So is it worth having a small metal lathe? Maybe. As with everything in the machining world, whether a machine is "worth it" depends entirely on what you want to do with it. Using it can be very enjoyable or you can be completely frustrated.Yes, just so you know, I felt compelled to write this post as I have seen many reviews of these little lathes from people who are not machine drivers (for example, they are not even close) and clearly have no idea what they are talking about. I am not a total enthusiast of these machines, but I was irritated enough by these popular, uneducated reviews that I thought I should at least share my honest opinion as a guy who really knows how to do things on a lathe other than Polish shafts.
For starters, small metal lathes are nothing new. They've been around for a long time, but their popularity has really grown thanks to online shopping.
To be clear, I don't mean tool lathes like these small 6 x 20 inch stationary machines. These little machines are amazing but are usually quite old and tired if you find them at the same price as a small lathe. Even if you have this in your tool lathe budget, definitely pick one (as long as it's been done wisely).
In fact, there are several different small machines that can be described as "small metal lathe". One type is this small lathe manufactured by Sherline. This is not the one I am talking about in this post as it is not the machine that is most often referred to by that name.
The Sherline Small Lathe is a tiny little machine that can either be available as a hand lathe or equipped with stepper motors as a CNC / Hand Machine combination. Honestly, it's fun to play with them and I made some nice knick-knacks on mine. But they have their own set of pros and cons, so it's a toy for another post.
I'm talking about a small lathe here that you will see online. If you want to take a look at it, google it. It is the relatively low cost that makes these machines attractive.
The most popular machines are probably 7 × 14. This means they can technically turn anything up to 7 "in diameter and up to 14" in length. I say technically because there are tons of caveats to this statement, and you'll never be able to have a workpiece that is actually 7 7 in diameter and 14″ in length.
There are also some longer and shorter machines, such as 10 ″, 12 ″, 18 ″, and possibly a few more. however, the 7 ″ swing is quite common.
This is an absolutely valuable question. Is there any brand that is better than others? Could online reviews be incomplete or biased as some buy cheaper from cheap lathes than others?
You'll see different "brand names", but from every indication I've seen, they're all basically the same. In fact, I would not be surprised if every "small lathe" in the world was made in one factory, painted in different colors and marked with different stickers.
I would really have a hard time convincing myself that selling a 7 × 14 for $ 900 is better than selling a 7 × 14 for $ 700, unless it has other features. It can come with a variety of accessories that could justify it, perhaps with an extra feature or two, but that's pretty good given the choice, I'd always be cheaper by default. I would rather have $ 200 than not have $ 200 after purchasing such a small toy.
The only exception is power. Some have 250W motors, some have 350W motors, and some have 500W. Power is by far the most limiting feature of these machines, so in my opinion, it's worth spending a little extra on 500W machines, unless you're very, very patient.
These things are made deep within China and should not be expected to become a family heirloom. Soon everyone will have to replace some parts within the first year of moderate use.
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