An old thread on lathes in SawmillCreek caught my eye recently… I’ve never dug into lathes that much and they always seemed sort of on the outskirts of woodworking. That may be the reason they appeal to some folks though ;) Anyways, the thread I saw asks for lathe recommendations in the $400-$500 range.

Because the thread is almost two years old the specific recommendations may not hold up… that said, a great conversation started regarding comparing the $400 lathe to a $4,000 lathe. There were some accusations of “lathe elitism” that got the lathe masters sharpening up their language arts tools. This post shares some of the best quotes from the thread and then points you to a number of other threads and resources that I hope will help you make your lathe decision.

Choice Quotes:

1) “In woodworking there are many times where you can make do with cheap tools and not notice a big difference. Lathe work is not one of those situations.”

2) “My original suggestion was to take the ultimate low cost budget approach; don’t buy a lathe, join a club, take a class, etc… until you have a chance to get your feet wet.”

3) “Basically it boils down to how you are going to use the lathe, if you are a part-timer and do a bit here or there, then I’d say the $4000 lathe would be overkill, but if you are a pro, then the $4000 lathe makes you money, and the $400 lathe costs you money in downtime, loss of productivity etc. plus the frustration factor in dealing with a tool that is not up to your needs.”

Reasons the $4,000 Lathe Costs $4,000:
(These are quotes from Creeker and Lathe-Master Bill Grumbine who runs

1. Weight.
“My $4000 machines do not chase me around the shop like my $400 machine did even after it was sandbagged with an extra 360 lbs of weight.”
2. Power.
“I can take a 60-80 lb blank of wood and turn it into a rough bowl for drying in less than 10 minutes on my Poolewood or Vega. ”
3. Control.
“A $4000 machine these days sports a a 3 phase VFD power source. While this type of motor is not necessary for the vast majority of spindle turning, these machines are not built primarily for spindles.”
4. Overall design.
“Fit and finish are much better. I do not have to fight my machine, and my turning improved by an order of magnitude each time I moved up a step in machine.”
5. Speed.
“This is sort of a culmination of all of the above, but I can turn many times faster for the type of turning I am doing on my expensive lathes.”

Note that Mr. Grumbine started on a Jet:
“To go back to my own $400 lathe on this, I turned on it for over 3 1/2 years, and made many thousands of dollars using it. I also had a small backup lathe (Chinese built Carbatec). One of the reasons I had it was because my $400 Jet broke on a regular basis. At one point during a parts order, I was discussing everything that had broken on it, and he commented that I had had just about everything that could go wrong with this lathe go wrong. But, it was not a lemon. It was a $400 lathe.”

Read all of Mr. Grumbine’s post in SMC >>
Visit Mr. Grumbine’s Woodturning Site Wonderful Wood.

Other Resources:
Comparing a $400 Grizzly Lathe to a $4000 Vicmarc VL-300 Long bed machine
Jet vs. Grizzly Lathes (for starting out…)
Which lathe do I need?
Which Lathe is best for me?
Fine Woodworking Heavy Duty Lathe Test (pdf)