Head to Head: Midi-Lathes
Light-weight lathes from Rikon and Steel City Tool Works a good size for furniture making
The Midi-Lathe is a great option for woodworkers who want to incorporate turning into their work but who don’t want to commit the money or space for a full-size machine. These benchtop lathes are strong enough and have the capacity to handle most furniture-related tasks, such as knobs and spindles. And most accept bed extensions to increase the length between centers.
We reviewed five midi-lathes (also called mini-lathes) in 2002 (FWW #158, pp. 68-73), and now Rikon (model 70-100) and Steel City Tool Works (model 60100) have entered the market. Both lathes operated smoothly and accurately, so the choice came down to features and capacity. Both include faceplates and have standard #2 Morse tapers and 1-in. by 8-tpi threads. Neither offers outboard turning.
The Rikon has a 12-in. swing-2 in. more than most of the competition-a 16-in. capacity between centers, and the ability to add multiple bed extensions, for a capacity comparable to a floor-standing machine. Plus, its stock 8-in. tool rest is superior to the standard 6-in. rest on most midi-lathes.
The Rikon also features a headstock with a 12-position indexing head to assist when marking, routing, or carving on the lathe. This feature also locks the spindle for easy removal of the faceplate. (See right.)
The Steel City has the advantage when it comes to speed control. It has a variable-speed drive, which I love because I can go from roughing a blank to sanding a finished piece with the turn of a dial. Rikon requires you to change speeds by moving a belt on stepped pulleys, but it takes only a moment.
Forced to pick between the two, I’d go with the Rikon because of its lower cost, big capacity, and handy features, including a helpful handle that makes the heavy lathe easier to carry than its lighter competitors.