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Buying your first Woodturning Lathe in 2024

Updated: Jan 31

Setting the Scene; 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. Like a hot knife through butter, the Woodturner glides the tool across the wood surface peeling away the waste to reveal the beautiful shape underneath. The curly shavings are flying away at speed from the work and it all looks fantastic. Your thoughts... 'I can do that' instantly spring to mind.


Following this video, 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 in Ireland 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 after only a few short weeks Woodturning you are now upset to the point of giving it up completely. The Lathe gathers rust and eventually becomes a place to put allsorts on until it is no longer visible and becomes absent your thoughts entirely.


Do the first 2 paragraphs sound familiar?


Make sure you Keep Reading

Sometimes when you land on a Blog Post about a topic you are interested in, you bounce out and go on following other links because the information you wanted is not in the first paragraph. If you want some good and solid advice about buying a lathe I would strongly suggest reading until the end. I have been doing this for a long time and I will give you good pointers so you go in the right direction.



Budget for Buying a Woodturning Lathe

Many of my students have had similar experiences to the first 2 paragraphs. I often get asked what is the best way of buying a Woodturning Lathe 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. I normally get blanks stares from students when I tell them how much they should spend or how much my machines cost me. If you like Woodturning and are interested in continuing doing it, spend a bit more! In the long term, this approach is much cheaper and you will still be turning wood a year, two years later or more.


Buy decent handtools for a start and don't use any tools that come with a Lathe without taking advice first. Sometimes you can get a good second hand deal from someone who bought the right gear but for various reasons has chosen to give up Woodturning. This is quite common, Woodturning requires a lot of commitment in time, money and research. It's not for everyone and if it was easy, the world would be full of Woodturners. It isn't!


For anyone choosing to buy right first time, I sell a range of Hamlet Spindle Turning tools here. Excellent quality and should last you a very long time if looked after. I use Hamlet almost exclusively and find their quality to be excellent.


You need a Sharpening Station, don't forget!

A sharpening station is also a must for Woodturners and should be high up on your initial buying list. Many new Woodturners forget or skip this vital part of Woodturning. They put it on the long finger and then wonder why turning is so hard. If you can't sharpen your tools, you can't turn safely or enjoyably! Money spent on a top quality Sharpening System will pay dividends the more experienced you become as a Woodturner.


I recommend a slow grinder from Axminster with at least 1 CBN wheel for starters. I have another blog post that shows this Grinder in action in 2 videos, Sharpening a Spindle Roughing Gouge here if you'd like to check it out after reading this page. My 2 slow speed grinders are below, both have 2 CBN wheels which should last me the rest of my career as a Woodturner. I also have a Tormek T7 and an older Record Power whetstone grinder. I rarely use these anymore, preferring to use the slow speed grinders for their convenience. I used to recommend the Record Power or the Tormek Whetstone Grinders but changed my mind when I saw what some former students were doing to their tools and the stone wheels. I now recommend the Axminster Slow Grinder with a minimum of one White Aluminium Oxide Wheels. Never use the included grey Carborundum wheel on this or any model grinder as it burns High Speed Steel.




My own early experience

In telling you that you should spend well over €500 on a Lathe, I myself bought a very cheap lathe to start with which I outgrew almost straight away. It is from this early mistake that I can advise you. 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. In truth, early issues appeared but my inexperience at the time meant I didn't know any better. You may end up hating woodturning if you buy any of the cheaper models, so buy with advice always. I did stop turning for a few years because of the quality of Lathe, Handtools and the lack of proper tuition so please learn from my experience. Save yourself some time and money, go for a lesson with a professional Woodturner before you start Turning and get good advice on everything from Lathes to Tools and Accessories.


My old Draper WTL100 lathe decommissioned
Draper WTL100

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. These cheap offers will normally be inferior machines with inferior motors and accessories. Most people who continue turning will end up buying the same equipment again (but better quality brands) down the road so will in effect be buying twice.


You might buy the cheap machines with the intention of upgrading later on but from talking to many of my students this rarely happens. They ended up stuck with the machine they bought believing they are still getting value for money when in fact they are struggling to see results they need.


A word of warning about these inferior machine motors. These weak motors heat up quite quickly and can get very hot after a few minutes of use. The presence of wood shavings or finish application rags around these motors is a fire risk so be very careful and double check them before you leave your workshop. No point buying a cheap machine only to have it burn down your workshop with all your tools in it.


Buying a Lathe

I won't advise on the exact model lathe you should buy in this post as I prefer to show students my 7 lathes directly and show the pros and cons of each and what you should look out for. It's very hard to give this advice over a Blog Post and give all the relevant information briefly and accurately.


Buying a good Lathe is incredibly complicated and shouldn't be taken lightly. Seeing the machines working 'in the flesh' makes a huge difference to your opinion of lathes and their functions. I go through all the pros and cons with my students when they attend one of my Tuition Sessions. You can only learn so much from a YouTube video as the person recording is normally sharing from their limited perspective. It's also hard to ask questions to the YouTuber but far easier in person during a class. 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.



Buying Advice, A Little Taste

To steer you on the right track, I have a couple of good pointers which I will briefly mention here;

  • A variable speed lathe is a major plus, belt changing for speed is a real inconvenient pain

  • Look for an M33x3.5 Spindle thread, if you get a bigger machine afterwards 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 nearly always better

  • A swivel head lathe is not always a great purchase, some machines are far too light for this function to be safe.

  • Cheaper machines may have inferior motors, these can heat up very quickly and break down.

Takeaway

One final piece of advice I will leave you with. When starting out in Woodturning be prepared to spend at least €2,000 to €2,500 to get you started with some reasonable equipment. Don't feel bad about spending this much money at one time. 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. The worst thing you can do as a Woodturner is go in half-hearted because you will buy cheap and you will regret that later on. Woodturning is an expensive hobby but the rewards are worth shelling out good money for. Once you are armed with that knowledge, you shouldn't have any problems going forward.


These are very small pieces of information I'm sharing now. In truth; I could fill lots of 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.


Safe Turning!





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