Variable speed or non-Variable speed, That is the question.

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Forum topic by WhiskeyWhiskey posted 05-19-2011 06:59 PM 2687 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View WhiskeyWhiskey's profile


8 posts in 1986 days

05-19-2011 06:59 PM

Hi Guys and Gals – I am looking for a wood lathe “My first one” and JWL-1220VS: 12” X 20” Variable Speed Wood Lathe is what I am looking for. My question is two folds;

First: Why do I need a Variable speed Lathe, what can I do with it?
Second: Where can I find the best deal on one online or in the Dallas Texas area?

-- Whiskey-Whiskey Out....

15 replies so far

View crank49's profile


3979 posts in 2393 days

#1 posted 05-19-2011 07:56 PM

To keep it short, big wood must spin slow, small wood must spin fast. Sanding and finishing turn fast. Bottom line, you are constantly changing speeds. Variable speed makes this faster and easier to do.
- Do you have to have it? . . . No.
- Is it good to have? . . . Yes.
- Is it worth the extra cost? . . . Maybe.
That last one depends on what you do.

- If you only turn pens; then a 5 speed machine will do fine; and save some money.
- It will mostly just be run at 1 or 2 speeds all the time anyway.

- If you want to do a wide range of stuff, including bowls, you need a bigger machine, more HP, and VS.

-- Michael: Hillary has a long list of accomplishments, though most DAs would refer to them as felonies.

View Joseph Crivelli's profile

Joseph Crivelli

44 posts in 2673 days

#2 posted 05-19-2011 08:35 PM

After much reasearch, I got the Jet JWL-1220vs in 09/09.
I’d never even used a lathe before, but I tend to look for the most bang-for-the-buck.

I started by making a large lamp out of maple. Then 2 bowls to get the feel of the tools.

Now I’ve made pens, bottle stoppers, salt & pepper set, etc.

The veriable speed ability is a plus.

I’ve also found that the 3/4 HP motor is enough for my projects.


View CharlieM1958's profile


16229 posts in 3640 days

#3 posted 05-19-2011 08:42 PM

Crank49 summed it up well.

Think about it… The larger the diameter of the piece you are turning, the greater the velocity of its outer edge. No way can you turn a 12” bowl at the same rpm as you would turn a pen, so changing speeds is an absolute necessity. Non-variable speed lathes usually accomplish this by using stepped pulleys. Every time you want to change speeds you must stop and move the drive belt. A variable speed control allows you to change speeds with a lot less time and effort.

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

View Don Johnson's profile

Don Johnson

650 posts in 2203 days

#4 posted 05-20-2011 11:01 PM

Be aware that ‘variable speed’ can mean electronic control OR a mechanical ‘cone’ system which has a lever that requires some effort to move to change speed.

The electronic version is more expensive, but much nicer and convenient to use.

I wish I had the electronic version!

-- Don, Somerset UK,

View rance's profile


4243 posts in 2582 days

#5 posted 05-20-2011 11:11 PM

If you get a VS, you won’t regret it. If you don’t, you’ll always be wondering why you didn’t. Go for the VS if you can possibly afford it, or wait till you can. You won’t regret it. I love mine, and I miss it whenever I use a non VS unit.

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

View rsmith71's profile


269 posts in 2464 days

#6 posted 05-20-2011 11:43 PM

I’m just east of Dallas and wondered over what kind of lathe to get for a start. After a lot of research and watching reviews here I took a chance on the 33” variable speed from Harbor Freight. Not the one with the tube rails, but a cast bed. I’m not constantly using it all the time due to time constraints. (Always other projects that need to get done.) But it has been excellent for me. For less than $300, it is a great deal. Not as fancy as some of the Big brands but works great. Plus it leaves a little more coin in your pocket for accessories like turning tools and chucks, etc.

-- Robert - Haven Wood Crafts

View WhiskeyWhiskey's profile


8 posts in 1986 days

#7 posted 05-21-2011 03:10 PM

Wow – Thanks for all the in site guys. From what I gather, I should ink up on the VS lathe.

Anyone have an idea on which one I should go with or is Jet the best.

-- Whiskey-Whiskey Out....

View Roper's profile


1370 posts in 3135 days

#8 posted 05-21-2011 03:51 PM

Variable speed all the way, but you need to turn the speed down to sand.

-- Roper - Master of sawdust-

View Florida_Jim's profile


83 posts in 2299 days

#9 posted 05-21-2011 03:58 PM

I’ve had the Rikon 70-100 for a few years now. I’m very happy with it. I don’t have any problem at all changing speed with pully’s. Check out the reviews of lathe’s and let those influence your decision.

View WayneC's profile


12642 posts in 3519 days

#10 posted 05-21-2011 05:11 PM

I have a Jet VS and it is a great lathe.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4408 posts in 3382 days

#11 posted 05-21-2011 07:01 PM

My Grizzly VS (sheeves drive) has been a good lathe. All I’ll ever need unless I want to turn HUGE stuff.


View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2496 days

#12 posted 05-21-2011 07:33 PM

As noted above, there are electronically controlled VS and mechanically controlled VS. The mechanical drives use a Reeves System that increases and decreases the effective diameter of the pulleys.

For me, a key issue is slowest speed possible. My mechanical VS will go down to about 500 rpm when the belt is new. As the belt stretches and wears the lowest possible speed goes up. Note that these systems are hard on belts and they wear out quickly.

With 500 rpm, I’m comfortable turning a 10” bowl and I have turned a 12” bowl. However, the 12” was really too big and I would never go any bigger than that despite having clearance over the bed for up to 16”.

Electronically controlled VS can go as slow as you want. Someday I will replace my mechanical VS with an electronic one.

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

View mchuray's profile


81 posts in 2420 days

#13 posted 05-21-2011 08:08 PM

I would also check out the Delta VS Model 46-460. $50 cheaper and more swing and slower speed. Bed is 3 1/2 inches shorter though. It is the one I’ve been looking at. HF tools are a crap shoot . I ‘ve had very good luck with their drill press and some of their other tools. I’ll have to take a look at their VS midi type lathe.

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3307 days

#14 posted 05-21-2011 08:15 PM

Electronic Variable Speed
I’m a turner andhave been turning for a little over a year with a lathe that you have to change the belt on. Believe me you want an electronic varible speed. My wish list is for a Jet 1642EVS. Jet makes a good lathe IMHO.
The lathe club I belong to has a Jet 1642EVS so I have used one.

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

View WhiskeyWhiskey's profile


8 posts in 1986 days

#15 posted 05-26-2011 07:48 PM

Guys I can’t tell you how much I really appreciate the advice and helpful information.

-- Whiskey-Whiskey Out....

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