You spin me right ’round…

I’m definitely a child of the 1980s.

Oh, yeah.  Ron Reagan in the White House. Parachute pants. Mullets. Ahhh…  When I was just a wee lad, another one of my favorite things to do was to go to school dances. The music of the 1980s was just the bomb. Devo. Thomas Dolby. Eddie Grant.  And, one of the classic dance jams of them all – You Spin me Round (Like a record) by the band Dead or Alive.  They were a one-hit wonder, but oh, what a hit that was.  That was back in the day when I had some moves…

What does this have to do with woodworking? Well, I was on the computer this weekend thinking about other things that spin. I found myself thinking about the pen I turned at the Woodworking Show the previous weekend.  Then, the thought hit me…

Why not get a lathe of my own?

Gosh, a great idea.   I’ll probably have to save up a little cash before I move ahead with the purchase.  This gives me an excellent opportunity to look at the different kinds of lathes out there.  That’s when my head started spinning…

As with band saws, table saws, routers or the like, there are a dizzying array of choices when it comes to lathes.  My first choice when looking at the lathes was to look for a small model.  Something that could turn pens, small bowls, drawer knobs, handles for small tools like ice cream scoops… the works.  And, I saw a few options when dealing with that size lathe.

The one that stood out was the Craftsman mini lathe. This little benchtop unit has a decent 12 inch spindle length, and even comes in a package with three pen turning sized tools. Not a bad looking unit, either.

When I showed this to a friend of mine who turns, he couldn’t resist laughing.  “Dude, that’s so cute. But, you won’t be happy with that.  What if you want to turn something bigger?”

Crap. He might be right.  So, I started looking at the larger midi-sized lathes.  These babies sometimes are benchtop, but also sometimes on a stand.  They have more muscle than the mini ones, but don’t take up nearly as much room as the large ones.  This model at Grizzly tools has an interesting set of specs, and there are many more models in this size range.

While these lathes are good for most work… they aren’t going to be able to turn big stuff.  Bowls with a 20 inch diameter. Ya know, that kind of work.  From there, I’ve discovered that the full sized lathes are where to go.  But, I’m not sure I can justify going that big. I’m having success with my Ridgid contractor table saw –  I don’t feel the need to upgrade to a big Delta Unisaw. The same thing is probably going to happen with a lathe as well… I can’t see myself (now) needing anything as big as this behemoth from Powermatic.

I know I have a lot of research to do before I make a decision on which lathe to buy… but I know one thing for certain:  The lathe purchase is just the start… There will be turning tools, face plates, chucks, safety gear and a whole plethora of accessories to make turning faster, easier and safer.

Do I still want to spin my way into this one?




13 thoughts on “You spin me right ’round…”

  1. I bought a lathe many years ago. I had a project that required turned legs, so I got the biggest Craftsman lathe they made and even got the duplicator attachment for it. Very impressive to look at.

    After my project was finished the lathe sat in the corner of my shop for about a year and then I sold it. I’m just not a turner.

    Thomas Dolby – you made me laugh. A favorite of mine was “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

  2. Get the jet mini or the new delta small one. You can use accessories that’ll also work on larger lathes. If you like turning then you can sell it, used name brand ones are always in demand. Plus if you just become an occasional turner they can fit on a shelf. My Dad turns a lot so bought one to join in. Amazing how many useful challenging things can be turned on small one to augment flat work. . Boxes, hollow forms, chair legs, door knobs….

  3. I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve been wanting to get a lathe for years now, but budget has been holding me back. A few have popped up on Craig’s List in my area, but I just don’t feel safe with the condition some of these dinosaurs are in.

    I’d be very interested to hear what you end up with.

  4. Do it, like most large power tools, they hold their value well. And if you don’t, you’ll just be annoyed that you didn’t.

    Check the craigslist prices, then buy a new one under warranty. If you own it for a year, the ‘rental’ will turn out to be pretty cheap. There are a few models that have an attachable extension bed, and the little midi size 12″-20″ are plenty powerful.

  5. I started out with a Rikon Midi Lathe, but up graded to the Powermatic not six months later, and have had no regrets. One feature that I really like about this machine is that the headstock can be repositioned on the bed. I like to slide the headstock all the way over to the right when turning bowls, so that I do not have to tweak my back bending over the bed the whole time.

    Another thing to note about that machine if space is an issue: I have it situated on the infeed side of my tablesaw, with the bed at the same height. Since the headstock and tailstock both slide, I can get them out of the way and use the lathe bed for infeed with larger stock , when necessary.

  6. I bought the Delta 46-460 just before Christmas and it is really nice.
    Bench top midi with a 12.5 inch swing, plenty of power, and it reverses for nice sanding.
    I haven’t done a lot of projects with it yet, but the ones I have done have come out sweet.
    You can catch a good set of turning tools on half price sales frequently.
    After your pen making post, I’m going to try that soon.

    WXRT (93.1 FM) in Chicago has a program called Saturday Morning Flashback, and when they have 80’s music on, it gets CRANKED UP in my shop !

    Thanks Tom.

  7. Hey Buddy,
    When you build a shop it will always be just a bit too small, when you buy a lathe the same thing will happen, just never quite big enough. Like a 10 foot trailer and a pile of 14 foot boards. I bought the big Powermatic, too short, first job I got was 2 inches longer than the bed! Your wife can probably explain this to you.
    Once you get your lathe you will then have to decide, are you a bowl turner or a spindle turner? This is the pins first, tails first, argument among turners. Now you will take your hard earned money on a quest for chucks, centers and turning tools, don’t forget the grinder and the Wolverine tool rests, how about a smock and a powered helmet and visor and a few how to videos? Don’t forget to lay in a good supply of pen parts, mandrels finishes and waxes, also some of those nice presentation cases, god knows there are not enough pens in your house already so you better get busy as you will be wearing some of them out signing checks for your new hobby!
    It does make your head spin, like cyclonic winds on a radar!
    All tongue in cheek,

  8. If you’re really not sure, I bought my first lathe from Menards for around $80. It was a small lathe made by some company in the whole wilton group, and was really nice because it had a variable speed control. If they don’t still have that one, Harbor Freight may have something in a similar price range. It took me all of about 2 weeks to decide I had found a new focus, so I started saving and eventually bought a full size Jet 1642-EVS. I am very glad I started with something small and cheap, though. Turning really seems to be a “love it or hate it” type of hobby. Obviously I fell into the first category, but I’ve taught a handful of people to turn on my equipment, and usually I can tell if they’re going to keep with it within a half hour. Just keep in mind that if you fall in love with it, an $80 lathe is only going to last you a matter of a few months before your first upgrade.

  9. My father has an old lathe that looks like it came over on the Ark. I have turned quite a few things on it over the years but just don’t use it enough in my work to justify having one in my own shop…… but some good 80’s music is always a great addition to any shop! 🙂

  10. I have an M-Power mini lathe from Rockler (same as the one currently badged as Excelsior). 10″ of swing, and I forget what between the centers. I use it for pens & bowls. It’s done all right by me, but I’m at the point now where I really need something bigger. I love bowl turning (the link I put in for ‘Website’ is to my bowls on Flickr), and the mini doesn’t have the swing, or more importantly the horsepower to handle larger pieces. I’ve turned a couple 8″ bowls, and that little 1/3 HP motor struggles to keep that much mass spinning. I lust after the Jet 1642-2EVS, but at $2200 it’ll be a while before I get one.

    The $2-300 minis are a good place to start though. You can do a lot with them, and it will let you decide if it’s something you want to pursue more without a huge investment. And even if you do get a monster lathe later, the mini doesn’t take up much room, and is probably easier to use to turn a pen than the big lathe.

  11. I’ll second the delta 460 as a delightful choice. I find the variable speed control convenient, (there’s the 455 without it.) and the extension bed makes for easy lengthening of the bed. it is plenty powerful for anything I’ve been doing so far. though the big test will be if I can turn a mast on it. should have the results of that before september…

    I’ve used it to turn some chair legs and various and sundry. a couple of small bowls for the experience and a couple dozen belaying pins for practice.

    so far, it’s behaved admirably. I did think it entertaining that when I bought it, it came with a set of pen turning tools. it seems that many overestimate the amount of power you need to do any particular job.

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