What is the best metal lathe you can buy today? There’s a number of options available within a wide price range.
To narrow this down today, we will look at small metal lathes suitable for the home workshop, farm and semi-pro use, (we will leave out the large 5 figure dollar industrial sized lathes).
The table below will show you our top 5 picks at a glance. For our dedicated metal lathe buyer’s guide and full reviews of each, keep on reading.
Best Metal Lathe – Comparison Table
|1. Jet 321360A BDB-1340A 13-Inch Swing by 40-Inch Metal Lathe
|2. BestEquip Mini Metal Lathe
|3. Grizzly G0602 Bench Top Metal Lathe 10 x 22-Inch
|4. SHOP FOX W1704
|5. JET JWL-1221VS
Top 5 Metal Lathe Reviews
If our top pick Grizzly 0602 didn’t meet your requirements with regards to power and capacity, the Jet 321360 might just fit the bill.
Your wallet will have to be a bit deeper for this metal lathe from Jet, however you do get what you pay for. This is a formidable machine.
Jet are by no means newcomers to the world of industrial machine tools (covering both the home and professional workshop).
The BDB-1340A, is a 13 x 40 inch belt driven lathe that is precision built and designed to last.
Under the hood is a powerful 2 HP, one-phase, 230V motor.
The variable speed capabilities on the Jet are most impressive too. The 12 spindle speeds ranging from 60-1240 RPM, (note that bottom end speed – this will allow for very good control on delicate tasks).
A big plus point is the fact Jet opted to include an enclosed, quick-change gearbox with helical cut gears, (a design that reduces noise emissions).
The system works very well, allowing for fast, efficient gear changes to suit your work needs. The set up also allows for metric threading.
We mentioned the gap bed in our buyer’s guide. The Jet has a gap bed section that increases the versatility of the machine exponentially. Larger diameter work can be carried out with ease on the BDB-1340A.
The all-important spindle is supported by precision tapered roller bearings. The main spindle controller is also carriage mounted.
The tailstock may be offset for turning tapers and also has the capability for inch and metric threads.
Other great features include the independent leadscrew and feed rod, low voltage motor controls, and an induction hardened and ground V-way bed.
Of course, when spending a large amount of money on a tool, you will want that peace of mind of a reliable warranty and support service.
Here, Jet really do shine. The company backs all its machines with an industry-leading two-year warranty.
After purchasing the JET 321360A BDB-1340A, you automatically receive premier customer support and back up from over 750 authorized service centers across the USA.
In most cases, the Walter Meier Authorized Service Centers will be in a position to authorize warranty repair, assist you with routine maintenance or in obtaining parts.
- Coolant tray
- 6-inch 3-jaw direct mount scroll chuck with top reversing jaws
- 8-inch 4-jaw independent chuck
- 12-inch faceplate
- Four-way tool post
- Steady and follow rest
- Metric change gear
- Centers with headstock center sleeve
- Threading dial
- Micro Carriage Bed Stop
- Full Length Splash Guard
- Tolerance test certificate
- Tool box with tools
|13 x 40
|Swing Over Bed (In.)
|Swing Over Cross Slide (In.)
|Swing Through Gap (In.)
|Length of Gap (In.)
|Distance Between Centers (In.)
|Spindle Bore (In.)
|Spindle Taper with Sleeve
|Number of Spindle Speeds
|Range of Spindle Speeds (RPM)
|60 – 1,240
|Number of Longitudinal and Cross Feed Rates
|Range of Longitudinal Feeds (IPR)
|Range of Cross Feeds (IPR)
|Number of Inch Threads
|Range of Inch Threads (TPI)
|3-1/2 – 80
|Number of Metric Threads
|Range of Metric Threads
|Max Tool Size (In.)
|5/8 x 5/8
|Compound Slide Travel (In.)
|Cross Slide Travel (In.)
|Carriage Travel (In.)
|Tailstock Spindle Travel (In.)
|Taper in Tailstock Spindle
|Follow Rest Capacity (In.)
|Steady Rest Capacity (In.)
|Width of Bed (In.)
|2 HP, 230V, 1Ph
|Overall Dimensions (L x W x H) (In.)
|71 x 32 x 45
Pros of the Jet 321360A BDB-1340A 13 x 40 inch, Bench Metalworking Lathe
- 13″ Swing x 40″ Centers
- Powerful 2 HP one-phase, 230V motor
- 12 spindle speeds ranging from 60-1240 RPM
- 1 3/8″ Spindle Hole
- Enclosed gearbox with helical cut headstock gears (smooth and quiet operation)
- System designed for fast and easy gear changes
- V-way bed – induction hardened and ground
- Large diameter work can be carried out due to the included gap bed section
- Spindle supported by precision tapered roller bearings
- Independent leadscrew and feed rod
- T-slotted compound slide with four-way tool post
- The machine may be priced above the budget range of the average home machinist.
The Jet 321360A BDB-1340A is an excellent machine for those looking for more power and capacity than what is provided from our top pick Grizzly.
It is more expensive, however the capabilities of the lathe along with its versatility will ensure you will not outgrow its uses anytime soon. A highly recommended investment if your budget allows.
Anyone interested in metal turning is going to want a high-quality lathe as a central feature in their workshop. An accurate and powerful lathe can make short work of tasks that would otherwise be too detailed and strenuous for even the best metalworkers to do by hand, and so is a vital part of a properly equipped shop.
This lathe has power and accuracy to spare, with up to 2500rpm to get work done in a hurry. The spindle point can hold even the strangest shapes in place and is accurate to within .01mm, ensuring your projects will be finished with pinpoint precision.
Quality metalwork isn’t just what the mini-lathe does, but also an actual part of the construction. A hefty aluminum skeleton supports the spindle array and can stand up to all the banging around that your workshop can provide. Multiple hardening treatments on both the body and tool faces ensure that this lathe will last through plenty of projects.
A three-jaw chuck and full set of tools are included, making this a versatile addition to your workbench. Tool changes are fast and simple, and lock securely in place to keep the user and surroundings safe during operation. A backsplash guard and emergency stop are included for the same reason.
With its smaller footprint and the motor calibrated for ordinary household current, this lathe can handle more diverse applications than its larger relatives. Fire it up for anything from auto repair to model building – anything that needs a reliable turning machine
Pros of the BestEquip Mini Metal Lathe
- Powerful turning speeds up to 2500rpm
- Tough aluminum body
- Three-jaw chuck and full tool set included
- Accurate to .01mm
- Quick and easy change between tools and cutting angles
- Cannot handle the loads of a full lathe
- Motor may need adjustment to withstand turning forces
This benchtop lathe is an excellent choice for those looking to produce professional metal turning on a smaller scale than that of a full-size machine. The motor, frame, and spindle produce quality results, but users should take care that they are not loose or shaking themselves apart during use.
In our humble opinion, the Grizzly G0602 is the best small metal lathe you can buy today. It is packed with features, is very built and comes in at a price suitable for most home machinists and semi-pro engineers.
Let’s take a closer look.
First off, the dimensions are very good indeed. The 10 x 22 inch lathe size will accommodate a wide range of projects and when combined with the generous thread ranges and multi speed capability, you have a very versatile machine on your hands.
The Grizzly G0602 can tackle some solid projects too. Featuring a 1-inch spindle bore and a 3/4-inch x 12 TPI lead screw the machine is definitely not lightweight in its functionality.
The MT#3 tailstock is exactly what we suggested you should aim for within our metal lathe buyer’s guide.
Quite simply, the G0602 does a good job of beating other lathes of this size; very few have the same range of threads.
Versatility is the name of the game here. Grizzly have designed a machine capable of 33 inch threads from 8 to 72 TPI and 26 metric threads from 0.25mm to 3.5mm. Impressive to say the least.
Looking at some of the other specifications for a moment: The amount of power is more than adequate for a small workshop. The single-phase (so runs of domestic electrical outlet) 1hp, 110V motor provides the overall brawn.
The speed range is good too, but maybe a little high on the bottom end, (150, 300, 560, 720, 1200 and 2400 RPM.)
The Grizzly 0602 also features a 1-3/4-inch x 8 TPI spindle with MT4 spindle taper.
Carriage and cross slide travel add to the versatility with the lengths coming in at 18 ½ and 6 ½ inches respectively.
Some may find the included 4-way toolpost inconvenient, (although it really does depend on what you are used to). Despite being a well-constructed toolpost, some customers have voiced preference for a quick-change toolpost instead.
The hardened and ground V-way bed is a joy to work with and the oil bath gearbox does help keep serious maintenance down to a minimum.
The fact is the G0602 is built to last. Grizzly have not scrimped on materials on either the body of the machine or the main components. Weighing in at 432 pounds, it certainly is a sturdy beast.
Grizzly provide the following equipment with the sale of the G0602:
- 5-inch three-jaw chuck
- 6-1/2-inch four-jaw chuck
- 8-inch faceplate
- steady rest & follow rest
- MT#3 dead center
- 4-way tool post
- chip tray & backsplash
- hardened and ground v-way bed
- oil-bath gearbox and tool box with service tools.
- Swing over bed: 9-5/8-inch
- Swing over cross slide: 6-1/8-inch
- Distance between centers: 22-inch
- Spindle bore: 1-inch
- Spindle thread: 1-3/4-inch x 8 TPI
- Spindle taper: MT #4
- Motor: 1 HP, 110V, single-phase
- Number of speeds: 6
- Range of speeds: 150, 300, 560, 720, 1200, 2400 RPM
- Leadscrew: 3/4″ to 12 TPI
- Compound travel: 3-1/2-inch
- Cross slide travel: 6-1/2-inch
- Carriage travel: 18-1/2-inch
- Maximum tool size: 1/2-inch
- Tailstock barrel travel: 2-1/2-inch
- Tailstock barrel taper: MT #3
- Number of longitudinal feeds: 9
- Range of longitudinal feeds: 0.0023 to 0.013 IPR
- Number of inch threads: 33
- Range of inch threads: 8 to 72 TPI
- Number of metric threads: 26
- Range of metric threads: 0.25 to 3.5mm
- Overall dimensions: 46 x 22 x 16-5/8 inches (LxWxH)
- Approximate shipping weight: 432 pounds
Pros of the Grizzly G0602 Bench Top Metal Lathe, 10 x 22-Inch
- Excellent functionality for a metal lathe of this size
- Wide range thread capability (33” threads: 8 to 72 TPI) (26 metric threads: 0.25mm to 3.5mm)
- Ideal small workshop power capacity: 1 HP, 110V, single-phase
- Variable speed function
- MT#3 tailstock
- The 1-3/4-inch x 8 TPI spindle with MT4 spindle taper.
- Quality construction and a lot of great tools provided
- Some buyers might require the capacity that larger lathes provide
- Bottom end speed is high at 150rpms
Overall the Grizzly 0602 is a high quality small metal lathe, more than deserving of our top rated pick.
The entire machine seems to have been designed with the home machinist in mind. It has great capacity, more than enough power for a wide range of jobs, and is built to last.
And all that at a very competitive price. What more could you ask for?
Woodworkers have struggled for some time to produce by hand the precise round cuts and scores that metal furniture or decorations include. This represents a double challenge. Not only is wood far less malleable than metal by nature, it cannot be melted and shaped or poured into a mold.
The solution to this has for some time been the lathe, a machine that holds a piece of wood at a fixed height and spins it at incredible speed. When a tool is applied to the spinning wood, it will score a perfect circle into the wood’s surface. This allows carpenters to produce the same curved surfaces as plastics, metals, and other such materials.
Since it forms such an important part of a complete woodworking ensemble, most carpenters are understandably concerned that their chosen lathe will break down when they need it. The Shop Fox lathe eliminates this worry with a sturdy cast-iron body that can handle the dings and dents of a workshop with a ⅓ hp motor that can last hundreds of projects.
Two integrated tool racks help the user to keep all attachments and supplies nearby. The manual speed control knob allows the user to set the precise speed desired for any project without troublesome presets.
With 12” between centers and 8” above the bed there is plenty of room for most projects. According to user reports, some adjustments to the bearings and contact points may be necessary for best performance.
Pros of the SHOP FOX W1704
- Integrated tool racks
- High endurance
- Cast-iron body withstands wear and tear
- Fine speed control with manual knob
- Novice friendly
- Weak factory bearings that need replacement
- Does not resist corrosion
This lathe is sure to be a longtime companion in any workshop, with a solid frame and a motor assembly built to last. The added tool racks and speed control are helpful for those with more detailed projects.
Buyers should consider upgrading the bearings, as the originals are reported to be shoddy.
This machine represents a new take on a longtime fixture of most workshops, the bech lathe. Along with a more powerful motor, the JET JWL has redesigned the controls and settings for maximum control over the turning process.
The 24 preset indexing positions allow even inexperienced carpenters to easily select the desired angle for their tools and lock them in place for a smooth cut every time. An integrated tool rack holds your attachements and other tools nearby and safely away from the lathe bed.
The lathe has a variable speed of 60-3600 rpm and a patent-pending belt design that allows for smooth direction changes and significantly increases the life of the drive belt. Several preset modes are included for the user to quickly select the best speed for carving, sanding, polishing, and more.
Several integrated instruments, including the tachometer, allow the user to stay informed of the lathe’s performance and can signal when maintenance is needed. Status and alerts are displayed on the machine’s LCD screen.
The new design includes six seperate handles to allow a user to choose a safe and comfortable position for any project. Apart from these, there is a speed control knob for those unsatisfied with the included presets.
JET is so confident in their many improvements to wood turning that they back this machine with a 5-year manufacture warranty.
Pros of the JET JWL-1221VS
- Exceptional speed control
- Multiple preset modes
- 24 indexing positions
- Produces up to 3600rpm on only 1hp
- 6 positioning handle
- Multiple reports of parts not properly affixed, particularly the tailstock and locking screws
- Construction and components are not sturdy enough to handle rough use, and may even be damaged in shipping
If assembled and emplaced correctly, the JET JWL lathe should provide exceptional wood turning with an unprecedented degree of control over both speed and tools. Users should inspect the device carefully upon receipt to ensure that it is in order before accepting delivery.
Metal Lathe Buyer’s Guide
Essential Features at a glance
Buying a metal lathe for your home or workshop is a big decision. Because of this we have created a comprehensive buyer’s guide on what you should look for before you go ahead and hand over your hard earned cash.
Below you can click on the tabs to see the lathe features that we recommend.
- Backgear system
- Variable speed with low bottom end (between 30 & 80 rpms)
- Look for a 2 Morse taper in the tailstock
- Set-over tailstock for taper turning
- Tumble Reverse functionality
- The lathe should have the provision to fit a T slotted cross slide
- The ability for screwcutting
- Fitted dial-thread indicator used when screwcutting
- A spindle lock to help with the removal of chucks
- Look for at least a 0.5″/13mm hole through the spindle
- A graduated tailstock barrel
- A quick-set / 4-way tool holder
- Gap bed (up to 3.5″/90mm centre height)
- Lever-action tailstock functionality
- A reliable screwcutting gearbox
- A clutch to headstock on the spindle drive
- Built in coolant system
- A graduated handle to the leadscrew end
Metal Lathe Features Explained
Some of the terms listed in the tabs above may be slightly foreign to you, especially if this is your first time buying a metal lathe.
Don’t worry, before we reach the in depth reviews of each of our top pick metal lathes, we will dig deeper and take a comprehensive look at what you should consider when buying one of these versatile machines.
The size of the lathe
A good place to start would be the size of the lathe. You need to consider the types of work you will be aiming to do, along with the space you have available.
If you only have a corner of shed with which to work, you will obviously require a smaller machine.
Conversely, if you have a large workshop area or require a lathe for professional use, space will not be a factor and you should buy the best metal lathe that your funds will allow.
European vs American sizes
It is important to understand that America brands label lathe sizes differently to those being sold in Europe.
If you see a lathe branded as 4″ x 24″ in the UK, it is the centre height (or throw) being quoted. In other words you are being told about the distance from the centre of the chuck to the nearest point on the bed.
So, going with our example above, the centre height is 4 inches, and the length of material the machine can work with is 24 inches.
Now, fly across the Atlantic to America and those dimension need to be read differently.
American brands state the largest diameter of a work piece that can be used with the machine, (or more specifically, they are stating the ‘swing’ – the largest work piece that can be turned clear over the bed.)
This means that the example dimension above would be 8″ x 24″ to the American customer.
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What size lathe should you go for?
For most home machinists and small workshops choosing a lathe between 6” x 15” and 12” x 30” should certainly cater for your needs.
However, as mentioned earlier, space has to be considered. While the smaller lathes are light enough to lift off the bench manually, a larger lathe will require an engine crane to manoeuvre. Once it’s in your workshop, you will not want to move it anytime soon.
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The majority of metal lathes on the market today are constructed with a headstock and spindle assembly designed to handle all loads and speeds a home machinist / workshop owner is likely to need.
That being said, one variable to look out for when buying a metal lathe is a machine that uses ball or taper roller bearings in the headstock.
The simple reason for this is longevity and ease of repair. Ball or taper rolling bearings are a lot easier to replace once they become worn.
With a plain-bearing set-up you risk a scenario where both the bearings and spindle become worn (and will be expensive to repair).
With a ball and roller bearing system the cost of maintaining the headstock is reduced.
A Backgear System
A backgeared system sees the gears mounted at the rear of the headstock.
With the ability to manipulate the backgear, the operator is able to reduce the spindle speed while increasing the torque.
The end result is far greater control. The ability to run a material slowly within the the lathe is important when dealing with large-diameter work pieces.
Faceplate-mounted jobs such as brake discs can be turned successfully with a backgeared system.
Essentially, the best mini metal lathes with geared speed control will be able to cut threads (screwcutting), while also be capable of heavy-duty drilling, big-hole boring and large-diameter facing.
Beyond backgears as a way to manipulate spindle speed, the best metal lathes will feature variable speed motor control.
The spindle-speed range you should look for starts from 30 to 80 rpm, and have the ability to go right up to around 1200 rpm.
This rpm capability is adequate for the tasks a home machinist / small workshop engineers will require.
Of course, some machines will take this higher. If the range of your chosen model hits up to 1200 rpm (some large heavy-weight lathes can reach 2000 r.p.ms), then great.
However, really high speeds are often unnecessary except for very specific work, or polishing.
We mentioned screwcutting in our essential metal lathe features tab at the beginning of the buyer’s guide. This is definitely a task you will want your lathe to be capable of.
However, screwcutting generally requires slow speeds of between 25 and 70 rpm, (so you will need to ensure your machine has rpms within that).
If the lowest speed you can go is too high, you will not have the control to cut screws and the job will be very difficult indeed.
Lathes that are advertised as “screwcutting”, will sometimes merely have a power feed along the bed. You should not settle for this.
Gear driven low speeds (such as the backgeared systems we recommend above) are what you need for successful screw cutting.
Budget lathes will approach screwcutting via “changewheels” where the change of pitch adjusts speed, (but require the gear train to be reset).
On the other end of the spectrum, expensive lathes will include a screwcutting gearbox. Here, the changes of pitch or feed rate are much more efficient and are adjustable by one or more levers.
When buying a metal lathe you should look out for those models that feature a “compound slide rest”.
This is a handy slide mechanism that moves across the bed, with a separate tool slide bolted to it which can be angled round.
Most lathes are supplied with a single-tool holder or a 4-way toolpost.
The single holder is generally found on lower priced lathes, however this is normally more than adequate for everyday use, and can often be adapted to fit tools for specific jobs.
That being said, if you can get your hands on one, a 4-way toolpost will pay dividends.
The best set ups have a selection of holders, each with its own tool, that can be swiftly interchanged as required.
Tumbler reverse is a great feature that you will find on some quality lathes.
Put simply, the system is a gear mechanism that has the effect of reversing the direction of travel of the carriage.
Operated via a lever or a twistable knob, the impact of tumbler reverse means you can change the direction of your cutting tool.
Gap Bed Lathe
The Gap bed is another great feature. If you have this alongside backgear capability, your small metal lathe will be capable of work well above its general station.
In many cases the gap is a simple step down in the bed below the chuck. In other designs, the gap comes from the fact you can remove a section of the bed.
The best metal lathes on the market today will feature a Morse taper in the headstock and tailstock.
You should pay attention to the size of this taper. A no.2 or 3 Morse is generally recommended.
If the taper is a No. 1 Morse it will be more difficult to work with.
Most small metal lathes will have V belt drive systems. Other options include electronic variable-speed drives, or an old style countershaft, (however these are much less common today).
When it comes to selecting which is right for you, there is very little between them. User reviews are a good starting point with which to see how reliable the model lathe you are interested in actually is.
Buying a lathe is an investment and you will want your new machine to last for many years.
Which brings us to…
Overall build quality
Even brand new lathes can have teething problems with the way that have been configured upon leaving the factory.
In many cases you will need to fine-tune the fittings yourself after delivery of your new toy.
However, if you encounter backlash in the feed screws, play between carriage and bed, or a headstock spindle that fails to rotate smoothly – this is a sign that some of the components are faulty. Manufacturer warranty may have to come into play.
When looking to buy a metal lathe, you want to know that not only is the manufacturing process as stringent as possible, but that the materials used are of high quality too.
Robust and durable are the name of the game here. And not just for the main body of the lathe. All components have to be made to last.
The quality should even reach to the plastic knobs on the end of your levers; if these break too easily, your machine will be frustrating to use.
Again user reviews and industry opinion are your go-to guides on this, (as well as our top 5 metal lathe reviews below).
These will give you an indication of the brands you can trust, and whether prior customers have had any issues with the lathe that they have bought.
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A word about power
Finally, we will quickly discuss the issue of power. Most small metal lathes opt for an electric motor of between 1 and 3 h.p.
However, some lathes will run on a 1-phase power supply and can be plugged into a domestic outlet.
Others will run off a 3-phase supply that will require a professional wiring job or a converter / invertor.
The key issue is to not let a 3-phase system be a deal breaker. Inverters are relatively inexpensive to pick up and are easy to use.
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