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Turncrafter Commander 12" VS Midi Lathe

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Review by Tennessee posted 02-13-2017 01:59 PM 5487 views 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Turncrafter Commander 12" VS Midi Lathe Turncrafter Commander 12" VS Midi Lathe Turncrafter Commander 12" VS Midi Lathe Click the pictures to enlarge them

I had purchased a Harbor Freight 10”X18” about a year ago to turn pens and some other little things in my shop. My Powermatic was just too ungainly to do a pen on.

My problem was that the HF was a PITA to change speeds, and to do a pen properly, I find it necessary to do two speed changes for a total of about three speeds for each pen. (Cutting/shaping/sanding/finishing/polishing)
I decided that since the pens started to sell nicely, I would upgrade to a VS lathe.

I looked for over a month, and it came down to the Rikon VS 70-220, and the Turncrafter. I also looked into the Nova 46301 Comet II since it came with the G3 chuck free, but figured something had to give somewhere else in the quality department – they don’t give you a $100 chuck for nothing and I was not too fond of the high tailstock look.

I bought the Turncrafter lathe for $469 and a Barracuda2 CSC3000 chuck kit for $139 – total with $66 shipping came in at $675. I should note that the Barracuda comes with three extra chucks and a box to store it all in. Nice chuck, to be honest, considering all the jaws.

The lathe and chuck arrived in quick order, only four days, and that covered a weekend. They shipped it the same day I ordered. Impressive. It all came in great shape, and the nice UPS guy even rolled it all right into my shop.

The lathe set up quickly, but that was more due to my ability than the instructions.
The instructions look like they were given to an English student in Taiwan who is still learning. About halfway through the instructions just end and safety things start. Thank Heavens for the exploded diagram! And although the book was dated 2016, there were differences between my lathe and the book.

I should note that PSI has offered this lathe for over six years, and it has gone through multiple changes. But you would think the changes would come in a model year with a decent instruction manual. Not so. I had a belt cover bolt leftover from a few years back that is no longer used, and it never even covered the little plastic cord wrap thingys on the back of the unit. Also, for 2017, they eliminated the ability to take off the belt cover easily. Now, you have to take off the handwheel, and a metric Philips screw that is NOT supplied. Ugh…

As far as performance, I have my doubts that this is a 1HP DC motor. It is fine when speeds are up a bit, but at the slowest speed, (about 455 on my slow belt setting), I can substantially slow the unit by simply grabbing the handwheel tightly. I can take it down to about half speed. And no, it is not belt slip, I took off the cover and looked while slowing it down, the motor will stall if pushed hard enough at slow speeds.
This is not that unusual for some cheaper DC drives, which do not have amperage or torque compensation in the circuitry. I can live with it since I rarely turn anything at that speed anyway on a small lathe. The problem seems to disappear at around 600 RPM.

Fit and finish on my was fine for a lathe of this size and quality. Tail/Headstock were point to point right out of the box, and all the holes and mated surfaces aligned properly and in short order.
It runs so quiet that you can hear your radio at low volumes, and if you wanted a lathe in an apartment for small projects, this would be a great choice. By far and away the loudest thing is the sound of your tool cutting wood. I was really impressed with the headstock tightness on the bearings, yet completely free moving.

The VS runs as follows: (They do warn that there will be some variation in slowest and top speeds.)
Slow speed belt setting, (A setting), about 455 to 1320.
Fast Speed, (B setting), 950 to almost 3800, which is really cooking and is just too fast for much that I can think of.

The Headstock and Tailstock are both #MT2. There is a pin on the quill lever bolt that should fit into the keyway of the tailstock rod, but they don’t tell you that, and you can strip out the threads if you don’t get it in there.

Note that the headstock is 1” X 8TPI.

It also comes with these crazy chrome handles on either end, (along with the stupid plastic cord wrap mounts), but at about 104 lbs fully assembled, I cannot imagine too many people trying to pick this up, especially with these chrome handles which are simply mounted into holes on either end of the bed casting and held on with simple clips. They are not screwed in, and the clips look cheap. When I took the bed out of the box, (bed alone is about 70 lbs.), I had my wife help me get it on the bench.

Controls are straight forward, and easy. Off on switch, and a speed dial. There is a reset button hidden behind the cord on the control box, which is also not mentioned, but I have not popped it. I love the large pale blue readout with dark royal blue numbers. Right there and easy to read.
On assembly, the book leads you to believe that you will be hooking up all kinds of cords, but in reality you only hook up the light, the motor and readout, all of which are pre-wired and the plugs are of a type where you just cannot mix them up.

I don’t like the light. The idea is great, you can get it right over the work. The problem is that a simple 40 watt bulb or even a smaller LED bulb sticks past the light shade, and you get a bit of a raw lit bulb right in your face as you turn. Shame, since it is a great idea and it holds position well. When you turn it far enough away to get the light bulb out of your face, it loses its ability somewhat.

The other thing I would LOVE is a simple reverse switch. The DC motor simply has a black, white and ground cable from the motor to the controller. It would have been so simple to have a reverse switch which would have reversed direction of the motor with no loss in torque. I would have gladly sacrificed the two worthless chrome handles and plastic cord wraps for a reverse switch. After my warranty is gone, I think that will be my first mod.

Finally, it does come with a nice compliment of goodies.
Steel chromed faceplate, spur center, live center for tailstock, tool holder on the back, knockout bar, and both 6” and 12” tool rests. (They did have to be sanded to eliminate some milling marks, but no problem.)

Overall, I really like turning on this. I tried to do an eight pound piece of wood that was about 11” in diameter, and it was just too much for the lathe and motor, but a smaller 3-4 lb. piece of wood turned with no problems, and of course pens are just a joy.
As a sidenote, I also picked up that mandrel/bushing/live center mandrel saver unit PSI sells for $27. What a beautiful unit. If you count the price of a mandrel, a set of slimline bushings, and a mandrel saver live center, it will come up way more than this little piece.

I took off a star for no reverse, and the motor bogging down a bit at slower speeds. Overall, though, quite a nice lathe and as long as the electronics hold up, it should be a nice little pony for smaller items.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN




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Tennessee

2872 posts in 2509 days



10 comments so far

View jimintx's profile

jimintx

788 posts in 1579 days


#1 posted 02-14-2017 04:36 PM

Thanks for the complete write up. I have not paid attention to know that any lathes had reverse switches, so I appreciate the learning from your writeup. (I went cheap – mine is the HF and it replaced an ancient Craftsman with a pipe bed.)

Who did you order this equipment from, was it direct from PSI?
..

-- Jim, Houston, TX

View Tennessee's profile

Tennessee

2872 posts in 2509 days


#2 posted 02-14-2017 11:36 PM

It was direct from PSI. Much to my surprise, I ordered it in the morning, (A Friday morning), and they shipped it that day. along with the chuck. I received it all the next Tuesday, only four days later.
My first small lathe was the 10X18” HF. I had no real problems with it, just got really sick of changing that belt, and the usual issues around fit and finish. Funny thing about the HF: with the coupon, I paid around $165, and put it on CL for $150 and it sold in less than a day. I did throw in a $35 chuck I had picked up on the cheap, but that was all.
I figure I got my years worth of work out of it.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Green_Hornut's profile

Green_Hornut

140 posts in 2615 days


#3 posted 02-15-2017 02:36 AM

I bought the Rikon VS 70-220 from Woodcraft when on sale and it was well south of $600 and comes with a reversing switch and a 3 speed pulley and electronic VS. While I had to pay for the extra for the Nova chuck I think the fit and finish is above par. And it weights in at about 130 so vibration is significantly reduced. Just offering another opinion.

-- Mother Nature always bats last.

View Tennessee's profile

Tennessee

2872 posts in 2509 days


#4 posted 02-15-2017 08:38 PM

Green_Hornut:
I think if I could have caught the Rikon on sale, I would have gone exactly where you went. Unfortunately, I just missed the sale and didn’t feel like waiting the 6-9 months for it to come around again. Plus, I have a Woodcraft local, which means I get tagged with 9.75% sales tax, even if I buy it online. That added almost what was essentially my shipping charge from PSI.

But I agree, that Rikon is a fine machine. I wish I could have done a power comparison, you know, how much they slow down when cutting a bit heavy?

It did come down to the Rikon or the Turncrafter. I know last year when I replaced my 14” bandsaw, I ended up buying the Powermatic off the floor of my local Woodcraft rather than ordering a Grizzly. The Powermatic is a great machine.

Overall, I hope I don’t regret the lathe purchase, but was doing another pen today on it and it just hums right along. No complaints yet.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Chris's profile

Chris

358 posts in 4081 days


#5 posted 02-23-2017 04:53 AM

Good review. I agree with you: removing a handwheel to remove a belt cover, in order to adjust speed variation is enough to rattle my cage. Engineers drafting the files never use any of the lathes they draw apparently. That facet wasn’t thought out AT ALL.

You should be able to add a reverse function to the lathe. Perhaps mount a small electronics project box there underneath the variable speed control panel to mount a switch in; using a $5 double pole, double throw switch from Radio Shack, reverse the polarity through the switch to reverse the dc motor. I did this to my Jet Midi 1014. Works beautifully when using a mandrel with a drawbar through the headstock. Of course, can’t run reverse with accessories on the spindle threads but I couldn’t imagine my lathe without this $5 modification. I even made a video and posted on Youtube.

Regarding the light. I ended up allocating those LED grilling lights with the combination magnetic/c-clamp base and flexible 18” neck to use at my lathe. Works great to give me the extra lit bit of light needed to peek into dark recessses of hollow vessels being turned. Although those grilling lights run off of AA batteries, I’ve found its just about the right amount needed in consolidation with the rest of my 120 volt lighting. Been super pleased with the “flexibility” (pun intended)...can maneuver into those weird positions.

Great write up review!!

-- Chris Harrell - custom callmaker "Quacky Calls" Eastern NC. http://www.quackycalls.com

View Tennessee's profile

Tennessee

2872 posts in 2509 days


#6 posted 02-24-2017 02:15 PM

Chris:
Thanks for your compliments and ideas. I think for sure I will add a reversing switch, but might wait till the warranty goes out on the electronics. I think it is 3 or 6 months on the motor and controls, have to look at the paperwork.
My electronic box takes up a lot of the space under the rear of the lathe, so I have to find a place for the reversing switch and box. Probably on the end of the lathe. I can use the extension bed threaded holes, since I have no reason to put an extended bed on it.

I don’t see too many problems with having a chuck threaded on the lathe and running it in reverse. My Powermatic has reverse, and I have cut with it going in reverse, even had a catch or two with no problems of unthreading. As long as you don’t have one of those nylon washers on, chucks tend to lock onto that shoulder when metal to metal.

For my light, I plan on looking to see if I can find a small halogen bulb with a standard bulb thread base. I know most halogens are the smaller base. I did change out the incandescent 40 watt bulb to an equivalent LED bulb, so at least it runs cool and doesn’t smoke the chips that build up in the shade, although I still stare at the part of the bulb that extends past the shade.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Chris's profile

Chris

358 posts in 4081 days


#7 posted 02-25-2017 02:38 PM

Those little black project boxes sold at Radio Shack that measure about 2×2x1 and come with a little top are ideal for surface mounting and nestling a switch and it’s connections in. They actually come in different sizes as you may well know.

Yeah, I have no issues with running a lathe in reverse either with a chuck on. I didn’t mention that initially because I frequent many forums and have been beat with ball peens because of my many unconventional approaches. Not knowing what type of company I was in, just posted my first. But—if the tailstock is run up against the piece, there isn’t any issue I agree.

I’ve seen some E17 and E21 base halogens on ebay if I recall correctly. I know I’ve seen the E17 LEDs which seem to put out quite a bit of light depending on diode arrangements. Couldn’t you make you a half cover of the sorts out of some thin sheet metal perhaps, that you could fasten as a shade extension over the top of bulb?

-- Chris Harrell - custom callmaker "Quacky Calls" Eastern NC. http://www.quackycalls.com

View Tennessee's profile

Tennessee

2872 posts in 2509 days


#8 posted 02-26-2017 01:51 PM

Chris:
Yes, I agree that there are some halogens out there have those bases, but this takes a standard E26, (think standard 40 watt household bulbs).
I had never really thought about putting a shade extension on there, would work fine with the cool running LED bulb. Not a bad idea.

I agree with the Radio Shack boxes also. But this little motor is rated at 7 amps on the label, so I don’t know yet if that is running, or under full load, or locked rotor amps. I can’t really imagine this thing using 7 amps running, but the cord to the motor, and the plug cord would certainly support it. I suppose at the lower voltages it might easily pull that. Would have to split the leads and get an amprobe on it. Or I could just buy a larger reversing switch from Radio Shack, which might be more of a standard 15 amp size switch.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Chris's profile

Chris

358 posts in 4081 days


#9 posted 02-26-2017 10:40 PM

Yeah the double pole, double throw switch that I installed was rated for 15A, perhaps 20A. I can’t recall exact but i know it was ‘at the least’ 15. I purchased that one from Radio Shack. Just a simple toggle switch. I’m certain there are all grades on ebay that you might could pick up..save you a road trip.

I think manufacturer’s nameplates contain the higher of the amperage draws, namely the locked rotor amps perhaps. I’ve amped out quite a few lines during my electrical work consisting of lower voltage motors and the actual amperage is always lower than the motor nameplate. A 15A rated switch would be fine.

-- Chris Harrell - custom callmaker "Quacky Calls" Eastern NC. http://www.quackycalls.com

View Richard Campbell's profile

Richard Campbell

7 posts in 445 days


#10 posted 03-02-2017 02:21 PM

Thanks for good reviews. I have a Rikon 70-100 lathe and it still works well. Now I have more experiment from you :)

-- Richard Campbell, http://latheexperts.com/

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