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Shopping for a midi-lathe these days is like cruising a rental-car parking lot: You see lots of products, but they’re all Chevrolets.
I recently looked at the variable-speed Turncrafter Pro from Penn State Industries. Like many of its competitors, it has a 10-in. swing (the maximum diameter it can turn), 17 in. between centers, a 1/2-hp motor, and stepped pulleys to change from one speed range to another.
Penn State says the Turncrafter is “the most powerful variable-speed midi-lathe on the market” and that it delivers “full torque at all speeds.” But my testing couldn’t support either of these claims.
I subjected three midi-lathes, the Turncrafter, the Rikon 70-100, and the Steel City 60100, to the same weighted test used to check low-speed torque in a recent review of heavy-duty lathes (FWW #191). The Penn State was the weakest of the three. At its slowest speed, the lathe slowed or stalled with the least weight, 71/2 lb. At the top of its low-speed range, about 1,000 rpm, it slowed or stalled at only 5 lb., a sign that it had less torque at the higher speed. In contrast, it took at least 15 lb. to stall the Steel City at its slowest speed, and at least 10 lb. to stall the Rikon.
In other respects, the Penn State performs well. It’s quiet and low in vibration, with nicely machined surfaces on the bed. Headstock and tailstock align precisely, and the tool rest and tailstock move smoothly. It was as good as any other midi-lathe I’ve used for small turnings. It does have three noteworthy drawbacks: The 6-in. tool rest is too short; the plastic locking levers for the tool rest and tailstock feel flimsy; and the access to the drive belt is at the back of the headstock, making belt changes awkward.
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