Delta 12-1/2" Variable Speed Midi Lathe

Arguably the best value in a benchtop lathe


Delta 12-1/2" Variable Speed Midi Lathe

Not everyone needs a large, stationary lathe. If you turn small items, such as pens, tool handles, small bowls and platters, furniture hardware and the like, or if you're just taking up woodturning, then a midi lathe can be an excellent choice. They're less expensive, don't require much space, and can be more easily moved out of the way, or stored, when not in use.
The Delta 12-12" Variable Speed Midi Lathe (46-460) has all the standard features you'd expect to find on a good quality midi lathe, plus a couple of extras that set it somewhat above the competition.
The 46-460 has a fairly small, 7" x 31" footprint, making it compact enough to fit just about anywhere, even a small closet. The body is primarily cast-iron, which accounts for the hefty 97 pound weight. I don't begrudge the weight, as it helps reduce vibration. Coupled with a 1 HP belt drive induction motor (which sits underneath the bed of the lathe), the 46-460 is virtually vibration-free and super quiet, at any speed level. I measured the decibel level at 74.5 at 4,000 RPM (no load). Even though vibration isn't an issue, you'll still want to secure the lathe to a work bench or stand, using the four pre-drilled holes in the base. Delta offers a nice optional stand (46-462), though you can easily make your own from one of the many plans available over the Internet.
It's important that the banjo (the tool rest base) and, to a lesser extent the tailstock, glide smoothly across the ways (the top of the lathe bed). The banjo is frequently adjusted sideways, forward and backward, as you turn. The ways on the 46-460 aren't as smooth as I would have liked; they have slight milling marks on the surface. Nonetheless, the banjo glides quite well across the ways; even more so if you regularly spray the ways with something like WD-40 or Boeshield's T-9, which both lubricates them, and keeps rust at bay.

1HP motor suspended beneath the bed
Ways are mildly scored with milling marks
The headstock is where the action happens. The 46-460 comes with the ubiquitous 1" x 8 teeth per inch spindle and #2 Morse taper. Virtually all midi lathes, and even stationary lathes use this same spindle size. Which means, of course, that there are a lot of accessories that will fit this lathe. The 3-1/8" outboard hand wheel is a good size, and right in front of the hand wheel is the indexing lock pin. The indexing pin lets you lock the spindle at evenly spaced points, by means of indexing holes drilled in the face of the pulley. In the case of the 46-460 there are 24 holes, spaced 15° apart. This features enables you to apply evenly spaced reeds and flutes, typically on columns or legs. The indexing pin locks the spindle firmly without any play.

(A) belt cover; (B) Indexing pin; (C) Hand wheel; (D) Variable speed dial; (E) Speed selection chart
(A) On/off switch. (B) Forward/revering switch
A durable ABS plastic flip lid covers the belt and stepped spindle pulley at the front of the headstock, while a plastic housing encases the lockable paddle style power switch, a variable speed dial, and a forward/reverse switch, at the back of the headstock. I don't particularly like the location of the power switch, preferring to have it up front, where I feel I can more easily, and quickly, turn the lathe off. The location of the speed dial and the forward/reverse switch is fine; it would be difficult to inadvertently move the dial while turning, and a lockout feature prevents you switching from forward to reverse while the motor is running.
I found the reversing feature very handy; sanding against the grain noticeably speeds up the sanding process, giving a smoother finish sooner. At the very back of the headstock is a 10 Amp manual reset circuit breaker. If there is a overdraw of current, the breaker will trip. Delta recommends that you use the 46-460 on a separate, dedicated circuit wired with #12 cable, though I didn't experience any problems with the lathe connected to #14 cable (and a dedicated 15A circuit).

1" x 8 TPI spindle with #2 Morse Taper
Indexing pin engages in holes  drilled in the face of the pulley
The 46-460 could be called a semi-variable speed lathe. There are three speed ranges - 250-700, 600-1,800 and 1,350-4,000 RPM. Within those ranges you adjust the speed automatically by means of a variable speed control dial. However, you still have to move a drive belt when you want to go from one speed range to the next. Fortunately, belt change-over is very fast. Lift a pulley cover, flip open a door at the bottom of the headstock to get access to the lower pulley, flip a lever to loosen belt tension, move the belt, and then repeat the steps in reverse. Seems a bit much, but it only takes about 30 seconds.
I like the V-belt that Delta uses. It has a series of six lengthwise v-grooves that better resist slipping than standard flat belts. The belt tracks on matching v-grooves on the pulleys. There's a handy belt chart on the inside of the pulley cover, and a speed selection chart on the side of the headstock. I usually use the first (250-700 RPM) and third (1,350-4,000 RPM) speed ranges, so belt changing is even less of an issue. The variable speed system is very smooth across any speed range, running in forward or reverse direction.

Belt tensioning lever makes belt changeover quick and easy
There are three belt-driven speed ranges; within each range you adjust the speed by means of the variable speed dial
The tailstock has a 1" diameter quill that travels a generous 2-1/8". The scale etched on the quill isn't very legible (though I rarely, if ever, use it). When faceplate turning you can quickly remove the tailstock to give yourself a bit more elbow room. As mentioned earlier, spraying the ways with a lubricant makes it much easier to glide the tailstock back and forth. If you're only doing spindle work, then it's not crucial that the tailstock aligns perfectly with the headstock. However, it is crucial for faceplate work, particularly if you want to be able to drill work pieces on center. You can check alignment by installing the live and spur centers  and then bringing the tailstock up to the headstock. On the 46-460 they line-up about as perfectly as you could expect.
The clamping mechanisms that secure the banjo, tool rest and tailstock work well, though I felt the tool rest and tailstock quill locking handles could be a tad longer in order to effect a better grip. Apart from the tailstock crank all the handles are metal, which are much more durable than plastic.
The 46-460 comes with a standard spur center or drive spur (goes in the headstock spindle), live center (goes in the tailstock spindle), 3" faceplate, 6" and 10" tool rests, knockout bar and wrenches. The knockout bar and wrench bit conveniently in a slot at the back of the lathe. The spur center has four prongs with a center point that projects about 3/16" above the prongs. It works well as long as the ends of your stock are flat and square. In order to hold the stock securely, all four prongs should engage the wood. Spur centers with 2 prongs hold uneven stock more securely, and fortunately they aren`t overly expensive. Many turners prefer the Sorby Stebcentre spur center, which holds just about anything, but at a wallet thinning price. The live center (so called because it has a bearing that freely rotates the center pin) is again, a fairly standard, but highly reliable, design. As with the spur center, you can purchase different models, one of the most popular being the Oneway Live Center.

Tailstock: (A) Tailstock handle (attached to crank wheel); (B) Quill locking handle; (C) Tailstock locking handle
Tailstock quill extends 2-1/8"

The faceplate is chrome plated (a nice feature as it will help prevent rusting) and has two grub screws on the flange; these should be tightened when running the lathe in reverse. There are four holes on the face of the plate enabling you to mount stock up to 6"by 6"; for larger stock you`ll need a large faceplate. The T-shaped tool rests have a concave groove along the back edge along which your thumb can ride to guide your chisel in a straight line. The top edge of the rests were reasonably flat and smooth, though I touched them up by making several passes with a smooth mill file. Tool rests come in different sizes and shapes, but you might have difficulty finding anything to fit the 46-460 banjo - it only accepts 1/2" posts. A 5/8" or 3/4" post would have been a better size here.

Live center (L) and Spur center (R)
Chromed faceplate won't rust
There isn't much to find at fault in the new Delta 46-460. If you're interest is in bowl turning you'll appreciate the generous 12-1/2" swing over the bed (9-9/16" over the banjo). No one buys a midi with the intention of turning long spindles, though the 16-1/2" distance between centers is pretty decent. If you end up needing to turn longer stock, then a bed extension (46-463) is available, which takes you to 42" between centers (or add two extensions for a whopping 67-1/2" of length between centers). The extensions bolt easily into place.

The 46-460 is compact, heavy, vibration free, powerful (thanks to a 1 HP motor), has a wide range of speeds (variably controlled between speed ranges), a reversing function (that reduces the onerous task of sanding), a super easy belt changing system, indexing feature, the ubiquitous 1" x 8 TPI spindle with a #2 Morse Taper, and a 5 year warranty.

Centers in place
Banjo with 10" tool rest installed; 6" tool rest to the right
I've been using the 46-460 for just over six weeks now, and I'm very satisfied with its performance. The cost of ownership is about $158 per year (over a 5 year period, including taxes, excluding accessories), which isn't a hard pill to swallow. If you don't want variable speed, Delta has a manual belt change model (46-455, $579) though with a smaller, 3/4 HP motor.
Woodturning is not an overly expensive undertaking in contrast to other woodworking hobbies. Before purchasing a lathe, you might consider buying a couple of introductory books on turning, such as 'Turning Wood with Richard Raffan' or 'Woodturning Tips & Techniques'. There are numerous woodturning clubs across the country, always eager to welcome new converts to the fold. They provide a great way to meet people with similar interests, and you'll get lots of advice and support as you begin your foray into turning. Turning clubs often have lending libraries, and members can recommend resources that they've found useful. You may even be able to score good quality used turning tools and accessories.

On board tool storage
Knockout bar ready to remove the spur center
The lathe, of course, will be the most expensive item to purchase. A good quality lathe will last many years, if not a lifetime. If you decide to upgrade to a larger stationary lathe, you'll have no difficulty finding a buyer for a good quality midi lathe; invariably, cheap, inexpensive tools of any kind retain little, if any value. Additionally, you will need a few turning chisels, a dust mask, face mask, shop vacuum, and a sharpening system. It makes some sense to purchase one or two high-speed steel chisels (dependent on the type of turning you intend to do - spindle or faceplate - and add chisels as your skill level improves). You'll also need some kind of lathe stand, which you can make or purchase. If your budget still allows, you'll find a set of 8" outside calipers, 8" dividers, 6" try square and a 12" ruler very useful.

If your interest lies in faceplate turning, then you might also want to consider purchasing a four-jaw chuck. A good source of inexpensive (often free) practice wood can be had in the form of 2 by spruce, pine or a similar softwood from your local lumberyard or at a nearby construction site (of course, courtesy suggests that you ask before taking). There is no end to the amount of money you can spend on woodturning tools and accessories. Bear in mind however, it's not the gear that makes the turner, it's the practice.

Faceplate turning
Spindle turning

  • 1 HP motor
  • Electronic variable speed control
  • Forward and reversing function
  • 250-700, 600-1,800 and 1,350-4,000 RPM
  • 12-1/2" swing over the bed
  • 9-9/16" swing over the banjo (tool rest base)
  • 16-1/2" between centers
  • 1"x 8 TPI right hand spindle thread
  • #2 Morse Taper
  • 2-1/4" of tailstock spindle travel
  • Patented belt tensioning system
  • 22 position index pin
  • Cast-iron construction
  • 7" x 31" footprint
  • 97 pound weight
  • 5 year warranty
  • Includes: Live center, spur center, 3" face plate, banjo, 6" and 10" tool rests, knockout bar, faceplate wrench, hex wrench, instruction manual
  • Optional: Stand (46-462), 25-1/2" bed extension (46-463), Nova G3-D chuck (46-461) 
Available From:Tool and equipment suppliers nationwide
Retail Price:$719.00
Model #:46-460
Made In:Body: Taiwan
Motor: China
Carl Duguay, November 2010
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