Max Bainbridge from Forest + Found is back to review the Axminster AT350WL Woodturning Lathe. From first receiving the machine to putting it through its paces; Max tells us more about why this lathe is ideal for the work he does and what he likes most about it.
The AT350WL Woodturning Lathe Review
Earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to review the Axminster AT350WL. My main motivation for wanting to work with Axminster on reviewing this particular lathe was its size and portability. As a sculptor working in wood, most of the work I make is turned on a wood lathe. However, in the past couple of years, I have started to travel a lot for work, and recently I have been looking for something that I can easily take with me on artist residencies. I needed something that would allow me to work on site in different locations, without compromising the scale or ambition of my work. Having done some research, the Axminster AT350WL fit the bill perfectly.
First impressions and set-up
I took delivery of the lathe whilst on an artist residency in Norfolk. I arranged with Axminster to ship it directly to the residency address so it was waiting for me when I arrived. As this was the intended context for my future use of the lathe, I thought I would write this review from the initial set up on site, and trial run of using it away from my studio in London.
The first thing that struck me when unboxing the lathe was the size of it. It was more compact than I was expecting. At only 83cm in length, it made it easy to lift out of the box and place onto the workbench. The lathe comes with clear instructions and a separate printout. This included detailed images making the assembly a quick and easy process. I had everything attached and bolted ready to go in under 15 minutes. Assembling the lathe right out of the box gave me the opportunity to look over each component and inspect the quality. The casting of the lathe bed is excellent and the machined components were all of a high standard.
It became clear straight away that this flexibility would make for more efficient working
After the lathe was fully assembled I wanted to test it out straight away. Having only just arrived where I would be working I hadn’t had a chance to prepare any wood for turning; so I took a piece of birch from the firewood stack and mounted it between centres. I immediately felt right at home. The lathe I use on a daily basis is a JET 1642 which is a much larger, more powerful lathe; however, going from that to this one felt totally natural. It took no time at all to get used to the smaller tool rest and handles on the banjo and tailstock.
The first real difference was having the ability to position the speed control wherever I wanted. It has in-built magnets on the rear meaning you can position it on any part of the lathe bed as well as on the workbench. It became clear straight away that this flexibility would make for more efficient working. Giving me quicker control over the speed of the workpiece and not having to constantly change my position to reach a fixed speed control.
The second most notable feature was how much power the lathe had. The 560w motor delivers massive amounts of torque that, quite honestly, I was amazed by. When I started the lathe for the first time and made the initial cut with a roughing gouge, I was quite tentative. Making a light pass with the tool to test the motor’s ability, within thirty seconds I was making hard aggressive cuts into seasoned wood, removing waste material as if it wasn’t there. The power was maintained all the way through the cut without getting bogged down once.
Getting to work
Another reason for choosing this particular lathe was the swing over the bed. Having the ability to turn at a diameter of 14-inches was very appealing. I tend to work on larger scale pieces and a lathe of this compact size with the capability of producing up to 14-inch bowls and vessels would be a great addition to my practice. I started the next day by mounting a 12-inch red oak bowl blank cut from relatively green wood that was slightly out of round – a usual choice of material for my work. The adjustable rubber feet on the lathe made it easy to get level. In addition, weighing 41 kilograms meant it sat stable and firmly grounded on the workbench.
Throughout the process of turning the red oak bowl, the lathe delivered plenty of power. At lower RPM it gave me plenty of torque, meaning I could remove waste material rapidly, and at much faster speeds it allowed me to shape and refine the bowls profile quickly and accurately. The digital LED display on the speed control made it easy to see the exact spindle speed as I worked.
I used the Axminster Evolution SK114 chuck on the lathe, which is a chuck that I use every day on my larger machines. It didn’t feel too big or cumbersome on the AT350WL, rather it added to the sturdy feel and performed perfectly. I was really pleased to find that I could use my existing chucks and faceplates as it meant I had a versatile range of accessories to add to the original faceplate, drive centre and knock out bar that were supplied in the box.
Having confidence in the tools and machinery I work with is really important
After giving the lathe its first run with a bowl, I wanted to try out its capabilities turning a hollow vessel. I started this piece of seasoned 12-inch x 8-inch sweet chestnut between centres. The tailstock is perfectly aligned with the drive centre and again I was impressed at the strength and support that it gave. The locking handles on the tailstock felt secure and when locked in position there was no movement or play.
Once I had the outside profile refined, I gripped the workpiece with the evolution chuck and began to hollow the vessel. Initially, I started slowly to see how the lathe would cope with the weight of the vessel, and the level of vibration it would cause. Again, I was very pleased with how it coped. There was very minimal vibration and once I had removed a good amount of material from the inside, I could turn the speed up and hollow the rest of the vessel at around 750rpm. It ran smoothly with no real vibration at all. This meant I could go back and refine the shape of the rim.
Having confidence in the tools and machinery I work with is really important. It allows me to concentrate and focus on the work I am making and not have to constantly worry that I am pushing the lathe to its limits. At points when working on this particular piece, I had to remind myself that I was working on such a small compact machine, as I was so impressed with how it handled it.
The carry handles that come with the lathe were really easy to install and completely changed its portability. Throughout the week I was able to move it by hand from one location in the workshop to another without the need of someone else to help me lift it. At the end of the residency, I was able to transport it easily in the boot of my car as it is so compact and easy to carry. For ease of storage and transportation, the power cord can be wound neatly round pegs on the back of the lathe bed. As well as the speed control which you can attach to the flat of the bed for transport.
Increasing its flexibility
After spending a week using the lathe mounted on a workbench I realised that in the future, it would be useful to increase its flexibility by investing in the separate stand. This would allow me to work in a location that didn’t necessarily have a stable platform to set it on. I was really pleased that I made the decision to buy this additional add-on as it has given me total independence from place to place, regardless of its pre-existing facilities.
The stand itself was very easy to assemble and is perfectly balanced giving maximum stability while remaining compact and portable. It has two fixed caster wheels so you can move the lathe around the workshop when fixed to the stand. The threaded adjustable feet, also allow you to get the bed perfectly level on uneven floors. In addition, there are holes set into the supporting crossbar to place your turning tools when not in use.
All of these features combine to create a really portable compact lathe set-up that has really changed the way I approach travelling for work. Having the ability to put everything in the boot of the car has given my practice new flexibility, opening up a far greater range of opportunities both nationally and within Europe.
As an artist, I am always on the lookout for new equipment and tools that will push my practice forward; this machine does exactly that. I have been so impressed with its performance that it has surpassed my expectations. The versatility, quality and power that this compact lathe delivers makes it a class leader in my opinion. It handled everything I asked it to do and more. Plus, with the addition of the stand, it makes for a truly portable turning system without compromise on the finish and quality of work. I would recommend this to both the professional woodturner and enthusiast alike. Whether you are interested in expanding an already kitted out workshop or looking for a compact starter lathe for a small space, this is fantastic value for money.
Want to read more?
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about what Max had to say about the AT350WL Woodturning Lathe and why it suits his work. For more great reviews, why not have a look at what Atelier Cabinet Makers had to say about the AT310SPT Spiral Planer Thicknesser and why they opted for this Trade machine in their workshop. Or take a look at another review Max did of the Woodcut Max3 Bowlsaver; where he puts the unique bowl turning tool into action and tells us more about why he’ll be using it in his workshop for future years to come.
The Makers behind Forest + Found
Max produces sculptural and wall based works that look at the landscape as a site of exchange between materials and the makers. Read our recent Meet the Maker where we went to meet Max in his studio in London to find out more about how he got started and what influences his work.