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Looking for a very small lathe.

Suggestions and recommendations

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Henry Artist06/10/2020 10:28:57
121 forum posts
46 photos

Because I have been unable to pursue my interests outside of model engineering this year I find that my finances are in a much better state than usual. As the year draws to a close my thoughts turn to improving my tiny workshop and finding a replacement/upgrade for my Sieg C0.

I have been really happy with the performance of the C0 but since I now have the opportunity to upgrade what should I go for?

I already have a mini-lathe for "larger" turning jobs and before anyone says "Myford" I honestly don't have the room for one!

Most of the "small" turning jobs I do on the C0 are less than 20mm diameter and within 75mm of the headstock.

The materials I work with are brass, mild steel, and aluminium.

Whatever machine I get it should be new (I really don't need yet another restoration project) and calibrated in metric. A compound slide for taper turning is essential and handwheel scales that can be re-set to zero are desirable. Oh, and I really, really like having a QCTP.

Machines that I have given serious consideration to and can afford:

  1. Proxxon PD 250/E
  2. Cowells 90 ME

I welcome comments from the owners of either of these machines as well as suggestions for other machines I may have overlooked.

Howard Lewis06/10/2020 10:49:43
4744 forum posts
10 photos

Would you have room for a Sieg SC3, or a SC2?

It may seem a bit big after a CO but you can do small work on a big lathe, but the other way round can be difficult.

A lot of folk do a lot of good work on mini lathes, and apart from a QCTP as standard,(Can be bought as an extra ) would probably meet your requirements. There are $ Jaw chucks, Steadies,d a Radius Turning Attachment and a Faceplate available.

I have a C3, (Secondhand ) which gets occasional use instead of the BL 12 - 24, and seems to be a useful machine, for my purposes, at least. I've made a few extras, such as a slightly crude combined Saddle and Cross Slide stop, a clone of Alistair Sinclair's Leadscrew Handwheel, and a pair of 100T gears to reduce the feed rate.

In my mind, the only serious shortcoming is that the Cross Slide is not T slotted.

There have been several articles in MEW about making accessories to make it more user friendly and adaptable,

Alistair Sinclair and Mike Cox articles have recently been repeated in MEW, to give an idea of what folk do.




Henry Artist06/10/2020 11:14:16
121 forum posts
46 photos
Posted by Howard Lewis on 06/10/2020 10:49:43:

Would you have room for a Sieg SC3, or a SC2?


Thank you for your reply, Howard. smiley

I already have a C3 mini-lathe. I do like it but for turning very small parts the C0 has proved to be invaluable. It's much quicker to set up and the higher spindle speed makes turning small diameters (<5mm) so easy.

Andrew Tinsley06/10/2020 11:44:57
1387 forum posts

In terms of quality of construction, the Cowells wins hands down over the Proxxon.


Henry Artist06/10/2020 12:06:22
121 forum posts
46 photos
Posted by Andrew Tinsley on 06/10/2020 11:44:57:

In terms of quality of construction, the Cowells wins hands down over the Proxxon.


Thank you for your insight, Andrew. smiley

Do you have personal experience of using either machine?

Andrew Evans06/10/2020 12:14:43
340 forum posts
8 photos

Consider a Taig lathe as well

Rod Renshaw06/10/2020 12:24:11
260 forum posts
2 photos

There is a website called "Adventures in Watchmaking" in which the author describes in almost poetic terms his work to make a watch from raw steel and brass stock on his Cowells lathe, a very superior machine, handmade in UK. Lots of lathe etc techniques to learn from, imagine making a watch!


Peter Cook 606/10/2020 12:30:28
104 forum posts
24 photos

I have a Taig Micro lathe with the ER16 collet headstock. It is very small but works very well for small items. The ER collets handle material up to 10mm diameter. Anything bigger goes in the three or four jaw. See John Bentley's ( website for the sort of things it is capable of - in the right hands. However it doesn't really meet your requirements as it is only available in imperial. Fitting a metric DRO might solve that problem - it's on my (long) to do list.

Sherline do a very similar sized lathe that is available with metric leadscrews. It is also available with an ER16 headstock.

Pricing on both is likely to be lower than Cowells, and there are a host of add-ons and extras available to customise the machines to your needs.

Edited By Peter Cook 6 on 06/10/2020 12:36:37

Oily Rag06/10/2020 12:44:37
390 forum posts
142 photos

I use the services of an instrument maker / restorer (ex RAF) and he uses watchmakers lathes such as Aero, and Lorch, along with an Aciera F1 mill. He also has a Cowells lathe and mill and remarks that they are every bit as good as the continental machines. His Aero lathe is something I have never seen before and I understand they are extremely rare.

If I was in your situation I think I would not hesitate and go for a Cowells

old mart06/10/2020 13:29:18
2912 forum posts
184 photos

Peter Cook's suggestion of thr er16 collet chuck is worth thinking about, as it gives you the extra precision to hold very small work. Your lathe is already very compact and might benifit from some good additions made to it.

Michael Gilligan06/10/2020 13:36:30
17864 forum posts
825 photos


It appears that you are in no great rush

[unless the surplus cash is burning a hole in your pocket]

I would therefore suggest looking-out for a Pultra 17/50 or 17/70

... The build quality was astonishingly good.


Phil P06/10/2020 13:46:16
774 forum posts
194 photos

+1 on the Pultra suggestion.

I have a fully tooled up 1770 on the cabinet stand and it takes up about the same same floor space as my Myford.

But you can fit a pultra into a space about half of that if you arrange the drive so it is under the bench. The Pultra can be fitted with loads of different attachments for all sorts of jobs, and you can add to the kit as you go along as it quite often comes up on ebay.

The build quality is second to none on these lathes and they seem to last forever.


Andrew Tinsley06/10/2020 13:48:46
1387 forum posts

I used to have a Cowells and a friend of mine had a Proxxon, which I have played with. I bitterly regret selling the Cowells, it is / was a real quality build. The Proxxon was by comparison, cheap and nasty, although this wasn't reflected in the price! Proxxon owners may well disagree.


Edited By Andrew Tinsley on 06/10/2020 13:55:22

Bazyle06/10/2020 14:05:49
5861 forum posts
217 photos

Since you already have a lathe first build a bigger shed wink

John Haine06/10/2020 14:19:16
3829 forum posts
222 photos

I've had a couple of Proxxon machines (not a lathe or mill) and for the price I am profoundly unimpressed. The Cowells are very nice machines though the design is rather old and if the resale price is any guide are very good. Then there are machines such as Pultra / Schaublin etc but a new Schaublin is very pricey and only used Pultras are available. Sherline are nice. Taig lathes sell in the UK as Peatol and though quite cleverly designed don't strike me as all that rigid.

So if you want new then go for Sherline or Cowells would be my view.

Peter Cook 606/10/2020 15:37:51
104 forum posts
24 photos

John, on the subject of rigidity of Taigs, you might like to look at

Lathe Rigidity (

John Haine06/10/2020 16:02:39
3829 forum posts
222 photos

Well, I'm surprised!

Martin Shaw 106/10/2020 16:09:34
118 forum posts
37 photos

I have a Cowells ME90 that was bequeathed to me, it is an older model probably 30 or so years but it works very well. The only real problem is that the headstock spindle thread is the earlier M14 by 1.5, whereas most aftermarket bits are M14 by 1.0, and the lectrics are difficult to source spares for. The motor is obsolete and it uses a start relay that seems unobtainable, Cowells don't have any, basically it is a slow to operate relay that disconnects the motor start winding. Mine has become very slow to operate so it runs very lumpily until the relay eventually works.At the moment neither is a major problem and I don't really use the machine that much. The other thing that might be an issue is top speed, the earlier ones were three speed of which the fastest is 880 rpm. Other than that they are probably the best of the obtainable v small lathes unless you can afford Schaublin. You don't state whether you are buying new, and if so none of the above much matters but certainly the Cowells in preference to the Proxxon.



Edited By Martin Shaw 1 on 06/10/2020 16:10:05

SillyOldDuffer06/10/2020 17:37:27
7140 forum posts
1573 photos
Posted by Peter Cook 6 on 06/10/2020 15:37:51:

John, on the subject of rigidity of Taigs, you might like to look at

Lathe Rigidity (

Nothing to do with Henry's question, so apologies for the drift, but I feel that Taig vs Minilathe measurement is suspect. Mini-lathes sit on four feet, so the test doesn't fit the way the lathe is normally supported. And I wonder how a Myford 7 would compare given the same treatment? Myford's are famously bendy, yet they work well because they're rigid where it matters. Does me showing Myford beds can be twisted prove they're inferior? No.

Cast-iron isn't as strong as mild-steel or the Aluminium Alloys, but being cheap, heavy, self-lubricating, and good at soaking up vibration makes it a sensible choice for machine tool bodies. Aluminium has other advantages, which are exploited by Taig, Sherline and many a 3D printer.

I suggest the test exposes the properties of the material and the girder shape rather than the virtues of either machine.







Edited By SillyOldDuffer on 06/10/2020 17:38:15

Cornish Jack06/10/2020 17:42:31
1197 forum posts
163 photos

I have Cowells, Pultras, Taig, Unimats 3 and SL and two watchmakers lathes. In terms of useability, the Cowells heads the list, followed by the Unimat 3. If I were in your position, with no financial limit, I'd go for the Cowells (new spindle 14 x 1) ; with limited, but reasonably deep pockets, I'd look at the Sherline (local clockmaker has the extended bed version and swears by it).



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