I don’t know why so many websites are referring Midi lathes (such as- Delta 46-460 or jet 1221vs) as the best mini wood lathes even if they are prominently overpowered than the typical Minis and can cost more than $500 in general.
So I wanted to make a list of 9 out of 19 small-sized wood lathes from 5-1/2” to a maximum of 10” swing over the bed that is idyllic for your hobby and will last longer.
As the goal was to find out how satisfied are the people and what are the issues they have faced, I asked the owners personally from different woodturning groups on Facebook, including the local clubs here, to see how each of them is performing.
It helped me narrow the list even further to be sure what I am putting on the table, so you don’t waste money opting for what you don’t need.
Let’s see why they are considered the best mini wood lathes for 2020.
Disclaimer: As an Amazon affiliate, I may earn a small percentage from qualifying purchases. This means no extra cost to you. I will only promote products that give the best values.
Best Mini Wood Lathes for 10” bed swing category:
Just to make things more precise, I categorized the lathes by their size and performance. The lathes listed in this category are not just my two cents. They do last longer and have satisfied so many turners, including local club mentors.
See the latest price on Amazon for Turncrafter Commander
Worth the price
A bit pricier compared to other mini lathes, but I had to convince by the delivery it is producing for the turners. Besides, it got the Variable speed motor. Although no matter the price, mini lathes are always in the limit.
Why choose Turncrafter Commander
Personally, I use the Excelsior mini, but let’s not be biased here. Pen state is pretty solid with their production from the beginning, especially about mini lathes. The Penn State Industries lathe is among the best deals for the money for a variable speed mini lathe that I have seen.
Some folks consider this unit as Midi for the power and the sturdiness this small motor produces. It
I’ve talked to almost 15 owners of this PSI directly. The average using age, I would say, is one year. Most of them turn pens, bottle stoppers, and tiny Christmas ornaments. This lathe has held up well, doing absolute justice to them.
One of my friends from Cary, NC, has been with this 10” version for about two years now. He had turned over a thousand pens for his local business and got no plan to upgrade it with another. All he does is refreshing the parts every once in a while.
Price on the higher end, unlike the rest of the models in 10” category, but make no mistake that it’s #2 MT variable speed with a ¾ HP motor- the reason for putting it over the Excelsior 10” that I am currently using.
I found people complaining mostly about the quality controls for bad shipping, not the quality of the performance. It can happen to any lathe you buy.
The most common problem everyone talks about is the attached lamp becomes sloppy when speed goes high. A strong gooseneck would support holding it up. I mean, you can manage that.
You can’t go reverse with most of the minis, but with a DC motor like this one, adding a switch is possible. Just be cautious about the accessories locked over the spindle when sanding in reverse.
Altogether Turncrafter Commander will give you the finish you need for the smaller projects like pens, chess pieces, bottle stoppers kinda stuff.
- 10″ swing/ 18″ between centers
- Horsepower: ½
- MT2 Spindle Taper
- Speed Ranges: 760, 1100, 1600, 2200, and 3200
- Weight: 83 lbs
- 1” x 8 TPI spindle
- Only forward
See the latest price on Amazon for Excelsior Mini
Worth the price
Absolutely. It’s a heavy-duty for a little benchtop. #2 morse taper with 1” x8 TPI with the extended bed option, everything under the range for this ½ HP, 83 pounds little beast.
Why choose Excelsior Mini
It’s been almost three years with this lathe, and still impressive. There was almost the same lookalike unit from HF, but I found Rockler with much more positive reviews of enjoyable user experiences form the turners.
I don’t have any biased opinion for Rockler, nor will they pay me, but I had my homework done before settling down.
I have seen celebrity woodturners like Carl Jacobson using this same unit for his workshop. That ticked one more box for me to rely on it. Mentors don’t lies, remember. Follow them, and you won’t have hard times.
You can use pretty much any MT2 accessories from the aftermarkets as this one #2MT. I have the bed extension for the longer spindle work.
The highest period I ran the motor was like 2 hours or less to test it, and it didn’t stall out. But the motor went way too hot to touch, so I stopped it there.
I’ve heard that the motor bogs down after a short run. Maybe I got lucky that mine one is a healthy one, but these are all underpowered motors, so I respect their limitations.
The only drawback for me that it’s not variable speed, but if you want, you can change the factory motor with variable speed.
I changed mine from Pen State. But honestly changing belt is not that of a big deal to many turners. Learning something traditional way is always classic.
As mini lathes are not ideal for bowls, so I use my Jet midi to handle the bowls instead. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. It means they don’t have the ideal low starting speed for turning bowls. In that case, I would suggest you go for the Jet 1015 I listed below.
As for the bed extension, it took some time for me to level that up properly. I would be delighted if it were four bolt holes instead of two.
Everything rest is very impressive as I said. Go for it, and you won’t regret it.
See the latest price on Amazon for Rikon 70-105
Talk about the price
Price is very good for the quality. Besides, five years of warranty for a machine at this low cost is pretty surprising for me. Can’t expect more.
Why consider Rikon 70-105
Rikon is a trustworthy brand among turners. To be honest, it was quite tough not to give this unit a place over the Excelsior and PSI. I heard some saying that this is just a glorified Harbor Freight tool, and I don’t agree with that either.
HF has a grumble about their motor that it gets hot very soon, but it looks like Rikon 70-105 got a better motor on it. One thing you will notice if you shop around, this one goes on sale a lot.
To me, it’s kinda will give you quite the same feel as the 70-100, which has 2 inches of advantage in the bed swing. But, if you only wish to turn miniatures, especially pens, I suppose 2 inches is not that bigger, and they both got almost the same motor power (70-100 with a little more).
So you will want to go with 70-105 unless you want to focus on bowls. It will do the job perfectly for you.
I know people using it for more than five years now and still want to stick to it.
Again, it’s not a variable motor. If you are getting tired of changing belts and don’t want to do it anymore, I suggest you either go with the Turncrafter or install the PSI variable speed motor. Easy solution.
There isn’t much to talk about the cons as they act individually. Things happen when you are actually on the field and working on the machine.
Some minor manufacturing defects could be there with any brand you go with, and that’s normal. Say, for example, the bolts for the rubber feet are not appropriately tapped, and you are having trouble mounting it during assembly.
If you see some troubleshooting that you don’t understand, try searching in manualslib.com or call your manufacturer.
- 10” swing and 15-1/2” between centers
- Motor: ½ HP, 115 V, single-phase, 4A
- MT2 Quil and Spindle Taper
- 1″ x 8TPI
- Speed Ranges: 200-1050, 300-1750, 600-3600
- Weight: 77 lbs
- Only Forward
- Warranty: 5 years
See the latest price on Amazon for Jet JWL 1015
Talk about the price
The price is pretty high for a mini to consider. They have upgraded the motor with variable speed, though. But I think I would go for a midi like the Delta 46-460 (amazon link) instead at this price point.
Why consider jet jwl 1015
Talk about the qualities; they absolutely nailed it. Jet is the go-to choice for many beginners, as well as the pro-level turners.
I don’t know if you noticed that a wide range of clubs is taking classes with Jets around the United States. They have built trust.
Jet 1015 is very much able to give your wood chunks the treatment it needs. Suitable speed for bowls under 10”, dead-on headstock and tailstock alignment, allows MT2 accessories with five years of warranty.
You can lock the workpiece into 24 positions. The motor doesn’t have a heating-up problem like the others. At least I haven’t heard anyone saying that to date.
It’s a pretty solid Mini lathe to go for.
They tend to keep the price high for their tools. Now for a Jet lover, you will still pick Jet as your mini, and I am not saying you shouldn’t. Even I have the 1221VS Midi to handle my small bowls also (I said bowls, not balls).
If you want to turn only small bowls, then the side cost for other accessories would be much lower. But if Pen is something you want to focus on, the total cost might get pretty high as you might need more accessories.
I suggest you go with the Excelsior mini if you don’t wanna hurt your bank.
- 10” swing and 15” between centers
- Motor: ½ HP, 120V, 6AMP, single phase
- MT2 Spindle and Tailstock Taper
- 1” x 8 TPI right-hand spindle
- Spindle Speed: 480, 1270, 1960, 2730, 3327, 4023 RPM
- Weight: 92lbs
- Warranty: 2 years
See the latest price on Amazon for Shop Fox W1752
My 2 cents about the price
Shop fox mini is pretty famous among the beginners, and they are offering almost everything possible for the price. But still, I think a little lower would have been great.
Why consider Shop Fox W1752
I think you won’t regret it if you are happy to stick with a 10” swing lathe. Absolutely a good idea to start with. Didn’t hear anyone saying they got remorse unless they have grown big in the profession.
Things that interest me are like-
- The only lathe in 10” category you can sand in reverse mode. A nice handy addition to work with bowls.
- Parts and accessories are available in the aftermarket.
- The belts can handle tensions pretty reliably.
- Accurate for detailed work like lidded boxes.
- Good low speed helps to turn with non-round blanks.
I like the design and the finish that a mini lathe should have, nothing fancy.
They did have some negative reviews for bad quality controls and parts unavailability, but they have upgraded. You won’t find anything significant about the performance.
The most brutal review caught my attention from a woodturner was like 11 years ago—nothing significant in the past few years. Most of the recent complaints are related to shipping.
The manufacturing faults are the exception in some particular products as they are all human-made.
I have turned on W1704, not this one, but as far as I talked with other owners, they seem to have no contrition for what they have.
Take the Mophorn 10 x 18 with variable speed and other lucrative features, for example. Almost 50 percent of the users have got critical reviews on Amazon alone in 2020.
Best Mini Wood Lathes in 8” swing category
Let’s talk about the lathes that are in the 8” bed swing category. They are low in motor power and smaller in size from their immediate seniors.
But you can fit them easily in your RV as they are half the weight of the 10”.
See the latest price on Amazon for shop fox W1704
Worth the spending
Very well made for any novice as well as regular turners who likes the small spindle works. Almost all the 8” swing lathes are below 1/2 HP motor.
Now you know your projects as well as the limitations. But for the category, it’s among the best selling lathes of all time, a solid unit among all the other machines.
Why choose Shop Fox W1704
My experience has overall been positive. I turned plenty of acrylic pens and some tiny bangles for my friend’s small shop here in Vermilion Street. He had three units in total, including HF and Wen. I found the Shop Fox much better in action (some may have a different opinion, and they are welcome).
It was way less vibrating, even in the used condition. I’ve heard complaints that the tool rest does not stay in position, but I found mine was very well aligned.
The variable speed control was easy to use and convenient, which is something we all want to have nowadays, to get rid of the belt changing pain.
In a nutshell, an excellent choice for beginners, but just to remind you that this is not something a professional would go after, but it can handle things under its limit.
The common dissatisfaction that people have is the way they designed the tailstock that makes it difficult to get a real negative rake angle. Sometimes the shipping causes severe damage.
Almost 20 percent of the users were not happy with this unit. But the catch is most are turners that are in this profession for years now.
If you have had the taste of the real lathe, then this is not for you because it might not meet the expectations. The motor power won’t satisfy you.
These are absolutely for the people who just started their journey. My recommendation would be to go with the 10”.
- 8” swing and 12” between centers
- Motor: 3.2 Amp (1/3 HP), 120V
- MT1 Spindle and Tailstock Taper
- 1″ x 8 TPI
- Spindle Speed: Variable speed from 750 – 3200 RPM
- Weight: 45lbs
- Only forward
- Warranty: 2 Years
See the latest price on Amazon for Wen 3421VS
If you are new in the turning world and want something that won’t cost you much, allowing you to sharpen your ability, then go for it. It’s a variable speed lathe but with an underpowered motor. So very limited but enough for the beginner to take off.
Why choose Wen 3421
Not for the high quality but the great price. No brand will give you such an affordable rate when you’re going for a new machine.
Getting variable speed at this range is worth mentioning. In the previous model, 3420T had an unsustainability problem for the motor.
The size of the faceplate and motor with this one is the main difference. If you want to choose within Wen mini, then go with this one, not the 3420T. It will have more motor power.
Motor bogs down pretty often. Try not to push too far beyond its limit. Don’t go for bowls. It’s suitable for lighter spindle works.
They say you can do table legs, but that’s not the picture here. Stay with the lighter smaller works. I saw people turning mallets with this lathe, even 5” bowl.
The thing is you have to be very gentle with this machine as they are kinda fragile in nature.
Best Micro/Portable Wood Lathes you can use as Alternative
Okay, time to talk about the portable mini wood lathes that are designed to work precisely on pens. If making pens is something that you are getting interested in, then these are the lathe you are looking for.
These are actually collet lathes with no morse taper on either end. They are lightweight and consume so little space that you can easily travel anywhere with them. They will make your road trip fun.
- 5-1/2” swing and accepts 7” mandrel
- Motor: 1/5 HP, 110V
- MT1 Tailstock
- ¾ x 16 TPI
- Speed: Variable speed from 0-4300 RPM
- Weight: 15lbs
- Only forward
See the latest price on Amazon for PSI Penpal Mini
Worth as the alternative to the standard mini?
I am not saying that you can’t make pens with the 10” minis. It’s like they are not made explicitly for turning only pens. They have features that allow you to do more.
Besides, not all the pen turners only make pens. So, think before you choose one.
If I were you, I would have asked myself three questions before making any decision.
- Am I planning to make money with turning only Pens? – Yes
- Am I ready to spend a ton of money right off the bat? – No
- After making some money, am I ready to upgrade my lathe now? – Yes
There you go. You get the idea, right?
As they are significantly low powered, you might not be able to free your arms like a standard lathe. But this will do the job perfectly for you as it is doing for many pen turners.
If you have any problem like the shortage of motor in the very earlier days, call PSI, and they will return as they have always been great at serving their customers.
- 1 3/4’ from floor to center of spindle and 10” between centers
- Motor: 110-120V AC, 1/8 HP (100W)
- Headstock spindle bore of 13/32” (10mm)
- Tailstock travel 1 3/16” (20mm)
- Speed: Variable speed between 1000 and 5000 RPM
- Weight: about 6lbs
- Warranty: 2 years from the manufacturer
See the latest price on Amazon for Proxxon DB 250
The criteria for consideration are the same as above. Pen state has a better return policy and trustworthiness than Proxxon. But Proxxon DB 250 is a well worthy opponent.
This small lathe has a variable speed motor, unlike the PSI. It’s a German-based company, and most of the tools are produced there. So definitely not a Chinese, I guess.
They got a good number of positive reviews from the pen turners. I haven’t heard anyone complaining about the motor running out too fast, as some of the PSI users claimed.
I suggest you use super-sharp tools while turning acrylics as the motors are not that robust.
It does not have morse tapers. You can’t put a mandrel on it.
Some people addressed that the collet it comes with are not strong enough to hold a relatively bigger workpiece, so grips are not great.
Motor powers are only adequate for turning pens or tiny dollhouses out of softwood only. The tool rest is also small.
So go for it if you want nothing more than pens out of it. It will do the job.
People Also Ask
what will be the best beginner wood lathe?
That is a wide-open question, I would say. That depends every time on what you want to turn and how much is your Budget. I have written a full article on this to demonstrate the possible needs for a beginner, giving you a shortlist of quality wood lathes from every category (full-sized to Midi to Mini).
I hope it will make your decision much more accessible as a beginner. But first, you need to decide what kind of turning interests you the most.
What can you do with a mini wood lathe?
You can do pretty much everything that a real lathe does, but there will be limitations and within the range. They are great for beginners and suitable for spindle work mostly. But so many professionals keep them as their second option for sanding or more focused finish.
You can turn bowls more effectively with the Midis, as they will allow you more space on the swing with much more torque.
Are mini lathes any good?
They are until you push them too far. They are cheaper but will last longer if you go with #2 mt and refresh the parts from time to time, and that goes for any lathe you end up with.
I am with my Rockler for about three years now, and I am happy. As for the shipping, I can’t guaranty you won’t have a hard time.
How to choose a wood lathe that worth it?
As the mentors say, you need to decide what project are you willing to work on. Choose your machine according to your capability (pocket and workspace both). If you have plans to turn big, then starting with a full-size lathe would be a good idea.
But if budget gets into the way, then you have options for Midi and Minis. Regardless of what you buy, the checklist should be- Good brand with enough HP motor, MT2 standard taper, and variable speed.
My Last Words
Woodturning is an addictive hobby. The more you turn, the more you become addicted to it. You’ll discover yourself scoring woods everywhere. It gets into the head if you anyhow start to realize it is fun.
As lathe will be your best friend down the road, so always choose your lathe with care. Take your time; don’t rush. Buy something that will allow you to grow.
The mini lathes will give you the time and opportunity to test yourself. Don’t spend everything just on the lathe. You will need other tools too, and don’t forget to get a face shield for safety.
Turn Safe, Turn Big. Welcome to the turning world!