So you want to buy a lathe? A real lathe?

Updated: 9/10/2020. I have a lot of trouble updating this blog entry. It is to big. WordPress often crashes when I try to do anything in this post. My php buffer size is not big enough. I am waiting for GoDaddy to upgrade my web sever.

In general everything in this bog post is still valid. However, some good new 110 volt lathe options have become available. See my Revolutionary New 110 Volt Lathes blog post.

Updated: 7/8/2017. Change bars in Purple on left. Add new “Parts of a Lathe” section with link to AAW video.

Updated: 2/5/2017. Change bars in Blue on left.  Summary of updates:

1. The new version of the 10″ Penn State Mini Lathe is still my favorite Mini Lathe.

2. I do not like the new Jet lathes. Add them to the list of “Lathes I DO NOT Recommend”.

3. The new 110 volt version of Laguna Revo 18/36 lathe has won me over. Move it to my list of “Recommended 110 Volt Lathes”.

4. The 220 volt version of the Laguna Revo 18/36 is now my low cost “Recommended 220 Volt Lathe”.  It replaces the 220 volt Jet 1642 EVS that is now longer available.

5. The US economy has been stuck in neutral. Thus, lathe prices have not increased by much, if any, in the last 2 years.

Updated: 8/9/2015.  Change bars in Green on left. Add Laguna lathes to not recommended list.  They are close but no cigar.

First published on 7/31/2015.

What lathe should a newbie purchase?

Here is a long winded answer I gave to a student who had a Shopsmith and decided it was time to buy a real lathe.

For the record.  I personally own  a VB36, a Powermatic 3520B,  two Oneway 2436s, and a Penn State TCLPROVS lathe.   At various schools and clubs I have turned on Stubby, Vicmarc, General, Delta, Rockwell, Jet, Grizzly, Vega and old metal cabinet lathes.

pm_3520bIn a Nutshell

Hands down the best lathe out there in my not so humble opinion is the Powermatic 3520B with a Oneway Banjo.

The list price is still $3999 on 2/5/2017. It was the same price back on 7/26/2015.

10/28/2017: The Powermatic 3520B lathe is being replaced by a new “C” model. i.e. the Powermatic 3520C. The B model is no longer available from retailers. They sold out in Aug 2017. See Powermatic 3520B below for more info.

Parts (Anatomy) of a Lathe

Before we get started. Newbies may want to watch this video that covers the names of the different parts of a lathe.

delta_46_460Generally, I do not recommend videos. This one is very well done. It is at a very basic level. The video was created by the American Association of Woodturners (AAW). It features one of the lathes that I recommend below. A Delta 46-460 Midi Lathe.

Rent a Lathe (Consider the Resale Value)

I started out with a Delta 1642 Steel Bed lathe. I liked it but the sliding headstock was no good for Metal spinning. So, I sold it and purchased a Powermatic 3520B with a rock solid sliding headstock.

I don’t remember how much I payed for or sold my Delta for.  But, I do remember the difference was $1200.  I owned the Delta for 6 years. So, it was like I rented the Delta for $1200 / 6 years = $240 per year.

If you and your wife went away for a weekend. How much would the room and meals cost?  More than $240?

Is $240 a year for a hobby really so bad?

If you purchase a good lathe (like a Powermatic 3520B) and then you sell it in 5-6 years when you lose interest or want a new one.  How much do you lose?

6 or 7 years ago, I purchased my 3520B for $2900.  The current list is $3999. I bet I could sell it today for $3000 and make $100 profit. Because the 3520B is a great lathe, in high demand with a  reasonable list price.

Things to Look For

First,  a few things you should look for.

1. Variable speed. With 2 or more belt speeds.

Changing belts on non variable speed lathes, gets real old, real fast.

2. Headstock and tailstock with #2 MT (Morse Taper) or #3MT.

3. Headstock with 1-1/4″ by 8 threads.

Oneway standard is M33. But they will do 1-1/4″x8 for no additional cost?

Note: M33 and 1-1/4 x 8 are virtually the same size! M33 is just a tiny bit larger than 1-1/4. Thus M33 is not bigger, better, stronger, etc.

4. No gap in the ways near headstock.

5. 16″ or 20″ of swing.   12″ is not enough.

Greater than 20″ swing over the ways is overkill! Once in a blue moon, If you need more than 20″ swing then do it outboard or with a sliding headstock.

12″ of swing is ok for 8″ to 10″ bowls.  But only 12″ of swing creates issues when you try to lower the back end of a gouge handle while turning bowls. The handle runs into the ways of lathe. 16″ of swing is really the minimum.

6. Forward and Reverse.

7. Variable speed adjustable via a knob.  No speed up/down buttons like on Nova lathes!

8. Sliding headstock for bowl turning or outboard.

Oneway lathes are the only ones on which outboard is really usable.

9. Motor is stand-a-lone.  Not part of the headstock like Nova Lathes.

10. 2 HP or more.    (or DC motor with control box on Mini lathes)

Note: The Oneway 1.5 HP lathes are ok.  Because they use a very good motor and motor drive.  Motor drive = Control Box / Inverter.

11. Adjustable leg height.

oneway_adjustable_legOneway just added adjustable height legs to all of there new lathes.   See Oneway web site.

Robust also offers lathes with adjustable height legs.

I have found the one and only leg height for the Powermatic 3520B is a very good and livable compromise.

Things you definitely DO NOT need

Beware! Sacrilege ahead.   But, just a little.

1. Stainless Steel Ways! Currently all the rage. Biggest waste of money on the face of the earth!

For years the lathes at Purchase college have been ridden hard and put away wet by students.    The lathes show lots of signs of wear.   But, rust is not a problem!

That brown stuff you see on the ways of a lathe after turning green wood is NOT rust.  It  is sap, that came out of the green log!   Sap that dries overnight looks just like rust.   The sap from Cherry logs is brownish, it looks like rust.

2. Tilt away or swing away tail stock! Currently all the rage.

Tilt away tail stocks tilt the headstock down and out of the way.

Swing away tail stocks just swing the tailstock around behind the lathe.

I am willing to yield ground on this one. It is not a complete waste of money for some people with strength issues. However, membership in a gym, may be a better use of money.

An easy and cheap alternative. Is a long chunk of pipe hung from the ceiling over ways of the lathe. With a chunk of rope or chain hanging down. Hook the chain around the tailstock and just slide it off. Let it hang in space. Slide it down the pipe and out of the way.

The 17″ aux bed for turning outboard on a Oneway lathe costs the same or less than tilt away tail stocks. Why not just turn outboard on a Oneway?

3. Digital speed read out. Currently all the rage.

If a lathe has it fine.   DO NOT let this drive which lathe you purchase.

When you are driving your car. How often do you check the speed? Only when you see a cop car? After you have been driving for a few months, probably almost never. You just known when you are going the correct speed. Lathes are the same way.

Just because you were turning a bowl yesterday at 700 rpm does not mean you should do it again today! No 2 blanks are the same!!!

For safety! You should always start at the lowest possible speed and then turn the speed up until you are happy with the speed or the lathe starts to shake. If it shakes, then back off. What the stupid digital speed dial says is a HUGE don’t care!

4. A fancy $100 to $200 stand to go under your Mini or Midi lathe with no storage.

Use an old bathroom or kitchen cabinet, or puchase one at Home Depot. You will get storage and a place to set down your tools.

Second Hand Market

Local AAW woodturning clubs are the best source for used lathes that are not antiques or cheap junk.

You can look on Ebay and Crags List. Buyer beware! Shipping can be a huge problem and expense. If it is in a basement, who is responsible for getting it out? It may cost less to buy a new late due to shipping issues and cost.  Who much is a hospital stay for a wrecked back?

I personally would ONLY purchase a lathe that has ALREADY been removed from a basement and is in a garage.

Most good lathes are sold thru local woodturning clubs, long before they would be listed on Ebay or Craigs List. Thus, waiting for a good buy to come up on Ebay or Craigs list is often a miss guided strategy that is doomed to failure.

I don’t need a “serious” professional model

If you don’t want an antique, junk or cheap crap then you probably do need a professional model.  Because the serious enthusiastic and professional models/market are one in the same.

Stick to lathe models with 16″ to 20″ of swing with a sliding headstock or outboard turning on a Oneway lathe. You definitely don’t need to pay for anything over 20″ of swing.

Also you do not need a “Vector” 3 phase motor. Just a regular TEFC 3 phase motor is good enough. I known, speak english. Basically, you don’t need the fancy motor used on Robust lathes.  Also used on Oneway lathes?

110 Volt verses 220 Volt Lathes

I really DO NOT recommend going with 110 volts.

You really need 220 volts. Get it installed in your workshop now and you will save a ton of money in the long run.

I have seen way to many people who are seriously sorry they settled for that 110 volt lathe. Its not big enough or powerful enough. A few upgrade to a 220 volt lathe. But most, suffer on, or they give up on wood turning. Either way the money spent on that 110 volt lathe and a ton more on tools is all just wasted money.

I do not understand why people are afraid of 220 volts. It’s dangerous right? Really?  People use hair dryers and electric shavers, etc in bathrooms all over Europe where 240 volts is standard! Are people all over Europe dying from electrocution? I don’t see it on TV news. All the governments in Europe must be cooperating (1st time ever) on this big conspiracy to keep the danger of 240 volts out of the news. Further more, all the people in the US are not rubbing there nose in how much better the US is because 110 volts is standard in the US.  🙂

Recommended 110 Volt Lathes

1. Penn State KWL-1018VS  Midi Lathe.   $370 on 2/5/2017. (It was $400 on 7/26/2015)

Penn State KWL-1018VS

The Variable Speed one!  The 10″ one.  Not the 12″ one!

Penn State is now calling this a Midi lathe.   But, it is really only a Mini lathe in my world!

If you compare this lathe to other mini lathes then note how this mini lathe has a real METAL hand wheel on the tailstock. Easy belt change on the headstock and a easy to use spindle lock with 24 indexing positions.

This is a GREAT little lathe. I really fail to understand why people pay a lot more for the Jet and Rikon mini lathes!

You really don’t need more than 3/4″ HP or 10″ of swing in a mini lathe. There are sensible limits to what you can do on a mini lathe. The lathe bed, banjo, tool reset, etc  are not heavy enough to handle 12” work. 8” bowls are pushing the limit on a mini lathe. Thus 10” swing and 3/4 HP is adequate.

Note: The old Penn State mini lathe use to be #1 MT. The new KWL-1018VS is #2 MT. Click here for more info.

2. Delta 46-460 12-1/2″ Midi Lathe.  $580 on 2/6/2017. (It was $610 on 7/26/2015)

delta_46_460Midi not Mini. Midi lathes are a little bigger than Mini.

I known someone who has this lathe. He really likes it, but he also has a larger lathe. I have turned on it. I like it. But, it can only handle small bowls. 8″ or less. Cut edge only. No natural edge bowls. You can do bowls bigger than 8″ or natural edge. But, you can also drive your car at 120 mph. At least that is what is says on the dash board!  🙂

3. 110 Volt Laguna Revo 18/36 Lathe. $2400 on 2/6/2017.

delta_46_460 Beware. I have only seen this lathe in photos and talked to people who have used one. I have never seen it up close or turned on it.

Laguna offers a 110 volt and 220 volt version of the Revo 18/36 lathe.

I have always sort of liked this lathe. In the past I gave it a “close but not cigar” rating. I said that if they had a 110 volt version I would recommend it. So, now I am recommending it. It looks similar the Powermatic 3520B but I don’t think it is as good. Not as beefy. Better than the old Jet 1642 and definitely better than any of the new Jets lathes or Nova lathes.

The 110 and 220 version of this lathe are almost identical. The 110 volt version is 1.5 HP. The 220 version is 2HP. There is only a $100 difference in the price!

When you look in the owners manual and the parts list the only difference is the motor and the VFD (Variable Frequency Drive, they call it an Inverter in the parts list.)

Note: It is only a guess on my part, but I think there really is no difference in the motor or VFD. Other than a 110 verses 220 switch on the side of the VFD that is preset to either 110 or 220. They are just running the VFD in voltage doubling mode. Voltage doubling allows you to run a 220 volt 3 phase motor on a 110 volts single phase input via the VFD. Most of the modern low HP VFDs support this. If, I had a good 220 volt lathe design that already had a VFD, then this is what I would do! I would expand my market by offering a 110 volt version via voltage doubling. Voltage doubling is sort of ok, if you are willing to live with a 30% reduction in motor efficiency (aka HP). Well, using 220 volts is really better! The 110 version is 1.5 HP and the 220 version is 2 HP. This is consistent with 30% loss due to voltage doubling. I really don’t understand why more manufactures don’t do this. A 110 volt version of the Powermatic 3520B would sell like hot cakes.

I really want to make it clear that this lathe DOES NOT change my opinion about 110 volts. I DO NOT recommend going with 110 volts. You should upgrade to 220 volts. See “110 Volt verses 220 Volt Lathes” above.

Recommended 220 Volt Lathes

1. Powermatic 3520B Lathe.   $4000 on 7/26/2015 and still $4000 on 2/5/2017.

pm_3520bHands down the best lathe out there for the money! Nick Cook helped Powermatic get everything right on this lathe! It is built like a tank.

This is still my favorite lathe for the money!

10/28/2017: The Powermatic 3520B lathe is being replaced by a new “C” model. i.e. the Powermatic 3520C. The B model is no longer available from retailers. They sold out in Aug 2017. I have not seen a 3520C yet in person. Only on the internet.

On 10/28/2017 the 3520C is currently not available for purchase. Thus, no official list price yet for the 3520C. Word on the internet is $4400.

Currently, I can not find official 3520C info on the web. It is only in the PRINT version of the “Craft Supplies USA” catalog. It says:

– Movable control box
– Redesigned spindle lock
– Adjustable riser blocks for 6″ of height adjustment
– Digital spindle indexing readout
– ACME thread tailstock quill
– Increased weight for stability

So far, I like what I see. They did not screw up the best features of 3520B. They changed the tailstock to ACME thread. A much needed improvement! More positions in the spindle lock wil be nice. The 3520B only has 2 positions in the spindle lock. I don’t care much about the other changes. I like the location of controls on 3520B. Thus movable control box on 3520C is no big deal to me.

I would have really liked to see fully adjustable legs or at least legs that adjusted in 2″ increments. I am really hoping that “Adjustable riser blocks for 6″ of height adjustment” means the new 3520C legs are 6″ shorter than 3520B legs. The 3520B legs are a little to tall for me. But, 6″ lower would be to much. I am hoping I can replace the 6″ riser blocks with my own 4″ wooden riser blocks if I only want it 2″ lower, etc.

Only available in 2 HP.   More than enough HP because Powermatic uses a good motor with a good motor drive.

The only problem with this lathe is the legs only come one height. However, I have found the height to be a good compromise. Short and tall people seem to agree the height is not ideal, but it is ok. On the other hand, only one leg height, helps keep the price down.

pm_3520b_banjoThe banjo on  the PM3520b sucks.  It is way to big and heavy for a 20″ lathe.   I STRONGLY recommend replacing the PM banjo with a Oneway 20″ banjo.  Do this BEFORE you start buying additional tool rests and you will save a lot of money.  Because the PM banjo requires special tool rests with an extra long tool post and thus they cost more.

oneway_banjoThe Oneway banjo design is simply the best out there. No contest. Order the banjo directly from Oneway via there web site under “Toolrest Base Retrofit for Other Lathes”. I have a Oneway banjo on my PM3520B and people love it! The price on 9/2017 was $310 plus shipping of $40 to TX.

Feedback from a reader in 2017 indicates that Oneway will say that you need “Oneway Part No. H0082 – 16″ Banjo For 16″ Swing Lathes”. This causes confusion because the PM3520B is a 20″ swing lathe. I have the “Oneway Part No. 2407 – 20″ Banjo For 20″ Swing Lathes” and it works just fine. This is the one I recommend if you want to use standard tool rests on your 3530B. If you want to use the extra tall tool rests that Powermatic ships with the 3502B then you need “Oneway Part No. H0082 – 16″ Banjo For 16″ Swing Lathes”. Note: This is also confusing because the Oneway part number on there web site is 2407. But, the part number cast into the side of the actual 20″ Oneway banjo is 2408.

Note: The rumor is they redesigned the banjo on the new PM3520C model. They are reusing the banjo from PM90 lathe that has better tool rest height locking mechanism. This would be a welcome improvement. However, the banjo will still not be as good as the Oneway and it will be to low for standard tool rests.

pm_3520b_extensionIf you need more than 20″ of swing the 18″ Bed Extension ($450 on 7/26/2015).    This will increase the swing to 36″.   The bed is 18″ long.  It can be mounted in line with existing main bed or in a position that is 8″ lower than main bed.

The new PM2020 (short bed version of 3520B), I guess is ok if space is an issue.  But you really don’t save any money!

The PM2448 is overkill.  Not worth the money.

Powermatic is a big name dealer, with lots of products. It does not have to make all it’s money on lathes. So it can sell a really great lathe like the PM3520B for a great price.

By from a local dealer to get the best price and delivery options.

2. Stubby S750 (No longer available)

stubby_s750I really like the Stubby design with a John Jordan stand. It is a very stable lathe. I like the sliding bed ways.

But, I can’t recommend it, because you can not buy one. The company that made it is out of business.

3. Oneway 1640,  2HP is $4510 on 7/26/2015 and still $4510 on 2/5/2017.

oneway_1640Many people over look this lathe because it is not Oneway’s top of the line. It is the best Oneway lathe for the money in my opinion.

However, the Powermatic 3520B is less money and a better lathe.  So the only reason to pick this lathe is if you want to rough out your bowls between centers and then finial turn them outboard. Removing the tailstock and sliding down the headstock on Powermatic 3520B (or any other lathe) is not hard but it can get really old, really fast.

The Oneway wins out over the Vicmarc VL300 because you can turn outboard on the Oneway.

I don’t like the other Oneway lathes. See Lathes I DO NOT recommend below.

Unverified feedback from a reader in 2017 indicated that Oneway no longer offers lathes with a 1-1/4 x 8 threads.

Special order from Oneway with 1-1/4 x 8 threads. DO NOT settle for the standard M33.  Spindle adapters suck! No charge for 1-1/4? I don’t care what it costs. M33 is dead!  Extra cost for 1-1/4″ x 8 will save you a bundle in the long run!

By from a local dealer to get the best price and delivery options.

4. Vicmarc VL300.  $6200 on 7/26/2015 and still $6200 on 2/5/2017.

vicmarc_vl300csVicmarc lathes are very good. Lots of people like them. But current US prices are on the high side.

I don’t known any good reason to pay extra for a Vicmarc when you could get a Powermatic 3520B  for less. You can turn outboard on a Oneway. But not on a Vicmarc.

The new Vicmarc lathes have a swivel headstock. Does this weaken the headstock? I would go with the older, solid headstock on VL300.

5. Magma Black Titan 400.  $9000+ Not available in USA.

magma_400This is my dream lathe. The ultimate lathe! The only thing I have seen that comes close to my VB36 lathe or even surpasses it. VB36 quality and built like a tank. With a swivel head that is also a great spindle turning lathe.

6. 220 Volt Laguna Revo 18/36 Lathe. $2500 on 2/6/2017.

delta_46_460 The 220 volt version of the Laguna Revo 18/36 is now my low cost “Recommended 220 Volt Lathe”. It replaces the 220 volt Jet 1642 EVS that is now longer available. I don’t like the new Jet lathes (Jet 1640 EVS, 1840 EVS or 1840 DVR). See my reasons below.

At this point in this blog I use to tell people. “If I was held at gun point and I had to recommend a lathe under $3000, I guess it would be Jet 1642. I would not be happy about it!” I don’t feel that strongly about the Laguna lathes. I think the Laguna 18/36 is a little better than the similar Jet 1642. The Powermatic 3520B is definitely a better lathe than Laguna or Jets. The 3520B is worth the extra money.

See 110 Volt Laguna Revo 18/36 Lathe above for more comments.

Bowl Turning Lathes (220 Volts)

1. Outboard turning on a Oneway 1640  with a 24″ Bed Extension.

2HP is $4510 on 7/26/2015 and still $4510 on 2/5/2017.  +$460 for 24″ Bed Extension.

oneway_1640Currently I think the best bowl lathe  is just turning outboard on a Oneway 1640 lathe. The price and HP is right!

I actually known people who have done this.   At least one of them has never used the inboard side of his Oneway 2436.

The Oneway lathes 1640, 20xx, or 24xx are the only ones where you really can turn outboard. Because they have full size bearings in the headstock on outboard side and full size spindle threads.

You can rough out a bowl between centers on the inboard side of a Oneway.  Then mount it on a faceplate or chuck on the outboard side of the lathe.   Beware!  This is going to require a lot of floor space for the lathe and space around the lathe.

The Oneway 1640 is very attractive for outboard turning because the bed extension on the outboard side is lower than the main bed on inboard side.   See photo.  Thus the swing on the outboard side is 24″.    This should be plenty for most bowl turning!

pm_outboard_standIf you need more than 24″ of swing then remove the outboard bed and use a stand-a-lone Powermatic 520B Outboard Turning Stand ($520 on 7/26/2015.)  Outboard turning stands get mixed reviews.   The PM is the best of the lot.    The best solution is really the floating tool rest beam on a  VB36 lathe.

See #3 above for my comments about ordering the lathe with 1-1/4 x 8 spindle rather than M33.  M33 is dead!

2. Sliding Headstock Lathes

You can side the headstock on Powermatic and Robust lathes and then turn bowls off the end of the lathe bed.   This works.  But, turning more than one bowl in a session becomes real old, real fast!

Because doing the following repeated, becomes tedious.   Starting out between centers, removing the tailstock, sliding down the headstock and banjo, turning the bowl, sliding the headstock and banjo back, reinstalling the tailstock, finishing the bottom on a jam or vacuum chuck.

The headstock on my Powermatic 3520b is heavy.  It takes a lot of effort to slide it.   If the bed is a little dirty from turning green wood or a little saw dust gets in the way then things get ugly.

Turning outboard on a Oneway avoids all the sliding headstock BS.  But, it requires a lot of floor space.

3. VB36  $9000 on 7/26/2015

vb36_w_tailstockI have a VB36 and I love it. It is the best lathe out there for turning bowls. But, I can not recommend it because you need to purchase a VB36 with a tailstock for safety. With the tailstock the price is over $9000 in US due to exchange rates, etc. To much!

Even with a tailstock the VB36 is really only good for bowls. The bearings in VB36 headstock are great for bowls. But really suck for spindle work, even with the tailstock.

I absolutely love the bayonet head, the floating tool rest beam and tilt away tailstock on my VB36. These features drive my friends and students crazy. But, I love them and wish all lathes had them!

If you get a VB36 then you must get a Benson Adapter for tool rest! A VB36 without a Benson Adapter sucks. With a Benson Adapter, it is the best tool rest on any lathe!

The VB36 is now made by Steinert in Germany. The old manufacturer in England was very good the new manufacturer is probably even better.

Lathes I DO NOT Recommend

Beware! Lots of sacrilege here!

There are going to be lots of people who do not agree with what I have to say here. They are entitled to there opinion. And I am entitled to my opinion.

1. Any Jet Lathe. Quality to low.

jet_1642evsJet lathes are popular with new turners because the price is right and some models run on 110 volts. But, I just can’t recommend them. Some times I hear good stories. But, to many people, I known have been disappointed or very disappointed.

I known someone who has a Jet 1642 and likes it. But, he understands it has limitations and discounts them because he feels it is good enough for what he needs.

I have turned a lot on Jet 1642 lathes at the Brookfield Craft Center. I really hate the banjo on the Jet 1642 with a passion! It just will not stay put when I turn bowls. The STUPID little knob that is suppose to hold the tool rest firmly in the banjo does not even come close! The tool rest is always moving around. Err… The banjo is also always moving around on the ways. Because the banjo hold down and locking mechanism is also Micky Mouse! Err…!!! If I owned a Jet 1642 I would replace it with the Oneway 16″ banjo in a second! See my Oneway Banjo comments above under Powermatic 3520 lathe.

In this blog I use to tell people. “If I was held at gun point and I had to recommend a lathe under $3000, I guess it would be Jet 1642. I would not be happy about it!” The Jet 1642 is no longer available. So, I guess I dogged a bullet. I now recommend the Laguna Revo 18/36 for a lathe under $3000.

I don’t like the new Jet lathes that replaced the Jet 1642. Even at gun point I would NOT recommend one of the new ones. I don’t like the new Jet 1640 EVS, or the Jet 1840 EVS or the Jet 1840 DVR. I DO NOT like rotating headstock lathes. They have a well deserved bad reputation. I DO NOT like DVR lathes. They have a well deserved bad reputation. All the big names lathes (Powermatic, Oneway, Robust, etc) use belts, because belts work better! They don’t use rotating headstocks because there is no way to make the headstock dead rock solid and there is no good way to get the tool rest into the right position and make it dead rock solid.

Avoid any Jet lathe that does not have variable speed.

jet_1442_headstockAvoid the Jet 12xx an 1442 lathes like the plague! The motor in back interferes with the swing on right side of head stock!  The rotating part of the headstock is to wimpy, etc, etc.

The Penn State Mini lathes are better than Jet. Well, at least, less money.

The Powermatic lathes appear to be similar to Jet. But, have better bearings, etc. Powermatic is a far better choice then Jet and worth the extra bucks!

2. Any Nova Lathe.  To wimpy.

In particular I do not like the Nova DVR lathe. Pushing AND HOLDING the buttons to go faster or slower, drives me crazy and is a HUGE waste of my time! I known I am not the only person who feels this way! And yea, I known you can program it to avoid this. Years have gone by, and I am still waiting to meet the 1st person who has SUCCESSFULLY programmed it.

The new “Dial-In Speed Knob” on the new Nova Galaxi DVR 1644 Lathe is a much needed improvement. But, is it really an improvement? Or did they just fixed a really crappy design. They now have, what all other lathes have had for a long time.

The new Galaxi DVR 1644 still has a wimpy bed and a sliding and rotating headstock that has a bad reputation for not being dead rock solid.

The bed of Nova lathes is to wimpy. To thin and flexible. So the banjo and tool rest flex to much. The screw in the tailstock is to wimpy. The stand is wimpy. The headstock locking mechanism sucks. etc. etc.

I known lots of people who own a Nova DVR lathe and love it. If they love it, then generally they like to do small things and don’t push the limits.

I also known people who have burned out the motor in headstock or have issues with the electronics.  They are really screwed because everything  is built into the one piece headstock and can not be replaced at any reasonable price. They love to do big things or they learned to love doing big things and pushed the Nova’s limits.  They learned the hard way that the Nova swing may be 16″,  but,  you really can not do lots of bowls over 8″ to 10″.

People primarily purchase Nova lathes because they are 110 volts and the price is right. I think they should just upgrade to 220 volts and spend the extra bucks for a great lathe. Like, a Powermatic 3520B. See my 110 volt my comments above.

No resale value? Nova lathes are hard to sell because they may have been ridden hard and put away wet.  They don’t hold up well due to, wimpy bed, etc.

If you are looking for a lathe in the Nova price range take a look at the new Laguna Revo 18|36 lathe.  I don’t recommend it (see below), but it is a lot beefier.

3. Oneway 1224 Lathe

This lathe is generally not liked by most people. I turned on one for a week at a craft school. It is not as bad as people say. But, I understand why people don’t like it.

The design is old and tired. The 1″ spindle sucks. Only 12″ of swing on any lathe causes issues when you try to turn bowls with the handle in down position.

4. Oneway 24xx and 20xx Lathes

Big time sacrilege here! I own 2 Oneway 2436 lathes, 1.5 hp. And I have turned on lots of Oneway 24xx lathes.

Realistically, I don’t think anyone needs more than 16″ to 20″ of swing.  So 24″ of swing is over kill.

Only 1.5 hp or 2 hp is not an issue in my experience.   Oneway uses good motors and vector drives that make it’s 1.5hp lathes out perform other lathes.

The Oneway 1640 is a very good lathe. The best Oneway lathe. If/when you need more than 16″ of swing then turn out board.

The Oneway lathes 1640, 20xx, or 24xx are the only ones where you really can turn outboard. Because they have full size bearings in the headstock on outboard side and full size spindle threads.

I my not so humble opinion M33 is dead!   No other lathe manufacture has picked up on the M33 thread spindle size.   All of the European lathe manufactures go with 1-1/4 x 8 threads.

M33 and 1-1/4 x 8 are virtually the same size!  M33 is just a tiny bit larger than 1-1/4.   Thus M33 is not bigger,  stronger, etc.

If you get stuck with a M33 Oneway lathe then you can not exchange chucks, face plates, and accessories with your buddies,  club members, etc.    M33 to 1-1/4 spindle adapters are a pain to use, introduce problems and are not cheap.  Special ordering your Oneway lathe directly from Oneway with a 1-1/4 threads will save you a lot of headaches and money in the long run.

5. Any Robust Lathe

Major, major, major sacrilege here.

Currently, all the big name woodturners can’t do enough to sing the praises of Robust lathes. Why? My guess (and it is a guess) is because they are getting really sweet deals on new Robust lathes for there woodturning schools and/or there is lots of room for sales commissions in Robust’s over inflated prices.

Robust lathes have adjustable legs. A long overdue advancement. Otherwise, I don’t need to pay the big bucks they want for Robust lathes. I don’t need Stainless Steel Ways, digital speed read out, etc.

6. Powermatic 4248B

pm_3520b_extensionThe big bucks for this lathe just don’t make sense. It is just a bigger version of the 3520B for a lot more money.

If you need more than 20″ of swing then get a PM 3520B with the 18″ Bed Extension ($450 on 7/26/2015). This will increase the swing to 36″.   The bed is 18″ long.  It can be mounted in line with existing main bed or in a position that is 8″ lower than main bed.

If you want the Gary Sanders light stand on the PM 4248B then you can order it direct from Oneway ($289 on 7/26/2015).

7. Any Lathe NOT sold by Packard Woodworks or Craft Supplies USA.

i.e. Grizzly, Harbor Freight, Shop Fox, Rikon, Apprentice lathes, etc.

In the same class as Jet Lathes? Or are they really in the Harbor Freight junk class? You will not be happy!

Grizzly may be a cut above the others.   But, I still think you will not be happy in the long run.

The crappy aspects of these lathes will just hold you back.   Sooner or later you will give up on woodturning or decided to buy a real lathe.

The new Apprentice 812 VS Mini Lathe sold by Craft Supplies with that crappy plastic tail stock hand wheel and #1 MT is a copy of a really old design with a well deserved really bad reputation.

8. Any Metal Cabinet Lathe

i.e. any lathe mounted on top of a metal cabinet. Any lathe with motor in a metal cabinet under the headstock.

The noise from the rock rattle and roll of any lathe with a old fashion metal cabinet will drive you crazy.

This pretty much rules out, all of the old lathes on Ebay, etc.

9. Any Vega Lathe.

Bare bones, industrial lathes for companies who hate there employees.

The banjo handle on the Vega bowl lathe is a real ball buster and huge pain in the back side.   It flops all over the place when you are trying to use it.   The tailstock is a complete joke!

No sacrilege here. Everyone pretty much agrees.

10. Laguna Lathes (added on 8/9/2015)

I don’t recommend any of the Laguna lathes.   They come close but no cigar.

Beware.  I have only seen these lathes in photos.  I have never seen them up close or turned on them.

The Laguna mini lathe simply costs to much.  The Penn State TCLC10VS is a better deal.  Easier to change belts, etc.

The Laguna 16-43 and 18-47 lathes, look like more expensive versions of the same old tired designed offered by Jet and Grizzly.

The Laguna Revo 18|36 looks like the old Delta 16-42 Steel Bed lathe with a different headstock.  The Delta was 110 volts.  If it was still available it would be at the top of my recommend 110 volts lathes.   Unfortunately the Laguna 18|36 is 220 volts and thus it does not really stand out.  It is probably better than the Nova lathes in the same price range due to being a lot beefier.

Updated 2/6/2017: Laguna now offers a 110 volt version of there Laguna Revo 18/36 lathe. It is now my recommended 110 volt lathe. See “Recommended 110 Volt Lathes” above. The Jet 1642 lathe is no longer available and I don’t like the new Jet lathes. Thus, the 220 volt version of the Laguna Revo 18/36 lathe is my now my low cost “Recommended 220 Volt Lathe” above.

The Laguna 16-43, 18-47, and 20-36 lathes appear to no longer be available. No real loss here. I have not changed my mind about the Laguna 24-36. See comments in next paragraph.

The Laguna 20-36 and 24-36 lathes appear to be lesser copies of the Powermatic 3520B design for virtually the SAME price.   For the same money why not go with the well known and loved PM 3520B?

I seriously question the headstock on the 20-36 and 24-36 lathes.  It appears not to be as beefy as the PM 3520B.  And the beefy headstock with beefy bearings is one of the great features of the PM 3520B.  The belts and pulleys inside of the Laguna headstock are definitely not up to the PM, Oneway, etc standard and definitely don’t look like they are wide enough to drive 3HP (or even 2HP).

The 2 HP of the PM 3520B is plenty.  You don’t need 3 HP.

The ability to mount the optional bed extension on the front of the lathe near the headstock is of little value in my experience.  You can do this on Stubby lathes.  But, I suspect, most people don’t.  Because it gets in the way and putting it on and taking it off is way to much trouble.   I turn on the headstock side of my PM 3520B all the time.   I just move the banjo up next to the headstock and turn the tool rest to be perpendicular to the ways of the lathe.   It works great.  No bed extension in the way.   I don’t need a second banjo, etc.

4 thoughts on “So you want to buy a lathe? A real lathe?”

  1. Carl,

    Very good, impartial (I think you rained equally on everyones parade 🙂 , and complete write-up. I will refer people to this article when I get asked that question. After they read it, I will help them determine which is best for them, based upon the items on the local market.

  2. On 7/2/2016 Ron asked

    I have a much used and much loved Powermatic 3520B lathe and a bunch of tool rests I have accumulated, including a couple of robust rests. If I now upgrade to a Oneway banjo, can I still use these tool rests?

    Carl’s Answer:

    Ron the Oneway banjo is the standard height for a 20″ lathe. The PM 3520 banjo is a lot lower to accommodate their tool rests. To compensate for this people who by standard tool rests to use in a PM banjo have to buy them with an extra long shaft.

    You will NOT be able to use PM tool rests in a Oneway banjo. You should be able to use the rest of your tool rests. The extra length shaft will just disappear inside of the Oneway banjo. The distance from head stock down to the ways (10″) does not change. So if there was room for that long shaft above the ways when in the PM banjo then there will still be room when in a Oneway banjo.

    It is not an all or nothing choice. Because you will still have the PM banjo around? Thus you can just slip it back on if you want to use it?

    The round washer on the bottom of the PM banjo is a lot better than the square washers that come on all other banjos (on the Oneway, etc.). The round one does not have any sharp corners that catch and thus the banjo slides around easily. So I use the round PM washer on my Oneway banjo. Making my own big beefy round washers for my Oneway 2436 lathes is high on my todo list.

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