Pen turning is a fairly common focus for people wanting to learn to turn wood. Pens are small and 'appear' easy to make. Having the right equipment can make it a simpler process. So what kind of a lathe would one need to be able to turn pens?

  • I'm asking this question because it was one I had on Area 51 that got 10 upvotes!
    – bowlturner
    Apr 28, 2016 at 15:13

1 Answer 1


There are several basic groups of wood turning lathes based on size. There are the pen/mini lathes, the midi lathes and your full sized lathes.

Pen/mini lathes are the smallest. These are almost always bench top models have a small foot print and smaller swing often 8-10". Bed lengths vary.

Midi Lathes are larger than mini's and tend to have a 10-12" swing, longer beds and most are bench top models, however some have stands. They tend to be more powerful, since they can handle larger pieces than the mini's.

Full sized lathes are the largest, tend to be floor models (but not always) and have the largest swings, often starting about 14" and up into the 20's.

In reality you can turn a pen on any of them. However, full sized lathes are overkill for size, power and price. Midi's are reasonable to use especially if you turn things other than small items like pens.

This leaves the pen/mini's as the likely option. They are the cheapest of the bunch, allowing more money for buying pen stock, the are the smallest, allowing for a small work space/shop, and they are designed for this type of work, which means it should have smaller error tolerances as well.

As pointed out in the comments, these lathes can also be used with resin stocks and other similar materials.

  • Would these lathes be good for other materials like resin stocks?
    – Matt
    Apr 28, 2016 at 17:03
  • @Matt actually yes! I had intended to add that to the answer but forgot! Will fix.
    – bowlturner
    Apr 28, 2016 at 17:49
  • For making pens, you generally need a mandrel to hold the blank , so you would typically need a lathe with a "morse taper" in the headstock, to push the mandrel into. There are some really cheap rubbish lathes out there that don't have morse tapers.
    – BobT
    Sep 16, 2020 at 10:33
  • @BobT good to know, I haven't seen that before.
    – bowlturner
    Sep 18, 2020 at 14:29
  • There are some really cheap $100 pressed metal lathes out there that don't have a hollow headstock, so can't be used for pen making. (Can't really use them for bowl turning either, except with sacrificial blocks and a faceplate)
    – BobT
    Sep 18, 2020 at 22:56

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