Updated: Jul 28, 2021
You've just watched a video on Facebook or Youtube where a Woodturner has turned something, seemingly at great ease. It could be a bowl or a small ornamental piece and it looks so easy. A hot knife through butter as the Woodturner glides the tool across the wood surface peeling away the waste to reveal the beautiful shape underneath. Your thoughts... 'I can do that' instantly spring to mind.
You start searching online for a lathe, tools and other accessories through the maze of ads, videos, websites, blogs, vlogs and you are getting nowhere. You eventually end up on a site like Donedeal and buy a second hand lathe that is in your price range and maybe pick up a few chisels as part of a deal. Ever wonder why the lathe was up for sale in the first place? You have probably made a huge mistake and your lathe will end up idle after a few weeks. You chose poorly, you bought what you thought was ok and you are upset to the point of giving up woodturning completely.
Do the first 2 paragraphs sound familiar?
Many of my students have had similar experiences. I often get asked which lathe to go for if the budget is €500. My answer is none. I normally advise people to multiply their budget by 3 to get the machine they should be buying. A €500 or less lathe is normally a double bar bed non variable speed lathe and will end up annoying you after a while. If you like Woodturning, spend a bit more!
My own early experience
In saying that, I myself bought a very cheap lathe to start with which I outgrew almost straight away. It was a single barrel bed machine and not capable of much to be honest. The lathe pictured below is the 2nd lathe I bought, a Draper WTL100. The picture was taken long after it was decommissioned and gone rusty. It is now used as a polishing or sanding device with the bed bars long gone. It was purchased for about £400 old Irish pounds and while it did what it was supposed to do ( it spun wood) it had a huge amount of drawbacks. This machine served me fine for about 12 months and then the limitations kicked in. You may end up hating woodturning if you buy something any of the cheaper models, so buy with advice always.
Combined Tool Offers
There are combined offers online for lathes, handtools, chucks and wet grinders out there. They sound great but there are drawbacks to buying these. Most people who continue turning will end up buying the same equipment again (but better quality) down the road so will in effect be buying twice.
Buying a Lathe
I won't advise on the model lathe you should buy in this post as I prefer to show students my 6 lathes directly and show the pros and cons of each. Seeing the machines working 'in the flesh' makes a huge difference to your opinion of lathes and their functions. I currently have catalogues of various lathe manufacturers and I can point you in the direction of Irish Tool retail companies that will look after you when you are purchasing.
A couple of pointers I will briefly mention here;
A variable speed lathe is a major plus, belt changing for speed is a pain
Look for an M33x3.5 Spindle thread, if you get a bigger machine you can still use your accessories
Look for a dual cast iron lathe bed, stay away from double round bar bed lathes
Pay attention to the weight of the machine, heavier is better
A swivel head lathe is not always a great, some machines are too light for this function to be safe.
Cheaper machines may have inferior motors, these can heat up very quickly
One final piece of advice I will leave you with. When starting out in Woodturning be prepared to spend about €2,000 to get you started with something reasonable equipment. You can add small items after that when you can afford to. If you want to buy cheap equipment you won't last long turning. Many people think they have to buy using cash on hand or what is in their account. Why not take out a small Credit Union loan? Buy the right gear and don't worry about a huge initial outlay. Repay a bit extra every month and you will soon clear the loan.
These are very small pieces of information I'm sharing now. In truth; I could fill a hundred blog posts with all the information I have but that is just not practical. There is a lot more I can share with you so come and attend a Woodturning Session in my workshop in Tralee and ask all the questions you need.