A wood lathe is one of the primary tools in the workshop, and although not everyone wants to be a turner, even in a workshop where the focus is on other aspects of woodworking, a basic lathe can still prove to be an invaluable tool.
Some people really enjoy turning, and persevere to climb up the learning curve. Some start interested, but a few scary moments quickly bursts the bubble. Others just don’t get why turning is so interesting – everything comes out round.
For wood turners, choosing a lathe is a critical decision, where a right choice allows all sorts of intricate designs and complicated results, and a poor choice leads to dissatisfaction and disasters.
Lathes come in all sorts of sizes, technology and price points, and there are many variables that need to be considered. There is no one right decision, and with so many models out there, there should be a solution for each workshop.
A lathe can actually be as simple as a mandrel in a chuck of a drill press, or as complex as a variable speed, microprocessor controlled state-of-the-art example of precision engineering. There is no point going into all the options and choices here – not because it is useful information, but it is the content of an entire book, and not just a blog article!
I started out with a GMC lathe. It was basic and underpowered and could turn between centres, or with a faceplate. I later got the 4 jaw chuck (which doesn’t auto-centre) for a bit more versatility, and to get into pen turning I worked out a way to fit a powerdrill chuck into the 4 jaw chuck so I could then grip the pen mandrel. Still, I managed to do some rather interesting things with it, including the captive ring pen, a near perfect redgum sphere and stand, and a nautical display with turned poles. It does go to show you don’t have to accept the limitations of the tools that are available. Not complaining about the lathe at all – for the price, it was a brilliant introduction to wood turning – a great way to try out that side of woodworking without a significant outlay.
The Mini Jet I currently have is doing me well – pen turning, spindle/centre work, goblet, toy wheels and now a few bowls. It may not be variable speed, but although that would be very convenient (and hard to walk away from once you start using one), the belt drive gearbox does a good job, and has been perfectly sufficient for wood turners for years.
I have been finding that there is a calling there however, for a pro-quality machine, and one that can swing the head to really allow end-access for bowls and platters.
And for a long time, I have been eyeing off the Nova DVR XP
Hmmm – tempting!