When I was a child, I remember going into my grandfather’s workshop at the back of his home. It was a treasure trove of tools and bits and pieces that he used to use to make bits of furniture as well as his beloved model airplanes. As a child, there were many things that he would not let me touch, but he would allow me to watch him work. My favorite thing to watch him use was his wood lathe. He was a true craftsman. I found the way the wood turned, transformed from a solid block into something completely different both fascinating and mesmerizing. It was then that I became hooked on all things wood and vowed to learn how to do it myself one day.
That day came as I got older but sadly my beloved grandfather had now passed away and his wood lathe had seen better days by this point. I found myself not knowing where to turn for advice on the best wood lathe to buy. I set about my search, trying and failing with many over the years. This is the reason why I am writing this today: to share my love of wood lathes and help you find the best wood lathe out there for you without the struggle I had after my grandfather’s death. A wood lathe opens so many doors in terms of what you can make with wood. So, let’s have a look at the wealth of wood lathes on the market today and I’ll help you to make your mind up about which is best for you.
Why Use A Wood Lathe?
As I have mentioned, my grandfather used his wood lathe to create furniture pieces. He would create chair and table legs as well as delicate bowls and even candle sticks. But, if you are unsure whether you need one, let us first have a look and what a wood lathe is and then how you can use one yourself.
A wood lathe is used to change a piece of wood into something else. It is a machine with a spinning arm to which the wood is attached. When the machine spins the wood, the craftsman uses various tools to shape it into whatever he or she desires, be it a spindle, a bowl, a vase or any other decorative items.
Lathes have existed in a simple form from as far back as the ancient Egyptians. They have changed considerably since then, from a form of rope spinner with bow lathe to the much more complex machines of today. Lathes have actually been important in the development of civilizations, and not just in wood working but in making pottery, glass blowing and spinning.
So, why should you use a lathe in your work today? Lathes have existed so long and have become more refined and developed because they drastically cut down the time it takes to carve things out of wood. When you use a lathe to make something, it is carved much more evenly and is finished better than it would be if it were done by hand.
How We Picked These Products
As I mentioned, when I was in your position and choosing which wood lathe to buy, I became stuck. I could not rely on my grandfather’s expertise anymore and I ended up making some purchasing mistakes. It is only now, with years of wood lathe experience behind me, that I can say that I know my stuff.
With our top ten best wood lathes we wanted to start from the beginning: to really look at what was available on the market today. First of all, my team and I began a thourough web-based research. We spent over 20 hours online researching all of the wood lathes out there that we could test.
We looked at their features, price, rating and reviews before we selected 20 wood lathes to test out for ourselves. We enrolled a team of volunteers to help us out as well as consulting with some wood lathing experts.
Once all of the products had been tested and used in a variety of ways, we gathered all of the information and user experiences together and selected our best 10 wood lathes, which we are presenting to you here.
Our Top 10 Best Wood Lathe List
After all of our research, we came up with our comprehensive list. First up is our editor’s choice.
Wood Lathe - A Comprehensive Buying Guide
Before I launch into our selected products, I first need to outline what you should be looking for when you consider buying a wood lathe.
The type of lathe that you need will depend on what you want to use it for as well as how much space you have. If you have less space and want to move your lathe around, then a benchtop lathe would make a great choice rather than a full-sized one as it is more portable and lighter.
However, a full size wood lathe gives more swing and more center-to-center distance. Make sure that you will have enough clearance all around your lathe or safe operation and easy access.
2. Nature of Work
The nature of the work you are wanting to carry out on your wood lathe will have an affect on the type you choose. You need to think about the upper limit of wood thickness that you want to use. This will influence how big the swing needs to be. It will also help you make your mind up about getting an extension.
The speed of your chosen lathe will depend on if it as an electronic or a manual lathe. A manual lathe will mean that you will need to adjust the lathe with your hands to control its speeds. This means that it will take much longer to turn your piece of wood. An electronic will spin the wood faster. Having said that, a manual lathe is a better choice for a beginner.
Not everyone realizes that you need to check the lathe’s overall height. You need the middle of the lathe to be near or right at your elbows. If it is too short or too tall, it will mean you can’t move as well and might make using it harder.
With other tools, you are always looking for something lightweight. But, with a lathe, it is different. You want one that is heavier and weighs more. The more it weighs, the more it will offer you more balance while you are working. The weight will also cut down the amount of vibrations that could cause you to slip.
Before choosing a lathe, you need to think about what projects you are wanting to undertake. If you want to do small projects, a benchtop lathe will suffice. This type of lathe attaches to your work surface so that you can move it wherever you need. However, if you want to carry out big projects such as making wooden furniture, you will need an electronic lathe or power lathe. These ones use electrical power to turn the wood.
You can get relatively inexpensive wood lathes for a couple of hundred dollars upwards. A mid size lathe would cost somewhere between $400-800 and a high-end lathe would set you back thousands. If you have not turned wood before looking for your ideal lathe, you will need one at entry-level to help you grasp the basics. You can use this type at home. However, if you have quite a bit of lathe experience, one in the mid-range will let you to polish your skills further. Many woodturners will use this price range lathe both at home and commercially. The high-end lathes, however, are usually only for those who turn wood commercially.
A top-quality lathe should do its job quietly. This will allow you to hear the lathe as you are working to make sure it is working as it should. It will also mean that you don’t need to put up with annoying noise whilst you are working.
Lathes that are not stabilized properly or are lightweight will vibrate more. Excessive vibrations make the machine the lathe difficult to control meaning the finished product’s quality will be compromised.
How much distance is between the centers as well as the swing size are what is meant by the lathe’s capacity. The bigger the distance between the centers means that you can turn longer wood pieces. The bigger swing will let you use larger diameter wood blanks that won’t come into contact with other parts of the machine.
11. Technical Specification
The size of the motor of the lathe determines the speed of wood cutting. If it is too small, it will not cut the heavier items and shaping tools could chatter and the wood could end up damaged.
Care & Maintenance Tips
No matter who you are, a novice, hobbyist or independent contractor who carries out work for large company, you are going to need to care for, maintain, and sharpen your tools. Afterall, it your machine that lets you do you work or projects. It really is non-negotiable.
You need to follow set maintenance procedures when caring for your lathe. You need to be consistence otherwise the buildup of residues and dust could impact on your machine and damage it severely. So, what steps should you be taking to care for your lathe? Let’s have a look:
- Cleaning the headstock and tailstock tapers. You should clean these out every day, or every time you use the machine if it is not daily. This means that your live center and drive spur will be in the right place with the proper alignment. In turn, this has an effect on your turning which is important for the accuracy of your work.
- Wax and smooth down the tool rest. This keeps edges smooth. A bumpy edge will mean you make longer cuts when turning and making it more inconsistent and difficult.
- Wipe down everything. The rails of your lathe need to be wiped down regularly as well as being sprayed with a silicon spray. Wax often leads to a buildup of debris, but silicon reduces any friction with the tailstock and banjo meaning they can more easily over the lathe.
- Clean the threads in the headstock. This is the mechanism by which your faceplates are secured so you need to make sure they are a snug fit as this will keep the alignment correct with the tailstock. Why not use an old toothbrush as a way of getting rid of any debris and sawdust?
If you look after your machine properly its life will be prolonged, and it will operate at its best for much longer. If your tool is inefficient, it will end up costing you money and time to repair. You should therefore be sure to keep on top of your machine’s maintenance as far as possible to avoid costs later on.
Hopefully, after reading our page on the best wood lathes, you will now have a better idea of what it is that you are looking for. Of course, it will depend on your needs. When I was first starting out and did not know which lathe to go for, I was stuck without my grandfather’s guidance and ended up wasting money that I didn’t really need to. So, allow me to be the ‘grandfather’ in your story, and give you the help you need in choosing. First, though, you need to decide where you lie in your experience of using lathes as well as your wants: a novice who wants to make a chess set whose only experience is a bit of DIY will want a vastly different thing to a professional lathe user. Once you have worked this out, the choice is yours, depending on your needs and budget. So, what are you waiting for? Get woodturning!
We've also reviewed other woodworking tools to help you make a well-informed decision before making a purchase. Check the following pages for more reviews.
- Best Hand Planers
- Best Benchtop Planers
- Best Bench Vises