Woodturning is a pleasant departure from our usual “straight and square” woodworking. But maybe you’re not ready to drop a grand or more into a full-sized lathe to get started. Thanks to these mid-sized benchtop lathes (often called “midis”), you don’t have to. All four machines I tested here are capable of turning objects up to about 12" in diameter as well as spindles up to 16" to 20" long. Cast-iron beds and other components, combined with 1/2 to 1 hp motors, make them well suited for most general turning needs.
This small test group represents the “cream” of a much larger crop of benchtop lathes, because they have electronic variable speed control. It’s a worthy convenience: you can change the spindle speed instantly at the turn of a dial, within three or six pulley ranges, instead of being limited to a few fixed speeds and frequent belt changes with other entry-level lathes.
These four also have 12- or 24-position indexed heads, intended to lock the spindle incrementally for fluting, routing, drilling or carving with a workpiece mounted in the lathe. Other shared features include #2 Morse taper headstocks that accept universal spur and live centers (both are included). The headstock spindles are threaded 1" x 8 tpi for standard faceplates — a 3" size comes standard — or aftermarket multi-jaw chucks. All have self-ejecting tailstock quills to make live centers easy to remove.
If you’re ready for serious turning without shelling out for a full-sized machine, one of these top-shelf spin meisters could be the perfect fit.
“Best Bet” Honors Deserved
There were no sour lemons in this group: all four lathes would be welcomed shop additions. But there are substantive differences in features and price that set these tools apart for me. My pick for best all-around machine goes to Delta. It’s got nice creature comforts, reverse mode and a big motor — all priced modestly for a budget.