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I apologize if there are already a hundred of these threads. I am looking for a beginner lathe and my budget is around $250. I have found 3 lathes (Harbor Freight, Shop Fox and Rockler) that are all in my budget and look good for turning small items such as pens. I will also post a CL ad that I have found recently that look promising. Any advice would be very helpful, thanks!

http://denver.craigslist.org/tls/4316318280.html
 

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A good old Craftsman lathe, with solid beds, before Sears switched to the mono-tube.

This should be fine for your stated small project work such as pens. The extra length does not hurt, just means longer footprint.

The price feels high for this lathe.

I cannot tell from the picture, but worth asking the seller what the headstock size is - external and if internal is tapered. This would help in advising whether the lathe will be able to use a chuck.

Scroll chucks are a good accessory to have. They all need an adapter to fit the specific headstock diameter and tpi (threads per inch).

The internal taper of many of these old lathes was MT #1 (Morse Taper size 1). This is needed if you want to purchase mandrels for the pen turning, etc.

These lathes have only a few speeds. Should not be a problem for pen turning.
 

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Thoughts on a used one like that Crafsman or buying a new lathe from Rockler or Harbor Freight?

This is the Rockler one I had been researching..

Rockler Excelsior 5-Speed Mini Lathe - Amazon.com
If I had to choose between $175 for the old Craftsman and $200 for the new Excelsior, I would chose the Excelsior. The new lathe has better locking handles. Sounds petty, but the smaller handles of the old Craftsman can be tiring to use.

Also the Excelsior has MT #2 taper on the headstock. More accessories are available for MT #2 than MT #1.
 

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I agree with Dave. And moving the banjo on the Sears IS a pain unless you spend $25-30 for good replacement handles. Been there.
If the Rockler was normal price then it may be a tougher decision because that Sears with the Baldor motor is a fairly nice lathe.

I do not know anything about their lathe but Rockler itself is a good company.
A pet peeve of mine is companies that inflate HP. Here it is listed as 360W. 1 HP is 746W so .48+ HP is :thumbsup:; they are not cheating.
http://go.rockler.com/tech/26042013103043-Excelsior_MC-1018.pdf
 

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I'd go with the Rikon if you could. A better lathe all around than the others. The spindle and morse tapers are more common to larger lathes so if you ever want to upgrade your accessories will swap. I'm guessing but not sure that the older Craftsman has #1 morse tapers which aren't that bad just not common to modern lathes. Don't know how many speeds it has either so you might end up adding what we call a Jack Shaft to the motor to get more speeds.
The Rikon is a known quantity and good quality piece of gear.
 

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I have the Harbor Freight 5 speed 10X18 and just bought an extension bed from Rockler (for the Excelsior) and it bolts right up to go from 18 inches to 35 inches.

My HF has been very dependable for the last 14 months.

Ray
 

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I apologize if there are already a hundred of these threads. I am looking for a beginner lathe and my budget is around $250. I have found 3 lathes (Harbor Freight, Shop Fox and Rockler) that are all in my budget and look good for turning small items such as pens. I will also post a CL ad that I have found recently that look promising. Any advice would be very helpful, thanks!

http://denver.craigslist.org/tls/4316318280.html
I was looking at that one as well... looks clean and well taken care of. I, however am cash poor right now and tried to "trade" with him as he said he would consider barter but he wouldn't tell me what he would consider for trade and didn't respond back when I sent him a list of possible trade items. I even included one of my bamboo fly rods as trade bait but he just didn't respond again. Wasn't excited about losing one of my bamboo's but really would like a lathe.
 

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From your post in the General section, I have this lathe.

Shop Fox: [ame="http://www.amazon.com/SHOP-W1704-3-Horsepower-Benchtop-Lathe/dp/B001R23SWW/"]
[/ame] SHOP FOX W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe - Amazon.com

Its been a very good machine.

I'm in the same place that you are as I've only turned a few things since buying it about 3 months ago. I buy things based on reviews, cost, and availability. It had good reviews for a mini lathe, (I bought a mini due to space limitations), it happened to be on sale for $189.00 at my local wood supplier,and they had one in the box for me to take home.

I has a variable speed knob instead of a few set speeds that require changing the belt position that works well. It also has a "soft" start feature that gives you a chance to get set up before it comes up to the turning speed. That took some getting used to, but now I like it. It has an MT #1 taper but with an adapter I'm able to use a chuck, or a pen mandrel, or pretty much any other accessory I need.

For a starter lathe I think I made a good choice as I wanted something to make specific small parts for a model I was building and this machine did everything I needed perfectly.

The family all got together and bought me three chisels from Easy Woodworking. They have replaceable carbide cutters that never need to be sharpened. I know that HHS tools are much cheaper, but they will need sharpening every time you use them and sometimes even in the middle of a project.

Something I was told by a local turner I met at the wood supplier really struck home when he showed me his scar from a dull chisel that kicked back and cut his hand while he was turning a bowl.

In the end, only you can decide. Your criteria will be different from every one else based on funds, shop space, and projected use.
 

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I don't know how big of a hurry you are in, or what the resale market is where you are, but if you have patience, I would recommend trying to find a good used one. Where I live, they come up for sale on a regular basis in the $200-$300 range.
 

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I was at Harbor Freight today and was somewhat surprised to see their latest lathe looked pretty decent. I played with it a bit and things worked very nicely. It is called a 12 X 36 lathe, but actually the longest possible spindle length is 33 inches (table legs are 29 inches). It has a Reeves drive (five speeds as I recall). I wouldn't want to turn many large diameter things on it because of the Reeves drive, but for everything else, it looks like a decent starter lathe and the price was less than the average mini lathe.
 

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The Excelsior lathe sold at Rockler is the same lathe as the HF 5 speed mini. With a 25% off coupon and the additional warranty you can get out the door with it at HF for less than $180. I guess you can go to Rockler and spend a bunch of extra money for black paint if you like! I have the Rockler extension on mine so its 2 tone!!:thumbsup:
 

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The Excelsior lathe sold at Rockler is the same lathe as the HF 5 speed mini. With a 25% off coupon and the additional warranty you can get out the door with it at HF for less than $180. I guess you can go to Rockler and spend a bunch of extra money for black paint if you like! I have the Rockler extension on mine so its 2 tone!!:thumbsup:
Doesn't the Rockler lathe have a fixed headstock? The HF lathe that I was looking at has a head that rotates up to 180° so that you can turn off the side or end and has a short section of bed so that the tool rest can be moved to the other end. The price they had today was $266, but there are always coupons and sales. I didn't see a mini lathe at our local store, but this store is much smaller than some of the others in the DFW area. The one that I saw looks a lot like this one except I was fairly certain that the one that I looked at had five speeds instead of ten and I don't recall seeing the motor sticking forward -- but then, my memory isn't quite what it used to be. Now, what was I starting to say?
 

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Doesn't the Rockler lathe have a fixed headstock? The HF lathe that I was looking at has a head that rotates up to 180° so that you can turn off the side or end and has a short section of bed so that the tool rest can be moved to the other end. The price they had today was $266, but there are always coupons and sales. I didn't see a mini lathe at our local store, but this store is much smaller than some of the others in the DFW area.
Yes, as does the HF 5 speed mini lathe. Its the exact same lathe just painted black. The 12 x 36 isnt a mini.
 

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I apologize if there are already a hundred of these threads. I am looking for a beginner lathe and my budget is around $250.
Is space a consideration? If you have the space, an older Shopsmith makes a great starter lathe. 10ERs can be bought in the range of $75 most places, and even MkVs can be bought for $150 or so.

Advantages are variable speed, large enough swing to do moderate sized pieces, and enough power and stability to turn an out of round blank.
 
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