All Replies on What am I looking for in a lathe?

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What am I looking for in a lathe?

by Tabletop
posted 02-17-2017 09:36 AM

18 replies so far

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 4219 days

#1 posted 02-17-2017 09:51 AM

You need a full size lathe, not a mini or midi. You will have to be working on 30-35” lengths for table legs. You need one with multi speeds, belt drive with step pullies is fine, just make sure you can get down to at least 400 RPM and up to maybe 1800-2400 rpm. Stick with name brands like Delta or Jet with a used lathe, you want to have parts available. If you intend to make legs for tables, chairs or anything else then get yourself a Lathe duplicator. They are not too expensive and there are plenty of plans online to build your own. Legs must match, and if you build a table and chair set, you’re talking a whole lot of legs that must be the exact same. No problem with a duplicator. Hope this helps a little

View Woodmaster1's profile


1546 posts in 3438 days

#2 posted 02-17-2017 11:38 AM

The lathe is just the beginning. You will need or want lathe tools and a chuck. Expect to invest at least 1/4 of your budget on those items and that is on the low side. I have easily spent more on accessories than the midi lathe. A midi lathe with a bed extension will meet your requirements and be less expensive.

View Tabletop's profile


139 posts in 1598 days

#3 posted 02-17-2017 12:12 PM

Great information papa Dan and wood master.
I must look into a duplicator. Probably a must have once get the hang of it. I figured the accessories would be expensive. Chucks, are they just different ways to secure the wood to the lathe? I’ve noticed some go into the wood and some grab from the outside.


View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1498 days

#4 posted 02-17-2017 12:26 PM

OR … build one of these for next to nothing and spend the remaining $992.00 on lumber!

... it seems to tun out some decent legs …


View Tabletop's profile


139 posts in 1598 days

#5 posted 02-17-2017 01:00 PM

Looks great Ron. Now just ship it and you to my shop. Lol

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1498 days

#6 posted 02-17-2017 01:02 PM

Looks great Ron. Now just ship it and you to my shop. Lol

- Tabletop

It’s ALL in the lathe, man … it’s ALL in the lathe! LOL!

View OSU55's profile


2658 posts in 2840 days

#7 posted 02-17-2017 01:03 PM

Would you want to do anything else with the lathe? Is it for business only or hobby work as well? How long of table legs do you envision making? For table legs, swing will be mostly irrelevant, but long legs for a tall table could drive you into a big expensive lathe – distance between centers. Agree that a duplicator will make it much easier.

For legs you would use a spur type or cup center drive – you wouldn’t need a chuck, and duplicators have the cutting tool included. You might need a couple of handheld tools to rough blanks – not sure, never operated a duplicator. You will need a sharpening system – figure that out after determining what cutting tools are needed.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7894 posts in 3765 days

#8 posted 02-17-2017 01:06 PM

Here is what I went through when I was looking to purchase a lathe. I actually changed my mind over the course of the thread:

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View xunil76's profile


31 posts in 1315 days

#9 posted 02-17-2017 01:16 PM

i know i’m new here, and i’m just getting into turning myself…but from what i’ve seen watching a lot of youtube videos is that if you’re going to invest into an expensive lathe, make sure that 1) you get one with as large of a swing as possible so you don’t limit your options of turning projects unnecessarily (never know when you may wanna turn some giant bowl/platter), and 2) the motor has enough HP to do what you need it to do (you don’t want to bog down your motor). probaby best to stay away from tube-style rails and get cast ones instead. a rotating headstock would be really nice for when you need to get deep down into some bowl/vase (properly secured, of course). and that’s all just for the lathe itself.

as others have mentioned, the tools can make all the difference in the world…the difference between a beautifully-finished piece and one that looks like a rat chewed it up, or worse yet, explodes on you.

View waho6o9's profile


8940 posts in 3427 days

#10 posted 02-17-2017 02:57 PM

One stop shop and you’ll have everything you need, ask about a sharpening system.

This one fits your budget and needs ^^

Good luck have fun and ride that bevel!

View bigJohninvegas's profile


802 posts in 2312 days

#11 posted 02-17-2017 03:18 PM

If all you really want to do is turn table legs then some of the mini lathes may work for you. I started out with the rockler excelsior minI lathe, with the bed extension. It only has a 10 inch swing but plenty of lenth for legs. I wanted more than table legs so I sold it when I bought my jet 16×42. and all she does with it is table legs. Works great for her. Its cheap, at around $300, and will get you started. I found mine used for $150, and recoverd that when I sold it. Learned what I really wanted out of a lathe, without spending alot to get started.

-- John

View sawdustdad's profile


379 posts in 1736 days

#12 posted 02-17-2017 03:42 PM

This is what I learned to turn on in high school shop class. Still available used

Here’s what I bought for my home shop

It’s not as robust as some but the variable speed is very convenient and I’ve turned many legs on it. I have a duplicator, but find it’s almost more trouble than it’s worth. With a proper template, it’s easy enough to turn “near” duplicates and the minor variations are never noticed by casual observers. Plus, the minor variations from one leg to the next add a touch of humanity to your work.

-- Murphy's Carpentry Corollary #3: Half of all boards cut to a specific length will be too short.

View Kelly's profile


3127 posts in 3795 days

#13 posted 02-17-2017 06:41 PM

If you absolutely know you’re going to jump into the world of lathe work, get the best you can. That includes avoiding Jets and such that have a motor sticking out to the right and limiting what you can turn in the way of bowls.

If you are unsure, consider a good used, lighter weight unit, until you know. Again, try to get the best you can, of course. If nothing else, this ups or maintains the resale value. Ideally, you’d do like I did and make the jump to a bigger one, and keep your old, smaller unit too.

SIDE NOTE: I picked up my 46-450 Rockwell Delta variable speed beast for a hundred bucks last summer. Oddly, it was working when I bought it from the scrapper.

View Tabletop's profile


139 posts in 1598 days

#14 posted 02-17-2017 08:47 PM

Great information from everyone. I’m planning on researching for another week, (aka big install will be complete and will have the money) and then pulling the trigger.

View Wildwood's profile


2890 posts in 2985 days

#15 posted 02-17-2017 08:49 PM

Not a big fan of buying a wood lathe off craigslist, but that Jet 1642 in Mobile looks interesting. You would need a pickup and break it down to transport if it looks like picture and runs well. Feel the same way about E-bay. You have to kiss a lot of frogs you find a prince of a deal.

If live near a Harbor Freight this lathe goes on sale often you can read reviews at their site and here on that lathe.

They also sell good spindle starter sets of tools, there two are their best.

Just don’t buy a bench grinder from them to sharpen your tools.

Just use some scrap 2 or 4 by’s or firewood for practice.

Good luck with it.

-- Bill

View Roy Turbett's profile

Roy Turbett

176 posts in 4430 days

#16 posted 02-18-2017 12:55 AM

Find a local woodturning club and see what the members recommend and use. My club gave free lessons to members and had several different lathes you try out. I think its more important to invest in a good grinder and sharpening jig than a top of the line lathe. Sharp tools are much more important than the lathe when starting out. The Harbor Freight tools are very good for the price and great for practicing your sharpening technique.

View Andybb's profile


2831 posts in 1454 days

#17 posted 02-18-2017 01:24 AM

I have a friend who is quite an accomplished woodworker with lots of really nice hand and power tools who owns the HF lathe and is quite satisfied with it. Bought the tools there too.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View xunil76's profile


31 posts in 1315 days

#18 posted 02-21-2017 01:21 PM

Sharp tools are much more important than the lathe when starting out. The Harbor Freight tools are very good for the price and great for practicing your sharpening technique.

- Roy Turbett

i’ll second that notion, sharp tools (and more importantly, sharp tools that stay sharp) make all the difference in the world.

my stepfather gave me an old set of used craftsman tools that he thought were “basically new”, but it turned out that they were just carbon steel, not even HSS. i swear, i made 30 trips to the grinder to re-sharpen those things during the turning of 2 really small test pieces of mesquite.

but…they were free, and the newer HSS tools that i had already ordered had not yet come in at the time, so i had to make do with what i had at the time. my new tools came in yesterday, so i’ll be going back out there this weekend to do some more turning (my setup is still at their place for now).

point being, right after i sharpened those craftsman tools, they cut great…chips flying everywhere like they’re supposed to and shapes taking form on the wood….for a few mins. then i start seeing more sawdust than chips flying. then i grab another tool to make chips again…for a few mins. then i start seeing more sawdust than chips flying. sigh

i didn’t see those harbor freight tools when i was looking online, but i bought the Savannah 8-piece HSS set which doesn’t look much different than those, and only slightly more expensive (probably pretty close to the same when factoring in local state tax on the HF tools vs. free shipping & no tax on the online order).

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