Tips for Choosing a Sturdy Woodworking Lathe
The basic operation of a wood lathe is to spin blocks of wood around so they can be cut into shape. What is not always known is that in order for this operation to go smoothly, the lathe must be firm and heavy enough to withstand the considerable forces involved. If the lathe gets out of balance it can vibrate twist the piece out of shape.
Size doesn't matter. Even a small shop lathe needs to be sturdy. Turning at higher speeds can cause even greater vibration than a large lathe. If your wood or machine parts get out of balance the resultant work will be poorly done if not accidentally destroyed.
While larger lathes usually operate at a lower speed, they are designed to hold heavier wood and thus can also be subject to very severe oscillations if unbalanced. A 40 pound wood block with a 16" swing can walk your machine right across the floor if it becomes unbalanced.
To begin with, the lathe body should have a goodly amount of cast iron and steel. Stamped metal, while cheaper, doesn't provide much strength or support. Be sure the bearings are of quality construction. While they can usually be easily replaced at need. you don't want to have to do it every week.
Even the parts that hold the head and tail stocks as well as the tool rest should be strong steel and able to lock firmly into place. Make sure the model you get has easily accessible speed controls and switches. In case of an emergency this placement could be a life saver.
Finally turn the machine on. Even running empty will give you an idea of whether the machine is sturdy enough to handle the speeds you will be working at. Just remember that you should not hurry your work too quickly. Haste is the best way to destroy your work and machine and possibly injure yourself.