Crafting a block of wood into something beautiful and useful is definitely an art that has been around for centuries. In days past, men would especially be employed to spend hours on a piece of wood intricately crafting it into an incredible piece of art. Today, we have the Lathe! A brilliant tool innovated to help craft wood, calling for half the time and effort put in by those skilled craftsmen. My attention this time has been drawn to the W1704 1/3 – Horsepower Benchtop Lathe from Shop Fox. It piqued my interest above all else for its down to earth pricing. Price? Comparatively less to any other product in that category. But Aldo Gucci’s wise words came to mind

“The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory.”

That definitely wouldn’t do, so I set about finding out more about this product, and to find out if it was worth more than its price.

How is it rated ?

The product has an average rating of just 3.9 out of 5. However, the majority rate it at 4 or 5, which gives the impression that this is definitely a tool worth looking into. Weighing about 45 pounds, the tool comes with a 1/3 HP, 2 Amp, 110V, Single-phase, 60HZ, variable speed motor. With a maximum RPM of 3,200 spindle speed and an 8 inch swing over bed, it has a 12 inch distance between centres. This specification for a lathe tool is really impressive.

What do others say?

From the specifications I turned my attention to the reviews and one review of Ima Nonymous from Mid-Atlantic US caught my attention (not so much for the obvious attempt at anonymity in the name; but for what he/she anonymously chose to say). According to this review, the W1704 had ‘better bones compared to other midi lathes’. What she might have in mind as comparison might be the Rockler Excelsior 5-Speed Mini Lathe or a Grizzly MC254 Cast Iron Bench Top Wood Lathe with comes with a 1/2 HP motor and lacks the variable infinite speed option. Both the latter tools have a six speed option whereas the W1704 comes with an infinite speed option and is much less expensive. The infinite speed option is surely a plus point as this cannot be found in any other lathe in the same price range. Ima Nonymous also like the speed control knob option with this lathe. This is because other lathes may require you to stop and potter around with some adjustments before you can change the speed. In stark contrast, the W1704 speed control knob enables you change speeds with just a turn of the knob – so convenient!

According to Ima Nonymous, the absence of the handwheel on the headstock is a drawback for this tool. I agree with this, because for finishing touches you may need to turn the piece by hand for more control. However, as Ima Nonymous says, the pros of the variable speed option far outweigh the cons of the absence of a handwheel. As a suggestion, if Shop Fox considers offering the handwheel as an optional accessory, that would be the icing on the cake.

Ima Nonymous and many others highly recommend this tool for obvious reasons. A tool with such specifications and such a low price is very rare to find. There might be some who may feel that the W1704 does not meet up to their expectation. However, I feel that the W1704 is a lathe which does exactly what it is made to do in an excellent way at a great price (great as in low, of course!). If you have a larger and more varied project then it is best you go with the W1758. As far as the W1704 is concerned, it is designed to be a basic lathe for starters and you will hardly find another one like this. In the words of Ima Nonymous: “Excellent choice for the novice on a budget

If you want to find the best shop fox lathe for you, be sure to read this comparison review.

Toolerant also got a nice article on which mini lathe for woodworkers is the best.

Make sure to read this post, because some people DO have problems with ShopFox, see:

External links:
http://www.dynamitetoolco.com/Shop-Fox-W1704-1-3-HP-Benchtop-Lathe-p/woo-w1704.htm
http://www.newwoodworker.com/reviews/rklrminilathervu.html