All Replies on For folks who are not primarily turners, what do you use your lathe for and how often?

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For folks who are not primarily turners, what do you use your lathe for and how often?

by CharlesA
posted 04-18-2017 02:47 PM

35 replies so far

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1596 posts in 2186 days

#1 posted 04-18-2017 02:50 PM

Charles, if you don’t want to get caught up in turning, better have your friend do the turnings you need for your woodworking. ........ Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View HokieKen's profile


10451 posts in 1594 days

#2 posted 04-18-2017 02:59 PM

I have a lathe but I’m definitely not primarily a turner. I use it mostly for tool making and repairs. Handling/rehandling screwdrivers and chisels, making awls and marking knives, thumbscrews for jigs, and small brass hammers. That sort of thing.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View CharlesA's profile


3383 posts in 2253 days

#3 posted 04-18-2017 03:03 PM

Thanks, Ken. That’s helpful.

And, yes, Jerry, I have considered that.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View pintodeluxe's profile


5970 posts in 3269 days

#4 posted 04-18-2017 03:03 PM

I don’t turn at all. If I had a lathe laying around the shop, I might use it to turn shop knobs or handled pegs for a Morris chair once in a while. It is amazing what people can create with them, but I haven’t found the need for one yet.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View hairy's profile


2888 posts in 3988 days

#5 posted 04-18-2017 03:40 PM

My lathe is my carving vise for pieces I can hold in a chuck, horizontal drill press, holder for pieces that get branded, glue up vise – great for things that get glued up on center and buffer. It could be a disk sander if I didn’t have one. And probably some I have forgot.

-- My reality check bounced...

View Wildwood's profile


2697 posts in 2590 days

#6 posted 04-18-2017 03:50 PM

Actually cheaper to buy ready made spindles than learning to turn or buy a lathe, & all the tools needed. Of course need dry wood too! Many woodturners including my self find if daunting to get 4 legs exactly the same. Turned lot of spindles for porches & stairs on a copying lathe and hated it. Enjoyed split turnings for period furniture lot better and easier.

Don’t be surprised if your turner friend says no!

My last big furniture project was turning stools for my brothers & sisters.

-- Bill

View Bluepine38's profile


3387 posts in 3541 days

#7 posted 04-18-2017 03:53 PM

Charles, looking some of your projects, the turnings would have to be real good. Not knowing how good you
would be with lathe tools and how long it would take you to learn to operate a lathe, you are the only one that
can really answer this question. Ask your friend if he would give you a couple of lessons on the lathe. If you
have a knack for turning and like it, those lessons will give you your answer. If you do like it, you have enough
time in woodworking to realize what a steep slippery slope the buying of tools and accessories is and can plan
your budget accordingly. You also know that a piece you visualize can be made by you exactly as you want, but
if you want someone else to make it, you will need exact plans, and it still may not look like you want it. Just
my opinion and it is worth what you paid for it.

-- As ever, Gus-the 80 yr young apprentice carpenter

View eflanders's profile


326 posts in 2306 days

#8 posted 04-18-2017 03:59 PM

I’m with Ken. The lathe is the lowest cost item when you get a mini or midi lathe. Tooling and sharpening needs cost more. For me, I made a few things to sell which has reimbursed my costs, but there’s not enough there to make a living at either. That’s OK as I never intended to.

View OSU55's profile


2381 posts in 2445 days

#9 posted 04-18-2017 04:02 PM

Depending on volume, it would be a lot more efficient, both time and $’s, to have your friendly turner make the occasional parts. If I don’t use my lathe for a few months, it takes a while to polish the skills back up to the point of actually making something good enough to use. I use my lathe for other things than bowls, vases, etc, but if I had known someone locally with a lathe to make a few tool handles and such I doubt I would have gotten one. The “turning bug” bit me though, and I spend a lot of time on the lathe and enjoy it enough to upgrade to a better machine. Even though I can now turn legs etc for flat work I still prefer square/rectangle shapes vs round in those designs.

View CharlesA's profile


3383 posts in 2253 days

#10 posted 04-18-2017 04:05 PM

I just emailed my friend to see if he can make me four of these. I looked into buying some turned feet like these. Prices were $15-50 a piece.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View 000's profile


2859 posts in 1355 days

#11 posted 04-18-2017 04:21 PM

I don’t have a lathe, but my friend lets me use his. I just made these not to long ago,
I don’t have much experience, these were easy to do.

If I ever come across the right one for cheap I will buy it.
The most I would probably use it for is legs or spindles or just playing,
but it would be nice to have one just for times like above.
I think you could find cheap enough just to have, even if it only see’s seldom use.
My friends is just a portable bench top. I think it could turn maybe 24” or thereabout.

View LDO2802's profile


167 posts in 886 days

#12 posted 04-18-2017 04:25 PM

All the small parts you can turn on a drill press. If you have nothing longer than 5-8 inches, I recommend just getting a drill press chuck for it. There are a bunch of jigs for them. I have turned on my shopfox benchtop drill press prior to buying my lathe, and it worked great.

View shipwright's profile


8346 posts in 3254 days

#13 posted 04-18-2017 07:13 PM

I use my lathe(s) a fair amount for someone who is not a turner. I guess it depends if you want to be more creative in what you make than you could be with stock spindles and generally your feelings about freedom to design what you want.
Maybe this one is a good example of something I couldn’t have done without the lathe.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View CharlesA's profile


3383 posts in 2253 days

#14 posted 04-18-2017 07:16 PM

Very interesting replies.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View MrUnix's profile


7452 posts in 2655 days

#15 posted 04-18-2017 08:24 PM

I just emailed my friend to see if he can make me four of these. I looked into buying some turned feet like these. Prices were $15-50 a piece.
- CharlesA

Right there you are looking at spending what a lathe could cost you… and all you are left with will be four feet that leave with the project :(

Even at the low end of that quote, $60 isn’t an unrealistic price for a lathe if you are patient and keep an eye out. For doing stuff like you want, you don’t need much – even one of those C-man tube lathes would work. I purchased an older Delta (Homecraft) 10x36 lathe, stand, original motor, line shafting and a bunch of other stuff for $50, which would be perfect for what you are looking at doing. It needed nothing but some oil in the headstock and to be plugged into the wall – and I was up and running the day after I bought it. Over the years, I have picked up three lathes (including a South Bend SB9 engine lathe) in total (even after restoration!) for about what the high end quote is for those feet :) They are out there.

As for other stuff you can do – like most have mentioned, making parts is a great advantage. You can improvise for some stuff using a drill press or other means, but it’s just so much easier on a lathe. Tool handles, knobs, wheels, gear blanks, bushings, spacers, dowels of all shapes and sizes… just about anything cylindrical that will fit. I’ve made parts (out of wood, plastic and even metal) to replace broken bits in stuff like the wifes vacuum cleaner (where the replacement part cost more than the lathe did!), for stuff where original parts were no longer available, and other hard or difficult to find things that could easily be whipped up on the lathe. And don’t forget you can do stuff like cleaning and polishing as well. If it is round and will fit between centers, you can spin it.

As for the lathe being the least expensive part of the equation – read this thread for some ideas:
Woodturning On The Cheap - Tips and Tricks , and do a little googling for homemade lathe tools and accessories. For an occasional user, you don’t need super expensive tools and other gizmos (unless you just want to burn some cash). I used that Delta lathe for a long time (over a year), making a lot of stuff without spending an extra dime on it.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View ChuckV's profile


3227 posts in 3983 days

#16 posted 04-18-2017 08:25 PM

I use my lathe mostly for things like the pedestal of a shaker table, candle holders, and knobs for doors and drawers. It also allowed me to make a shaker-style music stand, which is one of my favorite pieces. A while back I made a bunch of Shaker pegs for a pegboard to hold coats and so on.

I really enjoy having the flexibility to make these parts just as I want and out of the pieces of wood that I choose.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View TravisH's profile


678 posts in 2391 days

#17 posted 04-18-2017 08:52 PM

Not for sure a right answer. If talking cost then it could pay for itself but one could likely make a point that for a lot of stuff we make would be better off financially buying from someone else. If you make a lot of pieces that will incorporate turning then becomes easier decision.

I know you said not interested in getting caught up in bowls etc… but very easy way to also turn a lot of future burn material into money at craft shows. Hair sticks, pens, seam rippers, buttons, shawl pens, small bowls, plates, etc… sell rather quickly if price is right and can add up quickly with minimal time spent in the shop doing it.

View BlasterStumps's profile


1369 posts in 895 days

#18 posted 04-18-2017 09:28 PM

I have an old shopsmith with the lathe attachments. I rarely use it because I’m sure it hates me. : (

I really barely know anything about using a lathe. My turning tools are shopsmith as well. I think the lathe is one area of woodworking where I really need to do some research and learn to do it properly. Also need some carbide tools for it for the hard woods.

-- "I build for function first, looks second. Most times I never get around to looks." - Mike, western Colorado

View Lazyman's profile


3755 posts in 1843 days

#19 posted 04-18-2017 09:44 PM

I use mine to turn junk wood into bowls and tool handles. I am planning to make a bunch of screwdrivers here pretty soon.

I think that you will find it a very useful tool, especially if you have room for it in your shop. Get you friend to show you how to turn those feet. That will help you decide if you want to invest the time to get good at it, not to mention the money and shop space.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View SignWave's profile


472 posts in 3491 days

#20 posted 04-18-2017 10:26 PM

I personally think that turning is a ton of fun. But if you don’t want to take it up as dedicated hobby, it will almost certainly be cheaper and easier to commission out the turned parts. Its not just the cost of the lathe, but also the tools, accessories, and the skills that go with it that raise the bar.

Having said that, I make things all the time on the lathe. I make knobs, tool handles, refrigerator magnets, pens, tops, in additional to the bowls and pens.

-- Barry,

View ronmccormack's profile


8 posts in 861 days

#21 posted 04-19-2017 12:41 AM

I have just a small lathe, its the exscelsior from rockler that i made a wooden extsension bed for and i use to turn post for tripod tables and the like, I really don’t use it often but when i need it its the only tool that will do the job. being able to turn parts for furniture really opens up your design options, you don’t have to rely on whats available.

View Jeff2016's profile


115 posts in 1320 days

#22 posted 04-19-2017 02:42 AM

I have an old craftsman companion lathe and a cheap set of harbor freight tools. I use it for pulleys, knobs,tool handles, some fishing lures and dowels. I actually hate the lathe itself (it’s just too flimsy), but I wouldn’t want to be without it. A lathe is a very useful tool if you do any sort of remodel or repair work.

-- Proud owner of an electronics free workshop. Please check your cell phone at the door!

View dhazelton's profile


2839 posts in 2752 days

#23 posted 04-19-2017 11:52 AM

For what you want to something like an old Delta Homecraft and the ‘expensive’ Harbor Freight chisels would be fine. I’ve tried bowls with limited success but have done fine with mallets and handles and such.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7793 posts in 3370 days

#24 posted 04-19-2017 01:06 PM

Like others, I pretty much only turn hand plane knobs and short legs for other projects. As you notice, from your friend’s response, the prices for those small legs add up quickly. Remembering that each of these are one-off projects and not automated, prices will always be relatively high.

IMO, buying a midi-lathe (not a mini-lathe) may be the best bet. FWIW, buying the cutting tools, sharpener, and other associated lathe accessories more than doubled my investment. That said, I found the lathe purchase to be a worthwhile investment. I have to admit though, that I put this off for over 2-3yr before I pulled the trigger, and I did so with great trepidation. Looking back, it was all well worth buying.

Best of luck deciding!

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

View loiblb's profile


146 posts in 1511 days

#25 posted 04-19-2017 06:14 PM

I multi-task my three lathes to buffers, belt sanders and drilling operations. They are just too handy to do without.

View MikeUT's profile


195 posts in 1815 days

#26 posted 04-19-2017 06:48 PM

I bough a lathe about 6 months ago because I was planning on making end tables with rounded legs and because I saw a price on a Jet 12-36 that I couldn’t refuse. Although I still consider myself a woodworker over a woodturner, I have definitely been bit by the bug.

I think it is definitely worth the investment. It is almost like a bandsaw- you don’t realize how many ways you will use it until you have it. Although you don’t intend on becoming a turner, I would look to get a lathe big enough to do bowls and things like that, just in case you start to like it. I use turning as a project filler. I turn most when I am between furniture projects or requests from my wife. It is really fun to throw a chunk of firewood on the lathe and see what shape of a bowl you find inside.

Turning tends to be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Get a nice starter set (or if your used lathe is like mine it will likely come with a starter set.) buy a bowl gouge and a faceplate. If you want carbide, buy the cutters and make your own. There are plenty of examples of this online, I used scrap pieces of walnut, a 1/2” stainless rod, and a brass plumbing part. Chucks are nice but aren’t necessary when you are starting out.

I say go for it!

View CharlesA's profile


3383 posts in 2253 days

#27 posted 04-19-2017 07:27 PM

Where I am right now. I am buying some blanks and my friend is turning the cabinet feet for me. I have also set up a Craigslist search for “lathe” and we’ll see what shows up.s

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View Woodknack's profile


12877 posts in 2836 days

#28 posted 04-19-2017 08:09 PM

Couple of days ago I posted the Comet II in the hot deals thread, on sale for $443. No idea if it’s still on sale or not.
edit; up to $457, originally 9 available, 5 left.

I think any woodworker can find utility in a small lathe, for knobs, handles, feet, pulls, etc.

-- Rick M,

View Madrona's profile


123 posts in 1351 days

#29 posted 04-20-2017 01:24 AM

I’ve had a lathe for about 40 years. The first 35 I used it almost exclusively with a drill chuck on the headstock. I used that to hold various wire wheels and sanders. Loved having that ability with quite a bit of space to work. Now, I’m a turner, almost exclusively. I almost never mount anything but a piece of wood on my lathe and yes, I do miss having that chuck waiting for me to mount something to do something else with besides turning.

-- Living In The Woods Of Beautiful Bonney Lake, Washington

View SuperCubber's profile


1080 posts in 2740 days

#30 posted 04-23-2017 01:26 PM

Charles, I recently bought the HF 10X18 for a very similar reason. I wanted to supplement my woodworking with the ability to turn. (As luck would have it, I’ve done pretty much zero woodworking since I purchased it, due to life getting in the way.)

I had actually purchased some lathe accessories before even buying the lathe, just to chip away at getting them.

I made a set of 6 carbide returning tools (have only turned one handle so far!), 3 for me, 3 for a friend. Total cost was $70. The lathe was about $175. I also purchased a chuck from an amazon warehouse deal for $65. I grabbed a face shield, some sandpaper on strips, etc. All in, I’m at about $300-350.

To me that’s totally worth it based on the additional capability it gives me.

Down the road, I’m sure I’ll invest in some standard turning tools. After all, Way before I got the lathe, I purchased a slow speed grinder and a Wolverine jig, because the deals were too good to pass up.

-- Joe | Spartanburg, SC | "To give anything less than your best is to sacrafice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


5967 posts in 2865 days

#31 posted 04-23-2017 03:36 PM

I bought mine for pens 17 years ago. While I do make those sometimes mostly it gets those odd jobs like you need done. Fantastic addition the your shop tooling! Once you have one you will find alot more uses for it.

As others have noted the lathe is half the investment. The other part being tools, sandpaper rolls, adapters and chucks, personal protective eyewear (PPE).

It is also one of the larger mess makers in the shop. If you keep the shop ready for surgery as some do be prepared for alot more time cleaning up.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View rodneywt1180b's profile


181 posts in 842 days

#32 posted 05-06-2017 11:27 PM

I turn a few things but I’m not primarily a turner. What do I use a lathe for? Tool handles, the tips on my canes, some canes see some turned wooden parts. I’ve also turned a few boxes, bowls, knobs, etc.
It’s handy to have one if you have the space. A decent chuck is about the most expensive individual tool you’ll need for it. For occasional use you don’t need a lot of tools, just a few basic gouges will do most of the work.

One relatively cheap way to go is a used Shopsmith Mark V. They’re a fair lathe though not a great one. They are better than the cheaper Asian offerings IMO. They turn up cheap fairly often, cheaper than a new mini lathe, are variable speed and IIRC the capacity is about 12×30. That should be enough for chair and table legs anyway. Shopsmith also has good support for their older models plus used parts and accessories are easy to find on EBay. The biggest downside is the 5/8” solid spindle Shopsmith uses. That limits some of the accessories you can use easily on the headstock. The tail stock end uses a Morse Taper (MT2?) so MT accessories will fit there.

-- Rodney, Centralia, WA, USA

View Planeman40's profile


1430 posts in 3217 days

#33 posted 05-07-2017 12:07 PM

I’m not a “turner”, but I have a nice old Delta 12” wood lathe from the 1040s that is great. I don’t use it a lot, but it does come in handy. For instance, I turned 62 beautiful curly maple and purpleheart handles for the carving gouges I made ( ) and I have done other things from time to time. Also, a wood lathe can be easily adapted to be a large disk sander or a thickness sander with a little jig work. One word of advice. Make sure the headstock and tailstock can take standard Morse Taper tool holders!!! This vastly widens the capability of your lathe. some of the less expansive lathes do NOT have Morse Tapers.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View CharlesA's profile


3383 posts in 2253 days

#34 posted 05-16-2017 10:36 PM

So, my Craigslist alert when off on Saturday, where someone was selling a lathe at a yard sale.

Picked up a Buffalo generic lathe made in 1986, about 13? swing, 39” between centers. Along with 8 lathe tools. $90

Played with it a bit. We’ll see.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View SuperCubber's profile


1080 posts in 2740 days

#35 posted 05-17-2017 12:38 AM

Cool! Let us know!

-- Joe | Spartanburg, SC | "To give anything less than your best is to sacrafice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

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