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My Lathes through the Years


I had no idea what I was doing when I purchased my first lathe. I had been building cabinets and wanted to make my own drawer pulls. I had never been around a lathe and only knew that you could make furniture parts with one. How exactly to accomplish this, I had yet to learn. I knew one person from work that turned. Every time something happened at the lathe that I did not understand, I would be back to talk with him. I am very lucky he was patient with me during my early learning process. Since those early stages of my turning, I have experienced many different types of turning and my lathe choices have evolved from them.

Selecting the right lathe is a personal choice much as deciding on what car or truck is right for you. There are many lathes to choose from now but you need to have some experience with turning and some time on different lathes to decide what best fits your needs.

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My first lathe

My first lathe. Made by Duro Metal Products. I gave $75 for this small lathe with a stand and HP motor and a few turning tools. The spur center and faceplate slide on the headstock spindle and lock in place with a setscrew. There is a grinding wheel on the outboard side of the headstock to sharpen tools.

dead center

The tailstock spindle is itself the cup center. I learned that a piece of rotating wood would start to smoke in a hurry on a dead center. Adding oil or wax to the end of the wood did help for a few minutes. I am glad we have bearing centers for the tailstock now but it would not have helped with this spindle design.

Craftsman lathe headstock end

When I got my first paying request for turning, I bought a Craftsman lathe that was on sale at a local Sears. I was using a lot of hard maple so I built the stand from 1 3/4" thick maple with a sliding T block for the motor to sit on and a bench screw to adjust the belt. This lathe was fine for spindles but once I got into turning, with a chuck, I found out how important it was that the centers align perfectly, and these did not and nothing that Sears could do ever made them that way. Since the bed is a single pipe the only alignment adjustment is to pivot the tailstock in an arc, the tailstock center was too low. After new headstock and two tailstocks and spindles over a couple of years time they finally gave up on finding a matched set and so did I.

Craftsman lathe tailstock end

The tool rest and tailstock of the Craftsman lathe. The pipe bed had a rectangular metal strip underneath to hold the tool rest and tailstock aligned to the headstock.

Rockwell Beaver lathe headstock

No more, pipe bed lathes for me. I started looking for a heavier cast iron lathe and found this Rockwell Beaver lathe for sale used. This is in the late '80's and Delta had not come out with the swivel headstock lathe yet for around $400 and a 12" x 36" Delta lathe was around $1200, I got this lathe for $600 and the next year the cheaper Delta lathes with the swivel headstock came out, of course. The variety of chucks for woodturning was limited also; the one on the lathe is a Precision Combination Chuck with different inserts that you changed out according to what you were turning. There were no four jawed scroll chucks for wood on the market then. This lathe did have centers that aligned and for the small things I made at the time, it did all right. It did not have a Morse taper in the headstock.

Rockwell lathe tailstock

Adding a section where the bed bolted together at the center could extend the bed. The tailstock quill only had a 1 travel. The Morse taper in the tailstock was a #1.

Woodfast lathe front view

Around '89 or "90 I saw the new Woodfast lathe with a DC variable speed drive and 16" swing. Having turned for a while now and knowing more about what I wanted in a lathe I looked around and in the spring of 91, I bought this Woodfast lathe. What a difference over the other lathes I had and I loved the variable speed. I spent many an hour turning on this lathe over the next 7 years.

Woodfast lathe angle view

I had to raise the lathe up on 4 spacers to get it to my height for comfortable turning, 48 spindle center height. I also filled half the center section and the tailstock side leg with sand to add weight and dampen any vibration while turning. I really liked the tool rest on this lathe. The top edge was rounded and the profile was easy to get your hand around for thin spindle turning. It came with a cast hand wheel that I also miss.

Oneway lathe front angle view

Then I saw an Oneway lathe in person. I had heard the stories about the lathe. Once I saw it in action, I knew that with one I could do anything I would want. I watched two turners turning at the same time, one inboard and one outboard, taking large cuts and not slowing the lathe. I turn long spindles so I need the long bed but I also turn bowls and hollow forms so I like the outboard side with the bed out of the way. I have the 2436 with 2 HP motor and a short inboard bed extension and the large outboard tool rest. Now the only limit to my turning is my creativity.

With the bed extension on the inboard side of the lathe I can turn spindles over 50 long mounted in a chuck.

Oneway lathe front outboard view

The large outboard tool rest on this lathe allows me to turn a 48 tabletop or platter over the bed section. The swing over the banjo itself is 39. The spindle threads on the headstock are right hand on both sides and have a groove for a setscrew to lock the faceplates and chucks securely in place when reversing the lathe rotation.

Oneway lathe outboard end view

The banjo on the outboard side is large and heavy but it is still easy to move around. The tool rest will extend 36 straight out from the spindle.

Jet Mini lathe

I also have a Jet mini lathe I use when giving demonstrations. It is a good little lathe and everything lines up well. It is easy to throw in the truck and handy to turn on but it lacks variable speed which I may remedy some day.