Mini Lathes

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  • Mini Lathes

    I recently bought a HF 65435 lathe. I took the first one back with bearings that were shot after a couple weeks and now the second has a stripped hole that the head stock tightening handles goes into. Yes, I could tap a new hole, but I would rather not mess with it since I have had it less than 2 weeks and just feel done with this lathe.

    I really don't want to exchange it for another HF lathe, but for the price, I don't see anything close, except for the Excelsior from Rockler which is currently on sale for $199. This looks to be an exact copy of the HF. Does anyone know any difference between the two? I would have to believe the quality would be better from Rockler, but they look identical. I don't have a Rockler close, so I would have to pay for shipping or go for a drive. I need it for Christmas gifts, so time is precious.

    The Rikon at Woodcraft is $300, but a coupon this week for $20/off. I do have a local Woodcraft. Is this one even another copy?

    So...Rikon, Excelsior or another HF?
    Last edited by JoeyGee; 11-22-2015, 07:52 PM.

  • #2
    I don't have a lathe, mini or otherwise. But just an observation if I may.

    From the tools that I've seen, especially from HF, they and their manufacturers are the ones who are doing the copying. For many tools like lathes, dust collectors, dovetail jigs, and even tap and die sets, there are some very basic designs that seem to be proliferated across several manufacturers. It's like the basic hand plane design... some manufacturers will execute that to great precision and others will not. You look at them online and you can hardly see the difference, except for the price; and, unfortunately the price isn't always the tell-tale clue.

    In the case of your lathe, I'd probably put my money on a Rikon. I've seen some of their tools when we used to have a retailer in the Elmira-area (gone now) and their stuff seems to be built pretty well. But, as you mentioned, you have a local Woodcraft (I sure wish I did), so I'd go look at whatever lathe they may have and compare those areas that you have poor quality experience with.

    Problem with the HF, is pretty much as you describe... pretty poor machine work, bad threads, sloppy tolerances, etc. I have looked at both the HF lathes and I agree that they look just like a few others. But for that price I've been concerned about how sloppy the manufacturing seems to be. (I've often remarked that it's a shame that HF doesn't have better quality control on some of their products.)

    For example, I have the HF dovetail jig. It looks exactly like several other manufacturers, including Grizzly, Rockler, and even Lee-Valley. The jig body on the HF is made perfectly well, even the same paint color, but the comb-like template was terribly machined, very rough surface with lots of burrs. I spend an hour cleaning that up and it now works pretty well. The Lee-Valley and the Grizzly offerings surely must be made better. The Grizz offers additional templates and the L-V comes with a second template to do thru-dovetails, with neither HF or Grizz does. Prices are significantly higher than the HF though.

    So, go take a look at Woodcraft or wherever and see that their lathe looks like. Hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised.

    Last edited by cwsmith; 11-23-2015, 11:50 AM.
    Think it Through Before You Do!


    • #3
      I'm guessing that the HF is made in a factory that copied someone else's design. THey look the same because the copy is nearly exact and they don't try to hide it, in fact they want you to think that its the same lathe.

      But when they copy it they use poor machining, poor finishing, cheap metal and cheap component hardware and don't use hardened parts where they should. So in general you have problems with bearing and holes wallowing out etc.and lots of burrs that need to be cleaned up to make it work smoothly.

      Probably a reputable name brand will give more satisfaction, albeit a higher price.
      Loring in Katy, TX USA
      If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to treat all problems as if they were nails.
      BT3 FAQ -


      • #4
        Without saying it, it is another counterfeit item coming from China. Sad but that what it is whatever you want to call it that or not. Some counterfeits are better than others and this appears to be one of the more undesired ones. Counterfeit has been a problem for a while now. I'm glad our gov and industry adheres to the laws. I see no end to this problem as China does not seem to be willing to enforce laws and their industry is willing to breaks everyone else's.
        Case in point, I have a Norelco electric razor that I suspect somethings wrong with the motor, I do my research and find that the Chinese mfg for Norelco, amoung other items he builds, takes the "extra" razor cases and installs someone else's motor and packages it in Norelcos packages and sells it on his own. Now the counterfeit razors are filling display cases, pushing out the real brand. You would think that reputable mfg's would learn and find a mfg source that they could trust.


        • #5
          Joe, the other option is to keep your eyes peeled for a good CL deal. There are usually a bunch of lathes for sale (including loads of HF models). The best thing is to find a better brand option for sale that also includes, tools, and other goodies. I lucked in to a great Nova package earlier this year. I looked in your general area and didnt see anything amazing but here are a few options depending on what you are looking for.

          Dont know about the Delta Midi lathe but this first one looks like not a bad deal as it includes a set of tools, the bed extension and a stand.


          Phoenix AZ - It's a dry heat

          We all make mistakes and I should know I've made enough of them


          • #6

            While I agree that there are a lot of counterfeit products coming out of China, I wouldn't say that would be the case here. As stated earlier, there are a lot of common designs, lathes being only one. If there is or ever was a patent on that design, then it has probably long since lapsed. Furthermore, many U.S. manufacturers have taken their designs to China for manufacture and the whole manufacturing concept is different than here in the U.S. or in Europe, with thousands of components being subcontracted to small "back-ally-like" shops. Many of those shops manufacture on their own or with others and offer products through a cooperative of product brokers. The results is varied quality levels, and as detailed by Loring, the cost cutting can be everything from poor materials to workmanship.

            But even with big product names like Ridgid, their products have been made in China and/or Taiwan for at least a couple of decades. Even my ex-employer manufactures in China, having reduced most of it's U.S. plants to a fraction of what they once were. I suspect that Norelco has probably done the same thing. That's not to say that counterfeit products are not out there, but we need to be careful about what is "counterfeit" and what is simply now manufactured there by U.S. Corporate choice; and when that is done, things like motors and other components will suffer considerably without very tight quality assurance. In the case of my "ex", they reportedly spend a considerable amount of time correcting problems back here that were manufactured over there. In such cases, I find it disturbing when I see the label stating where it was made.

            I read an article a few years ago that much of Rikon's products were made in Taiwan. How much of that is true I don't know and how much of that was actually from mainland China is questionable too. Either way, I think Rikon holds it's specs in high regard, taking steps that wherever manufacturing occurs in it's name, the quality will fit. I think the same is true with Ridgid, as my drill press, thickness planer, and most all the hand-held power tools are labeled as "made in China, while the jointer and miter saw are "made in Taiwan". All of them, IMO, are very good quality and certainly wouldn't be considered "counterfeit".

            I think more of the point would be that certain "price points" are set by retailers like Walmart, and certainly for Harbor Freight they seek products that fit into their particular idea of retailing. HF acts more the retailer of tool products on the low-end price scale, going to the Chinese manufacturing market to see what's available for the prices they consider to fit their particular niche. The Chinese product market is almost unimaginable in the broad scoop of things they produce.

            For example, about ten years ago I received a pocket-sized short wave radio. It wasn't very good, but it did work. What I found intriguing was that I had never seen a shortwave receiver of that size before, and certainly not at the under-$20 that it cost. So I went web-surfing for radios to see if I could find a slightly better SW-radio, perhaps digital instead of the analog that I had. In China, I found more than a thousand different radios!!! Now mind you that I'm sort of a radio junkie, and at no time here in the U.S have I ever seen more than a few dozen radios of any kind. But there in China were more than a thousand different models and China has several organizations that helped market such stuff internationally, through re-branding in many cases. Were there "counterfeits"? Perhaps, but all that I saw looked unique and not any like the products that I see here in the U.S.

            Rather than "counterfeit", I think like most everywhere, product quality will mostly depend on the price range that the retailer is trying to fit in to, and that you'll find a fairly broad range in that.

            Think it Through Before You Do!


            • #7
              One of the woodworking magazines ran a comparison a year or so ago on the small lathes. The Rikon was one of the top performers and the authors noted it had the coolest running motor - by a significant margin if I remember correctly. That bodes well for motor longevity.

              I have the Rikon 10-325 bandsaw (14 inch Euro frame style with the tall resaw capacity) that has been pretty stout. I have no trouble recommending Rikon. I also have their overhead air filter. It did have an issue - the electronic controller fried a capacitor a few months after I installed it. An email or two and a new one was on the way since I told them I could easily install it myself. The new board plugs in the same way - 100% interchangeable - but clearly had some redesign as the electronic components were different. And it's worked fine ever since. Rikon tends to have several-year warranties... a good sign they don't cut many corners. I was going to buy the Rikon lathe until Rockler cleared out Delta tools; I got the Delta unit for about half price and it was way too good a deal to pass up. I've been quite happy with it too.

              Specs to think about when comparing lathes:
              * obviously motor horsepower/rating. When turning large diameter it's easy to bog down low HP motors.
              * max turning diameter and length specs.
              * electronic variable speed or not. And reversing. Most small lathes offer a few specific speeds by moving the belt between 3 to 5 sets of pulleys. More expensive units supplement with electronic speed control and electronic reversing. My lathe doesn't have the electronic speed control nor reversing and I haven't found that to be a problem. Reversing could be handy when sanding but I haven't found myself wishing for it.
              * drive type: skinny belt (likely to slip when turning large diameter stuff) or wide ribbed belt (less chance of slipping).
              * indexing head or not. Handy to have and not all that much extra expense for manufacturers to implement. Not having an indexing head, in my opinion, is a sign of trying to pinch every last cent out of a lathe... and I wonder about the quality elsewhere.
              * MT-1 or MT-2 for head and tailstock inserts. MT-2 is more common on larger lathes and much better supported for aftermarket accessories.
              * head thread pitch and diameter. 1 inch 8TPI and 1 1/8th inch 8TPI seem to be well supported in the aftermarket world.
              * Look at the spindle shoulder on the head... when screwing things onto the threads is there a wide shoulder to help keep things flat or not? Most lathes have about a quarter inch shoulder which is good... cheaper ones have little shoulder so screwed-on accessories may vibrate more.
              * tool rest length: 6, 8, or 12 inches is common. Some lathes include both 6 and 12 inch bars.
              * add-on bed extender available? How expensive?

              Last edited by mpc; 11-23-2015, 02:15 PM.


              • #8
                Thanks for all the replies. I think I'm going with the Rikon 70-100 at WC. They have a clone (HF/Excelsior/etc...) branded as Rikon for $300, or $250 on Friday, but I'm not dealing with Black Friday in any way shape or form and they have no reviews on that model, which always makes me nervous.

                I don't want to spend twice as much, but hauling that lathe back to HF "inspired" me to spend more on a decently reviewed lathe.

                I always know it's a risk trying HF tools, so I'm not upset, just wiser ☺


                • #9
                  I've owned the Excelsior for 5 years now, and have made hundreds of pens and other small turnings on it, and know many others with the same experience (several on IAP). I even bought the extension bed, and did some longer spindle work. It still performs like new, motor running strong (for what it is), same belt (although I bought a spare), and no bearing issues. I would have liked it to be VS, but the belt changing is not that big a deal for me, especially since I do mostly pens on it, I don't change speed that much (also because I bought the tiny HF VS lathe, which I use for finishing/polishing, no performance issues.) I may add the VS conversion kit from PSI at some point if I get a bug to. But for the price, I would buy it again. I also have the HF 34706 for bowls/larger stuff, has Reeves VS, no performance issues so far after the first year.

                  I don't have experience with the Rikon 70-105 Pen lathe you are looking at, but my neighbor bought the 70-220VSR a few months back, and the quality is very good. If I were constrained to one lathe of a smaller size, I would get the 70-220VSR. It has all the features you would need in a lathe that size, and you won't have regrets and be looking to upgrade for those features later (i.e., "buy once").
                  Bill in Buena Park


                  • #10
                    Forgive me for sounding like everything made in China is counterfeit. Let's call it look alike knock offs! They have some really state of the art mfg's that produce top notch products. But they do produce some real crap for the cheaper market in their back alley factory's. Reputable brands that police their quality control provide the good stuff.


                    • #11
                      I have a HF lathe, the 34706, and it has been a good lathe for me since 2009. I must admit though I don't do a ton of turning, but I do turn several times a year. Probably less than 200 total hours on the machine since new. Not a single problem since I got it out of the box...

                      I am a bit surprised that the particular model you have has given you problems, But if it is, then it is...

                      I honestly don't think the Excelsior is any better than the HF, however, if I were in the market for a new mini lathe, I would put the Rikon on my short list of possibilities.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by LCHIEN View Post
                        ..THey look the same because the copy is nearly exact and they don't try to hide it, in fact they want you to think that its the same lathe. But when they copy it they use poor machining, poor finishing, cheap metal and cheap component hardware and don't use hardened parts where they should. So in general you have problems with bearing and holes wallowing out etc.and lots of burrs that need to be cleaned up to make it work smoothly.
                        Loring, a good example of this is the similarity between the JET 1236, and the HF 34706. Looks identical, including the manual and the parts list. In fact, as I posted here, many parts are directly interchangeable, including the odd-threaded headstock hand-wheel. HOWEVER, if you order the spindle bearings indicated for the 34706, they will not fit. I found out the hard way, trying to stock up on replacement bearings in advance. (So if anyone needs bearings for their JWL-1236, let me know.)
                        Bill in Buena Park


                        • #13
                          I wanted to get to Woodcraft yesterday after work, around 4. It was the first time I have had all week to go replace my lathe. Of course, they closed at 3 on "Thanksgiving Eve". Now, I'm happy the owners and employees got time off and they won't open today, which I applaud, but that leaves me shopping for a lathe on the worst shopping weekend of the year. I am behind on pens, so I need to crank some out this weekend.

                          If I go later in the day, I really hope the crowds not too bad. I'm not after any BF deals, so I am not worried about that. Pray for me.


                          • #14
                            I ended up at Woodcraft today (Black Friday). I was there maybe a total of 20 minutes, but probably less. The majority of that time was picking out some pen blanks.

                            I walked in around 12, and they had an almost full pallet of 70-105 mini-lathes (the newer, cheaper one) for the Black Friday prince of $249 (normally $300). Since it's nearly identical to the HF one I just returned 2 of, I was going to go for the $400 70-100. I got to talking to one of the employees and he told me not to spend the extra $150, it's not worth it. He said this new one should be MUCH better than the HF, and it comes with a 5 year warranty and he said Rikon has excelled customer service. That was enough for me.

                            I did a quick purpleheart pen today and I really like it. The fit and finish are light years above HF and it seems to run smoother, without sounding like there are tiny beebees rolling around the motor.


                            • #15
                              Congrats Joe on your purchase. It should give you many years of service. Now we'll be watching for you to post the finished pens.
                              Bill in Buena Park