NOVA Comet II 12" Midi Lathe - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

A solidly built, feature rich lathe, ideal for furniture and cabinet makers, penturners, hobbyist turners, and those new to woodturning. The unique Versaturn adaptive technology extends the versatility of the lathe like nothing else on the market.

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NOVA Comet II 12" Midi Lathe



A lot of woodworkers really don’t need a full size lathe, particularly those working in smaller shops. For anyone who does smaller scale turning – drawer pulls, door handles, tool handles, pens, and the like – a midi (aka 'benchtop') lathe, is a reasonable alternative. A midi lathe is also ideal for anyone new to turning, or hobbyist turners who work primarily with small diameter stock.

The Nova Comet II is the newest midi lathe from Teknatool, a company with an almost 60 year tradition of innovation in woodturning technology. As well as lathes, the company is particularly well known for their line of high-end scroll chucks.
 
I've been using a Nova Comet II in my small shop for the past four months, and am very pleased with it's performance. The Nova Comet has a particularly rich feature set with loads of power, variable speed, reversing capability, vibration-free operation, indexing pin/spindle lock, all metal construction, and the unique VersaTurn adaptive technology that extends the versatility of the lathe like nothing else on the market.
 
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Impressive capacity in a compact format

The Comet is the epitome of a compact shop machine, with a footprint of roughly 7" by 30". If you use it primarily for spindle work, as I do, it can be placed as close to 3" from the wall, while still allowing the tool slide/tool rest to function properly. It has a full 12" swing, and, if you extend the tailstock a bit over the end of the bed (as shown in the photo above), you can turn up to about 18" between centers. Even in this position the tailstock lock plate securely grips onto the bed.

For such a compact unit it's exceptionally stable in use, due in part to the precision machining of the lathe components, all solid cast iron components, and a superb direct current motor.

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Rubber feet enhance stability

Stability is further enhanced by the four large, soft rubber feet that attach onto the base of the lathe. They help absorb what little vibration comes from the motor, and serve to keep the lathe from wandering on the stand. While you could bolt the lathe to the stand, I've not found this necessary.
 
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Easy build stand

You'll want to purchase, or better yet, build, a stand for the lathe. Ideally, the stand should be tall enough that the centerline of the spindle will be in line with your elbow. I made this simple stand from plywood cutoffs. A couple of crosspieces on the bottom of the legs provide stability. I'm 6' tall, and my stand is 31-1/4" high. 

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(A) Motor lock handle, (B) motor mount handle

The Comet is equipped with a 3/4 HP electronic variable speed direct current motor, which I've found delivers plenty of power for using the lathe at it's maximum capacity. The motor drives a pair of three-step pulleys connected via a drive belt. This provides three speed ranges, and each speed range can be variably adjusted on the fly by means of a control knob on the motor controller. However, you do need to manually switch the drive belt on the pulleys to move from one speed range to another. To do this, you release the motor lock handle (A) and then lift the motor upwards with the motor mount handle (B), which releases tension on the drive belt.

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Easy access drive belt

Lifting up the headstock drive belt cover exposes the drive belt. Switching the belt is a piece of cake. The whole process takes no more than 30 seconds. The speed ranges are 250 rpm to 680 rpm, 530 rpm to 1,420 rpm, and 1,380 to 4,000 rpm. I've found that the medium speed range takes care of most of my turning needs. For turning large bowls use the lower speed range, and for very small turnings, such as drawer knobs, move up to the highest speed range.

You'll notic
e in the photo above that the Comet uses a ribbed poly belt rather than a flat or v-belt. These belts run very smoothly, possibly because they have a larger surface area in contact with the pulley surface.

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L to R: Power switch, variable speed controller dial, reversing switch

I like that all the motor controls are together, out of the way, on the right side of the lathe, yet easily accessible. The dust sealed power switch is a nice touch. There is a speed range scale, but I found it somewhat too small to read clearly. It also looks a bit confusing. However, speed changes are very smooth across all speed ranges, in both forward and reverse direction.

I've found the f
orward and reverse switch to be indispensable. It enables me to sand off the wood fibers that bend forward when sanding in the forward direction, giving a superior finish.

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1" x 8 TPI spindle with #2 Morse Taper

The Comet has the common 1" x 8 teeth per inch spindle and #2 Morse taper, which means you can use the wide range of lathe accessories on the market.

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Flywheel handle and spindle lock button/indexing pin

The 3-1/8" removable flywheel handle enables you to manually rotate the spindle. There's a hole that goes through the flywheel to the end of the spindle – inserting the supplied knockout bar through the hole enables you to gently tap out the spur center if it gets stuck in the spindle.

The spindle lock button, located on the back of the headstock, locks the spindle in place, making it easier to install or remove the spur center of faceplate. A word of caution here, you need to ensure that the lock button is pulled out (moved to the unlock position) before starting the lathe). I neglected to disengage the lock once – thank goodness the on/off button is so easily reached. Fortunately, these was no damage to the spindle pulley.

The spindle lock button also serves as the indexing pin, which lets you lock the spindle at evenly spaced points, by means of indexing holes drilled into the spindle pulley. There are 
12 indexing holes spaced 30-degrees apart. This features enables you to apply evenly spaced reeds and flutes, typically on columns or legs. I found that the lock button/indexing pin locks the spindle firmly without any play. 

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The tailstock with live center installed

The tailstock has a 1" diameter quill that travels 1-3/4". Several other midi lathes provide a longer quill travel, but I haven't felt the need for anything longer. As on the flywheel, there is a hole that goes through the end of the tailstock to enable you to tap out the live center if needs be. There is no scale etched on the quill, which I don't find particularly useful anyway. The tailstock glides smoothly across the rails. To increase the glide factor you can spray the rails with a lubricant.

The two quick action cam locks provide convenient one-handed moving and locking. You only need to rotate the handles a quarter turn or so to lock the tailstock in place.

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Near perfect alignment between the spur (L) and live (R) centers

If you're primarily doing spindle work it's important that the spur and live centers line-up. You can check this by installing the centers and then bringing the tailstock up to the headstock. On the Comet they line-up about as perfectly as you could expect. 

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. There are other spurs that provide better holding power, such as the Sorby Stebcentre. The live center that comes with the Comet is a fairly standard, but highly reliable design. Again, better quality live centers are available, one of the most popular being the Oneway Live Center.

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Banjo is easy to adjust; tool rest is narrow

It's important that the banjo glides smoothly across the rails, as it's frequently adjusted sideways, forward and backward, as you turn. I found that the rails were machined very smoothly, enabling the banjo to glide quite well across them. As mentioned earlier, applying some lubricant will make things glide more easily, and also help keep rust at bay.

The clamping mechanisms that secure the banjo and tool rest are quick and easy to manipulate. The top edge of the toolrest is flat without a rough or overly shape edge. However, the tool rest, at only 6" wide, is, in my view, too narrow for all but the smallest spindle work. In all fairness though, all midi lathe manufacturers seem to supply the same 6" size rest. Fortunately you can upgrade to a 12" model for about $30.

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Extendable bed

As you'll find with most midi lathes, you can purchase a bed extension that will extend the capacity of the lathe – in this case by an additional 24-1/2", giving you almost 42" between centers. The bed extension simply bolts to the tail end of the Comet.

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The VersaTurn coupler

The neatest accessory you can purchase for the Comet is the VersaTurn system. Essentially, this consists of an aluminum die-cast coupler ($29.99) that you mount onto the outboard end of the spindle. You can then quickly mount various accessories onto the coupler. The accessories currently available are:

  • 8" Whetstone grinder
  • Grinding Wheel
Future accessories will be posted to the Nova website as they become available.

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VersaTurn grinding wheel

I tried the VersaTurn grinding wheel, which retails for $49.99. Attaching it to the VersaTurn coupler is a little awkward – it takes a bit of fiddling to rotate the loose collar on the VersaTurn coupler over the flange on the grinding wheel. However, once installed it's very stable.

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VersaTurn grinding wheel attached to the VersaTurn coupler

The VersaTurn grinder makes it super quick to touch up a chisel while turning. The 60 grit 6"x 3/4" white aluminum oxide wheel does a decent job, though I've since replaced it with an 80 grit wheel. Nova doesn't supply a wheel dresser, so you'll need to purchase one. The tool rest is serviceable, but pretty basic. If you'll be doing a lot of grinding then it's worth changing the tool rest (Nova sells a finger grinding jig that attached to the Comet lathe by means of an accessory armYou can, of course, also use this grinder for sharpening your other woodworking tools. Because you can dial down the wheel speed to as low as 250 rpm, there is little risk of ruining the temper of your tools.

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I've used the Nova Comet II for about 30 hours over the past four months, for both spindle and bowel turning. It's hard to find much of anything not to like about this lathe. The motor seems quite capable of handling any size of stock that the lathe can accommodate. It runs virtually vibration free, and the variable speed control provides smooth speed changes in both forward and reverse directions. The locking handles are nicely sized, and hold securely, while the banjo and tail stock glide smoothly across the rails. And, the VersaTurn accessories add quite a bit of extra functionality to the lathe.

I can quite confidently recommend the Nova Comet II to furniture and cabinet makers who only need a lathe for smaller scale turning, as well as to penturners, hobbyist turners, and those new to woodturning.

KEY FEATURES:

  • Motor: 3/4 HP electronic variable speed
  • Speed: 250 to 4,000 RPM, forward and reverse
  • Swing: 12"
  • Distance Between Centers: 16.5"
  • Construction: Cast Iron
  • Spindle Thread: 1" 8 TPI RH
  • Tailstock: 2MT hollow
  • Quill Travel: 1.6"
  • Quick Action Cam Controls
  • Extendable Bed
  • Rubber Feet
  • Warranty: 1 Year (motor), 5 Years (All other parts)
  • Includes: 3" faceplate, 6" toolrest, 2MT live and spur centers, hand wheel, knock out bar, manual

COMPANY:Teknatool International
MODEL:46000
PRICE:$499.995; $549.95 w/ Nova G3 Comet II Reversible Chuck
MADE IN:China
SOURCE:KMS Tools
April 2014

Author: 
Carl Duguay
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