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. List price is about $1500 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. 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, added a few hundred dollars.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $5k, 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.