There’s an old proverb that goes something like this:
If you turn a man some spindles he can build a chair or two, but if you teach a man to turn, he can make a whole dining set.
That is to say, I want to build some chairs and I’m beginning to feel the siren call of the lathe, but I’m having a little trouble deciding how to get into the game. Part of that is I don’t know what I actually need. I get the people who are into the spring-pole thing and I’ve considered it, but I really would rather go a different direction here.
I’m thinking of going to the dark side and getting a lathe with a tail, which means I’ve narrowed my choices to about 1.2 million options. As I consider this purchase I thought it might help to crowd source for experience and advice. Here’s the scenario: I primarily want to turn legs and spindles for chairs. I don’t have a ton of space for a lathe, and I need it to be flexible when moving from this shop into the unknown. I’d like to get the best “value” which does not necessarily mean “cheapest” but I have a (very) top end of around $600 – $800.
That puts me in one of two classes as I’ve found. Used full size or new midi
I’m keeping an eye on the local Craigslist, but I’ve not really been inspired by the offerings so that has led me to consider four lathes very closely.
The top of the heap in the “new” category is the Jet 1221vs
It seems like the perfect lathe for me at the moment. At 1 HP and a native capability of turning ~20″ spindles I feel like I could make chairs for a long time and not get tired of this lathe. The stand would be nice but not necessary. Let me be honest, this is the one I want.
A close contender is the Rikon 70-220vsr
This one probably gives the Jet the best run for its money as far as features are concerned. It has roughly the same capacity and a 1 HP motor. It’s only $150 cheaper, but that $150 could be turned around on a bed extension to give the lathe over 40″ of bed length. Let me be honest, this one seems practical but would I feel like I’m settling?
Another close contender is the Delta 46-460
I’ve heard good things about this lathe, but also plenty of stories about dodgy customer service.The 1 hp motor is nice. The distance between centers is only 16″ but the bed extension is also only $150 bringing the total to around $750. That puts it in the price range of the Jet 1221. A major design issue, in my opinion, is the placement of the switch/speed control. It seems like a very awkward placement. Maybe I would just need to use it to understand, or maybe I would just need to lose a thumb. Let me be honest, I want to like this one but I know how little things bug me.
And then there are two other options by Jet that technically count as “mini” lathes, but seem to punch above their weight
Jet 1015 and 1015vs
The VS is just the variable speed version of the 1015 so these are essentially the same lathe separated by $100 and a little knob. Like the Delta, the one major limitation is the bed length. At 15″ I could make some spindles, but it’s too small for chair legs. The one advantage is that I could buy the 1015 and the bed extension for less than the 1221vs ($630 -$730) and have a 36″ bed (although no super-cool digital readout). The only drawback I really see here is that the motor is 1/2 hp
But which one?
So there it is. My heart and my head are fighting this out in part because I really don’t know what I actually need.
Do I need 1 HP for chair legs or can 1/2 HP swing it?
Do I need more that 20″ if I’m not planning on turning table legs or bed rails anytime soon?
I know I’m not going to be able to buy the biggest and best, but as a beginner who would rather buy something that’s going to meet my needs for years to come.
So for all the turners out there, what are your experiences?