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Reply by xeddog

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Posted on Metal Lathe vs. Wood Lathe

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xeddog

253 posts in 3512 days


#1 posted 03-02-2010 09:47 PM

I saw this thread and I just HAD to respond with my $.02. While a metal lathe CAN be used for turning wood, it is not the machine to use in today’s wood turning world. I have a 9” South Bend metal lathe that I tried turning wood on. While I was able to turn a couple of ash tool handles, it wasn’t really a fun experience and it required a lot more hand finishing afterwards. So here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

1. Metal lathes are supposed to be precision machines and are designed with tolerances in the VERY low thousandths of an inch, and many are within a few TEN-thousandths. You don’t need anywhere near that precision for wood.

2. Someone already mentioned the possibility of rust caused by the moisture in wood. That is NOT a possibility. It WILL rust. So you will need to THOROUGHLY clean the machine when you have finished turning wood because of the high moisture content of wood. Even “dry” wood will cause rust and that is bad bad bad for a metal lathe. That means not only cleaning the ways, but all lead screws and inside the apron. It also means today, not next week, and not tomorrow.

3. Spindle speed is way to limited. I have a 9” South Bend lathe which is a relatively small machine. It tops out at 1270 rpm, and at that speed it is screaming like a banshee. Depending on what you want to turn, that spindle speed may just be plain inadequate. The smaller the diameter of the turning, the more speed you may need. Pens come to mind. Many people use a speed of 3000+ for turning and polishing pens. In general, the bigger the lathe, the slower the max spindle speed will be.

4. The swing is too limiting. A good used 14” wood lathe with some tools can had for $500 or less. A decent 14” metal lathe will cost you a lot more than that.

So after trying this myself, I went out and found a 14” Delta wood lathe with a decent amount of tooling and spent less than $350. MUCH happier now. Use a wood lathe for wood and a metal lathe for metal. It’s the law (or at least otta be). :-)


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