Compact lathes were an instant success when they first hit the market. Their low cost and portability opened the doors to prospective turners who lacked the funds or space required for full size lathes.
Unlike most of us as we mature over the years, compact lathes have grown in power, capacity and refinement without putting on too much weight.
Delta recently introduced two new generation midi-lathes that have raised the bar again on what a compact lathe is capable of. The Delta Midi-Lathe 46-450 comes with a 3/4-HP motor and mechanical speed control. For this review, I looked at the Delta 46-460 that offers a slightly larger 1-HP motor and electronic variable speed.
The difference between a lathe that’s a joy to use and one that’s a chore is how easy it is to make adjustments for toolrest position, spindle speed and tailstock position. Delta has done an excellent job in all three areas.
The first thing I did after setting up the lathe was mount a 3″ x 3″ x 16″ spindle blank between centers. Adjusting the tailstock was a breeze. The simple addition of a handle on the tailstock crank sped up quill movement. (Photo 1)
The tailstock lock handle is large enough to get a good grip and is angled away from the lathe body to prevent skinned knuckles. The smaller quill lock is spring loaded so it can be ratcheted out of the way when necessary. (Photo 1)
The tool rest requires frequent adjustment as the turning progresses so I was glad to find the same well-designed set of levers on the toolrest banjo as on the tailstock. Seldom did the levers on the banjo or tailstock interfere with each other, despite the compact nature of the lathe. (Photo 1) When they did, it was easy to reposition the ratcheting levers on the quill and toolrest locks.
When I first powered up the lathe, I was impressed with how quiet the Delta 46-460 ran. The soft hum stayed constant and vibration-free throughout the various speed ranges. With everything set, I proceeded to cut beads and deep coves on the spindle blank. There was no more chatter from vibration than I normally get on my full sized lathe. Very impressive for such a little guy.
After tool rest position, spindle speed is the most frequent adjustment made on a lathe. One of the salient features of the 46-460 is electronic variable speed. (Photo 2) When coupled with a three-step pulley system and a 1-HP motor, the Delta 46-460 offers easy speed changes with plenty of torque throughout the RPM range.
Another feature on the Delta that you won’t find on most mini or midi lathes is a reverse switch. (Photo 2) The ability to spin stock in the opposite direction makes a big difference when sanding. Sanding in one direction lays the wood fibers down in that direction. Reversing the rotation lifts those fibers to produce an ultra smooth finish. Delta added a built-in lockout safety feature that prevents the reversing switch from being operated while the power is on.
Three pairs of pulleys, (Photo 3) produce three distinct speed ranges; 250-750 RPM (used for bowls and other large diameter objects); 600-1800 RPM (for most spindle turning); and 1350-4000 RPM (for pens and other small diameter work). I have had experience moving belts on other mini-lathes and believe me, the tight quarters can make it a real pain. Delta made pulley changes simple with a quick release belt-tensioning lever. Pull the lever down to release the belt tension, move the belt to desired set of pulleys, push the lever back up to automatically set the correct belt tension and you’re ready to go. There’s another door (not shown in photo) at the base of the headstock to access the lower set of pulleys.
There are two other features I’d like to mention; both are found on the headstock. (Photo 4) The first is a handwheel, a standard feature on full size lathes but not found on all compact lathes. The handwheel is a great asset. It serves as a hand brake when you turn off the power to inspect your work. It allows you to rotate the piece to check for tool rest clearance and general inspection. It also aids when mounting the faceplate to the headstock.
The second notable feature, not found on all compact lathes, is a 24-postion indexing pin. To engage the pin, you pull out the knob and twist it 90-degrees to set the pin into one of 24 evenly spaced indents behind the pulleys. The indexing pin locks the spindle for carving flutes and other decorative effects on spindle work.
OK – so far, so good. This is a very impressive, feature filled little lathe. But how does it handle a big bowl blank? For this phase of the test I mounted a 3″ thick by 12″ diameter walnut bowl blank on the lathe. (Photo 5) The lathe comes with a 3″ faceplate that appears to be of excellent quality. I would recommend doubling the number of mounting holes in the faceplate if you turn a lot of large bowl stock. I prefer to have 8 screws holding a big spinning block rather than four.
I set the belt on the low RPM pulleys and started the blank spinning on the lowest speed (250 RPM).
The 1-HP motor supplied plenty of torque throughout the lathe’s RPM range. (Photo 6) It maintained constant RPM even during heavy cuts on a large bowl blank. The wide 6-groove belt on the Delta was able to transfer power without slippage.
Note: The swing over the banjo is reduced to 9-9/16″.
The only criticism I have for this lathe is the small 5/8″ diameter post on the tool rest. It limits the number of after market tool rests available. Also, experienced turners might want to upgrade the live center and spur center. I had a hard time getting good penetration with them in hard maple. They seemed a bit soft and dull but perfectly adequate for most lathe work.
The Delta 46-460 is an excellent lathe for someone looking to get into turning with only a modest investment. It is also a good bet for woodworking shops that need a lathe on occasion but don’t want to dedicate floor space to a full size model. The 46-460 can do much of what a larger lathe is capable of especially if you buy the optional bed extender (see “Accessories”, below). You can use up to two extensions for a whopping 67-1/2″ capacity. The variable speed is a huge asset and keeps the stock spinning at a constant RPM without bogging down. The 1″ x 8TPI headstock spindle can take accessories like the Nova G3D Woodturning Chuck 46-461, which includes a set screw to overcome coming loose when the lathe is reversed.
Delta 46-460 Midi-Lathe Includes:
Photos By Author