Hey Turners, what am I getting myself into?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by lumberjoe posted 06-01-2012 05:03 PM 1572 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2454 days

06-01-2012 05:03 PM

First off, let me say I am a square kind of guy in all aspects (pun intended). I really enjoy building furniture and have no desire at all to incorporate turning into any of my builds. Aside from edge profiles, I like clean, crisp, right angles. This is not meant with any disrespect because I can fully appreciate the work and beauty that goes into nicely turned spindles and legs, it’s just not for me.

There will come a time (not any time soon) where I will have built everything I need in the house. Then I am kind of stuck. Again, while I don’t personally like the look of turned pieces incorporated in furniture, I have been really inspired by some of the pens, bowls and candlesticks I see posted in the project section here. Not only that but I have a lot of friends and relatives that would also really appreciate such items as gifts.

I have never sat in front of a lathe or even seen one operated in person, but watching how-to videos, I can say it looks like tons of fun. Here are my questions

1 – Lathe pricing. I know it is all over the map. I don’t want to limit myself by buying a small lathe in case (as often happens) I catch the bug and feel the need to upgrade. I’ve looked through the review section here and there are may options. I think the HF full sized lathe would likely suit my needs fairly well. I haven’t looked beyond that and was wondering what a “decent” lathe would cost me.

2 – Lathe “accessories”. I know with any tool, the stuff that comes with it other than the core tool usually needs to be or should be upgraded, or is simply not included (a dado blade and throat plate for a table saw for example). I am referring to drive belts, chucks, spindles, etc. What should I expect to purchase and spend to be able to easily turn some pens, candlestick holders and smaller bowls?

3 – Cutting tools. As I have learned, a good cutting implement is the difference between frustration and results. I try to buy top notch table saw blades, router bits etc. Often times the price of the blades/bits well exceed the cost of the tool spinning them. Again, basic pricing and brand recommendations will be helpful

4 – Learning curve. The guys in videos make it look so simple. I know form experience making anything that beautiful is anything but. Since I have never done this at all, would reading some books and watching some instructional videos get me in the right direction, or is taking classes the more advisable route?

5 – What did I miss?

Any input would be appreciated. Thanks!


12 replies so far

View Bob817's profile


673 posts in 2588 days

#1 posted 06-01-2012 06:31 PM

Wow Joe you hit the nail right dead on. Those were my questions exactly, been curious myself.

-- ~ Bob ~ Newton, N.H.

View adaughhetee's profile


104 posts in 2888 days

#2 posted 06-01-2012 06:46 PM

Joe, I have the big lathe from harbor freight and have been more than satisfied with it. As far as accessories I would get the 2” face plate/screw-chuck from harbor freight, a drill chuck. and a four jaw chuck(which I have yet to purchase). I bought a cheap set of tools from HF to learn the basics of shaping and use. One of the best things I have done it make my own carbide tipped turning tool. I tried to start off small. I use my lathe quiet a bit but am not a “wood turner” so I have a hard time justifying the cost of high dollar tools. I would suggest getting your feet wet before buying many high-end tools or accessories. You may find it’s not your forte.

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3790 days

#3 posted 06-01-2012 06:50 PM

If you wish to buy a lathe then I would advise buying from someone who’s getting fed up with turning then you get everything you need in one go at a treduced price anyway somone moving up might want also to sell of all or most of their older smaller stuff.I advise you to buy though as big as you can afford accomodate then you won’t look back. have fun Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View mtenterprises's profile


933 posts in 2898 days

#4 posted 06-01-2012 06:56 PM

what am I getting myself into? LOTS OF FUN!!!
With just some of the most rudimentary tools and skills you too can test the waters of woodturning. Just to learn about it and see if you are going to like it buy what ever you can find used cheap. You can even build everything you need from the lathe to the cutting tools to almost any accessory. Just because I have 7 lathes doesn’t mean I am any better than anybody else it just means people like to give me things. If I didn’t have that many I would build my own and I’m thinking of taking my Craftsman 2 tube lathe and converting it to a treadle type lathe (foot powered) just for the fun of it. Don’t just sit there thinking about jump in the water’s fine and fun.

-- See pictures on Flickr - And visit my Facebook page -

View PurpLev's profile


8547 posts in 3854 days

#5 posted 06-01-2012 07:02 PM

you are getting yourself into trouble!

From the sound of it you are similar to me – not into turning furniture parts, but more into making smaller turned projects. a mini-lathe would be perfect for most small work – excluding larger bows where you want a larger diameter capacity on the lathe – either a larger lathe, or a lathe with a rotating hear that you can rotate 180 and away from the bed (making it practically limitless for bowls sizes) – you should check the Delta midi lathe which has all those properties and was recently reviewed here on LJ. if it was me- I’d go with that one.

as for tooling – depending on your projects, you’d need some chucks, cutting tools, and sharpening supplies and finishing supplies – you should start with a gauge, parting tool, and a scraper which would cover pretty much all the work you’d want to do, then see what else might work for you down the road.

as mentioned -buying used makes it easy in the sense that you get everrything in one place, but may or may not be what you’d WANT…

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2454 days

#6 posted 06-01-2012 07:10 PM

I’d like to buy used and that is kind of my intent. Thanks for the help thus far! my problem is I wouldn’t know a decent cutting tool from a bargain basement crap tool. Any particular brands I should look for or stay away from? Am I fine as long as the tool is a decent (C3 or better) grade carbide or are most lathe cutting tools HSS?

Edit – also I just picked up a worksharp for my plane irons and bench chisels. Is that practical for sharpening turning tools as well?


View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3314 days

#7 posted 06-01-2012 08:30 PM

I freehand sharpen my chisels on the worksharp 3000. Round chisels I tend to do on the top, the skews, scrapers, and otherwise flat ones I do underneath.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View PurpLev's profile


8547 posts in 3854 days

#8 posted 06-01-2012 08:36 PM

hss here… haven’t used carbide – I like to be able to sharpen the tools

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View lew's profile


12445 posts in 3961 days

#9 posted 06-02-2012 03:18 PM

Too late now ;^)

As mentioned, a used lathe would be the less expensive route but make sure you look closely at the head/tail stock alignment. Also, check the head stock bearings for smooth running/no play.

Bigger (more power) is always better especially if you decide to turn bowls. Longer is better if you are going to turn table legs, etc.

As said, most accessories are easily built. Do consider a 4 jaw chuck similar to- Nova's products. Also a Jacobs Chuck. Make sure it has the correct taper to match your lathe.

As for tools, stick with HSS- high speed steel. It is not as expensive as carbide, stay sharp longer than regular steel and you can resharpen it with your Worksharp. By the way, Worksharp has several accessories for lathe tool sharpening. Not putting down anyone’s product here, but a set of 5 to 7 lathe tools for under $100 is not going to give you the results you hoped for and cause more frustration during the learning process. Buy the tools you need for the project at hand. A roughing gouge, parting tool and a scraper will get you started. A spindle gouge might be nice. Hold off on the skew chisel for a little bit- it is a bear to learn to use.

Woodcraft, Rockler, Craft supplies USA and Penn State Industries all have project kits to get you started along with downloadable instruction sheets to help you. Pick some easy projects that require few extra tools/jigs—bottle stoppers, for example, and hone your skills.

Good Luck!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Darell's profile


435 posts in 3799 days

#10 posted 06-02-2012 04:00 PM

I would advise you to go to the AAW website ( and see if there’s a local woodturning club near you. If there is then take in a couple of meetings and get to know the local woodturners. If the club is anything like mine the members will be of trememdous help getting you started. You’ll proably be invited to someones shop where you will get hands on learning experience, probably for free. And you’ll meet a boat load of new friends. Also check out the local vo-tech and see if they have wood turning classes that you could take. You can do all of this with very little cash outlay. You’ll know very soon if you’ve been addicted to woodturning and there is no recovery if you are. :-)

-- Darell, Norman, Ok.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3203 days

#11 posted 06-02-2012 05:37 PM

Definitely go for something that is variable speed. Belt changes are a pain. Being able to change speed a little can help a lot when you hit some harmonics as stuff is spinning. The pivoting head lathe from HF and others is not a bad lathe if you only have one. If you have something that can turn leg size pieces (30-36 inch range) you can do just about anything furniture related. A smaller one is nice for an extra lathe but unless you are only going to be turning pens and a few handles, it is too limiting for your only lathe.

The tools are pretty basic. A variety of calipers comes in really handy. At first you will stick to a few main cutting tools but you quickly get into the territory of making some that suit you. When starting out, don’t do anything but HSS. Carbon steel tools work well but beginners overheat them by scraping a lot. I am not a big fan of the carbide insert tooling for wood (I don’t think a whole lot of them for metal either in a non-production setting.) Being about to turn around and sharpen quickly makes it a lot more enjoyable. Nothing is more frustrating than dull cutting tools.

Do get a faceplate. Also take a look at some of the stuff that Beall Tool sells. A tap that matches your spindle is a nice way to mount stuff. I am not that thrilled with chucks on a wood lathe. I would put that off until you find what you really want. The cheap ones are worse than not having one and the good ones are a major investment. They can also be dangerous for beginners. Lots of sticky out parts to get you by surprise. A spur center holds well and is less likely to bite you.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2454 days

#12 posted 06-03-2012 03:43 PM

Well I guess there is no “turning” back now. I ended up getting the Harbor Freight lathe at a pretty good deal (around 200$). If I don ‘get into turining, it’s worth at least that in scrap. If I do get into turning and want to upgrade, again, it’s worth 200$ all day on craigslist.

That’s where the bargains end. Thanks guys for echoing my sentiments that cheap/dull cutting tools do not work well. I picked up a Sorby roughing gouge, parting tool, and scraper, more than doubling the cost of the lathe itself. I hope these are decent, they came highly recommended by my woodcraft sales guy.


Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics