looking for a good wood lathe

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Blog entry by thatlabguy posted 02-06-2012 06:40 AM 27575 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I am looking for a wood lathe but, have never used one and don’t really know what to look/ask for. Can you folks give me some pointers as to what to look for on a used lathe, what price range it should be in and the turning tools I will need to get started.
I want to turn some of my old growth Juniper as well as mt. mahogany


15 comments so far

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3018 days

#1 posted 02-06-2012 07:38 AM

One thing to keep in mind that the lathe will not be your “final” purchase! You will need turning tools, chucks for holding wood to your lathe, various sanding tools, more tools and yet more attachments. I dare say that I have almost as much in accessories as I have in my Powermatic lathe! And there are still things on my wish list! It is definitely not a cheap hobby but it IS a very rewarding one!

My suggestion is to get the best lathe you can afford and then go one step beyond and get the next best one or you will be upgrading down the road like I did and that costs more than getting the better one first! If you are planning on making bowls, be sure that your lathe can go a very low RPM, mine does 50 and that is a very very good feature when you are turning green wood like firewood or freshly cut trees that is not balanced and going at a low RPM you can do the work and gradually increase your speed as it becomes stabilized and balanced.

Do your research and get the best!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View a1Jim's profile


117095 posts in 3577 days

#2 posted 02-06-2012 08:11 AM

I’ve seen folks here start with a Harbor Freight model and trade up if they like turning.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View konnon6's profile


37 posts in 2314 days

#3 posted 02-06-2012 08:49 AM

Bearpie got it right!
Start small and somewhat cheap( not the cheapest) but low cost.
And its all the other stuff you get for the lathe.
like a center finder/steady rest/cutting tools /dial inacaters/index plates/ and so on.
I have three tool boxes just in lathe stuff.
But please don’t beleave that you have to buy one of those exspensive lathes
to turn big stuff,I have built many lathes for some famouse woodworkers and
my bigest lathe turns a ten foot log three feet in dieameter at 6 rpm and does it
for cheap! like 200.00 dollars for the whole lathe.
I use a four speed truck transmition backed in reverse to a three speed transmition
and plywood disks for drive pullys,the motor is a 5 hp off a scrapped out compressor
the headstock is a three inch solid steel bar and pillow blocks on eather side.
two I beams are the ways but I should have used two six x six timbers ( there lighter)
Are all the sand bags I could lift in two hours! LOL about a ton! for mass.
sorry to ramble on but thats my two cents.

View JockChris's profile


70 posts in 2354 days

#4 posted 02-06-2012 09:34 AM

Maybe you can explain what type of turning you are looking to do, and a price point you feel you could live with.

A lot of guys have started with mini’s and midi lathes but if you know your going to do large and heavy turnings like hollow forms and vases bowls you might want to look at full sized lathes. I’m with bearpie on the lathe don’t skimp if you can afford it. I know I would love a powermatic but my budget is no in the thousands…

View michelletwo's profile


2735 posts in 3016 days

#5 posted 02-06-2012 01:28 PM

What do you desire to turn? What is your price range? The new Delta 46-460 is a great 12” swing lathe & could last a lifetime. it has terrific reviews. Maybe you could find a used one. The accessories cost a bundle. To get into the game with a lathe, chuck, turning tools, you are nearing 1,000.00. As first turning tools, i would check out PSI, Highland hardware, or Lee Valley. they all carry very good,(good steel) inexpensive tools.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3109 days

#6 posted 02-06-2012 02:01 PM

Regardless of price and size, look for a lathe with a cast iron body. Many inexpensive lathes have a steel hollow frame body to them and the vibration they produce can make turning a chore. Ask them about the headstock spindle size, you will eventually accessorize (different chucks and fixtures) so look for something with what is called an M2 taper and a one inch 8 thread spindle. Look these items up on google and that should give you an idea of what I am talking about. If you buy something more expensive later, best to make it so your accessories can follow you. Look up lathe chisel sharpening on the internet. You will need to get familiar with making sure you have a sharp chisel when turning or the experience will be nothing but frustrating for you. My recommendation would be to not buy a lathe until you have a sharpening system in your hands already. The two go hand in hand with each other.

Turning is addictive and very enjoyable. Doesn’t take long to get a feel for it. Good luck and enjoy.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View joey bealis's profile

joey bealis

177 posts in 2507 days

#7 posted 02-06-2012 02:20 PM

I just recently purchased my lathe and while I was looking I read something to keep in mind. You can turn small stuff on a big lathe just fine, but you cant turn large stuff on a small lathe.


View NH_Hermit's profile


394 posts in 3096 days

#8 posted 02-06-2012 02:39 PM

Larry, all of the responses so far have are good ones. Like you, I was new to turning last year and asked about the same question. I decided to hold off purchasing one until I could afford something I would find pleasure in after being disappointed with several of my cheap tools. My wife has this Russian expression, “We’re not rich enough to purchase cheap.” I did a lot of research and finally decided on the Delta 46-460 for several reasons. First were the reviews, then the ease to change variable speeds, and lastly the option of the bed extension. I love this thing!

In terms of the other things to purchase, I decided to go at this as I needed (or wanted) and could afford, instead of buying a set. For turning tools, I decided to buy the best I could find and elected Crown tools – just four to start with but now have seven. I also added an 8” grinder and the Wolverine sharpening jig. These really help keeping a keen edge.

I would also suggest first taking a class to ensure you’ll enjoy turning enough to invest, and then start practicing. I practice with oak and maple from trees we cut down last year. This takes away the fear of wasting money on purchased wood. As your skills build, you’ll find yourself with Lee Valley and WoodCraft catalogs next to your easy chair.

Hope this helps.

-- John from Hampstead

View HalDougherty's profile


1820 posts in 3237 days

#9 posted 02-06-2012 02:50 PM

The short answer is “Craig’s List”! Buy a used lathe and a lot of the time it will come with a lot of accessories. I’ve bought 4 from ads on Craig’s List. My first lathe was a cheep Chinese copy of a Harbor Freight lathe that was advertised on Craig’s List. It came with a set of chisels and a 4 jaw chuck. I built a laminated table from real 2X4 oak that was worth more than the lathe. I sold it 3 months later with the workbench for more than I paid for it and bought another one on Craig’s List. That one is a Sears model with a tube for rails. It works fine as a lathe, but it makes a better base for my drum sander. I turned some plug ends for a PVC pipe and chucked it up in the lathe with a couple of boards, a hinge, and a screw adjustment to raise and lower the table. Now it’s a full time drum sander. The next lathe I bought from an ad on “Craig’s List” is a Delta Midi lathe. I had to buy a bowl chuck for it, but my total cost was very low because I got a like new lathe for $125! My last purchase was this Friday. I bought a Grizzly (G1495) with the spindle duplicator attachment for $200! It is in almost like new shape and after I cleaned it up, removed some rust, and checked everything out the only thing wrong with it is one broken bolt that locks the tool rest. A few minutes with a drill press and an easy-out and a new bolt assembly from Grizzly and it will be perfect. A 1/4-20 bolt will work fine till the replacement from Grizzly comes in.

It’s addictive and restful. Tools are expensive but there are lots of articles on making your own tools on the Internet. A google search will turn up lots of websites with tutorials on building tools and tutorials on using your lathe.

-- Hal, Tennessee

View Danpaddles's profile


573 posts in 2312 days

#10 posted 02-06-2012 04:54 PM

A midi lathe is a good way to start, if you need a big lathe later, you still may want to keep the midi lathe for little projects, some guys do that.

learn how to sharpen the chisels. You DO have a grinder, right? You will need it.

Don’t get less than High Speed Steel for chisels. Carbon steel edges don’t last, thankfully there are not too many CS out there.

When you get it, turn handles for your files, turn Harry Potter wands, turn any damn thing you can think off. You’ll catch on to it that way.

I very much enjoy my time with the lathe, one of the nicest sensations to watch that wood fly off, and fun shapes begin to show.

-- Dan V. in Indy

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3334 days

#11 posted 02-06-2012 05:47 PM

Hi Larry. Since you are buying used I would suggest you get the best one you can afford and plan to keep. As stated before, the accessories are quite expensive and it would be a shame if they didn’t fit an upgrade lathe later. If you get a rather expensive used lathe and decide you don’t like turning, then you at least have a better chance of selling it. Heavy cast iron beds, variable speed and big capacity are some of the things you might look for. You should also think about the quality of service and availability of spares and accessories from the mfg.

You will never regret having spent more for a quality lathe as it will perform well with a wide range of projects. That could be a big advantage since your turning interests could well change as yours skill level increases. I know this echoes much of the comment above, but it doesn’t hurt to stress that good advice.

There are a lot of good lathes on the market. It isn’t a bad idea to pick up a book about lathes,and their different features. Lathe reviews would probably be good to read too. Generally speaking, better lathes cost more, so you might want to get an idea of the different price ranges for new ones. I suggest you identify several that fill the bill and then start looking for used. That way you will have the flexibility of a wider range of brands to choose from. Waiting for that right buy will repay you tenfold in turning pleasure. Good luck with whatever you buy.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View hunter71's profile


3178 posts in 3187 days

#12 posted 02-07-2012 04:52 AM

As a toy maker my favorite is the Penn Turncrafter Pro. Weigh out your needs and wants first. Then buy the best you can afford. Craigslist and ebay are not a bad place to look. A good OLD lathe is many times better than a new model.

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

View thatlabguy's profile


87 posts in 2692 days

#13 posted 02-07-2012 05:57 PM

Wow! I want to thank each of you for the comments each of you shared. Certainly a lot to mull over and keep in mind. I will certainly take your advice and have fun looking for and purchasing my lathe. I have always loved the results that a lathe can do.
I have a lot of Juniper as well as Mt. Mahogany that I have been saving to turn with a lathe. I will definitely work on cheap wood until I have a feel for the lathe and can actually make something before I put my Mahogany on it.
Again, thank you for your advice,


View Underdog's profile


1097 posts in 2036 days

#14 posted 02-10-2013 04:41 AM

I see that Grizzly has their mini 1018 on sale for $245 plus shipping.

Just saying…

-- "woodworker with an asterisk"

View Ponyboy198's profile


1 post in 167 days

#15 posted 12-11-2017 11:05 AM

Is a delta lathe with 3200 HP heavy duty worth 900$ I don’t know about this lathe it’s old he says it works but why is it so cheap

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