Midi or mini lathe

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Blog entry by SethA73 posted 03-18-2018 12:26 PM 882 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A call to all Lumberjocks! I am in need of advice for purchasing my first lathe for pen and small turning with the hope i will be able to turn longer items. I need some tried and true feelings for brand and versatility. Also some beginner tools and advice. Thank you.

5 comments so far

View woodsmithshop's profile


1411 posts in 4319 days

#1 posted 03-18-2018 01:52 PM

buy the best you can afford, the midi size will work for some larger size items.
just do not buy into some of the all in one kits, where you buy all supplies lathe and tools as a starter unit.

-- Smitty!!!

View CO_Goose's profile


206 posts in 2564 days

#2 posted 03-18-2018 05:44 PM

Midi and Mini are just marketing terms. There are truly mini lathes that can only turn pens and other small items. Benchtop lathes that can turn items shorter than 18” and less than 12” in diameter, then freestanding lathes that are much larger and more powerful.
The rule of thumb is that you can turn small items on a large lathe, but you can’t turn large items on a small lathe.

The first thing that you really want in a lathe is variable speed. A lathe that you have to swap belt positions to change speed, can get really tiresome. A variable speed control can let you speed up and slow down with a twist of a knob, very helpful for beginning turners.
A second thing that I would look for is tool-less positioning for the tool rest. The older lathes required a separate wrench to loosen the banjo and tool rest for moving, later models have a lever used to tighten and loosen. You will be constantly moving the toolrest, so this is a must.
A third thing would be to get a solid looking lathe. There are ones on the market that are inexpensive, look cheap, and they are. You will be frustrated with those lathes in short time. Get one with a cast iron bed, not a tube.
The last thing that I would caution is not to “go Cheap” on the lathe itself. The lathe will be the least expensive part of the turning journey, believe it or not, and the extra dollars that you put into it now, will be greatly appreciated later.
I have not mentioned any brands, and that is on purpose. Look at the reviews on LumberJocks for the lathes, and see what people really think about them. Join your local wood turning guild and see if anyone has a lathe for sale. Check on Craigslist or other internet classified ad sites, there will be all sorts of used lathes for sale there as well, some with accessories and turning tools, and other items.

Good Luck and keep us posted.

-- Just making sawdust

View SethA73's profile


14 posts in 1066 days

#3 posted 03-19-2018 02:20 AM

Thanks guys! I appreciate your insight. I’m hoping so done can recommend a benchtop lathe. My budget is around the $500 range. I’ve read so many reviews that I do not know what I’m reading anymore. I’m reaching out to the community for help.

View TechTeacher04's profile


447 posts in 2305 days

#4 posted 03-20-2018 01:32 PM

I was in the same boat, I had a Rikon 70-100 with the bed extension. It worked very well for small bowls, pens and spindle turning. I recently sold it and purchased a Rikon 70-220vsr on sale at Woodcraft for $500. I really like the variable speed dial, however I have to contact Rikon about the motor stalling under heavy load. The work piece will stop spinning when taking aggressive cuts. Once you back the tool off, the work piece will regain its sets speed. The jury is still out on the the 70-220.

View Jacksdad's profile


247 posts in 1198 days

#5 posted 03-20-2018 02:48 PM

I don’t have much to add to that but also check out Grizzly, you can get a quality machine for an affordable price. The biggest thing is you want a morse2 taper on the headstock and tail stock and a 1-8 thread, it’s the most common for the tons of added accessories. I would stay away from Harbor Freight for the lathe and turning tools.

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