A lathe for pen turning is the best way to kickstart your machining journey
For beginner lathe machinists, pen turning offers the best first project. After all, it’s one of the simplest yet highly rewarding projects in the woodworking industry.
Not to mention, pen turning has always been a go-to operation for hobbyists looking to hone their skills or simply create something interesting over the weekend.
Nevertheless, pen turning, just like any other machining task, isn’t as easy as it sounds. That’s because machining a piece of wood into a pen involves many complex processes and calls for great attention to detail.
Meaning if you’re thinking about starting one such project, your best lathe for pen turning will be one that offers efficient machining and is easy to operate.
Now, like all industries, pen turning is also a highly competitive trade, with large workshops employing a CNC turning machine for high volume and precision manufacturing.
As such, you should either look for a fully-fledged CNC lathe or a manual machine compatible with a lathe CNC conversion kit.
Wondering how you can pick one such pen turning lathe?
Rest easy, as we’ve compiled the top five lathes for pen turning on the market for your machine shop.
So let’s dive right in and have a look.
#1. Shop Fox W1704 benchtop lathe for pen turning (our best budget-friendly pick)
As someone who’s beginning with wood turning, you’re definitely looking for a machine that is effective but affordable too.
When it comes to cost-efficient mini lathes, Shop Fox W1704 is the first machine that comes across our minds.
You see, Shop Fox lathes are already renowned within the woodworking industry for their accurate and reliable machining. And the W1704 pen lathe offers a smooth turning, thanks to its dependable 1/3 horsepower motor.
Coming to machine specifications, the W1704 lathe has 12-inch DBCs or distance between the centers and an 8-inch swing over the bed.
Aren’t the dimensions too small, you may ask?
Well, it’s true that the lathe dimensions are a bit too small to fit in a plank of wood. However, this machine isn’t made to turn large wooden pieces at all.
You can easily fit in small cylindrical wood pieces for pen turning, as well as for other similar tasks, on machines with small dimensions. In fact, the dimensions of 7″ x 12 “are sufficient for you to create some remarkable pieces of pens.
What about the variable speed?
The variable speed on a Shop Fox W1704 ranges between 700 and 3200 RPM, which is unseen on many pen lathes. And that means you can effortlessly turn and sand even the tough wood pieces.
Thanks to its small size, this is the best benchtop lathe to install on your regular work table. So you need not buy an additional machine stand.
That’s an incredible pen lathe, isn’t it?
#2. 7 x 12 benchtop lathe (another great cost-efficient choice)
As a counterpart to the Shop Fox W1704 pen lathe, we have the 7 x 12 benchtop lathe.
Sold by market leaders such as Harbor Freight and Grizzly Industrial, among others, this lathe has a proven record of excellent performance on light-duty projects.
As the name suggests, the 7 x 12 lathe has a 7-inch swing and a 12-inch distance between the center.
These dimensions are the same as the Shop Fox lathe and are apt for accommodating small-size wood pieces for pen turning.
Talking about the variable speed, the 7 x 12 lathe offers you a speed ranging up to 2500 RPM. And while this speed range isn’t the highest among lathe machines, it’s ideal for a pen turning lathe.
Features and cost-efficiency apart, this mini lathe is also compatible with CNC conversion. All you need is a 7 x 12 benchtop lathe CNC conversion kit, and you can have advanced CNC machining features right on this manual lathe.
This is great news for smaller workshops looking for the best budget lathe. That’s because you can automate your lathe on a shoestring budget and create high-precision pens with minimal effort.
#3. RIKON 70-105 pen turning lathe (best for workshop diversification)
A beginner-level lathe designed for a wide array of operations, the RIKON 70-105 should be your ideal pick if you’re planning to diversify your operations.
Although this is primarily a mini lathe for pen turning, its design and features allow you to go above and beyond.
To begin with, this lathe has a 10-inch swing over the bed and an 18-inch distance between the centers. And that’s extraordinary going by the standards of a lathe for pen turning.
Meaning apart from turning small wooden pieces for pens, you can also machine larger blanks.
Next, the RIKON 70-105 mini lathe features a solid cast iron body which minimizes vibrations during machining and ensures you get a smooth finish.
Add to this a self-ejecting tailstock for minimizing workpiece heat-up, and you’ve got the perfect machine to create the complex parts of a pen and more.
Further, the machine has a 1/2 horsepower motor along with a live center. And this lets you bore a hole for the barrel, turn the piece for sanding, etc., effortlessly.
There you have it, the best pen lathe capable of multipurpose tasks beyond pen turning.
#4. Jet JWL-1221VS mini lathe
The JWL-1221VS from Jet Tools is a power-packed mini lathe for tasks beyond pen turning. And this makes it a strong competitor to the RIKON 70-105 mini lathe.
In fact, the powerful and extensive machining features make JWL-1221VS one of the bestsellers among small lathes.
So what are the qualities of these lathes that make them highly sought after?
Firstly, the lathe has a 1 horsepower motor, which is rarely in this lathe machine category. More so, compared to the RIKON pen lathe’s 1/2 horsepower motor, this is double the size.
That means you can machine the toughest materials on this lathe with the least effort.
Secondly, in terms of machine dimensions, the lathe offers you an impressive 12-inch swing over the bed and a 21-inch distance between centers.
The dimensions of 12″ x 21″ is larger than what is standard on pen lathes, thus putting the JWL-1221VS in the league of medium-sized lathes. Also, this allows you to machine large wooden pieces and create parts apart from pens.
Thirdly, the variable speed on this pen turning lathe starts from 60 RPM and goes right up to 3600 RPM. That’s way more than what you need for pen turning and comes in handy for bigger projects.
Fourthly, the additional features of this lathe include solid build quality, quick tooling, and more.
Overall, if you’re looking to go beyond pen turning and scale your business in the future, this small workshop lathe is a must-have.
However, it goes without saying that the competitor RIKON 70-105 has larger sales than Jet’s JWL-1221VS. That’s because the features on the latter make it more expensive and thus out of reach for beginners.
#5. Delta 46-460 pen turning lathe
Do you want to excel within the pen-making business with industrial-grade scalability?
If yes, then this is certainly going to be your best lathe for pen turning.
Manufactured by Delta, the 46-460 is a small-sized wood-turning lathe with all the ideal specifications for pen turning. And notwithstanding the size of this lathe, you can actually mass-produce pen pieces and other similar parts, thanks to its advanced machining capabilities.
Now, you’re sure to wonder what is so special about this midi lathe.
Let’s begin with the motor of the 46-460 pen turning lathe, which is a 1-horsepower unit. This is something you don’t often see on lathes of this size. Also, the 1 hp motor will let you conveniently turn the toughest pen-making materials.
Next up, we have the variable speed, which in this case ranges between 250 and 4000 RPM. And that’s again a rarity in small pen lathes.
Talking about the machine speed, Delta offers a unique belt-tensioning technique on its lathe machines; and this makes speed changes very straightforward.
Further, like all industrial lathes, the Delta 46-460 also features a live center, a solid knockout bar, tool storage, etc. For professional machinists, these qualities ensure quick and efficient machining.
In a nutshell, this is the kind of machine that you’ll find in a state-of-the-art pen-making factory.
Some things to consider before you buy a lathe for pen turning:
Now that you’ve seen the best five pen lathes on the market, you might still be puzzled as to which one of these you should buy. After all, these lathes resemble similar designs and are affordably priced for beginner machinists.
Nevertheless, upon looking closely at the specifications of each lathe, you’ll notice that every machine is different in terms of swing, speed, capacity, ideal workpiece type, etc.
So the best way to pick your ideal lathe is to factor in your precise requirements and look for a machine that has it all.
Here are some factors that you should bear in mind while looking for the best lathe machine:
The size of the machine
The machine size is the most elementary of all considerations when buying a lathe. And the right-sized lathe for your machine shop is one that can fit easily in your work area.
For basic machining tasks such as pen turning, a mini lathe is the best machine. Also, if you’re looking for a higher workpiece capacity within pen lathes, you can go for midi lathes.
You see, both mini and midi lathes are capable of smooth pen turning and can also fit in small spaces.
While it’s true that mini lathes have workpiece size constraints, that’s not a problem for pen turning at all.
However, if machining large workpieces is something you’re looking forward to, then you should definitely go beyond mini lathes.
Swing over bed
Also called swing capacity, this denotes the highest diameter of a wooden or metal blank that you can accommodate on your lathe.
For instance, if the swing capacity of a mini lathe is 8″, you can’t fit in a workpiece with a 9″ diameter on the spindle.
So before you buy a lathe, we suggest you factor in your workpiece diameter and choose a machine with a compatible swing capacity.
DBC or distance between centers
The distance between centers or DBC is the distance between the center of the headstock and that of the tailstock. Also, the DBC on a lathe is the largest workpiece size that you can machine on it.
For instance, if the DBC of your lathe is 21 inches, you can machine wooden panels up to 21 inches in size. As such, the distance between centers is a critical determinant of your overall machining capacity.
Meaning it’s important that you check the DBC and compare it with your regular workpiece size before you buy a lathe.
Another crucial determinant in turning operations is the total horsepower of the spindle motor.
Talking about pen lathes, 1/2 to 1/3 hp motors are standard on these machines. That’s because this amount of horsepower is sufficient to smoothly turn wooden planks into the shape of a pen.
However, the best lathe for pen turning on the market can have up to 1 horsepower motor. And such a lathe can help you turn pieces more quickly and smoothly.
If you’re producing smaller volumes of pens, then a 1/2 hp motor should be enough for your needs. But, when it comes to factory-grade pen production, 1 hp motors are standard.
The build quality of your lathe is important as it decides the overall quality of the parts you produce.
For instance, a mini lathe for pen turning with a solid cast iron body will have significantly lower vibrations than a lathe made with other materials. And this will result in improved accuracy on finished parts, as vibrations during machining hamper the quality of workmanship.
You may also want to read: 8 Things To Consider Before Buying A CNC Lathe Machine.
Mini lathe for pen turning: frequently asked questions
What exactly is pen turning?
Pen turning is the process of manufacturing handmade pens using a mini lathe machine. Herein, a machinist takes a piece of wood or metal and gives it the shape of a hollow cylinder, among other processes, to make a pen.
What is a lathe for pen turning?
A pen turning lathe is a machine that you’ll need to turn pieces of wood into a pen.
Since the workpiece diameter for a pen is small, most pen lathes are small and mini lathe machines.
Are pen lathes manual machines?
While most pen lathes are originally available as manual machines, you can always convert them to CNC and automate the machining process.
You can use a mini lathe CNC conversion kit to automate a manual pen lathe.
What is the ideal variable speed for a pen lathe?
Pen turning doesn’t need huge variable speeds as other large-sized workpieces do. And as such, you can settle for a pen lathe with variable speeds up to 2500 RPM.
Nevertheless, if you want to produce larger volumes of pens or undertake different projects, we suggest you go for a mini lathe up to 3500 and 4000 RPM.
Can you use a large lathe machine to produce pens?
Yes, you can.
Most of the large-sized lathe machines are highly versatile, too, allowing for smaller operations apart from typical large workpiece turning.
As you can see, a pen turning lathe is a great option for beginners to start with machining. And although your best lathe for pen turning will depend on a host of factors, we have compiled the five best lathe for beginners and professionals alike.
Looking to buy a pen lathe loaded with features for your workshop?
You can reach out to us!
At CNC Conversion Plus, we have an extensive collection of mini lathes for wood and metal turning from industry-leading manufacturers customizable to your needs. Also, we have the CNC conversion kits for each of the pen lathes.
So whatever is your pen turning requirement, we’ve got it all covered.
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