I have $700 spend to get all of my equipment what do you recomend

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Forum topic by North posted 02-23-2013 04:21 AM 2075 views 1 time favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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13 posts in 1980 days

02-23-2013 04:21 AM

I have a total of $700 to get a lathe and my supporting tools. My biggest interest is turning pens but I will turn small bowls eventually. I do have a regular speed grinder, drill press with a clamp on it, bandsaw and a bench top disc and belt sander. I have no turning tools or kits to turn pens or devise to place them together. With my small budget what lathe and what tools and accessories do you suggest that I purchase to have a complete starter set up to perform pen turning and bowl turning.

Thank you for any help that you can provide.

22 replies so far

View Bobmedic's profile


379 posts in 2828 days

#1 posted 02-23-2013 08:14 AM

I would recommend the Rikon Midi lathe 70-100. I have this lathe and it has been great. Lots of features and very well built for the money. I would also recommend getting tools that take carbide inserts for the cutters. They last a long time and you don’t have to invest in sharpening equipment. Just a diamond hone and you can touch them up by hand.

View Woodknack's profile (online now)


11793 posts in 2406 days

#2 posted 02-23-2013 09:01 AM

Price your tools and chucks first then see how much is left over, that will narrow your lathe choices considerably.

-- Rick M,

View John Voloudakis's profile

John Voloudakis

12 posts in 1964 days

#3 posted 02-23-2013 06:22 PM

You don’t need a lot of gimmicky tools for pen turning. I’m mostly a bowl turner, but decided to make a bunch of pens for Xmas and managed to do it without a lot of new equipment. The pens came out great.

So here’s more or less the process I use, along with the tools…

0) Get some blanks. If you buy them, no tools required. Otherwise, you’ll need a band saw with a green wood blade and some type of log sled to cut them out, along with some Anchorseal to seal the ends, and 6 months or more to dry them.

1) Cut the blanks to length: Any type of saw. I use my band saw.

2) Drill holes for the blanks. I do this on my lathe using a jacobs chuck in the tailstock. You could also do it on your drill press, but you’ll need a way to hold the blank perpendicular to the table while you drill. You can buy an expensive pen vice ($60 or so) for this, or use a wooden handscrew if you have one. I find drilling on the lathe pretty easy and more accurate, but I don’t turn a lot of pens. If you’re doing a lot of them to sell, the drill press with the right vice will be faster. In either case, you’ll need penmakers’ bits. I chose to only buy the ones I needed, rather than getting a set.

3) Glue in the blanks: Sandpaper scraps to scuff up the tubes. Glue. I use CA glue and it works fine for me. Others use epoxy or other things. You’ll see insert tools sold to push the tubes into the blanks. I use a plastic pen or a scrap of wood.

4) Square the ends of the blanks to the tube: You can buy barrel trimmers for this, but they are somewhat expensive and a single purpose tool. I use my belt sander. I used a square to make sure the table is square to the belt, and the miter gauge is square to the table. I then carefully sand until there is an even shine on the tube. You can buy or make a sanding guide for this, but so far I’ve made about 20 pens without wrecking a blank just using the miter gauge.

5) Mount the pen on the lathe: I bought the Woodcraft adjustable pen mandrel for this. Put the bushings and blank on the mandrel according to the instructions. I tried to limit my initial kits to a couple of types to minimize spend on bushings and bits.

6) Turn the blank. I do this entirely with a skew chisel. You can use other tools too, including the carbide ones that Bobmedic recommends, but the carbide tools are significantly more expensive. You said you already have a grinder and belt sander, either of which can be used to sharpen a skew (with practice).

7) Sand. You’ll need sandpaper ranging from 150/220 grit up to 600 grit or higher, depending on how smooth you want to go.

8) Finish. I’ve been getting good results from Deft clear laquer applied with a paper towel on the lathe. I’ve been doing 6 coats, and it looks nice. There are plenty of other finishes you can use, but one $17 can still looks new after 20 pens, and should last me for a while.

For the lathe, any of the mini lathes should suit your purpose, though remember that you can turn small things like pens on a big lathe, but you can’t turn bigger things on a smaller lathe. I’d recommend checking with your local turning club to see if there is any used equipment for sale. You might be able to score a used midi lathe (or better) for the price of a new mini, or get some tools cheap.

Good luck.


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John Voloudakis

12 posts in 1964 days

#4 posted 02-23-2013 07:50 PM

Er… I posted before finishing…

9) Assemble. I use a bar clamp with padded faced for this. It applies linear pressure and works great. I haven’t found any need to buy specialized pen presses. If you don’t have a decent bar clamp around, you can also use your lathe to apply pressure to the parts to fit them together.


View North's profile


13 posts in 1980 days

#5 posted 02-23-2013 08:32 PM

Thank you for all of the advise. If anyone else has input it would be great to hear.

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2173 days

#6 posted 02-24-2013 03:13 AM

I’m not a pen turner, so I can’t give you specific recommendations along those lines. I do more bowls, boxes, handles, etc. I started out with a lathe and lathe chisel set from Harbor Freight.


Turning tool set:

With coupons and sales, you can get these for a little over $200 for both. This lathe is great for small stuff and will get you started with smaller bowls and boxes too. It has multiple speeds, adjusted via pulleys. Adjusting the belt on the pulleys is a bit of a pain, but not too brutal.

The tool set is a decent starter set. They’ll get you turning and practicing sharpening. The only piece of the set I don’t really like is the beveled scraper. I just don’t find much use for it, so I think I’ll reshape it into a bedan.

If you want to spend a bit more money and get better quality lathe chisels, I’d highly recommend the Benjamin’s Best tools from Penn State Industries. I have several BB tools and they are a definite step up in quality from the HF tools, but not really that much more expensive.

8 piece starter set:

3 piece pen starter set:

For pen turning, I think you’re going to want a mandrel. I just got the mandrel set that PSI sells, but haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. The build quality looks nice and the set is well-reviewed.

For things other than bowls, you’re really going to want a 4 jaw chuck. PSI makes a nice economy chuck that can be had for under $100 with several jaw sets to go with. This was my first chuck and I still use it. I also added the PSI Barracuda 2 chuck, which comes with a chuck key. The economy chuck uses Tommy bars. They both work just fine, but the chuck key is a tad more convenient.

Economy chuck:

Barracuda 2 chuck:

I also have a Woodriver chuck that I got from Woodcraft. This is a nice chuck as well, very similar to the PSI economy chuck. I just leave the #2 jaws in it and occasionally the woodworm screw.

You will also want a Jacobs chuck, which is used for drilling blanks on your lathe and for holding some kinds of mandrels. These can be had for under 30 bucks from PSI or HF or Amazon.

That’s really all you’ll need to get up and running. You can get the things you’ll truly need for pen turning for $300-400 if you shop frugally. If you want to go higher quality on the lathe, PSI makes their own lathes called Turncrafters. I have the electronic variable speed 12” Turncrafter Commander in addition to my HF lathe. I really like it. People also think well of the Jet 1014. And of course there’s also your local Craigslist.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7758 posts in 2940 days

#7 posted 02-24-2013 04:18 AM

Here is/was my struggle with my recent purchase:

What started out as “maybe” a $400 purchase ended up at over $1,200. And I am glad I spent those extra $$$.


-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View jeff's profile


1081 posts in 3491 days

#8 posted 02-24-2013 08:48 AM

I agree with Rick M…tools and accessories add up quickly and you will need to sharpen those tools to have a better turning experience…

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

View North's profile


13 posts in 1980 days

#9 posted 02-24-2013 10:00 PM

Will it looks like my budget is goings to have to change. I bought a JET 708352 JWL-1236 Woodworking Lathe, 12-Inch Swing 3/4 HP 115-Volt 1-Phase. Found it on Craig’s list and worked the price to $460. It came with chisels but they need to be sharpened. I have a grinder and a belt/disk sander any recommended jigs to sharpen. I have never sharpened chisels so I am a bit nervous about it. I was thinking of the rockler carbide tip lathe set does any one have pros or cons it runs about 180. With them I would not need to worry about sharpening.

I have a rockler in driving distance are they ok for pen supplies or should I look else wear

View jeff's profile


1081 posts in 3491 days

#10 posted 02-27-2013 04:53 AM

Penn State Industries and Woodcraft are some places I have ordered from…A quick internet search will yield many…Slimline pens are very easy to turn and learn from that is were I started and I have turned a few cartridge bullet pens from Woodcraft-pretty easy also…I don’t know much about your jet but I think that is a larger lathe-thats great…Do a quick search here on LJ’S and the internet that should help for sharpening how to’s…I personally went with One Ways wolverine jig and Woodcrafts slow bench grinder-just waiting for the grinder to be delivered…

-- Jeff,Tucson,Az.

View dpoisson's profile


190 posts in 2940 days

#11 posted 02-27-2013 04:25 PM

I will have to side with many of the previous posters: Don’t underestimate the price of the accessories.

My used lathe cost me 150$ (1/2hp, 10” swing 16” bed) and came with 3 chisels (skew, gouge and parting).
I’ve spent a bit (100$?) on other turning tools, all benjamen’s best (HSS). They work great when well sharpened.
Just bought a chuck (barracuda 2, 200$), a live center (15$) and a jacob’s chuck (35$).
Because I also do game calls, I bought a collet chuck kit from PSI (90$).

For a total of 640$

Don’t forget finishing supplies! They add up (sandpaper, oils, waxes, CA glues, etc).

That’s about your 700$, mind you, at first, you’ll want to grab any free / cheap wood to practice on. Also, I have no kits in there. You’ll need various bushings, woods, drill bits, etc.

I would tell you to concentrate on 1 thing first (you mentioned pens) and focus on that. The 1$ more per blank (if even that? I don’t know) for a ready to turn blank is cheap vs a chuck + jacob + drill bits + etc.

Bowls are expensive to make is what I’ve found out!



View North's profile


13 posts in 1980 days

#12 posted 02-27-2013 05:30 PM

You all were not kidding when you said the extras would add up. So on extras and a 10 pen kits I have spent $752 plus the Jet Lathe for $460 grand total $1,212. You could also add the cost of a 2X4 flying up on the highway and hitting my truck repair of $200 when going to buy the Lathe. This would then give me a total of $1,412. So much for budgets. Lets hope my wife does not read this post. These are some mighty expensive pens. Sure glad that I love making them. Thank you to all for the help. It made knowing what to purchase much easier.

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


4859 posts in 2435 days

#13 posted 02-27-2013 05:33 PM

I started with a Jet mini lathe, a single inexpensive chisel set and 20 slimline kits. I already owned the bandsaw, drill press, sharpener etc etc. At the woodshow I bought 50 blanks for about 60 USD and took all that home. Made all 20 slimline kits, sold them for 25 each, took profit and bought more kits and two good quality chisels. Repeated same for about a year and made the equipment pay me back. That was 12 years ago, nowadays I make 50-60 pens a year from January until end of February and that is what funds buying more tools and shop supplies. A bonus to all that, I ALWAYS have that gift for someone on short notice. Sure the cheap tools are cheap and the quality is fair, but they worked to get started then buy better ones. Do not let people tell you a pen is not worth $20, just put them away and walk away. You cannot buy a handmade pen at the box store for that price. Set the pricepoint and that is that. The bullet pens that I made this year SOLD for $45 each. I had to reorder twice to keep stock in my display box.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View gtbuzz's profile


427 posts in 2467 days

#14 posted 02-27-2013 06:32 PM

As you’ve probably read I imagine you can see that the costs can add up pretty quickly. It does look like you’ve got most of what you need already, sans lathe, pen mandrel and turning tools. Unless you want to turn bowls immediately, I’d hold off and get the chuck later.

For tools, I’d recommend the Rockler 3 piece carbide set that someone else has already mentioned. It retails for $190, but 20% off coupons are pretty common, so you could be out the door for about $160. You could get a set of traditional tools for about $40 for all you’d need for pen turning, but you’ll find that you’ll need to sharpen them in short order. The carbide set is still cheaper than you’d spend on a grinder + some jigs for sharpening. I learned turning on a set of traditional tools, but I have to say I’m a fan of this set. I think they’re much easier for people to learn on (was able to get my GF to use these but she won’t go anywhere near a skew chisel) and they hold an edge pretty well. I’ve also got some of the Easy Wood Tools carbide tools but they’re significantly more expensive.

I got my Delta 50-760 for about $550 after rebates and it’s a wonderful lathe. With all the problems that Delta’s been happening and stores of spares shortages, I really can’t recommend this one though. I would very strongly recommend buying a lathe with variable speed though. It just makes things so much quicker and easier. Woodcraft carries a 12” 1/2 hp VS Rikon lathe for $430. If you buy it this weekend, they’ve also got a 10% off power tool promo going on.

Also, I agree with John about the barrel trimmer. Personally, I almost always use one because I find it faster and easier, but wth certain woods, like ebony, I use a disc sander as the barrel trimmer tends to blow these out. It’s just a little slower this way.

As far as pen blanks go, I almost always buy mine from eBay now. Usually about $0.50-$0.60 a piece for good wood. The nicest stuff will go for around $1-$2 (of course there’s still plenty of options more expensive than that). You might also want to check out alternative wood sources too. I found a solid Brazilian cherry bullnose trim piece at Home Depot. Someone apparently custom ordered it but never picked it up. I managed to snag it for pennies on the dollar and cut it up on the bandsaw. Managed to get like 20 – 30 blanks out of it for only $5.

Finally, check Craigslist too.

@Mike – I’m in exactly the same boat!! I saw Rockler’s Excelsior lathe for $200 one weekend that got my curiosity piqued. A bunch of hemming and hawing and “buying up” later, I’m over 10X that in the hole =)

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2313 days

#15 posted 02-27-2013 07:49 PM

With the amount of money you have, you are looking at HF for a lathe. The motor is weak, but you’re turning primarily pens, right? It won’t do well on bowls over 6” without dogging. You can get a lathe at HF for a song, what is it 200$, cheaper if you have a coupon. Comes with a live center I believe as well. Don’t scrimp on tools and you need a sharpening system. If you have a grinding wheel, it will be cheap, if not, 100$ plus a sharpening jig.
Nothing about lathing is cheap.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

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