A Beginner's Dream

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Review by Grondor posted 09-19-2011 04:27 AM 20918 views 4 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
A Beginner's Dream No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I did my first wood turning when I was about 13. It was in wood shop in school, and I made 2 or 3 pieces—a bowl and a bat for sure. It was fun, but it was also TERRIFYING! The lathes we had were industrial sized monsters with motors that could lift the Titanic, and more than once did I have a catch that bent the chisel, once it launched it towards the window I was standing near with rather catastrophic results.

More recently I started looking up some videos on YouTube about wood turning, and came across HaydenHD, who does some amazing work, plus he films and explains well! I find that most wood workers who make YouTube videos use junk music throughout the entire video, do little to explain what they’re doing and instead just show off their work. HaydenHD, however, changed my views on wood working videos.

After much agonizing over the insane prices of a wood lathe ($2000-$3000 for a potential hobby is a little steep for me) I found a lathe at Harbor Freight which looked like it would do what I needed it to, has variable speed and looks solid. My wife was kind enough to buy it for me for our 13th anniversary, and after much ado I managed to get the 180lb box down into the basement and the lathe assembled.

First off, it’s solid. I’ve purchased some cheap tools in my time, from Ryobi to Craftsman, Black & Decker and Skil Saw … they all come with flimsy plastic casings, underpowered motors and hardly anything aligns. This lathe, however, was heavy as sin, aligned perfectly straight out of the box, and has not yet failed me.

Note: I am the epitome of a “beginner wood turner.” I’m as green as a freshly cut bowl blank. Along with the lathe my father bought me a set of 8 basic chisels (not terrible quality), and we had a lot of scrap wood lying around. I glued up some pine boards to make a large enough piece to play with, and started turning, and I haven’t looked back since.

Pros to this machine: It makes wood spin, it has a tool rest for me to put my chisels on, and that (in my not-so-humble opinion) is what a wood lathe is. The variable speed has proved to work well for me (just have to be careful to remember to turn it back town to 600 RPM after I’m done, since you can’t change the speed unless it’s running), the tool rest with its swing arm is awesome, the tail stock works well … I actually have nothing bad to say about its performance.

Cons: It didn’t come with a plate/disk/whatever on the back of the headstock, so when I turn small spindles I have to rotate using the spur if I want to do so manually. I’m looking into either fabricating or purchasing something to facilitate this. Also, while the tool rest is nice and sturdy, the black paint coat on it made it so that I had issues with my tools gliding easily until I sanded it down using up to 400 grit paper.

A side note … In order to learn how the different gouges, skews and chisels work, I’ve given myself an assignment of making one little wooden mushroom a day for a year, and I’ll turn some other miscellany in between. I’ve turned some skinny “magic wands” (10” long, 1/4” thick at the thinnest) that despite my greenhorn skills didn’t snap, and I’ve yet to buy a nice jaw chuck or spindle steady thingamabob. I know it’s not because I’m an exceptional wood turner, so I can only thank the reliability of this lathe. Once I get a couple of bowl gouges I’ll start making some bowls and plates and I’ll see if I need to weigh it down, but so far I’ve had no problems with it.

A wand I made for my wife, African Blackwood handle, Purpleheart wand.

Tool handle I made for one of our handle-less rasps. I used a piece of scrap oak railing left over from when I installed railing to the 2nd floor.

A wood mallet that I could have bought for $3 at the hardware store, but I wanted to make my own. The handle is oak, the head is cedar (for its softness and light weight)

A mushroom turned from a piece of applewood. Half of it is this intricate dark color and pattern, the other side is very light like maple.

A collection of mushrooms also made from applewood (branches cut off from our apple tree which was rubbing up against power lines).

A mushroom turned from Cocobolo.

Considering I’m “just” using an “underpowered junk lathe from Harbor Freight that would serve better as a boat anchor” (quote from another website’s review), I’d say this thing is performing miracles!

View Grondor's profile


17 posts in 3657 days

19 comments so far

View JRPortman's profile


17 posts in 3663 days

#1 posted 09-19-2011 04:46 AM

i’ve seen this lathe at HF and have considered buying it a few times, but have always been concerned about the quality (or lack thereof) that Harbor Freight is known for. But what a price! And after reading your review it seems like maybe I should give it a shot after all. Thanks for the review and nice work. Don’t let your wife turn you into a newt with that wand.

-- J.R.Portman, New Orleans,

View tomd's profile


2222 posts in 4984 days

#2 posted 09-19-2011 06:12 AM

Purchased that lathe 10 years ago, learned to turn on it. If you want to look at my projects all the turning items were done on that lathe. Sold it last year. I felt it was a great learning lathe, you will have to replace the belt very soon because the original will not last long just get a good automotive belt and once a year open the drive cover and lub the shafts that the pulleys move on. Did that and never a problem.

-- Tom D

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 4409 days

#3 posted 09-19-2011 02:21 PM

I’ve had this lathe for almost a year and love it. Excellent beginners lathe yet large enough to do many different types of turnings. The spur center and tail piece is pretty crappy though. I purchased a live interchangeable center for the tail, and still plan on upgrading the spur. I also had to sand down the paint on the toolrest and since its a 12” toolrest it is a little too big for some of my smaller turnings so I also purchased a Sorby toolrest interchangeable mount. That required some grinding though to get it down to the odd size tool rest opening. But now I can swap out the toolrest for various styles.

If you find that the table vibrates too much, you may want to weigh down the leg ballist or make a hefty table like I did(workshop photos). Overall though its an excellent lathe.

Also, stay away from the Woodcraft adapter for the nova 2 chuck if you go that route, buy the adapter directly from Teknatool (type D).

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View b2rtch's profile


4921 posts in 4262 days

#4 posted 09-19-2011 02:33 PM

I have the same lathe for about two year.
I got it new for a ridiculously low price. (around @160.00. Jet sales the exact same lathe for over$800.00)
I do not use it very often but when I use it ti works just fine for me.

-- Bert

View Raymond's profile


683 posts in 4941 days

#5 posted 09-20-2011 06:25 AM

I have the same one with a chuck as well. Works great for me

-- Ray

View dustbunny's profile


1149 posts in 4509 days

#6 posted 09-20-2011 07:32 AM

I also have this lathe and purchased these accessories from HF -

Screw Chuck
Drill Chuck
6 inch Faceplate

They all work fine. Enjoy your new toy !


-- Imagination rules the world. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~

View Grondor's profile


17 posts in 3657 days

#7 posted 09-20-2011 07:59 AM

Does anyone know what thread/size screw mount is needed to put a wheel of sorts on the back of the head stock? I actually also have a screw chuck for the tail stock, and I’ve used it without any problems. My next purchases will be a jaw chuck and something which will allow me to turn the head stock manually.

View Ken90712's profile


18058 posts in 4403 days

#8 posted 09-20-2011 04:15 PM

Congrats to you on your tool, and nice start on turning. I’m not a turner and one day will be getting a lathe to start learning.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View wildbill001's profile


111 posts in 3856 days

#9 posted 09-20-2011 08:59 PM

Nice review and really nice turnings. I too have been considering this as my next lathe since I got rid of one of those “round-tube” lathes which I bought years ago. Good to hear folks have had them and used them for some time.

The only thing stopping me from getting one soon is space. I really don’t want to cut the bed down so I gotta make room in the garage.


-- "You can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their back" -- Unknown

View Bryan_M's profile


47 posts in 4257 days

#10 posted 09-21-2011 07:33 AM

Looks like you got the HSS lathe tools. There is nothing wrong with those at all. I feel like a schmuck for buying them and then going and buying a Sorby set that is nearly identical for more than twice the price. I can’t tell any difference in the quality of steel. I use them all equally and have only broken one of the Sorbys. I started making pens with the smallest lathe HF sells and upgraded to a nicer one made by somebody else… that eventually burned out the speed control. I swiped the speed control from the old HF lathe and put into the “nicer” one and its been running strong for a couple years now. People like to rip on Harbor Freight because some things are very poor quality (hand planes for instance) but they really do have some decent things there too.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7853 posts in 4014 days

#11 posted 09-21-2011 02:20 PM

I have that lathe and gotta say, it’s one of the great buys at HF! It’s every bit as good as a LOT more expensive lathes. One feature that is nice is that the head turns sideways to accomidate larger turnings. But don’t expect to turn a big 16” bowl- the motor just doesn’t have the power for that.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View USCJeff's profile


1065 posts in 5282 days

#12 posted 09-24-2011 12:34 AM

I used one of these for a while and did some good work on it. I have better than average turning tools and sharpening equipment which helped a lot. However, I have used a couple other lathes and didn’t realize what the HF lathe was lacking until then. Comparing the vibration of this one to a mid level lathe is a pretty big gap. I could get the same results on the HF lathe, just required much more work and a few more mistakes. I used a Barracuda chuck and mounted the lathe to a stronger stand and that went a long ways. The belt (at least the one I got) wasn’t molded correctly. I had to use a knife to get a few bumps off it. The locking mechanisms for the tail stock aren’t the greatest. Good started lathe and you can’t beat the price.

-- Jeff, South Carolina

View mountainaxe's profile


165 posts in 3719 days

#13 posted 10-16-2011 10:24 PM

Great review. I’ve been working straight cabinet/furniture work for years and always wanted to try turning. Price has always been a major obstacle. After doing some research this month, I found a lot of positive reviews of this HF lathe. I was initially a skeptic because HF is known for cheap tools. After learning that this lathe is an identical clone of the Jet JWL 1236 (except for paint color and switch location), which retails for over $1K, my interest peaked. HF has this lathe on sale for $199 and I couldn’t resist…picked one up this afternoon. Price is simply unbeatable. The current issue of American Woodworker has a good looking stand plan & I think I’ll build it. Really looking forward to making some chips fly.

-- Jeff, "The things I make may be for others, but how I make them is for me."

View Yurik's profile


10 posts in 3634 days

#14 posted 12-16-2011 06:48 AM

Nice review. I have the same lathe and it is very versatile. I only had to attache it to the wall with very sturdy frame for bowl turning. With my first not well balanced piece of wood (6×12”) it was jumping all over the place like a kangaroo.

View hoppeman's profile


8 posts in 4128 days

#15 posted 12-29-2011 08:43 AM

Hello, I am a beginner woodworker, do not have a lathe,but, do have all the rest of the hand tools and power tools. Wood like to know if the bench top model HB has is worth the money, I do have a basement big enough for either. Wood like to start to learn how to turn for future projects, like plates and goblets and the like.

Thx, Steve

-- Steve,NJ

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