Advice for a new woodturner - which way to start?

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Forum topic by edapp posted 11-19-2018 07:15 PM 6199 views 0 times favorited 34 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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347 posts in 2673 days

11-19-2018 07:15 PM

I would like to start turning bowls. I have never had the space in my shop to consider a lathe, but finally after adding on to the back of my shop and moving all of my wood storage outside, will have a great space that I plan to dedicate to turning.

I have no experience with lathes or turning whatsoever. I have been watching turning videos on youtube for a few years now and really feel like I would enjoy it. So I feel like I am at a crossroads, and am ready to dive into the turning journey head first.

So this is where I am, and what I am wondering:

Should I buy a nice, large lathe with zero experience, or start small until I develop skills?

My shop is full of nice, large, expensive tools. It didn’t start that way, and I have never bought a nice/new/high end tool FIRST. I always bought used, cheap tools on craigslist or from the home supply to get started, and every time so far it has ended up with me upgrading, and in some cases upgrading again. This has worked well, and let me learn about the tools before dropping a lot of money on them. In each case I learned enough to know what I wanted in my “last upgrade”, how much capacity I needed, what features I valued etc.

In my six years of experience woodworking I have gone through 3 tablesaws, 3 bandsaws, two jointers, two planers, three routers, two miter saws, and I am sure many many more. I am at the point where I know I enjoy it, spend an enormous amount of time woodworking and in my shop. All of my standalone tools I now consider “forever” tools.

So to get started turning I have thought about buying an inexpensive harbor freight or grizzly lathe and turning set and just messing around with it until I want to upgrade. However, looking back each of these upgrades has cost me a considerable amount of money. If I jump right in to a larger lathe, like a G0766 or laguna 1836 I can use the $$ I would have spend on a starter set to go toward chucks turning tools and a sharpening station.

What has your experience been? Is there value in starting on a smaller lathe (safety?) that I would be missing? If I start on a small lathe, what should I look for to make sure that the investments I make in chucks and other accessories would work on a larger machine down the road? Are there smaller, less expensive lathes that I should consider that would make a better long term investment assuming I love to turn and want a larger machine down the road (i.e. keep the smaller one as well?).

Unfortunately there seems to be zero turners in my area because I have never seen much turning equipment on the used market here. I will likely be starting with new tools because of that.

Thanks for your advice, and sharing your experience!

34 replies so far

View Bob5103's profile


228 posts in 2077 days

#1 posted 11-19-2018 07:59 PM

I started turning about 3yrs ago, after 30 yrs of woodworking. I was lucky enough to find a used Nova DVR. Unfortunately the lathe is the cheap part, when you add chucks, tools, etc the process gets pretty expensive. But I don’t regret any of it. If I were you I would buy my first and last lathe, the best one you can afford, and will fit in your shop. Having a decent lathe made my learning much easier.

View MrUnix's profile (online now)


8773 posts in 3442 days

#2 posted 11-19-2018 08:19 PM

You can usually find some nice vintage cast iron lathes on CL for pretty cheap (and those HF ones show up frequently as well) – you just need to be patient. My only advice would be to stick to known brands (Delta/Rockwell, Powermatic, Jet, Grizzly, etc…) and stay away from the ‘tube’ lathes. Going the used route, if you decide it’s not something that you want to pursue, you can always just sell it back on CL for what you bought it for.

If you really want to buy new, the HF lathe is frequently recommended around here as a beginner lathe. I have the Jet version of it (JWL1236) and it is quite functional, although a bit on the light side IMO. Since you are not really sure if turning is for you, I wouldn’t jump head first into a more expensive machine at first.

As for getting expensive… it can be if you let it… but it doesn't have to be.


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

View edapp's profile


347 posts in 2673 days

#3 posted 11-19-2018 08:23 PM

Thanks Bob.

That is the way I was leaning. I really don’t like the idea of getting something cheap just because it is cheap, but there are some smaller, high quality lathes that are a good middle ground (like the laguna 1216 coming out, or a nova comet). Do most people that upgrade to larger lathes tend to keep a midi lathe in the shop? If it was something I know that would be useful even after an upgrade, it would definitely help.

My budget for this is pretty flexible, but starting with a smaller lathe might allow for a higher quality sharpening system or chuck/tools. Ive gone back and forth so many times I cant count.

View edapp's profile


347 posts in 2673 days

#4 posted 11-19-2018 08:32 PM

Brad great link! This will give me some good reading to do.

I seem to live in a lathe vacuum but will continue looking. I have had great luck with finding good equipment on CL before, and would love to find a good lathe that way.


View MrUnix's profile (online now)


8773 posts in 3442 days

#5 posted 11-19-2018 08:51 PM

I seem to live in a lathe vacuum but will continue looking. I have had great luck with finding good equipment on CL before, and would love to find a good lathe that way.
- edapp

If you put your location on your profile page, others can help in your search. As for your area being a lathe vacuum… lathes very rarely show up around me for anything other than way over the top prices. However, over the past several years, I picked up 5 of them just by being patient and persistent – typically in the $50 to $100 range, with only this one exception :)


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

View Andybb's profile


3330 posts in 1847 days

#6 posted 11-19-2018 09:30 PM

Bought this for $25 a year ago

And turned it into this thanks to Brad and others helping me in this post.

Like others have said, the lathe is the cheap part as was the addition of the free treadmill motor $0, RPM meter $12, a $5 can of John Deere colored paint and an $11 bearing. The accessories and tools get spendy. For that reason, if you buy a vintage lathe look for one with an MT2 taper (vs MT1) as most newer and larger lathes have the larger MT2 taper for chucks and mandrels etc. That way when you are ready to upgrade you won’t hesitate because you spent a lot of $ on MT1 stuff. (Ask me how I know :-) )

That being said, my lathe works great and I love the easy learning curve and being able to complete a nice pen in an hour or so. I don’t turn big bowls, mostly little boxes and pens.

I’ve looked at newer nicer affordable lathes but I’ve got a bunch of MT1 stuff that I don’t want to spend the $ to replace. Even though it takes up a lot of space I like the fact that it is long enough for me to turn the occasional leg. If I did get another it would be a mini/midi and this one would go in the attic for that leg I may never actually need to turn.

Variable speed (without pulleys) is a must in my opinion.

Should I buy a nice, large lathe with zero experience, or start small until I develop skills?

- edapp

The learning curve is very steep (shallow?). In other words you will be proficient very quickly so get a lathe that will accomodate the work you want to do. Others can give you advice on what that should be.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View OSU55's profile


2830 posts in 3233 days

#7 posted 11-19-2018 09:52 PM

The sharpening system and cutting tools will definitely work for midi and larger lathes. If you were interested in pens Its not necessarily true, but go a little bigger and they will.

Only you can decide if going cheaper at first makes sense. Small stuff like pens and smaller tool handles are easier with a small lathe because chucks, tailstocks, tool rests etc are smaller, lighter and easier to move, but big lathes can make small stuff just as well, just takes more oomph to move things into position. For bowls you will quickly tire of most midi lathes due to swing limits/bowl size.

If dropping ~$2500 on a tool that you may end up not using alot doesnt bother you, then go for the Grizzly G0766 or similsr. If it does, then go get the HF 34706, and decide if you like to turn. You can get it for <$300. Dont know why people say its lightweight, I turn up to 14” bowls and platters with mine. I was somewhat in the same position ~6 yrs ago, and went the cheap route with the HF. I wanted to learn the skills and if I liked turning, and then what I did and did not want in a better tool. I’m very happy I went this route. As skills improved and I learned more about turning it became very apparent that there are many ways of doing things. Each person will have their way, right or wrong – point is to figure out how you like to process different types of projects and find the tool that fits your process best. Its impossible to do without getting significant experience.

Here’s an example: How do you want to hollow bowls, leaning over the ways, outboard with a pivoting headstock, or remove the tailstock, slide the headstock down, and do it at the end of the lathe bed? All 3 work, but may require something you don’t want to do, I’m not leaning over the ways – really tough on the back and tool control is not as good. Sliding the headstock down works, but requires removing a fairly heavy (40-50 lb) tailstock every time, unless you go big and spend big for a pivoting tailstock. A pivoting headstock is great (the HF has one), but the biggest swing I have found is 16”. I prefer to rough out inline, and 16” is not enough for what I want to do. Experience will show you similar conondrums with other processes.

View DDJ's profile


34 posts in 1384 days

#8 posted 11-19-2018 10:50 PM

If you enjoy woodworking then I’m sure that you will enjoy turning. A little more of a learning curve than a lot of other tools but just keep at it. Now most of my other equipment is used only if I’m preparing something for the lathe. The lathe has become the center of my shop. Something I really enjoy. Nothing better than sharp tools and nice wood!


View Hockey's profile


182 posts in 1656 days

#9 posted 11-19-2018 11:41 PM

I too started out wanting to turn mainly bowls. Although I have had a Shopsmith since 1993 and have turned some stuff on it and I turned a little in high school in the good ol’ days, I only started turning (almost daily), a little over a year and a half ago.

I have a Jet 1221vs that I really like quality wise, warranty wise, and customer service wise, so much so that I bought another Jet, the 1640EVS. I think both lathes are excellent. However, I now find that I have little interest in turning bowls. I really like to turn lidded boxes and smaller hollow forms. I could do all that on my 1221VS, but the 1640 EVS a bit nicer to use.

I would start with a midi lathe first with the intent of keeping it if and when you upgrade in size. The midi lathes are generally 1” x 8tpi while the large ones are generally 1.25×8 tpi. I got the Nova G3 chucks (insert type) that I can use either a 1” x8tpi or 1.25×8tpi insert to fit either of my lathes. So, in answer to your question, get a chuck that is the insert type that you just get a new insert to fit either size spindle.

View edapp's profile


347 posts in 2673 days

#10 posted 11-19-2018 11:56 PM

I guess I should have said that I am not interested in a vintage lathe at this point. I will be buying new and probably either picking up a quality midi or jumping to something like a G0766.

In a similar, well pretty much the same, topic what are your opinions on sharpening systems? If you were starting from scratch which way would you go? Like the lathe discussion, what should I be looking for if I want to avoid upgrading multiple times? Thoughts on carbide tools?

Maybe this thread is too open ended. If you had no equipment and wanted to start making bowls, how would you get started?
Purchasing a lathe, sharpening system, tools, chuck, extras, what would you do with a $1500 budget? How about $3000?

View telrite's profile


111 posts in 3539 days

#11 posted 11-20-2018 02:49 AM

View Mattg43's profile


27 posts in 1350 days

#12 posted 11-20-2018 04:10 AM

like Hockey, I think a midi (which has the same swing over bed as the HF lathe) is a great place to start, and with an insert type chuck (Rockler has the SuperNova insert for $100 starting on Friday) then you can move that to a big lathe if you decide to go that route. Same with MT2 stuff.

For the lathe, there are quite a few models that offer 12” swing, and 3/4 or 1hp motors. And the new Laguna has outboard turning available if you think you want to do bigger stuff.

Personally the appeal of a bigger lathe is the swing over, not the length (at least for my immediate plans), so a Midi works well for everything from pens up to good sized bowls and platters.

If I had a $1500 budget and were buying all new my list would look something like this:

Sharpening – Rikon slow speed grinder, stock wheels – $100 (rockler right now)
Oneway Wolverine and varigrind – $165
Then I would probably buy a set of Benjamin Best/PSI M2 HSS turning tools ($75 shipped on Amazon) to get my feet wet on turning and sharpening.
Nova G3 or SuperNova chuck. I like the Anniversary kit on Ebay or other sites, about $135-150 with 4 jaw sets.
Uvex Bionic faceshield

That should set you back about $550.

Then I would start looking at the Lathe and stand. The Jet 1221VS, Rikon 70-220VSR, Laguna Revo 12/16, Nova Comet II, Delta 46-460, ranging from about $450 (Nova) to about $850 (Jet). I have the Rikon, and am thinking about the Laguna for the outboard turning for bigger bowls.

Those options will all pretty much eat up the budget, though with things like the Nova you may decide on CBN wheels for the grinder, or other things.

And by the time you get sharpening down and are ready to get better tools, you can get some nice ones like Thompson, or try out carbide tools and be able to decide if you like them as much.

At $3000 the starter stuff would be about the same, though I would plan on CBN wheels and maybe a nicer starter tool set, but the Lathe, to me, would be the rest of the budget. Then, all the extras will present themselves as you come across new projects. Things like casting, bowl coring systems, chuck jaws, bigger/smaller face plates, etc.

View Woodmaster1's profile (online now)


1852 posts in 3830 days

#13 posted 11-20-2018 05:36 AM

I have the Rikon 70-220vrs and it is a great midi lathe. When I want to turn bigger bowls I have access to a 16 inch jet lathe a my woodworking club shop. The jets take a lot of use. There are 7 16” lathes in the shop and all of them get used everyday. The shop also has 4 jet 12” variable speed lathes that see quite a bit of use as well. I would try to find a woodworking club that has lathes available to learn and try out before buying.

View edapp's profile


347 posts in 2673 days

#14 posted 11-20-2018 12:54 PM

here an interesting read about getting started in turning

- telrite

Telrite thanks for the link. I might give Highland a call and discuss some of this. They have been a great resource to me in the past.

View msinc's profile


567 posts in 1747 days

#15 posted 11-20-2018 01:10 PM

Lathe turning is addictive. I will add this, buy a heavy lathe and buy one that has a slow low speed, especially if you are going to turn bowls. Most of the time your bowl will start out not in very good balance so you need the weight and you need the ability to turn slow. My lathe goes down to like 450-500 rpm and for many bowl blanks starting out that is too fast for me. I would like it to spin at around half that, maybe a little more…250 rpm would be nice. That’s just until you get it turned down a little and rounded up some, then you can start ramping up in rpm’s. The heavy weight keeps it from jumping around when you have a large blank out of round or balance and the slow speed keeps the tool from beating you to death when you first start to make the bowl blank round.
There is nothing wrong with starting small and working your way up, especially if you have too. But in this case, you want to turn bowls you are going to be very limited and very quickly need to go bigger. I say don’t spend the money you will soon have to try and recover. The time you spend cannot be recovered. My suggestion is that you look hard at a nice big heavy variable speed with a nice low rpm rating and go for it. Get cheap tooling and sharpen it on your bench grinder until you get going then spend more on the auxiliary things you just might decide you don’t really need after all. For example, carbide insert turning tools are very nice and eventually you will probably end up with them, but you can have plenty of fun without them initially.

Edit: I will also add that you can help a lot with the jumping around by bolting the legs tight to the floor. Most lathes have holes in the feet for this. Most owners don’t bother.

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