New to WT, bought a used Harbor Freight lathe and Gouges, need advice

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Forum topic by BradN posted 07-03-2016 01:21 PM 481 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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12 posts in 129 days

07-03-2016 01:21 PM

I bought a barely used small lather sold by Harbor Freight to practice and learn on. It has a 1/3HP variable speed drive.

I took a 1.5” X 1.5” X 5” square Kiln Dried pine block and tried to round it with the roughing gouge. Every time I got more than a shaving of a corner the variable speed would stop.

The speed dial on the lathe has no speed indicator so I don’t know how fast it was turning, my guess is 1000 – 1500.

So, I am curious, was I turning it too fast? Is Kiln dried Pine not good? (if not, what would be?), or is the Roughing Gouge not sharp? (if not, how would I check?)

-- Woodworking is the best therapy

11 replies so far

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Richard H

483 posts in 1102 days

#1 posted 07-03-2016 01:40 PM

I would say 1000RPM is to high for roughing a blank until you have the corners knocked off. Small lathes can struggle rounding over the edges of blanks, I usually try to bandsaw off the corners or use a block plane to knock them off before turning and that can help.

It also might be that your roughing gouge is dull. It’s really easy to know when a gouge is going dull once you have used a sharp one but I understand that it might be hard if you have no frame of reference. Resharpen it and see if it works better. Also if you bought your gouges from Harbor Freight as well they are ok gouges but I never felt like they held a edge for that long. I ended up replacing them over time because I seemed like I spent more time sharpening them than turning with them. I have some of those diamond sharpening paddles that I use to touch up the edges as needed which saves me from having to go back and forth to the grinder longer.

Hope this helps,


View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1410 days

#2 posted 07-03-2016 01:41 PM

If you haven’t sharpened the tools, that’s the place to start. Even new tools need to be sharpened. There are myriad ways to sharpen lathe tools. For a spindle roughing gouge, a tiltable platform – for setting the bevel angle – on a bench grinder or disc or belt sander can be used. Do some research on sharpening lathe tools – you’re gonna have to have a way to do it. I’ve had good luck with HF lathe tools (dark red handles). I still use them after years and other tools.

Spindle and bowl gouges are best done with a jig, like the Wolverine. Attempting to grind them by hand can be frustrating and use up a tool.

View BradN's profile


12 posts in 129 days

#3 posted 07-03-2016 02:34 PM

Thanks all for your suggestions and comments.

The tools are labelled Windsor Design and are an 8 piece set. I don’t have the original box, but I found a description saying they are HSS.

Not wanting to spend a fortune, what is a good but inexpensive (if that exists) sharpenning setup?

-- Woodworking is the best therapy

View Nubsnstubs's profile


811 posts in 1151 days

#4 posted 07-03-2016 03:09 PM

You should get a good sharpening system instead of an inexpensive one that you will probably have to replace when you realize it’s not doing what you want it to do.

One thousand RPM is not too fast for a 1 1/2” x 5” long square blank. IMO, you should be over 3 thousand for that small blank. There is something loose on your lathe or the motor is bad. A third HP isn’t a strong motor, but it should still drive that small of a blank. You said the VS was stopping. Are you sure it wasn’t the wood stopping and not the motor? You could also not have the blank mounted into the spur tight enough. Also, I’m hoping you aren’t just shoving your tool into the blank. You’ve got to present your tool at center or just above center….... jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

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4937 posts in 3084 days

#5 posted 07-03-2016 03:10 PM

The tools are labelled Windsor Design and are an 8 piece set.

Windsor Design is a Harbor Freight ‘brand’. They will work … you just need to learn how to sharpen them.

what is a good but inexpensive (if that exists) sharpenning setup?

Check this out …

But, Jerry (in Tucson) is right. I used the belt sander rig for awhile, but eventually went to a slow-speed grinder with a set of CBN wheels and OneWay’s Wolverine system. I get consistent results, spend less time sharpening, and spend more time “makin’ shavings”

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

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Rick M.

7703 posts in 1801 days

#6 posted 07-03-2016 05:15 PM

One other point you’ll learn soon enough, kiln dried pine tends to be brittle so expect pieces to fly off when roughing.


View Kelly's profile


1051 posts in 2365 days

#7 posted 07-03-2016 10:16 PM

When roughing in a piece of wood, the only reason I find to slow my lathe down is, vibration. The higher speed seems to make it easier to clean the wood up.

I find I have little vibration working 2×2’s and bigger, since they are close to balanced and just not round.

The only time I use the band saw to clean wood up is when, for example, I playing with a piece of fruit wood. It can be challenging for this newbie to try to turn a knot sticking out an inch father than the rest of the piece.

I have a 1” x 42” belt sander immediately behind me. I have the bed set to the angle I’m happy with and sharpening takes less than thirty seconds. Being able to keep my gouges and skews sharp is likely why I till enjoy turning. However, once in a while, I go stupid and forget how to sharpen and it takes a couple stabs to get back to smooth operating.

Within the month, I’ll be verifying the allegations buying the lathe is the cheap part of an addiction. I’ll be buying the Wolverine jigs others speak about, and a couple CBN wheels for my four wheel grinder. I believe others when they say that will be a game changer.

I’ve turned pine, fir, walnut, sycamore and so on. Some was air dried and some kiln dried. In each case, I just go at it and adjust my handling of the wood according to how it reacts to my knife. Barring cracks and splits, I’ve had good luck with it all.

View TheFridge's profile


5676 posts in 907 days

#8 posted 07-03-2016 10:29 PM

Is it turning on the spur center?

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View BradN's profile


12 posts in 129 days

#9 posted 07-03-2016 11:19 PM

Yes, I am turning it on the spur with the idler keeping it from wobbling.
Being a newbie, I think I answered that right.

From reading from you all, a belt sander with an appropriate jig is an acceptable way to sharpen.

Is the 1” belt or 4” belt a better method?

-- Woodworking is the best therapy

View Kelly's profile


1051 posts in 2365 days

#10 posted 07-04-2016 01:56 AM

Brad, I’m using a one inch. I have a six by forty-eight inch sander and a six by eighty-nine inch sander. I wouldn’t think of using them for sharpening, but it could be done.

I suspect a Harbor Freight version of my Delta would perform just as good as it does for these purposes.

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12 posts in 129 days

#11 posted 07-04-2016 11:08 AM

Thanks Kelly, and the rest. On your 1” belt, do you have a variable speed controller?
The Rikon Slow Speed grinder that is praised for sharpening has a 1725 RPM, but most of the belt sanders are 3400+ RPM.

Or, is grinder and belt speeds for sharpening different?

-- Woodworking is the best therapy

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