New Lathe Review: Rikon 70-450 EVS

First, a little background on how I landed on this lathe: I started out a little over five years ago on a little 10” benchtop model from Harbor Freight. That got me hooked on turning and I quickly realized I needed bigger gear. Within a few months I had upgraded to a used Jet 1442VS. The Jet is a 14” x 42” 1HP lathe that weighs in at around 350 pounds and has a Reeves drive for variable speed (with no changing belts). I really liked the jet, I used it for 5 years, but is had a few limitations: slowest speed (450) was too fast, no reverse, 14” max diameter.  For the last 2 years, I’ve had my eye out for a used Powermatic 3250, but they just don’t come up very often.

About 6 months ago, I started looking at new gear. The Rikon 70-450 came up in my search pretty quickly: it’s full sized, runs on a VFD so it has reverse and electronic speed control, and a rotating headstock! Very few of the big lathes have this feature (most turners are afraid of alignment issues, but I’ve never had any on my Jet) and I use it almost every time I turn. Kicking the headstock out 15-30 degrees makes it much, much more comfortable when hollowing out a bowl or hollow vessel. At list price of $2500, it’s significantly less than the PM3250.  (And for those that try to compare the Nova DVR 2024, you seem to forget that to properly compare you’d need to add enough accessories that the (list) price is very close to the PM.)

My reservations about this lathe included the fact that at 1.5HP, it’s a smaller motor. However, having a six-step pulley system (vs. the industry standard 2HP and two-step pulley that most use in this size) means that – in theory – the Rikon has more torque at its slowest speed than the others. This of course is dependent upon the motors actually having their rated power (which is rarely the case anymore).

My biggest reservation was that there just weren’t any reviews on this lathe. None. I scoured the Internets. I asked in woodturning forums. I asked other turners in my club. I asked several Woodcraft store owners (they sell Rikon gear, but not this model). Nothing. I found a couple of reviews on the 70-500 (which is a very different lathe), lots of reviews on their benchtop models (mostly positive), and lots of reviews on their other big tools (also mostly positive). Reviews on customer service were a mixed bag – either, “wow they’re bad,” or “wow, they’re great!”

I decided to bite the bullet when woodcraft announced a 15% off sale. That brought the price down to $2125 (around $2300 with freight delivery). I also ordered the frontboard turning attachment from a different e-tailer. Adding in a few needed parts (new spindle adapters for chucks, beall tap, etc.), due to moving from a 1″x8 to 1.25″x8 spindle, brought my total spend to around $2500.

Rikon 00 - Overall

Shipping

This item drop ships from the manufacturer. I ordered it on a Saturday evening and it arrived on the back of an 18 wheeler the following Friday. (Accessories I had ordered from Amazon mostly arrived that day too.) The lathe shipped fully assembled in the crate; shipping weight was reported to be 625 pounds. As I have a grass driveway, the closest the driver was able to get with his pallet jack was the sidewalk.

I had to uncrate and disassemble at the sidewalk. First I removed the banjo and tailstock. After unbolting the VFD housing from one leg, I could remove 6 bolts to get the headstock/bed ways assembly off. This was pretty heavy, but a friend helped me move it to a mobile cart. Next I unbolted the legs from the crate, and we moved them (both still attached to the stretcher) inside. The headstock/ways went back on, the banjo and tailstock slid in, and I was all set.

Rikon 09 - TailstockRikon 10 - Banjo

Interestingly, the lathe shipped painted in the new color scheme (blue on cream) but the outboard turning attachment must have been older stock, as it was still green. I repainted the attachment.

Rikon 06 - Frontboard

Electrical/Controls

The unit ships pre-wired with a NEMA 6-15P plug. I had to replace the receptacle in my workshop before I could power it up. The VFD appears to be a good one, an ATV12HU15M2 (1.5KW/2HP) from Schneider Electric. The speed display is based on the output of a digital tachometer mounted on the main spindle shaft, not the VFD. I really don’t like the placement options for the remote control panel – while they do make it easy to push the stop button with your knee, I find myself needing to step back to look at it every time I need to adjust. I plan to make an articulated mounting arm that will allow positioning it behind and above the ways (there is plenty of cable length to move it). Also, none of the images in the manual are correct – it does indeed have a 3-position switch for forward, stop, and reverse. The motor itself has no branding and no label plate (the one that typically shows the HP rating, RPM, phase, etc.).

Rikon 01 - FVDRikon 07 - Plug

Swiveling Headstock

The headstock position locking bar is below the spindle, close to the bed. Unscrewing and pulling it out releases the indexing pin. The indexing pin has 3 positions: 0 degrees (regular operation), 30ish degrees, and 90 degrees (working off of the front). It can be locked at in-between positions, as well. It does not appear to be possible to rotate the headstock past 90 degrees, so I’ll call the 90 degree position “frontboard” turning, not outboard turning.

Rikon 03 - Headstock 2

I re-positioned the headstock a dozen times, and put it back to 0 degrees then tested the alignment. It was dead on every time. A little sawdust in the indexing pin and/or time may make it less accurate down the road, but for now, it seems just right.

Rikon 08 - Alignment

In the frontboard position, with the add-on turning attachment, the maximum distance from the front of the spindle to the tool rest is just shy of 12”. Maximum diameter is right at 30”. Adjusting the banjo is a bit difficult, as the locking bar is underneath. Moving it to the top would mean shallower clearance to the spindle though (this bar is not on a cam, like the other banjo, and is effectively a big bolt holding the banjo in position). The banjo and tool rest can be in the way when turning over the ways, so I’ll generally have them stored when not in use.

Speed Control and Power

The VFD is very smooth, and works as expected. I have yet to really push this, but power seems similar to the PM3520 that I’ve used in the past, and better than my old Jet1442VS. Belt changes are not particularly difficult (I seem to leave mine in 4th “gear” unless I need really slow or really fast). The slowest speed I was able to achieve was 36RPM and the fastest was 3970. The door in the headstock that leads to the step pulleys/belt is terribly designed though. It’s got a really crappy little locking mechanism that must be turned via a phillips head screw recessed about an inch – impossible to see and hard to feel. This screw only needs to turn ¼ to unlock/lock and a thumbcrew of sorts would have been much better. In the unlocked position, the door hangs open slightly – about ½” at the non-hinged side – inviting more dust and shavings inside. I will definitely rework this mechanism.

Rikon 04 - Belt Drive

Spindle Lock/Indexing Pin

The spindle lock pin serves a dual purpose as the indexing pin. It is on the spindle-side of the headstock closer to the height of the spindle than the headstock rotating lock. It has two positions: locked and unlocked. It is nearly impossible to tell which position it is in by looking at the mechanism, so it seems that it would be very easy to accidentally start the lathe with the lock engaged. Locking is very positive and precise at each of the positions.

General Fit and Finish

This is an inexpensive lathe for its class and that is reflected in the fit/finish and details. Many of the castings are very rough and paint was missing from some small areas. Milling, while a bit rough in several places (particularly the frontboard turning attachment bed) is very accurate where it needs to be. They absolutely cut corners on milling, but not where it counted – the lathe is perfectly functional. Many of the levers and handles are cast and painted black – not the bent, chromed barstock that you’d generally see on a more expensive lathe. Again, cost effective and functional but not pretty. The diagram on the front that shows the speed ranges for the different pulley configurations has a pretty big typo that got missed by the QA folks.

Rikon 05 - Spindle Speeds

The overall attitude is perfectly assessed in this one detail: to prevent the tailstock from sliding all the way off, they’ve tapped two small holes in the face/end of each way and inserted a pair of machine screws with little washers. Perfectly functional, but a pain in real life use – takes a tool to remove and you have 4 tiny parts to keep up with. A large, threaded stud in the center of the ways (like many other manufacturers use) is easy to remove by hand and hard to lose. (And, for what it’s worth, I’ve already tapped a hole and inserted a thumbscrew in this very position.)

Overall Thoughts and Recommendation

In general, I am not disappointed. I expected some corners to be cut, and they were. Functionality, however, is perfectly fine. I would absolutely recommend this lathe for someone looking to step up to a bigger system without spending $4k, provided they don’t mind the minor annoyances of the cost-cutting measures. I’m not shy at all when it comes to making minor modifications and that attitude probably makes for a good fit with this lathe.

Fruit Bowls

These bowls are just right for holding fresh produce on your kitchen counter. They vary in size and timber species. All finishes are food safe.

Interested in one of these pieces? Contact me via the form at the bottom of the About page.

 

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) features a stabilized knot. 13.5″ x 4″

$425

Cherry 02 Cherry 03 Cherry 01

 

Willow (Salix babylonica) with an amazing flame-patterned grain. 11″ x 3″

$475

Willow 01Willow 03 Willow 02

 

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) with some beautiful spalting. 12″ x 3.5″

$300

Maple 01 Maple 03 Maple 02

 

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) features a stabalized knot. 11″ x 6″

$350

Walnut 01 Walnut 03 Walnut 02

 

Walnut and Curly Maple Box

This box was a commission from on of the clients at my regular gig. He asked for a box that he could leave on his desk that would hold his glasses, keys, mail, etc. Aside from general dimensions (around 14×11 x 5) and no hinges, I had free reign.

The carcass is walnut to match his desk and the curly maple is veneer left over from a previous project. It’s finished with several layers of shellac that has been rubbed out to knock the gloss back just a bit. I love the look of curly maple and shellac – up close that grain looks like it’s almost 1/2” deep.

 

Carved, Patinaed, Square Bowls

I recently attended a week-long studio at the Appalachian Center for Craft, near Smithville, TN. It’s a beautiful campus tucked into a bend of Center Hill Lake on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee. As the fine arts campus of Tennessee Tech, they offer BFAs in several focus areas including ceramics, glass, wood, metal, fibers, and design. The instructor for the course was Al Stirt, a professional wood artist who has been creating turned objects for forty years.

While the focus of the studio was surface embellishment in the form of carving and coloring techniques, we spent a great deal of time just turning, which was incredibly helpful. Taking a week off of work and doing nothing but your craft is a great experience and I strongly recommend that anyone seek out this opportunity.

Much of the course was about technique and method so while I have a lot of pieces that I started, I only finished a few. Below are some images of some work that I started there and finished at home. Additionally, I’ve done several other similar pieces since I returned. These are a mixture of Cherry, Yellow Poplar, and Sassafras, with milk paint and copper and gold leaf that has been patinaed after application. I really like the removing the lid to find a surprise inside in the way of a different material/look/feel.

Yellow Poplar, approximately 11″ x 7″ with Copper leaf

Cherry, approximately 7″ square with Copper leaf

Cherry, approximately 7″ x 7″ with Gold leaf.

Cherry, approximately 7″ square. I like to call this texture “decay” as it reminds me of the insect tracks that can commonly be found just under the bark of a log rotting in the woods.

Sassafras, approximately 11″ square,with Copper leaf. I really like the combination of textures here – the separation reinforces the roundness of the square piece.

Sassafras, approximately 11″ square, with Copper leaf.

Sassafras, approximately 8″ x 5″ with copper leaf. Again, I really like the way the texture reinforces the elongated nature of this piece.

 

 

 

TCAA Lectern: The Conversion of Paul

This piece was commissioned by a church. The design was left to me, but they did ask that it fit into their mission. Their congregation is heavily populated by diverse immigrant groups and I represented them with the multitude of  different species of wood (all natural, no stains or dyes added). The three beams of light represent the Conversion of Paul on the Road to Damascus, which is apropos to this particular group.

Side Table

This small table was designed specifically for a spot between two small chairs. While the chair’s arm rests are fully capably of supporting a drink, the client prefers that guests not set them there.

The walnut was felled on my great grandfather’s farm some time in the early 80s. There was a very small stash left in my grandfather’s shop when he died a few years ago, and I was fortunate enough to get a hold of what was left. The rear vertical member has a through tenon penetrating the top, with ebony wedges (it’s a standard tenon into the base). The forward, angled member is through doweled in the top with ebony dowels with a single ebony dowel at the base.

Finish is built up with multiple coast of blonde shellac and then topcoated with a water-borne poly. It’s got a glossy sheen that will get rubbed out with steel wool and then waxed.

Overall dimensions are something like 20” tall with a 18”x9” top. The 8/4 base is around 8”x12”.

Walnut and Steel Coffee Table

This table is made from 6/4 book matched slabs of walnut. The base is steel: 2” angle, 2” square tube, and 3/4” square tube. The table is approximately 54” long, 23” wide, and 18” tall. The slabs are mounted on 1/2” ply that was painted black.

I had to fill one crack and one knot with epoxy. I left it clear, and I think it’s looks kind of cool that way – you can see down through it if you get close enough (the crack is only about 1/4” at its widest).

The steel was patinaed dark and then clear coated with a semi-gloss lacquer. The wood was oiled, then I hit it with a few coats of waterborne poly. After I knocked the shine down with steel wool, I waxed it.

I plan to fill the void with a loose aggregate. Some small, polished stones.

Honey Locust Hollowform

This honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) hollowform is about 7 inches tall. I had a few voids around the bark inclusions that I filled with a mixture of purpleheart, walnut, and honey locust shavings and CA glue. The small bits of purpleheart look really nice.

Honey Locust
Honey Locust

Motorized Lift Television Cabinet in Walnut

The television cabinet is roughly 35” W x 29” H x 17” D (when closed) and is mostly air dried black walnut. There is some walnut veneered ply on the (false) back panel and shelves. I kept some of the sappier wood with some really wild grain, but relegated it to the side panels. It’s finished with a couple of coats of Danish oil, followed by several coats of a super blonde dewaxed shellac, rubbed out, and then waxed.

I used an electric linear actuator from Progressive Automations to raise the television up and down. The screen size is 32” and takes about 25 seconds to raise.

Greene and Greene Inspired Mailbox

The mailbox this replaced was a crappy, 1980’s, shiny, brass piece of junk. It was vertically oriented and had a small top opening, so it was difficult to find anything inside that wasn’t extra long.

The new one is curly big leaf maple with Gaboon ebony accents. The center panel is 12gauge copper wire. It’s finished with a coat of tung oil to pop the grain and then spray on lacquer. The cloud lifts, pegged mortise and tenon joints, and the ebony are all typical of the Greene and Greene style. The curly maple and copper are not, but I think that all of the elements come together nicely in this piece.