Are you just starting out with woodworking as a hobby, or looking for a gift for someone who is? Or are you already turning pens and bowls, and thinking about purchasing a new lathe? Whether you’re an experienced pen turner or a weekend hobbyist, it’s important that the lathe you choose is the right one for you, and can meet your specific needs. With that in mind, I’m going to take a look at two popular choices and see how they match up in terms of price, performance, and capabilities – hopefully this review will be useful to you as you think about which lathe to purchase! Which one is the best ?

Let’s review basic information about these two lathes. Both manufactured by Shop Fox, these are ideal starter lathes. Here are the details:


Obviously the W1704 is the much cheaper, smaller, basic option, while the W1758 is the heavy-duty more serious investment. The W1704 is in the under $ price bracket, and the W1758 is in the $$$ range. So, which one is the better choice for you?


The W1704 is the ideal starter lathe, suitable for beginners who are just starting out in their woodworking hobby. It’s perfect for turning pens and other small items, but if you’re considering buying this mini lathe you should note that you will not be able to tackle larger projects with it. It doesn’t have enough power to turn bigger items without the motor catching and stopping. For pens and other small projects, it’s more than adequate!

If you are unsure which lathe type you need, here is a guide!

Now for the W1758. Also a solid starter lathe, this one is capable of more than the W1704. It can handle turning bowls, boxes, candle holders and other larger wood projects. If you’re only intending to create smaller pieces such as wooden pens, as a casual hobby, this might be too steep an investment. However, if you’re more serious about woodworking and want to be able to produce a wider variety of small to medium sized pieces, then it’s an ideal lathe for you.


The W1704 has a variable speed dial, which is quite unusual for lathes in its price range. The speed ranges from 700 to 3,200 revolutions per minute (RPM), with an easy speed control knob. On other cheaper lathes, you usually have to stop the lathe in order to open an access door to reposition the drive belt or change the tension. On this product, however, all you have to do is turn a knob, setting the speed at whatever you want it to be. This full variable speed without having to manually adjust/change belts is a really convenient feature, making speed control quick and easy. This is probably this lathe’s highlight, as it sets it apart from other lathes of a similar price.

The W1758 also has variable speed, offering 10 speeds ranging from 600 to 2,400 revolutions per minute (RPM). The motor has the power it needs to maintain high speeds, so stalling is rarely an issue. However, the lever belt system for speed control seems to have a couple of design flaws. Firstly, the machine seems to wear down the belt very quickly, so you’ll find yourself replacing it more often than you might expect or want to. Also, as the belt wears down and becomes more narrow, the speed starts to increase, not getting down as low as the original minimum 600 RPM.
For speed, therefore, the W1704 seems to come out on top!


You’ll probably need to purchase additional tools and attachments for both lathes, but obviously as the Shop Fox W1704 is limited to smaller projects, you’ll need fewer extras. It comes with everything you’ll need to get started as a beginner (except for a chuck). The W1758 doesn’t come with all the tools you will need to start turning, so you will have to purchase some extras.


The W1704’s cast iron construction means that it is heavy enough to minimize vibration, so you don’t have to bolt it down. The finish of the lathe is a little rough. Until it’s locked down, the tail stock isn’t very tight – you will need to check that it’s centered before use. After aligning the head with the center of the tail stock, the lathe performs excellently for its size.

Another potential problem is that the tool rests bring the tools higher than the center line of the work, resulting in the tools not working exactly as they should.

Which shop fox lathe is best for you?

Overall, I’d say that the quality of the W1704 is much better than you might expect considering its price, even though it is missing some of the features that are present on more expensive models (such as a tail stock auto-eject or a head stock wheel, for example). One absent feature that would improve the lathe, however, is a handwheel. Without a handwheel it can be quite awkward and difficult to turn pieces by hand when finishing, so it would have been a nice inclusion – although this is most likely a deliberate choice by Shop Fox to keep down the cost, rather than an oversight.

The similar (but very much more heavy duty) cast iron structure of the W1758 means that it, too, does an excellent job of limiting vibration when in use. It also runs very well, with only a few noted problems. One of these is that the design of the tool rest arm means that the levers that hold it strip out very quickly and easily. Also, the pulley system may not be strong enough for large diameter turning at high speeds. However, overall this lathe is good quality and does what it’s supposed to do!

Ease of use

The W1704 is a handy size, designed to fit neatly on to a work bench. It comes with a decent manual and everything a beginner or hobbyist might need to get started turning projects. It is easy to use, and runs extremely well with few reported issues.

The W1758 is much more heavy duty, so a bit difficult to assemble because of its sheer weight! Get someone to help you so you don’t injure yourself. However, other than the initial set-up, it’s pretty simple to get the hang of this lathe.


It would be difficult to rate one of these products above the other. As far as quality and performance go, they’re pretty equal, each one doing what’s expected of it.

The difference is in the expectations. Don’t get the cheaper model if you want to tackle larger projects – it’s really just designed to be a basic starter lathe. That being said, as starter lathes go, you’d have trouble finding a better one than this – the W1704 is a really excellent choice for beginners and casual hobbyists.

I would recommend the W1758 if you have more varied, larger projects in mind. it is also suitable for beginners, but allows a wider choice of work projects than the other model – and of course, it’s a bigger investment because of the price difference that that entails.

I hope you’ve found some help here in deciding which one is the more suitable lathe for you – happy turning!