About 5 years ago I needed a wheel spacer which cost about £8. So I did what any sensible person would do, bought a lathe for £600 and made one myself. That first attempt at turning took a long time, many attempts and I ended up with a very expensive, serviceable but non too attractive spacer.
My lathe is an old East German Hobbymat MD65, and it came complete with a mill/drill attachment which means there are very few jobs that it can't tackle. It's very solidly built, and very flexible in its operation. Overall quality is streets ahead of the Chinese mini-lathes, and with reasonable care it will last a lifetime. If you keep an eye out on ebay you can pick an average one up for about two hundred quid, or get a minter with all the extras for around the price that I paid.
Now although I would not profess to be a precision engineer, over the years my skills have improved, and the little lathe has turned(!) out to be a very shrewd investment. There have been so many times that it has proved to be invaluable, I really couldn't live without it now.
My most recent project has been to make a spindle and carrier to mount a timing disc into a Vincent crank. This is something that you just can't buy, but a couple of hours in the garage and you not only have the spindle, but a smug glow of pride knowing that you made it yourself. This little job was really simple. It involved taking a 5/16 alloy bar, turning a very gradual taper down to 1/4 and making a stepped nylon boss with a bored hole at one end and a threaded hole at the other to attach the disc. Without the lathe I just don't know how I would have managed. I would have probably tried to bodge something together that wouldn't have worked, and then (if I could find someone, and be prepared to wait forever) I would have had to pay them to make it for me.
Have a go. Give it a try. If the worst comes to the worst you can always wait a few weeks, stick it back on ebay and be where you started. But if you have reasonable tool skills and a bit of patience, I guarantee that you will wonder why you didn't invest in one years ago.
Size is important. Go for a machine that has a centre height of around 60-80mm, don't be tempted to get a tiny model makers lathe (Unimat etc.), and don't get something that needs a low loader to deliver it. Despite my comment earlier, if you can't find a decent second hand machine Chinese mini lathes are fine for this kind of work, but maybe just not as satisfying to own.
Get the right size. This lathe is too big...
...and this one is too small.
Check the link below for an amazing lathe info website