Wood lathes are an indispensable part of any woodworking shop, allowing the carpenter or craftsperson the ability to produce perfectly symmetrical pieces. For the home workshop though, a full-size or even mid-size lathe is a big – and unnecessary – investment.
Mini and midi wood lathes are both good choices for a variety of applications, from home projects to artwork. However, as with most things, there are a number of variables to consider before buying a lathe.
We’ve compiled everything you need to make an informed purchasing decision: a list of the wood lathes we recommend, reviews of top selling mini and midi lathes, tips for choosing the best mini wood lathe, and a list of answers to frequently asked questions about owning a mini woodworking lathe.
Our Top 10 Recommended Mini, Midi and Benchtop Wood Lathe Comparison Table
Top 10 Mini, Midi and Benchtop Wood Lathe Reviews
The Shop Fox W1704 is a great size for pen turning and other small shaping projects. Designed to fit comfortably on an average-size workbench, this miniature wood lathe is driven by a 1/3 horsepower, variable-speed motor which delivers spindle speeds from 700 to 3,200 RPM. It features a safety paddle switch, 4-1/4 inch and 7 inch tool rests, a 5-3/4 inch faceplate, and a 3/4 inch by 16 inch TPI RH spindle.
The tool rests provide convenient places for keeping various turning tools. The W1704 has a 13 inch distance between centers with an 8 inch swing over the bed, making this lathe not only ideal for pen turning but also well suited to a wide variety of small wood turning applications.
The variable speed motor provides plenty of torque for fast, efficient cutting of hard wood in the low RPM ranges as well as delicate shaping of even the softest wood at its top end. Comprised of sturdy parts and subjected to a rigorous quality control process, this lathe is made for durability.
Shop Fox is one of the most trusted names in the shop equipment and power tool industry, which means this small woodworking lathe is built to last for years of trouble free service.
The Rikon mini woodturning lathe has the industry’s largest capacity of anything classified as a mini lathe, allowing you to work with larger pieces than any other lathe. In addition to this increased capacity, it also allows you to make more of your workspace with a 12- position index head for improved accuracy, a convenient 8 inch tool holder and the capacity to add multiple bed extensions.
The Rikon mini lathe makes it easy to change speeds quickly with easily accessible features. The access cover contains a convenient chart to help judge the speed of the spindle and opens up to provide enough room for the adjustment of the drive belt. The tension-release lever and locking arm are both conveniently placed to allow you to change between speeds of 430, 810, 1230, 1810, 2670, and 3900 very quickly.
The Rikon mini lathe is the largest in the industry, giving you more room to work with larger pieces without taking over your workspace on the bench. This mini lathe has a 12 inch swing and 16 inches between centers. One thing to keep in mind when reading Rikon reviews and any Rikon lathe review specifically is that Rikon backs their products with a two-year limited warranty, which gives you the peace of mind that this lathe is built to last.
The Grizzly H8259 mini wood lathe is powered by a 1/2 horsepower, 110 volt, single phase electric motor, and is one of the best small wood lathes available. It has an 18 inch distance between centers, a 10 inch swing over the bed, and a 6 and one quarter inch swing over the tool rest.
The frame comes equipped with a convenient tool rest to keep all your turning implements within reach for quick changes. The spur center ensures a firm grip on any type of wood you may need to turn, and a live rolling center makes this lathe exceedingly user friendly.
The motor is firmly secured to the cast-iron frame, ensuring that the unit does not vibrate under strain. The easy to adjust drive belt system allows the user to run the lathe at speeds of 826, 1205, 1713, 2422, or 3337 RPM. This wide range ensures that, with a speed as low as 826 RPM, torque is never lacking, and the 3337 RPM setting allows for quick and precise finishing of even delicate materials. In all, the unit weighs 77 pounds and measures 33 inches by 17 inches by 12 inches, meaning it will fit on and be supported by just about any workbench.
The Jet JWL 1221 VS just barely escapes the classification of mini lathe, with its 12 inch swing and 21 inch distance between centers making it a midi lathe. However, the relatively small increase in size yields a surprising increase in capability and number of features, making it one of the most powerful table top wood lathes for its size.
The JWL 1221 prides itself on its superb speed control. At the top end, no surprise for a lathe of this size, it is capable of 3600 RPM. However, what really sets this lathe apart is its lowest setting: 60 RPM. This low range means that for its motor size it is capable of an amazing amount of torque.
The 1221 VS’s drive system features an innovative, patent pending ratchet style belt tensioning system to maintain power and eliminate wear-increasing and power-sapping belt slippage. The belt drive system also is capable of a quick switch from forward to reverse with minimal vibration or slip.
This is the #1 best selling electric wood lathe on Amazon, and midi wood lathe reviews of this model always have great things to say. The 1221 VS is powerful, capable of tackling a wide variety of wood-turning tasks, and dependable; Jet warranties this lathe for 5 years against manufacturing defect, although judging by any jet mini lathe review you can see that defects are not common with this machine.
PSI Woodworking’s 10 inch Commander is likely the best midi lathe for the money. With an 18 inch distance between centers and a 10 inch swing over the bed, this lathe is an excellent choice for many smaller applications.
It is built around a 3/4 horsepower motor which delivers the power and control to handle the most demanding jobs, and with speed capabilities ranging from 150 RPM all the way up to 4100 RPM this is perhaps the most versatile midi lathe on the market.
A rugged cast iron frame and limited 3 year manufacturer’s warranty ensure years of reliable performance. As is, this lathe is capable of everything from pen turning to 10 inch bowl projects, and the base is made to accept bed extensions up to 43 inches. One of its simplest and yet most useful accessories is a built in worklight on a flexible 18 inch cable which allows for true lighting of even detailed, delicate work.
A tool storage rack keeps your various implements close at hand, which coupled with the TCLC10VS’s quick change belt drive system means no unnecessary slow downs so you can make the most of your working time. Midi lathe reviews almost always have great things to say about this machine, making it an excellent option to consider.
The Jet JWL-1015VS is a capable multi-purpose mini lathe which is perhaps the best mini wood lathe for the DIY’er new to woodturning and the best lathe for pen turning. With a 15 and a half distance between centers and a 10 inch swing over the bed, this is the ideal size lathe for pen turning and small woodturning projects.
Jet has outfitted this model with an improved tensioning system which allows the user easier access to the drive belts for quick, straight-forward belt changes, something very valuable for someone new to this type of equipment or who is not especially mechanically inclined.
The belt drive system allows the user to select from one of three speed ranges — 200-1050 RPM, 300-1750 RPM, or 600-3600 RPM. The bed is designed to be user friendly as well; wider bed ways lend the unit increased rigidity compared with similar models.
All this user friendliness does not, however, make the 1015VS any less suited to a professional shop. This is a capable Jet mini wood lathe that would be no less at home in a professional shop or under the eye of an avid woodturner than it would in the hands of a novice.
This Excelsior mini lathe can handle spindles of almost 18 inches in length and bowls of 10 inches in diameter, making it more than capable of handling a wide variety of small chair and table legs as well as all types of decorative turning applications.
The 1/2 horsepower motor is powerful enough to handle anything in this size range, and the solidly built cast iron body provides ample mass to dampen vibrations and ensure stable turning with excellent durability. The belt drive system allows the user the choice of 760, 1100, 1600, 2200, or 3200 RPM, and can be conveniently accessed through an access door for easy and quick adjustments.
The Excelsior 5-Speed comes loaded with a spur center headstock and ball bearing live center on the tail-stock, and a heavy duty knock out bar for the spur center. It also comes equipped with a 6 inch tool rest for keeping all your turning implements close at hand, which allows for the most efficient use of your time.
The sturdy base is set on non-slip feet for added stability, and the cam-locking ratcheting adjust levers allow for sure setting of your work medium.
Nova’s 46300 Comet II has been updated and improved for the 2013 iteration of their Comet line of wood lathes. Portable and compact, this lathe still delivers the capability and stability of its larger counterparts. Powered by a ¾ horsepower variable speed electric motor, it offers speeds ranging from 250 RPM all the way up to 4000 RPM, which means it can handle the toughest or the most detailed work you can throw at it.
The Comet II has a 12 inch swing over the bed 16 and a half inches between centers, and can be expanded to 41 inches with a bed extender, allowing you to turn an even greater variety of projects. Among the improvements made to the 2013 model include a rapid access hatch on the guard for faster, easier access.
The motor housing has also been upgraded to its current diecast form, giving the unit enhanced durability and a more pleasing, unified appearance. This lathe also comes with the standard 6 inch tool rest for keeping all your turning tools within reach, a 2MT Drive Center, 2MT Live Center, knockout bar, fastenings, and a manual. Nova has been in business since 1955 and backs their lathes with a 2 year limited warranty, making the Comet II a sound investment.
Perhaps better known for their faucets and kitchen appliances, Delta also produces quality power tools as Delta Industrial, including what is arguably the best midi lathe available. The 46-460 is the largest lathe in its class, with a 12 and a half inch swing over the bed. Powered by a whopping 1 horsepower, 1725 RPM electric motor, this machine can more than handle anything you can fit between its centers.
Unlike most lathes of its size, the Delta features an electronic variable speed with 3 speed ranges which allow the turner the luxury of changing the turning speed as needed without the hassle of having to change the belt position.
Delta also holds a patent for the belt tensioning system employed by the 46-460, which makes for easy and quick speed changes and keeps the belt at the perfect tension for maximizing the rate of power transfer and helping to minimize the rate of wear on the machine and on your tools.
The belt system also allows for easy and smooth transitions between forward and reverse functions, allowing the turner the ability to sand a piece evenly no matter in which direction the grain happened to be facing when he set the piece on the lathe.
The Shop Fox W1752 is a capable and affordable miniature wood lathe which is right at home in the amateur wood-worker’s shop. It has a 10 inch swing over the bed, a tail stock travel of 3 and one quarter inches, and a tool rest measuring 6 and one quarter inches.
The body is made entirely of cast iron — in fact, the whole unit weighs just a hair over 100 pounds, roughly 30 percent more than most other lathes in its size class, which lends this lathe uncanny stability. The 1/2 horsepower motor provides ample power and stability to turn spindles as long as 15 and a half inches and bowls as large as 10 inches in diameter.
This fox mini lathe even has the capability to extend the bed up to 38 inches to allow for working on even larger pieces such as table or chair legs. The drive system allows for six speeds ranging from 480 to 4023 RPM, which allows the flexibility to tackle any turning project.
And, like every best benchtop lathe, this Fox comes standard with a 3 inch face plate. It also includes a spur center, live rolling center, and a tool rest for convenient placement of all the turning implements you can need.
Tips on Choosing the Best Wood Lathe
The first step in determining what sort of wood lathe you need is to identify your specific needs. First up is size. Do you intend to turn primarily pens and/or small bowls? A mini lathe is probably sufficient. Or, are you looking for something that will allow you to make legs for sizeable dining tables?
If so, you should look at lathes classified as midi or even larger, or at least be sure that the mini or small midi that you’re looking can accept bed extensions so that you can work with larger pieces. The next thing to consider is the material you will be working with.
For most applications, the standard range of you average lathe plenty broad to produce good results. However, if you will be working with particularly dense, grainy, or uneven woods, you will probably want a lathe capable of very low spindle speeds to ensure ample torque and precision with your tools.
Another thing to consider is your workspace. It’s likely that your prospective new lathe is not the only tool in your toolbag, so you want to be sure that whatever lathe you are considering is small enough to fit in the room you have while still leaving enough space to work with and around it in an effective manner.
Once you have in mind what type of lathe you need, go out and read mini lath reviews and mini lathe comparison charts. These will give you valuable information about the lathe you may not have found anywhere else.
Finally, and least fun, is cost. Know your budget; as tempting as it may be to upgrade to the biggest and best wood turner money can buy, it’s probably not worth taking out a second mortgage on the house. Often times, the best small lathe or best midi lathe will do the job just as nicely.
Wood Lathe FAQ
Q: My lathe is vibrating a lot. What can I do, and is this a major problem?
A: The most common reason for excess vibration is that the piece of wood you’re working with is off-center. Either stop the lathe and try to recenter your piece or shave off any irregularities and the vibration should decrease.
Q: Why is my lathe making a grinding noise?
A: Like all machines, the moving parts of lathes require lubrication. Check seals to ensure they are grease-tight and dry, and add some manufacturer-approved lubricant to the bearings and gears. If this doesn’t fix it, contact the manufacturer.
Q: How dangerous is working with a lathe?
A: Lathing accidents aren’t that common, provided you follow some common sense rules. Safety gear like gloves and goggles are a must, and you should never wear loose clothing that could become tangled in the lathe. Pay attention to what you are doing and treat lathe with the respect it commands and you greatly reduce your chances of getting injured.
Q: Why is my wood splintering instead of cutting cleanly?
A: Splintering is one of the most common lathing complaints, particularly among beginning lathe workers, and can be attributed to a couple of factors. First is spindle speed: wood lathes should spin at 2400 to 3000 RPM — any slower and splintering becomes more of a concern. Next is your tools: dull tools can pull on the wood, which causes splintering, so be sure to keep your tools good and sharp. Lastly, be sure to sand the wood after you’ve shaped it with your tools while it is still on the lathe. This will smooth the surface and help prevent splintering both now and down the road.
Where to find the Best Mini Wood Lathe?
Most big box stores or places that carry power tools will have a selection of wood lathes. You might even find a mini wood lathe for sale on an online forum like Craigslist, but in the end your best bet is probably either the manufacturer’s website or online retailers like Amazon, which will frequently offer sizeable discounts that allow you to pay for a cheap wood lathe and get a good one.
Online retailers such as Amazon also have large catalogues to choose from, giving you plenty of options to consider, whether you are searching for the best midi lathe or the best mini lathe.
Making the Decision
Whether wood-turning is your livelihood, a treasured pastime or a hobby you are looking to pick up, selecting the right lathe for the job is by the far the biggest factor in determining your success. Besides that, even the smallest mini lathe is a significant financial investment, and the more features you elect the bigger an investment it becomes.
But, you’ve done your homework. You’ve decided that a wood lathe is what you need, and further that you need either a midi or a mini wood lathe. You’ve considered our list of the 10 best mini lathe reviews and midi lathe reviews on the market today.
You’ve read benchtop wood lathe reviews for some of the most popular mini and midi lathes, and weighed each of their pros and cons against your unique set of needs. You’ve decided on a set of tools with which to ply your craft, and now all that’s left is to buy the best benchtop lathe for you and get turning!