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If you are like me, the size of the projects the JET Mini Lathe can handle, along with its stability will be a welcome surprise!
Click image to enlarge

JET JWL-1014 Mini Lathe

Big capabilities, value and fun in a small package

Text & photos by Tom Hintz

Posted – 9-21-2006

Small lathes, like the JET Mini Lathe are booming in popularity and not just because of their smaller price. As I discovered in this review, despite its physical dimensions, the JET Mini Lathe can handle a surprising range of turning projects and still fit my space-challenged home woodworking shop.

Out of the Box

The JET Mini Lathe comes ready to use but don't let the small size fool you. Using safe procedures is just as important as with full-sized machines. JET includes a set of safety goggles but I am partial to my full-face shield.
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The JET Mini Lathe in this review arrived undamaged in a 74-pound carton. The JET Mini Lathe comes fully assembled and virtually ready for use. As listed in the manual, a spur center, live center, 3”-diameter faceplate, knock-out rod, a pair of safety goggles and Allen keys were included.

Previous experience unpacking machinery made me wonder if there might be a major tax break afforded to the company that applied the most grease-based protectant. The JET Mini Lathe was different in that it sported a completely adequate but thin coat of protectant that was easily cleaned up with a little Simple Green and a some paper towels. Painted parts were blemish free and all bare metal surfaces showed no sign of rust or corrosion.

As with all machinery, I took the few minutes to go through the manual and check the JET Mini Lathe over closely, including alignments before plugging it in. The JET Mini Lathe proved to be properly set up and ready for use, including the adjustment of the tool rest holder and tailstock locking mechanisms. Both worked easily right out of the box and held fast.

Power & Speed Changing

The JET Mini Lathe features a ½-horsepower TEFC (Totally Enclosed Fan Cooled) motor that delivers more than enough power and does it very smoothly. The motor operates on a normal 110V circuit, which means it will work in your shop and you won’t have to maintain a clear path to the circuit panel.

Changing speeds on the JET Mini Lathe is fast and easy. Release the belt tension (top), move the belt to the position wanted (middle), put the belt on that same position on the lower pulley and re tension the belt. That's it!
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While this model of the JET Mini Lathe does not have an exterior speed changing system, moving the belt on the stepped pulleys is fast and simple thanks to a pair of access doors and a no-tool, no-nonsense belt tensioning system. This belt tensioning system makes so much sense that I suspect that someone with real world lathe experience designed it.

To change speeds, loosen the motor lock and then lift the handle to relax the belt tension. Open the access doors, move the belt to the desired position on the six position stepped pulleys, push down on the belt tensioning handle and lock it down. Simple and fast.

Where many multi-speed tools leave you guessing what each setting actually means, JET provides that information on the rear access door and in the manual. The available speeds are 500 – 840 – 1240 – 1800 – 2630 and 3975 rpm.

The belt and pulleys feature a multi-groove design that runs very true. With even minimal tension, it is all but impossible for this style of belt to jump off the pulley. Slipping is also reduced.

Another benefit of this no-frills drive is that it is exceptionally smooth and quiet. There are no extra moving parts to rattle, clang or thump. Most often, the tool on the wood makes more noise than the drive.

Capacities

I was able to turn this 9 1/2"-diameter bowl on the JET Mini Lathe. The motor handled it easily and the spindle is so stable that turning 3/16"-thick sides with no problems at all.
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The JET Mini Lathe box says it has a 10”-diameter bowl and 14” spindle capacity. Having found similar claims by manufacturers in the past to be “optimistic”, I was pleased to discover that you can actually use virtually all of those capacities in the real world. During the evaluation I turned a bowl that when finished had a diameter of 9 ½”! I honestly didn’t measure the blank before turning. I mounted it, spun it and when it didn’t hit the bed, I turned it. The initial blank size had to be very close to the 10” maximum and bed though.

As with any lathe, the tool rest holder will not fit under blanks nearing the maximum capacity. The 6”-long tool rest and its base afford plenty of reach to get around the side of the bowl. The base is narrow enough to be relocated between the blank and headstock in many cases, providing even more access to that side of the project.

JET offers a bed extension (#708355) that bolts up to the JET Mini Lathe that expands the spindle capacity to 40”. If that number sounds familiar it is because that equals the capacity of many full-sized 14” machines. This capability insures that once you get hooked on turning – and you will - the JET Mini Lathe can be expanded should your project list include longer spindle work.

Many think of the JET Mini Lathe for turning small projects, like pens. It certainly handles them easily but is capable of far more.
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The headstock and tailstock use a #2 Morse taper so they will accept many standard accessories you may already have. If this is your first lathe this means finding accessories will be easy.

The tailstock ram has a full 2” of travel. That is more than some full size lathes and comes in handy when drilling projects such as salt & pepper shakers, mills and all the other projects that need a hole in them. A nice feature is being able to extract the live center by simply turning the ram back into the tailstock housing. The live center is pushed free of the taper without having to knock it out.

In The Shop

I have to admit that before actually using the JET Mini Lathe, I had some concerns about its physical size being able to accommodate the ever-increasing project appetite turner’s experience. It did not take long for me to realize that the JET Mini Lathe is far more capable than its 25”-long by 14”-tall and 7 ½”-wide dimensions suggest. This realization was bolstered when I began comparing the objects I had turned on my full-sized lathe and found that most of them could also be made on the JET Mini Lathe.

The only "preparation" I did before running the JET Mini Lathe was to polish the tool rest slightly and then lube it with wax. Like all tool rests, the paint that protects it during shipping can make sliding tools a little sticky.
Click image to enlarge

The JET Mini Lathe is based on a heavy-duty cast iron, twin-rail bed just like the big boys. The head and tailstocks are also made using heavy iron castings that along with the bulk of the bed give the JET Mini Lathe a very stable feeling.

Because it does not house a variable speed mechanism, the headstock is considerably smaller than I am accustomed to. That reduced size has an unexpected benefit in that it allows considerable access to the back (spindle) side of the object being turned. The additional clearance allows using tools such as spindle gouges at remarkably steep angles, making it easier (and safer) for the turner when shaping that end of the project.

At 72 lbs, the JET Mini Lathe is heavier than its size might suggest. That weight, combined with the four, high-grip rubber feet help keep the JET Mini Lathe surprisingly stable even when rounding out of balance blanks. For safety and additional stability, each foot has a hole through the center that allows driving screws into the surface on which it stands, locking it in place.

The power and stability of the JET Mini Lathe make it easy to slice long, stringy curls, just like on the big boys!
Click image to enlarge

Throughout the evaluation process I was impressed by how little vibration the JET Mini Lathe transmits to the operator. Once blanks were rounded, I could run them at whatever speed I wanted without noticeable vibration. This stability was clearly exhibited when turning the 9 ½”-diameter bowl in the photos. I was able to get the sides down to 3/16”-thick (and less) with a nice finish directly off the tool. That doesn’t happen unless the lathe is running very true and shake-free.

Further evidence of the JET Mini Lathe spindle stability came when turning a goblet. The 7”-long blank was mounted in my Oneway Talon chuck which put the unsupported end about 11” from the spindle end. I was able to hollow and shape the cup portion down to 1/8”-thick sides with no chatter or vibration noted. Here again, smooth cuts are possible lonely if the spindle is steady as it rotates.

Externally controlled variable speed systems are nice and JET offers that feature in the #708351VS version of the JET Mini Lathe. However, the stepped pulley system on the JET Mini Lathe makes speed changes surprisingly fast and easy. I’m as much of a convenience fan as anyone but somewhere between the simplicity of the stepped pulley system and the ease of changing speeds, I found that I like this arrangement.

Video Tour!

The range of speeds available is more than adequate. I found comfortable speeds for everything from initial rounding of odd shaped blanks to high-speed sanding. Regardless of the project or operation at hand, I never felt lacking for the right speed for the job.

After the evaluation turnings were completed, the JET Mini Lathe remains in use for other projects being prepared for upcoming articles. The more I use the JET Mini Lathe, the more I like it. The preconceived notions I had equating physical size with limited capabilities have been blown away.

Conclusions

The JET Mini Lathe is a well-built and very capable lathe that will serve new and veteran turners well. Despite the important space-saving size, the range of projects it can handle is surprising, even without the optional bed extension. It is important to note that being able to bolt on that extra bed capacity means you can expand the JET Mini Lathe rather than buy a larger lathe. That greatly increases its value.

I have heard from many veteran turners who while equipped with a large lathe (or two) appreciate having the JET Mini Lathe in the shop. Some dedicate the JET Mini Lathe to turning smaller items such as pens, boxes and many other common projects that do not require substantial length. Others simply like having a spare lathe on hand for turning complimentary pieces for the project on the big lathe. Add the space-saving size of the JET Mini Lathe and it fits virtually any shop easily.

With a street price of $283.43 (9-20-2006) for the JWL-1014 JET Mini Lathe reviewed here or $379.99 for the variable speed version, getting into turning wood with a quality, capable machine is not a budget-breaker. Extend that investment over the many years of service and the JET Mini Lathe becomes even more attractive. Consider the dollars per hour of fun cost and adding the JET Mini Lathe to your shop is a no-brainer.

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