For the serious woodturner, a Powermatic wood lathe is a great choice. Yes, the price of admission is a step up from the biggest and best of the Jet or Nova woodworking lathes, but a Powermatic lathe is really in a different class than the others. It is much heavier and has more capacity than just about anything else you can find for the money.
In comparison to other woodworking lathes with similar capabilities and quality, the Powermatics are actually a bargain! Everything about them is heavy-duty. They get excellent reviews, and have a ton of rabid fans. Powermatic tools are very well thought of in the woodworking community, and their customer service gets high marks, too.
There are two Powermatic wood lathe models currently available, the 3520B and the 4224.
The Powermatic 3520B has a 20" swing over the bed, with a 16" advertised swing over the toolrest (the owners manual actually says 17"). It is listed as having a 34-1/2" distance between centers, although several owners have said it is actually a few inches less than that unless you have the tailstock hanging over the end of the bed. There are two speed ranges; 50-1200 RPM with the belt on the low speed pulleys, and 125-3000 RPM with the belt on the high speed pulleys.
The 3520B Powermatic wood lathe has a digital speed readout, and the 2 HP motor is reversible. It has a sliding headstock which allows you to move the headstock to the far right end of the lathe for outboard turning.
There is an optional 18" bed extension that can be mounted on the end of the lathe, positioned 9" lower than the bed. This allows you to turn larger bowls and such, while still having a place to mount a toolrest. You can also get a height extension for the optional toolrest, a 50" bed extension, and a 26" toolrest.
There are 48 indexing positions on the Powermatic 3520B, and it has a self-ejecting tailstock with 4-1/2" of ram travel. It comes with a 14" toolrest, a safety shield to deflect any large fragments should the workpiece explode on you, and brackets/mounts for a comparator. The comparator enables you to mount a finished spindle that is closely aligned with your workpiece so that you can make a precise copy of the finished spindle.
Reviews on the 3520B Powermatic wood lathe are great overall. The "Mustard Monster" as it is affectionately called has a bunch of rabid fans in the woodturning community. There are very few other woodworking tools out there that have as big of a "following" as the Powermatic 3520B wood lathe. That should tell you something.
Amazon's average rating is "only" 4.3 out of 5 stars with 20 reviews (click to view) at the moment, because of a single 1-star review, and two non-owners complaining that the price jumped so they didn't buy it! If you throw out the one-star ratings from people that didn't buy it, the REAL average is 4.7 stars.
The negative review of this Powermatic lathe is given by an owner is unhappy with the size of the faceplate that comes with the lathe, and his inverter keeps turning itself off. He had not yet called the manufacturer for help though, and he may just have a defective part. By the way, that particular owner has posted several other product reviews on Amazon, and all of them are negative, 1-star reviews, for whatever that is worth.
Anyway, aside from the one-star review, the rest of the Powermatic 3520B review listings on Amazon are 4 and 5 star ratings. The previous version, the 3520A, also gets a 4.9 star rating on Amazon after you factor out a poor review of a different model. CPO Tools has two 5 star reviews.
LumberJocks also has two 5-star reviews listed, and at least seven other owners who posted that they love their 3520B Powermatic wood lathe. Various comments that different owners posted are, "... thrilled... favorite tool in the shop... cannot go wrong with it... money well spent... rock solid... love the reversible motor... great customer service... a big lathe bargain if you turn bowls".
Elsewhere, people comment that they love the sliding headstock on the 3520B Powermatic lathe, which allows you to turn bowls on the end of the machine without leaning over (much easier on your back). With a bed extension mounted to the lower set of holes, it gives you a 38" swing capacity! It is quiet, smooth, and the variable speed feature is invaluable.
The Powermatic 3520B won the "Editor's Choice - Best Overall" award in a 2007 comparison test of heavy-duty lathes, and also won Top Pick in their Reader's Ratings. They said it is built like a tank, has plenty of power, and doesn't move around when you begin turning a large, off-balance blank. They also said the optional bolt-on bed extension works beautifully.
However, there are a couple of things to be aware of. Being heavy (well over 600 lbs.) is a big advantage when you are turning, but getting it set up requires some planning and/or some extra bodies to help lift the components. Assembling a Powermatic wood lathe is not a job you want to tackle by yourself! If your shop is in a basement that is only accessible by stairs, that also poses a challenge.
As I mentioned before, several owners commented that the distance between centers is not as large as advertised. One other minor complaint is that it requires metric hex wrenches to assemble it, and a couple of owners didn't have the correct sizes and felt they should have been included.
Really, that is about it as far as common complaints on the 3520B Powermatic lathe. Sure, there are a few owners that had individual issues, but no patterns of common complaints that I could find. The Powermatic 3520B is simply a great quality piece of machinery that performs very well and is a pleasure to use.
Sidenote: If you are new to woodturning or a veteran that is interested in getting more out of your lathe, there are tons of great woodturning books out there. The ones that are recommended most often for beginners on the woodturning forums are Turning Wood with Richard Raffan and The Lathe Book: A Complete Guide to the Machine and Its Accessories by Ernie Conover. I would recommend either of these books as an introduction to woodturning - I have an older edition of Richard Raffan's book and it has been a great resource for me as a beginning woodturner.
If the 3520B lathe just isn't big enough for you, the Powermatic 4224 lathe just might be! It has a 24" swing over the bed and an 18-1/2" swing over the toolrest. The distance between centers is 42", and it has a reversible 3 HP motor with electronic speed control. There are 3 speed ranges: 0 - 900 RPM, 0 - 2000 RPM, and 0 - 3500 RPM. It has a digital speed readout and 24 indexing positions.
The headstock on the 4224 Powermatic wood lathe does not swivel or slide, but outboard turning can be accomplished by removing the handwheel on the headstock and replacing it with a chuck or faceplate. You can get a 20" outboard turning extension to install on the left end of the machine so you have a place to mount a toolrest.
If you ever need to turn an eight foot tall column, just add the optional 65" bed extension to this Powermatic wood lathe and you're good to go! One neat feature is that the power switch has a magnetic base and can be moved to wherever you want it to be at any particular moment.
The 4224 Powermatic wood lathe is not as popular as the 3520B, and there aren't as many reviews available for it. Amazon currently has 8 reviews listed that average 4.6 out of 5 stars, but if you do a little digging on Amazon you can find a 1-star review of the 4224 listed under the 3520A (the previous version of the 3520B lathe). There is also a 5-star review of the Powermatic 4224 lathe on Rockler's website.
I did find a number of owners that commented on the 4224 Powermatic wood lathe in the various forums, and most of them love it. They say the 3 HP motor has enough power to handle anything you can throw at it, and the lathe is extremely heavy and stable. Some comments are, "... I turn just about every day... and would not trade it for any other lathe", "... at nearly 900 lbs. nothing moves this lathe at all. Not even a little", "... there is no arguing that it's the sturdiest lathe on the market", and "... I have owned many lathes, and this is by far the best".
One comment I saw repeatedly is that the Powermatic 4224 is the best lathe you can get for the money. Other woodworking lathes with the same features, capacity and heft are considerably more expensive. One owner says, "... I have turned on other lathes, Oneway, Stubby, VicMarc, Nova, and others. But when you look at the price compared to what you get... the 4224 Powermatic lathe is best machine for the price."
There are a couple of complaints that reared their ugly heads more than once, though. The 1-star reviewer on Amazon had a vibration at a certain RPM that the manufacturer couldn't cure, so they replaced the lathe, and the replacement also had a vibration but at a different RPM. I found a couple of other owners of the 4224 Powermatic wood lathe with similar complaints - it runs smooth most of the time but vibrates only in a certain narrow RPM range.
Several other owners weighed in on the subject though and said that the machine will vibrate if it is not perfectly level, or if the feet don't have equal amounts of weight on them. I have to wonder if the owners with vibration issues were able to cure the problem and never took the time to come back and comment that it was fixed.
The other issue that I found more than once on the 4224 Powermatic wood lathe is that dust will accumulate in the On/Off switch and cause it to fail. One owner commented that he just enclosed the switch in a plastic bag. That prevented the dust from getting in, and still allowed him to easily operate the switch.
Either Powermatic wood lathe is a great choice if you are a professional or a serious hobbyist that needs the capacity they offer. They are great quality machines that are a joy to use, and they fill the gap between the smaller capacity Jet 1642EVS-2 (another fine lathe) and the more expensive OneWay, VicMarc, Robust, and Serious lathes that have similar capacities to the Powermatics.
There is actually a non-commercial, volunteer-run website devoted to the 3520 Powermatic wood lathe, appropriately named The Mustard Monster Site. The website is basically a directory of hundreds of links to information about the Powermatic 3520, with tons of technical information, videos, etc. If you are interested in the 3520B Powermatic wood lathe, it is a great place to go to learn more. You can also visit the Powermatic website get all the in-depth information on Powermatic wood lathes.