Benchtop Lathe Starter Set

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Forum topic by Keen1 posted 12-05-2007 08:53 PM 7045 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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103 posts in 4085 days

12-05-2007 08:53 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe

I am interested in learning the art of turning but have no real idea where to start. I’ve read some but now looking for the tools to get started. Actually, I already have, no don’t laugh, I bought one of those hobby lathe’s that uses an electric drill to turn. Either I’m an idiot and just need to quit now or it just doesn’t work. I sharpened and honed my chisels, scrapers etc….but to no avail. I did manage to turn (pun intended) a peice of scrap oak into a piece of really scrappy oak. Maybe I just need to learn how. But assuming I do I know I want a better set up than the hobby lathe. What would recommend as a starter benchtop lathe? What are the features to look for?

-- Dad to 5, Son of The One

15 replies so far

View Betsy's profile


3392 posts in 4135 days

#1 posted 12-05-2007 08:57 PM

I’ve got the Jet minilathe and it works well for the little turning I do.

And I would not call you an idiot for buying a drill powered lathe. I’m sure everyone of us, if we would, could confess to buying some little gizmo that looked really cool, we get it home and have no idea how to make it work. I know I’ve got gizmo’s in my shop that have more dust than I could possibly remove at this point.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Keen1's profile


103 posts in 4085 days

#2 posted 12-05-2007 09:17 PM

That’s a great idea for a new topic. I may start a “useless gizmo” blog just to see what everyone else has bought. Should be funny. I probably have more than my fair share.

I have actually been looking at the Jet Minilathe. I wanted to stay under $300 which I could do with one model. The variable speed costs another $80. How important is that? I guess it’s worth every penny of $80 bucks depending on what you are doing. I’ll mainly be using it for small table legs (and eventually making fooseball men if I ever get to do that project)

-- Dad to 5, Son of The One

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4539 days

#3 posted 12-05-2007 10:49 PM

I kind of like the Rikon. You can add an extension for longer projects.

The price isn’t to bad either.

I bought a Rikon band saw, & really like it, it’s well constucted .

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4035 posts in 4303 days

#4 posted 12-06-2007 07:23 AM

I have a Jet-Mini Lathe, but I think that Rikon looks pretty good. More swing over the ways than the Jet.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4400 days

#5 posted 12-06-2007 05:00 PM

Keen, have you seen Mot’s CSS video? He doesn’t use a drill-powered lathe. but he walks you through tips re: turning.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 4127 days

#6 posted 12-06-2007 06:02 PM


Depends on what turning you do. If you want to make bowls, you basically need only a bowl gouge and a parting tool (with a chuck you can probably do without the parting tool). For spindle turning you need lots of tools. If I can make a suggestion, get the HSS tools at harborfreight (30-36$). The most important thing in a turning tool is the steel. I have these tools and I tested that hey are indeed M2 steel (you can only do better if you get close to 80-150$/tool). The biggest problem, in my opinion is sharpening. You must get a good grinder and a sharpening attachment. I would not bother with a 400$ wet sharpening tool. I have the Wolverine jigs and they are perfect. Woodcraft is selling a good grinder and the Wolverine stuff. Until you can sharpen the tools well you will be extremely frustrated. I did only bad work until I got the sharpening stuff.

About the drill lathe, most woods are way too hard to be cut using such a low power solution. A good mini lathe (Jet for example) is the minimum you should get.

A word of warning: woodturning, especially bowls, is very addictive. You might not find time for other woodworking activities (talking from experience).

Good luck,

-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View schwingding's profile


133 posts in 4065 days

#7 posted 12-06-2007 06:29 PM

The Jet mini lathe is an excellent tool, as is the Rikon.

You can turn up to a 10” diameter on the Jet mini, which typically is plenty enough for a beginning turner. As you’ve noted, it doesn’t end there though. You can buy chucks, faceplates, vacuum pumps, drill chucks, sharpening equipment, safety equipment, dust control stuff, and on and on and on.

Starter sets of tools are available at reasonable prices, but they’re generally not made of HSS and don’t keep edges as well. They typically include tools that you will never use, as most turners learn to love and use just a few tools and leave the others (we all have buckets of turning tools that we never use). Nothing wrong with a basic set of starter tools, but as you grow into turning you will probably ditch them or regrind them to something more useful. The parting tool will continue to be of use.

I prefer the Ellsworth grind of gouge in several different diameters for most bowl work. David makes an easy to use sharpening jig for his grind, and also sells a video on the use of his gouge. I would recommend that if you don’t have a turning club nearby, that you invest in a few videos instead. They can be remarkably helpful to a new turner. The Ellsworth and Bill Grumbine videos come to mind as very helpful. If you can find another turner, get invited to his shop for a demo. Find a local woodcraft and go to their turning 101 class.

I’ve had several lathes and will soon be buying another couple for a new shop. My plan at the moment is to buy the big Vega bowl lathe and the jet mini.

You can see my turning work here . You’ll notice I’m a bit of a hack so take my advice for what its worth.

-- Just another woodworker

View JoeA's profile


6 posts in 4176 days

#8 posted 12-06-2007 06:38 PM

My first lathe was a Jet Mini also, and it is definitely a solid hard worker. That Being said I Like the Rikon as well. I don’t own one but one of my buddies does and he loves it. Also very solidly built and well engineered. and it does give you a better swing over the bed (clearance for turning larger diameters).

My Best advise would be not to Skimp on turning tools. it only takes a couple to get started. and it pays to buy good ones. I’d steer away from the sets because most of the sets I’ve seen are lower quality and generally have a bunch of tools you don’t need. Also don’t fall for the misconception that mini lathes require mini tools, in 99-9/10 of the cases regular size tools are preferred as they usually are made better out of better steel and the increased mass and rigidity will cause less vibration.

I’d start with the following:
3/4 Roughing gouge (sometimes more accurately called a spindle roughing gouge)
3/8 spindle gouge
Medium sized round nosed scraper
Narrow or diamond shaped parting tool

3/4 or 1” Skew chisel
bowl gouges (if you want to do bowls and hollow forms etc… I’d start with a 3/8)

Also learn how to sharpen your tools and sharpen often. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to turn will less than sharp tools. There are a ton of systems out there that can help with speed, accuracy, and repeatability, but all you really need is a 6 or 8” bench grinder with a good quality Alum Oxide wheel.

-- "Too much or too little shames it all" - Old Swedish Proverb

View Keen1's profile


103 posts in 4085 days

#9 posted 01-07-2008 06:26 PM

I bought the Rikon. I’ve gotten it out of the box but havn’t really set it up yet. I know it came with a couple of centers. The “Live” centers I guess. Still learning the terms here. I’ve seen countless other types. What do I need for basic spindle turning? I plan to learn doiing that. Then probably try some pens. Bowls would be on down the line, although I do want to try it after I learn a little ( okay a lot) more.

-- Dad to 5, Son of The One

View neilk's profile


6 posts in 4035 days

#10 posted 01-07-2008 09:28 PM

Hey I am going through the exact same process—looking for a mini-lathe to begin with. I am fortunate maybe to have both a Woodcraft and Rockler nearby. I’m not in a hurry since it’ll be a few months before the garage is warm enough to visit for more than a few minutes.

Might as well ask here since…there’s a separate model of the Jet that has a variable speed, and I see that the Rikon has six speeds. The cheapest Jet lacks the speed control and instead you change speed by moving the belt to a different pulley.

A friend suggested that moving the belt is actually preferrable to the variable speed because 1. it’s easy to move the belt and 2. by changing belt position you aren’t losing power. In other words the reduction of speed by moving the belt, increases torque. The same available power is expressed differently. Whereas reducing speed by a variable speed dial (voltage reduction?), when you do so, you don’t make up for it with increased torque.

Is this actually the case, or am I just blowing er, smoke? Since the variable speed costs more I wonder if it’s worth it, is the point. Or even if this is true, is the effect so minuscule as not to matter for the purposes of the beginning turner, and the benefit of the speed control is a clear gain.

To visualize this I translate the motor workings into riding a multi-geared bike. In 1st gear you pedal and hardly go forward, but can use that gear to go up an incline (less speed, more torque). Once underway on a level road you can use high gear (more speed, less torque needed). In each case the amount of effort exerted is the same. If on the other hand you reduce speed by exerting less effort, you not only slow down but it doesn’t help you get up the hill either.

-- Neil (so I don't have to remember to sign my name)

View rizay's profile


73 posts in 3326 days

#11 posted 12-13-2009 05:26 PM

A guy in my turning club just bought a small benchtop lathe for his kids at PSI. He said it works nice for a small lathe. It has variable speed and a 1/2 hp motor. I think the swing was only like 4” though.

-- Come visit me at WoodChux and see my work, get free woodworking plans, and find the lowest priced bottle stopper kits around.

View Llarian's profile


128 posts in 3847 days

#12 posted 12-13-2009 07:44 PM

I have the PennState 1/2hp variable speed lathe. (The midi w/ a 10” swing) Its… ok?

Its great for things like pens and bottle stoppers. Now that I’m turning bowls, its clearly too small and underpowered. While I CAN turn a 8.5” x 4” blank, its not easy.

That argument in favor of some cheap starter kit like the PSI is that if you don’t like turning, you aren’t out much money. And if you do, you’re going to want to upgrade to something larger anyways, so again, you aren’t out much money.

I hope to upgrade to a Jet 1642EVS at some point soon, but I don’t feel at all bad for starting with the cheapish PSI lathe.

-- Dylan Vanderhoof - General hobbiest and reluctant penmaker.

View eddy's profile


939 posts in 3604 days

#13 posted 12-13-2009 07:49 PM

i purchased the excelsior from rockler almost 2 years ago for my daughter she uses it almost every weekend
it is a very good tool smooth operation is a 5 speed belt change is easy. she mostly turns pens but has made bowls up to 9 inches i would buy again as for tools i got the 50.00 set at harbor freight. they are hss steel and seam to hold a edge well. i know there is better out there but this is a really good starter set up and has proven its worth with almost 2 years of use

-- self proclaimed copycat

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3509 days

#14 posted 12-13-2009 08:01 PM

I always recommend that folks with an inclination to try turning should look into local turning clubs….or their local woodworking supply store for classes and hands on experience. You tube and the like have videos that can be helpful also but nothing beats real hands on. Lots of those clubs have guys that bought start up lathes that have now upgraded….and you can usually buy or use their older lathes…..I have a jet mini….an old stubby (needing parts and repair), a jet midi, and my prized powermatic 3520b. I have shown several folks that are starting up how to setup and turn objects…and allow them to use my older lathes when they wish to (as long as they follow my safety rules, which are – ALWAYS wear a face shield and dust protection).

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View sanktf's profile


4 posts in 3115 days

#15 posted 07-19-2010 08:15 PM

If you need a good book to get started, get Woodturning: A Foundation Course by Keith Rowley. Clear explanation of all relevant topics and a great approach to turning.

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