Need Advice On What's The Most Desirable Low RPM Range On A Wood Lathe

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Forum topic by Targa posted 10-05-2014 03:04 PM 2494 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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118 posts in 2035 days

10-05-2014 03:04 PM

I am thinking about getting into wood turning but have a question about low cost 12” lathes for a beginner.

While there have been threads on this subject in general, my question focuses on what is the most practical low speed rpm particularly for a beginner? I would probably make bowls, plates and other small turnings but not pens.

My instinct tells me a lathe with variable speed, with a low range around 250 rpm (or lower) makes the most sense for better control as well as handling of unbalanced pieces. The Harbor Freight model 34706 gets good to very good reviews and is relatively inexpensive, but its lowest range is 600 rpm which strikes me as way too high. The difference in cost between lathes with a 250 rpm low range and a 500-600 rpm low range is pretty significant especially if I decide I do not like turning.

I’d appreciate some input and thoughts from experienced woodturners on this site regarding what’s a realistic low rpm range to target for and why.

Thank you

-- Dom

7 replies so far

View Arlin Eastman's profile

Arlin Eastman

4258 posts in 2856 days

#1 posted 10-05-2014 05:00 PM

This is the best lathe for the buck

When I first started I had the 10” and it was a good machine.

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View Woodknack's profile


12626 posts in 2675 days

#2 posted 10-05-2014 07:49 PM

It’s only going to matter once you approach the 10 or 11 inch mark for unbalanced turning blanks. My lathe goes down to about 250rpm but that is super slow and I never use it for turning, maybe for applying oil just so it doesn’t slop it over the shop.

-- Rick M,

View Wildwood's profile


2570 posts in 2430 days

#3 posted 10-05-2014 09:30 PM

Really hard question because do not know what you want to turn. Buying an expensive lathe with all latest & greatest features may hold some resale value, while inexpensive bare bone lathe no so much.

For large unbalanced pieces of wood slow RPM’s lot safer. Also slower RPM’s great for sanding no matter what you turn.

Today electronic variable speed highly desirable feature on any size lathe only have to change belt from low to high range and back are required.

Next move the belt over pulleys to change speed lathes. You have to look at specs but most come with 4 slot pulleys. These lathes easier to fix than EVS & reeves drive lathe in MHO.

Then have reeves drive lathes and can only change speeds while lathe is running.

Before buying a lathe get an idea of what you want to turn. Lathes come in mini, midi, or full size lathe. Then look at specs, features, & optional accessories needed to turn what you want. On small lathes can only turn small things but on big lathes can turn both.

That HF 34706 reeves drive lathe very popular starter lathe for many people.

-- Bill

View TheDane's profile


5606 posts in 3958 days

#4 posted 10-05-2014 11:21 PM

Wildwood offers some real good advice … figure out what you want to turn, then find a lathe that suits your needs.

If you want to turn pens and bottle stoppers, the 600rpm minimum speed on the HF 34706 isn’t much of a problem. If you plan to turn 10” or 12” natural edge bowls from rough unbalanced stock, 600rpm could be huge problem.

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

View jfoobar's profile


44 posts in 1626 days

#5 posted 10-06-2014 12:52 AM

You mentioned that you wish to turn bowls and plates. I assume you will often be starting from a chunk of green wood? If so, you are probably correct, 600rpm is probably too fast.

Do you own a bandsaw with a pretty reasonable cutting capacity (throat), 8”+? If so, this would help as you could do a pretty good job of rounding blanks before you put them on the lathe.

View jeff's profile


1136 posts in 3760 days

#6 posted 10-06-2014 01:53 AM

Low range is best for turning larger uneven wood.Variable speed is surely nice to have.You want some weight in your lathe and bench so things don’t jump around.Be ready to buy accessories for your lathe-it just doesn’t end with a lathe purchase:)

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

View Targa's profile


118 posts in 2035 days

#7 posted 10-17-2014 01:05 PM

Currently I have a 10” bandsaw with a 4 5/8” cutting capacity and also a reciprocating saw which could be helpful in rounding out blanks.

Based on the comments received along with my instincts, I’m thinking a “midi” with variable speed and a 12”-12 1/2” turning capacity may make the most sense particularly because most have a low speed of 100-250 rpm. Just comparing the visual difference between a drill bit turning at 250 and 600 rpm on my drill press makes me believe having a lathe with a lower speed is both safer and more versatile.

Thank you for everyone’s input. Any other thoughts are appreciated.

-- Dom

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