Variable speed lathe needed for pen making?

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Forum topic by SloLouie posted 05-20-2009 02:15 AM 4629 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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22 posts in 2717 days

05-20-2009 02:15 AM

Topic tags/keywords: lathe question

Hi all,

I’m looking to purchase my first lathe in the near future. I’ll probably use it primarily for pen making, but then who knows if and when the bowl bug will hit me. I’m looking at the Turncrafter Pro from PSI.
Is there a real advantage of the variable speed lathe over the standard lathe?



-- "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." Red Green

13 replies so far

View Elaine's profile


113 posts in 3044 days

#1 posted 05-20-2009 07:26 PM

yes -learning and bowl turning Have you looked at the JET or the DELTA. I’ve got the JET VS mini and love it. Buy the best tools you can get.

View SloLouie's profile


22 posts in 2717 days

#2 posted 05-20-2009 08:33 PM

I haven’t seen any of these lathes in person, only on line and catalogs. I took a pen class at a local tool shop, They would only special order and the brand that they stocked was a “wood something”, $249.95 non VS. Both the Jet and PSI seem to have good reviews on this site. Both have 1/2HP motors. There is definitely a difference in price, $279.95 compared to $459.95. Could there really be that much difference? I totally believe in buying the best I can afford. I’ve always regretted buying a cheap tool in the past. I’m going kind of slow, as this is a big purchase for me.

-- "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." Red Green

View interpim's profile


1158 posts in 2879 days

#3 posted 05-20-2009 08:48 PM

I have the non-variable speed version of the TurnCrafter from PSI. It is a high quality lathe, and I now wish I had purchased the variable speed model, pulling the belt on and off is more of a pain than turning a dial. It all depends on what you are willing to put up with.

Read my review on the TurnCrafter Lathe I purchased here

-- San Diego, CA

View mski's profile


418 posts in 3401 days

#4 posted 05-20-2009 11:27 PM

I have a Jet 12×20 non variable, love it, I didn’t get the VS because DC motors wear out faster and it is a Chineese motor so didn’t want to chance it.
As long you are not doing production work it’s not that hard to change belt position.
The jet is built very very well.


View Shopsmithtom's profile


787 posts in 3616 days

#5 posted 05-21-2009 12:25 AM

I guess I’ll throw in my 2 cents here with an alternative idea. You might want to consider a used Shopsmith Mark 5. Older ones can be found for anywhere from $100 – $350. You get a very serviceable lathe with variable speed, and as a bonus, a great 12” disc sander (useful for truing up the ends of pen stock because you can lock the stock & move the disc to it), great horizontal boring machine (useful for drilling pen blanks), great drill press, and table saw, although lots of guys think that’s not a plus because the table tilts instead of the blade.

Even if you never use the table saw, you get 4 tools that take up little more space than just the lathe.

I’ve turned pens, spindles, tool handles and small bowls on mine and never had any problems, and mine is 52 years old…hows that for reliability? -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

View jeffthewoodwacker's profile


603 posts in 3225 days

#6 posted 05-21-2009 12:38 AM

I would go for the variable speed lathe. Jet and Delta are both good brands and sometimes you can find a good used one. The new Delta midi lathe with variable speed is reversible and is a very good investment – price is high but in the long run worth the money. The mini and midi lathes don’t take up much space and can turn projects up to 12” in diameter. SST has a great idea about the Shopsmith 4 tools in one and doesn’t take up much space. If you find one make sure all the parts and accessories are included.

-- Those that say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

View SloLouie's profile


22 posts in 2717 days

#7 posted 05-21-2009 05:22 AM

Unfortunately, I don’t have room for a Shopsmith. I have seen the Shopsmith and their versatility but until I get a larger shop I’ll have to settle for a smaller lathe. I really think most of my turning will be pens and small projects. I won’t be doing “production” work, I suppose its just a matter of convenience. Maybe the answer is step up a size with a manual belt changer.

-- "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." Red Green

View LesB's profile


1228 posts in 2864 days

#8 posted 05-21-2009 07:31 AM

I got by for 30 years with a Rockwell/Delta with a 4 speed manual belt drive and it worked fine from pens to 16 inch bowls (on the out drive). I have spent almost as much on individual lathe tools as you are looking at for your lathe so in a way the cost is not all that relevant. It is what you need and the space you have to use it in.
I now have a Powermatic 3520b, but that is a whole different bracket than what you are looking at.

-- Les B, Oregon

View SloLouie's profile


22 posts in 2717 days

#9 posted 05-23-2009 09:35 PM

As a quick follow-up, last night I found a Jet 1014I with the stand on CL for $200. It was like new, the seller said he used it less the 6 times. The cord was still factory tied!

The sawdust is from me trying it out on some scrap wood first thing this morning. Now I’m off to accessorize the lathe!

-- "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." Red Green

View Matt's profile


181 posts in 2793 days

#10 posted 05-24-2009 12:15 AM

I hope you got out of there quickly before someone thought you were ‘stealing’ that lathe! The price of the stands alone are around $150.00 at Woodcraft. Nice find! You have now entered ‘The Vortex’. Few return. Did you know that table saws will hold a whole lot of bowl blanks? Yep. haha

You’ll be real happy that you got a Jet. Changing the belt only takes a few seconds. For pens, I start off around 1800 and leave it there. From roughing all the way to the final finish. I’ve got the 1220 (Non-VS). I’ve thought about adding a DC motor and controller but can never justify it. A 1642 or ‘Mustard Monster’ will be my next (hopefully last) lathe.

Way to go Louie.

-- Matt - My Websites - - Hand Tools :: - Small Shops

View thelt's profile


657 posts in 2800 days

#11 posted 05-24-2009 02:03 PM

I have the Delta Midi lathe VS and it works great, especially for pen turning. I am saving up now to by the extension table to make it a full size lathe. The only problem I’ve had with this lathe is I went for a long period and did not use it. I left tension on the belt and the belt dry rotted. When I turned the lathe on to use it, the belt came apart and actually melted in the grooves. Lesson learned, don’t leave tension on the belt if not in use. Otherwise, great mini lathe.

-- When asked what I did to make life worthwhile in my lifetime....I can respond with a great deal of pride and satisfaction, "I served a career in the United States Navy."

View SloLouie's profile


22 posts in 2717 days

#12 posted 05-24-2009 06:06 PM

Thats interesting about the belt, it was loose when I bought it. It sounds like the seller knew how to store it.
I fear I’ve entered the vortex already, I spent $160 yesterday on pen supplies!

-- "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." Red Green

View Sawdust2's profile


1467 posts in 3509 days

#13 posted 05-24-2009 11:06 PM

I’ve used the jet and the Delta and both are good machines.

For many years I used a belt changing speed Carba-Tec and made a lot of pens with it.

I just upgraded to the Carba Tec variable speed. Cost was $229 from Penn State Industries.
At first I thought that the 1/4 horse might not be powerful enough but I am now sure that it is.
For the approx $250 difference in cost my money is on the Carba Tec. Go check my review.


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

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