A metal lathe is a machine that shapes metals by removing or shaving off material from the workpiece through cutting, drilling, turning, facing, and threading. It is comprised of the headstock located at the left side of the equipment, the tailstock on the far right, the carriage in between the two, and the bed that supports everything.
The headstock consists of the change gears and speed mechanism that control the speed of the rotating workpiece, which is securely locked in place by chuck jaws or faceplates. The tailstock has a spindle that stays still (does not rotate) but with a taper that can hold drill bits and other tools as it is moved in position along the bed to drill a hole into the workpiece; it can also hold the other end of a long workpiece to provide support. A carriage houses or supports the cross slide and compound rest from which the tool post that securely holds the multiple tool bits in place is mounted; it can be moved perpendicularly for facing and longitudinally for turning. The bed should be rigid, stable, and capable of absorbing the vibrations produced during operations.
Metal lathes may all look similar as they seem to have all the necessary features and specs required for machining, but they are not the same, so do not think that it does not matter what you buy because it does. The quality of your work, efficiency, ease of use, and your safety depends on what you will buy. Here are some guidelines that would help you in choosing the metal lathe for your metal crafting needs:
In machining, there are two kinds of measurements that you should look into. The first one is the swing over bed, which is the distance from the center of the headstock to the bed multiplied by two, and this would give you the maximum diameter that the metal piece you are working on can rotate without hitting the bed. The second one is the distance between the centers of the headstock and tailstock, which determines the length of the workpiece it can accommodate or handle.
When the size of a lathe is described as 7” x 10”, for example, it means that the swing over bed is seven inches and the distance between centers is 10 inches. Of course, you still need to give a little allowance or space for the tool bits to have access to the workpiece during the cutting or drilling process.
With this in mind, you should determine the size you need for the projects you are interested in or planned on doing. You do not need a bigger size when a small one would do; just make sure that the size of your project would fit the lathe that you would be getting.
The weight of the metal lathe would depend on its size. There are small ones that weigh 20 to 30 pounds while a mini-lathe that is 7” x 14” weighs around 80 to 100 pounds. As it gets bigger, it weighs more. Those that came with a bench or a stand and a cabinet can be as heavy as 500 to 1000 pounds. Some are even bigger and heavier than that. The heavy ones would require an engine hoist or A-frames to move the machine around and transport. As a beginner or hobbyist, you can get the small or the mini-metal lathe, which would be sufficient for your projects.
Your workroom might be filled with other types of machinery, tools, and stuff, so you have to make room for the metal lathe. It needs a power source, so it should be near one. Do not forget that you need to put the machine on top of a sturdy table, so consider its size as well. There should be room behind the headstock for easy access to the change gears. You would be operating it, so you should have enough space to move and work with ease.
An important element in the process of cutting or shaping the workpiece is the speed of rotation of the lathe’s chuck or the spindle speed measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). You should also look into the feed rate, which is the distance traveled by the tool in one spindle revolution. There are speed requirements for the type of cut, the material you would work on, and the surface finish you want to achieve. A good lathe should offer variable speed for better work efficiency and versatility.
The price of a metal lathe would vary depending on the brand and model. As you would have budget requirements, it would narrow down your options. However, you still have to check the specs and features of each one and the accessories included so that you would know if you are getting your money’s worth. Some might be cheaper than others but would lack most of the accessories or tools that you would need. Also, a more expensive one does not necessarily mean that you would learn faster using it. Read the feedback of customers to help you decide.
Best Metal Lathes For Beginners
Central Machinery 7” x 10” Precision Mini-Lathe
This mini-lathe from Central Machinery is a good option for those just starting out with their metal crafting projects. It is inexpensive and compact but useful enough for light metal turning or facing. It has a 7-inch swing over bed measurement and 10 inches of distance between centers. With a 3/4HP power motor, it can operate at low speed with zero to 1100 RPM and can go at a maximum speed of 2500 RPM.
Setting it up could pose a problem for beginners, but you only need to look at the manual or watch YouTube videos to help you with it. You might also have to disassemble, clean, grease, adjust or tune it up first before you start using it. Make sure that you tighten up everything. Left-hand users should be mindful of the toggle switch that controls the forward/neutral/reverse switch as they might accidentally touch it. The lathe is equipped with a chuck guard and microswitch for the safe use of this equipment.
You do have to buy some of the accessories you would need for your projects, such as the cutting tools, center drills, parting blades, bits, and hex keys, as these are not included when you purchase this particular model.
BestEquip 7” x 10” Mini-Metal Lathe
This mini-metal lathe from BestEquip is most suitable for beginners as it offers durability, accuracy, versatility, and ease of use. It is made of high-grade cast iron, making it sturdy and resistant to damage from usage and wear. The distance between centers is 13.78 inches (350mm), and then swing over bed measurement is 7.09 inches (180mm). It has a 0.82-inch (21mm) spindle bore with a spindle speed that varies ranging from 50 to 2250 RPM (revolutions per minute) and which can be controlled manually or using the auto feed. The three-jaw chuck has a diameter of 3.94 inches (100mm), and it ensures spindle accuracy within 0.01mm.
It has a swing over cross slide of 110 mm with a cross slide travel of 2.53 inches (65mm). The four blades and the four-way tool post on a T-slotted compound slide can provide a convenient way of changing the angle or position of the tool to accomplish the type of metal shaping, cutting, turning, or facing that is required. It comes equipped with a backsplash guard. It also has a large red button, which works as an emergency stop button.
The package dimensions are 32.99 x 14.02 x 12.99 inches and it weighs 101.9 pounds.
Erie Tools 7” x 14” Precision Benchtop Mini Metal Milling Lathe
This mini metal benchtop lathe has a lot of things going for it as it comes with a complete set of plastic change gears, a 5-piece carbide-tipped cutter kit, MT3 spindle taper, MT2 dead center tailstock taper, and internal and external chuck jaws. The spindle bore is 0.79 inches (20mm), and the chuck diameter is four inches.
The package dimensions for this mini-lathe are 36 x 17.3 x 14.6 inches, and it weighs 104.2 pounds. It has a swing over bed measurement of 7 inches, and the distance between the center of the headstock and the center of the tailstock is 14 inches. The lathe can work with metals of up to 84 cubic inches. With a single-phase 0.53HP motor, it can offer variable speeds ranging from 50 to 2500 RPM on either rotational directions, which makes it convenient for left-hand threading (12-52 TPI, metric or imperial thread indicator). Adjusting or controlling the speed with the digital readout makes it simple and easy.
A beginner would find this an efficient machine with the chuck jaws holding the workpiece securely in place as the auto-feed is adjusted to the right speed and the tool post with 5/16-inch capacity allowing easy substitutions on the four cutting tools that are mounted at the same time.
Grizzly G8688 7” x 12” Mini-Metal Lathe
This high-quality product from Grizzly is perfect for beginners or hobbyists as it has the features and specs that offer precision and durability so you can work on your projects with ease. It measures 13 x 30.25 x 13 inches. The maximum diameter that this lathe can handle is 7 inches, and the length of the workpiece should fit the 12-inch space between the headstock center and tailstock center. It comes with a backsplash guard and a chip tray.
The mini-metal lathe operates with a 3/4HP single phase motor and allows a variable speed of zero to 1100 RPM (low speed) and up to 2500 RPM (high speed), which would give you the desired cut and finish for a particular workpiece.
TECHTONGDA Brushless Motor Precision Mini-Metal Lathe DIY Bench Lathe 110V
This bench mini-lathe from TECHTONGDA is a great tool for all sorts of projects that require drilling, boring, threading, facing, and turning. The fact that it is equipped with metal gears and bearings makes it durable and resistant to wear. It has a 7-inch (80mm) swing over bed measurement and an 11.8-inch or 12-inch (300mm) distance between two centers.
It has a 110 V 600W brushless motor that can power up the machine and enable speed ranging from 50 to 2500 RPM. The spindle bore measures 0.8 inches (21mm), and the chuck diameter is 3.9 inches (100mm).
With a package size of 32 x 16 x 16 inches and weighing 150 pounds, it is advisable that you already have the best place in mind on where you would position it on your workroom because it would be difficult, if not impossible for you to manage it alone if you want to keep on moving it.