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: Variable, 500-3,900 rpm.
Capacities: 10" swing, 15" between centers.
Weight: 70 pounds.
Optional accessories: 23" bed extension; lathe stand; lathe stand extension.
Compared with the Rikon, you give up 2" of swing and 3" between centers, but the JML1014-VSI's, shown above, variable-speed control provides the ability to change speeds ever so slightly—especially in the lower range for roughing out a blank. The 1⁄2 -hp motor provided respectable torque when I turned a 9" bowl and 15" spindle, and because there's little vibration, it, too, passed my standing nickel test. Jet's spindle features chamfered threads, and topped the test with virtually no run-out. It also had the best alignment of centers; a spur center with long, thin points that needed only a light tap to seat in a turning blank; and 1-7⁄8 " of quill travel for boring.
However, I did find a few areas for improvement. For example, when boring holes with a drill chuck in the tailstock, the lathe's combined quill lock and keyway sometimes allowed the quill to spin within the tailstock. With three-tiered pulleys, I didn't have to change belts as often; but when I did, it proved difficult because the speed-control box limits access to the lower pulley.
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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.
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Speeds: 500; 840; 1,240; 1,880; 2,630; 3,975 rpm.
Capacities: 12" swing, 20" between centers.
Weight: 101 pounds.
Optional accessories: 28" bed extension, lathe stand, lathe stand extension.
Although Jet's newest mini-lathe costs more than most models, it offers several unique features that make it worth the money. With a robust cast-iron body and powerful 3⁄4 -hp motor, the JWL1220 never balked as I took heavier cuts than anyone really should on a mini-lathe. Although it did vibrate slightly during tough cuts, it purred smoothly for most of my testing workout. It has the same speed selections as Jet's fixed-speed version of the JML1014 (not shown), but the bigger housing makes belt changes much easier.
Because the JWL1220 has the longest mini-lathe bed, Jet includes 6" and 10" toolrests as standard equipment. The larger toolrest allowed me to turn full-length spindles without having to move the toolrest as often as with the 6" version, common to all the other mini-lathes. Other great features on this machine: chamfered spindle threads, minimal spindle run-out, 1-7⁄8 " quill stroke, and built-in tool storage. My only wishes: I'd love to see a longer neck on the lamp.
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