The 8 Best Metal Lathe’s For 2020 [Buyers Guide]

Having a good metal lathe by your side will no doubt take your metalwork to the next level. These tools are principally used for shaping thick and heavy metal, meaning with these machines, 99% of your metal fabrication needs will be well sorted.

Metal lathes, whether for garage or industrial use, tend to cost a lot more than other machines. You have to be well informed on the market to avoid making losses or buying products that don’t meet your needs.

Worry not, though; we understand the challenges that arise when buying a metal lathe for the first time. In this best metal lathe review, we will highlight eight lathes that are proven performers. We don’t stop there! We take it a notch further and discuss the main components, as well as some of the main features that you need to be on the look-out for when you’re ready to buy.

Top 8 Metal Lathes Reviewed

Central Machinery Precision Mini Lathe

Features:
  • Variable speed control knob
  • Automatic feed
  • 0-2500 RPM
  • Chuck guard that comes with a micro switch for enhanced safety
  • ¾ HP motor that is single phase
  • Impressive thread range of 12-52 threads an inch
  • 7 inch swing overcapacity
  • 10 inches distance between the machine`s centers
Product image of Central Machinery Precision Mini Lathe

The Central Machinery Precision Mini Lathe is one of the most affordable, high-quality lathes for a home workshop. This tool is a proven top performer that is capable of making bushings, counter facing, turning, making models, and prototypes. You can use this precision micro tool for workshops, labs, educational, and engineering settings. The Central Machinery is highly versatile as it comes with settings that allow you to switch between auto and manual modes.

Pros

  • Highly affordable, making it among the cheapest but best-rated in the industry.
  • It can accomplish small and medium tasks with relative ease due to its 4 Amps and 250-260 wattage.
  • Power switch comes with a light indicator that notifies you if the motor is turned on, thereby making it easier to determine whether the machine is working or not.
  • Boasts of a forward, reverse, and off function. The forward function is the basic operation but can be reversed to make counterclockwise turns. Be sure to switch off before changing the functions.
  • Automatic feed
  • Variable speed setting (0-2500 RPM)
  • Among the easiest to use
  • Comes with a control knob that is easy to use

Cons

  • Lacks in cutting tools
  • Cannot work on large projects

Shop Fox M1015 6-inch by 10-Inch Micro Lathe

Features:
  • 4 hex wrenches,
  • 100-2000 RPM spindle speed
  • Socket head wrench
  • Comes with an oil cap and stand
  • Chuck key with three external jaws
  • AC power source
  • 110 Volts
  • Weighs 71 pounds
  • 10″ size between centers
  • 3/8″ spindle bore
Product image of Shop Fox M1015 6-inch by 10-Inch Micro Lathe

If you want a durable miniature metal lathe with a superior design that can fit in fairly small locations, then you should consider the Shop Fox M1015. This product is ideal for toolmakers, gun hobbyists, model makers, as well as the weekend machinist who wants to produce threaded parts, precision parts, and fittings economically. With the Shop Fox Micro, you get uncompromised versatility primarily due to its ability to work on both small and large projects. It is also affordable, making it appropriate for hobbyists and toolmakers who want an affordable but still fairly powerful tool.

Pros
  • Comes with parts that are ruggedly built for durability
  • 2 year warranty that ensures you get repair and free servicing in the event of faults from the manufacturer’s side
  • Has convenient dimensions that allow the machine to fit in small locations
  • The control panel is conveniently located to allow for ease of use.
  • Boasts of several functionalities such as the speed dial, clutch knob, and selector knob which allow you to make several adjustments to suit your turning needs.
  • It comes with both manual and auto-feed settings. You can use the manual feed handwheel to move the carriage right or left along the bed.
  • Feed clutch that allows users to switch between automatic and manual feeds.
  • Can cut threads that measure 16, 18, 19, 20 and 24 threads per inch
  • It comes with a threading chart to help users determine the appropriate gears to utilize for your threading needs.
  • Longitudinal handwheel allows you to achieve the right threading angles
  • Small, compact but also heavy duty as well.
  • Appropriate for experts and beginners and allows you to learn the turning techniques as you look to advance your skills.
Cons

  • The speed settings might require adequate time to learn to use.

Erie Tools 7×14 Precision Bench Top Mini Metal Milling Lathe

Features:
  • MT2 Tailstock Taper
  • MT3 Spindle Taper
  • 4’’ chuck diameter (80mm)
  • 79’’ spindle bore (20mm)
  • 56’’ cross slide travel
  • 1mm-0.2mm longitudinal feed rate
  • Manual Power source
  • Thread indicator
  • 11 feed-rate gear system
Product image of Erie Tools 7x14 Precision Bench Top Mini Metal Milling Lathe

With 14-inches of space between its centers and a 7’’ swing, the Erie Tools 7×14 Precision Bench Top Mini Metal Milling can perform several functions. It boasts of variable speeds and provides up to 2500RPM for increased precision when cutting metal. You can turn metal up to an impressive 84 cubic-inches with this tool. You can also left-hand thread. The product comes equipped with several other must-have accessories like an MT3 spindle Taper, MT2 tailstock paper, plastic change gears that come in a complete set, and a carbide-tipped cutter kit (5-piece).

Pros
  • Comes with an easy-to-understand digital readout that allows you to adjust your RPMs with ease
  • You can utilize metric or imperial pitches to screw threads in the TPI range of 12-52
  • Multiple jaws that will enable you to hold different sizes of material with ease
  • Boasts of a fully adjustable auto-feed function
  • Simple switching to cutting tools
  • Comes with a user manual that explains the setup procedures and usage
  • Durable and maintains high-levels of performance throughout usage
  • Can perform medium to small projects with ease
  • Affordable for its quality and durability
Cons

  • Highly sensitive to rust, meaning you have to rustproof your workshop surface before using the machine

Grizzly Industrial G8688-72’’ x 12’’ Mini Metal Lathe

Features:
  • Variable Speed
  • Forward and reverse features at different speeds
  • Backsplash and chip tray guard
  • Thread dial indicator
  • Metric and standard graduation
  • ISO certified production
  • 7’’ swing bed
  • 12’’ distance between its centers
  • 16mm bore size
  • MT3 spindle nose taper
  • MT2 tailstock taper
  • 18 inch and 10 metric thread pitches
  • Thread range of 12-52 TPI
Product image of Grizzly Industrial G8688-72’’ x 12’’ Mini Metal Lathe

Although the Grizzly Industrial G8688 packs a relatively small size, its performance and versatility make it rank well in the list of top-performing lathes. This small but powerful machine derives its power from its 3/4 HP motor. Its 0-2500 RPM, as well as metric reading user dials, make this bad boy ideal for small jobs and hobbyist tasks. Another impressive feature of this machine is that it comes with several accessories that make usage a breeze. Some of the extra equipment you can expect to get from this machine is a 3’’, 3-jaw chuck that comes with external jaws, a 4-way turret post, service tools, a 6-1/4 faceplate, and a steady rest.

Pros
  • Small and compact size allowing it to fit into smaller places.
  • Variable speed setting allows you to select from a range of speeds depending on your type of project.
  • Comes packed with several accessories such as chip pan, jaw chuck, and a backsplash guard that help you save money.
  • It can perform well on medium projects as it has durable gears and high-quality parts.
  • Threading dial indicator as well as the metric and standard handwheel graduations make the usage of this lathe fairly easy.
  • Variable speed of 0-1100 RPM and 0-2500 gives you increased versatility to perform work in both forward and reverse.
Cons

  • Can wobble when working on thick metals, making it appropriate for small and medium tasks.

BestEquip Maintenance Free Metal Lathe Variable Spindle Speed Lathe

Features:
  • 8-1/4″ (210mm) swing over bed
  • 4-5/8″ (117mm) cross slide
  • 15-3/4 (400mm) distance between its centers
  • 750W motor power
  • Varying spindle speed range (low 50-1250, high100-2500 RPM)
  • Comes with a user manual and a set of accessories
  • Two Jaw chucks (4’’3 and 4’’4)
  • Comes with a storage box for your tools
Product image of BestEquip Maintenance Free Metal Lathe Variable Spindle Speed Lathe

The Best Equip Maintenance Free Metal Lathe is among the best on the market. This mean-machine can perform at a high level and get most, if not all, turning jobs done with ease. It is built to last and provide a high level, versatile performance. Despite being classified as a mini-or small-sized tool, this machine can handle significantly large projects, making it a top-shelve product for lathes in its class. You can expect longer service and utility life due to its brushless motor (1HP) that powers its 50-2500 RPM spindle. The presence of a 4-way turret tool post will help you when you need to change tools.

Pros
  • Appropriate for modeling works, sample processing, and parts processing as well due to its accurate rotations.
  • Wear-resistant and highly durable.
  • Can handle large products due to its fairly long distance between centers.
  • No longer have to replace carbon brushes due to the brushless lather that increases the durability.
Cons

  • Costly for people with small to medium home or workshop usage.
  • Large-sized, meaning it won`t fit well in crowded or small spaces.

Grizzly Industrial G0602-10’’ x 22″ Benchtop Metal Lathe

Features:
  • Unique V-Way bed that is precision-ground and hardened
  • Quick change, accessible gearbox
  • Comes with apron assemblies and a full-featured carriage that provide accurate finishes
  • Includes steady and follow Rest
  • Boasts of a backsplash guard and a Chip Tray
  • Comes with both 4-Jaw and 3-Jaw Chucks
  • 8’’ Faceplate
  • Standard graduations on the handwheel
Product image of Grizzly Industrial G0602-10’’ x 22" Benchtop Metal Lathe

If you want to take your turning projects to the ultimate level without spending too much, then the Grizzly Industrial is your best bet. This high-performing machine boasts of a 10’’ by 22’’ bench, a wide thread range, larger chucks, and a wider bed. The 25mm spindle bore, as well as the lead screw that measures 3/4″-12 TPI, ensures that you can work on hefty projects. This bad boy is multi-purpose and works on both small and large projects with relative ease. Although the Grizzly Industrial G0602 comes at a high-cost, the expense is worth it as it is a certified, highly versatile top performer.

Pros
  • Quick access to pulleys and change gears make the device simple to use. This helps save time and increase your efficiency when using the shaping machine.
  • The 4-way Turret post that allows for smooth changes
  • Can work on light, medium, and heavy turning projects
  • The chuck bed has ideal dimensions that will enable big projects
Cons

  • The Grizzly Industrial is quite expensive, meaning you must be prepared to pay more to acquire it.

Grizzly Industrial G4003G-12’’x 36″ Gunsmithing Lathe with Stand

Features:
  • Swing over bed (12 feet)
  • Swing over gap (17 feet)
  • 40mm spindle bore
  • Heavy duty, iron stand
  • Gear covered by cast aluminum for increased durability
  • Support screws for the outboard end
  • Halogen working light
  • Splash guard
  • Easy to use and understand lever controls
  • Nine different spindle speeds that range from 70 to 1400 RPM
Product image of Grizzly Industrial G4003G-12’’x 36" Gunsmithing Lathe with Stand

The Grizzly Industrial G4003G-12’’x 36″ is, without a doubt, a professional lathe that boasts of world-class features and unbelievable capabilities. Impressively, this tool comes in a neat, compact shape that helps it fit in small-sized workshops. But, despite its relatively small size, it can perform cutting tasks like no other. It comes with a cast iron stand that ensures it is well housed all the time. Furthermore, it comes with a removable gap bed that facilitates turning of up to 17 feet.

Pros
  • The removable gap bed increases the usability of this tool, allowing you to turn metals with a diameter of up to an incredible 17 feet.
  • The heavy-duty iron stand provides a great surface for placing the device.
  • The ground cast and extra hardened iron bed increase the efficiency when working on tough metal items.
  • Comes in a neat, compact size that allows it to fit in relatively small spaces
  • The full-length, strategically positioned splash guard enhances safety
  • Appropriate for both experienced users and hobbyists looking to take their turning and cutting skills to the next level.
  • Comes well-stocked with necessary accessories
  • Lever controls are simple to understand and use, making it appropriate for users of different skill levels.
Cons

  • Costly.

Jet 321360A BDB-1340A

Features:
  • 1 3/8 Inches spindle hole size
  • Impressive 13’’ swing
  • 40 inches between centers
  • 12 spindle speeds that range from 60 to 1240 RPM
  • Comes with stand (optional)
  • Boasts of a control lever that is carriage mounted
  • Noise reduction due to helical-cut gears
  • Change gears facilitate smooth metric threading
  • Fully interlocked threading and automatic feeding
  • Comes with headstock and center sleeves
  • 12’’ faceplate
  • Coolant tray to prevent overheating during use
  • Graduated quill
Product image of Jet 321360A BDB-1340A

The Jet 321360A is an industry leader when it comes to quality, long-lasting, and efficient lathes. You simply cannot go wrong with this beast of a machine. It comes with a unique gearbox design that is enclosed, thus allowing for quiet, smooth operations. The Jet 321360A boasts of well ground V-way bed that comes with a gap-bed section that ensures you have enough space to work. The price is indicated by a 2-year Jet warranty, although this bad boy has been known to last for several years without the need for repairs provided it is well maintained and serviced.

Pros
  • Built to last as it uses high-quality components.
  • Appropriate for large scale industrial work due to its large chuck bench.
  • Easy to change gears due to its user-friendly design.
  • The enclosed gearbox allows you to use it without making much noise.
  • It comes with an ultra-powerful 2HP single-phase, 230V motor.
  • The 12 varying spindle speeds give you increased flexibility when working on different products.
Cons

  • The Jet 321360A is quite costly, which makes it unrealistic for home or low-scale ownership.

All eight lathes discussed above are among the best in the market. We considered several factors, such as quality, efficiency, and price range when coming up with the list. While some are affordable and simple to use, others are a bit costly and require adequate skill for proper usage. It all depends on your preferences and, of course, your budget.

As promised, in the next section, we will shed more light on the key things you should consider when shopping for your next lathe.

Buying a metal lathe might is not as straightforward as most people think. Even the most experienced users tend to get confused, mainly due to the fairly complex terminologies associated with the tool. Here’s an explanation of some of the key features to help you better understand the features when you come across them.

Lathe Size

Lathes come in different sizes. Industrial lathes usually have larger sizes as compared to lathes designed for light tasks. You should consider factors such as the type of project you want to perform as well as the space in your workshop.

If you have restricted or compact space, then going for large-sized lathes is not recommended. The big lathes like the Jet 321360A require adequate space for optimum use.

Lathe Size

Headstock Bearings

Most of these tools utilize spindle assembly and headstocks that enable the machines to handle speeds and loads of different sizes. You need to look if a machine uses taper roller bearings or ball bearings in the headstock.

Taper rolling or ball bearings are painless to replace in the event of damage. A plain bearing is usually more challenging and expensive to replace. Ball and roller systems are often easy to maintain, thus saving you costs in the long run.

Spindle Speed

The best lathes should come with variable speed control features. A home-based lathe should have started from 30 RPM to around 1200RPM. If you want to perform more intensive tasks, you can select machines that can manage anything in the range of 2000RPMs or higher. But, RPM should not stress you since high-speed rotations are rarely needed, except when working on specific projects that require top-notch polishing.

Lathe spindle speed

 Drive Systems

Lathes come with varying drive systems and capacities. Some lathes will use variable electronic speed drives while most will utilize the V belt drive mechanisms. V-belt drive allows for improved bending when operating on large masses, which increases the efficiency of the lathe during use.

Initial designs utilized the flat belt drive, which had more frictional engagement between the pulleys. However, with the V-belt drive, the pulley can manage better speeds, which is appropriate for metalwork.

Power

Power is among the main issues that you should consider when it comes to buying a lathe. Small lathes normally pack up electric motors ranging from 1 to 3HP. Beyond that, you can find lathes that operate on a single-phase supply, meaning you can plug them easily into your domestic outlet.

You will need an inverter or convertor when using a 3-phase power supply lathe.

Centers

Leading lathes in the market normally feature a Morse taper. The recommended sizes are either no. 2 or no. 3 as they are usually simple to operate. No.1 tapers are often difficult to manipulate, especially if you are a first-timer.

Tumbler Reverse

If you want to work with the best lathes in the market, it is advisable to go for those with reverse features. The tumbler reverse feature allows you to change the direction of motion. This allows the cutting tool to cut in reverse, thus enabling you to perform various cutting and turning roles.

Buying the lathe that meets your specific requirements should not be too hard. Provided you keep the following factors in mind, then you will be well placed to get a product that is 100% value for your money.

Warranty

Metal lathes, especially industrial lathes, can be quite expensive. As a result, you will need to be extra careful about factors such as warranty. While some products won’t provide you with any warranties, we advise settling for lathes that come with extensive-enough warranties, more so if you want an industrial lathe. Most products come with 2-year warranties that help guarantee you won’t suffer huge losses due to fault on the manufacturer’s side.

Size of your Work-Space

Metal lathes are not easy to move around. Even the cheapest lathes designed for home use usually come packed with a considerable amount of weight. This means that moving lathes around your workplace is not ideal. Before settling for a carriage tooling device, be sure to consider your working space area and environment.  [Read our full guide] on top-rated tables and benches. Big machines require adequate space as cramping up can lead to overheating and subsequent underperformance or even damage.

a vice on a workshop bench

 Swing over Distance (SOD) and Distance between Centers (DBC)

Swing over distance (SOD) is a crucial factor to keep in mind when selecting a tool since it is the maximum diameter of the workpiece that can be handled by a lathe. The DBC, on the other hand, is the greatest length of a material that can be handled by the machine when operational.

If you intend to work on large products, then you should consider going for lathes with great SOD and DBC lengths. Metal lathes for domestic use tend to have small to average SOD and DBC lengths.

Budget

With several lathes available in different price ranges, it is vital to understand your budget to ensure that you consider lathes within your financial reach. Garage models are usually affordable as they have features relevant to home or domestic workshop usage. Industrial lathes, on the other hand, tend to cost a lot, mainly due to their advanced features and fabricating capabilities. Although lathes like the Jet 321360A can be quite costly, they come with superior performance that allows you to manage all projects.

Experience

Although the best lathes come with adequate safety measures, it is always advisable to start small as you advance to more complex devices. A machine like the Central Machinery Precision Mini Lathe is appropriate for beginners not only due to its friendly price but also because of its easy-to-use features. This allows you to learn how to use such machines properly. Both experts and beginners can use a machine like the Grizzly Industrial G4003G. However, the many features and complexity of the device can lead to underutilization. Start with small lathes that come with the features you want then plan on advancing as you improve your skills.

workshop

Ease of Use

Metal lathes come with several features, all of which are aimed at increasing efficiency. While some features and designs might be appropriate for experts, you might want to think twice about getting lathes with ultra-complex designs if you are a first-timer. Some advanced lathes like the Grizzly Industrial G4003G and Jet 321360A boast of simplistic, user-friendly designs. We recommend settling for lathes that are simple to use.

It is also advisable to check on factors such as user manual when buying lathes. A user manual comes in handy when setting up and during use. Some lathes come without manuals, so it is always prudent to confirm if a user manual is present before settling for a particular machine.

Customer Service

A lathe, whether for home or industrial use, is a heavy-duty machine that needs adequate maintenance. You don’t want a product that has no spares or whose manufacturer doesn’t have several servicing centers across the country. We recommend checking on factors like brand presence, especially online, as you might need to contact the manufacturer frequently. Always countercheck on how responsive a lathe manufacturer is before making any purchase.

Accessories/ Additional features

Depending on the purpose or preferred usage, it is highly advisable to check on whether a lathe comes with additional features or accessories. For instance, some industrial lathes come with stands that not only help to hold the lathe in place but also provide additional storage space. Some more advanced lathes come with additional lever controls and superior speed ranges. Ensure that you check on the features available as you look to secure the best lathe for your price range.

Now that we have reviewed the best metal lathes that fall in different price ranges, you should be well placed to select one that suits you perfectly. While large lathes pack a lot of power and are highly versatile, garage lathes for home use are more portable and easier to maintain.

Remember to keep cost in mind as it will help you compare the features of different lathes within your budget. If you have large scale projects, then you will probably need the industrial lathes to help you out. They do pack a lot of power and come with various features. However, you will need to be experienced enough to handle such bulky devices. For industrial metal lathes, we recommend the Jet 321360A. This top-performing shaping machine has everything you need to twist metals, make prototypes, and perform heavy-duty tasks.

Small lathes work better if you have little space, or you just want a convenient machine to cater to your hobbyist machinist needs. Luckily, mini lathes cost a lot less than their industrial counterparts, meaning you won’t have to worry about breaking the bank. The Erie Tools 7×14 Precision Bench is one of the best mini-lathes that will serve you for years without breaking down.


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