Lathes….

A while back i bought a lathe. Well, kinda….

I made the mistake of buying a Draper Micro Lathe Mill Drill. (Don’t believe the price, they are less than half that price on eBay). It’s not very good at all.

Like most “transform-a-tool” do everything things, they are rather poor when it comes to doing any one specific job.

It has spent most of it’s time stripped back to the motor running various grinding, lapping and polishing wheels for shining up bits of pewter casting that I’ve been doing. It does that well enough, but I’d strongly recommend that you don’t buy one. It’s rubbish (I can’t even lock the compound slide on mine. It is that badly manufactured). Plus it doesn’t have any kind of automatic feed, so screw cutting isn’t going to happen without costly thread chasing tools.

So… That lesson learned, I’ve been looking at “proper” lathes with a view to buying something more worthwhile.

Comparing my requirements with my desires is interesting.

In terms of projects I want to do right away, there are a number of things on my mind.

Firstly, I need to make some handles for things. I’d like a nicely matched set of exotic hardwood handles – 8 in all. All shaped and sized to my hand. Obviously this is a wood turning job.

Secondly, I’d like to try making some pewter rimmed bowls. I’ve been reading about combining wood and pewter in turned objects for a while and I’m really excited by the potential. So.. another job for a wood turning lathe.

Thirdly, I’ve been intending to make a long stool (bench seat) and I’ve always been really taken by some of the early arts and crafts pieces after seeing them in the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester many years ago. Lovely airy structures made up from impossibly thin seeming turned forms. So… another job for a wood turning lathe.

Now I’ve always fancied making an engine. I had a Sabre .5cc model aircraft diesel engine as a child and the simplicity fascinated me. OK, I now realise that the simplicity is a result of really good design, the incredibly low part count is only possible because of the way that the design integrates – each part performing several functions. Even knowing this (ie it’ll be almost impossibly hard) I still fancy making one. So… a small model engineering lathe.

I also fancy making a Tesla steam powered turbine and connecting it to a dynamo so I can make electricity from fire. There is no reason for this, but it should be fun… Again, that’s a model engineering lathe.

You can turn wood on a metal lathe (you just need to hack together a tool rest and use the correct speed) but getting a metal lathe of sufficient size to turn pieces of furniture isn’t a good idea for an upstairs back bedroom workshop. I’ve been enjoying looking at antique Myford lathes on eBay far too much, but short of a house move that’s not going to happen.

So, on the wood lathe front, I mostly need something fairly small for turning handles, knobs, bowls and maybe the odd wheel or two. And once in a while I’ll need something long enough to turn a table leg.

This seems to be a common thing. There are a number of (seemingly identical) wood turning lathes which have an extension bed. So they start out with about 18 inches between centres and when required you can bolt on an extra part to take them up to about three feet between centres. There are many, one is the Axminster 1218 which with the extended bed will turn 1138mm (almost four feet). So that’s ideal, but rather pricey new. There seem to be many on eBay though – and often with a number of chucks and chisels so that’s the best option wood wise. I’m patient and want to spend significantly less than £200 to turn my first pewter rimmed wood bowl, so that is my best option.

However, all that said, the thing that I’ve really connected with in my tool-lust is mini metal lathes. I saw a lovely Warco Mini Lathe on eBay that really fired my interest. There seem to be many available from different vendors, but I guess they are all made to the same Chinese pattern. These also seem to come up on eBay fairly regularly and there is a fabulous website comparing them, MiniLathes.com.

Some vendors are,

Again, I’m in no rush, so I’ll keep an eye on eBay and see what pops up. The Sieg is likely to be the better name, but it’s so expensive. The Warco is painted green, which shouldn’t matter but somehow really does. It’s interesting to compare the price of accessories between the various vendors. There really shouldn’t be a difference, but when you see the same quick change tool post at such massively variable prices you have to wonder…

So, to summarise. My most pressing requirement is for a wood turning lathe with an extension bed. I’d like an electrically variable speed one (so when I’m turning bowls it’ll handle out of balance loads better) but I’d go for one with just pulleys if it was cheap enough. I’d sooner buy second hand – there isn’t much to go wrong with a wood lathe other than the head bearings or twisting the bed. I’m more likely to get surplus chisels, chucks and centres with a second hand one.

However, the Tool lust wants a nice green metal turning lathe with all the bells and whistles!

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