The most appropriate sized lathe?

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Forum topic by mtkate posted 03-13-2010 12:39 AM 2308 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2049 posts in 3292 days

03-13-2010 12:39 AM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe beginner question


I looked through forum topics but there seems to be little in the last year or so that guides me towards an answer. I am very inspired by many of the wood turning objects I see here and am getting the hankerin’ for a lathe.

I know there are plenty of different sizes. I don’t think I want the mega $4K lathe to make huge table legs… but I would like to look for a lathe that will be large enough to say make vases, bowls, some leg pieces….

What is an “average” lathe for most of you?

Thanks in advance.

15 replies so far

View degoose's profile


7228 posts in 3322 days

#1 posted 03-13-2010 12:46 AM

While I have not actually used my lathe… that I bought 18 months ago.. I feel that it is the average..
3 foot bed and 12 inch over the bed with full swivel for outboard turning…
If you were doing pens etc only … I would suggest the Jet Mini lathe… nice little machine..
Hope this helps.


-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 3292 days

#2 posted 03-13-2010 12:48 AM

nah… I don’t think I will ever do pens. I like the idea of bowls… bigger stuff.

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3026 days

#3 posted 03-13-2010 12:56 AM

I have a Jet Midi Lathe that I bought for about $250.00. When I bought it, it was the previous years model that was being discontinued. Mine does not have some of the ooh-aah features of some of the nicer ones, but it gets the job done. In my opinion, the thing that will eat you alive in a hurry if you are not careful is chisels and accessories. My personal recommendation is, start with a medium to lower cost set of chisels to start with and learn to sharpen. You will have to sharpen them more frequently, but they will help you to learn to sharpen them because you will get practice. You will also become familiar with the functions of the different types of chisels this way. Most importantly, you won’t be afraid to experiment for fear that you will ruin a good tool. Then once you start to develop some degree of skill and know more about what you would like to do, then you can invest in some higher quality tools with confidence. I still have the first set that I purchased from Harbor Freight and I will use those when I want to experiment with grinding a different type of profile for a different type of cut or something like that. They do not hold an edge very long (especially in a hard wood like rosewood), but they actually cut pretty well.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Swede's profile


191 posts in 2985 days

#4 posted 03-13-2010 01:03 AM

I have several cheap sets of lathe chisels that I bought over the years the last set was Frued I havent regretted the purchase. As for a lathe I have a couple of cheap ones and then I bought a Shop Smith that is as old as I am it works perfectly but I havent tried it out for a lathe yet. I have been itching to make some pens though. What I really wanted was one like I used in wood shop class big heavy and cast iron.

Good luck with your choice. Cheap purchaces always cost more money in the long run.
Take your time and get the best you can afford the first time.

-- Swede -- time to make some sawdust

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3042 days

#5 posted 03-13-2010 01:07 AM

In my opinion, the only reason to buy a mini-lathe is if you have limited space in your workshop. You really don’t save much money on a mini-lathe relative to a floor model.

If you are going to do bowls you are going to have to deal with the issue of vibration. When you start a new bowl you are always going to be somewhat out of balance until you have completely rounded the blank. The best way to deal with vibration is with a sturdy frame, a lot of weight and (ideally) bolting the lathe to the floor.

I will suggest the Grizzly G0462 as a lathe that is worth considered. It is relative heavy (about 350 pounds) and it is very sturdy. It is also very basic. I’ve done a review on this lathe and I encourage you to read it. It does not have a lot of fancy features (spindle lock, indexing and electronic speed control). It is just a solid dependable lathe.

In the spirit of full disclosure I will mention that there is another review of this lathe on this website that is not as positive. You should probably read both to get a balanced picture of the lathe.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View rcwoodturning's profile


63 posts in 3083 days

#6 posted 03-13-2010 01:27 AM

Hi mtkate,
I purchased a Jet 1236 two years ago, not being sure which direction I wanted to go in…just wanted to have a lathe again. If I were to do it over, I would have given more thought to what I wanted to make, and purchase accordingly. The Jet is under powered, and not up to the tasks that I put it through. I have upgraded to a 1960’s vintage Yates-American J-170 high school shop class lathe that I rebuilt. It is adequate, for now. It handles the heavy drilling that I do for my tube forms, and the 2 hp DC motor and drive deliver speeds from dead slow to a whole lot faster than I care to turn. I added sand bag ballast to both support columns, and the beast weighs in around 800# now. If you want to do bowls, as said above, you need to deal with out-of-balance vibration, swing capability, and a variable speed drive is a must…Reeves drives that have a split pully, as on my Jet, don’t typically go any slower than 500rpm, which is faster than I would want to rough out a large, wobbly chunk of wet wood. This is not an endorsement, but if you have the money, a Powermatic 3520B has gotten good revues, and is probably all the lathe you’ll need for quite sometime. I would also suggest that you join the American Association of Woodturners ( ), and go to local and national symposiums…you’ll be exposed to some fantastic educational opportunities.
I’ll be glad to help you in your search in any way,

-- Somewhere out there in the woodpile is what I seek...

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3042 days

#7 posted 03-13-2010 02:19 AM

I agree with rcwoodturning that the Reeves system (which my lathe has) cannot get the speed below 500 rpm. Very few lathes without electronic speed control can get below 500 rpm. Electronic speed control is great but it is only available in lathes costing $1500+.

With my lathe I have turned a bowl that was 15” in diameter. That is the biggest I have ever attempted. I went to great pain to make my blank as round and as in balance as possible before I turned the lathe on. I rounded it with my bandsaw and spent quite a bit of time trying to find the true center of gravity. In theory, I could go even bigger than 15” but I doubt that I will try it.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 3989 days

#8 posted 03-13-2010 02:23 AM

Mtkate I had a 12 ” from Taiwan similar to the harbor freight one with the Reeves pulley adjustment.
I turned a lot of stuff on it from pens to bowls. The problem I had was that it ran too fast for any large pieces to use safely.
By the same token 12” is barely enought room to turn anything over 9-10”inches with the he “ways”
I now have a Delta 16” variable speed that is serving me just fine.
I saw a similar style machine at BusyBee in the 1200.00 range but was noti mpressed with the run out on the one they had on demo.
If you look at that one, take someone with you that knows about lathes as wobble will spoil all your fun.

Good luck

-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Glen Peterson's profile

Glen Peterson

556 posts in 3023 days

#9 posted 03-13-2010 03:35 AM

I couldn’t decide and I have 2 lathes. A big older General and a Jet mini, which I bought for you daughter because she’s a bit intimidated by the bigger machine. I actually find myself using the Jet more often when I’m doing shop things, particularly turning things like tool handles, handles for vices, etc. I bought both of them used from CL at a huge discount over new. The two of them probably cost about $700 and came with piles of tools and accessories.

-- Glen

View Padre's profile


930 posts in 3456 days

#10 posted 03-13-2010 03:45 AM

I have a Powermatic 3520b for bowls and larger stuff. The Delta 46-460 for smaller stuff.

-- Chip ----------- 6:8

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14171 posts in 3950 days

#11 posted 03-13-2010 04:29 AM

craigslist! keep an eye out .. I have a big old craftsman 2hp with variable speed… works awesome … it was 700 new and have seen them used for as low as 250

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 3292 days

#12 posted 03-13-2010 04:43 AM

Lots of great advice here. It may be several months but it will help the window shopping…. I really wish craigslist up here is as fruitful as it seems to be in the US but I will keep looking. And the remarks on the tools and the need for sharpening equipment – yup, I get it…. I have a grinder but admit I need to use it more often.

View LSJ's profile


89 posts in 3320 days

#13 posted 03-13-2010 05:23 AM

I have a 12 and 15 inch Craftsman. The 12” was to small and the 15” works for me and I can turn the head for turning larger stuff. I do not have the nerve to do it yet but I could if I want to go bigger.

-- I like to turn

View Arvid's profile


17 posts in 2978 days

#14 posted 03-13-2010 05:58 AM

I probably can’t give the best advice since I just recently puchased a lathe and don’t have much experience. I decided on the Delta 46-460. Although I’m interested in turning bowls and vessles, I have limited space in my shop and needed some mobilty. As mentioned earlier, I looked into turning accesories which can be a large investment on top of the price of a lathe. I chosethe Delta because of the 1HP motor, variable speed, and reversing capability for sanding.

-- Arvid, Washington DC

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3176 days

#15 posted 03-13-2010 07:25 AM

If you already know you want to do bigger stuff, you might as well start with a bigger lathe if you have the space and the budget. You can do smaller turnings on a large lathe, but you are limited on the smaller ones.

I started out with the Jet 1220VS and had a great time with it for a while. I made a ton of pens and do-dads from kits, small turned boxes, and lots of bowls too small to be much use beyond a candy dish or for holding potpourri. It didn’t take long before I knew the 12” diameter limit was too small for me.

I moved up to the Jet 1642 EVS (reasonably priced compared to $4K) and it has served me well for several years. It is a good, solid machine and I do all my turnings on it while the 1220 is permanently set up as buffer. I am happy being able to turn bowls up to 16” over the bed, and there is still the option to go even bigger off the end. If you want to do a table leg or walking stick, the 42” is sufficient.

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