I got the itch...

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I'm getting the strong itch to try turning. 

I envision a lathe small enough to put on a mobile station I can roll outside to the patio to use, so a mini or midi.  The lathe is the easy part though. 

Where do I get started with chucks, centers, etc?  That's what really confuses me.  I don't know one chuck from another. 

If I am looking to make small bowls, salt/pepper grinders, tool handles, etc...where is a good place to start? 


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I remember that itch, just not too long ago.

Getting started,  Yes, you need a chuck.  I bought a Nova G3 from Woodcraft, but their site is http://www.novatoolsusa.com/main.sc.  Make sure you get a chuck that has the same thread size as the lathe, or one that you can get an adapter for.

These are good for the smaller stuff you mentioned.  The size of the lathe will determine how large of piece you can turn.  

I started with a small Harbor freight used lathe, and did 6" bowls, and pens and such, until I felt I needed a larger lathe for larger bowls and such.  Bowls will take more HP than pens, spindles, and the like.  Word or warning, don't try to turn Hard Maple bowls with a small lathe like a Harbor Freight.  It won't work.

The turning tools, you can get online like Amazon or Woodcraft, a 6 piece set is probably the smallest you want for starting.  Sharpening the tools can get expensive.  I fabbed a combo belt disc sander with 1000 grit paper and a home made base to sharpen.  If you have the money, a reduced speed 8" grinder with a Oneway set is far better.  Sharp tools make all the difference.

I'm sure others will add a lot more info, let me know if I can answer any other questions.

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I was (and largely still am) confused by all of the chuck, mandrel, and center options. I got a pen mandrel, live center, small faceplate, and a spur drive along with the lathe I got. I ended up buying the Nova G3 Chuck Package from Woodcraft. At the time they had it on sale, and so far it has met all of my turning needs, along with the items I already had. You also need to buy an insert that will allow the chuck to thread onto whatever lathe you get. 


It has some jaws that I have not yet used, but expect that I will at some point. 


For turning tools, I bought a Harbor Freight set to get started, but then was given a set of Crown tools. I still use a couple of the HF tools. They seem to need sharpening a bit more often than the Crowns, but otherwise work well. 

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2 minutes ago, bleedinblue said:

For the lathe it's self I'll probably go with a Penn State, unless I find a good used option.

For tools, I'm 95% sure I'm going with the Easy tools to help take sharpening out of the equation.

I got my present refurbished (open box) lathe from CPO  https://www.cpooutlets.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-cpooutlets-Site/default/Search-Show?q=lathe&simplesearch=Go

I have never heard of Easy tools that don't need sharpening, will have to check them out

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53 minutes ago, bleedinblue said:

I'm getting the strong itch to try turning. 

I envision a lathe small enough to put on a mobile station I can roll outside to the patio to use, so a mini or midi.  The lathe is the easy part though. 

Where do I get started with chucks, centers, etc?  That's what really confuses me.  I don't know one chuck from another. 

If I am looking to make small bowls, salt/pepper grinders, tool handles, etc...where is a good place to start? 



One thing regarding a mobile stand make sure you can immobilize it ether buy adding sand bags or taking it of its wheels like this one


The last thing you want when turning is wobble. With spindle turning (pens etc) probably not an issue but bowls can cause a problem quick. This was my starter lathe and I will probably use it until it breaks. There are a lot of good small lathes on the market now and looking at them i suspect many come from the same factory. Regarding chucks I would buy them as you need them maybe start with pen mandrel and go from there. Spindle turning is pretty straight forward. Regarding tools I think if I were starting over I would go the easy tool route as well. I have both today and can tell the difference but, like on the chucks, I would start with a (3 or 4) tool kit and get at it. Pens are fun and make great gifts I have lost count of how many i have made over the years but its north of 200



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For the things you listed you don't need a ton of accessories. Most lathes will come with a spur center and a faceplate.

You need a chuck, Nova g3 and the Pennstate Barracuda are both decent choices. These mount to the head stock (the motor side) and allow you to securely hold lots of different blanks. They screw on the threaded part, so you need to get the right thread.

You'll want a live center. This fits into the morris taper on the tail stock (non motor side). It's called a live center because it has a bearing in it that allows it to spin with the work piece. Taper size (2MT being the most common) is the thing that matters here. This will get used when you need support on both sides of the blank you are turning.

You'll want a spur center (probably comes with the lathe), this fits into the morris taper in the head stock. It has spurs on it that you hammer into one side of a blank. If you get a chuck you probably won't use this much. It can be used to turn tool handles in conjunction with a lice center in the tail stock.

You'll want a faceplate (probably comes with a lathe) kind of a poor man's chuck. You screw through the holes on the face plate into the blank then screw the face plate to the head stock. You might use this to turn a tenon on a blank so it will fit in your chuck.

Carbide tools are great and no sharpening necessary. Easywood is a good choice, but they're on the expensive side. I'm not sure the brand of carbide tools makes a huge difference, so you may be able to save some cash here.  It'll take longer to turn bowls with them, but it is doable.



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@bleedinblue welcome to the Hotel California of woodworking, and ah @Brendon_t like the song says they may  check out, but they never leave.

BBlue I'll give you my advice starting with this.  Most turners have a strong opinion on any turning question; a surprising number of them have more than one.  You'll just have to sort through them yourself.

I think you are wise to look for a respectable brand of lathe.  I haven't seen the Penn State, but I assume it is decent as they have a reputation to uphold.  I would not go out and buy a Harbor Freight; they have a reputation to uphold, too ☺.  A lathe does not have to do much, but it does have to turn without run out and without vibrating.  Tailstock and toolrest have to lock firmly in place.  Tailstock and headstock must line up.

You want a lathe that is reversible and with variable speed.  This could be belt change, reeves drive, or electronic.  Electronic is way better--guess which is more expensive.  Speed range, for me that would be at least 200 to 2000, but mo' is better.

Woodworker's Journal June 2017 did a review of a number of midi lathes that is worth a read.

I think that carbide tools are the way to go when you get started.  There is a lot of strong opinion on this topic among turners, but this is mine.  HSS cutting tools have a learning curve that is much steeper than carbide and they are less forgiving.  So you can get to the satisfaction of making something you're excited about much faster.  And there is then less chance of your becoming frustrated and giving up on turning.  In which case I would have to take back everthing I just said to Brendon_t.  And you wouldn't want me to have to do that.

That said I am taking classes now with one of my turning buddies so I can learn the cutting tool techniques.  Every tool, crabide or HSS has its purpose, and ultimately I would like to know them all.

Easy Wood Tools is one of the makers of carbide scraping tools and they have a broad line.  Carter Products also make a selection of very good tools.  I like their handles better and they are cheaper than Easy Wood.  Harrison Specialties also makes carbide scrapers on interchangeable tools that fit a single handle.  I think Rikon does as well.  

If you go carbide you do not need to sharpen, but you will need to replace the inserts.  AZ Carbide and Eddie Castellan are two sources for good prices.  AZ is the OEM for Carter Products and sells nano carbide so I am going to be ordering some 10 packs from them.

What you need for tools et.al. will depend on what you would like to make.  For utensils, pepper mills and little bowls a set of medium size tools might be the best. A radiused square, round shaper and diamond detailer along with a parting tool would be my suggestion for a starting kit.    

If you don't plan to start out with pens, the you don't need a mandrel or other pen stuff.  

Chucks come in small and large sizes depending on the lathe size.  This was said, but I will mention these again.  Make sure your chuck will thread on your lathe spindle.  You will likely need an insert.  Make sure you know your Morse taper.  You want a 4 jaw scroll chuck.  You will also need an asortment of jaws for the chuck.  The jaws will have specific size ranges that they will grip so you end up needing more than one set.  50mm is the most common size.  Nova makes good chucks as do other companies, but Nova (Teknatools) sells a number of sets which can keep the price down.  For whatever reason I usually get better prices on Nova stuff at Tools Plus.   https://m.tools-plus.com/nova-lathes-23245.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIjqTZpNrR1QIVxrjACh3JigV_EAQYAyABEgJL6fD_BwE

Face plate, star drive and live center should be part of the basic lathe.

But all of the above crap....I mean advice aside, find a turning club in your area.  You will get advice, much of which will be helpful.  It is your best market for a used lathe or other stuff.  It's a place to show off what you've done, get some feedback and some inspiration.  And usually there's free cookies.  

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Hoo boy!  here we go!  LOL.

I hope you get into it - it's fun.  I don't turn a lot, but I do some and I find it to be fun.  If you're in it for business,  then obviously you need to look at the overall value to you biz.  But - if it's for fun? then have at it!

FWIW....my loving wife did the research for me on a lathe and got me a Nova 1624-44 lathe...pretty solid lathe, my only complaint being that it's a belt-change for speed changes (not electronic control), but for where I am in this particular journey it's not a big deal at all. My next "upgrade" most likely will be some sort of electronic speed control.

I bought a set of "Benjamin Best" tools (link here) that has worked out well.  At least for me, the important part is not what the tools are, but rather how you sharpen them.  Carbide tools are a totally different beast, but for HSS these ones seem ok.

A big deal (IMO) is how you sharpen.  Conincedentally, I was just this night looking at the CBN sharpening wheels available from Woodturnerswonders which are a great value.  I won't go into it here, but do yourself a favor and look at CBN wheels (instead of traditional aluminum oxide wheels) for your grinder,.


Have fun!







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A good project to start on is a rolling pin. Easy to turn and you get something useful. You can use the same techniques for a carvers mallet (easy to turn and get something useful).

I started using carbide tools this year (for the one project I've done). They're excellent. No need to worry about sharpening.`

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11 hours ago, Jfitz said:

do yourself a favor and look at CBN wheels (instead of traditional aluminum oxide wheels) for your grinder,.

+1 on CBN wheels if a person is going to use HSS cutting tools.  HSS tools often need to be re-shaped which takes off a good bit of metal.  And after shaping HSS turning tools need frequent sharpening.

One caveat though, CBN's are not supposed to be used on softer carbon steel.  So you may still need an aluminum grinding wheel for other tools/tasks.

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I had a Jet 1014 midi that I now need to replace.  It's a solid little lathe that can be tucked away easily.  But I'm now looking to go bigger- I want at least a 12 x 30 for myself.  If I were going midi again though, I'd definitely look at another Jet or Delta.  As to the rest, I did this in another thread- here is my pen-making shopping list: 

Well then, let me compile a small list for you!







This is what I use. In addition I have an HSS roughing gouge and skew chisel.  I use a friction polish topped with wax for finishing, but a lot of guys swear by CA glue finish.  Happy Turning!!!

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