Harbor Freight Lathe Critique #1: First Impressions

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Blog entry by luv2learn posted 12-04-2013 08:51 PM 3854 reads 1 time favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Harbor Freight Lathe Critique series Part 2: Follow up on lathe filter comments »

This is my first new lathe, it is a “Central Machinery 12”x36 wood lathe sold by harbor Freight. Having very little lathe turning experience I have nothing to compare this lathe with. So far, I have not experienced any of the problems some of the reviewers who have bought this lathe from Harbor Freight have posted on the website. Two of the reasons I bought this particular lathe was that the overall reviews were positive, four stars out of five, and its price, $218.00 on sale, out the door, with a 25% off coupon, stand included.

Some of the first things I turned were pen blanks that I ordered from Penn State Industries. After turning a few blanks I noticed that the motor air intake was accumulating dust. This is because the back of the motor is adjacent too and right in back of the lathe head. Not an ideal design feature since over time the motor can become clogged with dust and burn out prematurely.

To solve this issue before it became a problem I designed a filter that fits over the back of the motor with materials on hand.

These are the materials I used: A 44oz. Yuban coffee can which happens to be 6” in diameter and fits snugly over the motor, some blanket furnace filter material, and spray adhesive.

The first thing I did was to measure and cut the empty can 4” from the bottom. I then removed the top metal portion of the can so that I could use it as an inside retaining ring for the filter material. I cut a relief slit in the remaining 3 1/4” portion of the can body and after spraying the outside of it with adhesive I inserted it into the 4” base to stabilize the walls. I held the insert even with the top of the base leaving approximately 3/4” of single wall at the bottom. I also cut a 5” diameter hole in the bottom of the can for air passage.

Using the can as a pattern I cut out two 6” dia. pieces of filter material and inserted them into the bottom of can. I then inserted the metal retaining ring I had cut previously from the top of the can to lock the filter material in place.

To finish the filter, I cut a 1” wide strip of filter material and glued it to the inside of the can at the top to act as a gasket.

That completes my homemade lathe motor filter. So far it has done its job well.

I will keep you all posted as to any other issues I might have with this lathe as I become more familiar with it. So far I like it.

Thanks for tuning in. I hope this was of some value. Actually, this could be done for any electric motor collecting dust in one’s shop.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

15 comments so far

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3179 days

#1 posted 12-04-2013 08:55 PM

MacGyver type stuff right there!

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View BigFoot Products Canada's profile

BigFoot Products Canada

711 posts in 3420 days

#2 posted 12-04-2013 09:10 PM

Great Idea. I love it when people think out of the box.

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3362 days

#3 posted 12-04-2013 09:31 PM

I have seen similar ‘generic’ lathes with different brand names here in Norway, and they have been offered at low prices, about double of what you paid. Though inexpensive they look pretty solid and well made aside from the somewhat stupid placement of the motor (stupid for the user, maybe smart for the manufacturer). Your solution for motor dust control was quite clever and nicely done too. I have been curious about whether these lathes were any good for quite a few years now, so it will be interesting to find out through your future posts. I hope it will perform well for you.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View dbhost's profile


5726 posts in 3259 days

#4 posted 12-04-2013 09:32 PM

I have that same lathe, I blow the motor air inlets out with compressed air when I am done for the day, but your idea looks like less effort in the long run. Now I need to find someone that drinks Yuban…

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View  woodshaver Tony C   's profile

woodshaver Tony C

5973 posts in 3380 days

#5 posted 12-04-2013 09:34 PM

Great idea to fix that problem! With little to no cost! It’s better than sticking a sock over it. Looks much better too! :) Nice work Lee!

-- St Augustine FL, Experience is the sum of our mistakes!

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 2320 days

#6 posted 12-04-2013 09:43 PM

Your innovative, problem solving mind comes through again—congratulations and thanks for the idea and review. Its always a pleasure and learning experience reading your posts.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View doubleDD's profile


7444 posts in 2071 days

#7 posted 12-05-2013 12:43 AM

Lee, I have seen this lathe many times at HF and never paid any attention to the motor placement. I think what you have done will be a benefit to many others out there. +1 for you. I hope your lathe keeps on working good and satisfy your needs. In case one of your turnings doesn’t turn out the way it should, you can always blame the lathe. LOL Take care and have fun.

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

View luv2learn's profile


2769 posts in 2330 days

#8 posted 12-05-2013 01:07 AM

Mauricio, I loved watching MacGyver perhaps some of it rubbed off lol. I love finding solutions to problems.

Thanks David, I like outside the box thinking also.

dbhost, have you found any other problems with your lathe?

Tony, with my luck the sock would get caught in the spinning lathe :).

John, I love problem solving, it keeps this old mind active :).

Dave, I don’t aspire to be a professional turner so this HF lathe should serve me just fine and you are right I can always blame my mediocrity on the machine :). Although I have seen some incredible turning done on a treadle lathe.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View MABFwTx's profile


24 posts in 1898 days

#9 posted 12-05-2013 01:17 AM

Keep the imagination going buddy. I am almost out of coffee cans.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

20599 posts in 3133 days

#10 posted 12-05-2013 01:17 AM

Great idea to keep the cut out of the motor. I was wondering if the filter would get hit by a big piece that you might be turning. does it have enough clearance for the largest diameter you can turn?
I have their mini version HF lathe and when I get any vibration from lumpy wood or out of round pieces the banjo comes loose and I have to keep trying to lock it down. I hope that lathe does not have that problem.

Good luck and nice solutions!!

Cheers, Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View pastaamann's profile


14 posts in 1662 days

#11 posted 12-05-2013 01:56 AM

i have the same one,works great for pen turning,but when you have to turn a longer piece,you are going to need something to stabalize it or you will get major vibration and chatter

View A10GAC's profile


191 posts in 3106 days

#12 posted 12-05-2013 03:59 AM

I have this lathe as well, and have no complaints. I’m not at the house now to check, but I believe that the motor is a TEFC (totally enclosed fan cooled) model. This type of motor is sealed and the fan cools by blowing air over the exterior housing instead of through the motor. The upside is that no dust enters the windings of the motor…the downside is that they run warmer than a non TEFC style. The HF motor on these lathes has been known to run hot in normal operation and I would worry about reduced air flow with the filter. With the enclosed motor a quick wipe down of the case and a shot of air to the fan is all you should need.

When you wear out the drive belt, NAPA auto parts carries a replacement (part no. 3L240) that is much better than the original. HF always seems to be backordered on the belts anyway.

-- Men have become the tools of their tools. - Henry David Thoreau

View A10GAC's profile


191 posts in 3106 days

#13 posted 12-05-2013 05:11 PM

I just looked it up again, the full part number for the NAPA belt is 3L240W…looks like they run about $12 online.

-- Men have become the tools of their tools. - Henry David Thoreau

View cajunpen's profile


14575 posts in 4093 days

#14 posted 12-05-2013 05:29 PM

Lee, you are smarter than the average bear, Yogi. Clever fix for a glaring problem. I would look into Mark’s comments about the TEFC motor, that makes sense – if he is correct.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View luv2learn's profile


2769 posts in 2330 days

#15 posted 12-05-2013 05:33 PM

Thanks for your input on the motor Mark and for the heads up on the replacement belt.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

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