Best Wood Lathe Reviews and Buying Guide 2017

best-wood-lathe-buyer guide


If you’re looking to sculpt wood in any meaningful capacity, investing in the best wood lathe will make your life much easier.

Woodturning is a form of woodworking almost in and of itself. There are many craftsmen who have absolutely no interest in anything but turning. On the other hand, there are plenty of generalist woodworkers who also enjoy a spot of turning.

In today’s best wood lathe reviews, we’ve aimed to present a broad spread of machines so there’s something for all skill levels and requirements.

Before we get into the review section, though, what exactly is a lathe?

What is a Wood Lathe?

In the simplest sense, a wood lathe is a highly efficient woodturning machine. The workpiece is spun or rotated so you can sculpt it against a grinder, sandpaper or a cutting tool. This allows you to turn the wood in a way simply not possible with other equipment.

While you can obviously sculpt by hand, a lathe gives you much more speed as well as bringing down the likelihood of any mishaps likely to occur when you’re forcing a sharp blade manually against a workpiece.


What Accessories Do You Need?


A lathe is not a standalone piece of equipment. Think of it as more of a facilitator…

That said, the face plate, live center and spur center provided with most lathes will get you off to a flying start. A chuck would make your life easier if you’re turning bowls or coring out boxes.

In today’s wood lathe reviews, we’ll give you a solid overview of what you need to look for if you want the best lathe and we’ll present a choice of 5 first-class machines to cater for all your woodturning needs.

Before that, though, a swift breakdown of the 3 main types of wood lathe…

Many power tools and machines come in a staggering array of variants with more differences than similarities. With wood lathes, though, the only major thing to consider off the bat is the size of machine that would make the best fit…

  • MINI LATHE
  • midi lathe
  • Full-Sized Lathe

Although they rate a mention, for the purposes of this article we won’t be exploring full-sized lathes in detail.

These hulking machines are capable of the full gamut of applications including turning really huge workpieces and are indispensable for turning table legs and large round pieces of all descriptions.

The Best Wood Lathe Reviews 2017 – Comparison Chart By Mitersawjudge.com

​If you’re on the trail of the best wood lathe, you’re in for a treat today. We’re here to cut through the overwhelming choice so you can get the right tool with ease.

Check out this table of 5 great wood lathes before we get started…

Detailed Wood Lathe Reviews

1. JET JWL 1221VS Variable Speed Wood Lathe (12-Inch by 21-Inch)

Very rarely are products truly innovative these days but the JET JWL 1221VS is a totally overhauled lathe that offers a remarkable experience combining unparalleled control and stunning results.

This cast iron lathe mini lathe is certainly no lightweight in terms of performance and although it might not seem particularly cheap, it offers exceptional value for money if you’re serious about woodturning.

A swift glance at the main features before we walk you through the JET mini lather in more detail…

JET JWL-1221VS

It is very well built, heavy duty and is a huge improvement over my mini lathe and my old craftsman lathe. I recommend waiting for Jet's Woodworking sales (usually twice yearly) for 15% savings. I mounted it on a hydraulic lift table (from local cheapo tool supplier) rather than buying the Jet stands as it allows height adjustment as well as wheels for portability.

By Carmen H,

Main Features

    • 1HP motor
    • Variable speed: 60RPM to 3600RPM
    • Proprietary ratchet belt for tensioning
    • 2 tool rests
    • 24 indexing positions
    • Indexing pin and spindle lock
    • Scale reads in imperial and metric

Not everyone wants a full-sized monster of a lathe or even has the space to accommodate one. If you’re on the trail of a mini lathe that offers almost the capability of a midi, you’d be well advised to look into the JET JWL 1221VS.

The 1HP motor is more than fit for purpose and it kicks out a surprising amount of torque. This motor drives some rugged sealed bearings making use of a drive belt with 6 grooves.

Although it’s termed a mini lathe, the JET weighs in at a hefty 137 pounds so it gives you all the weight you need, an advantage rather than a handicap with wood lathes.

Speed control is first-rate. You can start as slowly as 60RPM and crank it right on through to 3600RPM when the application calls for it. All you need to do is turn a simple dial and there’s a digital readout to let you work without breaking your stride. If there’s any issue, you’ll get an error reading on the display so you can make the necessary tweaks to the speed.

Comfort needs to be uppermost when you’re woodturning. JET has placed all motor controls in one place in a handy panel. You’ll be able to access the on/off, spindle speed and forward/reverse without fiddling around.

Another time-saver is the ability to switch between forward and reverse without needing to turn the lathe off. Continual motion is key when you’re turning and this is a nifty feature.

You’ll be able to enjoy full customization thanks to the 24 positions on the indexing head.

The belt tensioning system features a pioneering ratchet for which JET has a patent pending. This comes into its own for belt changes meaning you can deal with this awkward task much more easily.

If you need to remove any threaded accessories, you’ll appreciate the indexing pin and spindle lock.

The scale on the tail stock comes with both imperial and metric measurements so you won’t need to undertake any tiresome mental arithmetic when you’re trying to focus on your work. The tail stock itself is extremely rigid and it slides over the bed like a dream.

The center aligns effectively which is one of the core needs if you want an efficient wood lathe.

Vibration is kept to a complete minimum. If you scour user reviews, you’ll find a handful of people complaining about the vibration but we have to disagree. It’s more than weighty enough and absolutely stable giving you a seamless woodturning experience.

The crowning glory with this fantastic mini wood lathe is a first-class 5-year limited warranty. This shows how JET stands behind this lathe and allows you to buy without a headache.

Pros

    • Very capable 1HP motor offers ample power for a mini lathe and a great deal of torque at the low end.
    • Compact benchtop model perfect for regular light or medium turning work.
    • Motor controls all neatly grouped together for your comfort and convenience.
    • Precise and responsive speed control allowing for maximum flexibility.
    • You can run the lathe in reverse without needing to switch it off which is superb for maintaining your workflow.
    • Exclusive ratchet system for belt tensioning enables super-swift belt changes when required.
    • Bigger and bulkier in its uprated incarnation offering you better stability and a wider bed.
    • Rock solid when running and almost vibration-free.
    • 24 indexing positions offering you a wide range of scope.
    • Limited 5-year warranty for complete peace of mind

Cons

    • Occasional complaints about this mini lathe arriving with a loose head stock.
    • No accessories thrown in but this is hardly a deal-breaker.

Conclusion

The JET JWL 1221VS is one of those rare beasts, a redesigned product that features genuinely worthwhile tweaks.

There’s no such thing as the best wood lathe period because it’s very much a case of horses for courses. That said, if you’re looking for a smaller mini lathe that punches well above its weight, you’d have to search far and wide to come up with a better machine.

While it’s not exactly cheap, when you consider what you’re getting for your money and the enormous variety of applications at your disposal, it represents pretty solid value.

Give the 1221VS a crack and we can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

2.Nova 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini Lathe 12-Inch by 16 1/2-Inch

Next on the list in our best sander reviews is another random orbit sander from the highly reputable Bosch.

While this sander is not as cheap as the BLACK + DECKER, it’s still remarkably affordable and it offers uprated functionality along with more power so it’s not money spent for nothing.

A glimpse at the main features before we explore this sander in detail…

NOVA 46300 Comet II

I did A LOT of research before I purchased this lathe, and I am very pleased that I went with Nova. I also have the larger Nova 1624 lathe, and have been very pleased with it as well, so I decided to go with a brand I trust. Other brand name lathes will cost quite a bit more than the Comet, and really don't have any additional "bells and whistles" as compared to the Comet. 

By Todd F.

Main Feat​​​​ures

    • 3/4HP motor
    • Variable speed from 250RMP to 4000RPM
    • 3-step pulley system
    • Swings 12 inches over bed
    • Swings 16 ½ inches between the centers

With home workshops, there’s always a degree of compromise involved and that usually concerns space constraints. If you have limited room and you need a lathe with a small footprint but packing a decent punch, the Nova 46300 Comet II is a winning solution.

Although the 3/4HP motor is not the most powerful on the block, it’s able enough to cope admirably with modest woodturning projects. The fact it’s a direct current motor means you can plug it into a standard outlet fuss-free.

Assembling lathes can induce an immediate headache but the Nova comes almost good to go. Just attach the hand wheel and feet – or attach it to a stand – then pop on the adjustment handle and tool rest. It really is as simple as that and you can get right down to turning your first project.

You can fine-tune the speed from 250RPM up to a mighty 4000RPM at the upper end. This is accomplished thanks to a user-friendly 3-step pulley system in tandem with the controller. The reversible motor is a nice touch in a mini lathe at this price point, too.

The Nova swings 12 inches over the bed and 16 ½ inches from center to center so allows you to turn a diverse range of projects. You can also roll with a bed extension if your needs are slightly more ambitious.

The composite guard is nicely reinforced and set off with an easy-access latch to simplify things. The On/Off switch is responsive and equipped with a no-vault release to put your safety uppermost.

If the motor or electronics let you down during the first year, you’ll get a complete replacement. There’s also a 2-year limited warranty on all parts so Nova has your back all the way.

Before rounding out, there are a couple of drawbacks worth mentioning…

The housings have pretty sharp edges so bear this in mind to avoid slicing your fingers. Some users have reported that the tool rest feels a bit too short but this is subjective and you should make up your own mind about this rather than being put off.

Overall, the shower of benefits found with the Nova Jet II more than compensate for its minor downsides.

Check out our honest appraisal of its pros and cons and judge for yourself…

Pros

    • 3/4HP motor delivers more than sufficient performance along with electronic variable speed
    • Direct current motor allows you to plug in to a regular outlet and get going straight out the box
    • Almost no assembly required so a great choice for beginners
    • Fine-tune the pace from as little as 250RPM right through to an impressive 4000RPM at the top end.
    • Motor housing fashioned from rugged die-cast metal so it’s built to last.
    • Regulation 3-step pulley system lets you operate in low, medium or high speed ranges
    • 12–inch swing over the bed lets you turn bowls and platters (although it’s not cut out for outboard turning)
    • 16 ½-inch swing between centers renders the Nova ideal for furniture making
    • Extremely cheap but offering all the functionality a home woodturner needs
    • Super-simple to mount accessories onboard
    • Operates without much noise or vibration

Cons

    • Sharp edges on the housings so exercise caution
    • Tool rest is a little too short for comfort
    • Just 77 pounds so not the most heavyweight of lathes


Conclusion

If you need a smaller lathe but you don’t want to sacrifice performance or power, the Nova 46300 Comet II stands alone in its class. You’ll be able to turn your hand to a wide range of applications and it’s incredibly friendly on the pocket into the bargain.

Not everyone wants a behemoth wood lathe eating up every square inch of workshop space nor does everyone have the budget for a range-topping machine that might only come out to play once in a while.

If you’re just starting out on your woodturning journey or you’re a capable turner looking for a pocket-friendly mini lathe, we stridently urge you to check out the Nova Comet II. It delivers fully without requiring a bank loan.

3. JET JWL 1440VSK Wood Lathe with Legs

Next up in our investigation of the best wood lathes is another entry from JET, this time a more expensive model that comes with legs.

Although it’s not cheap, if you take advantage of the offer currently available here, you can enjoy a nominal discount and use that money to offset the cost of any accessories you might want to pick up.

Getting the best lathe, as we underscore throughout this article, is a simple question of matching appropriate equipment with your specific needs. If those needs encompass turning larger bowls and spindles, you’re in safe hands with the 1440VSK.

Love the lathe, Plenty of power, Love the swing head stock for my bowls, Quality product Fast shipping. The only thing I really don't like is the variable speed doesn't go low enough 400 rpm, for some things is not low enough. Other than that it is awesome.

By Rodney P.

Main Features

    • 1Hp variable speed motor
    • 400RPM to 3000RPM
    • ​7 locking positions on head stock
    • Tool rest has positive locks
    • 14 ½-inch swing over bed
    • 42-inch swing between centers

With its cast iron base and legs, the JET 1440VSK offers that perfect combination of stability and precision so crucial in a wood lathe. The added advantage is that you won’t be plagued by vibration either.

The 115-volt motor develops 1HP and delivers more than enough power for robust woodturning projects, drilling, sanding or cutting. This is a multi-purpose machine that will add a new dimension to your workshop.

The vintage Reeves drive pulley system might be showing its age but it does a remarkably efficient job when it comes to speed control. Whether you’re running your lathe at the lower speed of 400RPM or maxing it out at 3000RPM, the motor rarely stalls even under unbalanced loads.

This colossus weighs almost 400 pounds so you could consider it a kind of mid-range lathe in terms of performance and price. You can tell by taking one look at it that it’s not the sort of machine for a casual hobbyist looking to turn a pen or two. Think seriously about your needs before investing in something that verges on overkill.

If you want to occasionally work with larger pieces, you can pick up an extension table that gives you a bit more room for maneuver. This mounts in 3 positions and will enable you to engage in outboard turning.

The spindle has positive lock indexing. These stops are set out at optimized 10-degree intervals.

The head stock has a pair of positive stops and the entire stock swivels through a full range of motion giving you a fantastic turning experience.

Cam locks on both the head stock and tail stock mean you can make any adjustments tool-free. Due to the shallow nature of the tail stock, you can also carry out boring which comes in useful if you’re making something like a lamp.

We’ll outline where this lathe stands and falls so you can see in an easily digestible format whether it’s the right machine for you…

Pros

    • 1HP, 115-volt motorgives you enough oomph for pretty any woodturning project.
    • Variable speed from as slow as 400RPM up through 3000RPM thanks to Reeves drive pulley system.
    • Almost impossible to stall motor whether at low speed or under heavy load.
    • Clear display so you can determine speed without breaking your stride.
    • Positive lock indexing on the spindle at 10 degree increments so you can flute or vein with ease.
    • Live center features a removable pin so you can bore your way through stock.
    • Weighing 356 pounds, you’ll get almost no vibration from this incredibly stable wood lathe.
    • 2 positive stops on the head stock (45 degrees and 90 degrees) and able to be swiveled through 360 degrees lets you work with total flexibility.
    • The optional extension bed you can mount in 3 positions facilitates more ambitious outboard turning.

Cons

    • Speed control knob feels tight and resistant at higher speeds.
    • Motor positioned to the right of the mechanism is not to everyone’s taste.

Conclusion

If you want something a bit more substantial than a mini lathe without stepping things up to the extreme of a full-sized lathe, the JET 1440VSK makes a wonderful halfway house.

For a stable and high-performing lathe that offers complete stability, minimal vibration and will last you for decades if properly maintained, give some serious consideration to this awesome legged model.

JET’s industry-leading 5-year warranty ensures that you’re covered in the event of any malfunction. If you do plump for this lathe, just be certain to maintain it properly and you’ll minimize the chance of anything going amiss in the first place.

4. Delta Industrial 46-460 12 1/2-Inch Variable Speed Midi-Lathe

As we near the end of our best wood lathe reviews, we’ve got something a little bigger for you in the form of the Delta Industrial 46-460.

This 12 ½-inch midi lathe is sturdy and very heavy duty while remaining simple enough to use even if you’re not the most experienced woodturner.

For bowls and ornaments, spindles and pens, read on to see if the 46-460 fits the bill for your workshop…

Delta Industrial 46-460

This lathe gets used at least 1.5 hrs a day. I have had it over a year. It is my second lathe, after getting the nova midi lathe. This has great torque, capable of turning a full 12 inch dia bowl, if you trim it up good before you put it on. I would recomend this lathe to anyone. I plan to get a large lathe (20 inch swing) in the future, but this lathe has power that needs to be respected. It can hurt you good if you loose focus on your work.

By Jason P.

Main Features

    • 1HP motor
    • 1725RPM
    • Variable speed with 3 pulley system
    • 12 ½-inch swing
    • Forward and reverse functionality

Obviously, the motor on a wood lathe is central to its performance. Kicking out 1HP, the Delta can take even demanding turning applications in its stride. Plenty of torque is delivered to the head stock spindle and it’s very resistant to stalling.

In order to get the very best finish, it’s necessary to have forward and reverse on your lathe and the Delta. You can rotate your turned piece without needing to remount it meaning you can take care of an otherwise laborious task by flicking a switch and achieve superior results into the bargain.

You’ve got a choice when it comes to speed control…

If you want to harness the manual belt adjustment, simply lift the head stock and refer to the simple diagram to avail yourself of the 3-speed setting:

1: 250 – 750RPM
2: 600 – 1800RPM
3: 1350 – 4000RPM

There’s also an electronic speed control knob so you can fine tune while you’re working. This has 10 speeds and is a nifty bonus allowing you to make micro-adjustments without needing to stop turning.

The Delta runs quietly and also dampens down the vibration that can plague some poor quality wood lathes.

Surprisingly for a cheap wood lathe, you’ll get a nice range of accessories thrown in. There’s a 6-inch and 10-inch tool rest so you can swap them out accordingly for cruder turning projects or more precise finishing jobs. Both accept custom bases. You’ll also get a 3-inch face plate so you can attach your workpiece to the tail stock without causing any damage. As if this wasn’t enough, you’ll also get a live center, a knockout bar, a tool rest base and some wrenches.

While you’ll be provided with a limited 5-year warranty, it’s worth noting the Delta has a reputation for questionable customer service. When this is a repeated motif across many customer reviews, it’s something worth at least bearing in mind. After all, a guarantee is purely academic unless you get the full and timely support of the company when you need to call it in. Do your own due diligence here.

Woodturning is not something you can master overnight but, with the Delta 46-460, you can get going directly out the box and enjoy using a lathe that’s ultra-simple to use while not stiffing you in terms of performance.

Pros

    • 8-amp, 1HP motor powerful enough for heavy turning projects while also offering plenty of torque.
    • Despite the power and performance, this lathe takes up remarkably little space in the workshop.
    • Forward and reverse to get a smooth finish with minimal effort.
    • Dual speed control (automatic and manual) giving you complete flexibility.
    • Belt tensioning system designed for rapid speed changes and optimized tension.
    • Fashioned from cast iron offering ultimate durability alongside outstanding stability.
    • 5-year limited warranty covering all normal wear and tear.
    • 2 tool rests (6-inch and 12-inch) can be guided with ease in any direction offering wonderful support.
    • User-friendly tail stock hand wheel finished in metal alloy for longevity as well as comfort.
    • User-friendly tail stock hand wheel finished in metal alloy for longevity as well as comfort.

Cons

    • Routine complaints about very poor customer service so buyer beware.
    • Some questions about build quality and engineering.

Conclusion

For a wood lathe with this kind of performance, the Delta 46-460 is extremely cheap. That’s not to say the price is low period but it’s low for a midi lathe.

Although the manufacturer markets this lathe as suitable for professional woodworkers, if you’re going to be giving your lathe some serious action on a daily basis, you might want to consider something a little more upscale.

Overall, though, the Delta is a robust performer for this size and price point. If you’re operating on a budget, it might be just what you’ve been waiting for, a cost-effective wood lathe that copes well with a nice spread of applications.

Pop one on your shortlist and see how it compares to the opposition.

5. Grizzly G0462 Wood Lathe with Digital Readout

As we round out our best wood lathe reviews, it’s time for a very attractively priced model from Grizzly, the G0462.

This brand sometimes attracts some bad press among professional woodworkers but then a lathe like this is not marketed at those with heavy and continual woodturning needs. Try to disregard much of this chatter. It would like a graphic designer buying a budget laptop then complaining it can’t perform like a MacBook Pro.

We’ll give you a basic look at the main features before outlining some of the strengths of the Grizzly so you can make up your own mind if this inexpensive wood lathe deserves a place in your workshop…

Grizzly G0462

I bought this lathe as a replacement for my mid-70's entry-level Craftsman lathe. After reading countless reviews from many sources, I knew I would be receiving an intermediate lathe. I just was not ready to spend an additional one to six thousand dollars yet on a premium lathe. I decided to use this lathe for awhile until I was more financially prepared for a premium lathe in the future.

By Lynn Y.

Main Features

    • 110-volt 2HP motor
    • 10 speeds from 600RPM to 2400RPM
    • 16-inch swing over bed
    • 46 inches between centers
    • Digital readout on spindle tacho
    • Cast iron bed and legs

The first thing worth pointing out is that for a lathe of this stature, the price is incredibly competitive. It’s also worth noting that this is a lathe for the hobbyist rather than the seasoned pro.

Once you have this straight, you can focus on what the Grizzly offers which, in our opinion, is far more than many competing and pricier lathes.

The motor is a single-phase 110-voltunit with 2HP so you get a great deal of punch from it with plenty of torque.

You can adjust the speed between 600 and 2400RPM. You’ve got 10 options affording you total flexibility in your woodturning. Match the pace to the application and enjoy a fantastic finish. Making these speed changes is simplified as you don’t need to fiddle around with belts at all. There’s a handle instead so this lathe is perfect even if you’re a novice woodturner.

Tipping the scales at 350 pounds and made from cast iron, the Grizzly is built solidly as its name hints. This also helps to damp down the vibration, although there are occasional complaints about this lathe vibrating at lower speeds. You can even add more mass by slotting a custom shelf into the legs which are built to accommodate this.

You’ll enjoy a 16-inch swing over the bed with 13 inches over the tool rest. The head stock rotates fully through 360 degrees. Combined with the tool rest extension, this makes outboard turning a breeze.

Although, as we’ve pointed out, this is not the type of lathe to slot into a busy turning shop, the fact it’s simple and user-friendly makes it the ideal lathe for its target market of home hobbyists. It couldn’t be simpler to get up and running and the Grizzly features excellent ergonomics married to deceptive performance.

Pros

    • Single-phase 110-volt motor develops 2HP to cope with even heavier turning projects.
    • Exceptional value for money considering the power and diversity at your disposal.
    • Variable 10-speed between 600RPM and 2400RPM with a digital readout for your convenience.
    • Ultra-simple to change speeds with no belt thanks to a nifty handle allowing changes to made on the fly.
    • Swings 16 inches over the bed and 13 inches over the tool rest while the distance between centers is 46 inches: a hard-hitting all-rounder.
    • Tail stock and head stock feature user-friendly levers for lock and release.
    • Tool rest extension allows for outboard turning.
    • Cast iron bed and legs offer staying power along with stability.
    • Weighs 350 pounds so a heavyweight lathe without the corresponding price tag.
    • 6-inch faceplate, spur center and cup live center included.

Cons

    • Some complaints about frequent belt replacements.
    • Reports of excessive vibration.
    • Design of speed control is rather crude.

Conclusion

Price always plays a role in any purchase and, with some wood lathes costing a fortune, it’s a pleasant surprise to come across something like the Grizzly G0462 which gives you a great deal of bang for your buck.

With a powerful variable speed motor, rugged construction and digital readout, you’ll be able to use this lathe at home for a nice assortment of turning projects. If you keep your expectations in check and don’t wade in expecting an industrial powerhouse built for extended commercial use, you are in for a bargain.

We recommend this lathe but with reservations so take a long hard look at the upsides and disadvantages before committing to buy.

It’s not the best lathe for everyone, but it might just be the best lathe for you and that’s all that counts!

Who Needs Wood Lathes?

Woodturning is really a subset of woodworking so you need to ask yourself just how often you’d use a lathe before establishing whether or not you should buy one.

Where something like a table saw or band saw has a range of applications and would be well used in most home workshops, a lathe is a specialist piece of kit.

If you do want to pursue the noble art of woodturning, a lathe is crucial. Hollowing out boxes, turning bowls or spindles, perhaps even table legs or baseball bats, is impractical or, at best, incredibly time-consuming without the assistance of a wood lathe.

So, long story short, lathes are absolutely not a requirement for the standard woodworker. If you want to get involved in some turning, though, a lathe could be the best investment you ever made.

THE COMPLETE WOOD sander Buying Guide

Buying any power tool is not something to be taken lightly. If you’re serious about your woodworking, you’ll understand the importance of getting the very best tools you can afford. It’s for this reason we put together such detailed guides to help you every step of the way and ensure you avoid any expensive mistakes.

If you steam in and buy a wood lathe on a whim, you’re highly likely to end up with something entirely unsuitable. If, on the other hand, you take your time and do plenty of research, your woodturning will take on a new dimension.

Since wood lathes are fairly complex pieces of kit, it usually pays to spend a little more if you plan to get plenty of use out of the machine. That said, don’t under any circumstances spend more than you can afford. If you spot something you fancy and it’s out of your price range, you’re better off saving up rather than compromising yourself with a cheap and potentially subpar lathe.

Read a selection of user reviews so you can get a feel for the reported pros and cons of any given model. Familiarize yourself, too, with lathes in general so you’re well informed not whistling in the dark.

Here are some of the most important factors to take into account if you want to maximize your chance of finding the best wood lathe for your needs…

What To Consider When Buying a Wood Lathe

    • The Type of Project and Type of Lathe
      Before you launch into further specifics, honestly analyze what kind of woodturning you’ll be undertaking. This will help you determine what type of lathe would work best.

      For smaller projects, a mini tabletop lathe is absolutely fine. It’s senseless buying something that offers functionality and capacity you’ll never use.

      Equally, if you know in advance you’ll be working with larger pieces of wood and carrying out more ambitious projects, roll with a midi lathe or perhaps even a full-sized lathe if you have a commercial enterprise or a demanding scope of work up your sleeve.

      If you plan to mainly work with smaller pieces but might occasionally need to crack on with a more substantial project, you can opt for a smaller lathe that takes extensions.

      There’s no right or wrong answer here so take your time and double down on intended purpose to get the best wood lathe for your needs.
    • Motor and Head Stock
      There’s a wide range of motors available with wood lathes from 1/8HP right up through 3HP and beyond.

      Variable speed controls allow you to tweak the pace from a few hundred RPM up to 4000RPM.

      Since you need to keep your workpiece spinning at a consistent rate, the beefier the motor, the larger the material you’ll be able to turn.

      If you’re looking to turn spindles or bowls, look for an interchangeable faceplate and drive center so you can hold your workpiece without the tail stock.

      For anyone looking to turn big bowls, look for a head stock that will rotate well away from the base so you’ll get plenty of clearance but still be able to make use of the tool rest.
    • Tail Stock
      The tail stock is nothing more than a rotating pin at the opposite end of the head stock. Its function is to make sure the spindle stays centered and rotates evenly.

      Make sure the tail stock locks into position along the bed. This will allow you much more adaptability when you’re turning.
    • Height and Weight of Lathe
      The ergonomics of a lathe are critical. The last thing you want is a machine that’s a chore to work with.

      The middle of the lathe should ideally sit at elbow height. Get the height wrong and you’ll find it uncomfortable to work with.

      Regarding weight, you need to take the opposite approach to many tools where it’s a case of the lighter the better. The heavier your lathe, the more balance you’ll enjoy. Weightier lathes also help to dampen that menacing vibration.
    • Base
      Regardless of the size and type of lathe you choose, you’ll want a nice solid foundation.

      The bed of your lathe is the horizontal beam running across the bed. It’s usually made from cast iron and its primary function is to stop the lathe from vibrating when you’re turning your wood. Even a small amount of vibration can make your job much harder and, in the worst scenario, cause an accident.

      Put simply, the heavier and more rugged the base, the easier you’ll find working with it.
    • Speed
      When you’re turning, some pieces will need to be rotated at different speeds for best results. Table legs, for example, demand a brisker rotation than bowls.

      Look for a lathe with variable speed which will give you much more versatility and allow you to tailor the pace according to the application.
    • Bench
      ​Here, you need to consider the logistics of your workshop…

      For spaces where’s there’s limited room, a lathe that will work well on any bench is a smart choice.

      If you have a more spacious shop, you can certainly consider a lathe that comes with its own bench if that’s the type that would best gel with your turning requirements.


    • Tool Rest
      The tool rest is arguably one of the most important components of a wood lathe. You should rest your workpiece against this at all times when you are turning.

      It’s imperative that the tool rest is fully adjustable and able to be locked into position securely.

      Depending on the scope of work you have in mind, you might want more than one tool rest in differing sizes. These can be swapped out within the bed mount and will afford you more flexibility if you’re cutting spindles or bowls.

Usage and Maintenance Tips

use how to wood lathe

While a lathe is simple enough in principle, it could take you a lifetime to fully master the art of woodturning.

Once you’ve got your lathe, it’s as much as anything about the accessories and tools you use with it to get best results.

To get started, here are some tools to consider:

Roughing Gouge: These miniature tools help you to rough the wood taking it from square to round. These are normally fashioned from steel and U-shaped. You can get rid of stock extremely swiftly with these tools. Unless you plan to work exclusively with platters and bowls
Spindle Gouge: For turning coves, you’ll want to invest in a spindle gouge. These gouges come with semi-circular cross-sections and are available in a range of sizes. The groove on a spindle gouge is shallower than on a rough gouge. You can grind the cutting edge up to 45 degrees. Once you’re more experienced, you can grind your own spindle gouges
Bowl Gouge: Ground square rather than back to the upper edge, bowl gouges come in many shapes and sizes. These gouges need to be highly rigid and robust and are ground from 40 to 55 degrees. With bowl gouges, it’s worth trying a few out to see which one best meshes with your needs


Skew Chisel: After using your roughing gouge to get a cylindrical shape, a skew chisel is ideal for planing it. You can find these with rectangular or oval cross-sections. Skew chisels are ground to angles of 60 to 80 degrees. While it’s a versatile tool, it’s for more advanced woodturners and something you don’t need to rush out and buy straight off the bat


Scraper: For fine internal finishes, scrapers are a must-have for any woodturner. You use scrapers without bevel rubbing. You use the tip of the cutting edge. It’s quite possible to regrind scrapers according to your requirements


Center Finder: Whether it’s round or square stock, pinpoint the middle easily with a center finder. With a center finder, use one side to find the diagonal on square stock and the other side for round stock. Marking 2 diagonals will give you the center

In terms of maintenance, a great deal depends on the type of machine, how often you use it and what type of turning you carry out.

Check all the main components each time you use your lathe.

Clean out the head stock and tail stock on a regular basis. Smooth and wax the tool rest frequently. Keep everything well brushed down and free of sawdust.

If you keep everything checked over and fine-tuned, your lathe will be a pleasure to use and last for years. Overlook basic maintenance and it’s a recipe for duster.

Since there are so many variables, refer to the manual and make sure you follow all recommended maintenance. In this instance, less is definitely not more so take care of your lathe lovingly for best results and maximum longevity.

CLOSING WORD

​We very much hope you’ve found some useful hints and advice in these best wood lathe reviews.

Whether you’re an experienced woodturner looking to upgrade or a complete beginner on the hunt for your first lathe, any one of the above products would be a fine addition to your workshop. All the wood lathes above come with our strongest recommendation.

If you’ve got any questions or feedback for us, just drop us a line and we’ll get back to you promptly.

Come back soon for more woodworking gems and, until then, here are 10 of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to wood lathes…

FAQ:

1) WHAT TYPE OF WOOD IS SUITABLE FOR TURNING?

In effect, you can turn pretty much any type of wood which is one of the main attractions of a lathe. Pressure-treated wood should be treated with caution, though. Also, some tropical woods – rosewood in particular – irritate some people so be careful if you have allergies or sensitivities. Other than that, all woods are fair game.

2) WHEN YOU DO TURN WOOD WET AND WHEN DO YOU TURN WOOD DRY?

If you want no more movement once you’ve turned your wood, work with it dry. With a box, for example, the last you want is for the lid to shrink once you’re done. With bowls, on the other hand, you can use wet wood then set it aside for a considerable length of time for fine turning later. Wet wood, of course, will be softer and easier to work with.

3) WHEN DO YOU USE DIFFERENT SPEEDS?

When you are setting up your wood, get going with a lower speed. If you find the lathe starts wobbling, drop down a speed. Once you’ve got your wood centered, you can ramp things up. If you are working with timber containing any kind of defect, work even more slowly and carefully or you risk the wood cracking.

4) HOW DO YOU SET UP YOUR LATHE?

After unboxing, set-up is pretty straightforward. Pop in the live center and spur center. Ensure they meet in the middle. This is absolutely essential if you plan on undertaking spindle turning. Lubricate the bed to ensure everything slides smoothly. With desktop lathes, bolt them down so everything is completely secure.

5) HOW DO BIG LATHES AND SMALLER LATHES DIFFER?

The principal difference is the capacity. With smaller lathes, you’ll be limited to turning up to about 10 inches in diameter. Invest in a bigger lathe and you’ll be able to turn much larger diameter bowls. Bigger lathes also come with longer beds although with some small lathes you can buy extensions for occasional projects like turning a baseball bat, something you’re highly unlikely to do on a regular basis. The other key difference is stability. The bigger the machine, the more stable it will be and the larger workpieces you’ll be able to handle with it.

6) WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOUR LATHE IS VIBRATING EXCESSIVELY?

The most common cause of a vibrating lathe is wood that’s off-center. Stop your lathe and re-center the wood or shave some material off and try again.

7) WHY DOES THE WOOD SPLINTER INSTEAD OF CUTTING CLEANLY?

If you’re just starting out, wood splintering is a common blight. It’s usually caused by turning at lower than recommended speeds. Dull tools can also be responsible for splintering so make sure they’re honed fully.

8) WHY DOES A LATHE SOMETIMES MAKE A GRINDING NOISE?

This is almost always caused by insufficient lubrication. If everything is nicely oiled, check the seals. If this doesn’t solve the problem, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer.

9) WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CUTTERS AND SCRAPERS?

The tools you’ll start off with are the cutters, primarily chisels and gouges. Scrapers come out to play for finishing work and for leveling surfaces already worked over with a gouge.

10) IS WORKING WITH A WOOD LATHE DANGEROUS?

If you follow all basic precautions, accidents with lathes are not exactly commonplace. If you wear all necessary safety equipment and work carefully, there’s little chance of coming to grief unlike with some power tools like a table saw.

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