How to buy a lathe
A lathe buying guide
Lathes are one of the most versatile tools that can be found in a workshop. Lathes are used to shape material such as metal or wood into various shapes. They are often used to make tools, instruments or pieces of furniture. When thinking about how to buy a lathe, there are a few points you will want to keep in mind.
>> What type of lathe is best?
Before a decision can be made about how to buy a lathe, you should learn as much as possible about the types of lathes that are available. While all lathes function in a similar manner, there are differences that need to be explored in order to better understand which type will most closely match your needs.
- Metal - As with hand-held power tools, these machines are often task or material specific. A metal lathe is one that is designed specifically to work metal blanks into a variety of cylindrical shapes. These types of lathes utilize special cutting tools that require constant lubrication to reduce the amount of heat that is generated by tooling the metal into the desired shape.
- Engine - An engine lathe is a highly adaptive piece of equipment that is used to shape metal components of engines. This lathe uses a high horsepower motor to drive the spindle with enough force to allow hard metals to be transformed into the desired end product.
- Wood - Of the different types of lathes, the most popular are those that are designed for woodworking. Chances are if you are interested in learning how to buy a lathe, this is the machine you are seeking. Utilizing components called spindles and faceplates, this lathe model is used to fashion all sorts of items out of wood.
- Ornamental - Decorative pieces of wood and metal are fashioned on ornamental lathes that use both vertical and horizontal cutting tools to create customized products that portable power tools would have difficulty creating.
- Reducing - Perhaps the most interesting lathe design is this one. It is used to create exact copies of originals made on a lathe. There are several lathe brands that manufacture these items. If you are wondering which lathe to buy if you wanted to produce many copies of a commemorative coin, this would be the one to select.
>> Consider lathe sizes
When deciding which lathe to buy, you will also want to think about the various sizes available. There are three size categories of these power tool sets, ranging from 30 pounds to more than 8,000 pounds.
- Stationary - Of the different types of lathes, these are by far the largest and most versatile. With this lathe, you will also want to consider other power tool equipment and storage needs. You will want to make sure your work space is highly organized because stationary models take up a lot of space.
- Bench-top - As a typical home user thinking about how to buy a lathe, you are most likely to select a bench-top model as the best fit to go along with your other power tool accessories and gear. A bench-top model usually operates up to 1-1/2 horsepower, making it powerful enough to complete most tasks, but still portable and small enough to find a place in your home or at a job site.
- Mini - The most compact of the lathe sizes is the mini. It is intended to easily meet the needs of most novices and operates at 1/2 horsepower. These lathes generally weigh less than 100 pounds and are great compliments to cordless power tools.
>> Consider lathe capacity, speed and horsepower
The three primary considerations when it comes to how to buy a lathe are capacity, speed and horsepower. Carefully think about each one and how it pertains to you.
- Capacity - Capacity refers to the swing and distance between centers. Swing is a measurement that refers to the maximum diameter of the material you can shape. Distance between centers refers to the maximum length of material you can load. You'll want to find a lathe with the capacity that can handle your projects.
- Single speed - A single speed device turns at the same rate when it is powered up. This provides a consistent environment for you to master. This lathe uses the same speed without deviation and is typical on smaller machines.
- Variable speed - There are times when it is more advantageous to work slower and times when working faster is required. A variable speed tool provides a speed adjustment mechanism that enables you to control the rate of rotation at which you work so that you can operate your lathe with maximum efficiency.
- Horsepower - While the amount of horsepower may vary slightly between different lathe brands, they are usually about the same for similar sizes. For mini lathes, the horsepower is generally 1/2 or less. For bench-top models, the horsepower will range from 1/2 to 1-1/2 horsepower. Lastly, stationary models will usually run from 1-1/2 to 3 horsepower.
>> Consider extra lathe features
Lastly, when thinking about how to buy a lathe, you'll want to consider a number of miscellaneous features that certain lathes might have that you might also want.
- TEFC motor: This acronym stands for "Totally Enclosed, Fan Cooled" and it refers to the casing and cooling of the motor. You might find such an option advantageous for either the projects you are working on or the environment you are in.
- Dust port: This allows you to attach a dust collection system to keep your work area dust and litter free.
- Cut indicator: This feature will tell how much material you will be removing with each pass.
- Depth stops: This allows you to select the final thickness of a piece for easy duplication.
- Faceplates: These provide the ability to create bowls or platters and may be sold separately along with other home improvement supplies.
- Bowl turning tool rest: This is a helpful feature that provides support for the turning tool when making items such as bowls.
- Work arbor: This allows you to attach a buffing wheel or sanding drum to your lathe.
Be sure to research individual lathes as you go about learning which is the best lathe to buy for your needs. This way you can make an informed decision and find the lathe that's right for you.