what to look for when buying a used lathe?

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Forum topic by Paul posted 01-10-2011 11:50 PM 8296 views 1 time favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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224 posts in 3418 days

01-10-2011 11:50 PM

Never turned before. But want to take on a project that might require turning.
What should I look for when buying a used lathe.
I keep reading about a face plate and different sizes
what does a face plate do?

11 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10264 posts in 3614 days

#1 posted 01-10-2011 11:57 PM

You need to have a face plate to turn bowls and things like
that. For spindle turning – table legs and stuff like that, you
don’t need face plates.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3041 days

#2 posted 01-11-2011 01:08 AM

I don’t want to discourage you but you may be a little naive if think you can just buy a used lathe and make what you need for your project. Learning how to turn takes time and effort.

Regarding what to look for in a used lathe – that’s too big of a topic to adequately address in this format.

Lots of information on turning is available on the web. I suggest you do some reading before jumping in.

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

View Loren's profile


10264 posts in 3614 days

#3 posted 01-11-2011 01:18 AM

Turning is a blast… for fun. Lathes are fun to fool around with – you
can make your own scrapers out of old files and stuff.

Turning duplicates and specific classic profiles takes discipline and practice.

A used Shopsmith works ok as a lathe. They can be got for less than
$100. It’s not as convenient as a dedicated lathe but you get the drill
in the bargain and the Shopsmith drill is killer.

I’m without a lathe myself right now (still have the tools) so I’m looking
around. The Delta-pattern 1×8 tpi faceplates are common and easy to
get. The Shopsmith doesn’t take them, but lots of lathes do.

View hairy's profile


2656 posts in 3498 days

#4 posted 01-11-2011 01:30 AM

If you’re buying a used one, check the headstock to tailstock alignment. This could save you some grief.

Check the drive threads, you want a universal size like 1” x 8 tpi or 1 &1/4” x 8 tpi. When you get an oddball thread, accessories become limited , or you’re looking for an adapter.

Look and see what’s available and in your price range, then google the heck out of it. Find out what buyers have found out.

The lathe is usually the least expense, the extras add up quickly.

-- My reality check bounced...

View jobott's profile


27 posts in 3328 days

#5 posted 01-11-2011 01:53 AM

Many things to think about when looking for a lathe. Consider what your ultimate use will be, spindles, bowl turning, pens etc. Mini lathes are very good for smaller projects and a good way to start out for smaller amounts of $$. They are limited in swing (total diameter of a turning) and length of a project. Mini lathe length is usually about 17-24 inches and swing is 8- 12 inches diameter depending on the lathe. Full size lathes will increase these dimensions. You will also need a few good turning tools and a sharpening system (grinder, jigs etc). As Loren said, the faceplate is one method of holding a project onto the lathe and is used primarily for bowl turning. Spindle turning generally will use the spur drive on the headstock and live center on tailstock. I noticed you live in northern NJ. I live in Orange County, NY, not too far away from you. If you’re interested in seeing and trying one out, PM me and we can set something up. In any case, do what Hairy said and Google for info to get more info on what you are interested in. Good luck.

-- Joe B

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 3689 days

#6 posted 01-11-2011 01:55 AM

If I had it to do over again, I would make sure that my lathe was capable of doing out-board turning. To clarify, that is the ability to turn something on both ends of the head-stock.

Variable speed is a must – allows for slow speeds when first gouging out a big chuck of wood.

Common thread size was mentioned, but even more basic than that is make sure the bearings in the motor and lathe run smooth.

Good used lathes are out there, and good hunting.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View Russ's profile


357 posts in 3043 days

#7 posted 01-11-2011 05:58 AM

Given a recent failure of mine I would make sure the tailstock can accept morse tapers in addition to the other things mentioned above.

-- Russ

View Lochlainn1066's profile


138 posts in 2743 days

#8 posted 01-11-2011 07:29 AM

Headstock and tailstock alignment.
A common size of thread on the headstock. 1×8 or 1 1/2×8 is good. Look through a turning catalog or website and see what sizes they offer for chucks.
A common spindle taper on both headstock and tailstock. MT2 is most common.

As new as you sound to turning, it might be best to start with a beginner’s lathe book. Just getting the terminology and whyfor’s and whatsits straight will help a lot in determining how you want to proceed.

Be warned, though. Turning can become an obsession, and once you start, you will be unable to stop.

-- Nate,

View Paul's profile


224 posts in 3418 days

#9 posted 01-11-2011 08:13 AM

Thanks all for the advice.
It’s clearer to me now that I can’t just go out and buy any old lathe.
I’m about to start some chairs and the plans call for the front legs to be turned.
I’ll figure that part out when I get to it.
Jobott, I may take you up on your offer…

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2927 days

#10 posted 01-11-2011 11:09 PM

You might post this question on for their input.

View Juansnapon's profile


36 posts in 2916 days

#11 posted 01-12-2011 08:43 AM

Make sure you don’t get a cheep one from Harbor Freight tools they bend and are unsafe. I like Shop Fox my self mini lathe and that’s the one I am looking for. Only 249.00 new.

You may want to look into night classes at your local adult school many times they have wood working classes that allow you to use the tools and have an instructor if you have questions. Could be a good first start.

-- Juan, Fresno CA.

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