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Harbor Freight Wood Lathe Review for Beginners

The world of wood artistry has significantly evolved to accommodate different forms of creativity, either for professional or hobby purposes. In most cases, the lathe machines have been used to manufacture household and commercial entities such as bowls, vases, and baseball bats.

Essentially, a wood lathe is ideal for creating and deforming wood pieces to suit your creativity. With creativity also under consideration, it is also important to consider your skill level before choosing the appropriate woodturning machine. You might also be new to the concept of woodturning but interested in making a few wood crafts for fun. It is possible to watch tutorial videos of how woodturning works and decide to get your own lathe.

If you are a beginner, we have compiled a harbor freight wood lathe review for your consideration. Before analyzing the key features, pros, and cons of the Harbor Freight lathe, we will elaborate on what a wood lathe is and its purpose.

What is a Wood Lathe?

A wood lathe or a woodturning lathe is a tool used in carpentry projects to shape wood cylindrically. Some of the wood products that have been made on a wood lathe include lamp posts, bowls, furniture legs, baseball bats, and other ornamental wood-related products. A woodturning lathe works through securing pieces that need to be worked, moveable tool rest, and manual cutting tools, including skews, scrapers, parting tools, and long handle gouges.

Wood lathes come in various forms based on their main turning operation. The common lathe for beginners includes a rotating headstock, an adjustable tool rest, a tailstock to accommodate long objects, and a lathe bed. Unlike a miller, a lathe operates by turning a wood piece on a stationary cutting tool.

You might have wondered how cylindrical-shaped wood objects are made. The wood lathe is the one tool that helps to make different furniture designs. Therefore, having established what a wood lathe is, let us dive into the harbor freight wood lathe review.

Harbor Freight Wood Lathe

Central Machinery 12'' x 33-3/8'' Wood Lathe with...
  • Pivoting headstock for extra-large bowl turning capacity
  • Headstock rotates and locks in position at 45, 90, 135 and 180...
  • Swing over bed: 12''
  • CSA Listed
  • Includes stand, tool rest, drive center, 6'' disc and Allen...

This high-quality wood lathe is ideal for crafts, hobbies crafts, hobbies, and professional woodworking. Additionally, this high-quality wood lathe is an outstanding beginner lathe because of its ease of use and maintenance. It is easy to maintain because its parts are available and can be easily obtained. Subsequently, you can modify or improve the capacity of this woodturner to suit your creativity.

To understand what makes this woodturner from central machinery ideal for crafts, hobbies, and other wood creativities, let’s review its key features.

1. Headstock

The head of this lathe locks in position a piece of wood that is being customized. Additionally, this harbor freight wood lathe has a 3/4 HP TEFC motor on its headstock, which is not very powerful but adequate for beginners. It also has an extra-large bowl headstock to allow for larger turning that cannot fit between the centers. Therefore, the adjustment room in its head is enabled by two primary features, which are:

  • Pivoting headstock for extra-large bowl turning capacity
  • Headstock rotates and locks in position at 45, 90, 135, and 180 degrees

However, there is a chance the drive and live centers will not line up while putting them back after you unfasten and rotate the headstock. You can still align the centers by first locking the headstock and then bringing up the tail center.

Furthermore, there is the morse taper which features in both the headstock and the tailstock. For the HF 12 x33 lathe, a #2 morse taper would be adequate a better fitting tailstock live center.

2. Tailstock

In addition to the headstock, the HF lathe also has a tailstock that helps in the revolving center’s effortless ejection without needing a knock-out bar. However, despite the large bowl turning capacity of the headstock, the revolving center is not adequate for pen turning, making it a requirement you use a separate revolver.

However, the tailstock for this HF lathe can become annoying due to its failure to remain tight, regardless of how much you tighten it. A recommended solution is using a wooden extension at the pivot for better control.

3. Bed

Another important feature about this HF lathe is its swing over bed 12-inch platform, which is solid and long to align the pivoting headstock spindle, tailstock live center, and the tool rest.

Moreover, the bed length between the centers is adequate to hold bowls and other larger pieces of wood.

4. Tool Rest

There is also a tool rest which is a horizontal surface that is adjustable for various woodturning functions. This adjustable lathe part supports and guides turning tools such as scrapers and bowl gouges. In addition to the horizontal edge of the tool rest, there is also a vertical pole that mounts in the lathe’s banjo. The adjustment of the tool rest can only be done by either loosening or tightening the banjo locks.

A standard tool rest for an HF lathe is straight with an estimated length of nine inches. Nevertheless, you can easily customize a tool rest with the help of accessories such as disc and Allen wrenches, faceplates, and a knockout bar. Specifically, these accessories help in making any custom tool rest fit perfectly with the drive and live centers.

Accordingly, there are other custom tool rests that can be substituted to suit different needs. First, wood bowl turners can optimally reach the inside of a bowl with an inside curve tool. Secondly, exterior curved tool rests help make outside cuts, such as on a bowl exterior. Thirdly, an HF woodturning machine can be installed with specialty tool rests, including short straight tool rests for fitting into tight spaces and long j-shaped tool rests that can reach vessel depths.

Therefore, including a stand, tool rest, drive center, 6” disc, and Allen wrenches, an HF lathe can be adequate for most wood crafting. However, always double-check the measurement and type of tool rest on your HF lathe before ordering wood materials.

5. Speed

In its functionality, the HF 3/4 HP motor lathe rotates at speeds between 600-2400 RPM. At the slowest speed of 600 RPM, it can still be fast for an off-balance 12-inch bowl. You would be comfortable to start with around 200 to 300 RPM, especially for the large wood pieces, because 600 RPM can still be fast for a beginner. On the other hand, it can precisely and quickly turn and face a piece if operated at its highest speed.

The lathe’s component that helps in adjusting speed is known as a Reeve’s drive. This speed control component is not variable but applies lever shifting of speeds. Essentially, the speed shifting lever saves you the hassle of lifting the cover and changing belts and pulleys. Nonetheless, you can still customize your HF lathe to have the variable speed control, which is preferable for improved energy efficiency and reduced noise.

However, customer reviews indicate complaints of the belt touching the cast iron frame when woodturning is done at the highest speed of 2400 RPM. There is also the likelihood of the belt breaking when the lathe is operated at the highest speed for long.

Regarding speed, you should also consider it difficult to turn bowls because the bowl turning capacity headstock centers are limited: 33-3/8 in.

6. Sound

Asides from the physical features of the HF lathe, you should also know about the noise levels of this machine during operation. An HF lathe is moderately noisy, unlike other similar machines in the market.

However, if you prefer the operation of this lathe model but its noise bothers you, there is the option of wearing protective gear for your ears.

7. The Stand

A stand or the foundation of the lathe is important while turning small pieces like bowls or large hollow forms of decorative items. In the case of the HF woodturner, it has flimsy standing legs, which might not be effective when the machine gives out vibrations. The poor standing stability of the HF lathe is because of its thin steel supports and legs, which lack enough weight to make it steady.

Subsequently, you need to ensure the support stand is firm enough for stability even when the lathe is running at high speeds. Therefore, if you find the foundation of your lathe not to be stable enough, you can reinforce it with a plywood base. Subsequently, you can expect the HF wood machine to give you the best wood crafts with utmost safety on the user.

Pros of Harbor Freight Wood Lathe

  • Available at an affordable price
  • Long and durable swing over bed (12-inch)
  • Large bowl turning capacity that is adjustable to long wood pieces
  • Pivoting headstock rotates and locks in a custom position at 45, 90, 135, and 180 degrees
  • Bearable noise, unlike other woodturning machines
  • Customizable tool rests
  • Adjustable speed range (600-2400 RPM) to suit the specific wood crafting
  • Parts can be modified
  • Canadian Standards Association (CSA) listed

Cons of Harbor Freight Wood Lathe

  • Difficult to drive center and live center after rotating the headstock
  • Unstable extension arm
  • Tailstock cannot remain fastened, thus reducing user’s control
  • Tool rest loses its entire edge quickly
  • Noise can be unbearable for some users
  • Minimum speed is still high for crafting large pieces of wood
  • Flimsy and light foundation, causing instability

Frequently Asked Questions on the Harbor Freight Wood Lathe

1. Is a Harbor Freight lathe good?

Yes, a harbor freight lathe is good and a cheap way of turning ordinary woodwork into creative crafts. This woodturning model might have its disadvantages, but it’s easy to operate, more so for beginners, and is also CSA listed, meaning it has reputable effectiveness. Further, this type of lathe is easy to use and maintain because its repair parts can be easily found. Besides requiring few modifications, this brand of lathes can provide good and professional-grade woodturning.

Additionally, an HF woodturning machine is ideal because of its Canadian Standards Association listing. Considering that the turning process poses a significant risk to a lathe user, the CSI listing acts to guarantee a turner’s electrical and mechanical safety. Ultimately, Harbor Freight is a reliable brand, making it a good option for a woodturning machine.

2. What is the best beginner woodturning lathe?

Any beginner would prefer a lathe that is easy to use to make the wood crafting hobby enjoyable and less tedious. Additionally, it could be best for a beginner to go for a woodturner with easy-to-change parts, which are also available. As a result, a starter wood artist would not be frustrated by the performance and maintenance of the preferred woodturner.

Furthermore, a beginner would be best suited by an affordable and versatile lathe to perform various woodturning functions. Substantially, versatility could be enabled through the adjustable woodturning function. Considering that the current harbor freight wood lathe review fits these described qualities, it is, therefore, the best option for a beginner.

3. Are central machinery lathes any good?

Yes, lathes from central machinery are quality woodwork tools with tested performances. Another characteristic that makes the central machinery lathes good is their ease of maintenance. You could easily repair your lathe from central machinery with easy and affordable repair parts.

Also, a woodturner made by central machinery will offer you the flexibility of customizing it to suit your woodturning specifications. However, even with the adjustability, central machinery doesn’t promise an easy customization process.

4. Does Harbor Freight sell wood lathes?

Indeed, Harbor Freight sells wood lathes. You can check out their lathe deals on their website harborfreight.com for detailed product specifications, suitability, and prices.

Conclusion

The HF wood lathe is an appropriate woodturning machine for a beginner. However, it is not ideal for an experienced or professional turner due to its limited functionality. Even for a beginner, you will still need to replace or modify some of its parts after purchase for desirable outcomes.

Image credit: woodturningbasics.com