Buying a wood lathe sounds like a simple proposition. Check the budget, look at the lathes in the budget category, choose the one that seems good and away we go. However, like most things in life, it is not that simple. One of the more difficult things for the beginner or first time buyer, is knowing how to gauge the budget in the first place.
Wood lathe is more individual than many other woodworking tools. While there are certainly many models of tools such as table saws, for example, there are certain features expected in particular price ranges and the saws will be fairly uniform in that range. It is expected that one may purchase one, put it in the work shop, and go to work. The wood lathe is a different proposition.
While most wood lathes in a given price range will generally be similar in quality this is not always so. A mini lathe will usually be better quality than a full size lathe in the same cost bracket, for instance. Two lathes of the same price may have different mechanisms for controlling speeds and overall quality of the lathe with the more expensive speed controller will likely be less than that of the other machine. It is necessary in the budget to question what is wanted in the lathe for weight, quality of construction, type of speed control and size among other things.
All other things being equal among lathes, there is the extra strain on the budget to consider. That table saw will be ready to work right out of the box, but not so for most lathes. The typical wood lathe comes with the basic machine ready to run and with centers and a faceplate to hold the wood, but without tools to cut the wood nor any means to keep them sharp. Again in contrast to the table saw that came with a blade that rarely needs sharpening and then by a professional shop, the lathe comes with no tools and no means to sharpen them even though they will need frequent sharpening. It often comes as a surprise to a beginning wood turner that in some circumstances tools need to be sharpened every couple of minutes.
So the budget will need to stretch to a set of woodturning tools, a grinder and a set of aluminium oxide wheels at the very least, not to mention sundries like sandpaper and finishes. All of these should be allowed for in the budget before shopping for the wood lathe. It should be noted that a decent set of woodturning tools or a four jaw chuck may each be more expensive than a beginner’s wood lathe.
It is possible to get started turning wood on a modest budget. Some reasonable planning is necessary but many woodturners have begun on light lathes and used them for many years.
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