I recently upgraded my lathe to a Turncrafter Commander. A lathe upgrade has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while and I recently had the chance to do just that. My first lathe, which I still own, is made by Central Machinery from Harbor Freight. It’s the 14″x40″ bench top model with an outboard 7″ disc sander attached.
The Harbor Freight Lathe
The few things I like about the HF lathe is the affordability as I was a first time lathe owner at the time when I purchased it. I also like the sander that is attached to the left side of the headstock and finally the main reason I like the HF unit is its capability to turn long spindles or table legs. To be honest that’s why I want to keep it. Things I dislike about this lathe is there aren’t any quick release levers anywhere on it. Everything has to be tightened or loosened with a wrench. Other things I don’t really care for are the plastic wheels, the manual belt change (no variable speed), and no morse taper. Not that anything is wrong with the Harbor Freight unit, but you can see why I wanted to upgrade.
The Turncrafter Commander
Turncrafter Commander KWL-1018VS is the new lathe of choice. Although, it’s a bit smaller than my older lathe in terms of overall size and max distance between centers, but 1/3 larger in hp. The Commander is feature rich compared to other lathes in its price range. The main thing on my radar when shopping for a new lathe was the variable speed, but I didn’t want to spend nearly a thousand dollars for it.
Settling was almost an option for a lathe without variable speed until I asked around for recommendations. Wayne, a friend of mine, has the step up from what I ended up purchasing. He has been well pleased with his, so I figured I’d look into it. Once I found out I could get the variable speed for about the same price as a well known brand without it I became interested. Good reviews, great customer service, and being a known wood turning supplier made my decision easier.
A larger lathe wasn’t needed, as in overall size, so I opted for the 3/4 hp motor, 10″ swing x 18″ between centers and of course the variable speed, which has a range of 500 – 3600 RPM. The variable speed is awesome, but if that’s not enough the lathe also boasts a digital readout. Those of you that follow me on Instagram know that the display was busted during the shipping process. So, I can’t speak of the display in terms of a review, but I can say that Penn State Industries (PSI) is sending me a replacement with no questions asked. Their customer service also told me if I had any more issues to call them back and they would take care of it. In my opinion, that’s great customer service.
Features and the Comparison
Features other than the 3/4 hp motor, 10″ swing, 18″ between centers and the variable speed with digital readout that I just mentioned I would like to list a few more. Also included on this model is a three year warranty, number 2 morse taper, bed extension option for a maximum workpiece length of 42″, two tool rests (6″ and 12″), 4″ face plate for bowl turning, spur drive center, heavy duty tailstock live center, spindle lock with indexing, quick release levers, flexible work light, tool caddy, built-in carrying handles, and it’s certainly worth mentioning the cast iron bed, headstock, tailstock, and tool rest mount (all cast iron). I’m not saying the lathe I opted for is the best by any means, but with everything it offers and a competitive price tag I can definitely say it’s a great deal.
Recently, before purchasing the Turncrafter Commander I had the chance to use a Jet 10″ x 14″ variable speed lathe. The Jet is comparable to the Turncrafter in overall size, but smaller in HP. The particular lathe I used is now made as a 15″, but it’s basically the same lathe. The Jet has a lot of the same features as the Turncrafter Commander as in the cast iron construction, variable speed, #2MT and a bed extension option. The Jet does have a better warranty (5 yrs) and a reputable brand, but it lacks the digital readout for the variable speed control, more hp, a work light, it has less capacity between centers and it’s 1/3 more expensive than the Commander.
Knocking Jet isn’t my intention, they have a great line up of tools and their name can be found in wood shops all around the world. Comparing features and price point is all I’m doing here.
Why two lathes?
You might be asking yourself why the second lathe. Well, for several reasons. The Harbor Freight lathe was my first lathe and I believe it’s a good lathe for anyone to start out on simply because it’s cheap and easy to use. Less than two hundred dollars is what it cost me plus I had a 25% off coupon. HF is known for their “blowout sales” and coupons. Starting out with this lathe allowed me to test the waters if you will. I have used the HF in my shop now for three or four years and it has performed better than expected.
Now that I’m turning more these days and teaching classes in my shop I figured it would be a good time to upgrade. Adding features like the morse taper will provide more opportunities for students to learn about the lathe and to also use different accessories that the HF can’t. I also believe the variable speed will add a level of comfort and safety needed for students to become comfortable starting out. Those are just some of the reasons why I wanted a second lathe. After using the Turncrafter Commander for a while I’m sure there will be desired features that this lathe doesn’t have. Wood turning really is a rabbit hole…
Check out what lathe tools I use: http://www.stoneandsons.net/tools
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