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Swing capacity

1727 Views 13 Replies 12 Participants Last post by  Case101
Looking for some help from the voice of experience. How important is swing capacity in excess of 12"? I mostly find myself turning bowls, and want something larger than my 10" mini, but when it comes right down to it, I am wondering if swing capacity is sort of like megapixels in a camera. Companies produce and advertise it in extremes, but is is really that useful? I can count on one hand the number of times I have had access to a piece of wood bigger than 12" in diameter. So, lay it on me. What matters to you in lathe specs?
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Dont have a good answer but I'm also interested in seeing what the masses have to say on this …
For me, I didn't realize how important certain things were until my wifey bestowed upon me in 2002, a Powermatic 3520. With a swing over bed of 20", and tail to headstock of a little over 34", I thought I would never outgrow it. Then came the time when I found the big wood pile that my town puts together for people to pick firewood out of, and the curly and burl that was mixed in.

But seriously, here is my list of the most important things, assuming that the lathe is well built, center to center is dead on, and it is heavy enough to not walk across the floor. Not necessarily in any order…

1. Without a doubt, for me, variable speed. My lathe has two main speed categories that you set with a belt move, then the variable speed drive takes over. There is literally nothing like having a lathe that will rotate at maybe 15-20 RPM while you inspect the work, see if you are mounted correctly, or maybe actually mark a section with a pen. And having variable speed for not only turning, but buffing and polishing, it's kind of like the first time you drive a hydrostatic drive lawn tractor. You never want to go back.
2. Ability to change out chucks, heads, tailstocks, etc, without taking 5-10 minutes out of the project. this includes through chuck with a rod.
3. My lathe has a movable head. This seems like kind of a not-needed, but I can center it on the bed for short, big pieces, and it helps balance it out. I can also turn my head around so I can do really big stuff off the end, if I so choose. (You need a separate tool rest stand for this - I own the Powermatic cast iron unit)
4. Reverse. What a wonderful thing when you are polishing and buffing. It also comes in handy when you want to do that reverse cut where you cannot quite get the tool where you want it. The reverse direction of the variable speed drive opens up all kinds of opportunities for different kinds of cutting, polishing, all kinds of options.

These are the biggies that I use.
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I have an old Craftsman with a 12" swing and 36" bed and I actually used all of it once. I wanted to turn a pedestal for a table that ended up being just over 11" when I was done. It was from an old log that had been in my grandfather's shop for 50+ years and while certainly dry, it was quite heavy. I have put a variable speed drive on it as well as a Baldor motor that will allow good torque at very low speed, I feel that is very important unless all you're doing is pens and small spindles.
My lathe has 12" swing, and after cutting a blank to fit, I usually end up with no more than an 11 1/2"-3/4" finished piece. I would like to go to 16" and it would give me a finished piece at 12" if I chose to do that size. But I'm sure if I did go to 16", eventually I would be looking for bigger wood and would need to get a bigger lathe. ..... Jerry (in Tucson)
My lathe (Nova 1624) has 16" swing. I have only turned a few items close to the 16" because they are so huge nobody wants them. Most upper kitchen cabinets are only about 12" deep.
That said, I would not want to go to a 12" lathe for larger items. Most 16" come with a lot more HP which is major on larger items IMHO. Also from rough logs and going down to 12" allows you to turn away most of the sap wood and get down closer to the heart.
I (my daughter) also has the Nova Comet2 which is a good lathe but it does not give the options of the 1624. It's very easy to appreciate the difference in .75 hp v 1.5 hp.
I didn't think swing was too big of a deal (I have a Delta 12" midi) until I started taking classes at a shop equipped with PowerMatic 3520B lathes. The difference isn't so much the 'swing' (I seldom turn anything over 10" in diameter) as it is the heft of the lathe itself (mass translates to stability) and the increased torque you get with a 2hp or bigger motor.

I love my Delta 46-460, but sometime in the near future, I expect to be upgrading to a bigger lathe in my shop.
+1 to both Lee and Gerry. I have a Jet 1642 with the 2 hp motor, and rarely turn anything at the extreme size it is capable of handling, but the extra power makes a world of difference. I took a class with David Ellsworth a few years ago and he has Robust lathes in his shop - 3 hp each. While they remain a pipe dream for me, I don't regret for a minute investing in the 2 horse Jet. You never regret having more power than you need, but may regret not having enough.

I hate to be nit picky, but I thought the question was about swing. ........ Jerry (in Tucson)
If wood you have access to and turn regularly does not exceed 12" lathe selection no brainer. For years and still use my electric or gas chain saws made wood fit my lathe.

Plenty of midi lathes with 12" swing up to the task and come with EVS. There are a couple Asian reeves drive lathe worth a look with 12" swing. Nova's non-DVR 16" swing cost little more than those other midi & reeves drive lathes, but will be moving belt over pulleys to change speeds.

I have and like a Jet 16" swing lathe with EVS, simply outgrew a 12" swing lathe. Like lot of people would love to have a Oneway, Powermatic or Robust lathe, my current shop just not big enough.
How important is swing capacity in excess of 12"?
- Sawdust2012
Depends on if you want to turn bowls larger than about 11". If you don't have it, you can't do it. Heck, my lathe is only 9" swing but I still turn lots of projects on it. 12" is probably around the sweet spot. Most of the firewood I get for lathe turning is way too large for my lathe without a lot of waste.
I have a 20" swing lathe. While I rarely make bowls that big (I have a couple of 18" roughed out bowls drying as we speak), it's great for offset turnings. For example, I turned a 10" square piece, then offset it by a couple of inches to turn a small bowl out towards one corner. That made the required swing something like 18".
If I had a larger lathe I'm pretty sure I could sell all the salad bowl sets I could stand to make but honestly I don't care that much for bowl turning to make a job of it and most people do not want to pay enough to make it worth my time. I would enjoy making some decent size offset bowls though.
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