Choosing your first mini metal lathe as a beginner? Must read this!

image source:

Stop wandering around the gates of mechanistic creativity and start giving life to your imagination, using the best mini metal lathes you can lay your hands on as a beginner machinist.

First thing’s first! What “Is” a mini metal lathe, exactly?

For starters, a metal lathe is a machining tool that you can use to turn metals into a cylindrical shape. Usually, they are pretty heavy and big machines.

On the other hand, mini metal lathes are rather smaller in size and easy to operate. Thus they are always suitable for a machinist who is just starting out.

Using the miniature version, you can better understand this mechanism and gain the basic knowledge to implement them in future endeavors.

So, this article is specifically designed for beginners who’re keen to enter this complex yet a promising world of creating fascinating metalworks. To begin, I want to discuss the mechanism of this tool and how it works so you have a better idea.

Where Can We Use Mini Lathe and How Does it Work?

Simply put, a mini-lathe and micro-lathes for turning metals are nothing but miniature versions of a general-purpose center lathe. So, they usually can handle works of 3 to 7 inches in diameter to 1.5 to 3.5 inches in radius.

This means you can easily use it anywhere you like, from home workshops to MRO shops.

As a matter of fact, these benchtop metal lathes are perfect for beginners as well as professionals. They are small and most importantly, very affordable, unlike the heavyweight metal lathes like the Shop Fox M1112.

Designed for machining hard materials, it can also be used in a wide range of applications and a broad range of materials.

Now, lathes can vary depending on the intended application. But there’s a standard layout of this tool. And understanding the layout will help you grasp the mechanism easily.

Once understood well, you can make the best out of these mini metal lathes.

Speaking of the basic layout- it has a headstock, bed, carriage, and tailstock. Each part has its own function that is precisely put together.

This is just one of many aspects where the expensive mini lathe machines and cheap ones differ. An ideal lathe is much better at functioning as well.

Want to know how the parts of the machine function? Read on!

Headstock — What’s in There and the Way It Works!

You’ll find the central spindle in the headstock, a system to change speeds, and a gearbox. The main spindle allows long bars to extend through to the area where it all “Happens.”

This thing also minimizes the waste of material. The latter two are pretty self-explanatory. Speed changer and gearbox make sifting through speed levels relatively easy.

There’s Something Called the “Bed” as Well

This is the solid base that is connected with the headstock. It makes sure that the carriage and the tailstock move parallel with the axis of the spindle.

To get accurate cutting geometry, level the bed when you install it in your workspace.

Don’t Forget about the Carriage!

Once installed, you’ll be using this part the most. The carriage holds the tool bit, and you can control this by moving it either longitudinally or perpendicularly.

You can move this using the handwheel or automatically by engaging the feed shaft with the carriage feed mechanism.

What is Tailstock?

It’s a drill tool that sits on the opposite side of the headstock. Even though the spindle doesn’t rotate, it moves longitudinally. It has a taper to hold drill bits, centers, and other tooling.

You can also position this along the bed or clamp this in position according to your workpiece.

So, these are the common parts that a basic benchtop metal lathe has. Besides these, you’ll also find feed and lead screws, cross-slide, compound rest, toolpost, and other intricate parts.

Once you begin to work with this machine, you’ll slowly understand every nooks and cranny of it.

Consider Reading This Guide Before You Buy

Choosing a quality mini metal lathe as a beginner isn’t an easy task because they all have different capabilities as well specifications. This task gets even more difficult if you’re new and don’t have that much of a clear idea.

Since there’re lots of mini-lathes available, you might easily get overwhelmed by the diversity.

To ease up the job for you, I’ll drop some crucial beads. These are factors people need to consider if they want a mini lathe machine that’ll meet requirements.

But first of all, you need to make up your mind. You have to decide what you want from your lathe. Let’s consider few aspects, shall we?

How You’re Going to Use it?

I’ve already mentioned this briefly at the beginning. The reason is that you must know what you’ll be working in the first place. When you decide that, you’ll know exactly what unit you need.

In that case, you need to check two critical specifications carefully. They are the swing over bed or SOB and the distance between centers or DBC.

The first one refers to the maximum diameter of the workpiece that your lathe will handle.

The latter refers to the maximum length of your workpiece. Now, if your workpiece’s diameter or size doesn’t go with the lathe, then bummer.

So, if your intended workpiece is larger, you should consider a lathe with a broader swing over the bed and a wider distance between the centers.

Remember, mini-metal lathes tend to have relatively small SOB and DBC. So, kindly determine the size of metal turning applications and then check these two specifications accordingly.

Will it Fit in Your Workplace?

This might sound silly, but it’s imperative. You don’t want to end up with a machine that you can’t install in your small home shop or workplace for being oversized.

So, before purchasing one, make sure you have the right amount of space to install it. But as these are all benchtop lathes, so you’ll be just fine.

I wrote an article to help you set up a wood lathe that you can relate to also to have some sort of idea.

It’s also crucial that you consider the space around it so you don’t feel restrained while working. You need all the flexibility and freedom you can get.

You need to be able to move freely around your lathe. Thus, it is highly advised you think of this thoroughly before buying your first mini-lathe.

Is the Lathe Easy to Use?

These machines are generally packed with features to offer the users versatility. These things also tend to make the lathe look a bit more menacing. For example, a beginner might not know where to start or how to start.

If he/she has a particular thing to do, then finding the right option or feature might be difficult. I know how it sounds, but it’s true. It happens.

Therefore, look for lathes that have a user-friendly design. It shouldn’t be too difficult or complex to operate these tiny metal lathes.

Because if it is, then your workflow will not improve. You’ll have to keep searching for suitable features. It might dishearten new users as well as pros.

On another note, having lots of features doesn’t mean that it has a complex design. You can always use the user manual to help you through.

But my suggestion for amateurs would be that, start small. Pick a machine that has a simple design and basic features only.

I figured they cost less. Also, you’ll be at ease while working with such a machine.

Once your basic skills reach a particular stage, then venture for a complex one that’s full of features to take your machine mastery to a whole new level.

Is The Lathe Powerful Enough?

This is another vital issue that you need to consider when it comes to buying a mini metal lathe. If the motor fails to generate enough power, then you won’t get the desired results.

But it won’t happen with a good quality metal lathe that can produce 1 to 3 HP. Now, for small work like threading or making ornaments, wedding rings, and stuff, 1 horsepower will be enough. But of course the more the better.

Usually, that number is considered as ‘fine.’ So, check the motor’s capacity to be sure.

Go For Variable Speed

While still on the motor subject, let’s turn our attention to the variable speed control features.

If you ask me, it’s a must-have feature.

If you’re an amateur machinist and do not wish for any hardcore usage, you can settle for 30 RPM to 1200 RPM. But as it happens, any pretty decent mini-lathe has at least a variable speed of 0 to 2000 RPM.

These numbers will help you when you want to up your game.

Here’s an unpopular opinion: don’t think too hard about variable speed. Yes, it’s a must-have feature, I know.

But as a matter of fact, if you’re not interested in hardcore tasks, there’s a snowball chance in hell that you’ll need high-speed rotation.

On the contrary, if you’re a professional machinist and your work demands high-quality polishing, then don’t compromise on this matter.

So as you can see there are so many things to keep in mind before you actually diving for one.

This article was originally posted on my blog. You can find the list of the best machines there. Good luck!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store