Worth Another Look
Posted on WoodCentral by professional bowl turner Dale Bonertz on 12/17/2015
After researching many lathes, I finally settled on purchasing the Vicmarc VL300. I received my lathe in mid September and I have rough turn and cored around 60 blocks in the 14” to 20” size range. In addition, I have been able to finish turn a few bowls. Following is my review of the lathe.
The first thing I noticed was the thick cast iron bed which will dampen vibration. The mass of the machine was well balanced and easy to move and set in the location where I wanted it in my shop. The adjustable legs made setting the lathe to my height a breeze. When I leveled the lathe it was so close that I bolted it to the floor and then put two shoe box pieces of cardboard between the lathe bed and the base in the back, one in the middle and a few pieces of paper under the head stock, all on the operator side of the lathe. This leveled the lathe front to back and across the ways.
I purchased the short outboard extension with supports underneath the bed extension. This came on the lathe and is very sturdy. After setting the lathe, I checked the alignment of the tail stock on both the inboard and outboard side of the lathe and they were both dead on with the spindle. The tapered bearings in the head stock allows Vicmarc to make the head stock in an ergonomic, rigid and compact design. This allows for ease of working around it on either the inboard or outboard side and yet is very solid. In addition, I can remount the bed extension on the inboard side if I ever need a super long bed for a spindle.
When I turned the main start switch on it was so quite I thought it wasn’t running. I had to look at the RPM readout box to know it was on. I then ran it forward/reverse and at different speeds and was amazed how quite it runs.
There were four concerns folks repetitively brought up during my research so I want to address them individually:
1) “I’ll always be hitting the stop bar” This is something that takes about two bowls to get used to. The bar is located in such a manner that you almost have to be wanting to hit this safety bar to stop the lathe. You can lean on the lathe because it has part of the frame over the stop bar. You will learn to love this feature when turning. I have to use the high side of my knee to use the bar which is very convenient.
2) “I will be hitting the wrong buttons for forward and reverse on the remote box when turning on the opposite side of the lathe” You will figure out really quick that if you use the remote box in the same orientation on both the inboard and outboard side that the forward and reverse switch sequence is the same. I use the box where the wire going into the box is always on the same side of the lathe. So no matter if I am using the inboard side or outboard side the forward button is in the lower right corner and the reverse button is in the upper left corner (I don’t pay much attention to what it says on the switch I pay attention to the box direction). The only things that change with this method are the speed dial and the stop button but they are both so different than the forward/reverse buttons that it is fool proof to use them.
3) “Chucks will unscrew from the other side of the lathe when I turn the lathe on” The mating surface of the spindle face is so precision by Vicmarc that without torqueing down on the chuck I have not had one spin off yet. I usually always have a chuck on both sides since I use both sides back and forth all the time. I don’t need to stop take the piece off, take the fixture off, put another fixture on remount the piece and repeat, I can go back and forth with the bed on both sides of the head stock. I also can utilize the longer bed on the inboard and shorter bed on the outboard and yet maintain the stability of a fixed head lathe. This is faster and more stable than sliding the headstock around like so many lathes yet maintaining all the conveniences of the sliding headstock lathe.
4) “Outboard bed not being sturdy and vibrating” I ordered my lathe and requested from Christian and Vicmarc to add a support under the outboard bed to alleviate this potential problem. They were very accommodating and made one for me in the factory. This support is the ticket. I originally thought I would use the outboard side to rough the exterior of blanks and core on the inboard side. The outboard bed is so sturdy that I rough the exterior on the inboard side and core on the outboard side. When finish turning I will turn the outside of a bowl on the inboard side and then put the bowl in the chuck on the outboard side to finish turn and sand the inside. Then mount the blank back on the inboard side and turn the bottom and sand the outside. So convenient and quick having the two sides set up and ready to use. If I want to use the vacuum chuck, simply unscrew the chuck on the outboard side screw in the Vicmarc vacuum adapter and mount the bowl.
In closing I purchased an extra banjo, tailstock and two swing away so I could have two lathes in one. The cost of the lathe and extras was competitive with any American or foreign made lathe in this class. All of the concerns expressed to me were duly noted however they all proved to be nothing more than folks not having experience on the lathe to see that the concerns are not concerns at all. Working with Woodworkers Emporium and Vicmarc has been hassle free and a true delight. The VL300 lathe is worth another look if you are considering a lathe in this class.