Harbor Freight Lathe
by Michael Panfeld


LatheI have had a mixed bag of experiences with Harbor Freight, but this lathe (Item # 34706) is one item I am very happy with. However, let me preface this review by noting that I am a self- taught, novice turner.

The package arrived with some damage to the box (not HF's fault), but was otherwise well-packed. Contrary to the gray photo in HF's catalog, the unit was painted a pale green color. Assembly went fairly quickly and the instructions were easy enough to follow. Assembly consists mainly of assembling the stand and then bolting on the bed and tail stock. The headstock assembly, including the motor, pulleys, speed control, and electricals were already assembled and bolted to the bed. I later added casters to make it mobile and a table board inside the middle of the stand to store lathe tools. There are holes in the bottom of the legs and additional cross braces that facilitate both of these modifications.

I was very surprised at the features and specs on this lathe that were not mention in the catalog copy. The main bed, outboard bed, tool rest assembly, and the tailstock are all cast iron. The castings are medium-heavy, well-ground and evenly painted. The headstock is cast iron with a stamped steel housing. The stand also is stamped steel. All handles, except the wheel on the tailstock (which is plastic), are metal. Both the head and the tail stock have a #2 Morse taper. The headstock has the common 1" x 8 RH threading. The unit comes with a 12" tool rest, 6" faceplate, a push rod for assisting in removal of various centers, a spur center, and a ball bearing live center. Unbelievably, the live center has a removable/replaceable tip, that when removed, leaves a bull nose center. Both the head and tail stocks are through-bored 3/8" for drilling and/or center removal. Although the catalog lists this as a 12" by 36" lathe, I could only manage about 35.5" between the centers. The motor is TEFC 3/4 HP. I only looked at one of the headstock bearings; which is sealed rather than the cheaper shielded bearings. The bearing on the live center is shielded though.

I compared this lathe to the Delta and the Jet, (both priced higher) with the following results. The Jet and HF units are almost identical on first glance. The HF lathe is made in China versus Taiwan for the Jet and Delta (at least the one I looked at!), but it is well made. The beds are flat and are ribbed for additional support, but have heavy grinding marks. The Jet lathe had one or two more ribs. All use the same variable pulley system (called a "Roberts drive" I believe) for varying speeds. Speed changes were easily made and the handle has locking detents at specific speeds, but you can leave it in-between speeds too. The Jet had a greater range of speeds on both ends, whereas the Delta had one more lower speed but lacked the two highest speeds found on the HF lathe. Both have metal headstock housings, whereas the Delta had a plastic housing. Both the Jet and the HF have cast iron outboard beds to assist in bowl turning and all three have headstocks that swivel and lock in various positions.

With the money I saved over more popular brand names, I bought a high-quality chuck and a few lathe tools. I also bought the HSS set of lathe tools that HF offers ($39). These are thick steel tools. I turned on the machine and it ran smoothly with minimal vibration on the beds as felt through my hands. I tried the "nickel test" and the nickel did not even vibrate. I measured the runout at .0025" using a dial indicator (albeit, the measurement was taken on the outside of my Super Nova chuck, not of the spindle, so it might be less). My only complaint is that the ratchet handle that locks down the tool rest (not the tool rest assembly) was made of cheap pot metal and quickly wore out. Luckily, the threads were 3/8" so I simply replaced it with a threaded phenolic "jig" knob. I think this is a great lathe for the $$$. It usually lists for $269.99; however, it frequently goes on sale for $249.99 (delivered!). All in all, its no Poolewood or Oneway, but I think this would make a great lathe for novice to intermediate turners.


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© 2003 by Ellis Walentine by special arrangement with Wayne Miller of Badger Pond. All rights reserved.
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