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Forum topic by mpmitche posted 01-23-2011 05:21 PM 1232 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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428 posts in 2973 days

01-23-2011 05:21 PM

A friend of mine is selling a large lathe of his for a pretty good price and I am considering buying it. The problem I have is that I have avoided this type of work for a long time because I knew I would become addicted and that I cannot afford it. What I would like to know is just how hard is it to learn and is there a chance I could justify this purchase by making things for friends and family (saving money on gifts) and/or selling a few things like bowls to offset some of my costs? How long does it take to learn and how long to actually make a bowl for instance once you get to that point?

-- Mike, Western New York

11 replies so far

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4021 days

#1 posted 01-23-2011 08:20 PM

Mike, you’ve asked a ten-million dollar question. I’ve been turning for about 25 years, and I’m still not sure how to answer it. There are so many variables that it’s hard to pin down. Your personal talent, spare time, and available funds all come into play.

I WILL say that turning has given me countless hours of enjoyment and satisfaction, and that I still enjoy it to this day. The initial investment is high but, like most areas of woodworking, you can start simple and add the bells and whistles as you progress. When I started, the modern scroll chucks didn’t even exist, and I learned lots of workarounds and adaptations. I’ve made lots of presents for friends and family, and have even made a little money selling things from time to time. However, the real motivation should be personal satisfaction – the rest will take care of itself.

As for how long to turn a bowl – again, experience changes everything. I can now do an average 6-8” bowl in about an hour, barring complications. When I started, I would poke and stab at it for the better part of a day. You WILL get better with practice. Work for quality, and the speed will follow in time.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4215 days

#2 posted 01-23-2011 09:03 PM

Mike, I have only been turning for a year or so, but I highly recommend you take the plunge. The great thing about turning is that you can start making decent looking stuff with just a little practice. Of course mastering things like really thin-walled hollow vessels can be a lifetime job. And, yes, the investment for tools and accessories can be expensive. But it is really great to be able to go into the shop with a rough blank, and walk out with a finished project a couple of hours later. (This also makes it great for gifts.)

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

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John Gray

2370 posts in 3882 days

#3 posted 01-23-2011 09:25 PM

As a new turner, 9 months, the 1st thing I would recommend is joining a lathe club in your area. Members are a great help and there are good deals on tools and lathes at the one that I belong to the members in the club I belong to, Flatland Woodturners in Champaign, IL, are great about helping new turners to get started.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View mpmitche's profile


428 posts in 2973 days

#4 posted 01-23-2011 09:41 PM

Thanks for the advice, this all helps me get an idea of what it takes. John the guy that is selling the lathe is actually a member of a turners club. We have a joint club in my area and I currently only belong to the woodworkers portion but will probably start going to the turners meetings as well.

-- Mike, Western New York

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2958 days

#5 posted 01-23-2011 10:12 PM

Go for it! You will find that turning is a lot of fun!
Check out for more info and help.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3071 days

#6 posted 01-24-2011 01:07 AM

There are lots of books and CDs that can help you learn to turn, but nothing beats some face to face instruction. I like to tell people that turning is a “feel thing”. When you are holding and handling the tool right, it feels right. An instructor can help you find that right feel.

With just a little instruction you can get started right. You’ll be able to quickly make some basic stuff and then you can grow from there.

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

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2839 days

#7 posted 01-24-2011 03:15 AM

If you can afford it, a lathe is a great thing to have. Myself, I’ve only had a lathe off and on for about a year and a half. At this point in time, the turnings I’ve spent the most time on have been sticks. I take a rather large piece of wood that looks like a log. I rough it out so it’ll be balanced at the lowest speed. Then I crank it up as fast as it’ll go, put on my apron and face sheild and let the chips fly. I have so much fun that before I know it I have a tiny stick between the centers and you can’t see my feet for the chips covering them. I have a ball doing it though. I keep saying I’m going to practice and learn to do more. At this point in time though, it’s worth what I paid for it as a stress reliever. No plan. No skill. No expectations. Just flying chips and a smile on my lips.


View Woodturner66's profile


76 posts in 2668 days

#8 posted 02-15-2011 06:57 PM

I’ve been turning for a while. It’s like instant gratification. Like the others said , take a woodturning class somewhere. I have never sold any turnings. I give them all away. Mostly for fundraisers at church. Christmas gifts. I just enjoy doing it so much. That and doing scroll saw work. It’s a stress reliever for me.

-- Chris Ward

View Loren's profile


10384 posts in 3645 days

#9 posted 02-15-2011 09:20 PM

You can make money turning. There’s demand for turned parts and many
cabinet shops lack the skilled staff to do it in-house.

Look around your local market at houses. Depending on your area you
may see a lot of need for restoration turnings for exterior woodwork, or
very little. People with old houses are over a barrel because they need
the new turnings to match the extant ones. That’s a market for you.

Pens and turned boxes make appealing gifts, are easy for you to carry
to shows, mailable, and a low-enough price point that you can get more
impulsive sales.

There’s a market for turned work. Getting accurate and efficient at it
takes considerable practice, which is why there’s work for skilled turners.

A lot of getting good at it is learning to turn clean enough you don’t
have to do a lot of sanding. Sanding is a time-sucker and clients buy turnings
by the piece, not by your time invested. A lot of the guys turning burls
are spending so much time sanding and polishing the darned things they
can’t make much money at it because they have to price the work like
fine art – for which there is a market, but tough to crack and competitive.

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3157 days

#10 posted 02-15-2011 10:31 PM

Mike, MUCH good advice above. With the lathe alone, I’ve paid for itself twice over, and then some with just pens.

Yes, take the plunge, but which lathe? The ONLY down side I see is that it is a BIG one. You can turn surprisingly large bowls and vessels on a mini or midi(like the new Deltas). I avoided lathes for years because every big one I saw in a guy’s shop sat in the corner, took up a lot of space and they never used it. Imagine taking your lathe with you to visit a friend. That’s some REAL advantage to some. Being able to put it out of the way on a shelf for a few weeks could be really helpful too.

Not trying to convince you OneWay or another(pun intended, ha ha). Just bringing up a point. I wish you much success and happiness wichever route you take.

Edit: Owning a Big lathe(to me) is like owning a boat. You don’t want to own it, you just want to use it once in a blue moon. Make sure you have a good friend with one on the rare occasion when you really need it. Do you really need a big lathe ALL the time?

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View mpmitche's profile


428 posts in 2973 days

#11 posted 02-18-2011 05:09 AM

Thanks for all the tips, I’m going to get the lathe and pray that it is not as slippery a slope as learning how to use a hand plane was. That or get another credit card!

-- Mike, Western New York

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