Wood lathes are an important tool for all woodworkers, from beginners to the pros. There are no other tools that can do what they can do, but it can be challenging to find a good brand among the many available, and at a few hundred dollars, there is no room for error.
We’ve chosen 10 different brands that are easy to find online and in hardware stores across America. We’ll go over each one’s pros and cons and tell you about any accessories or features they include. We’ve also included a short buyer’s guide to discuss the things you should look for while shopping.
Types of Wood Lathes
Wood lathes come in three types, including mini/benchtop, midi, and full-size. However, if you have a drill press, you can also use a wood lathe attachment that enables you to turn wood vertically instead of horizontally.
A wood lathe is considered to be a mini or benchtop lathe if it has 20 inches or less distance between centers (DBC) and 12 inches or less of swing over bed (SOB). Simply put, the DBC is the maximum length of wood that can be used, while the SOB refers to the maximum diameter of wood that can rotate on the lathe.
Mini wood lathes are smaller than both midi and full-size wood lathes, making this type a great option for small workspaces. These mini lathes are also very good for working with small intricate items or adding intricate details to larger items, as long as they fit within the capacity of the lathe. This type of wood lathe is normally the most affordable option, making it a great starting point for beginners.
Midi wood lathes fall between mini wood lathes and full-size wood lathes in both power and size. These mid-size wood lathes were designed with the compact size of a benchtop wood lathe and some of the power potential of a full-size lathe, allowing you to take on larger projects without having to sacrifice floor space in a crowded workshop. This type of wood lathe ranges widely in DBC, frequently dropping below 20 inches in size, but it typically remains at or above 12 inches of SOB. With the increase in size, the midi wood lathe also increases in cost, but this style is still more affordable than a full-size wood lathe.
Full-size lathes have powerful motors and they take up the most space, typically standing on the ground at a height of about 4 feet so that you have easy access to your project. These large lathes can have a very wide DBC, ranging over 45 inches in length, and an SOB that exceeds 15 inches in diameter.
With a full-size lathe, you can take on a variety of projects, including making detailed table legs or making your own baseball bat. However, the size and power of this wood lathe mean a higher cost than either the midi or the mini wood lathes, so this type is only recommended if you have previous experience working with wood lathes or if you require a large capacity for your intended project.
Factors To Consider When Buying
Before you purchase, here are some factors that might be useful to ensure that you will end up buying the best machine for your needs. Take a quick look at these points and make sure the lathe you’ve chosen meets the requirements for your wood working.
Size of your woodworking projects
If you plan to work only on small things, door handles or bangles, you don’t really need a giant machine in your workshop. In fact, we suggest that you don’t buy an overly sized lathe for simple tasks as you will just be wasting money and won’t really be using the bigger lathe to its full capacity. Remember that generally, the bigger the wood lathe is, the higher the price.
For smaller woodworking projects, a mini would suffice. Of course, if you plan to do bigger projects in the future, you’ll need a more powerful machine, one that also has a bigger center-to-center and swing capacities so it can handle big pieces of wood.
If you’re looking for some inspiration on your first project, we’ve put together some great beginner woodturning projects for you! Happy turning!
The available space in your workshop
You might really want a bigger lathe but make sure it fits the available space in your workshop at home. Do the necessary measurements and make sure to make allowances for your movement around the machine? We find most hobby woodworkers work from home shops and don’t have as much space as they’d like!
Ease of use
Some lathes are geared for professional woodworkers while others can be used even by woodturning newcomers. Make sure that the machine that you will buy is appropriate for your skill level. If you’re just getting started with wood working, you want to buy a lathe that’s user friendly.
Woodturners use different speeds to handle different types of projects. With this factored in, the perfect wood lathe is one that is capable of a wide range of speed so you’ll be able to use it for a variety of woodturning projects. In addition to speed, the ability to go forward and reverse is crucial for certain wood work like table legs.
Weight of the lathe
The weight of the lathe will matter if you tend to rearrange your workshop equipment often, or ever need to move it. Getting a heavy machine will make rearranging your workspace a bit difficult for you. If you really value portability and do only small woodturning, a smaller wood lathe will be a better option for you.
One has to be careful while working with this powerful and dangerous tool like a wood lathe. Or even simple mistakes like wearing jewelry and loose-fitting clothing that caught in the lane rotation, and pulls you toward the rapidly rotating wood. Thereby it results in injuries and accidents.
Personal protective equipment (or PPE) is a safety consideration to wear along with a face shield (to prevent flying wood chips) while working with a wood lathe. Also, a set of work gloves will help to protect your hands without interfering your ability on woodworking.
Finally, these power tools operate at high volumes that might damage your hearing. So, it is quite essential to use a pair of earplugs (or) any other hearing protection to safeguard your hearing.
Our Top Picks
These top picks of wood lathes are the best in show when it comes to quality, price, and reputation. Use this list to help you find the best wood lathe for your workshop.
Add a new wood lathe to your workbench so that you can craft pens, bowls, cups, or even your own chess pieces with this mini wood lathe that has a DBC of 12 inches and an SOB of 8 inches. The lathe weighs only 45 pounds, so you can easily move it to a new location in your workshop or store it out of the way when it is not in use. The base is made of solid cast iron to help absorb vibrations while you work.
You can use this ⅓ HP wood lathe for broad applications or for precise cuts by adjusting the speed from as low as 750 RPM to as high as 3,200 RPM. The mini wood lathe comes with two interchangeable tool rests measuring 4½ inches and 7 inches, and a 2.3-inch faceplate that is used for working on non-spindle pieces like bowls and cups that must be hollowed out.
Benchtop wood lathes typically come with very high speed ranges because these smaller lathes can only be used to work on small pieces of wood stock, which require high speeds for effective wood-turning. However, the Delta Industrial Midi Wood Lathe has a low speed range from just 250 RPM to 1,725 RPM, which is ideal for the wide wood stock capacity of 16½-inch DBC and 12½-inch SOB, letting you work comfortably on larger projects.
This 1-HP midi wood lathe also has a reversing function that allows you to switch the direction the wood is turning with the flick of a switch, because as most experienced woodworkers know, to produce a smooth finish you must sand a turned piece of wood against the grain. The wood lathe weighs 97 pounds and is made of durable cast iron. It also comes with a 3-inch faceplate for non-spindle applications and two interchangeable tool rests measuring 6 inches and 10 inches.
The JET JWL-1221VS Variable Speed Wood Lathe is our pick for the best overall wood lathe. It features a powerful motor that can deliver between 60 and 3600 revolutions per minute (RPMs), adjustable via a control knob, which should be more than enough for most projects. The lathe smoothly switches between forward and reverse at the flip of a switch. The spring-loaded spindle lock makes it easy to change wood projects, and belt tension is easy to adjust with the unique ratchet style belt tensioning system.
We enjoyed the smooth operation, especially and high RPMs afforded by the JET JWL-1221VS, and we could only complain that it’s a little heavy at 136 pounds, and the motor sits under the headstock, which causes it to collect a lot of shavings and dust. It provides 21 inches between centers and a 12-inch swing.
The Powermatic 1352001 3520B Wood Lathe is our pick for the premium choice wood lathe. It uses a powerful 6.2-amp 2-HP motor to create up to 3,200 RPM. It includes two interchangeable pullies that you can switch to adjust the RPMs. One pully operates between 50 and 1,200 RPM and the other between 125 and 3,200 RPM. It’s made of heavy-duty cast iron and provides you with a large 20 X 35-inch work area. A digital RPM meter is easy to read, and it includes several accessories, including a guard, tool rest, faceplate, wrench, knockout rod, and spindle lock.
The Powermatic 1352001 is extremely powerful and never bogs down. You can complete a wide range of projects in the large workspace, and the only thing we can complain about is its extreme 682-pound weight, which makes for a challenging assembly. It provides 35-inches between centers and a 20-inch swing.
The SHOP FOX W1704 Benchtop Lathe features a 12-inch workspace for working on small projects. It has two tool rests for various turning applications. The 1/3 HP engine creates up to 3,200 RPM,, and the speed is variable. It’s cast iron construction is durable, yet the entire machine weighs only 52 pounds.
While we were using the SHOP FOX W1704 we felt it was not very powerful, and it would often bog down even when working on small projects, and the knobs would often work themselves loose from the vibrations. It provides 12-inches between centers and an 8-inch swing.
The Morphon lathe has a 1/2hp engine and a variable speed of 1100-3400 rpm. It allows you to work on your projects at high speed. Both the workpieces and the motor are protected with soft starts. It runs on 110V and starts slowly and softly to ensure utmost safety and quiet operation.
It is highly versatile as it offers a speed range of 1100-3400 RPM, allowing you to select the speed you want. It has a considerable wood capacity as there is a 40’’ distance between centers, and the swing over the bed is 14”.
The KWL-1218VS from PSI Woodworking is an exceptional product with some top-notch functions that will simplify and accelerate all of your woodturning projects.
We wanted to keep a midi lathe as our first pick because of its more significant consumer base – you are less likely to use a mini or full-sized lathe. And when it comes to midi lathes, few machines come close to the KWL-1218VS in terms of functionality and powerful performance.
It features a powerful 1hp motor that has variable speed (120V-60HZ). We especially liked its digital readout as it allowed us to monitor and work at precise speeds. What sets this lathe apart from its competition is its dual belt positions – 500 to 1800 RPM and 1950 to 3800 RPM.
Going back to the other end of the spectrum, our next pick is an exceptional mini lathe from the reputed brand of RIKON. It is the “largest mini lathe” out there in terms of its swing capacity. So, it is apparent that we had to include this machine in our list – it allows you to do more while occupying less space.
One of the critical aspects of woodturning is the speed – you need different speeds for different kinds (sizes) of projects. With this RIKON lathe, you can easily and quickly change the speed and select one of the six settings – 430, 810, 1,230, 1,810, 2,670, or 3,900 RPM.
We especially liked the unique indexing head that comes with 12 positions. It allows you to lock the workpiece in several positions for better accuracy of detailed work like layouts, grooving, drilling, straight fluting, and so on.
Versatile and powerful—these are the words that best describe the JET JWL-1440VSK Wood Lathe 719400K. It offers various features that can take on a wide range of woodturning projects—making it one of the best wood lathes on the market.
With a 14 1/2- by 40-inch lathe size and 36 indexing positions, this large wood lathe can help you accurately turn any of your ideas into well-crafted workpieces. It also lets you adjust the spindle speed from 400 to 3,000 revolutions per minute and displays the speed setting on its digital readout, giving you the right speed setting for the job.
This JET wood lathe comes equipped with a sliding and pivoting headstock and an improved tailstock with an anti-rotation key, providing you with maximum versatility and precision for any woodturning project. And because this JET wood lathe comes with full-size cast iron construction and stable legs, it completely meets the needs of professionals working on large-scale woodturning projects.
Although the Grizzly Industrial H8259 Benchtop Wood Lathe comes last on the list, it’s equipped with just the right amount of features that make it one of the best wood lathes today. With a 10- by 18-inch lathe size, this mini wood lathe is the perfect benchtop machine for small woodturning projects.
Powered by a 1/2-horsepower motor, this mini wood lathe features five speeds ranging from 826 to 3,337 revolutions per minute. While its variable speed range isn’t as extensive as the other lathes, it’s wide enough for most woodworking projects.
Constructed with heavy-duty cast iron, equipped with adjustable leveling feet, this Grizzly wood lathe can stay stable and level even in the busiest of projects. It also comes with wrenches, a tool rest, a live rolling center, and a spur center for a convenient and complete set of wood lathe accessories.
How to Use a Wood Lathe?
A wood lathe is somewhat a dangerous power tool, which means you have to know how to use the tool perfectly before buying. Most experts suggest you get some knowledge on the new tool and try some test pieces before starting them on your project.
Tightly secure a piece of the wood stock in the lathe and check that it won’t fly off while you start working. Place the tool rest to provide a comfortable distance between the wood stock and the cutting tool. Then turn on the wood lathe and ensure that you start at the lowest speed setting (beginner) to get resistance to feel that pushes against the cutting tool when you work.
In case, if you have experience in using the lathe, then set the speed level appropriate for the stock you are working on. When the wood stock is rotating, then use the cutting tool to start cutting the wood stock. But take care to shape the wood in the way you desire.
After you are done with your work, then put down the cutting tool away from the lathe, and turn off the power. Avoid touching the wood stock till it stops completely.
What kinds of things can be manufactured with a wood lathe?
Depending on your talents and creativity, you can easily make a wide range of wooden objects on a wooden lathe, such as bottle stoppers, spoons, cups, pans, bowls, rings, and beautiful art.
What is the best wood to use for woodturning?
Beech is the ideal hardwood since it has a light hue, and most species don’t have a distinctive grain pattern.
Are wood lathes long-lasting?
Yes, many wood lathes are durable and last for years. If you buy a lathe after checking all of its features thoroughly, you will definitely buy the durable one.
Do I need a chuck or a faceplate?
Probably the most important part of a wood lathe to get right is the chuck. You might think of the chuck on your combi drill, but it’s a bit different to that. Lathe chucks come in tons of different configurations but perform a similar job. A good woodturning chuck can be adjusted to hold different pieces of material snugly, no matter what size or shape.
A faceplate, on the other hand, is more suitable for holding on to flat stock like bowls. There are no moving parts, just holes to secure the workpiece with screws. It creates a strong bond between the wood lathe and workpiece that is secure and ideal for turning wide objects.
While we have already offered you our suggestions, you may not totally agree with our choices. And that’s okay since as the buyer and woodworker yourself, it will ultimately be your decision to decide for yourself which is the best wood lathe for you as it will have to take into account your personal needs and preferences. Of course, feel free to contact us if you have any more questions at all.
Hopefully, this buying guide has armed you with sufficient knowledge to make a well-informed buying decision on your own. Happy wood turning!