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 a supreme quality 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 make an informed buying decision without having to face 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 make your mind up about which is best for you.
We Tested and Ranked These 10 Best Wood Lathes
01 WEN 3424T Benchtop (Editor’s Choice)
This wood lathe can handle wood pieces that are up to 12 inches in width and up to 18 inches long. It has five different speed settings of 540, 900, 1400, 2150 and 3400 RPM. There is 4.5A motor which gives maximum torque whereas the 70+ pound build is sturdy so prevents the lathe wobbling and walking when in use. It is a beast, featuring a tailstock taper which holds your wood tightly and an MT2 spindle. There is also a steady tool rest for tool and chisel support when you are using it.
The lever clamp system is easy to use, allowing you to make adjustments as you work to the tailstock and tool rest. It is precise yet simple to operate. Additionally, there is a tailstock cup center, headstock spur center, a knockout rod, a holder for accessories, a 3mm and a 5mm hex wrench, and a flat faceplate (31/8 inch) for bowl, cup and bowl turning.
On top of all of that, it is backed by a 2-year warranty from WEN along with a dedicated customer helpline and a network of service technicians nationwide. WEN asks you to “Remember WEN” when you are making your lathe purchase. And we would have to agree thanks to this fantastic product.
Lastly, this product cost a bit under $350, which is not too expensive and is therefore accessible to many wood turners, new and experienced alike.
- Lots of accessories included
- 5 different speed settings
- 2-year warranty
- Can take large pieces of wood
- Heavy so won’t move when in operation.
- Rating of 3.9/5 stars
Our Editor’s Pick fulfils a lot of criteria in terms of what you should be looking for in a wood lathe. It has a whole host of different settings and can take a huge range of wood piece sizes, up to 18” in length and 12” in width. This means you can turn things as small as pens and lidded boxes to as large as long spindles and furniture legs with ease. It won’t wobble or walk about either thanks to its heavy weight. Overall, we think it’s a great top choice wood lathe.
02 JET JWL-1221VS variable Speed Wood Lathe (Also Best)
Our second choice is the JET variable speed wood lathe. It has a range of between 60 and 3600 RPM, with ranges that have been designed for optimal use. It also has forward and reverse directions with smooth transitions between the two. Weighing 129 pounds, it also has an innovative belt-tension system, which is in a ratchet style and is patent-pending.
Its designers say that it is a whole new item on the market, different from anything that anyone has made before, with better features and a better design, which is all focused on the control of the device. As mentioned, the speed ranges are optimally designed and there is a spring-loaded, integrated spindle lock. Furthermore, the DRO and controls are in a convenient location for easy use with a digital LCD display. There are also 24 integrated indexing positions too.
Finally, for a relatively expensive machine with a ticket price of around $900, this was indeed very pleasing. However, it does not come with many tools and accessories for carving the wood.
- Optimally designed ranges of speed
- Easy controls with a digital display
- More expensive than our Editor’s Pick
- You will need to buy chisels and tools to use with it
Overall, this is a solid lathe at an excellent price. Yes, it is more expensive than our editor’s pick but, compared with others in our list, it is very reasonable for the quality and experience that you will have with this tool. The digital display is a great addition, meaning you can control the speed with the greatest of ease. There’s also the innovative belt tensioner in a ratchet style.
With all of these features and a great rating, you would do well with this machine. But it is a little pricier than our first choice, hence why it did not make the top spot.
03 Mophorn 10 x 18 Inch (Heavy Duty Choice)
Our third pick is our heavy-duty choice, the Mophorn Lathe. It measures 10” x 18” and has 5-speed variable controls, ranging from 500 RPM to 3200 RPM. Its 370W motor is powerful, making it a top, heavy-duty option. It is made from cast iron and has rubber feet for enhance stability with a turning operation that is smooth.
It is also quiet and accurate to run, with all the shafts and gears in the headstock having been hardened and grounded precisely and the rails quenched with elaborate and high-frequency milling. This will give the machine mute operation and a longer lifespan overall. All of the electrical components are also of the highest quality.
There is 18” between the two centers with a swing of 10”. It has high precision and is able to deliver qualified standard works. This is an ideal machine for use in workshops, labs, education and engineering.
It has a 6” tool rest and a 2” face plate with a spindle bore taper in size MT2, the same as its Tailstock quill taper. It weighs 82lb and comes with the tool set to complete it. Lastly, it has a one-year warranty, which is always a welcome edition when purchasing a large machine. It is reasonable in terms of cost. At the time of our research it cost a little over $250 and achieved brilliant reviews on eStores like Amazon from other users.
- Heavy-duty machine
- Good price
- Excellent rating
- Quiet and accurate running
- Instructions were difficult to follow, especially for beginner wood turner
This heavy-duty wood lathe would be a great addition to any workshop, shed or classroom without the staggering price tag of some. It has excellent reviews thanks to it being such a well-built, well-oiled and built-to-last bit of kits. Whatever you want to chuck at your lathe, be it carving pens, bowls or larger spindles, this one will handle it with ease and care as well as doing so precisely and gently with as little noise as possible.
04 WEN 3420T Mini Wood Lathe (Budget Choice)
If you’re not sure if wood turning is for you or you’re strapped for cash, then our budget wood lathe gives you a good option to get you started. This is the best mini wood lathe for making things like chess pieces and pens or other small items. It has a variable speed motor with a soft start ranging from between 750 RPM and 3200 RPM.
It comes with a face plate measuring 5” for turning pieces that are not spindles. It fits wood pieces that are up to 12” in length and 8” in width, with a maximum working diameter of a recommended 5”. It has an MT1 tailstock and spindle taper, a 2-amp motor and two tool rests that are interchangeable. These measure 4 ½” and 7”. It also features a knockout rod, headstock spur center, tailstock cup center and a flat wrench.
Made by WEN, like our Editor’s Choice, you can use this machine easily thanks to its lever and clamping system to make adjustments to the tailstock and tool rest simply and easily.
Additionally, given that it is a product made by WEN, customers have access to their network of skilled technicians and engineers nationwide as well as customer support line too. That’s not all, this WEN lathe comes with a two-year warranty.
As it’s our budget choice, you can expect it to come in as relatively inexpensive. And you would be right! This brilliant little lathe will set you back less than $160 but is a top rated device that ensures its reliability.
- WEN reputation
- Customer support and access to network of service personnel
- Two-year warranty
- Perfect for small woodturning jobs
- Not suitable for larger jobs
- Does not have the flexibility of some lathes in our list
If you are looking for a handy little lathe that won’t break the bank, then this is the one for you! If you have a toolshed or workshop and want to try your hand at wood turning, you could not go far wrong with this product.
It is perfect for making small items such as chess pieces and pens. It could even stretch to bowls and cups as well as other decorative items.
However, it does have limitations because of its size, so it is something to consider if money is tight and you want a lathe for larger products.
05 SHOP FOX W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop (Compact Choice)
This SHOP FOX benchtop lathe is our chosen compact option. It has just an 8” swing over bed with a distance of 12” between the two centers making it ideal if you are after something smaller than average. This means that it will fit perfectly on your workbench in the workshop.
The motor of this little machine is powerful regardless, with 1/3 horsepower delivering speeds of 700 to 3,200 RPM. There’s also a paddle switch safety mechanism as well as two tool rests measuring 4 ¼” and 7”. It comes with a 5 ¾” faceplate and a TPI RH spindle that measure ¾” x 16”.
Made from cast iron, it is sturdy and built to last, weighing around 52lbs. It also has an inbuilt speed control that is infinitely variable. This makes it great for turning different woods, whether hard or soft woods. Pleasingly, it comes with a two-year warranty and welcomes customers to ask for support with their official customer services line too.
Lastly, it is not too expensive either, with a price tag of around $225 at the time we carried out our research.
- Compact to suit almost any small worktop space
- Comes with good accessories
- Powerful yet compact
- Two-year warranty and good customer service options
- Ratings are lower than others in our list
- Its compact size will have limitations for bigger projects
If size is at a premium, then this compact lathe is a good bet. It will fit into almost any workspace thanks to its neat size. It does not compromise on its power though, still maintaining up to 3200 RPM, making it a great choice no matter the hardness of the wood. Little projects such as inside out, pens and bowls would be carried out with great ease with this little machine. This is surely a good alternative to your DIY/homemade wood lathe.
06 Delta Industrial 46-460 Midi Lathe (Professional’s Choice)
Some of us want more from our lathes than the small chess-piece and pen projects. Whilst some of the cheaper and more compact lathes suit these projects well, if you are an experienced or professional wood turner then you are evidently going to want something more. This choice, the Delta Industrial, is a powerful lathe offering a maximum of 1 horsepower. It is also large in size, meaning you can undertake a much-wider variety of projects.
The motor also runs at a maximum of 1,725 RPM with a 12 ½” swing capacity, which is actually the largest in its class. It has a 1” drive spindle with a TPI thread. The speed is variable and has three pulley ranges for speed, meaning you can turn your project without changing the position of the belt. Additionally, there is the forward and reverse function meaning you can have that altogether superior finish to your work. If you don’t have this, it means you can’t sand your turned piece as effectively.
It also has a live-center with ball bearing as well as a heavy-duty knockout bar made from steel and in-built storage for access to tools.
The belt also has a patented tensioning system meaning you can change the speed easily and quickly, setting the correct tension of the belt every time with power transfer at its maximum. Your tool with therefore last a lot longer too. Of course, with it being a much more versatile and professional tool, it does have a higher price tag too. At the time of our research, it cost just under $650.
If you are a professional, it will certainly give you smooth and fast results with good control and consistence thanks to its variable speed. A five-year warranty also reassures you that it is built to last despite heavy-duty use.
- Backed by a five-year warranty
- Professional quality
- Lots of amazing features and accessories
- Great rating
- Expensive to buy
- Difficult to use for starters
Professionals rejoice: this is a brilliant set up for you! With high power, top quality build and lots of settings to get to grips with, you can turn wood to a professional standard easily and smoothly. Delta Rockwell provides you everything you could need to get started with the Industrial 46-460.
Of course, it does come with a hefty price tag too, but it is by no means the most expensive machine out there for professionals. This makes it not only an excellent choice, but a cheaper one too. Lastly, a five-year warranty gives you that extra reassurance when you are buying something with such a high price tag.
Any serious woodturner would also want to check out other Delta lathes, especially the 1460, 1440, 46-460 and DL 40.
07 Laguna Tools MLAREVO 1836 Revo (Advanced Choice)
Our advanced choice, the Laguna Tools MLAREVO Lathe is up there with the best and is a real-step up from our professional choice. This is the one that gives you the power you need if you are an advanced woodworker. Let’s have a look at its characteristics and stats:
It has two horsepower and a 220-volt, 60-Hz motor with a maximum RPM of 1725. There is a spindle lock that is spring loaded, and it has an outboard swing of a whopping 32” – not many lathes can say that! There is also a poly-groove three-phase output drive belt that has easy access. The machine can be used for wood turning between 135 and 3500 RPM on high setting and 50-1300 on the lower setting. There is also a self-ejecting floor to spindle center.
So, we have looked at its stats but the first thing that you will notice is its ergonomically-designed angled controls which are made from aluminum that has been anodized. The DRO has a blue hue with a knurled control handle that is actually a beauty to behold. It has also been fitted with rubber grips telling you that this lathe is something a little out of the ordinary.
The steel bed allows the headstock, made from cast iron, to travel as smoothly as possible. The handles for the tailstock and headstock locks are placed on the back of the machine, avoiding interruptions to your work. Again, the handles are ergonomic and have a firm feel. Of course, this is an advanced choice and you should expect an ‘advanced’ price tag too. This one is certainly not cheap, and at the time of our research, cost over $2500.
- Advanced-quality lathe
- Extra-large size
- Beautiful and ergonomic design
- Great reviews
- The price! It will set you back a small fortune
Let’s face it, most of us would overlook this one in our list purely because of the cost. But, if you are wanting something more than the machine you already have, then this would make an excellent choice. It is perfect for professionals and experienced lathe users and, as such, not a recommended choice if you are a casual user or a hobbyist wood carver!
08 NOVA 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini
Number eight in our list is the best mini wood lathe for the more casual lathe users amongst us. Nevertheless, it has an impressive speed range of 250 to 4000 RPM, which is actually one of the best in the market.
It is not the smallest either, despite its ‘mini’ title. The swing over bed measures 12” and there is 16.5” between the two centers. The three-step pulley system dials in low, medium and high speeds and is powered by a ¾ horsepower electric new and improved variable speed motor.
It is still classed as a compact lathe but has the ruggedness of something much larger, allowing you greater versatility in your choices. You could even get a bed extension accessory which would expand the center capacity to 41”.
It has the additional safety feature of a no-vault release and an on/off switch that has improved from previous models so that it is quicker to turn on. The composite guard has been reinforced and strengthened too. The overall cast iron structure is solid and give optimum rigidity and strength to absorb as many of the vibrations as possible.
Last of all, let’s talk price. It is not the cheapest in our list, but for $500 at the time of our research, you get an awful lot of bang for your buck.
- Quality product
- Great capacity
- Improved and strengthened design
- More expensive than other ‘mini’ lathes
This lathe comes more up to the mid-range of prices, which will be off-putting for many who want a miniature lathe. However, despite its compact size, this lathe does offer more than average with an extendable option for the lathe of up to 41”, which I am sure you will agree is pretty impressive. It has great reviews too and a whole host of excellent features. Put it this way, it is well worth your consideration.
09 Jet 719115 JWL-1221SP Step Pulley
Number nine is another lathe with a ¾ horsepower motor. It also has indexing positions that have already been integrated: 24 of them in fact. With smooth sliding, it gives tool support that is also strong and rugged. As well as having Acme thread in the tailstock, this product includes a tool caddy and tools, making it a great choice.
This one is aimed at the novice wood turner. It is great value and has all the durability of quality of the brand’s larger, more advanced machines except the drive mechanism, which has been kept to one direction only. It operates with a six-speed pulley.
This lathe actually has the best rating of all the products that we have reviewed in our top 10 list. Having said that, given its expensive price of just shy of $500 when researched, this could be out of many woodworkers’ reach.
- Good beginner lathe
- Excellent quality
- Operates at one direction only
This one features at the later end of our top 10 primely due to its price. If you are wanting a small, novice lathe, $500 is quite a lot to shell out. Having said that, the reviews it has received show that it is well worth its hefty price tag. It has a six-speed pulley and has all the quality and professional-status of the company’s larger and more advanced models. As a result, it is well-worth your consideration.
For your information, Jet also has several other models worth checking out, including 1236, 1221, 1014, 1642, 1015, 1440, 1840, 1640, and 1442.
10 Grizzly G0462
Last but not least is the Grizzly. It may be last but that does not mean that it is not up to the mark in terms of what it offers. It has 10 speeds, ranging from 600 to 2400 RPM and a 43” distance between its centers. The motor has two horsepower and gives a digital readout from the spindle tachometer.
You can change the speed really easily too as there is no need to mess with the belts thanks to its shift-on-the-fly knob. You can turn it onboard too by slackening the headstock and then swiveling it by up to 360 degrees. The robust build yet flexibility of this machine is really unmatched.
Its cast iron bed and legs make sure that it is stable and precise with minimal vibrations. It really is a heavy-duty machine. You can even add more weight to it as the legs have shelf supports if you wanted to add a custom-made shelf. It is heavy for sure, weighing in at around 354lbs when shipped!
It has MT2 tailstock and spindle tapers and a 1” x 8 TPI RH headstock spindle. It also comes with a spur center, cup live center, 6” faceplate, tool extension and tool rest.
Lastly, and definitely worth mentioning is the reviews and ratings that it receives. It is in our 10th place because it has the poorest rating of all of the ones in this list at the time we researched. But most of the negative ones reflected the price as this lathe cost around $1000 when purchased for the purpose of our research. For the money, some users wanted to have a better experienced than they had.
- Heavy-duty machine
- Good size
- Good speed range
- Great accessories
- The price is a big one here
The last one in our list is there primarily because it costs quite a bit and does not have the best ratings. Having said that, it does have some great features and accessories too. If you need a little more than a beginner’s lathe for sale, then add this one to your list of possible. It does come with a lot of power and capacity as well as some accessories, which is really pleasing indeed.
Grizzly Industrial H8259, T25920, G0842, G1495, G0733 and G0766 are a few of the other great choices from Grizzly that you can take a look at.
Wood Lathes Buying Guide: Things to Look For
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.
There are also automatic CNC lathes run by computers, metalworking lathes, watchmaker’s /jeweler’s lathes, patternmaker’s lathes, duplicating/copying lathes/lathe duplicators, floor lathes, pen turning lathes, bowl turning lathes, rotary lathes, cue lathes, router lathes, pole lathes, and so on.
2. Nature of Work
The nature of the work you are wanting to carry out on your timber 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 the best option for beginners.
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 table top 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 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 Specifications
The size of the motor of the lathe determines the speed of wood cutting. If too small, it will not cut the heavier items and shaping tools could chatter and the wood piece could end up damaged.
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. However, a lathe machine might not be an essential tool for general woodworking projects unless you need to curve a design. But if you are unsure whether you need one, let us have a look and what a woodcraft 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 gadgets 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.
Wood Lathes 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 is your machine that lets you do your cool projects. It really is non-negotiable.
You need to follow set maintenance procedures when caring for your lathe. You should use dry woods for your work. 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 so you can use it even when your model turns vintage? 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.
Wrapping It Up
Hopefully, after going through our in-depth review and buying guide, you now have a better idea of what it is that you are looking for, even if your choice involves a second-hand purchase. 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.
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 the best woodturning tools!
Q: Is Cedar a good wood to turn?
Ans: Yes, the red cedar is excellent for green turning. I’ve had multiple cedar wood projects that I really enjoyed working on. Part of the reasons, perhaps, is that you get more dimensional change in the drying process.
Q: What size wood lathe should I get?
Ans: That depends on the type of wood projects you are on. If you want to get one for home use, I’d recommend one with 29″ to 38″ between centers.
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