If you are working with metals not just in construction but also for other metalworking activities, then you know that a metal lathe should be part of your arsenal. But for some with a limited space in their workshop, they think that getting one is out of the question.
But this doesn’t have to be the case – you can simply opt for the best mini metal lathe for the money. While it may be more compact in size, it doesn’t mean that it will not meet your needs. In fact, even the more experienced metalworkers have them.
Here we review our top picks for mini metal lathes that we believe offer the best value for your money.
What to Look for in a Metal Lathe?
It is easy to be overwhelmed when looking for a metal lathe because there are just so many options out on the market. That is also why the buyer’s remorse is quite common in this case. People would immediately go for what is either cheap or high-end models without thinking about if it meets their needs. And when they start using it for their projects, they realize that they bought the wrong one.
You don’t have to be one of them. To avoid this situation, you need to know the essential features or characteristics that you need in a metal lathe and choose the model that meets them. They may all look the same to you but they also have unique features that you may or may not find useful.
Before purchasing a metal lathe, take note of the following features and options available:
- Size – metal lathes come in mini or full sizes. Mini lathes are suitable if you are only working on small projects, but you will need a full size one if you need to work on larger projects.
- Weight – in a lathe, weight matters. It is a matter of preference whether you prioritize portability or ease of use because the heavier the lathe, the better it can handle vibrations. And if you are not aware, vibrations can affect its operations, especially in terms of accuracy.
- Power feed – different metal lathes have different power feed options available and you need to choose one that offers convenience for you when in use.
- Measurements – the center and the swing are what you need to take note of. The bigger the swing measurement, the more you can do with your lathe. Also, longer distances between centers allow you to work with longer workpieces.
- Bed – metal lathes traditionally have flat beds made of cast iron, but there are also models equipped with beds in the form of metal tubes or bars. It is also just a matter of preference but you need to make sure that no flexing occurs when the tool rest and tailstock are in place.
- Headstock – considered as the most essential part of any lathe, you need a headstock that can effortlessly handle your turning projects. A headstock made of cast iron is the most ideal because it is completely solid, while fabricated headstocks usually cannot handle larger workpieces. Also, note that a pivoting headstock offers more flexibility as you work.
- Gearbox – this can either be manual or automatic. Manually changing the gears of your lathe offers you better control and better speed accuracy, while those that automatically do it for you offer convenience but at the expense of more limited speed changes.
- Spindle – opt for a spindle that has a standard thread so that you can use it with different accessories. A standard spindle is also ideal if you plan on using your metal lathe for a long time because upgrading means you only need to buy new accessories and not completely replace your unit.
There are also other considerations that you need to keep in mind, but what we have listed here are the most important features or characteristics you need to look for in a metal lathe.
What Do You Use a Metal Lathe For?
Contrary to popular belief, a metal lathe is not only used for working on metals. In fact, you can even do a bit of woodworking with it, although not as intensive as compared to using a wood lathe, and even use it for plastics. That is how versatile a metal lathe.
But, did you know that there are different uses for a metal lathe? If not, don’t worry because you are not alone. And since people are not familiar with its uses, they fail to maximize the use of their lathes.
To address this, we have come up with the following list of the different uses of metal lathes that you may or may not be aware of:
- Metal turning to craft even small objects like chess pieces, bowls, cups, etc.
- Filing and polishing round parts
- Create round or partially rounded objects or parts
- Cut off or trim materials, including both male and female threads
- Key-way cutting
- Align pieces before they can be repaired
- Drilling and boring holes
- Gear cutting
- Beveling, especially on edges
- Tapering or taper turning
- Facing rough materials
- Powering up motorless equipment, such as a hydraulic pump
The versatility of a metal lathes makes it such a practical tool in any workshop, especially once you master how to use one. And with the right metal lathe, you can quickly do just that.
Best Mini Metal Lathes
Now that you are aware of its various uses and the features or characteristics that you require, it is now time to choose the mini metal lathe that gives you the best value for your money. And if you don’t know where to start your hunt for one, look no further because we have rounded up the highly rated and popular models that you should consider.
Consistently top-rated, the Grizzly G8688 is renowned for its power despite being a benchtop metal lathe. It features a 3/4 HP motor that offers speeds up to 2500 RPM and with variable speed settings available.
This lathe also comes with a 7-inch swing and 12-inch distance between its centers, making it ideal for use with small to medium workpieces. Despite its small frame, it can easily handle different thread ranges and comes with a spindle bore measuring 20mm and a four-way tool post. Because the Grizzly G8688 has a single-phase power system, you can simply plug it into your standard electric outlet and immediately use it.
- Durable despite its low price
- Relatively easy to use for both beginners and experienced users
- Thread present has a wide range
- Considered as among the most powerful and versatile
- Installed tool post may be a hit-or-miss for users
- Insufficient for advanced metalworking
- Familiarity is needed before you can smoothly use it
Central Machinery Precision Mini Lathe
Another popular choice is the Central Machinery Precision Mini Lathe, and for good reasons. At the forefront are its precision and ease-of-use, which is important in any lathe. It also has a user-friendly design that makes its operation uncomplicated for most users.
It is often compared to the Grizzly model we reviewed earlier because it is also equipped with a 3/4 HP motor that offers variable speeds that can reach 2500 RPM when operating at high speed. At low speed, it can run from 0 to 1100 RPM. This mini metal lathe is also equipped with other notable features, like a control knob for setting the variable speed, an automatic feed, and a chuck guard.
- Inexpensive but has great quality
- Features a chuck guard, which is not common in its price range
- Has an automatic feeding system
- Relatively easy to use even for beginners
- Inconsistent operation
- Gears are made of plastic
- Finding spare parts can be a challenge
Erie Tools Benchtop Mini Metal Lathe
The Erie Tools Benchtop Mini Metal Lathe is one of the most highly-rated mini metal lathes around because of its reliability at a relatively low price. This model is not just efficient at metalworking but it can also be used on wood and plastic with no difficulty, even for beginners. What also makes it one of the crowd-favorites is that it already comes with a five-piece cutter kit right out of the box.
The straightforward design of this model makes its operation uncomplicated for everyone without compromising its precision and flexibility, unlike other metal lathes of its class. Aside from that, it is also equipped with an emergency stop switch, power indicator, digital speed readout, variable speed knob control, chuck guard, and an automatic feed.
- Operation is easy for anyone
- Has a chuck guard
- Straightforward design makes it suitable for all kinds of users
- Can be used on metal, wood, and plastic
- Among the most durable in its price range
- Has plastic components
- Not ideal for larger workpieces
For those who need the most compact but fully functional mini metal lathe, the Shopfox M1015 is right for you. Its size already falls into the micro metal lathe territory, that is why it is not as powerful as the other models in our list. But, it still gets the job done.
Because of its size, it is only suitable for small workpieces but you can easily transport and use it anywhere you want. The 1/5 HP motor offers variable speeds ranging from 100 to 2000 RPMs, which is almost at par with its bigger counterparts. Plus, it has an easy control mode and a chuck guard to ensure safe operation.
- Very portable
- Has various safety features
- Equipped with both manual and automatic feeds
- Ideal for beginners
- Ships with various accessories that help you save money
- Can only be used on small projects
- Not-so-seamless operation
- Parts are not that durable but they can easily be replaced
Mophorn Small Metal Lathe
While the Mophorn Small Metal Lathe is known as the best mini metal lathe for beginners, experienced users also find it a joy to use. Not only is it equipped with a digital display but it also has a motor that has variable speeds ranging from 50 to 2500 RPMs, which is enough for most users. In fact, you get more than what you pay for because it is one of the most budget-friendly models around.
One of its standout features is the chuck with three jaws because its size is more than what you would expect for such a compact unit. The components of its gear system are also welded, which means it is quite durable even for heavy-duty use.
- One of the cheapest models around
- Known to be hard-wearing despite its low price
- Can be easily used even by beginners
- Components of the gear are welded
- Users have complained about the quality of the motor, even if it is replaceable
- Versatility is not at par with others
- No tool bits included
Always consider your budget when choosing a metal lathe. Even if you intend to buy one for long time use, like a Monarch, you don’t have to buy the most expensive one loaded with the most features; you must be practical. Choose the one with all the features you need and will not hurt your budget too much.