Cheap Hobby lathe


Contributing Member
Oct 10, 2014
Preble County, OH
I have been looking at them for help with reloading and polishing. Not for chasing threads, turning tapers or anything that sophisticated. Under $200.00. And understand very well that may not be possible.
How large (between centers) are you looking for?
Here is one on the amazon site, which I have NO experience with.

For the price that thing is amazing. But wow! That thing is small.

They even have a micro-milling machine. I can not imagine what I would want a milling machine that small for, but it is amazing what they manage to pack into that thing.

I just looked at the reviews, they are terrible.
Best try local ads around you for small table top hobby lathes used. Not sure you'll find one under $200, and if you do you better see it first as they sell quickly.
I have one I bought like new condition for $400 that's a Harbor Freight and have owned and used it for small projects for a couple decades now. It's a table top, but fairly heavy at 400 lbs., and had to build a beefy table top to hold it, and use my engine cherry picker to get it out of my truck, and up on the counter top I built.
I currently have 4 different hobby lathes, from 6" swing to 12" swing 220v monster. You can find them used between $200 and $400, You can get better used lathes for 1/2 or less than the Chinese offerings. If all your wanting to do is brass you can look for pin lathes but will be extremely limited (I use the 6" Atlas). Maybe one of your friends is a machinest and can help in your search, Good luck
Someone might be able to find an old Atlas or similar, for way below high prices, with collets and chuck. The most recent generations of people have zero to little interest in machines, even if they are not cell-phone addicts. If I pass, my wifey will gladly sell my machines for much below original value.
Try the local equivalent of "Bargain News". Tag sales are dubious because of the physical weights of those machines.
Sorry for the late reply. Using it for case prep for reloading. Minor gun smithing like fitting 1911 barrel bushings. Some polishing on small gun parts.
My last one, I used a rollback wrecker to bring it home, even the motor was heavy, AND it is not a big one, my friend has one that is HUGE and uses 3 phase electrics, it cuts smooth and steady. I can see the difference in mine compared to a little Chinese one as far as quality and finish, and the difference between mine and bigger units is big also. I thought I would be happy with my 6" Atlas and it works great and does most of what I want, my 12" is a little big for my needs but I can chuck a barrel if I ever wanted to try it. I use the 8" the most (Craftsman, same as Atlas) and it has enough hp and heft to cut steel easily. Estate sales are a good source as are equipment auctions, you can spend as much as the lathe in tooling if you're not careful.
My last one, I used a rollback wrecker to bring it home.

That is what I used for my American Pacemaker years ago and it is also how I moved it out after I was done with it. Maybe should have never gotten rid of it but when I say that thing was huge….

16x54 and the estimated weight sans tooling was 9500lbs. Two full size cars worth of weight but it only took up 1/4 the space.
The 7x14 mini lathes can do a lot of the work that a reloader might want to do. Keep in mind that the harbor freight machine is shorter than it's competitors. The net is filled with support for these machines. has a lot of info and top quality products.
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Look for a good used South Bend 9" swing. Very common and good supply of parts to keep them going. Mine has the quick change gear box. The one that I learned on you had to swap the gears. Not a big deal. Just happened to find a good one with the quick change. Picke up a draw bar and collets for it so I can do decently accurate work. Far better than any Chinese Harbor Freight import.
Far better than any Chinese Harbor Freight import

and probably the same cost or cheaper and will last for another 50yrs if properly maintained.

A 6" Atlas is a nice beginner level lathe, mine is from the 70s, it can be trued to perform well for brass and aluminum, cutting steel is a little slow, it prefers HSS bits so you get to learn how to sharpen bits (not a bad thing), for turning necks you can make custom bits that have the same angles as the shoulder, I found the 3 jaw chuck holds the brass truer than a quick change brass holder. The one I have has gears for metric and ASE threads, they can be found for a little north of $200, (more than my 12" but cheaper to get home), you can find info about them on the net easily. Southbend is a nicer option, runs a little more and you can still find manuals with feed & speed charts easily (mine is from the 60s). I totally disassembled mine (not a bad thing, you get to inspect everything and learn about your new machine) to clean and relube, I use Glide by ZEP but there are other options.
I noticed the used Chinese tabletop models run more than the old used ones and I don't think they will still be around 50 or 60 yrs from now. My toolmaker cousin runs a lathe from the war years about as much as his CNC machine, so don't overlook older iron.
While I agree that the old South Bends are great hobby machines, They have become as precious as gold. A "good used South Bend 9" swing" will now cost about $3,000. Look at the selling prices on ebay.
I love mine, but I was lucky enough to inherit it.

Getting back to original poster's question, he was hoping for a usable lathe for under $200. He does not need an expensive machine. He will be "Using it for case prep for reloading. Minor gunsmithing like fitting 1911 barrel bushings. Some polishing on small gun parts."

Those cheap toy lathes found on Amazon might work for trimming cases but you'll notice that they don't claim to be able to cut steel. a lot more rigidity would be needed.
The Atlas 6" would be a good solution for him.
The cheap Chinese 7x14 can do a lot in the right hands. and are worth the extra cost if you want to be able to cut steel.

A good example is Varmint Al: