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Wise Buys: Mini-Lathes

Jet JML1014-VSI
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,

Rikon 70-100

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.

Editor test-drive:
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:
877-884-5167; rikontools.com

Jet JML1014-VSI

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.

Editor test-drive:
Compared with the Rikon, you give up 2" of swing and 3" between centers, but the JML1014-VSI's 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.

To learn more:
888-804-7129; jettools.com

Jet JWL1220

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.

Editor test-drive:
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.

To learn more:
888-804-7129; jettools.com

Jet JWL1220

Jet JML1014-VSI
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