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Types of Lathes[edit]

Wood Lathe[edit]

Pen Lathe[edit]

The general consensus among experienced pen crafters is that so-called pen lathes are a bad investment. After a short time many pen crafters want to expand their capabilities.  As an example, a pen lathe will not allow the pen crafter to mount a scroll chuck for drilling on the lathe if the crafter wishes to use that feature to make a more precise drilling in a segmented pen blank.

From what I can tell the term Pen Lathe is not a true variety of lathe. Rather a designation that is common among penturners.

exactly what qualifies as a Pen Lathe is a little bit up to each persons interpretation of the term.

here are some examples of lathes offered by various suppliers that are closely associated with their marketing of pen kits

Turncrafter listed as a Mini Lathe

Turncrafter Pro listed as a Midi Lathe

Carba-Tec 4SE Listed as a Mini Lathe

Delta Midi Lathe

Jet Mini Lathe 1014

Jet Mini Lathe 1220

Rikon 70-100 Mini Lathe

(Please add to this list)


In general the category containing the smallest and least powered lathes on the market. Comments made under Pen Lathes about them being a poor investment apply.

Mini lathes can be found in both wood lathe and metal lathes.

Examples of wood Mini lathes:

Turncrafter listed as a Mini Lathe

Carba-Tec 4SE Listed as a Mini Lathe

Jet Mini Lathe 1014

Jet Mini Lathe 1220

Rikon 70-100 Mini Lathe

(Please add to this list)

Examples of Metal Mini Lathes

Grizzly G8688 7x12

Central Machinery 93212 7x10

Central Machinery 93799 7x12

MicroLux 82710 7x14

Speedway 03911 7x12

ToolsNow (Cummins) 5278 7x12

(Please add to this list)

(Midi?) Metal Lathe

Grizzly G4000 9x20 (Also sold by HF, Enco, and Jet with different names and numbers)

(Please add to this list)


Examples of Midi Lathes:

Turncrafter Pro listed as a Midi Lathe

Delta Midi Lathe

(Please add to this list)

'Full Size' Wood Lathe[edit]

 Defining the difference between mini, midi and full size lathes is arbitrary as mentioned above. For the purposes of this page we can consider anything over 12 (or 12.5) inches swing to be a full size lathe. To make the definition more difficult, we can identify lathes as bench-top or stand-alone. A stand-alone lathe has the stand built into the lathe as an integral part of the ways, although some stand-alone lathes are simply benchtop lathes with a dedicated set of legs bolted to them. Some stand-alone lathes are as small as a 9-inch swing.

One of the advantages of a stand-alone lathe is that it does not take up bench space.  It may be easier to clean around a stand-alone lathe than a bench lathe. Spindle height may be more convenient to set on a stand-alone lathe than on a bench top lathe. However, a custom bench may put the spindle height at a more convenient location than a stand-alone lathe with a set of cast iron legs that have no adjustment to them.

Another advantage of a stand-alone lathe can be stability - the mass of the lathe enables a workpiece that is out of balance to be turned more readily than a small lathe.

Some brands of stand-alone, full size wood lathes that are available in North America.

Jet has a few models of stand-alone lathes.

Powermatic - this is an extension of the Jet line of lathes - some of the Powermatic models are available in other markets under the Jet brand. Their notable lathes are the 3520B and the 4224.

Oneway - these machines are built in Canada - they have benchtop and stand-alone models.  They also make a number of lathe accessories including sharpening jigs, chucks, a bowl coring system and more.

Nova (TeknaTool) - has one or two stand-alone lathes in their lineup

Robust - made in North America. Robust has a number of bench-top and standalone models, including a model specifically designed for the disabled turner.

Woodfast/Rikon - available through the Woodcraft stores and other resellers.

Metal Lathe[edit]

Pen turning[edit]

Some pen crafters use a metal lathe to turn pens.  Some use the auto-feed to turn the pen close to size and free-hand turn or sand the barrels to final size. Others purchase or fabricate tool rests to complete the entire turning "free hand."

One item of note is that typically a metal lathe has a lower high speed than does a metal lathe.  Many pen crafters turn the barrels of the pens at the highest speed (3000 to 4000 RPM) on their wood lathe.  Small metal lathes typically have top speeds of about 2000 RPM.

Another item to note is that a complete metal turning lathe with a auto-feed carriage has quite a bit of 'bulk' in the form of the autofeed carriage that may be difficult to move out of the way for turning the pen barrels.

Custom pen parts[edit]

Other pen crafters use a metal lathe to fabricate special parts that cannot be purchased in a hardware kit. Some of the custom turnings that can be completed are:

  • Center Bands
  • Nibs
  • Finials

Full-featured metal lathes have the ability to cut threads. This allows the custom pen crafter to make the items listed above, plus custom front-ends for fountain pens, and allows them to turn threads on barrels for fountain and roller-ball pens at the center joint.

Custom Tooling[edit]

Metal lathes can be used to make custom tooling such as custom bushings for the lathe. Examples are:

  • bushings for center-to-center turning
  • pin chucks for making closed end pens

Lathe Components[edit]

A lathe is made up of the following components:

Head stock[edit]

The headstock contains the drive spindle.  The spindle will usually have a standard Morse Taper hole and threads for attaching a chuck and other attachments for turning and holding work.  Micro lathes may not have a hole in the headstock.  The headstock will have a hole through the center of the headstock.  Stock can be fed through the headstock for working on the end and the hole can be used to loosen Morse Taper attachments.  Commonly used are MT1 and MT2 tapers.  Morse Tapers are an industry standard and have several sizes. From MT0 up to MT7 or

Tail stock[edit]

The tail stock (TS) component slides along the bed of the lathe to hold turning pieces and items of various lengths.  The TS has a clamping lever to fix the TS in position for a particular task.  A hand wheel will extend a cylinder (called a RAM) with a Morse Taper for holding a jacobs (drill) chuck or a live center.  Retracting the RAM will loosen a Morse Taper attachment.


The Banjo supports the tool post and locks it in position both vertically and horizontally.

Tool rest[edit]

The tool rest has a vertical post in common sizes of 5/8", 1", and 1-1/4" and a horizontal bar that supports the turning tool.  The bar can be from 4" to 12" in length.  Commonly made of "Mild" or "High Speed" steel.  The high speed steel posts are less likely to get grooves or nicks in them.

Bed (Ways)[edit]

The bed of the lathe is the surface that the tail stock and banjo slide on.  The bed ways are usually steel, but some higher end lathes have Stainless Steel ways.  Stainless steel is less likely to rust and is non-magnetic.


While strictly speaking not a lathe component "swing" is the maximum size piece that can be mounted on the lathe and turned.  It is measured from the center of the headstock taper to the top of the Bed (Ways).  Some lathes can extend the swing by moving the headstock, or removing part of the Bed (Ways).


Drive System[edit]

  • Belt Driven - A belt and pulleys connect the motor and headstock.   The pulleys on the motor and head stock have several different diameters.  These are available in many sizes.  If you depend on your lathe to be there when you need it, GET AN EXTRA BELT!!!
  • Variable Speed - A control on the lathe will control the speed of the lathe.  This is helpful when turning, then sanding, then finishing. 
    • Motor control changes the RPM of the electric motor (often DC).  These lathes will have belts and pulleys.  To get the full range of speed may require belt changes just like the Belt Driven lathes.
    • Some lathes use a variable diameter pulley called a "Reeves Drive" (Shopsmith is the best example of such a drive).  The motor runs at constant speed, and the ratio of the pulley diameters control the headstock RPM
  • Direct Drive - The best example of Direct Drive is the Nova DVR series of lathes.  These lathes have no pulleys or belts and can go from zero to max RPM

Purchasing a Lathe[edit]

  • Look for a lathe with MT2 shanks. (MT2=Morse Taper #2) These have the most common accessories for pen turning and common bowl turnings.
  • Electronic Variable Speed or non-VS.
    • To some this doesn't matter. To others who love to vary the speed for turning, fast for turning down, slow for sanding or applying finish, - VS is a real time saver. You can change the belt on the pulleys but this is an inconvenience to some. To others, the cost difference is not worth it. Beware that if you invest $200 - $350 for a lathe, it is doubtful that you will spend $400+ a year later for a new lathe just to get VS. Get the right one the first time.
  • A discussion of factors in Choosing A Lathe  is here.