One of my first "loves" of woodworking is creating with the lathe. Somewhat of a cross between pottery and carving, lathe work is very satisfying. My love for the lathe, unfortunately, was not coupled with any great talent. Trying to create four identical legs for a table has always been a challenge. So, when projects demanded some identical turned pieces, I started looking around at lathe duplicators.
Several configurations of duplicators are available, and the range of prices are anywhere from a hundred dollars for a base model, to professional models reaching over a thousand. My local saw shop recommended I take a look at the Vega Lathe Duplicator. I approached the company and asked for the opportunity to test their tool. Would the Vega Duplicator stand up to the challenge of This Old Workshop's Workout? I waited with anticipation to find out.
The duplicator arrived unassembled and included an instructional video. My first step was to watch the video and see what Vega themselves had to say about the machine. Although the entertainment quality of the video was lacking, the demonstrative and educational content was solid.
Next, I assembled the Duplicator and mounted it on our Jet lathe, following the steps to position it straight and true. Getting the duplicator set in place correctly was the most crucial step. If the duplicator was off even a fraction of an inch, it would surely reflect upon the finished work.
I then created a few templates from some lexan plastic purchased from our local plastics shop. One has the option to work from templates or even from a prototype piece. I created patterns for a table leg , an cradle-leg upright, and a couple of different posts and knobs. I tried maple, poplar and oak. Mounting the wood, I set the cut depth and stops as explained in the manual and proceeded to send the shavings flying. I worked the cutter into the wood slowly at first, a little intimidated by the whole apparatus. But soon, I was cranking the handles across the wood like a pro. The duplicator created beautiful copies each time. The accuracy of the turning was impressive, even down the the small nick I put into the plastic when I hit it against the table, showing me that the parts you cut are only as perfect as the template!
When I first accepted the challenge of testing out a lathe duplicator, I wondered if it would completely remove the artistry of lathe work. Well, to a degree it might detract from the "craft" of the lathe, but in many ways the hand on the tool is still in charge and remains in control of the "artistry". The Vega 36" Pro Duplicator sells for around $550, the 48" model at around $645, and there is also a lower priced "utility" model designed for hobby and light-duty turning that sells for around $299. Prices will vary depending on the vendor. The Pro models have several accessories available such as a mount for a router for producing elaborate spiral cutting, and a slender turning accessory that alleviates the problem of long slender turnings 'whipping' when being turned.
Some outstanding features of the Vega Duplicator:
RIGIDITY - Thoughtful design has created an extremely rigid machine which holds the cutter firmly in place to allow rapid stock removal with minimum vibration.
DURABILITY - All potential wear points use low friction bearing materials with easily adjustable take-ups. This combination yields a machine well suited to serious production turning. It is not uncommon for these duplicators to run 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year…or several years, with virtually zero maintenance.
EASE OF OPERATION - All Duplicator Controls are located for fast and easy operation. The Duplicator Cutter may be controlled by hand, by adjustable spring tension or a combination of the two. Micro adjustment is provided by for extreme control in sizing the turning. (Very important for sizing tenons).
FAST SET UP - After an initial set up of 1/2 hour, subsequent set ups take just minutes. The Duplicator can be quickly removed by loosening two (2) bolts for doing hand turning (or the Duplicator can be mounted on the rear of the lathe allowing hand turning from the front). A video Tape explaining the set up and use is included with each Vega Duplicator. All necessary mounting hardware is included.
Although not every shop would need a duplicator, and the investment required might turn off the casual lathe user, if you plan on creating turnings that require multiple copies, The Vega duplicator is the right tool for the job. Well built, solid durability and ease of use all combine to make this an excellent addition to your shop.