Going to buy my first lathe and would like some advice...

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Forum topic by joel_stl posted 10-31-2008 04:45 AM 4170 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View joel_stl's profile


5 posts in 3786 days

10-31-2008 04:45 AM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe carving tool turning question

Hello all,
I have never before worked with a lathe so I have done my research and have narrowed the field down to a few selections in a couple of price ranges. I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for” and would much rather spend a few extra dollars for an item that I know will work properly when I call on it to do a job. Although, if a less expensive item will meet my demands I would just as soon keep that extra $ and get another toy. That having been said, the lathes I am considering are as follows; Jet 1220 VS, Steel City #60170 and Excelsior Variable speed. (due to be released Nov. 08… according to a Rockler employee) I will certainly be turning pens, pepper & salt mills and a telescoping leg for a music stand that I will be making for my son for Christmas. Who knows what else will peak my interest… plates, vases and lamps are surely things I could see my self wanting to make down the road. I will be using some rather hard stock after I get the hang of working with the lathe.

The gentleman at Rockler suggested going with the Excelsior to learn on and then upgrading to a better unit later. The only thing that I don’t like about that is if I don’t end up keeping the lathe for whatever reason, I would expect to get a greater percentage of my money back selling a well known brand like Jet as opposed to a lesser known. But, as i said I know very little about lathes or selling tools of any sort.

Also, any recommendations on turning tools would be great. I am pretty certain that I don’t need a $200+ set of Sorby and I know that I don’t want to buy a uselessly cheap set either.

Thank you for taking the time to help out a newbie! ~Joel

-- "Never take yourself too seriously, 'cus everybody knows fat birds don't fly!"

11 replies so far

View Planeman's profile


97 posts in 3842 days

#1 posted 10-31-2008 06:57 AM

The truth is a wood lathe is a simple machine at heart. You should see what can be turned on a rough home-made wooden spring pole lathe. For the hobbiest a relatively inexpensive wood lathe will work well if it is bolted to a HEAVY base. The problem is turning out-of-balance items like the beginnings of a bowl where the lathe shakes like crazy. As long as the headstock spindle and tailstock will accept most standard accessories a lot can be done. Of course an expensive Powermatic lathe is nice and if I were to make an every day living using a lathe I would want it to be a really good one. My wood lathe is a heavy cast iron 12” Delta from the 1940s and even it is prone to some shaking if rough turning a large piece. As is most often the case, it is the skill of the person using the tool that is the determiner of quality more than the tool itself.

I would strongly recommend saving money and buying a heavy older cast iron machine and cleaning it up with some tender loving care. There is little that can go wrong with a wood lathe if its all there. Look around at the government surplus web sites like or CraigsList at and find a wood lathe from a school shop or other commercial shop. Just make sure is isn’t powered by a 3-phase motor unless you have this already in your shop. 3-phase power isn’t available except to industrial sites. I expect most of these surplus lathes will be powered by 220V single phase motors and 220V single phase is available is almost every home. Excellent lathe tooling can be found this way too.

Rufus Carswell

-- Always remember half of the people in this country are below average.

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 4204 days

#2 posted 10-31-2008 11:20 AM

I just got the Pen Making Starter Set from Penn State Industries and so far I’m rather impressed. It came with everything necessary to start turning out of the box and you can’t beat the price. I too am new to the whole turning addiction, but the pen turners swap made me want to try it. From where I sit, this set is a perfect introductory package.

-- Working at Woodworking

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4158 days

#3 posted 10-31-2008 12:40 PM

I’m agree with planeman… a used one.Not much can go wrong with them due to their simplicity and if your a strong believer in you get what you pay for, you can get a much bigger “Bang for the Buck” by getting a used machine.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View toyguy's profile


1678 posts in 4102 days

#4 posted 10-31-2008 01:18 PM

I too am very interested in obtaining a lathe, and the turning addiction. I have been looking around as well, and figured that a Oneway 1224 would be just the right machine…... but that is not going to happen, I could never get this one in past the wife’s eyes… So I am still looking.

One thing that I think you must remember when looking at a lathe, is too allow enough budget for all the toys that goes with the ownership of a lathe. Not just the turning tools (which can add up) but also a good means of sharpening them. And of course you will need chucks, face plates and a bunch of other toys….. I figure just about as much in options as in the lathe itself.

Here is a what to look for in a lathe article you might find useful….... take it for what it is worth. Written by a oneway employee.

Good luck in your turning endeavors.

-- Brian, Ontario Canada,

View matter's profile


210 posts in 4034 days

#5 posted 10-31-2008 01:41 PM

I got my cast iron 48” Rockwell Beaver for $50

made in the 30’s? I think

Great machine

-- The only easy wood project is a fire

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4511 days

#6 posted 10-31-2008 04:28 PM

I bought a used Delta 46-5567X made about in 89 and I would’nt trade it for the world. Big, heavy 400lbs + and reliable. Big enough to make a ballbat on or an inkpen. Three phase 2 hp frequency controlled so it runs on 110 and quiet as a mouse. Paid 1200 buck for it, bought from a widow and she gave me all the tools, sorbys, and just a bunch of real nice stuff worth way more than I paid for the lathe, I figured when I got home about 2,000 dollars worth of extras, including a Dremel scroll saw, like new.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Mario's profile


902 posts in 4316 days

#7 posted 10-31-2008 05:05 PM

I purchased a used Craftsman lathe at a pawn shop and have used it for just over a year. I have found out what things I like and do not like and can make an informed decision when I have saved enough to get a good one.

-- Hope Never fails

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3913 days

#8 posted 10-31-2008 08:18 PM

I would say get a live-center tail-stock if you can, and an easy-to-adjust
and solid toolrest. 1” x 8 TPI accessories are the most common so
going with a delta of other lathe with 1×8 is a good idea.

Turning big things is a lot more demanding than most furniture
parts… that’s what the big lathes are for.

View Big_Bob's profile


173 posts in 3974 days

#9 posted 10-31-2008 11:32 PM

Before you spend a lot of money check-out the American Association of Woodturners. There website is . That is where I started woordturning. They have local chapters all over the country. I live in a small town and we have a chapter. It is a great place to learn and each chapter is always looking for new members of all skill levels. A local mimber may have a good used lathe for sale. You may also find that you may want to turn more than the Pens and what not. Rember you can always turn small stuff on a big lathe but you can not turn big stuff on a small lathe.

-- Bob Clark, Tool Collector and Sawdust Maker

View snowdog's profile


1166 posts in 4247 days

#10 posted 11-01-2008 04:01 PM

I have the Jet mini VS and I love it. If I could have found a used lathe at the time I would have bought it in a heart beat.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4139 days

#11 posted 11-01-2008 05:28 PM

Russell… Welcome to the addiction!

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