought it might be of interest to other knifemakers to provide a little review. I am not a machinist and I have limited experience with mills and lathes but this is what I know from my experience.

I bought it new and on sale at Harbor Freight for around $500. This is a heavy piece of machinery weighing in at around 400 lb. It comes in a large wooden crate and it is a bear to transport and to get on your bench.

This machine has separate 120v motors for the mill/drill head and the lathe. The mill/drill head does rotate so it can be moved out of your way when using the lathe functions.

It comes with this universal vise with accessories for holding the lathe bits.

This OK for lathe work but the vise sucks for milling. I wanted to use a better mil vise.

Also the mill/drill head comes with a drill chuck. I changed to using collects which are more stable and precise.

Between changing the vise and removing the drill chuck, I found I had a new problem. Bolting a regular mill vise to the table lowered it about 3 inches. Likewise, replacing the drill chick with a collet loses about 3 inches. Since the mill head only has 3 1/2 inches of vertical travel, my bits wouldn't reach my work.  I ended up having to make a riser to get my vise up within reach of the milling bits.

I also found that the lathe chuck prevented me from moving my work far enough to the left in some cases. I remove the lathe chuck to gain about 3 more inches of horizontal travel.

I have used this machine for over two years now. I mostly use it for milling slots in guards but I occasionally turn a knife handle on the lathe.

It does all functions OK but none of them great. If you really crank down on the mill it can move and for precision pieces that's a problem. You definitely need to lock things down with the various locks for anywhere near precise results. It can be rather time consuming to change things around to go from milling to lathe work. If I were to do it all over again I would buy a dedicated milling machine rather than a multipurpose machine even though the mills tend to run 2x - 3x the price.

After 2+ years of moderate use, the mill motor quit working. I called the 1-800 service number on the front of the owners manual and to my surprise a real live person answered the phone, immediately looked up the correct part, and quote a price if $84 shipped to my door. I received the replacement motor in 2 or 3 days. I felt the motor should have lasted longer but I am impressed with the customer service. However, after about two months the replacement motor died. I called again and they shipped me another motor at no charge. The second motor burned out in another couple of months and harbor Freight provided another replacement at no charge. A few more months and the third motor burned out. I should say, burned up. It literally burst into flames.

Enough time had passed that Harbor Freight would no longer exchange the motor under warranty. I debated whether to buy another motor or just bite the bullet and buy a better mill. I decided to give it one more try and so far it is working but I am being very careful not to work it too hard or too long at a time.

I think the main motor problem is that the milling motor is entirely enclosed inside the vertical cast iron housing with no ventilation. It simply overheats.