Lathe Opinions/Reviews

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I'm currently using PSI Penpal, and while I am happy with it(for the most part), I'm thinking it's time for an upgrade.
So, I'm considering the PSI commander. Variable speed with the dial (drawing a blank on proper terminology) is a plus.
I don't have a drill press, and as mentioned in a previous post, doing it right on the lathe would be ideal, so of course that's taken into consideration for this lathe as well.
I'll use the Penpal for the sanding and finishing, since I can dial it down to slower than the 500rpm of the Commanders minimum.
I started to watch videos on it, but does anyone here have any honest reviews and opinions, pros and cons? It'll be a few weeks yet since i'll be taking my time and waiting for the showroom to finally open after their relocation (plus, I don't trust UPS handling it safely and without damage).
Thanks in advance!
 
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I want to add, I was considering the Wen 3421, but I'm noticing the tool rest will sit too high at it lowest setting, so my tools won't hit a pen blank on center as recommended.
 

TDahl

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Dec 11, 2019
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Brentwood
I have only used the Commander for several years now and like it. The speed control is definitely a nice feature. I'm sure there are probably better lathes on the market, but most of the reviews I read indicated it was the best value at the time.
 

monophoto

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Mar 13, 2010
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Saratoga Springs, NY
I've had the 12" Commander for around 8 years and have been very pleased with it.

I previously had a small ShopFox starter lathe - it was OK for what it was, but it was small and underpowered relative to the direction my interests had taken. I identified a number of options to consider, created a spreadsheet in which I captured the critical information on each candidate, and made my selection.

One of the other candidates on my list was the Nova Comet. In terms of capability as a lathe, it was a viable contender, but I eventually opted for the Turncrafter based on a number of factors including motor horsepower. Recently, there has been a thread on this board in which a user has reported great difficulty replacing the drive belt on his Comet, something that I did not consider in my evaluation. Fortunately, replacing the drive belt on a Turncrafter Commander is a piece of cake - it can be done in less than a minute without disassembling the entire headstock. Incidentally, PSI sells replacement belts (not in the catalog - you have to call them), but there are belt supply companies who sell replacements for less. Belts wear out and they aren't expensive, so its prudent to keep a few on hand.

The 12" Turncrafter weighs in at 106 pounds. It ships in two boxes, so the UPS dude had to use a dolly to get it to the door. I intercepted him and got him to deliver it to the basement bulkhead door, from where I was able to muscle it down the steps and into the shop. Mine arrived undamaged, but I've heard stories of people finding broken parts due to misshandling in shipment. But the fact that it is so heavy means that the trained monkeys can't just throw it around.

The Turncrafter is made in China, and the same lathe is available from other suppliers with a different name and paint color. It does have its quirks - but so does every other lathe, so which ever you choose, you just have to learn its peculiarities and factor them into your work flow.
 

henry1164

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Jan 3, 2020
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195
Location
Webster, NY
To be clear i only turn pens and bottle stoppers so I have a limited purpose in a lathe. My first lathe (if you can call it that) was a very small Chinese device that did have some speed control - 1500 to 7000 RPM - and I had to do some modifications to make it work well for me. The price was right (about $100 total investment) and I made over 100 pens and a few bottle stoppers. My wife saw how much I had to go through with this device to get a pen turned so she opted to buy me a Commander 12 for Christmas. The rest will be history now as the Commander 12 will do everything I need to do with minimal effort and a precision that is at or above my level. I highly recommend the Commander 12 for pen turning and other small projects.
 

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Crashmph

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Dec 15, 2008
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It really depends on your budget and what you want to turn now and in the future. I saved up for a a couple of years to get the lathe I really wanted, a Laguna Revo 12/16. When it came time to get the lathe, I started looking at a bigger better lathe. I eventually ended up with a Harvey T40. It is a substantial lathe that is bigger than most would use for pens, but I also want to turn larger bowls and vases. The T40 is a 220v lathe that is not exactly cheap. Took me over two years of squirreling away money from pen sales to get it. Its servo motor is so quiet it is hardly even noticeable at 3000rpm. Extreme precision with dead on accuracy.

Harvey T40 weblink

Harvey T40.png


Accuracy with no wiggle, right out of the box.
IMG_2028.jpeg
 
Joined
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Thanks everyone! Probably going with the Commander. The more feedback and videos Ive watched have certainly nudged me towards it. I don't plan on anything more than pens, the occasional ring, and maybe a small bowl(maybe being the operative word lol). Of course i'll do some keychains and smaller stuff like that, but pens will be my main focus.
 

Borg_B_Borg

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Nov 4, 2005
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155
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Castro Valley, CA, USA.
It really depends on your budget and what you want to turn now and in the future. I saved up for a a couple of years to get the lathe I really wanted, a Laguna Revo 12/16. When it came time to get the lathe, I started looking at a bigger better lathe. I eventually ended up with a Harvey T40. It is a substantial lathe that is bigger than most would use for pens, but I also want to turn larger bowls and vases. The T40 is a 220v lathe that is not exactly cheap. Took me over two years of squirreling away money from pen sales to get it. Its servo motor is so quiet it is hardly even noticeable at 3000rpm. Extreme precision with dead on accuracy.

Harvey T40 weblink

View attachment 304531

Accuracy with no wiggle, right out of the box.
View attachment 304532
Harvey's video on this T40 lathe touts a 0.001" tolerance in headstock/tailstock alignment, but the picture you posted shows a very slight but clearly noticeable mis-alignment that is probably much larger than 0.001". I wonder what could be causing that.
 

Crashmph

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Dec 15, 2008
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Harvey's video on this T40 lathe touts a 0.001" tolerance in headstock/tailstock alignment, but the picture you posted shows a very slight but clearly noticeable mis-alignment that is probably much larger than 0.001". I wonder what could be causing that.
Could be the the dirty dead center or the eight year old live center. Or could just be my terrible cell phone picture.
 

monophoto

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Mar 13, 2010
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Saratoga Springs, NY
Update:

My 12" Turncrafter Commander is approaching 9 years old. As previously posted, I've been very pleased with this lathe - in a perfect world, I would want a larger machine, but given the limited shop space I have, this lathe suits my needs ideally.

Other than the usual maintenance items (cleaning and polishing the bedways, cleaning the tailstock ram, and cleaning the tool rest), the only other maintenance items I have had have been to purchase a new tool rest after the original 6" rest broke (the post snapped when I had a catch, something that I also had happen on a previous lathe) and replacing the belt. I know that I have some broken teeth on the indexing wheel (it's plastic and isn't intended to be used as a spindle lock - DAMHIKT).

Recently, however, the lathe stopped running altogether. I fairly quickly determined that there was a problem with the variable speed control box, so I called PSI and spoke with Technical Support. Their first reaction was to think that the problem was that the electrolytic capacitor that smooths the output DC had aged and failed - that's a common problem with any tool that achieves variable speed using variable voltage DC. I ordered a replacement box and it arrived in a few days - CHEERS to PSI for fast service.

However, when I took the failed box off the lathe and opened it, I found that the failure was something unexpected - one of the connections to the DC output was broken. The lug on the IEC type C-13 receptacle had broken at the point where it entered the slip-on crimped fitting on the wire connecting it to the circuit board. The curious aspect of this failure is that the crimped connections on all of the connections are covered with insulating plastic sleeves, but the sleeve on the broken connection was missing and the crimped connection on the broken pole appears to be corroded. My suspicion is that the corrosion caused a poor electrical connection and a localized hot spot that melted the plastic boot - there is evidence of melted plastic on the bottom of the box directly below that connection.

In theory, it would be a simple matter to replace the C-13 receptacle and crimped connector, and to put a bit of heat-shrink tubing over the resulting connection. In practice, however, that project would almost certainly be more complicated, while replacing the entire speed control box was a fairly simple fix.

But the point I wanted to make is that while PSI can supply a replacement speed control box for this nine-year old lathe, the replacement box is different (and I think better than the original) in some interesting respects:
1. The old box supplied power to the work light on the headstock through a couple of conductors included in the multi-core speed control cable. The new box has a separate output for the light, and it is necessary to change the wiring to the light in the headstock. This isn't really a big deal, and instructions were provided
2. The overload and reset button has been moved from the front panel to the left side of the control box.
3. The replacement box has a different, and in my opinion, far superior provision for cooling. The power thyrister is mounted on a hefty aluminum heat sink. On the old box, there are openings in both the bottom and top of the box to allow air to circulate over the fins on that heat sink; however, it is possible for dust to infiltrate the box through those openings and find its way around the heat sink and into the electronics. The circuit board is suspended from the top of the box when it is mounted on the lathe, but dust can still get in the box even though it normally accumulates harmlessly on the bottom of the box. On the new box, the finned portion of the heat sink protrudes through an opening on the side of the plastic box, and is protected by a ventilated plastic shroud, so it is less likely that dust will get into the box itself. Someone obviously did some serious thinking about cooling and dust control when they redesigned the box.
4. There still is no reversing switch on the PSI Turncrafter - even though King Canada appears to offer the same lathe (painted blue rather than red) with a reversing switch. Again, not a big deal - it's a simple matter to add an external reversing switch.
5. The provisions for 'tweaking' the speed range (an undocumented feature of this lathe) are essentially unchanged.

So not only do I continue to consider the Turncrafter Commander to be a great lathe, I think the latest enhancements make it even better.
 
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