What am I looking for in a lathe?

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Forum topic by Tabletop posted 02-17-2017 09:36 AM 1427 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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139 posts in 1358 days

02-17-2017 09:36 AM

I have always wanted one but never had the extra cash to buy one. I usually buy from ozbirns or a local guy when I need table legs. I have been blessed with the resources to purchase my own lathe so thought this would be a great place to start. I want one to do table legs, what am I looking for? I prefer used and my budget is $1000. Looking over Craigslist and I’m seeing a bunch but don’t know enough to make a choice. What are the do’s and don’ts. Are there brands to stay clear of, etc…. any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

18 replies so far

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3979 days

#1 posted 02-17-2017 09:51 AM

You need a full size lathe, not a mini or midi. You will have to be working on 30-35” lengths for table legs. You need one with multi speeds, belt drive with step pullies is fine, just make sure you can get down to at least 400 RPM and up to maybe 1800-2400 rpm. Stick with name brands like Delta or Jet with a used lathe, you want to have parts available. If you intend to make legs for tables, chairs or anything else then get yourself a Lathe duplicator. They are not too expensive and there are plenty of plans online to build your own. Legs must match, and if you build a table and chair set, you’re talking a whole lot of legs that must be the exact same. No problem with a duplicator. Hope this helps a little

View Woodmaster1's profile


1296 posts in 3198 days

#2 posted 02-17-2017 11:38 AM

The lathe is just the beginning. You will need or want lathe tools and a chuck. Expect to invest at least 1/4 of your budget on those items and that is on the low side. I have easily spent more on accessories than the midi lathe. A midi lathe with a bed extension will meet your requirements and be less expensive.

View Tabletop's profile


139 posts in 1358 days

#3 posted 02-17-2017 12:12 PM

Great information papa Dan and wood master.
I must look into a duplicator. Probably a must have once get the hang of it. I figured the accessories would be expensive. Chucks, are they just different ways to secure the wood to the lathe? I’ve noticed some go into the wood and some grab from the outside.


View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1258 days

#4 posted 02-17-2017 12:26 PM

OR … build one of these for next to nothing and spend the remaining $992.00 on lumber!

... it seems to tun out some decent legs …


View Tabletop's profile


139 posts in 1358 days

#5 posted 02-17-2017 01:00 PM

Looks great Ron. Now just ship it and you to my shop. Lol

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1258 days

#6 posted 02-17-2017 01:02 PM

Looks great Ron. Now just ship it and you to my shop. Lol

- Tabletop

It’s ALL in the lathe, man … it’s ALL in the lathe! LOL!

View OSU55's profile


2511 posts in 2600 days

#7 posted 02-17-2017 01:03 PM

Would you want to do anything else with the lathe? Is it for business only or hobby work as well? How long of table legs do you envision making? For table legs, swing will be mostly irrelevant, but long legs for a tall table could drive you into a big expensive lathe – distance between centers. Agree that a duplicator will make it much easier.

For legs you would use a spur type or cup center drive – you wouldn’t need a chuck, and duplicators have the cutting tool included. You might need a couple of handheld tools to rough blanks – not sure, never operated a duplicator. You will need a sharpening system – figure that out after determining what cutting tools are needed.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7804 posts in 3525 days

#8 posted 02-17-2017 01:06 PM

Here is what I went through when I was looking to purchase a lathe. I actually changed my mind over the course of the thread:

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

View xunil76's profile


31 posts in 1075 days

#9 posted 02-17-2017 01:16 PM

i know i’m new here, and i’m just getting into turning myself…but from what i’ve seen watching a lot of youtube videos is that if you’re going to invest into an expensive lathe, make sure that 1) you get one with as large of a swing as possible so you don’t limit your options of turning projects unnecessarily (never know when you may wanna turn some giant bowl/platter), and 2) the motor has enough HP to do what you need it to do (you don’t want to bog down your motor). probaby best to stay away from tube-style rails and get cast ones instead. a rotating headstock would be really nice for when you need to get deep down into some bowl/vase (properly secured, of course). and that’s all just for the lathe itself.

as others have mentioned, the tools can make all the difference in the world…the difference between a beautifully-finished piece and one that looks like a rat chewed it up, or worse yet, explodes on you.

View waho6o9's profile


8812 posts in 3187 days

#10 posted 02-17-2017 02:57 PM

One stop shop and you’ll have everything you need, ask about a sharpening system.

This one fits your budget and needs ^^

Good luck have fun and ride that bevel!

View bigJohninvegas's profile


725 posts in 2072 days

#11 posted 02-17-2017 03:18 PM

If all you really want to do is turn table legs then some of the mini lathes may work for you. I started out with the rockler excelsior minI lathe, with the bed extension. It only has a 10 inch swing but plenty of lenth for legs. I wanted more than table legs so I sold it when I bought my jet 16×42. and all she does with it is table legs. Works great for her. Its cheap, at around $300, and will get you started. I found mine used for $150, and recoverd that when I sold it. Learned what I really wanted out of a lathe, without spending alot to get started.

-- John

View sawdustdad's profile


379 posts in 1496 days

#12 posted 02-17-2017 03:42 PM

This is what I learned to turn on in high school shop class. Still available used

Here’s what I bought for my home shop

It’s not as robust as some but the variable speed is very convenient and I’ve turned many legs on it. I have a duplicator, but find it’s almost more trouble than it’s worth. With a proper template, it’s easy enough to turn “near” duplicates and the minor variations are never noticed by casual observers. Plus, the minor variations from one leg to the next add a touch of humanity to your work.

-- Murphy's Carpentry Corollary #3: Half of all boards cut to a specific length will be too short.

View Kelly's profile


2639 posts in 3555 days

#13 posted 02-17-2017 06:41 PM

If you absolutely know you’re going to jump into the world of lathe work, get the best you can. That includes avoiding Jets and such that have a motor sticking out to the right and limiting what you can turn in the way of bowls.

If you are unsure, consider a good used, lighter weight unit, until you know. Again, try to get the best you can, of course. If nothing else, this ups or maintains the resale value. Ideally, you’d do like I did and make the jump to a bigger one, and keep your old, smaller unit too.

SIDE NOTE: I picked up my 46-450 Rockwell Delta variable speed beast for a hundred bucks last summer. Oddly, it was working when I bought it from the scrapper.

View Tabletop's profile


139 posts in 1358 days

#14 posted 02-17-2017 08:47 PM

Great information from everyone. I’m planning on researching for another week, (aka big install will be complete and will have the money) and then pulling the trigger.

View Wildwood's profile


2794 posts in 2745 days

#15 posted 02-17-2017 08:49 PM

Not a big fan of buying a wood lathe off craigslist, but that Jet 1642 in Mobile looks interesting. You would need a pickup and break it down to transport if it looks like picture and runs well. Feel the same way about E-bay. You have to kiss a lot of frogs you find a prince of a deal.

If live near a Harbor Freight this lathe goes on sale often you can read reviews at their site and here on that lathe.

They also sell good spindle starter sets of tools, there two are their best.

Just don’t buy a bench grinder from them to sharpen your tools.

Just use some scrap 2 or 4 by’s or firewood for practice.

Good luck with it.

-- Bill

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