Great Value In A Lathe

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Review by OSU55 posted 01-18-2014 06:16 PM 10627 views 7 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Great Value In A Lathe Great Value In A Lathe No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I had never used a lathe for wood turning, and wanted to give it a try. I didn’t want to break the bank to have a lathe for occasional use. As others have, I wound up with this HF model. I haven’t tried anything larger than 6” dia, but so far I’m extremely pleased. I think I paid ~$180 with discounts.

Edit – I have since turned up 14” dia bowls. That is about the limit due to the lathe’s min speed of ~600 rpm. Recommended finish turning rpm at 14” is 643 rpm.

Although I’m new to turning, I’m not new to machinery of all types, and a wood lathe is a simple machine (I’ve been in automated manufacturing in engineering for 30 yrs). As with most Harbor Freight stuff, the basics are there, you just need to finish it off. I disassembled everything – headstock including reeves drive and head pivot mechanism, tail stock, tool rest saddle – to degrease and deburr all the sharp edges. Taking a file and sandpaper to the bed – top, bottom, and center slot – is important. Mine had a lot of burrs and casting slag which will cause the mounts to snag and be difficult to move. All of the parts got the same treatment, including the eccentric lock down shafts and holes. Everything got a good coating of furniture wax for rust prevention and lubrication. I did put synthetic grease on the shafts for the drive pulleys so they would slide easily. The drive belt was replaced with one from the auto parts store. I’m guessing it took 8-10 hrs to go through everything.

I played with the lathe some before all of the work described, and what a difference the deburring made! Everything works and moves smooth as butter. I replaced the tool rest with the 12” and 4” Woodcraft modular type with the hardened rod as the rest. The HF cast iron rest kept getting dinged by my inexperienced tool handling. The Woodcraft rests are nice, I’d buy them again. I had to slightly enlarge the tool saddle hole for the 1” shaft, but it was easy to do. I had to lap the bottom of the saddle so the tool rest was parallel to the centers.

The instructions say not to change speeds unless the lathe is turning, and always start in the lowest speed. You can turn the spindle by hand and push on the lever and the pulleys will move and change speeds. Also, the lathe will come up to speed when set to a higher speed, at least with smaller work mounted. Not that I’m recommending these things as common practice, just passing along observations.

Research suggested the lathe centers should be about elbow height to start, and adjust as needed. My elbow is ~47”, so that was the target. With the height gained from the mobile stand and base, I still needed ~2-1/2” to hit my target. Poplar wood blocks (finished with polyurethane to add wood stability) were placed between the bed and stand. Longer bolts from the bbs took care of fastening everything together. It has proven to be very stable, and the height seems about right..

I’ve read many complaints that the stand that comes with this lathe is flimsy. I strongly disagree. It’s actually a very strong stand. The assembled lathe as it stands is not heavy enough to prevent the lathe from hopping around with unbalanced work. I mounted the lathe on a 1-1/2” pine slab, attached to an HF mobile base. I also put a 3/4” plywood shelf in the supports provided in the stand. This is a very rigid setup. The lathe itself is super smooth. Vibration from unbalanced work is stopped by adding weight to the stand on the base or shelf (pic shows 20# lead shot on left, and the white “bags” are small stamping cutout scrap from a local shop taped up in a plastic bag adding about 20# each).

I mounted a dust hood underneath the bed. It’s mounted on flat steel stock and can be slid to the location of cutting. It catches some of the chips, but the most chips going through come from the ones that stack up on the lathe. I just push them over into the hood and they’re gone.

I highly recommend the HF #35444 HSS turning tool set. These are made with good HSS – yes, the tips need grinding and shaping, but you have to be able to do that anyway. Maybe the balance and handle shape/finish aren’t up there with the high dollar stuff, but I’ve been able to turn nice shapes and surfaces with them, and for ~$65 they are hard to beat. I also have Hurricane HSS Roughing Gouge Set 1” & 2” and their spindle gouge set. These are good HSS and inexpensive. I use a Grizzly wet sharpener with a Tormek SVD-185 gouge jig and other Tormek and Grizzly jigs to grind and sharpen turning tools. The lapped edge off the leather wheel definitely lasts longer for me than an as ground edge.

Also pictured are Penn State Ind Superdrive Centers #2 MT taper in 5/8” and 1” sizes, a 60° Live Tailstock Center #2 MT, and a Golden Goose 1/2” Drill Chuck that have worked very well. This lathe has #2MT tapers on both ends which is a popular size for many accessories.

View OSU55's profile


3050 posts in 3481 days

16 comments so far

View b2rtch's profile


4922 posts in 4540 days

#1 posted 01-18-2014 09:14 PM

I have this lath for several years, I do not use it very often, but i used this morning.
This an excellent lath for the price.
I also use this set:HF #35444 HSS turning tool set

-- Bert

View MrRon's profile


6333 posts in 4735 days

#2 posted 01-18-2014 09:53 PM

I have the very same lathe and tool set you have. I got a real good deal from my local HF store; I’ve owned it for 5 years. I didn’t fine tune it like you did, but it still works well for me. I haven’t used it all that much, but when I need it, it does what it is supposed to do. I also have an 11” Sheldon metal lathe which does most of my turning work. I’m pretty sure the HF lathe is the same as sold under other names and for a lot more money. I would readily recommend this lathe to someone just starting out without breaking the bank.

View dbhost's profile


5913 posts in 4723 days

#3 posted 01-20-2014 02:44 AM

I have that particular lathe, I didn’t have to deburr / remove slag from anything, however I did have to tighten a few fasteners, particularly on the head stock… Otherwise it has been a great machine for the money…

I have mine matched with a Harbor Freight MT2 drill chuck, Wood River 4 jaw chuck, and Penn State Industries “Benjamin’s best” 8 piece HSS set as well as versa chisels, and rouging gouge set… I am not very good at it, but this thing is a joy to use. I LOVE turning… This is the first lathe I have ever owned, however I have used quite a few including 50s 60s, and 70s vintage lathes from Craftsman, and Rockwell, as well as more modern lathes from Delta… This thing compares admirably. Yes fit and finish could be better… But I have seen lathes from the “big name brand” tool companies that could learn a thing or two about tool building from Harbor Freight’s manufacturer…

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View texbilly's profile


21 posts in 3912 days

#4 posted 01-21-2014 12:31 AM

OSU, for someone who is interested in finally taking the plunge into turning (but doesn’t want to spend crazy money to learn), I thank you for this post. So does my wallet! Well done, from a fellow engineer. :)

-- Billy

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1355 posts in 3426 days

#5 posted 01-21-2014 01:50 AM

Heard a ton of great things about this lathe. When the time comes for me to buy one, this will be it.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View b2rtch's profile


4922 posts in 4540 days

#6 posted 01-21-2014 10:46 AM

This is what I did with mine yesterday morning.

-- Bert

View b2rtch's profile


4922 posts in 4540 days

#7 posted 01-21-2014 11:15 AM

Looking at my pictures, I am now thinking about enclosing the whole back and to connect the lath to my DC.
It should not be very difficult to do.

-- Bert

View hunter71's profile


3564 posts in 4678 days

#8 posted 01-21-2014 12:01 PM

My son bought one to learn to turn but it ended up at my shop, guess he didn’t use it. I set it up not thinking I would use it much, but I do. It works great to rough out with one lathe and finish with another. Keep the shafts lubed or it eats belts.

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

View MakinAmess's profile


1 post in 3077 days

#9 posted 01-22-2014 02:55 AM

I have been looking at that same lathe. Based on the above comments, I think I’ll pull the trigger.

-- Grandchildren, God's second greatest creation.

View JADobson's profile


1449 posts in 3602 days

#10 posted 01-23-2014 10:52 PM

I have a lathe that looks exactly like this one, only it is a King CH-900C model. Does anyone know if there are any differences between these lathes? Thanks.

-- No craft is very far from the line beyond which is magic. -- Lord Dunsany — Instagram @grailwoodworks

View jimintx's profile


939 posts in 3076 days

#11 posted 01-28-2014 02:38 AM

Hi folks – I just joined a few days ago, and haven’t gotten in a first post – so this is it.

This review and the comments provided the push I needed to make a decision: I bought one at the nearest HF this past weekend. With a sale in progress and a 25% off coupon, it came in at less than $200. I had an old craftsman lathe, the one with the pipe-style bed. From that I had nice Sorby tools, albeit a bit rusty, and a few drives and face plates. So for now, I haven’t bought new accessories. I’d like to get a nice chuck.

I don’t yet have it all set up. I plan to mount it on a wooden cabinet rather than the leg set, but the legs are still stored in case my plan fails. I think it seems well made, esp. at the price. I moved all the lasts and found it smooth and easy, and no parts were damaged in the box. The entire setup comes in one box, and it’s monstrously heavy. Two burly workers at the store loaded it into my SUV. Then getting it out at the home shop was a challenge!


-- Jim, Houston, TX

View b2rtch's profile


4922 posts in 4540 days

#12 posted 01-28-2014 12:06 PM

jimintx, before you use your lath remove the cover over the belt and lubricate the two shafts on which the pulleys slide back and forth, this will make the operation much smoother.

-- Bert

View jimintx's profile


939 posts in 3076 days

#13 posted 01-30-2014 07:13 AM

Bert, I will do that. What lube do you prefer for this application? Moving the parts around some, I think the lather is smooth as it came out of the box. I am on the alert for debarring anything ii see that needs it. But no places have yet been observed.


-- Jim, Houston, TX

View b2rtch's profile


4922 posts in 4540 days

#14 posted 01-30-2014 10:39 AM

I had a spray of white lithium grease, this is what I used.
Any light grease would do, be careful to not “grease” the belt.
You need to “separate” the 1/2 pulleys on the motor to grease the shaft under, the spring is pretty stiff but it can be done.

-- Bert

View SignWave's profile


472 posts in 4527 days

#15 posted 02-29-2016 07:16 PM

I just assembled this lathe this morning, and my impressions are the same as OSU55. If you’re one of us who doesn’t mind doing a little maintenance, then this is a real bargain. It was pretty rough out of the box, but it cleans up nicely.

-- Barry,

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