Wood Lathes

Best Mini Wood Lathe For Pen Turning

A common hobby within woodturning is the art of turning pens. Whether pen turning is a hobby you are interested in or your full-time job, you need the proper tools to excel in your craft. Investing in the proper mini wood lathe for your pen turning projects will help you work easily and make pen turning more enjoyable. Here are the top five mini wood lathes that will take your pen turning craft to the next level!

Best Mini Wood Lathe For Pen Turning
Photo by Dave Herrmann , used under CC BY

Best Mini Wood Lathe For Pen Turning 2019

ProductSize, inPower, HPRPMWeight, lbs
Jet JWL-1015VS10 x 15.50.5200-360072.6
PSI PenPal5.5 x 70.20-430015
RIKON 70-10012 x 160.75430, 810, 1230, 1810, 2670, 390089
PSI KWL-1018VS10 x 180.75500-380082
Grizzly H825910 x 180.5826, 1205, 1713, 2422, 333773

Jet JWL-1015VS – Best for Beginners

Jet JWL-1015VS Review

Overview

Made for beginners, the woodworking lathe from Jet is designed to be user-friendly. The motor is quiet, making your pen turning sessions more relaxing and enjoyable. The bearings are nice and smooth, and the stocks are well-aligned. Overall, this lathe is well-made and of good quality.

Performance

This small-sized lathe has three adjustable speed ranges. The tension system has been improved significantly from the previous model and the belts are now easily accessible. While turning, the lathe runs smoothly without any issues. The integrated 24 position indexing system offers the precision needed for pen turning. The features on this lathe are easy to adjust, a must for novice lathe-users. It works best for small and mid-sized projects.

Budget

This lathe is set at an excellent price point for a beginner. Jet brings ample quality for every dollar.

Recommendation

This lathe from Jet is recommended due to its easy-to-use design and its quality build. Its quiet motor makes it perfect for working indoors without disturbing other people. Overall, it’s a great lathe from a reputable manufacturer that will get the job done.

What We Like
  • Runs quietly
  • Three adjustable speed ranges
  • Belt changes easily
  • 5-year warranty
What We Don't Like
  • No feet or rubber to prevent the lathe from sliding

PSI PenPal – Best Portable Lathe

PSI PenPal Review

Overview

This lathe from PSI Woodworking was specifically designed with pen turners in mind. This small lathe comes in a bold red color and has a fully adjustable tailstock. A magnetic tool holder is incorporated into the design to provide extra convenience for you as you turn out pen after pen. The lathe can be easily assembled and mounted to any flat surface. The portability of this lathe makes it appealing to pen turners who want to take their hobby on the road.

Performance

This lathe works well for small projects such as pen turning. The lathe is small, so don’t expect much torque out of its little motor. Overall, it works excellently for pen turning but falls short as a lathe for other projects. It works best with wood, but you might run into problems if you use it with acrylics.

Budget

If you only want to do wooden pen turning, this lathe might be the best choice for you economically. It costs half the price of larger lathes and offers a more specialized experience.

Recommendation

This lathe is compact, lightweight, and mountable. Most importantly, it is specific to pen turning and even comes in an awesome color. Its excellent price point is just one more reason that this lathe is recommended.

What We Like
  • Portable
  • Good price
  • Magnetic Tool Holder
What We Don't Like
  • Low torque
  • Not compatible with acrylic

RIKON Power Tools 70-100 – Most Sturdy Lathe

RIKON 70-100 Review

Overview

This lathe is designed to allow you to get more projects done in a compact space. RIKON presents a lathe that runs smoothly and has a 12 position index head. It allows for extensions to be attached, meaning you can also work on larger projects. The lathe accommodates most projects without taking up your valuable workspace. It also features a handle for added portability. There is also an integrated tool holder on the back of the machine.

Performance

There are several defining features of this lathe that allow it to perform well. Recently, the manufacturer began to complete this model with new 3/4 HP motor. It does not matter for pen turning, but may be useful for turning bowls. Changing speeds is simple and quick. You will be able to switch between six different speeds. Most lathes require you to use a knock-out bar to remove the center. The self-ejecting tailstock negates this frustrating problem. The 12 position index head allows you to work on projects that require extreme accuracy. The spindle can be locked into place, so you can remove accessories with ease.

Budget

Compared to the lathe from Jet, this product does not have such a convenient speed adjustment, but it is priced accordingly.

Recommendation

All around, this lathe is well-built and offers exceptional features that make pen turning simple.

What We Like
  • Easy access speed change
  • Centers lined up perfectly
  • Accessories can be added
  • 5-year warranty
What We Don't Like
  • Some users find changing the speed difficult

PSI Turncrafter Commander KWL-1018VS Lathe – Best Value

PSI Turncrafter Commander KWL-1018VS Review

Overview

This sturdy lathe from PSI Woodworking has a cast iron base that keeps the tool in place while you are working. It features a work lamp for added visibility and the speed can be adjusted over two ranges. Built-in handles make it easy to move when you need to clear your workspace.

Performance

The lathe performs well overall. However, there are a few insignificant issues. The work light doesn’t stay up because it is cheaply made. This lathe delivers excellent precision and includes everything you need to start pen turning.

Budget

This lathe has a medium price point but doesn’t offer as many features as similarly priced items. However, the sturdy cast iron base makes it a better value.

Recommendation

Recommended for those who have a limited budget. It isn’t a bad product if you decide that this is the right lathe for you. The fact that it has a sturdy, cast iron base is a plus. That will ensure that you experience very little vibration while turning your pieces, making it safer and more efficient.

What We Like
  • Sturdy, cast iron base
  • Precise
  • Variable Speed
What We Don't Like
  • Lamp does not hold well

Grizzly H8259 – Best cheap lathe

Grizzly H8259 Review

Overview

Overall, the H8259 from Grizzly is well-made and is able to produce small to mid-sized items like pens and bowls. However, there are several performance issues that severely diminish the quality of this lathe.

Performance

The motor on this lathe gets extremely hot very quickly. It is a commonly noted issue that is both inconvenient and unsafe. The tailstock tends to slip backward as you tighten your object. You also have to order a mandrel in order to turn pens.

Budget

This lathe is priced reasonably for the value. It has an 18-inch distance between centers which is above average for a miniature lathe.

Recommendation

Recommended for those who have limited budget. There are better lathes on the market but they have a higher price.

What We Like
  • Well-constructed
  • Good customer service
  • Reasonable price
What We Don't Like
  • The motor overheats very quickly
  • Speeds are changed by switching the belt
  • Only one year warranty

The Winner of the Top Five Roundup

The best lathe out of this roundup is the Jet JWL-1015VS Wood Lathe. While the PSI Woodworking Penmaking Lathe comes in as a close second. The lathe from Jet delivers the torque you need when completing your pen turning projects. It offers a 24 position index, allowing you to precisely get your projects done. This well-made lathe doesn’t give room for many complaints, making it worth the money. To top it all off, it is designed to be beginner friendly, perfect for the novice pen turner! The lathe from Jet is set at an appropriate price point and is just an all-around nice piece of equipment. Everything lines up nicely and it comes from a reputable manufacturer.

Choosing the Right Lathe for Pen Turning: A Buyer’s Guide

In order to maximize the enjoyment and efficiency of pen turning and to complete projects with precision, it is crucial that you know how to choose the proper lathe for the job. Your lathe will be the primary tool you use in your craft and likely the most complex. So, if you are wondering how to choose a good lathe for pen turning, check out this buyer’s guide to help you choose a lathe that you will be satisfied with for years to come.

Construction

The very first thing to consider when choosing a lathe is the build of the base. The base has a bed. This is a beam that runs horizontally under the lathe. It is often made of cast iron to keep the lathe from vibrating. Any jolts that occur while the wood is being turned can cause complications during the process and can also pose a safety hazard. Lightweight lathes can be great for travel, but just keep in mind that they may not be as sturdy. Lathes with a solid base are much easier to use.

The length of the bed is also an important factor. On one end, the headstock will be attached firmly in place on the lathe. The tailstock, located on the other end of the bed, can be adjusted to accommodate different size spindles. The tailstock keeps the spindle in check. Be sure you are able to lock it in place in the positions you need in order to complete your projects. For pen turning, you won’t need nearly as much space as if you plan to turn longer objects like fishing poles.

Pen Turning
Photo by Dave Herrmann , used under CC BY

On some lathes, you will be able to extend the bed length to accommodate larger projects. Often, the extenders don’t provide a reliable connection, so if you plan on turning longer spindles, just invest in a longer lathe with a continuous bed. However, for pen turning, you will be just fine with a mini-lathe.

You will also want to look at the height of the lathe. The spindle should line up with your elbows. If your lathe isn’t high enough, you will have to do a lot of bending over, reducing the enjoyment and efficiency of your hobby and causing back pain. If it’s too high, expect issues with keeping everything in proper alignment. You may want to stand on a step if you are particularly short or build a platform for the lathe if you are very tall.

When choosing a lathe, you must consider the motor and the headstock. You can find motors with anywhere from 1/8 horsepower to three horsepower. Speed controls should be able to be adjusted all the way up to 5000 RPM. Larger motors allow you to turn larger pieces. Fortunately, turning pens require a relatively small motor. You will need a mandrel for pen turning, so check to see if one is included with the lathe. If not, you will have to order one separately before you start pen turning.

One of the most important aspects of a lathe is the tool rest. It is a key part of woodturning safety. You should always use the tool rest no matter what. Cutting free-hand is not safe under any circumstance! The tool rest should be fully adjustable and should never be loose or wobbly. Also, be sure to take note of the location of the power switch. Can you easily reach it? An accessible power switch is necessary in case you need to turn the lathe off quickly. It’s both a convenience and a safety factor that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Why Choose a Mini-Lathe?

If you are like most people, you probably don’t have unlimited space to pursue your hobbies. When confined to a small area, you have to maximize the space you do have in order to fit everything in! Some crafters even purchase a mini-lathe to work in their kitchen when their shop is too cold during the winter. That’s dedication!

Woodworking is no small matter. A mini-lathe can be just the trick if you are primarily going to be turning small objects like pens. Mini-lathes are also great for pen turning on the road. They are very popular among RV-ers and craft fair participants. Just be sure to choose a mini-lathe with a solid base and you should be just fine. Mini-lathes offer most of the same features as regular size lathes, but they are made to accommodate those pen turning hobbyists who are short on space or who wish to travel.

Other Tips to Use When Purchasing a Mini Wood Lathe

  • Read product reviews and choose a lathe made by a reputable company.
  • Spend time with expert woodturners. Ask them about the features to look for in a lathe. You could even attend a couple of classes.
  • Check to see if the lathe you are interested in offers a warranty. You never know what might go wrong.
  • There are two different types of speed control on a lathe. One way is automatic, and the other way requires you to turn the lathe off and move the belt. If you want to use your lathe to make a profit, you should invest in the automatic version, so you can work more efficiently.

Accessories for Your Mini-Lathe

Some of the necessary accessories you will need to acquire before you start turning wood include the following:

  • Protective Gear
  • Turning Tools
  • A Way to Sharpen Your Tools

Protective equipment is the most important thing you need when you are doing any type of woodwork. Some wood crafters wear both safety glasses and a face shield. This prevents any flying debris from getting into your eyes or cutting your face. Also, you should wear a dust mask over your mouth and nose to protect your nasal passages, lungs, and throat from dust. If you are really serious about the hobby, you may also want to invest in a dust collection system to help manage the cleanliness of your workspace. When it comes to protecting yourself, you can never be too careful!

Dull tools aren’t going to produce the results you are looking for. In order to keep your turning tools as sharp as a tack, you will need to get some kind of sharpening system to keep them like new. You can either use sharpening stones or attach a jig to a bench grinder. Keeping your chisels sharp will save you time and money while allowing you to produce better products. It’s an essential housekeeping item that comes with the hobby.

For pen turning, you will definitely need a pen mandrel. This is what blanks and bushings rest on while you turn. Pen turning chisels are also a must. You will need a parting tool, gouge, and a skew. A barrel trimmer will help you keep the ends of your blanks square. You also might need a drill and pen press for cutting holes and assembling pens.

Conclusion

Whether you want a new and fulfilling hobby, an activity to bond with your children or grandchildren over, an extra stream of income, or a full-time business, pen turning can be just the thing to add newness and excitement into your life. Choosing the right lathe, tools, and accessories will help make pen turning an enjoyable learning experience. Many people find that pen turning is a very relaxing and rewarding hobby by which they can earn a few extra dollars, scale their hobby into a business, or simply make gifts for their friends and family.

The nice thing about pen turning is that it can be done inside or outside of the house depending on the weather. When you use a mini-lathe to turn pens, you expand your options of places you can practice your craft in. Pen turning is a craft that will teach you safety, precision, and creativity. It is relatively easy to learn and there are plenty of people that know the craft well who would love to pass on their knowledge to you. Just remember to put safety first and learning and perfecting your craft should be a piece of cake.

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