Versions of the Lathe
When I began this page, around June 2000, there were only a few versions of the 7×10 and 7×12 lathe that I was describing, Since that time, the number of variations has grown and mini-lathe.com has expanded to include many other lathes within the size and price range of home machinists and small businesses.
This plethora of choices makes choosing the right lathe for your own needs a little harder. Vendors including Grizzly, Enco and Harbor Freight offer larger and more expensive lathes.
If you have the need, the money and the expertise to safely use one of these larger lathes, they may be just right for you. However, I have limited mini-lathe.com to lathes costing under $5000.
Nearly all of the mini lathes are manufactured at the Sieg Factory in Shanghai, China. A very similar mini-lathe is manufactured by Real Bull.
There has been a fair amount of confusion about the actual and relative sizes of the 7×10 versus the 7×12 lathes. The following summary posted by Zone_369 on the 7x group should help clear this up.
Lots of confusion is generated by people who measure the length of the bed casting on lathes, The length from the end of the bed casting to the spindle housing is not the way lathes are measured. (The correct method is to place a dead center in the headstock and tailstock and measure between the tips with the tailstock at the end of the ways FH).
Here are the details of the models imported:
The HF 7×10 is a SIEG C2 Model 200
- The distance between working centers is 200mm / 7.88in (NOT 10in).
- The length of the bed is approximately 10in.
- The HF is NOT a 7×10 lathe it is a 7×8 lathe, and many posts here talk about that.
The Grizzly and MicroMark 7×12 are a SIEG C2 Model 300
- The distance between working centers is 300mm / 11.82in
- The length of the bed is approximately 14in
- The Grizzly is not a 7×14 lathe it is a 7×12, also there is some embellishment in the metric conversion.
The new MicroMark 7×14 is SIEG C3 Model 350
- The distance between working centers is 350mm / 13.79in the length of the bed is approximately 16in
This is a completely new model, the new C3 is not a stretched C2 which is why it has a new model number. If you look at the feet, they are almost twice as wide as the C2. The C3 also weighs 15.4lbs more than the C2(model 300) that is a lot for two inches.
Something to think about, the length of the tailstock is about 2in.
Here’s an interesting summary of the various lathes posted by JW Early on the 7×10 interest group:
This machine [HF 8×12] no matter what they say has no relationship to the 7x series machines. It is a reduced in size and very much reduced in spec version of the 9x machines. It has all of the lacks and faults of the 9x without any of its good features except for weight.
I have been studying small lathes since the early 60s and have owned many of them from different companies. My first lathe was and is a South Bend 9″ model A that I bought used in 1968.
My second lathe was a Taig which we ended up using to grind and true tires for 1/12 and 1/8 RC cars. My third machine was a Unimat SL which was mostly used for trueing comms on slot car motors and turning other small parts. My fourth machine was and is a generic 9×20 that I bought in 1989 while a friend was using my SB in his repair shop.
My 5th and on machines are 7xs and I find them more than satisfactory for light machine work in all materials. I bought the first 7x to take the place of the Unimat which I had sold in the early 70s when I gave up model car racing.
I was looking at machines slightly larger than it in the 5 to 6″ range but very put off by the price and lack of features on the Prazi and Emco-Maier machines.
While wandering through HF I saw the 7x which I had also seen at Enco and in ads from Atlas and was originally put off by the low price. After looking it over for several months I wandered in one day and found it on sale for $329 and said why not the price is just to good not to try it.
After getting it home and cleaning off the red goo I started playing with it to see what it could do and was most impressed with the low/high geared spindle, the fact that the belt drive was taken to a layshaft keeping the belt loads off of the main spindle which is a problem for all other small lathes and the standard tumbler reverse for the lead screw which is not even an option on any other small lathe made today.
The only problems I have had with the 7x machines and they apply to all the other machines in its size class also is tool chatter and dig in from compound slide flex. I fixed this on the 9x with a heavy 4 bolt cleanup that came up to just below the bottom of the slide and gave more rigid support to the whole compound. The 7x has a different design and this fix would not work on it.
I discovered the fix for this while fitting the 39083 QC tool post to my machine. First to use the 39083 at all I had to remove .250 from the compound base to get the tool holders to adjust low enough to center my 3/8″ cutters. This removed about 1/4 to 1/3rd of the chatter, it was still there but much reduced.
Next to gain more turning diameter for larger workpieces I moved the mounting point holes .875 towards the front of the compound base giving me that much more turning capacity times two.
With this mod compound flex and thus chatter was reduced so much that it was no longer a concern. While making the new cross slide feed screw (7/16-20 LH) for the 9x out of 303 SS on the 7×12 the threads cut as easy as if I was doing them on the SB.
With these small simple fixes my 7x machines are now as useable and much more portable as my SB or a Logan although not as capable of heavy work as these larger machines they complement them very well indead.
So if you are considering small lathes, also consider this, there is a gap between the 7x machines and the 9x machines that is filled with many machines that are either very lacking in specification to them or lacking in specification and way over priced as well.
This also applies to mills as there are a lot of them out there and there are good values and then there are high prices.
Which Lathe Should I Buy?
Just about all of the mini lathes sold by various vendors throughout the world are made by Sieg Industrial in Shanghai, China. A very similar lathe, also of very good quality, but not as widely distributed, is made by Real Bull in China.
From about 2000 through 2009, the main differentiator between the machines sold by different vendors was primarily the bed length and price. For a long time, the choices were 7×10 or 7×12, so it was not too hard to make a decision. Now in 2011, the mini lathe is available in four lengths: 7×10, 7×12, 7×14 and 7×16 and in several configurations with different features.
The standard way to measure the length of a lathe is to insert a dead center into the headstock spindle and another one into the tailstock ram. With the tailstock all the way to the right, the distance between the points of the two centers is the nominal length of the lathe.
Measured this way, the 7×10 falls short of its advertised length: it is really a 7×8, the 7×10 designation being a consequence of overly optimistic marketing by some of the vendors.
This is an important fact to know when purchasing a lathe, because the 7×12 is actually 50% longer than the 7×10.
This extra four inches is especially noticeable during drilling operations, where standard “jobber” length drills in diameters of 3/8″ or more, will often be too long to drill into the end of a workpiece – a very common operation.
For this reason, I recommend a 7×12, 7×14 or 7×16, rather than the 7×10 (really 7×8) models for most purchasers. But if your workshop space is really limited and/or you work only on very small parts, the 7×10 might be the best choice for you. Using short “screw machine drills” helps offset the short bed length.
If you’re thinking of buying a mini-lathe or a mini-mill, you definitely should consider the new versions with the brushless DC motors. Due to the superior torque of the new motors, the gears in the headstock have been superseded by direct belt drive.
The result is a guieter, more powerful and more reliable machine. See the SC2 product review for details. When comparing machines, be aware that many of the mini lathes and mini mills that are advertised do not have the new brushless motors.
The SC2 7×12 from LittleMachineShop.com (P/N 4100) is a great choice. Over the last ten years, LMS has evolved to become the leading source for mini lathe and mini mill parts and expertise in the US. If you buy from them, you’ll have expert support if you need it.
In the Fall of 2002, Micro-Mark was the first vendor to offer the 7×14. Then in 2010, they went to a whole new dimension (literally and figruatively) with their 7×16 model. While maintaining the essential attributes of the 7x lathe, the Micro-Mark 7×16 has some impressive features:
- 16″ between centers (4″ longer than the 7×12, 8″ longer than the 7×10)
- Powerful brushless DC motor
- Optional digital tachometer
- Cam-lock tailstock
- True-inch leadscrews on the cross-slide and compound
If you can afford the extra bucks, the Micro-Mark 7×16 is the ultimate mini-lathe. See my review for details.
The Grizzly 7×12, (P/N 8688) is always a good choice, due to excellent customer support and fast shipping. First and foremost a tool vendor, Grizzly has people on their tech support staff who know how to use a lathe, and can talk intelligently about anything you may need.
The Grizzly mini lathe, and other tools, traditionally go on sale prior to Christmas, so check their website and catalog for some good deals.
Harbor Freight now offers both a 7×10 (P/N 93212) and a 7×12 (P/N 93799) version. (They also have an 8×12 (P/N 44859) that they refer to as a mini lathe, but it is an entirely different machine than the 7x models.).
The lathes go on sale at various times, so check their web site and sale flyers frequently to get the best price. The sale flyers are available at their stores and, if you order something from their web site, you’ll get plenty of them in the mail. Trust me.
If you visit a Harbor Freight store, don’t judge the lathe by what you see there. The display machines often are in bad shape, with missing parts and a coating of rust on the bed, chuck and other unpainted parts.
The rust comes from being handled by hundreds of customers and the lathe not being protected by a film of oil, as it would be in a working shop. The main disadvantage to buying from HF is that you won’t get much, if any, knowledgeable advice or support. They’re good about replacing anything that’s not right – including the whole machine, if necessary.
9×20 Class Lathes
Busy Bee 7×10 Version (Canada)
Busy Bee 10×18 Version (Canada)
Clarke 7×12 Version (U.K.)
Enco 7×10 Version
Grizzly Outlet 7×10 Version
Grizzly 7×12 Version
Harbor Freight 33684 Older Versions
Harbor Freight Classic Green 33684 Version
Harbor Freight Red 33684 Version
Harbor Freight SKU 39916 Green Version
Harbor Freight 8×12 Lathe
Harbor Freight 8 1/2 x 18 Lathe
Homier (Speedway) 7×12 Version
MicroMark 7×14 Version
Northern Tool 7×12 Version