Swing capacity

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Forum topic by Sawdust2012 posted 01-17-2015 02:47 PM 1348 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Sawdust2012's profile


144 posts in 1914 days

01-17-2015 02:47 PM

Looking for some help from the voice of experience. How important is swing capacity in excess of 12”? I mostly find myself turning bowls, and want something larger than my 10” mini, but when it comes right down to it, I am wondering if swing capacity is sort of like megapixels in a camera. Companies produce and advertise it in extremes, but is is really that useful? I can count on one hand the number of times I have had access to a piece of wood bigger than 12” in diameter. So, lay it on me. What matters to you in lathe specs?

13 replies so far

View JoeinGa's profile


7739 posts in 2208 days

#1 posted 01-17-2015 03:01 PM

Dont have a good answer but I’m also interested in seeing what the masses have to say on this …

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Tennessee's profile


2893 posts in 2716 days

#2 posted 01-17-2015 03:02 PM

For me, I didn’t realize how important certain things were until my wifey bestowed upon me in 2002, a Powermatic 3520. With a swing over bed of 20”, and tail to headstock of a little over 34”, I thought I would never outgrow it. Then came the time when I found the big wood pile that my town puts together for people to pick firewood out of, and the curly and burl that was mixed in.

But seriously, here is my list of the most important things, assuming that the lathe is well built, center to center is dead on, and it is heavy enough to not walk across the floor. Not necessarily in any order…

1. Without a doubt, for me, variable speed. My lathe has two main speed categories that you set with a belt move, then the variable speed drive takes over. There is literally nothing like having a lathe that will rotate at maybe 15-20 RPM while you inspect the work, see if you are mounted correctly, or maybe actually mark a section with a pen. And having variable speed for not only turning, but buffing and polishing, it’s kind of like the first time you drive a hydrostatic drive lawn tractor. You never want to go back.
2. Ability to change out chucks, heads, tailstocks, etc, without taking 5-10 minutes out of the project. this includes through chuck with a rod.
3. My lathe has a movable head. This seems like kind of a not-needed, but I can center it on the bed for short, big pieces, and it helps balance it out. I can also turn my head around so I can do really big stuff off the end, if I so choose. (You need a separate tool rest stand for this – I own the Powermatic cast iron unit)
4. Reverse. What a wonderful thing when you are polishing and buffing. It also comes in handy when you want to do that reverse cut where you cannot quite get the tool where you want it. The reverse direction of the variable speed drive opens up all kinds of opportunities for different kinds of cutting, polishing, all kinds of options.

These are the biggies that I use.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View bigblockyeti's profile


5286 posts in 1922 days

#3 posted 01-17-2015 03:13 PM

I have an old Craftsman with a 12” swing and 36” bed and I actually used all of it once. I wanted to turn a pedestal for a table that ended up being just over 11” when I was done. It was from an old log that had been in my grandfather’s shop for 50+ years and while certainly dry, it was quite heavy. I have put a variable speed drive on it as well as a Baldor motor that will allow good torque at very low speed, I feel that is very important unless all you’re doing is pens and small spindles.

-- "Lack of effort will result in failure with amazing predictability" - Me

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1422 posts in 1931 days

#4 posted 01-17-2015 03:22 PM

My lathe has 12” swing, and after cutting a blank to fit, I usually end up with no more than an 11 1/2”-3/4” finished piece. I would like to go to 16” and it would give me a finished piece at 12” if I chose to do that size. But I’m sure if I did go to 16”, eventually I would be looking for bigger wood and would need to get a bigger lathe. ..... Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View LeeMills's profile


619 posts in 1503 days

#5 posted 01-17-2015 05:24 PM

My lathe (Nova 1624) has 16” swing. I have only turned a few items close to the 16” because they are so huge nobody wants them. Most upper kitchen cabinets are only about 12” deep.
That said, I would not want to go to a 12” lathe for larger items. Most 16” come with a lot more HP which is major on larger items IMHO. Also from rough logs and going down to 12” allows you to turn away most of the sap wood and get down closer to the heart.
I (my daughter) also has the Nova Comet2 which is a good lathe but it does not give the options of the 1624. It’s very easy to appreciate the difference in .75 hp v 1.5 hp.

-- We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

View TheDane's profile


5550 posts in 3864 days

#6 posted 01-17-2015 07:23 PM

I didn’t think swing was too big of a deal (I have a Delta 12” midi) until I started taking classes at a shop equipped with PowerMatic 3520B lathes. The difference isn’t so much the ‘swing’ (I seldom turn anything over 10” in diameter) as it is the heft of the lathe itself (mass translates to stability) and the increased torque you get with a 2hp or bigger motor.

I love my Delta 46-460, but sometime in the near future, I expect to be upgrading to a bigger lathe in my shop.

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

View Ron Ford's profile

Ron Ford

209 posts in 1934 days

#7 posted 01-17-2015 07:38 PM

+1 to both Lee and Gerry. I have a Jet 1642 with the 2 hp motor, and rarely turn anything at the extreme size it is capable of handling, but the extra power makes a world of difference. I took a class with David Ellsworth a few years ago and he has Robust lathes in his shop – 3 hp each. While they remain a pipe dream for me, I don’t regret for a minute investing in the 2 horse Jet. You never regret having more power than you need, but may regret not having enough.


-- Once in awhile I make something really great. Most days I just make sawdust.

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1422 posts in 1931 days

#8 posted 01-17-2015 09:11 PM

I hate to be nit picky, but I thought the question was about swing. ........ Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View Wildwood's profile


2475 posts in 2336 days

#9 posted 01-17-2015 10:27 PM

If wood you have access to and turn regularly does not exceed 12” lathe selection no brainer. For years and still use my electric or gas chain saws made wood fit my lathe.

Plenty of midi lathes with 12” swing up to the task and come with EVS. There are a couple Asian reeves drive lathe worth a look with 12” swing. Nova’s non-DVR 16” swing cost little more than those other midi & reeves drive lathes, but will be moving belt over pulleys to change speeds.

I have and like a Jet 16” swing lathe with EVS, simply outgrew a 12” swing lathe. Like lot of people would love to have a Oneway, Powermatic or Robust lathe, my current shop just not big enough.

-- Bill

View Woodknack's profile


12431 posts in 2581 days

#10 posted 01-18-2015 04:29 AM

How important is swing capacity in excess of 12”?
- Sawdust2012

Depends on if you want to turn bowls larger than about 11”. If you don’t have it, you can’t do it. Heck, my lathe is only 9” swing but I still turn lots of projects on it. 12” is probably around the sweet spot. Most of the firewood I get for lathe turning is way too large for my lathe without a lot of waste.

-- Rick M,

View JamesVavra's profile


304 posts in 3517 days

#11 posted 01-20-2015 08:40 PM

I have a 20” swing lathe. While I rarely make bowls that big (I have a couple of 18” roughed out bowls drying as we speak), it’s great for offset turnings. For example, I turned a 10” square piece, then offset it by a couple of inches to turn a small bowl out towards one corner. That made the required swing something like 18”.

View Woodknack's profile


12431 posts in 2581 days

#12 posted 01-20-2015 09:29 PM

If I had a larger lathe I’m pretty sure I could sell all the salad bowl sets I could stand to make but honestly I don’t care that much for bowl turning to make a job of it and most people do not want to pay enough to make it worth my time. I would enjoy making some decent size offset bowls though.

-- Rick M,

View Case101's profile


107 posts in 1994 days

#13 posted 01-23-2015 12:08 PM

Thanks for the info.

-- John, New Jersey

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