Question about used lathe


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Can anyone offer any advice about how good a deal the following might be? It's a 30 year old Craftsman lathe, ostensibly in excellent condition:

12" diameter
Takes up to 35" stock
Multi-speed with indexing feature
Comes with face plate, turning tools and bench mounted with storage drawers

I would appreciate any advice about what to look for in evaluating a used lathe. The seller is asking $125 for the lathe, tools and cabinet (w/drawers) on which the lathe is mounted.
Post a picture. 30 years old would make it around 1979. Sears stuff wasn't so good then. 50 years old would be better.
Thanks for your thoughts Mike. I wasn't sure when Craftsman's heydey was, but thought anything past about twenty years ago would be worth looking at. Still, for $125...and the fact that I'm not going to be turning may be hard to pass up...


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I'd skip it. I find the tube style hard to line up, and can rotate while turning. This advice comes from a novice turner as well. A good turniner may not find these limitations.

You should be able to find a good working lathe (maybe not to pretty) for not much more than that.
Gentlemen, all,
Thanks very much for your advice. That's one of the great benefits of this group. I'll pass on this and keep an eye out for something better. I'll probably come back again to pick your brains when I do!

If you get an old simple 4-speed pulley type wood lathe, then there is very little that can go wrong with them.  I got a standard 1930’s 12 in Delta lathe for $250 about 10 years ago.  The bearings in the headstock had dried up.  So, I replace them for about $45.  Other than that, it is essentially the same as a brand new lathe. 

My suggestion is to look for a big heavy (it can never be too heavy) well made lathe from a reputable manufacture like Delta or Powermatic that has all of its parts.    You might even consider a 3-phase lathe if the price is cheap enough to include a replacement single phase motor.  The things that will eat you up in costs are all of the accessories.  I would not even consider a lathe that did not come with the tailstock, tool holder, a couple of tool rests, and a motor.  Those items can cost you a lot of money in a hurry.  Try and look for a unit that has a lot of accessories like drive spurs, dead or live center, face plates, gouges, scrapers, …  The more, the better. 

I agree with everything David said except for getting rid of the three phase motor. A three phase motor with a variable frequency drive gives you variable speed without power loss or step pulley changes. You just need to get the VFD.
for more information. You would still want to include the cost of the VFD in your calculations.

I admit, I was only thinking about a residential single phase power source.

If Allen has access to 3-phase power then I agree with you. 

This could also open up a whole new thread of how to generate 3-phase powers from a single phase power source.  The cheap and OK method is to use a phase converter.  But from what I understand, this is hard on the 3-phase motor.  Another way is to drive a larger single phase motor that is coupled up to a 3-phase motor (This turns this 3-phase motor into a 3-phase generator (ie. 3-phase power source )).  A wire is then run from the 3-phase generator to your 3-phase lathe (or other 3-phase power tool).

David, I have a 3 phase converter that I made from a 3 phase motor that I start with capacitors.  My neightbor starts his with a single phase "pony" motor on a belt.
A VFD runs on single phase power, a good example is my Powermatic 3520 Lathe which uses this type of set up for speed control. Here is a link to woodworkforums in Australia where they talk it out
The cheapest conversion is a single phase motor with step pulleys but the variable speed is awesome. Several of the machinist sites go into how to convert.
a rotarty converter (using a 3 phase motor and single phase motor to generate 3 phase power) Is really not neccasary. VFD's (Variable frequency drives) are generally cheaper than a new motor. And in most instances you could run an entire shop off of one.

For a Lathe, a 3 phase motor is the better choice using a VFD with a frequency control (such as the JNEV-201-H1 on this page allows the motor to turn any desired RPM by rotating a knob.

Newer lathes, like the variable speed powermatic, are using a 3 phase motor with a VFD drive built in.

I own a powermatic model 90 with the reeves clutch for VS, but one day I plan to convert it to use a VFD.
I've had my General 160 for about 20 years with absolutely no regrets.  The speed is varied using expandable pulleys. 

At the minimum get a cast iron lathe to minimize any vibration.  A cast iron base is even better.  Then lag it to the floor.

Allan- I think the most important qualities to have in a lathe are weight,  good steady ways ( i think double cast iron versus pipe-type),a good steady tool rest(s) and a variable speed motor. The speed control will let you eliminate chatter on long stuff, the tool rest and double cast ways will eliminate dig-ins caused by the rest flexing and the weight will dampen vibration, although an off center weighted workpiece will vibrate anything, and if it's bolted to the floor it will shake the whole building......
My primary lathe is an 1860 eight foot cast bed with its original tailstock. The driving end is a 1950's Atlas headstock c-clamped to the bed, shimmed up to height with some wooden blocks and rigged up to a variable DC motor drive. Not pretty, but it has all the qualities you need to do good turning except one, and all the skew point holes in the floor nearby are a testament to that last quality-Al
Don't be scared off by the big lathe discussion. Money too is a factor. The little Jet mini Lathes are small capacity but they are ok. You can turn a lot of columns and finials on one and learn to be a better turner for when you do come across a big one. I got by for years on an old Delta 12 x 36 with a 4 speed cone pulley. They are a great little lathe.
I know one of those great old battleships would be a terrific find and would last forever, but I don't have a lot of space -- one slot in a three-car garage. No room for a joiner, planer or tablesaw (any of which would probably get used more than a lathe) -- so its footprint is an issue. (Future space and funds are reserved for a bandsaw upgrade.)

So far, I've gotten by without one, but it's a skill that would expand the scope of what I build (finials, quarter columns, etc.). I was hoping to find something relatively small and affordable on which I could learn the basics while making small turnings.

Thanks to all for all the good advice. I'll keep my eye peeled for something along the lines of what the experts have suggested, but may have to opt for one that is smaller.
Allan- I also got by for years with a Delta 12x36, old vintage. You don't need an especially long bed. I make my bedposts in two pieces because so often a long piece will warp out of true anyway-Al
I think Al Breed is one of the coolest woodworkers in the country.  1860 lathe sounds awesome.  Any chance we can see pictures?

I have found my JET 12x36 to be a source of great amusement and distraction.  If you think about the furniture you'd like to make and how little of it is turned, you may miss the point that turning is really fun and you may put all kinds of stuff on there just for fun.  I use my lathe all the time and I can't honestly tell you what I make on it.  I like turned mallets.  I make tool handles.  But it can be fun to just stand there and turn stuff.  Not all my tools are fun like this.  I don't plane stuff for fun. I don't saw stuff for fun.  But draw knife and lathe are just plane fun to do. 

I weighed down my jet with 300lbs of playground sand from the borg.  I enclosed the base with masonite panels.  It's not great.  I also removed the outbd tool rest and bolted it onto the right end to extend the bed for ladder back chairs.  36" is okay for table legs, but too small for ladder backs.  Need 42" for that.

A dear friend and life long turner (Palmer Sharpless) gave me some turning advice before he died.  Use a skew.  Turn slow.  I think a super slow lathe is good (like 200rpm).  I got to use Kelly Mehler's Powermatic (really nice) and that had a really slow speed with gobs of torque.  My lathe does not.  I question whether a belt and pulley system would give you more torque than a variable speed motor.  My Jet has a belt on a pulley that changes size, which is nice.  That said, torque is not necessarily a benefit when turning with a skew.  It is helpful when roughing however.

A couple other thoughts that may help you Allan (Brown, not Breed).  I really like the new Sorby Steb center.  And I'm using a machinist's live center.  The Steb center is really nice for newbie turners.  You can limit the lathe's torque.

Man powered lathes are really cool and totally worth considering, imho.  If I had it to do all over again, I'd build some form of spring pole.  That said, roughing on electric lathes is really nice.  I think lathes and shave horses go together.  I rough most things with a hatchet and draw knife.  I think it would be nice to have a Conover lathe.  Mario Rodriguez and Alan Turner have one that uses a glulam.  The lathe may be 12 feet long.  Pretty sweet, but I never saw it run.

Some of the high dollar lathes are really designed for bowl turners, not spindle turning furniture makers.  Weight certainly helps every lathe tho.


Adam- Sorry, no pics. Just imagine if Rube Goldberg had designed  a lathe.
I think you meant coldest woodworker. I'm in a leaky 200 yr old house and it's 15 out with a howling wind....-Al
Al, I'm sure Rube would be proud to have designed your lathe given the good use you have put it to. Any idea how many balusters you have turned and how many skews you've worn out?
John- Thousands of spindles, for sure. Haven't worn out any skews but I've nicked a few on flooring nails.....

As far as lathes go, it's the simplest power tool in the shop. If it's heavy and goes around and around and the tool rest doesn't move it will work. I've done fine turnings on both a spring pole lathe and a flywheel lathe, which are both pretty low tech and both had wooden ways.
I strongly agree with the post that said use slow speeds and a skew. I never got my first lathe out of the slowest pulley unless I was roughing out a lot of squares. I find that whenever my turning is going badly I just stop and re-sharpen everything and that usually fixes the problem. On long work I make a wooden rest with marks on it for the changes in the spindles and this produces consistent turnings.-Al