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Monday, February 4, 2013

As The Lathe Turns

The wood turning saga continues.
I have been working on a project. In the meantime though, my newly found wood turning fascination is still in full swing. What you see here is the corner of my shop over behind the table saws where the lathe always sat. I use the word sat, as in past tense, because you may notice there are three lathes now.
The one closest to the camera is the old one that I recently discovered had a bent shaft. I thought of carrying it out back and putting it out of it's misery, but I think it can still be of use.
I am going to use it if I need to rough out something that is extremely out of balance. This will safe from having to worry about tearing up either of the other ones.
Also I'm thinking, at the advice of an experienced wood turner I've been talking to, of setting up a polishing center for my turning projects that mounts between the centers on this lathe. The out of true condition the shaft presents will not effect a polishing set up.
Next, closest to the window, is the Ridgid lathe. It is actually very similar to the first lathe. Most of these pipe bed lathes made these days, besides some cosmetic and quality differences, are direct copies of an old Craftsman lathe I've seen from the eighties.
The Ridgid lathe was given to me by a good friend. I talked about it in my last post. It is a good lathe. The shaft is made of thicker material, which makes me a little more confident. The accessory controls, such as handles for tightening up the tool rest for example, are better made. I believe it is going to be a decent lathe.
The newest addition to the line up is the purpose of this post though. My lovely wife wanted to get me something nice for the upcoming Valentine's day, and this is what she got me. I have been wanting this lathe for some time and just have never been able to afford it. She has been putting in overtime at work and, while I don't think she will tell me that it was still hard on her to afford it, she used some of that extra cash to buy me the lathe I've been wanting.
This lathe is from Harbor Freight. I can almost hear the groans from my computer screen when I typed that. I know Harbor Freight sells some pretty cheaply made stuff. If you do your research though, you can find some diamonds in the rough at that place. I believe this to be just one of those precious gems.
For starters, I have read in numerous places that the lathe I have now is the exact same lathe as this one in the Jet lineup. The major differences between the two are the paint color, the supplied legs that are shipped with each of them, and the price. The color means nothing. I know for a fact that many items are made in the same factories, in the same assembly lines, and shot with different colors for different stores. I think most of us are aware of that. As for the legs, I don't know. From what I can see in the website photos, they look the same to me. It doesn't matter too much in my opinion though. For what I want, a machine that weighs as much as this one doesn't need heavier legs, and if it does eventually, I'll build a heavy stand for it.
So let us start with the weight of the machine. This thing, as listed on the box when I got it back to my shop, weighs in at 187.85 pounds. I couldn't even get it out of the box, much less set it up. While my wife and I usually handle most things ourselves, I had to call for backup just to get this thing on it's stand.
My only other complaint on this machine is the plastic used in some of the handles, such as the tool rest. That is usually expected in everything we buy these days though, and I am always good at working around these things by remaking them out of better material should anything ever go wrong with them. A fact of life these days is that products have too much plastic in them.
I also want to address other things about this lathe though. Through research of it, I came across items of concern to me, and I just generally want to show off my new toy.
Let's start with price. If you buy the Jet version of this lathe, you will pay considerably more than Harbor Freight. That is to be expected. When I went and looked at the difference though, I was shocked.
This lathe, on sale for $269.99 at Harbor Freight, was already in a reasonably price range for what it is. Then there are taxes added. However, we had a 25% off coupon. That brought the price down even considerably more. Then we added back a two year extended warranty to it. I have used Harbor Freight's warranties before and know for a fact that, if you pay for the warranty, they will take it back with no questions asked and give you a new one in the box. That brought the price back to about where it was. So for around $270, taxes included, we got the lathe and a two year extended warranty. I think that is a good deal.
Now, the Jet lathe. I went to the Rockler site to price it. It is available online only in my area. I did not check twenty sites for the cheapest one. I just wanted to give a general idea. Here, on the Rockler site, before any possible taxes or shipping, the lathe sells for $919.
Next up is the tool rest. I did not even notice this feature when looking at this lathe, but it is nice. Both my other lathes have a bar that slides along the bed, then the extension bar swivels and the tool rest swivels. That works, but it limited. This one has more movement to it. I am sure this may be standard for flat bed lathes and no big deal to most experienced turners. This is my first flat bed lathe though, and for me, it is a whole world better than what I am used to.
Some of you who have never turned probably have no idea why a tool rest would be so important to me to even mention it. Well, besides just being more versatile, in addition to the swiveling head on this lathe, you can see just above the orientation I can put a bowl while working on the inside of it. This is a huge advantage to me. In the past, on the pipe bed lathes I've used, I eight had to walk around the back of the lathe. This put me on the opposite side of the lathe from the controls. That is something that has always made me uncomfortable. The other option was to lean over the bed, and work back towards me, into the downward turning bowl. This was not just uncomfortable to me, but downright painful if I done it for more than a couple of minutes at a time. This lathe's features will eliminate these issues all together. Once roughed out, I can just turn the whole headstock around towards me, adjust the tools rest accordingly, and be able to work much more comfortable than I have ever been able to while turning bowls.
The single most complaint I have read in reviews of this lathe stemmed from this, the Reeve's variable speed system. I have read so many times, if you do not keep this oiled, it will fail, and the pulleys will literally fall apart in your hand. So I was a little apprehensive, when I pulled the cover off to oil it for the first time and to snap this photo, what horror I would find.
Let me start by saying I would love to have electronic variable speed. There may come a point in time that electronic variable speed is obtainable to the common man. Most people cannot afford that luxury though. So, just having the ten speeds that this Reeve's system affords me is a blessing. On this machine, I will not have to remove a cover and change belts on a set of pulleys every time I change speeds.
I have seen this system, and worked on this system, in many uses. It is very similar to the system on my old Total Shop. That motor now powered my shop made band saw and works flawlessly. The Total Shop was one of the cheaper made Shop Smith clones, and yes, it too was problematic if not oiled and maintained properly. Amazingly, I've also seen this system on variable speed PTO drives on tractors made decades ago.
Yes, the pulleys do seem to be made out of less than premium material. However, the look to be of the same material I see on 99% of stock pulleys on any brand these days. It's pot metal. No it is not the strongest material known to man, but it has always, from my experience, worked well for pulleys as long as it's taken care of.
The bottom line on this matter, to me, is this. This system involves moving parts that slide back and forth on a fixed shaft. Anything with moving parts, that move against unmoving parts, requires maintenance. If not, it will fail. That is a plain and simple truth no matter how you look at it. So, unless some other problem crops up in the future, this whole issue is a non-issue to me. For the torque the Reeve's system provide, in addition to the larger three quarter horse motor I have on this lathe compared to my others, I like this system.
So that's my new toy.
You will see many more turning projects in my future, and I'll keep you all posted if any problems arise with the new lathe. I look for it to work very nicely for me.



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