Help with buying a lathe

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Forum topic by BeginnerBowlBill posted 04-05-2017 10:24 PM 1650 views 0 times favorited 40 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View BeginnerBowlBill's profile


13 posts in 1218 days

04-05-2017 10:24 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe bowl wood turning

Hi wood buddys,

I have a ranch with a lot of dead Pecan wood and I thought I’d try my hand at lathing bowls and giving to my friends. With that said, I started looking for the proper lathe – and here’s where I ask for your help.

I’ve barely started my research and determined I’m tired of researching. I just want to go out and buy it so I can start working. I got confused looking at Midi and mini lathes and don’t understand any of the center-to-? measurements, or anything like that. I guess I’m getting too old to try and figure it all out so I ask for your help.

I’ll be turning wood bowls maybe up to 18 inches or so in diameter. I just want a cheap, but decent lathe and the right attachments. Could someone please just give a me the name of a lathe that would do the trick before I run down to harbor freight tools and buy the wrong item? :) Also, could you give me the additional attachments, accessories and tools I will need.

Thanks in advance for all your great input. I really do appreciate your sharing your knowledge of this subject. Please hurry, I’m itchin to lathe.


40 replies so far

View Woodknack's profile


13438 posts in 3182 days

#1 posted 04-06-2017 12:27 AM

What is your budget?

-- Rick M,

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1577 days

#2 posted 04-06-2017 12:32 AM

This guy’s clearly got alterior motives. Buffalo Bill etc.

View doubleDD's profile


9532 posts in 2845 days

#3 posted 04-06-2017 12:35 AM

I believe the biggest lathe HF sells is only for 12’’ turning. If your looking to turn up to 18’’ it’s not going to be cheap.
You may have to look into something used.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View tomd's profile


2218 posts in 4572 days

#4 posted 04-06-2017 12:55 AM

A lathe is the cheap part.

-- Tom D

View Lazyman's profile


5634 posts in 2189 days

#5 posted 04-06-2017 03:12 AM

You probably won’t find a mini or midi lathe that can handle an 18” bowl. A bowl blank that large needs a lathe with some mass to avoid jumping all over the place. The first number listed on a lathe is usually the largest diameter it can turn but in practice, the maximum it can handle is really an inch or two smaller because you usually need room to slide the tool rest base underneath the bowl blank. So if bowls that large are really your goal, you will need a fairly large lathe to handle that so it’s going to cost quite a bit more than a midi lathe.

BTW, the second number listed is usually the longest piece it can handle but that is mostly relevant to spindle turning.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Wildwood's profile


2876 posts in 2937 days

#6 posted 04-06-2017 01:13 PM

To turn 18” diameter bowl you need a lathe with at least 20 to 24 inch swing! Simple measure from top of lathe bed or ways to center of lathe spindle will determine the swing of a lathe. If buy a lathe with 18” swing an 18” diameter bowl will not clear the lathe bed or tool rest base (banjo).

There are no cheap but decent lathes with enough swing for you buy unless find something used and in need of repairs.

When you process logs for tuning there is a lot of wasted wood. A 18” diameter log may only yield 12 to 16” finish bowl turning on a lathe depending on design.

-- Bill

View Carloz's profile


1147 posts in 1393 days

#7 posted 04-06-2017 01:56 PM

Are you sure you want to do it ? Wood turning is a tremendous waster or wood with not much appreciated results.
Make a simple finger joint box from your pecans and people well ooh and aah over it. Make an intricate bowl and nobody will even notice.

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1727 posts in 2532 days

#8 posted 04-06-2017 04:35 PM

BeginnerBill, if you going to give the bowls to friends, I certainly hope you have a LOT of friends to justify the cost of just the lathe alone. The other tools are what is expensive.

If I didn’t already have a Powermatic lathe, I would still say the same thing about them as Powermatic has always made quality machines for the woodworking industry for over 70 years, possibly longer than that. Therefore, my observations are below.

Powermatic 3520 is a good lathe. The 35 in the designation means it is 35” between the headstock and tailstock without the attachments, I believe. You will loose some length when installing the live center and chuck. If you think spindles might be in your future, that’s food for thought.

The 20 designation indicates the distance (swing) from the center of the spindle to the ways. Powermatic is actually 20 1/4””, thus giving the owners a bonus with the extra swing. For turning bowls, you can get by with turning maximum OD if you use the tool rest properly. To get the banjo from one end of the piece if maxed on the OD, just remove either faceplate or chuck, and slide the banjo to where it’s needed. Replace the faceplate or chuck back on the spindle and continue turning. The only height problem will be trying to turn a large diameter long log that the banjo can’t get under.

It’s heavy, about 700+pounds. That is an absolute must for large blanks.

I have no other information to give on other lathes other than they all will get you there in the end.

Wildwood is right about the lose of size when turning. I’ve maxed my blanks to just at 19 1/2”, and might end up with a 16” form. There are a lot of variables to consider when trying to get diameter. Just don’t think because you have a piece of wood 18” OD, you’ll get a bowl that OD. Won’t happen.

For the size blanks you are expecting to turn, I hope you have some help in mounting them between centers. As I’m sure you are already aware of, wood that large is heavy. To my knowledge there isn’t anything on the market to assist in mounting blanks that large unless you have a bulky engine lift or a hoist of some sort.

Please do not think I’m trying to discourage you in any way. There is a lot to learn and you have to stick with getting that knowledge. Don’t quit like you did with the research you started. Continue with it, and since you’ve already gotten some information from this site, you might have a better understanding of some of your concerns. Hope this helps and feel free to ask for help when needed.

Where are you located? You might find a turning club nearby if you are near a large city. Most club members are chomping at the bit to help …....... Jerry (In Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View BeginnerBowlBill's profile


13 posts in 1218 days

#9 posted 04-10-2017 01:25 AM

Thanks guys for all the input. Ok, I have more input… I measured the diameter of the wood I’d most like be using and it’s only about 12”-13”. Can I get a lathe cheaper than 1000? Also, what about the lathes that the head spins around? Isn’t that so you can turn bigger bowls?

I don’t care about how much wood I waste – I have tons of dead pecan wood rotting and I’d just like to make something nice with it. I’ve been cutting them out by hand and it’s a lot of work. I’d like to just throw it on a lathe and turn in. Any cheaper ideas? The HF lathe has a swivel head, will that work?

Thanks again for all your input.

View jonnybrophy's profile


160 posts in 1413 days

#10 posted 04-10-2017 01:42 AM

Do you know what a Bowl lathe is? Would probably be more useful for you if you want to turn large items(platters, bowls etc)
Unfortunately, spindle turning and such is pretty difficult with a bowl lathe.
Also, Have you ever turned before? If not, id recommend a carbide tool set rather than traditional(much less in terms of sharpening/ specialty profiles)
Turning is super fun and can produce awesome results, but is SUPER dangerous
Watch some youtube videos about catches and how to avoid them. Also, not the wood grain type(side, long, end, crotch etc) this is what causes those big blow outs heard about in the lathe horror stories.
Have fun and Good luck!

-- "If she dont find ya handsome, she better find ya handy"

View OSU55's profile


2649 posts in 2791 days

#11 posted 04-10-2017 11:51 AM

Yes the HF 34706 lathe would work well for your application. Here is a review. I’m not a fan of carbide tools – they have their place (like a small hollowing tip) but just don’t cut that well in my experience. . HF does not have bowl gouges. Look at PSI tools Benjamin’s Best or Hurricane tools. You will need a sharpening system – Wolverine vari grind jig and an 8” 1/2 speed grinder. To hold the work, the cheap route is a tap to match the spindle threads, 1” x 8 tpi, to tap glue blocks to mount the bowls on. If you want a chuck, PSI Barracuda2. While at HF pick up a clear safety face shield.

My favorite expert for bowl turning – tool use, methods, etc – is Lyle Jamieson – has a lot of youtube videos. Good luck, be careful.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5294 posts in 4762 days

#12 posted 04-10-2017 02:18 PM

OSU55 has given some good advice EXCEPT the face shield from HF. Get a good shield. Many of us have the UVEX shield. It is the best one I’ve ever used. Give it a thought.

-- [email protected]

View MikeUT's profile


200 posts in 2161 days

#13 posted 04-10-2017 03:49 PM

I have a Jet 12-36 and from what I understand the HF lathe’s design is based on the 12-36. The headstock does swing to allow larger turnings. The largest thing I’ve turned was a 16” segmented platter. I don’t think I would attempt to turn a solid piece much larger than 12” to 14” on my lathe. Its not that it can’t technically be done, but that it will run right out of your garage if it doesn’t shake itself to pieces on the way out. Its a pretty light machine and when you mount an unbalanced blank it goes crazy. I assume that a HF lathe would be even worse than a Jet.

If I were you, I would cruise your local Craigslist for a few weeks and see if you see anything good come up. If you are open to waiting you could get a lot more bang for your buck.

+1 on OSU55’s opinion on traditional tools vs carbide tools. I got a few of each when I first started turning. At first I tended to reach for the carbide tools first because they are more forgiving. But after a month or two I started using the regular tools more and more. I find a bowl/spindle gouge to be more effective. Now I rarely use the carbide tools.

View Lazyman's profile


5634 posts in 2189 days

#14 posted 04-10-2017 07:03 PM

For turning bowls, I would definitely get some bowl gouges (+1 on the Hercules and Benjamins Best recommendations for a good quality but more affordable beginner tool) and never, ever use spindle tools on bowls—very dangerous. The carbide tools are easy to learn so make it easier to jump right in and don’t require you to learn how to sharpen but generally don’t leave as smooth a finish as a well sharpened bowl gouge so usually require much more sanding when you reach the final shape. You also need to get a good chuck or research how to use a face plate to mount your bowl blanks on the lathe. Turning can be a black hole so prices some of the accessories that you need (want) to make sure that you can keep the cost within budget.

BTW, you can minimize the problems with your lathe dancing around your shop on large bowls by cutting your bowl blanks mostly round before you start. A band saw is probably the easiest way to do that, though there are tricks for doing that with a chain saw that might be good enough. Start turning with a very low speed until you get it balanced and you can maximize the size you can turn on a smaller lathe. I would start with smaller bowls anyway until you get the hang of it.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Woodknack's profile


13438 posts in 3182 days

#15 posted 04-10-2017 07:22 PM

...EXCEPT the face shield from HF. Get a good shield.

- Bill White

I’m using another brand, can’t remember which one, and it’s good but the Uvex looks better so I might upgrade. I have one of the crappy HF shields, they were like $1 when I bought mine years ago. The fit is poor and they are flimsy, pretty sure they are made from recycled cottage cheese cartons.

-- Rick M,

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