Robust Sweet 16 Wood Lathe Review

Robust Sweet 16 Wood Lathe Review

I have turned hundreds of wood bowls with the Robust Sweet 16 wood lathe. My experience with this lathe is quite extensive.

The Robust Sweet 16 Wood Lathe is the lathe I turn with at home. In this article, I’ll tell you all about the Sweet 16 lathe.

To be clear, I purchased this lathe, and I am not endorsed or sponsored by Robust in any way.

I will share with you my experiences with the Robust Sweet 16 lathe in great detail.

Looking back on my lathe purchasing process, there never seemed to be enough useful information from users about each lathe I reviewed to really know what to expect.

I will do my best to make this article as detailed and as informative about every aspect of the Robust Sweet 16 lathe, to make your decision just a bit easier, one way or the other.

Before The Purchase

It’s important to note that I’m not a “just jump in” kinda guy. Being fortunate enough to find a great weekly turning club, I turned for over a year without a lathe of my own.

I really wanted to understand woodturning better and decide if I wanted to commit to purchasing a lathe first.

The turning group I belong to not only helped me master my skills, but they also introduced me to several lathes and seemingly infinite tools in the process.

In the space of our weekly get-togethers, I could experiment, explore and learn woodturning, all without committing money and shop space to a growing collection of potentially under-utilized equipment and tools.

Competitive Lathe Options

At the weekly turning club, I usually turn on a Powermatic lathe with a 24” swing. That lathe is good but lacks much attention to detail.

While I was deciding on a lathe, there was a Nova lathe that I was curious about but could not find any good reviews and later couldn’t find anyone selling the product. That was odd and a red flag.

Laguna lathes seemed nice enough, but again I couldn’t find much info from actual users.

I also explored the Jet products which seem to be a good lathe, but they looked a bit too mass-produced.

The general feeling I had from my experience turning on a Powermatic and also seeing the proliferation of Jet lathes around, was that those two companies are the mass lathe producers of the world.

Their lathes are fine and do a good job turning, but I wanted something a bit better.

Competitive Details

The Powermatic tailstock and tool rest locks are extraordinarily lacking and dangerous in my opinion.

An example of a Powermatic issue is the fact that I should not have to think about how much downward pressure I apply to the tool rest in fear that the flimsy pressure screw will let go of the tool rest post.

I can’t tell you how many times my tool rest has simply dropped and slammed into the banjo as I was making a cutting pass. Luckily, the tool rest has not violently engaged the turning bowl, yet.

Thinking about it, it’s incredible how such a simple little thing, like a tool rest lock, can make or break an experience. Or in this case, make or break a large equipment purchase.

Robust Wood Lathes

Perhaps it was Brent English’s, the owner of Robust Tools, video demonstrating the features of the Sweet 16 lathe by turning a 32” diameter round three-legged table, that caught my attention.

That video, if you haven’t seen it, is quite impressive. Take a look.

Several features and the fact that the Robust lathes are made here in America caught my attention.

Beyond the “Made In America” fact, it seems the Robust lathes are made with care and attention by people who care about what they are doing.

As I dug into the facts and features, the Robust Sweet 16 and American Beauty drew my focused attention.

I was a bit concerned with the footprint and space needed for the American Beauty.

It was a close race between the two lathes, but I decided to go with the Sweet 16 because of a slightly lower price, larger turning diameter, and overall footprint size.

Let me tell you about the ordering process.

Ordering My Robust Sweet 16 Lathe

Robust offers three different bed lengths (short, standard, and long) for the Sweet 16. I decided to go with the standard bed length, which is 36” long.

I ordered my lathe direct from Robust and was even able to make a special request.

The garage is my workspace, and I want to be able to move the lathe when needed. When I thought about this, I realized I might want to have the lathe in different locations occasionally so I would need a longer power cord.

When I asked about making the power cord longer, they quickly accommodated me by asking “how long?” I ended up having them install a 25-foot power cord which works out great.

Robust Sweet 16 Options

Because I knew I wanted to move the lathe around, I ordered the optional caster kit with the integrated jacks.

I also, upgraded the motor from the standard 1.5 horsepower to the 2 horsepower 220-volt electric motor.

Because I knew I would be turning bowls and potentially hollow forms, I didn’t want the tailstock laying around to trip over, so I purchased the tool and tailstock rest.

The tailstock rest is located on the outside of the tailstock leg.

Optional Light

The best option decision I made was to add the lamp set which includes an adjustable arm (with two mounting locations) and a light fixture with flexible arm.

Later, I purchased a second light fixture with a flexible arm, and I can’t tell you how great these lights are! Well, actually I can. At my weekly turning group, unfortunately, we have average to poorly lit work stations.

The difference between poorly located and lacking light at the lathe and two great lamps which can be positioned precisely where they are needed is like night and day!

Having good quality light has made such a difference in how I turn, I wrote a whole article about the lathe lighting on this Sweet 16, here’s a link. Check it out when you’re down reading about the Sweet 16.

Wood Lathe Light Wood Bowl Turning Illuminated

Robust Tool Rests

I also ordered the 12-inch interior, and curved exterior tool rests. These rests are made by Robust and as far as I’m concerned are the best tool rests I’ve ever seen or used.

Each tool rest has a rounded top edge, made of hardened stainless steel, welded to a surprisedly ergonomically shaped support beam.

The tool rests, made by Robust, are smooth and easy to glide a bowl gouge across. Because the Robust tool rests are hardened, they do not collect intrusive nicks and dings like cheaper cast tool rests.

Even if you don’t own or plan on owning a Robust lathe, you can still purchase a Robust tool rest (here’s a link), which in most cases is far superior to other tools rest on the market.

Robust Sweet 16 Wood Lathe Curved Tool Rest Options

Robust Sweet 16 Lathe Arrival

When my Robust Sweet 16 arrived, it was definitely a thrilling day.

The lathe is custom crated and packed with great care. Pulling nails from the crate, I couldn’t help but think of that scene in the movie “Christmas Story” when the dad opens the crate to reveal the leg lamp. LOL

Instead, of a leg lamp, the much more beautiful Robust Sweet 16 was contained in my crate. Ha.

For the most part, the lathe comes fully assembled and very close to being ready to use.

After uncrating the lathe, I immediately tried out the caster kit and the integrated jacks.

Robust Sweet 16 Lathe in crate Review

Robust Sweet 16 Jack and Casters

The integrated jacks are essentially long bolts in cylindrical columns welded to the lathe base.

By turning the top of the bolt clockwise, which lowers the bolt base to the floor, each turn of the wrench lifts the lathe a bit.

It does take many turns to lift each side of the lathe high enough to attach the casters to each corner.

Because the jacks are centered and only utilizing the end of the bolt to engage the floor, the lathe can get a bit tipsy if it’s lifted too high.

I wonder if a flat plate or even a more extensive bar added to the end of the jack bolt can reduce that tipsy sensation?

Robust Sweet 16 Wood Lathe Caster Roller System

Robust Sweet 16 Attributes and Features

  • craftsmanship and construction
  • removable 16” bed section
  • bed length increase with removable bed section
  • front side banjo location with removable bed section
  • headstock lathe accessory tool rest
  • top headstock small tool rest
  • stainless steel 1/2” bed ways or rails
  • tool and tailstock rest (optional)
  • caster kit and integrated jacks (optional)
  • lamp set (bracket and fixture) (optional)
  • under bed turning tool holder
  • banjo and tailstock locks
  • tool rest cam lock
  • remote corded lathe control panel
  • spindle lock power off feature
  • 48 position index wheel
  • single pulley (no adjusting belts)
  • marked graduated tailstock quill
  • tailstock tilt away (optional)
  • customer service

Robust Sweet 16 Removable Section

The 16-inch removable bed section, which contributes to the Robust Sweet 16 name, adds significantly to the flexibility of this lathe.

By removing the bed extension, the lathe changes from a 16-inch swing to a whopping 32-inch diameter swing.

I specifically purchased this lathe because of this option to turn huge bowls.

Turning large bowls, with the bed rails section removed is no different than any other turning, except for two things, the gap between the bed edge and the bowl and readjusting the banjo if you turn on the optional headstock side of the lathe.

If I’m turning a large tall bowl, the gap between the edge of the bed and the surface of the bowl isn’t much of an issue.

However, if the bowl is relatively shallow, the distance the banjo and tool rest need to extend to reach the bowl can be a bit awkward. This has only happened a couple of times.

Robust Sweet 16 Lathe Configurations

Reversing The Banjo Locks

If you remove the bed section and place it on the headstock side to turn the bowl bottom, you may also want to reverse the locks on the banjo.

The process of reversing the locks is easy but does take a little time.

Unscrew the banjo locking arm and reattach it to the opposite hole on the banjo lock.

On the top of the banjo, loosen and remove the tool rest. Then slide the tool rest lockout of its cylinder.

Reinsert the tool rest lock on the opposite side of the banjo. You may need to use your fingers to reach into the top of the banjo to adjust the angles of the locking cam.

By reversing the locks on the Robust Sweet 16 banjo, you will be able to turn the bowl bottom using the removable section on the headstock mounts and not have the locking arms be in your way.

Favorite Sweet 16 Lathe Features

Ok, here are my favorite features of the Robust Sweet 16.

1) Removable bed section.

Being able to transform the lathe swing from 16-inches to 32-inches is like a secret superhero power.

I love preparing bowl blanks in the field and being about to think, without any concern or need to measure, “yes, that will fit on the lathe.”

In addition to the wider diameter swing size, the removable bed section added to the end of the lathe increases the bed length (of the standard Sweet 16) from 36-inches to 52-inches.

The longer bed length is handy when I’m turning those extra long bowls. LOL.

If you turn longer spindles, this feature is handy. Because I mainly turn bowls, I rarely use this feature.

2) The tool rest locking cam mechanism.

The Robust Sweet 16 tool rest lock is the most superior tool rest lock in the world or at least the best of all I’ve ever seen.

Instead of a flimsy thumb-bolt applying pressure to just one little point on the side of the tool rest post, like many lathes offer, the Robust tool rest uses a cam that grips the tool rest post firmly from opposite sides.

Unlike the cheap Powermatic tool rest thumb lock, I have NEVER had the Robust tool rest even think about moving while I’m turning a bowl on the Sweet 16. I know I can put all the pressure I want on the tool rest and it will not move, period.

3) Corded and movable lathe control panel.

I like being safe, and I do not want to reach across the rotating wood blank path to turn off the lathe.

With the magnetized remote corded control panel, I can move the controls with ease to anywhere on the lathe as I work.

4) Optional light fixture and bracket.

The ability to place light exactly where it is needed cannot be overemphasized.

I’m so happy I purchased this light kit when I got the lathe, and I was even more surprised when I later added a second light to the second mounting location on the bracket arm.

Honestly, I thought two lights might be a bit too much, but the additional second light only increased visibility and has allowed for more precise turning and easier identification of wood surface issues.

5) Tailstock tool rest.

Having the optional tailstock tool bracket on the right side of the lathe makes it easy to remove and store the tailstock out of the way.

I don’t need to trip over the tailstock when it’s off the lathe or waste time looking around for it on the floor under shavings.

Also, the added tool rest holes are handy for storing my extra tool rests.

Robust Sweet 16 Lathe Tailstock Storage Option
6) Portability.

With the addition of the optional caster kit and integrated jacks, I can quickly move the lathe around or store it away if needed.

Being able to move the lathe is excellent for cleaning up and keeping an organized shop.

7) Ergonomics.

Ergonomically speaking, the Robust Sweet 16 is compact with everything in easy to reach locations.

The small tool holder on top of the headstock, for instance, conveniently stores Allen wrenches for tools and chucks. Everything is in its place and ready to go.

8) Spindle lock power shut off.

This feature can be a bit of nuisance at first, but once you realize how much you need it, it becomes very welcome.

I say it can be a bit of a nuance at first because the lathe will not turn on if the spindle lock is engaged. And until you commit this fact to memory, your first thought is that something is wrong with the lathe.

When you realize how many times you might turn on the lathe after locking the spindle and how much that will wear down the drive belt, you begin to appreciate this feature.

9) Drive system.

A lot is going on inside the drive system of the Robust Sweet 16, but it is all designed away and out of sight.

At first glance, there is just an electric motor, a single belt on a single pulley location. No adjustments are ever needed.

All the power control, torque, braking and who knows what else, are controlled by a hidden away internal controller system.

10) Craftsmanship and construction.

If you’ve had the opportunity to see a Robust lathe in person, you can immediately sense the personal craftsmanship that went into its making.

Thick steel and clean welds all covered with a beautiful textured, durable finish scream out the pride of the people behind the making of these lathes.

Robust is indeed a fitting name for the company that makes these equally robust products.

From the headstock to the stainless steel ways to the precision tailstock and everywhere between, not one area of this lathe seems overlooked or underbuilt.

11) Robust Customer Service

There is an added product feature that gets easily overlooked sometimes – customer service.

I have had questions and needed help with a few things after I bought my Robust Sweet 16.

You want to hear something crazy? Almost every time I call Robust, I speak with Brent. Brent is the owner of Robust Tools, and he takes the time to treat me like a person and not just a customer.

And of course, he cares about his products and stands behind them 100%.

I can only imagine what the customer experience process might be like with other lathe manufacturers, but I know Robust is there if I need them.

Robust Sweet 16 Wishes

Ok, now I’m going to list the things on the Robust Sweet 16 that I wish were different, better, or perhaps something offered soon on future versions of the Robust Sweet 16, or as upgrades.

1) Lack of RPM Readout.

With the level of detail on this lathe, I do think a digital readout should be an available feature.

Working with other lathes that do have digital RPM readouts it is a bit of an adjustment to turning without this data.

While I think I’ve gained turning skills and a better ability to adjust and “sense” the appropriate lathe speed, I do feel a digital readout needs to be added.

2) Overly simple control panel.

The remote corded lathe control panel works great and like I mentioned earlier is fantastic because of its mobility.

My problem with the control panel is that it looks like it was pulled off a general supply shelf and could have appeared on a lathe in the 1950s.

The numbered speed increments on the speed dial have no correlation with corresponding RPMs. The numbers are merely labeling tick marks around the dial.

The forward/backward left/right toggle is rudimentary, and if you move around the lathe while working a wood bowl or hollow form, it can be easy to turn on the lathe in the wrong direction without realizing it.

With everything else being so well thought out on this lathe, the control panel needs a bit more attention.

3) Under bed tool rest.

The cutout area designed to be a handy tool rest under the bed is ok at best.

I do not use this tool rest for one simple reason. As I’m turning, I’m focused on turning, and I can not change focus on storing tools.

About seven times out of 10 when I insert a bowl gouge into this holding area, the gouge tip slams into the back side of the lathe instead of finding the opposite hole.

Flat edge ding marks on the bowl gouge cutting edges are not cool.

It sounds silly but having to stop, bend over and see if the bowl gouge tip is aimed for the back hole properly before inserting it all the way is an unnecessary disruption in the turning process.

Perhaps making shelves that fit into these holes would act as a guide to prevent tip contact and make the process of setting down a tool as invisible and non-intrusive as it needs to be.

Robust Sweet 16 Lathe Under Bed Tool Holder
4) Controller board options.

Remember how I said that the Robust Sweet 16 is run by a hidden away controller? Well, I know because I have to adjust my controller occasionally.

There is a programmable braking feature with the controller board. The factory setting is 2.5. I’m not sure if that indicates the time in seconds the lathe should stop or what.

When I turn large heavy bowls that require a longer time to spin down before stopping, this 2.5 setting doesn’t work. The controller board disengages if the lathe doesn’t stop in the set time, leaving the bowl blank spinning until it stops on its own, which can take a long time.

So after contacting Robust and explaining the issue, they taught me how to reset the specific controller board setting to a higher number like 18 to allow enough braking time for the controller to stop the larger bowl blanks.

The left side tool rack needs to be loosened and removed to access the controller board and change these settings.

Robust Sweet 16 Wood Lathe Control Panel Headstock

OK, I explained all that to say it would be nice to first, have the controller function settings more accessible.

And secondly, if we’re making wishes, wouldn’t it be amazing to have an interface that was intuitive and not just some random numeric settings?

What if you could enter the approximate size and weight of a bowl blank and the lathe controller adjusted the torque, maximum speed and braking limits accordingly?

Better yet, what if this was a smartphone app? Wait! What if you could just open an app and point your camera at the bowl blank and the lathe adjusted?

OK, now we’re talking…fantasyland Ha! Who knows?!

5) Cord management.

When cleaning up, it would be so nice to not have cords everywhere in the way.

I think this issue is true for most lathes and not really specific to the Robust Sweet 16. And I don’t think an app will fix this issue.

But what if all the cords were integrated into the lathe body and invisible, minus the one cord going to the wall?

And while we’re imagining, what if there was a second port or outlet on the lathe so that the power cord could be removed entirely, attached at the lathe and at the wall.

After all, the lathe is pretty heavy and in most cases fixed in its location. The power cord, on the other hand, is light, flexible, and portable.

Imagine being able to sweep up around the lathe with zero cords in the way!

Robust Sweet 16 Wood Lathe Complete Review

Robust Sweet 16 Review Conclusion

I hope this review has given you an in-depth look at the Robust Sweet 16 wood lathe and offered new information not found elsewhere.

After turning hundreds of bowls and using this lathe in all sorts of configurations, I can say that I enjoy turning with this lathe today as much as I did the day I uncrated my Sweet 16.

Are there issues and things I would change? Of course, but that would be true for any lathe.

The features and advantages of the Robust Sweet 16 far outweigh any minor shortcoming or desired personal improvements.

Like I promised, I covered the Robust Sweet 16 lathe in great detail, but I’m also sure there are questions to be asked.

Please post a comment below if you have anything to add or questions you’d like to ask.

Also, if you’re looking for a smaller lathe, check out my Jet 1221vs Lathe Review here.


Check out these other lathe related articles:
WOOD LATHE REVIEW – COMPARE, SELECT, UNDERSTAND
SAFE WOOD LATHE SPEED (CALCULATE, DETERMINE, ADJUST RPM)
WOOD LATHE MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST – 7 AREAS TO MAINTAIN


Happy Turning,
Kent

Comments

  1. One of, if not THE best review of the Robust Sweet 16 I’ve seen. It is immensely helpful to hear about the annoying issues, no matter how small, because they may be bigger or non issues for someone else. We are seriously considering this lathe, and plan on attending the Robust open house in October 2020 to get some actual hands on and see first hand how Robust and Brent compare to the competition. Thank you for taking the time to do such a detailed review.

    1. Author

      Kim,

      I’m glad you’re looking at this lathe. They have updated this model and have addressed a few of the issues I listed. The control panel is now accessible and has a visible RPM readout.

      I don’t think you’ll find another lathe company like Robust, nor another owner like Brent. He is very down to earth and friendly. And you can tell he cares about what he makes.

      When you do decide to buy a lathe from Brent, which I’m betting you will, please tell him you read about it here at TurnAWoodBowl.com. I don’t earn anything from it, but I bet it’ll make Brent smile.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  2. Very helpful Kent, I have been considering the SS for quite sometime now. The gap for larger diameter yet thin platter like pieces was a concern, thanks for your info. Cheers……

    1. Author

      Dtork,

      I think you’ll enjoy the Sweet 16. I know I do.

      Thanks for writing and all the best to you!

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  3. From the Support/FAQ section on the Robust website-
    ——-
    Q? Can I get digital readout on the American Beauty?

    We do not offer this option, but we do include a chart in the manual that gives you the approximate speed based on the position of the speed control knob. It’s easy to copy and hang by your lathe. The speeds are also approximated on the legend plate for the speed control knob. The more experienced you get turning, the less you’ll probably look at a speed readout. Knowing the RPM of the lathe is information, but not actionable information. A digital readout tells you neither how fast you should or could be going. You only learn that by paying attention to the wood and your lathe.
    ——–
    I have an American Beauty and have found I have no need for a readout. If you listen to the piece being turned you will soon “know” if the speed needs adjusting.

    1. Author

      Hello Dick,

      Thanks for sharing this information.

      I agree, the readout isn’t necessary and not having it probably helps develop your ability to “hear” the turning piece.

      Thanks and Happy Turning,
      Kent

  4. I have come to the Sweet Sixteen as my next lathe for many of the same reasons you ID’d. In fact, your option list is almost identical to mine. However, I’m stuck between the short and standard bed lengths. I’m space constrained as you are. What moved you to the standard length? What disadvantages will I potentially experience with a short bed?

    1. Author

      Hey Jim,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I went with the standard bed because I wanted to have the option to do some slightly longer turnings. I’m not interested in too much spindle work, but I can turn tool handles with the standard bed. The short bed seems fine if you know you’ll only be turning bowls or very short spindle items. And the longer bed seemed too much for what I need, plus I’d probably just jump up to the American Beauty if I needed a longer bed.

      Hope that helps.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

  5. Find some pvc pipe to slide and glue into the the tool holder. I love all the information.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Rex

      Ya, I thought about something along those lines. I’m just not used to using that tool holder, so it’s not a big deal.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Happy Turning,
      Kent

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