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What to look for in a lathe

Discussion in 'Woodturning Discussion Forum' started by holistic, Mar 23, 2005.

  1. holistic


    Mar 10, 2005
    Hi -
    I am very new to bowl turning, but have the opportunity to purchase a lathe from someone who has a variety of older lathes used in a school. He says he has Olivers, Lockwells, and Deltas. I am not sure what to look for to ensure I get a good lathe for bowl turning at a good price. Any advise would be appreciated.
  2. Gynia


    Apr 25, 2004
    Location (City & State):
    None of those lathes is "good" for bowl turning. Those are all spindle lathes and are terrific for that purpose. You can, of course, turn bowls on those lathes and many finely turned bowls have been made and continue to be made on those lathes.

    Why they aren't "good" Bowl lathes?

    The swing of those lathes will limit the size bowl you can turn to 12" and much less than that size over the banjo.

    The minimum speed on those lathes is faster than you want for spinning out of balance blanks near the capacity of the lathe.

    The bearings are likely in less than good condition. Turning a bowl will make the bearing continue their decline faster. BTW the bearings can be replaced.

    What to look for:

    Make sure all parts come with the lathe. Banjo, tool rest, tailstock and tools to tighten the banjo and tailstock.

    Check the MT of the headstock and the tailstock to be sure they are clean and smooth.

    The lathe should include a spur center and a live center. You may need to bring a live center with you.

    Mount some spindle stock between centers and turn on the lathe. The lathe should run quiet. Possible noise can come from the revies drive. There shouldn't be noise coming from the headstock. Advance the live center to apply more pressure on the headstock through the spinning wood. There shouldn't be any change in the noise produced. A change in noise likely indicates failing bearings.

    Run the lathe at all speeds. Any noise should be in line with previous noise. There should be no "New" noises.

    Inspect the lathe for cracks in the castings. Often rubbing you fingers across the surfaces with detect a crack before your eyes will see it. Inspect all of the castings. A small inspection mirror to look at places that you head can't get to is a good idea.

    Some of those lathes used 3 phase motors. Make sure the lathe motor is single phase. If in doubt expect to buy a new motor ($150 - $300) which should be deducted from the price of the lathe.

    Check the drive belt for wear. Yes you can replace the belt but you have to remove the spindle to do this.

    Check the threads on the spindle for damage.

    Check the thread size of the spindle. An oddball size is going to get in your way latter on as you have to get adaptors or special tooling.

    The lathe should have a spindle lock. Check to see that it does and that it functions properly (locks the spindle so you can take off a stuck faceplate). If the spindle lock doesn't work the there should be a means for locking the spindle and the tooling necessary (a big thin headed wrench) so you can remove stuck faceplates.

    If you can secure a long (a foot or longer) piece of wood to the headstock (a chuck would be great but doing this with a faceplate can also work as long as the foot long piece of wood is tightly secure to the faceplate.) Now pull on the end of the piece of wood. You shouldn't feel any movement (sometimes a slight "tick" can be felt not good) if there is any movement the wood or faceplate (or chuck) isn't secure or there is a failing bearing. Rotate the wood by hand 30 degrees or so and try again. Do this for three or four revolutions.

    Inspect the drive system for wear.

    The bottom line is, if you want to work on fixing the lathe then there is no reason why you can't have many many years of woodturning pleasure from these old school lathes. If you aren't inclined to work on old iron then chances are you will be disappointed.

    As for fair price. If the lathe is in GREAT condition (runs quiet, has all the parts and everything work smoothly and lock down securely) then a gap bed lathe with 12" swing and 1 HP motor is worth $700. Start deducting fast for each deficiency. And reject any lathe that has cracks in the castings.

    Naturally these are only my thoughts on the subject others who are likely more knowledgeable then me may provide you with conflicting advice. I would advise you to take their advice over mine. You may see the old Oliver and get a quiver. Some of those old machines are a joy to look at and more than make up for their limits in the stories your heart tells you is in that old iron.

    Good Luck

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