Harbor Freight 5 Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe Questions

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Forum topic by Matt Przybylski posted 07-01-2013 08:31 PM 16186 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Matt Przybylski

569 posts in 2614 days

07-01-2013 08:31 PM

Topic tags/keywords: turning lathe harbor freight tools

Hey everyone,
I’ve been considering doing some turning for a while now (just small stuff, pens, maybe a few bowls, some tool handles, etc) and with the 4th of July coming up, HF is having a 25% off one item sale. I’m thinking that item would be their 5 speed benchtop wood lathe (5 speed benchtop wood lathe). What are your thoughts/experiences with this lathe? Is it suitable for a total beginner like myself? I’m not looking for the best of the best, just something to get me started to see if I enjoy turning.

I’m also considering this set of tools: 8 piece HSS professional wood turning set

It’s got a 5 star rating and if my wife purchases it with the 25% off coupon it can be had for ~$64+tax. Would this be suitable to use with this lathe or should I look at a different set? Again, don’t need the best of the best, but would like something that’s not total junk. I have a 6” grinder and I’ve seen plans for a sharpening jig for the grinder but I have no idea what wheels to use or anything of that sort.

Lastly, will there be other things I’d need to purchase for the type of turning I want to do? I don’t want to go nuts and invest a ton up front so if I can only do, lets say, pens and tool handles with what is available in this “set” then so be it. Again, if I end up liking it I can purchase more chucks or whatever I’d need (I really don’t know a thing about turning, can you tell? :)

-- Matt, Arizona,

19 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8548 posts in 3885 days

#1 posted 07-01-2013 08:43 PM

I am unable to see the lathe you refer to as the link ends up at a “not available” page.

the HSS toolset looks decent. I normally would look for a better quality cutting tools, but it’s HSS, so maybe adequate for most small scale turnings or at least to start with at it’s advertised price.

As for additionals. something you should calculate are the following NECESSITIES (without them you won’t be turning anything):
1. sharpening supplies – stones/sand papers, buffing compounds, and the likes – choose your poison and stick to it, but make sure you plan this out.
2. mandrel – for turning pens
3. chuck – for turning bowls and spindles (tool handles and the likes)
4. finishing supplies (sand papers in different grits, finishing compounds,etc)
5. eye/face protection (you do not want anything flying into your eyes and ending your turning career)
6. live center for tailstock(usually 1 comes with the lathe, but since I cannot see the lathe you refer to I am not sure if it does)
7. spur center for headstock (same as above point)

good luck, and enjoy the turn – it’s very gratifying and a pleasure to immerse in.

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

View TheDane's profile


5575 posts in 3899 days

#2 posted 07-01-2013 08:50 PM

Matt … I can’t offer anything constructive on the Harbor Freight stuff, but others likely will.

For a grinder, you can get by with a 6”, but most turners opt for 8” slow speed (1725rpm) grinders. I assume your grinder is 3450rpm? You can make do with that, but be forewarned that it is easy to waste a lot of steel with 3450rpm grinders. You need friable wheels for your grinder (mine are white). The grey wheels that come with most bench grinders are too coarse.

You can make a grinding jig (there are plenty of articles and plans on the web for that), but a decent option is the ‘Blackhawk Rig’ offered by Eddie Castelin ( ).

You’ll also need a tool to ‘dress’ (flatten) your grinding wheels … any of the major woodworking retailers should be able to help you there.

And don’t forget safety equipment … at the minimum you need safety glass and a full face shield.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

569 posts in 2614 days

#3 posted 07-01-2013 08:50 PM

Sorry about that, fixed the link. For some reason the closing parenthesis got included. Appreciate your feedback as well, sounds like this is alot more involved than I thought :\

-- Matt, Arizona,

View TheDane's profile


5575 posts in 3899 days

#4 posted 07-01-2013 08:54 PM

An additional thought … check around and see of there any classes available at local or regional tech schools … some woodworking supply stores sponsor free or low-cost classes and seminars. That way, you could get a grasp of what is needed and determine whether you really want to get into turning without buying a bunch of gear. I took a beginning turner’s class at a tech school three years ago, using their equipment and tools, and found it to be any enormous benefit when I decided to acquire my lathe and tools.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

569 posts in 2614 days

#5 posted 07-01-2013 08:57 PM

Gerry, you’re probably right. I think I was “rushing” this purchase because of the 25% “one day only” promotion at HF this week (even though they run the 25% coupon regularly every few months) but I should probably take a step back and decide if I really want to do this. I have a friend of a friend who teaches turning relatively cheaply and should take some of those classes before diving in head first. Thanks for keeping me grounded :)

-- Matt, Arizona,

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3207 days

#6 posted 07-01-2013 09:21 PM

For what it’s worth, I have that lathe and I think it’s pretty good but under powered for bowl work.
Bought a bed extension for it from Penn State Industries as it is identical to their 5 speed 10” x 18” model.

I also have that HSS tool set. They put two 1” gouges in my set by mistake, but I kept it anyway. They need a good sharpening as shipped, but overall not bad. Hold an edge well and don’t chip. Good learner set.

This is a pretty good lathe for pens and spindles and knobs, things like that. If you want to turn bowls or larger items, I would rather have the 12” x 33” floor model machine. It gets good reviews as well.

View steliart's profile


2893 posts in 2924 days

#7 posted 07-01-2013 09:21 PM

I’m not a turner, so I can’t help on that, but I can wish you all the best in your new turning experience.

-- Stelios L.A. Stavrinides: - I am not so rich to buy cheap tools, but... necessity is the mother of inventions !!!

View tyvekboy's profile


1830 posts in 3249 days

#8 posted 07-01-2013 10:36 PM

I would take a look at the ROCKLER Excelsior wood lathe that they now have on sale for about the same price. If you look at the specs, the one difference that I think you’ll like about the ROCKLER lathe is that it uses MT2 (#2 Morris Taper) for the tail stock. If you ever decide to upgrade to another lathe, you can take the MT2 attachments with you to the upgraded lathe.

Also, the HP is important. 1/2 HP will probably do for small stuff. BUT you’ll never know when you will need more HP. 3/4 HP is better and 1 HP even better.

Consider tools like you do software applications. The better (more expensive) apps are easier to use. You always get what you pay for.

Wood turning can become addictive so having a good lathe will make it all the more enjoyable.

It’s always cheaper to pay once for a really good tool rather than twice to find out that the cheaper tool doesn’t do what you want it to do.

Keep in mind that good tools are an investment. As you gain experience, you’ll probably wish that you spent a little more for a lathe with more HP.

-- Tyvekboy -- Marietta, GA ………….. one can never be too organized

View Dakkar's profile


352 posts in 2164 days

#9 posted 07-02-2013 04:36 AM

Before buying, be sure to look into the add-ons such as chucks and such (PurpLev’s post above) you expect to need. Some low priced lathes are not sized to fit all aftermarket chucks, etc. so you may be limited to the attachments that come with it.

View rfusca's profile


155 posts in 2080 days

#10 posted 07-02-2013 04:59 AM

So, the 25% will be off 219.99 which brings it down to 165. For only 30 more dollars you can get the full size 34706 lathe for $199 (there’s a coupon in the recent Popular Woodworking magazine, which is available digitally for free this month).
Its a much better lathe, MT #2, more power, longer, outboard turning, etc. You’ll open yourself up to a lot more.

Just something to consider.

-- Chris S., North Atlanta, GA - woodworker,DBA, cook, photographer

View Knothead62's profile


2600 posts in 3197 days

#11 posted 07-02-2013 09:57 AM

I considered it but opted for a Rikon 70-050VS on sale; Rikon has a 5 year warranty. The HF has a 90 day warranty but you can purchase additional warranty time. I had a #37406 which in the scrap yard. It had a Reeves drive which stuck and couldn’t be un-stuck. Wouldn’t recommend the #37406. Save up some $$$ and go with a higher quality and more powerful lathe.
Edit: Go with a lathe that uses the MT2- you have a ton of accessories available.
Go to to find a local chapter for help.

View coachmancuso's profile


259 posts in 2167 days

#12 posted 07-02-2013 12:07 PM

We went to the woodworking show here in Tampa in March. My wife turned a pen and she loved it . When we left she asked me if we could get a lathe , I said sure honey. I wanted to get her something small and not very costly. I looked at the HF mini lathe, it is just what she wanted. With the Easter sunday 25% off it cost me $92.00. What a bargain! Her and myself have been on it at least 3 times a week and it is working good. I just turned a 6 inch bowl on there. We do pens, candleholders, key rings, bottle stoppers, bowls, dishes , and small spindles for other projects. I bought her the lathe tools from HF and have been upgrading slowly. We love this little gem! For under 100.00 you can not go wrong.

-- Coach Mancuso

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

569 posts in 2614 days

#13 posted 07-02-2013 01:06 PM

Thanks everyone. Really appreciate the feedback but I’ve decided to hold off on turning for the time being until I learn a bit more about it, take a few lessons from a local turner, and possibly have more room in my shop for a bigger lathe.

-- Matt, Arizona,

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3207 days

#14 posted 07-02-2013 02:16 PM

I noticed several folks pointed out the importance of having the #2 MT.
A standard thread size is important also Smaller lathes in the under 2 hp category tend to have 1”-8 tpi spindle threads so it’s not hard to find accessories like chucks to fit.
The 5 speed 10”x 18” HF lathe I have adheres to both of these standards.

It’s a good idea to do what you are planning to get some lessons first. You may decide you don’t even like to turn. Or you may have an affinity for a particular type of work that requires specialized equipment.

Which ever way you go, good luck.

View shampeon's profile


1894 posts in 2420 days

#15 posted 07-02-2013 04:28 PM

The HF lathe uses MT2 in both the headstock and tail stock. It’s a good bench top lathe for spindle work, but don’t pay full price. You won’t find a better small lathe new for $150, but Craigslist might land you a nice vintage lathe for the same price.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

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