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.
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.
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 www.woodturnerscatalog.com
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 www.harborfreight.com