Old as dirt
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Middle Tennessee
HF only has one lathe that would be suitable for what you describe. Not true that they are all angle iron or steel tube beds, but they sure do have those as well, and I would say definately stay away from those. There are tons of those cheap ones on CL as well.
The one at HF that is worth looking at is the 12 x 33 3/8" model. That can turn a 12" diameter bowl, or a spindle or table leg up to 33 3/8" long. This is model 34706. It has 3/4hp and is variable speed from 600 up to 2400 RPM. There is a coupon in Wood Magazine for this lathe for $199. I don't have this lathe, but I do have a HF 10 x 18" mini 5 speed and it is quite nice as well, but not suited to larger pieces like bowls since it's only 10" capacity and 1/2hp.
I would agree that the Delta 12 1/2" x 20" with the 1 hp VS drive is probably one of the best machines for bowls out there; it was rated best in review by Fine Wood Working magazine, but it costs over $750 with a 20" extension. I'd still say it's probably worth it if you find you really like to turn. By the way, the Penn State Industries 12" VS Commander was rated a best buy in the same review, at $480 with a 20" extension.
What ever lathe you start with you will need a set of HSS (high speed steel) lathe turning tools, a way to sharpen them, and probably a good chuck. This can add another $200 to $800 to your purchases.
One of the nice things about checking Craig's List is sometimes you will find a machine with the tools and chuck included, for less than the cost of the lathe alone. Just be sure and stay away from the cheap, no name things with steel beds; you want cast iron.