Wise Buys: Mini-Lathes
Why buy? If you'd like to try your hand at woodturning, a mini-lathe proves the perfect solution. Sure, they're great for turning pens. But mini-lathes also excel at other tasks. You can turn bowls, platters, hollow vessels, bottle stoppers, drawer pulls, chair spindles, and table legs -- all for about half the price or less of the cheapest mid-size lathe. We define a mini-lathe as any benchtop lathe with 20" or less capacity between centers and 12" or less of swing (the largest diameter workpiece you can turn on the lathe). These lathes typically have 1/2-hp motors, and most feature optional bed extensions for turning longer spindles. WOOD magazine turning expert Brian Simmons tested all the models.
Speeds: 430; 810; 1,230; 1,810; 2,670; 3,900 rpm.
Capacities: 12" swing, 18" between centers.
Weight: 86 pounds.
Optional accessories: 24" bed extension, lathe stand, lathe stand extension.
Ssshhhhh! Don't tell the folks at Rikon, but they're selling a Cadillac for the price of a Chevy! Rikon's model 70-100 has it all: torque, capacity, low price, and lots of great features. One of only three 12" mini-lathes I found, the 70-100 handles heavy cuts without vibrating -- I was able to stand a nickel on the lathe bed while turning. With two speeds under 1,000 rpm, it provides lots of torque in the range needed for roughing out stock. In fact, its 1/2-hp motor, ribbed belt, and step pulleys delivered so much torque at the slowest speed, I could not stall it or make the belt slip when I plowed my gouge into a 9" cherry bowl blank.
Chucks and faceplates mount easily onto the spindle, thanks to its chamfered threads. The tailstock features a quill lock separate from the keyway, which prevents the quill from spinning in the tailstock. A 2-1/2" quill stroke delivers plenty of travel for boring holes. And it has onboard tool storage, a 12-point indexing headstock, and plenty of room for super-simple belt changing.
To learn more: