What to Know Before Buying
If you’re like most folks, the chances are that you’ll inevitably feel indecisive when confronted with all the available options out there when buying a new tool - especially one that's expensive.
This is all too true when trying to choose a metal lathe. Sure there are only a dozen or so options, but how do they all differ? What things actually matter when buying a lathe? What's a good price, what's a bad price? All these questions you may ask yourself on your purchasing journey.
To make things easier for you, we’ve compiled this list of the best metal lathes, what they excel in, how they fall short, and break down the best models on the market for you to choose from.
So, how do you exactly determine which machine is right for you? Here are the top four factors to consider before making your buying decision.
1. Size of Your Project
How big are your metal turning projects? The answer to this question will determine the two important specifications that your equipment needs to have – the swing over distance and the distance between centers.
Swing over bed (SOB), swing, or swing distance is the maximum diameter of the workpiece that can be handled by the machine. In other words, how thick/wide your project can be. For example, are you planning to produce large wooden bowls? Or something thinner like table legs?
On the other hand, the distance between centers (DBC) is the maximum length of the material that the machine can accommodate. In other words, how long your project can be.
Before buying, be sure to check out these two capacities to ensure that the product you choose can handle the size of your metal turning projects.
2. Available Space in Your Workshop
This might seem a no-brainer, but this aspect can be easily overlooked especially if you are too excited to get your hands on your new machine. Always check the dimensions before pressing that buy button so you won’t have to go through the ordeal of returning the product. In fact, make sure that you still have enough room to spare since you still need to move around the machine while working on your projects.
Further down we lay out a few great benchtop units and mini metal lathes you should check out if your space is limited.
3. Your Set Budget For The Purchase
We might want the best the world has to offer but the reality is, we will always be constrained by the budget we allocate for a specific purchase. Once this budget ceiling is set, you can then try to look for the best option within that price range.
We do our best to give you an idea of what a good price is for these units, but keep in mind the prices do change over time.
4. Metal Lathe vs Mini Metal Lathe
Metal lathes are a large class of tools, primarily designed for metalworking, but also are commonly used for harder composite materials such as plastics. A metal lathe is an umbrella term for any kind of lathe used to work on metal. Within that umbrella is many types such as center lathes, turret lathes, gang-tool lathes, and more.
The most commonly researched type lathe is the mini metal lathe. These are lathes that commonly have swing over distances (or, "swings") in a range of around 3-7 inches, and diameters of around 1.5 to 3.5 inches. These small, affordable benchtop units are perfect for the home shop and smaller projects.
Below is our full list of reviews and recommendations of for mini metal lathes, for those of you shopping for your own workshops! If you happen to be looking for a full sized lathe, we cover those nearer the bottom of the article. Enjoy!
The Best Mini Metal Lathes of 2020
1. BestEquip Maintenance-Free Metal Lathe
Top Overall Pick
- 15 3/4" DBC
- 8 1/4" SOB
- Maintenance free design
- Excellent customer service
- Plenty of power
- Versatile project sizes
- Great variable speed range
- Included 3 and 4 jaw chucks, tool storage box and accessories
- Need to properly adjust components once received
After searching and comparing all the machines we’ve found, we found a machine that is a cut above the rest - the BestEquip Maintenance Free Mini Bench Metal Lathe. This impressive machine has all the features you need to get any metal turning job done and, coupled with its high quality, durable construction, and solid overall performance, we simply have no choice but to make it our top overall pick.
While it is classified as a mini-sized machine, it can handle larger projects that its peers can’t accommodate, thanks to its lengthier distance between centers which measures 15 ¾ inches and a larger swing over capacity at 8 ¼ inches. It has a longer service life thanks to its 750W (1HP) brushless motor which powers its variable speed (50-2500 RPM) spindle. The 4-way turret tool post is super handy when changing tools.
Of course, there is a downside to having all of these impressive features and the main issue here is its price. It is currently available on Amazon at around $1,300 which, unfortunately, puts it over most people’s budget. But for an almost wear-resistant equipment capable of precision metal parts fabrication and modeling jobs, it is our best pick of metal lathes of 2019/20 - for those who can afford it.CHECK LATEST PRICE
2. Grizzly G8688 Mini Metal Lathe
Best for the money
- 12" DBC
- 7" SOB
- Extremely powerful
- Up to 2500RPM speed
- Great for beginners, hobbyists
- Excellent customer service
- Included 3-jaw chuck, chip pan, turret post, service tools
- No tachometer for exact speed reading
Every smart shopper knows that a great buy does not necessarily mean getting the cheapest option available, nor is it about getting the product with the most amazing features and specs. Rather it’s all about getting the product that gives you the best value for the money you’ve spent. A perfect balance between price and features is what you can find in the Grizzly G8688.
With its 3/4 HP motor, the Grizzly G8688 Mini Metal Lathe is considered as one of the most powerful machines in the market today. Users will get to enjoy its variable speed which can reach up to 2500 RPM. CHECK LATEST PRICE
This is very easy to operate and at the same time is very reliable for everyday use. However, some professional operators say that it is not that useful for advanced metalworking. Guess it all depends on how ‘advanced’ you are. Threading range is between 12 and 52 TPI and it has a reverse switch so you can make both right and left-handed screws. Another great feature is the 4-way turret tool post
It has a 7-inch swing, 2 3/4 inch cross slide travel, 2 1/2 inch tailstock travel, 12-inch distance between centers, and has top quality 20mm spindle bore. Not only is this machine fast and strong, but it is also durable. Expect it to last longer than other machines since it is constructed out of the finest materials.
The Grizzly G8688 Mini Metal Lathe is a popular machine among beginners, but know that achieving accurate alignment can be quite difficult for some. Nonetheless, the company behind this is known for providing incredible customer care service. This is the best mini metal lathe you can get if you need all that power.
3. SHOP FOX M1015 Metal Lathe
Best Benchtop unit
- 10" DBC
- 6" SOB
- Small, cheap
- Great for beginners
- Includes 3 jaw chuck, 11 feed rate gears
- Variable speed 100-2000RPM
- Less powerful
- Not as many speed options
- Some shipping damage reported
Many folks can't afford - both financially and the space - a large machine like the BestEquip we feature above. This SHOP FOX machine is a perfect solution for those just looking for a benchtop metal lathe, something with all the power and precision, packed into a smaller size, with an affordable price tag.
When we say smaller size, we really mean it, as this mini lathe measures in a swing over bed of just 6" with a DBC of of 10". The smaller size does mean a smaller motor - just 1/5HP, but it still provides a variable speed (100-2000 RPM) spindle.
It also comes with a bunch of features like two feed rates, a 3" jaw-chuck, and a 2-year warranty. The one downside is that you may have to reset the tool post when changing tools. Because of the size, features and limitations of this SHOP FOX, there is a possibility you will one day outgrow this benchtop unit, but it is a great, compact and inexpensive mini lathe for the hobbyist or beginner. CHECK LATEST PRICE
4. Central Machinery Precision Mini Lathe
great for the home shop
- 10" DBC
- 7" SOB
- Efficient and precise
- Variable speeds, low and high
- Included 3 jaw chuck
- Great user reviews
- Small projects only, not a problem for most folks
For most buyers, a product’s price is a major factor when making a buying decision. But of course, it’s not the only factor to consider since if you go by price alone, you’ll end up buying a machine of low quality. After doing some research, we found an option that’s affordable without sacrificing quality – the Central Machinery 7 x 10 Precision mini lathe.
Central Machinery is designed for users who always wanted to experience a smooth working mode. Known for its efficiency, this small lathe has a remarkable automatic feed, a variable speed control knob, chuck guard with micro switch, and an excellent tool post. When it comes to speed, the Central Machinery can go from 0 to 1100 RPM at low speed, and from 0 to 2500 RPM at high speed.CHECK LATEST PRICE
While this has received many favorable comments and reviews from the users because of its precision, design, performance, and efficiency, one of the most common complaints that you will read on the internet is that its spare parts are very difficult to find and replace. But, for individuals who are looking for something that can get the job done, the Central Machinery is definitely recommended. You just need to know a good place that has spare part available, just in case.
Its swing over capacity is a bit on the low side and measures only 7 inches while its distance between centers is 10 inches, which makes it smaller compared to other mini lathes. However, it works just fine as long as your workpiece size does not exceed those capacities. For metal lathes on a budget, this is a great choice.
Also, this gem is perfect for users who want to be able to do more projects and commit fewer mistakes. It’s really that efficient, folks. But take note that some users complained that it takes some time to disassemble, grease, and tune the machine up before use. Definitely something to keep in mind before purchasing.
5. Mophorn Precision Mini Lathe
great option for under 1000
- 14" DBC
- 7" SOB
- Includes mask, oil can, wrenches and nylon gears
- Made in China means difficult replacement parts
- Not the most durable
The Mophorn Metal Mini Lathe is for people who want to join the metalwork club but don’t want to spend too much money. This is definitely the best budget product that you can buy in the market right now. But don’t be deceived by its price because its variable speeds can still go from 50 to 2500 RPM. It might not be as versatile as the others that at a higher price range, but the Morphorn can certainly do its job.CHECK LATEST PRICE
It has a TPI range of 12 to 52 and has great quality chucks with 3 jaws. The package includes a mask, oil can, wrenches, and nylon gears. The problem is, it doesn’t come with any tool bits. And aside from affordability, it is also known for its reliable performance. Although it is a cheaper option, the Mophorn is still made out of top quality materials and components.
Addressing issues with this tool can be time-consuming, though. You need to know that this item ships from China, which means that you will be having a hard time replacing the parts. So before purchasing, be sure you already where to go when in need of replacing its parts.
6. BestEquip Mini Metal Lathe
Perfect for beginners
- 14" DBC
- 7" SOB
- Precise and powerful
- Outstanding customer service
- 14" DBC great for long projects
- Includes backsplash guard and 3-jaw self centering chuck
Let’s be honest, lathes in general can be quite intimidating to use, especially if you are a beginner. But with the BestEquip Mini Metal Lathe, doing metalwork should be a breeze. It is a simple machine that is known for its optimal precision. It has a 14-inch distance between centers and a 7-inch swing over bed. It also has a 4-way rotating turret and can work with different types of metal.CHECK LATEST PRICE
It doesn’t matter whether you are an expert or beginner in metalworking, this item should be able to provide all the power you need to complete a project. But its simplicity comes with few disadvantages. Like the fact that it doesn’t do anything special. If you are looking for a machine that can do many things, you may want to keep looking.
On the other hand, if your desire is simplicity, the BestEquip lathe is definitely worth considering. Just know that some of its users complained about poor quality components. You will also hear users who claimed that the motor is bad and that it is not that durable. But then again, if you’re a starter who just want the basics, this item is worth every penny.
7. BestEquip 8x16 Inch Metal Lathe
- 16" DBC
- 8" SOB
- Included 4-jaw chuck, tool storage box and accessories
- Precise and powerful
- Quick assembly
- Occasional shipping damage
- Made in China
- Slightly on expensive side
One of the best-selling metal lathes available today is the BestEquip 8x16. The reason behind its popularity is because it has an incredible RPM setting that offers precise parts and sample processing. This is ideal for use in laboratories, workshops, and even at home. It is a multifunctional automatic tool that provides accurate operation and professional performance.CHECK LATEST PRICE
But because of its remarkable features, this may not be for people who are looking for affordable ways to do metalwork. It can be quite expensive compared to other machines. But then, if you are searching for something that provides very precise thread range and versatile RPM settings, then this is definitely worth every penny.
It is also made out of durable quality materials, which makes it a great tool for people who plan to use the machine more often than usual. You need to be aware, though, that it needs a lot of work out of the box, meaning that you really have to read the user manual carefully in order to make it work properly. Designed by a reputable manufacturer, the BestEquip 8x16 is definitely an excellent machine for both beginner and expert metalworkers.
8. Erie Tools Precision Benchtop Mini Metal Lathe
Great for multi-material use
- 14" DBC
- 7" SOB
- Works with many materials
- Includes carbide tipped cutter kit, 3 jaw chuck, 11 feed rate gears
- Variable speed 50-2500RPM
- Good customer service
- Accessories poor quality
- Some shipping damage reported
- May need to spend on replacement parts
Looking for a tool that can do almost everything? The Erie Tools 7 x 14 Precision Benchto might just be the one for you. It’s that small but terrible thing that can help you drill, cut, and manipulate whatever material you have in your workspace. It doesn’t matter whether you are working on wood, metal, or plastic, this gem can do the job.CHECK LATEST PRICE
The package includes a 5 piece carbide-tipped cutter kit, external and internal chuck jaws, and a top quality chuck key. But even though it is known for its great functionality and flexibility, the Erie Tools can be quite complex to use, especially for new users, so that’s something to keep in mind. If you’re having a hard time operating the machine, then its user manual, which is included in the package, should be of great help.
Apart from helping you create awesome metalwork, this also provides top-notch performance. Not only is it designed with great finesse and precision, but it’s also built to last for many years. But some may get disappointed with how products are packed and delivered. As well, some replacement parts tend to be of poor quality. Nonetheless, if it’s ease and flexibility that you are looking for the with this item, it's what you'll get.
Why Choose Mini Metal Lathe
Saves a ton of space
Working in a smaller area is now made possible with mini metal lathes. If you are working with smaller metal projects then there is no need to buy heavy machines that eat up too much space in your work area. Instead, you get to choose a smaller version of it yet still high-quality. One that’s easy to operate and provides satisfactory results.
Work on different materials
Just like the heavier machines, these mini versions can also accommodate brass, steel, aluminum, and even wood. Along with metals, these portable tools can also be used on plastic. Unleash your creativity and work on various materials such as acetal, Delrin, Teflon, nylon, and even plexiglass. Although they are small in size, they have all the power and flexibility you need in order to create useful and artistic projects.
Multi-purpose mini monster
Keep in mind that almost all types of mini machines can remove oxidized residue from metal. And whether you are drilling holes into hardened materials or common metals, these mini monsters are your friend in whatever metalworking endeavors you have. You can even create cylindrical objects and beautiful pieces of jewelry such as rings. So yes, whether that’s small stuff like jewelry, home decor, or anything you can come up with, these tools got you covered.
The Best (Full Sized) Metal Lathe of 2020
Best Full-Size/Power Pick
While mini-sized machines are versatile and powerful enough to handle most metal turning projects for hobbyists or smaller shops, the fact remains that they just can’t accommodate larger workpieces which also require machines with more powerful motors. If you are looking for a larger and more powerful machine, then Jet 321360A might be the perfect option for you.
This machine is a full-sized option specifically designed for larger metal turning projects. It has a swing over capacity of 13 inches and an astounding 40-inch between centers capacity. Working with projects this large requires a very stable machine but it’s not an issue with the Jet 321360A since it’s not only big, it weighs a whopping 1,175 pounds which makes it very stable.
Aside from stability, larger projects also require a more powerful motor to get the job done. This machine does not lack power either as it has a 2HP motor which is strong enough for larger workpieces.
This is one of the best metal lathes you can get your hands on, and we actually don’t find any problems with its operations. But if we have to come up with something negative about it, it’s probably its price, size, and weight. It’s offered on Amazon at around $6,850 which puts it way beyond the budget of most people. In addition, its large size and heavy weight make it too heavy to move around so better make sure where exactly you want it placed in your workshop.
Metal lathes come in all shapes and sizes. By now, you’ve probably realized that we really can’t decide which option is perfect for you as only you know your specific needs and preferences. What we hope, however, is that you’ve found the equipment of your dreams in one of our suggestions. Or, at least, this article has helped you understand better what to look for when buying a machine for your workshop so you can make the right choice on your own.