No announcement yet.

HF 12x36 lathe

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • HF 12x36 lathe

    I know a number of people have the 9x20 lathe sold by Harbor Fright et al. Anyone have the larger 12" x 36" that would be able to critique it for me? Several people sell what looks like the same machine (minor variations in handles/knobs between some) like Grizzly, Wholesale Tool, etc. but HF is lowest price. Would it make a difference buying the HF version as opposed to Grizzly version in terms of the actual machine (discounting for the moment customer support)?

  • #2
    When purchasing an item such as a lathe where quality is so important, it makes little sense to shop for the cheapest available.

    Harbor Freight is not a beneficient organization dedicated to selling the best quality tools. They are in the business of squeezing the last penny possible from their merchandise.
    Jim H.


    • #3
      There are literally thousands of home shops using the HF 12x36 and it's likeness as their centerpiece.

      There is a yahoo forum dedicated to this lathe, just like the mini's and the 9x20's.

      If you're on a budget, want a new lathe, and do not mind tinkering, polishing, and learning about your lathe from stem to stern, then the HF miight just be for you. If you want to start a business and produce dead nuts stuff right out of the box, and want a return for your investment, or you want to have some braggen' rights and pat-me-on-the-back comments on forums; look elsewhere.


      • #4
        You get what you pay for & caveat emptor

        JCH: I know HF is not selling me top tools for the cheapest price. What I'm hoping for is--possibly after some tweaking, cleaning, etc.--to have a useable machine for HOME shop that I can afford. If Grizzly (or some other importer?) selling the same machine has better customer support then a couple hundred extra dollars is probably worth it. I was looking for input in the machine, not the importer/distributor. Thanks though for the warning.

        Larry: Thanks for that info. I'll see if I can find some of those sites and/or the yahoo forum.

        I am not sold on HF by a long shot. But so far I haven't found an alternative for a similar machine that I can pick up within reasonable distance of home to save the $200+ shipping. A HF outlet is 20 minutes from me. (Or an hour and a half to the next one.) Plus all the others start at least $200 or more higher before adding in the shipping.


        • #5
          As mentioned, there are many, many of these lathes,--- yes, even HFs,--- out there with tickled owners turning out model engines, motorcycle parts, 4 wheeler stuff, etc, etc. I think they are an incredible bargain coming in at around the 2 K mark. There are even some guys making incredibly precision stuff on them, which you'll see over on the yahoo site. I'll admit that they probably arent ready for running production on, but for the backyard home shop machinist wannabe, they are (MINE for sure) a real pleasure.

          I've got the Birmingham version, and having a HF store near, I have looked their version over pretty closely and it is an amazingly close look alike.

          If you havent already found the yahoo 12x36 site heres a link----(the HF model is on the front page)

          If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something........


          • #6
            I can't give you any advice on the lathe. But if you decide to go that route make sure you sign up on the HF website for their special offers. I have been recieving emails with 10-20% off coupons, and lately, flyers with 20% off coupons. They state they are even valid for sale items so you could probably get that lathe for around $1500 if your timing is good.
            Let us know how it works out for you.


            • #7
              About the coupons, just wanted to let you know that the harbor freight *store* website is: That is where you can sign up to get the 10 or 20% coupons.

              The *internet sales* site is The best coupons you can get for the web sales side of the business is usually $5.00 off, plus a free tin snip or something.

              Another option for getting an affordable lathe: I saw a post not so long ago, perhaps even on this forum, where a guy bought a huge Clausing lathe from the 60's that was in rough shape ... spent 2 weeks electrically de-rusting it and repainting it, and ended up with an extremely gorgeous product ... worth many 1000s I'm sure.
              Last edited by montanasoftware; 09-20-2006, 11:39 AM.


              • #8
                12 x 36 lathe

                I have one of the 12 x 36 lathes, purchased from HF. I did have to align this unit after setting it up. I think its a good unit for what I need.

                I like the gap bed and the unit is a gear head. Also you get the quick change gear box for setting threads and feeds. The acme threaded rod is only used when cutting threads. Does not rotate otherwise.

                I bought a BXA Phase II tool holder for it and this works great. You can get the AXA and it would most likely be better, as I have to let the tool holder down to the bottom to use 1/2 tool bits. (Also less money)

                I don't know for sure, but I think the Grizzly comes with the quick change tool post on theirs. (But I think its in the price)

                You might consider a purchase from the catalog if where you are has a sales tax. This would save some on the full price.

                My $.02.

                Good luck on your purchase.


                • #9
                  HF lathes - and similar ones

                  My Enco 12 x 36 has been going strong for 8 or 9 years. Mainly hobby stuff, but its payed for itself several times over with some part time type work. It had a sticky switch, but other than that and replacing a belt once - no problems. I don't know how it would stand up to a production environment, but that's not an issue for me. BTW: I like it even more with my DRO and Phase II QC toolpost.



                  • #10
                    I have the Harbor Freight version, and it has really done pretty well for me. It's been going since 2002, has about 500 hours on it, with really no problems except one motor capacitor that I needed to change. As with a lot of small lathes, the steady rest is really too small to be useful. My biggest bitch would be that the tailstock is pretty wimpy, and more than a little flexible. That said, it has managed to do some things that I really did not think that it would - cut 2-1/4" - 4 1/2TPI threads in stainless comes to mind. Acuracy is OK, it's just that it is a light machine, and is pretty flexible - if you are taking heavy cuts in larger diameters, you will probably have to sneak up on the finished size - it might keep cutting for three passes at the same tool setting if you come in from a heavy cut. I've always been able to get the accuracy that I needed, it is sometimes just a little more work. I do have a larger lathe now, but will still head to the little one at least a third of the time. Good value for money, from my standpoint.


                    • #11
                      I spent a yr in adult ed at a CC machine shop course where the standard lathes were a Taiwan built South Bend 12x36 that functionally was similar to the 12x36 lathes gear/belt types that are sold for $2k to 3k by wide variety of sellers. After spending 3-5hrs/week on this lathe for a year I can't say I notice a significant difference between the $8k SB Taiwan made 12x36 and the HF 12x36 at home (cost $1700, or $1950 with stand and tax). One problem I had was negotiating a steep off camber walk down to the basement and moving something weighing much over 1200# would be a real adventure. There have been the occasional 12x36 Clausings, SB, Logans and one Hendey or similar pop up around here at 12-18mo intervals. Some of these are in the same weight range, but the Hendey would have been a lot more, at prices from $2 to 3.5k so in theory I could have waited and gotten a better perhaps lathe, but for what I do and have learned to do, the HF is more than adequate. One thing I would suggest is to change the wiring in the electrical box so that the contactor coils see 27vac from the transformer instead of 33vac. This is a simple wire swap on the terminal strip below the transformer. My main contactor, the one powered up whenever the green light is on, burned out after 3yrs and looking at the contactor I noted it was rated at 24-28vac coil. HF wants $35 for a new one and took 3wks to send it. The transformer secondary is 0-6v-33v. Switch the contactor power lead from the 0 to the 6v terminal to reduce the voltage the contactor coils see. The motor is fairly high quality for the machine cost, much better than the motors in 3n1s and it would be easily swapped for a 3ph if you wanted as all the machine controls are readily accessed in the box, (unless you mount the lathe against the wall in which case it would be best to move the box to an accessible site).


                      • #12
                        I have the "GMC" gear head,12x36 gap bed, which is similar to the HF lathe with a few improvements. It uses dial operated cams to change gears (a real treat compared to the regular gearbox...) has a jog button, higher quality motor and better spindle bearings. The bed, tailstock, steady and follow rests are the same as the rest of the clones..

                        These machines are "spec" machines with the castings being made in several different plants in China to the same specifications. Obviously the headstock on my machine is quite different that the HF, but other than that all the castings are the same "spec".

                        Contrary to what I've heard on some of the boards, my machine is darned quiet.... I think many guys have the change gears meshed too tight..... the machine will really make a racket if they are... if they're "fitted" properly, the machine is very quiet indeed.

                        My machine is bolted to the concrete floor of the shop, vibration is nill and I can take some pretty large cuts without any chatter or noticable loading of the machine. A follow up pass at the same settings usually only produces a very faint "skim" cut....

                        However, I am using a high quality Aloris QC tool post... and I bought the one that fits the 12-15" lathes instead of the smaller one that goes to 12"... I believe that this gives a stiffer setup for holding the cutting tools...

                        I think a lot of the "flex" some guys are seeing is actually in the tool holders, not the machine.

                        I've used the machine for 6yrs, 4-5 days a week and I have no problem turning out work within .0005". However 95% of what I do doesn't need that kind of accuracy.

                        Most production shops rarely have to hold those tolerances either.

                        Some of the "naysayers" believe any machine has to be of "die maker" quality to be acceptable for any use... BS.


                        • #13
                          I have a HF 12X36 gearhead lathe, and I like it fine. I only paid $1800 for it, made my own stand for $150, have only had a few issues with it. The main one is it leaks oil from the saddle, I am too lazy to fix it, just add oil when it needs it. A good friend has a gunsmithing business and has one and uses it a LOT more than I do, his serves him well. One tip, use 12V light bulbs in the power and on indicators, they will last a lot longer than the 6V bulbs that come installed, and have plenty of light. Got mine from Radio Shack, but can be gotten from auto stores also.


                          • #14
                            Contrary to what you hear about HF machinery, in particular the 12 x 36 lathe, being of lesser quality than equipment sold by Grizzly, Enco, etc, I have found the HF lathe to be at least the equal of other brands. There was nothing of any significance wrong with the machine I purchased almost 4 years ago and it has operated without any real problems all of that time. However, if I were doing it over again I would probably consider the HF 13 x 40 over the 12 x 36 not because of the size difference, but rather the totally enclosed gear box for speed changes. This is a plus because it is probably easier to change speeds and is also less prone to leaking oil. The cost difference between the two lathes is only $100, however you can not pick up the 13 x 40 at their stores. The shipping to places in the lower 48 states is $61.99 which is less that the sales tax you would pay where I live (9%).

                            Just a thought.