Wood-turning Lathes

I started by purchasing a cheap, Chinese-built lathe thinking that if I didn't really want to turn as much as I thought I would, $250 would be a tolerable price for failure. However, almost immediately, I wanted a better lathe and, after seeing Richard Raffin, possibly the world's foremost bowl turner, and watching Mike Mahoney, local resident, but internationally known, high-quality and high-output production turner use Vicmarc lathes in their demonstrations, I began dreaming of my own first-rate Australian Vicmarc. Since I got my Vicmarc, my only disappointment has been the limited room in my shop and the time I get to spend turning. However, in the first two months after its purchase, I turned more than twice as many projects than ever on the Chinese lathe.

The Vicmarc VL200

I wanted a Vicmarc VL300, but settled on the next model down just as I'll probably settle for a Buick in retirement rather than drive a Cadillac. Here at the left is the VL200. Except for the height of the headstock and the rather more elaborate stand, they look almost identical. The VL200's headstock allows for only a 16" instead of a 24" swing so the VL300 is 4" higher above the bed allowing for 8" more diameter in the bowl without swinging the operation around and turning outboard (which can be done because the motor's reversible though an outboard tool rest must also be constructed). The Vicmarc pictured here is the long-bed variety, however, and mine is a short-bed. I am not so interested in center-turning (spindles) except for very small projects as I am in bowls. However, if I had a bigger shop, I would regret the paltry difference in price between the two.

Central Machinery/Harbor Freight

At the right is my first lathe which boasts only a a 12" swing, though it can turn spindles up to 36" long. Center- or spindle turning is a bit more stable and though this lathe is of lower quality, I can turn a decent spindle on it in a pinch. This helps excuse the short bed I got on my Vicmarc. This lathe's headstack is pivotable for turning diameters larger than its native swing. However, it is so underpowered and unstable that I couldn't justify even spending the time and material to manufacture a tool rest system for trying larger diameters. Even turning an 8" bowl I could stop this lathe dead in its tracks.

My own wood lathes and their suppliers:

   Vicmarc VL200 Series 16" x 15"
   1hp electronic variable speed with reverse
   Spindle 1¼" x 8tpi
   Headstock and tail taper 2MT
   Indexing pin

	cost $1875

   Craft Supplies
   1287 East 1120 South
   Provo, Utah 84606
   (800) 551-8876
   Central Machinery 12" x 36"
   ½hp varible-diameter pulley system
   Spindle 1" x 8tpi
   Pivotable head, tail taper 2MT
   No indexing pin

	cost $249

   Harbor Freight
   3491 Mission Oaks Boulevard
   Camarillo, California 93010
   (800) 444-3353