I think I want a lathe.

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Forum topic by AndrewFromSoCal posted 09-03-2015 05:08 PM 1444 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 1678 days

09-03-2015 05:08 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe wood turning turning wood wood working newbie newb new purchase

I wasn’t sure whether to post this in Woodturning, or Power tools, so please bare with me, as this is my first post.

I am pretty sure I want a lathe. I have looked at a lot of projects, and have some birthday money left over to spend frivolously before it gets sucked into bills or car maintenance. I have tried to do some research, and poked through quite a few threads on the internet, but I was hoping for some more expert opinion on a starter lathe. I had seen a few examples at the local Harbor Freight, being between 300-150$, but wasn’t sure as to the quality of these machines, as HF often seems to be in the mid to low ground as far as tools go. I also wasn’t sure whether or not a metal lathe or wood lathe would be easier for a beginner (though I am probably leaning toward wood, as it seems metal is more mechanically operated, and I feel I should start with hand spinning).

I guess my questions are as follows:
1) What would I be spending as an initiation cost (machine, tools, etc.)
2) Wood or Metal?
3) Where should I be looking for these items at? (Internet? Store? I am located in Southern California.)

Sorry if this is broad and annoying, but if any of you have some free time and don’t mind answering newbie questions, it would be greatly appreciated.


17 replies so far

View Bmezz's profile


50 posts in 2064 days

#1 posted 09-03-2015 06:28 PM

Before you dive in I strongly suggest finding a local woodturning club. They usually offer beginner courses and/or mentoring. This will give you an opportunity to try different lathes, tools and various projects. It will save you the cost many times over and perhaps injury. You can’t know what you don’t know. Cheers.

-- Member Valley Woodturners Ottawa. Member AAW

View bondogaposis's profile


5685 posts in 3032 days

#2 posted 09-03-2015 06:48 PM

Well for one metal lathes are 10x the cost of wood lathes. So I wouldn’t go there unless you specifically want to machine metal. To save money look in the second hand market. That is what I did and I have far more money into tools and accessories than the the lathe itself. The need for accessories seems to be endless, at least it has been for me over the last 3 years that I have been turning. It is really a lot of fun though and worth it.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View TheDane's profile


5785 posts in 4344 days

#3 posted 09-03-2015 07:05 PM

+1 for Bmezz’s recommendation.

AAW (American Association of Woodturners) is a remarkable resource. Look here for a local chapter in your area.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Clarkie's profile


489 posts in 2522 days

#4 posted 09-03-2015 07:16 PM

Hello Andrew, before you get carried away with too many suggestions…lol, here’s one more for the acquisition of a lathe through say either garage sales, flea markets, or better yet on Craigs List. You may be better with a small version, say a used Jet lathe, they can be had with a bed extension for under 300.00. That being said, a 12” swing older model Delta can be found usually for under 300.00 including most times the turning tools. Have fun, make some dust.

View Wildwood's profile


2829 posts in 2816 days

#5 posted 09-03-2015 07:27 PM

Hard to recommend a lathe without knowing what you want to turn on a wood lathe. When you talk about spinning are you wanting to spin metal on a lathe?

These two HF are entry level wood lathes that are popular with many woodturners although quality can be hit or miss. You can read reviews at their web site or here. Would not bother with other HF wood lathes.

Price is no indication of a good deal if used lathe not complete or you do not see & hear it run. Some lathes may require new bearings, belts, or motors if you cannot make those repairs buy a new one! If have patient may find something on the used market. Would caution you to check here or other message boards before buying. There is a lot of junk in used wood lathe markets and spare parts not available.

Yes there are better alternatives than those Harbor Freight lathes, and can find them online or check out local Woodcraft store.

Lathe reviews here:

-- Bill

View SignWave's profile


472 posts in 3716 days

#6 posted 09-03-2015 07:44 PM

As you consider cost, keep in mind that the tools, chucks, centers, etc. will quickly exceed the cost of a bargain lathe itself. You’ll need a set of chisels right off the bat. If you want to turn anything besides spindles (anything long and skinny with lengthwise grain, like a bowl for instance) then you’ll need a chuck. If you want to turn pens, you’ll need goodies for that. It adds up quickly. The budget chisels and chucks at Penn State Industries are a good deal, FWIW.

Rockler has an entry lathe that is very similar to the 10” HF posted above, often on sale for US$199. The fit and finish is nicer than the HF, IMHO. The only thing that I wish mine had is variable speed. Changing speeds manually is a bit of a hassle.

Beware. Turning is addictive.

-- Barry,

View ForestGrl's profile


450 posts in 1767 days

#7 posted 09-03-2015 08:28 PM

Ditto to Clarkie and SignWave above. I’ve had 2 lathes, both of which were used and the same model, Jet 1236. The first one was well-used but worked fine, but the second one came up on Craig’s List and had close to zero hours on it. The bearings were better, and the tailstock and headstock lined up perfectly, so I bought it and sold #1 for what I paid for it originally. I think it cost me around $250-$300, nicely made with electronic variable speed.

Really important to know what you’re getting into post-lathe-purchase, as SignWave describes. The turning tools (gouges, chisels, scrapers, etc.), a grinder and possibly grinder jig like the Wolverine, the chuck ($150 plus), easily double or triple what you spent for the lathe. If you’re clever and have the tools, there are many shop-made alternatives to some of these things.

Ditto also to starting with an AAW chapter, you’ll find lots of help there from people who’ve tons of experience and can help you avoid mistakes in the purchasing and outfitting. Their mentorship program is great!

-- My mother said that anyone learning to cook needed a large dog to eat the mistakes. As a sculptor of wood I have always tried to keep a fireplace. (Norman Ridenour)

View HokieKen's profile (online now)


12881 posts in 1820 days

#8 posted 09-03-2015 08:42 PM

I picked up a HF lathe on CL for a song to “dip my toe” in the turning water. I find the lathe to be very acceptable. A lathe is really a very simple machine. As long as the spindle runs true and you can align the tailstock with it, you can do good work on it.

On the other hand, I have many years experience on metal lathes and can tell you that a woodturning lathe and a metal lathe are apples and oranges. Metal working lathes are much more expensive and require much more precision. There is little skill involved with working metal, just a lot of technical know how. Turning wood on the other hand is all about skill with only a little technical knowledge. Turning metal (not spinning – that’s a whole different process) is much easier but requires much more investment and maintenance. Turning wood is a relatively minor investment. Until you need tools, chucks, etc. as many have pointed out. Even then though, the cost is much lower than metal. That’s not even considering the raw stock. Metal bar stock is much more expensive than wood turning blanks.

So, unless you specifically want to work metal, go for a wood turning lathe. Watch CL or go for the HF model. Don’t spend a bunch until you know you’re going to use it and get a feel for exactly what you want in a lathe.

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

View REO's profile


929 posts in 2755 days

#9 posted 09-04-2015 12:55 AM

I have seen the 10” Atlas/ craftsman/Wards metal lathes go for less than a new jet wood lathe. The atlas will outlive the jet by a long shot. They will be true. I have seen many lathes with the headstock machined out of line with the bed and tail stocks that have to be fershimmeled into alignment. BUT I am not one to get excited over head and tailstock alignment anyways LOL.I have an atlas lathe that was purchased new in 1949 and used exclusively for wood turning. among other things it was used to turn over 5million bait casting bobbers. At one time we had five of these in the shop. Dad turned exclusively for over 60 years and was very pleased with them. Last year I decided to rebuild it not because it was worn out (I sold the parts I replaced) but because I wanted to have a larger throw and modified its use for something specific. This type of lathe used timken roller bearings in the head stock which will last virtually forever if properly maintained even at speeds up to 3500 RPM. many of the lathes available for wood turning specifically use standard ball or angular contact ball bearings and are not nearly as durable. Many of the other metal turning lathes use Babbit (plain) bearings and these will not take the speeds used by many wood turners.

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1685 posts in 2411 days

#10 posted 09-04-2015 02:10 AM

Where in SoCal are you, Andrew? I think there is a club on Tustin Ave near Orange and Tustin. That’s the closest I can get you. Like others stated, find a club near you, go to a couple meetings, and then make your decision if you want to pursue the vortex.


Alright Reo, is that a real word, or is it a typo?

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View TheDane's profile


5785 posts in 4344 days

#11 posted 09-04-2015 02:17 AM


Alright Reo, is that a real word, or it it a typo?

Fershimmeled is a real word. It is Yiddish. Means to be flustered, confused or generally discombobulated

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View REO's profile


929 posts in 2755 days

#12 posted 09-04-2015 11:34 AM

Dane, I didnt know that. a customer used the word many years agoo when we were installing some 20” X 6’ walnut columns for a fireplace mantle. the floor was poured concrete and the bases needed to be “adjusted to fit” she said “you’ll have to fershimel them a bit” LOL now I know. thanks!

View soob's profile


271 posts in 1890 days

#13 posted 09-04-2015 03:10 PM

In addition to the lathe you also need chisels and a way to sharpen them. Usually that means a grinder ($40-$100) and a jig (~$150). That being said you could do a lot of spindle turning with just a skew chisel, which can easily be sharpened without a grinder or jig—though it’s a bit tricky to use.

You have to have a way to sharpen the tools correctly from the get-go. Do not to try to turn wood with dull tools. You won’t like it. And the tools will need to be resharpened after literally every ten minutes of use.

View TheDane's profile


5785 posts in 4344 days

#14 posted 09-04-2015 03:26 PM

You have to have a way to sharpen the tools correctly from the get-go. Do not to try to turn wood with dull tools. You won t like it. And the tools will need to be resharpened after literally every ten minutes of use.

- soob

A very wise man once said: If it is almost sharp, it will almost cut.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View MrUnix's profile (online now)


7846 posts in 2880 days

#15 posted 09-04-2015 03:33 PM

I’ve never had good results turning metal stuff on my South Bend lathe using chisels :)

To the OP – You need to determine what projects you want to do in order to determine what type of lathe you want to get. There is a world of difference between a wood turning and a metal turning lathe as already mentioned.


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

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