Tool Reviews: A Little Lathe Big on Charm

King Industrial KWL-813VS


  • 8" swing over bed, 51⁄4" over banjo
  • 13" between centers
  • 1" × 8 TPI spindle
  •  3⁄8" spindle bore
  • #1 Morse taper
  • 19⁄16" tailstock travel
  • 750-3200 RPM variable speed range

King Canada has introduced the KWL-813VS, a pen lathe from King Industrial, for entry-level turners. It comes with the standard equipment you’d expect to find with most mini lathes—live and spur centers, knockout bar, faceplate, tool rest—and other usual features, such as cast-iron construction and an on/off switch with a safety key. It’s a good-looking, well-made machine with enough power for small turnings. I was curious to find out what this mini mini-lathe could do.

This tool is noticeably tiny, but it doesn’t look or feel cheap. The cast-iron bedway, headstock, and tailstock give the machine a stout appearance and some heft. Handsome chrome-plated knurled hand wheels operate smoothly and are easy to grip. The tool rest and quill lock handles tighten well, but the ball ends tend to work themselves loose while the lathe is running. Nothing a little Loctite wouldn’t fix. As for capability, the tailstock quill doesn’t have much travel (1-9/16"), but you don’t need much with such a short capacity. The distance between its well-aligned MT#1 live and spur centers is 13", which is roomy enough for pens and most turning kits. Its 1/3 HP motor and variable speed range from 750 up to 3200 RPM can handle just such work.

King Industrial KWL-813VS, $315

The KWL-813VS can handle other small turning projects, such as short spindles, shallow platters, bowls, vases, and boxes. It can even accommodate small off-center turnings. While testing, I turned a few poplar spoons at between-center capacity and found the unit to run quietly and without much vibration. But the diminutive unit began budging backward while digging into a cut. Placing a non-slip mat underneath solved that problem. Then I mounted an 8"-diameter, 3" thick ash bowl blank, maxing out swing and tool rest capacity. The machine spun it without protest but stalled at the resistance from a gouge, lacking the torque necessary for a blank that size. Nevertheless, the lathe plays nice with smaller diameter bowls and platters starting at around 6". And with the vast world of turning kits, and designs for vases and ornaments, you’ll be hard-pressed to run out of things to make with this machine.

Experienced turners could consider this lathe for a dedicated buffing system. Or a woodworker who wants to augment their furniture making by turning drawer pulls or decorative finials can do so without breaking the bank or losing valuable shop space. But this unit was designed with the novice in mind—low initial cost with some room to grow. If you’re a beginner or know a young future turner, the KWL-138VS deserves a thoughtful look.

—Tester, Chad McClung

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