I'm not sure if this should be posted in "New Tools" or "Turning Tools Questions and Show and Tell". I'll let the moderators decide and if they want to move it I'll find out later. As many of you know I got a new lathe last over a year ago and I didn't want to post anything specific about it until I had worked on it for an extended period of time. The report is very long, I have no homepage to post it to and this forum doesn't allow Document attachments larger than 19.5 KB. Therefore, I decide to serialize it. I will break it up into four or five posts over the next week or so. It is not so much a review as it is about my experience and how I came to choose the lathe I did. Here goes:
It’s almost two years ago, I am on my way to Kansas City and the annual symposium of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW) as a Mini Max Representative. I was sent to man the booth and to lure all who would listen into the lair of the great bandsaw, and then convince them why a Mini Max goes best with their eyes. I had made sure it was me who attended this event instead of any one of my colleagues, mind you, more interested in seeing and purchasing a new lathe than selling bandsaws, however closely the two are tied. For those who know me they understand the bandsaw is my favorite tool, after all, but that year at that event my tool lust was spinning woods not blades. I had been saving for over a year to make this purchase, and to help toward that end, my wife was instructed to hide all woodworking catalogues from me, I was not allowed to enter an ACE, Home Depot or Lowes during that year, and I could only visit Texas Kiln Products exactly twice – a man needs his wood after all. If anything was deemed necessary for the house or shop I sent her. Somehow at the end of the year, even with cheating (is it really possible for a man to stay out of a home center for a whole year?), I had managed to amass enough dough to be a player at the AAW Symposium 2005 and it was time to let that cash fall through the hole that had burned in my pocket and slip into a nice show deal.
The lathe I really wanted was made by Shadetree Engineering, but he wasn’t selling and had told me he didn’t want to make another one – those of you from South Texas should know who and what I am talking about, James Johnson and his big orange original - http://s115.photobucket.com/albums/n...GoToSchool.jpg. A year earlier I was simply looking to replace my grandfather’s old Delta/Rockwell 1/2 horsepower spindle special built in 1952. It had served me well for years in my cabinet shop for when something turned was incorporated into a design. I had also made a bowl here and there when time allowed, but I was too busy humping boxes to feed the shop. Can’t say I ever gave the lathe much thought. It was just another ancillary tool in the shop to be dusted off when needed, not a centerpiece by any stretch. Of course, I used to think that way about a bandsaw, too, so I should have known better. When I moved from Miami to Austin I decided not to bring the old lathe with me and gave it to a friend who was enamored with it and would put it to much more frequent use, and she is still enjoying it to this day. I knew I wanted to get into more than the occasional spindles, so I figured – new shop, new lathe. By the time I got on that plane to KC there it was down to three finalists in the Mister Lathe contest.
When I first got to Austin the early contender was the Nova 3000 DVR. I had seen it, worked on it and was sure it would serve my needs, and then some. Then I attended a local turners’ club monthly meet/demo and watched the demonstrator make some of the coolest concentric birdhouses. The avian domiciles were really neat, but it was the lathe that sucker punched me, a Oneway. Damn! The seed planted, it looked as if my lathe was going to be larger than anticipated and the decision would get a bit more involved and expensive than I initially budgeted. Of course, if I looked around my shop at the other most excellent tools I had chosen over the years, from the beautiful hand planes to my battleship of a combo, any thing less would have felt out of place.
From that point forward I pretty much spent every spare moment reading book after book, watching DVD’s, with my trackball pointing me to the manufacturers’ websites, memorizing lathes and tools and specs, not to mention lurking in several online forums for help and substantive comments. When it comes to research, though, nothing beats an eyes and hands on inspection with a test run. I have been on the store side of the sales counter for several years now and have grown leery of internet comments and magazine reviews on any other equipment I am not familiar with, having witnessed first hand so many well meaning folks fill the knowledge base with misinformation time and again, both little and big mistakes about how things are put together, materials used, best practices, company stalwartness, etc., all believing their truths to be fact and sharing them with the best of intensions in voices of authority. And that is not even including the serious fanatics of certain brands out there and their subsequent, and mostly, anti-blather, often bordering on downright nasty propaganda of the “Cadillac vs. Lincoln Debates”. So called, because I can’t help but be reminded of the Bar Association clambakes my father would take me to as a kid. Invariably at some point, many men would vociferously argue which brand of luxury vehicle was the best, using such wonderful and near-cogent arguments filled with terms like, “crap, junk, lousy, you are wrong, awesome, I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those, that company shucks clams, etc...” Naturally, their language had many more colors than I am alluding to here. For the most part it seemed to boil down to, “I picked this one so it must be the best.” Needless to say, I find it very difficult to make an informed decision solely from reviews and the Internet, but I do find it useful for gleaning certain generalities and being pointed in directions I may not have thought of for further investigation. I think all opinions need to be passed through sifters and sieves until you get to the few grams of gold you hold onto. Hopefully, you will do the same with my opinions as I offer them to you.
After my initial thoughts on lathe size were shattered I had to come up with the new parameters I was going to focus on. I knew I didn’t want or need the biggest lathe out there, but I also figured I wanted a lot more than what I had before. The Oneway 2036 with 2 horses seemed a nice fit so this was the benchmark, specs wise, that I used to measure others. I also knew I wanted more than 36” between centers so I counted on adding their 17” bed extension, effectively giving me 53” between centers. For the Vicmarc I was focused on the VL200 longbed, and Stubby only had the S750 at that time, with some talk about the S1000 (available now), but the S750 was the one for me either way. You may be wondering why I wasn’t considering the Mini Max T124 lathe since I worked for the company at that time. I did, and as nice as it was for duplicating and spindle work, I really wanted something more versatile with electronic variable speed and the ability to go outboard. I would also like it noted here that there are so many other lathes out there I never seriously looked at due to time constraints, strong personal feelings about origin of manufacture and situational anomalies. As a general rule I find it easier narrowing things down some to avoid being overwhelmed by too many stats and specs. Three contenders seemed the perfect number, and after about a month of digging about and talking to the slew of avid turners I knew… well… then there were three – Oneway, Vicmarc, and Stubby.
During the remainder of that year I read some more and talked and read even more and looked. I visited shops with Stubbys and some with Vicmarcs. Everyone had high praise for their respective machines, and rightfully so. I can honestly say I didn’t have a negative experience trying any of them out, but how hard is it to have a bad time on a lathe? The bugaboo was, I personally knew several more owners of Oneways, and I must admit, due to an overwhelming presence in the US market and my greater familiarity with their product, I more than likely would have purchased a Oneway if I weren’t planning on attending the symposium. Hype and marketing count. Add to that their excellent reputation and it seemed I couldn’t help but lean one way for what I was looking for. I am still in the habit of going to their informative and well stocked website on a regular basis, and I have several of their other products. Suffice it to say, I was heading to Kansas City nearly poised to get a show special on a Oneway, but also determined to take one last walk around the candy store to see if Vicmarc or Stubby had any last second surprises in store for me.