Wood lathes are indispensable machines in the wood turner’s shop. Coming in small and large sizes, most woodworking projects require a good wood turning lathe you can trust to deliver.
Regardless of your turning experience, getting a quality wood lathe can make life easier. That is why you need the best wood lathe you can afford to create beautiful products without stress in record time.
Despite the huge number of wood lathe brands and models on the market, it is difficult for most people to choose. This makes it vital to read wood lathe reviews before you go shopping.
This article provides every information you need to select the ideal wood lathe for your needs. It summarizes the top brands on the market, a detailed buying guide, and the best features to check before buying.
Best Wood Lathes
1. Jet JWL-1015 Wood Working Lathe
The JWL-1015 wood working lathe is a feature-studded machine for the homeowner and hobbyist. It has a variable speed control that allows you to choose from six different spindle settings based on the project requirements. You can select from 500, 840, 1240, 1800, 2630, and 3975 rpm, enough to make any wood turning task fast and efficient.
This tool has a distance of 15-1/2-inch between centers, allowing you to work on longer and larger stock. It features an improved tensioning system for easier access to the belts. The solid construction and wider beds enhance balance, rigidity and ruggedness, improving longevity and precision.
The Jet JWL-1015 is a reliable tool that provides consistent and smooth performance. It is ideal for everybody regardless of your experience level and comes with a modest price tag. This tool is backed by a 5-year limited warranty so you can expect to get your money’s worth.
2. NOVA 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini Lathe
The 46300 Comet II sports a powerful 3/4 horsepower electronic variable speed motor optimized for exceptional performance. This unit weighs over 80 pounds and has a sturdy, solid cast iron design that improves balance and reduces vibration.
This compact machine offers speed adjustments from 250 rpm to 4000 rpm. With so many speed selections, you can perform any turning task with confidence. It features a three-step pulley dial for low, medium, and high speed so you can tailor the output to your wood turning tasks.
Adjusting the stock on this lathe is hitch-free thanks to a 12-inch swing over the bed and 16.5 inches between the centers. This improved design features an upgraded ON/OFF switch and a no-vault release for increased safety.
Quick action cam controls deliver precise and fast adjustments for increased efficiency. The 46300 Comet II is backed by a 2-year limited warranty.
3. Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
The Delta 46-460 is a 1HP-powered industrial lathe for professional applications. Featuring variable speed controls, this unit delivers consistent, smooth and fast results during heavy-duty turning tasks. Its large 12-1/2-inch swing capacity and three pulley-speed ranges allow easy motor adjustments without changing belt position.
The 46-460 lathe is capable of forward and reverse operation, providing improved precision, accuracy and superior finish in wood turning projects. With this feature, you need not remount the work piece backward to achieve a smooth finish. At the flip of a switch, the lathe does the rest.
This lathe has a durable cast-iron construction for exceptional strength and ruggedness. It includes three different tool rests for a broad range of turning applications.
The machine has a patented belt-tensioning system for quick speed adjustments and a six-groove belt for simple and fast turning. It comes with a 5-year limited warranty.
4. RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe
The RIKON 70-100 is a class-leading mini lathe with a capable 1/2HP motor and variable speed controls. It provides 12 inches over the bed and an expandable 16 inches between centers, giving you optimal space to maneuver work pieces.
An easily accessible speed change dial allows you to adjust the lathe’s performance from 430 rpm to 3,900 rpm. This provides extended flexibility to handle professional and beginner wood turning applications.
You can achieve improved precision in detail work with the 12-position indexing head which allows you to lock the piece in different positions. The indexing head makes it possible to fix the spindle’s position for effortless mounting and removal of accessories.
This lathe is user friendly with a flip-up handle for easy transportation and an easy-to-access tool holder. It has a self-ejecting tail stock that helps save time when mounting and removing work pieces. The unit comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
5. Jet 719115 JWL-1221SP Step Pulley Wood Lathe
This table top wood lathe from Jet is perfect for the novice woodworker. It comes with a powerful 3/4HP motor and variable speed for improved precision and control. The Jet 719115 has six different spindle speeds ranging from 380 rpm to 3975 rpm for various applications.
This unit has a durable all cast-iron frame for balance, longevity and low vibration. Working with the tool is easy thanks to its large 20.5-inch distance between centers and 12-1/2-inch swing over the bed.
Detail work is simple, fast, and accurate with the lathe’s 24 integrated indexing positions. There is a sturdy tool support that slides in and out effortlessly. The tail stock has an Acme thread for easy stock removal.
A tool Caddie provides a safe and easy-to-access storage for your chisels and gouges at the side of the lathe. It is backed by a 5-year Jet Red Assurance Warranty.
6. Mophorn 12 x 18 Inch Wood Lathe Bench
This mini wood lathe from Mophorn has a 550W motor that delivers variable spindle speeds from 500 to 3800 rpm. The motor starts slowly to reduce noise and improve safety, making it a great choice for novice turners.
The lathe has 18 inches between centers and 12 inches swing over bed, ideal for turning small and medium-sized work pieces. It features a six-inch face plate, a three-inch top drive, and a three-inch live center for improved tool support.
The Mophorn 12 X 18 lathe has a solid cast iron construction for exceptional stability and smooth operation. A digital readout display helps you monitor speed adjustments in real-time for better control and superior finishes.
The tool has rubber feet that reduce vibration and increase stability, allowing you to create professional results. Its sturdy build and variable speed makes it a great option for professionals and beginners.
7. Grizzly Industrial G0844 Benchtop Wood Lathe
This industrial wood lathe from Grizzly comes with a large 20-inch distance between centers and a 14-inch swing over bed capacity. This makes it perfect for large stock, especially if you intend to turn bowls or table legs.
The machine has a powerful motor with variable speed function for improved control. You can adjust the speed from 300 to 3300 rpm, allowing you to perform precision and rough turning with more flexibility.
Like other Grizzly products, the G0844 comes in all cast iron construction for exceptional durability, stability, and reduced vibration.
Despite its bulky design, the G0844 has built-in carry handles for portability. This makes it easy to change its position in the wood shop or transport offsite. It comes with a rear cord wrap, preventing dangerous entangling and damages in transit.
This powerful wood lathe from Grizzly is expensive but delivers professional results.
What Is a Wood Lathe?
The wood lathe is a woodturning machine. It spins a workpiece around an axis so you can remove material from it with a cutting tool, grinder, or sandpaper.
Unlike hand sculpting, the lathe rotates the stock at high speeds which is often adjustable, allowing you to achieve precise results with less effort and time.
If someone asks you what is a lathe, they might refer to the analogous machine used in the metal workshop.
Both lathes use the same principle of spinning an object about its axis for material removal. However, the metal lathe is far bigger than a wood lathe and handles harder materials.
Things to Make on a Wood Lathe
You can use a wood lathe to make cylindrical or box-like objects. The machine can shape or smooth any wood stock so long as you can mount the workpiece and have the proper tool set.
A wood lathe is used to make table legs, chair legs, bowls, spindles, and even boxes. It is also the ideal tool for making baseball bats, hammer handles, and other wooden items that require sculpting.
Unlike most versatile woodworking tool like the jigsaw or band saw, the wood lathe is specific to woodturning.
Wood Lathe Buying Guide
Wood lathes are expensive regardless of their size. This makes it important to do your research before going to the market.
Whether you are a professional or homeowner, manufacturers build varieties of lathes for a vast customer base. You only need to know the brand and model that best serves your woodturning projects.
Here is a detailed wood lathe buying guide to help you make the right choice.
What to Consider When Buying a Wood Lathe (Questions to Ask)
What do you need in a lathe? Are you buying for commercial purposes or occasional DIY projects? Here are factors to consider before you order a wood lathe.
The Project Type
The first is to identify the tasks the lathe will perform in your workshop. Often, the woodturning projects you intend to do will determine the lathe you need to buy.
Professional wood turners need the immense power of full-sized or midi lathes with 3/4 to 3HP motors. This allows them to work faster with more precision.
If you are a beginner wood turner, it is better to go for a mini tabletop model with variable speed. That way, you still have enough power to handle more complex jobs you’re your skills improve.
Professionals who work mostly with smaller pieces can get compact lathes to save cost. You can use extensions on the rare occasions you need to work on larger pieces.
Whether you are a pro or novice, a variable speed lathe provides more flexibility and control. Depending on the project, you will need different speeds to achieve the ideal texture and smoothness.
Rough cuts often require lower rpm while fine cuts need higher speeds. It’s crucial to know your wood turning requirements and the size of the workpiece. This will help you calculate the ideal speed to complete the tasks.
When in doubt, get a model that allows you to adjust the spindle speed to specific projects. That way, it’s easier to achieve higher precision and superior results on different applications.
Wood lathe motors can range from 1/8 HP to powerful 3HP beasts used for industrial applications. People who work with larger pieces need powerful motors that can achieve higher rpm for consistent and faster operation. If your projects are small and lightweight, a modest motor will do.
Headstock and Tailstock
The headstock on your lathe determines the projects the machine can do. If you work with big stock such as bowls and spindles, a headstock with a large clearance from the base will allow you to work without hindrance.
The headstock should also include a faceplate and a drive center that will lock the workpiece in position without the tailstock.
The tailstock keeps the spindle centered during operation. For more maneuverability, choose a model with a tailstock that locks in position to the bed for greater versatility.
Height and Weight
You want to choose a lathe of the ideal height. When you set up the tool, the middle should be at elbow height. If it’s too high or too low, wood turning becomes boring and uncomfortable and you might need to spend extra on a stand.
It is better to err on the heavy side when buying a wood lathe. While lighter models are compact and mobile, they may lack stability. The heavier units have a sturdier build, produce less vibration, and thus improve accuracy. Lightweight versions are best if you need to transport the tool often.
Another factor to consider is the base material of the lathe. Wood lathes with a cast-iron base provide more rigidity and less vibration, improving precision and project results. Some versions come with rubber feet which acts as a dampener and shock absorber. Consider these factors if your work requires a high level of precision.
Before you buy a wood lathe, determine whether you have enough space to accommodate the tool. Benchtop models are smaller and require less room compared to full-sized lathes.
If space is a constraint, there are multitudes of compact but powerful units on the market to meet your needs. However, your workshop should have enough clearance on all sides of the tool to allow you to work safely, comfortably, and efficiently.
Most wood lathes are expensive but the full-sized options carry heftier price tags. It is easy to overshoot your budget if you don’t set a price limit before shopping.
With enough research and patience, you will find several affordable models. They may not be as feature-rich as premium brands but still deliver.
If you don’t plan to use the tool often or intend to do light turning jobs, it’s better to go for affordable options. Use the change to buy more tools for your workshop.
A List of the Most Important Wood Lathe Features & Specifications
When shopping for a wood lathe, you want to choose a product with the best features for your turning applications. It is also vital to understand the specification of the model you are buying. This will ensure that the tool has the right power output for your requirements and compatible with your mains supply.
Here are features to look out for before you invest in a wood lathe.
Distance Between Centers
This is a common phrase in wood lathe product descriptions. It refers to the maximum length of stock you can turn while the lathe is in operation. This specification is vital as it determines the work pieces and turning projects you can perform on the machine.
It is always better to choose a model with a distance between centers larger than your requirements. That way, you won’t need to buy another lathe if your work requires a larger working space.
This is the maximum thickness of the workpiece you can turn without hitting the bed or tool rest. Swing over bed limits the diameter for bowl turning while swing over tool rest restricts the diameter for spindle turning.
You don’t have to worry about this specification if your turning projects involve small, lengthy stock. But if you work on items such as bowls, it’s important to know how far you can turn. The larger the swing capacity, the more material you can remove per turn.
Wood lathes are notorious for inflicting nasty injuries on operators. Most of the accidents occur when you try to place the tool on a fast-moving stock. A tool rest reduces the margin of error drastically by providing you with a stable platform to balance the tool.
It is important to buy a wood lathe with built-in tool rests and face plates for convenience and safety. The tool rest must be adjustable to different positions to avoid free-handing a cut on a lathe. Your tool rest should also be lockable to a position for maximum stability.
If your model does not come with this feature, you can buy aftermarket options to improve efficiency.
You want a lathe with an easily accessible ON/OFF switch. Many manufacturers now use large paddle switches within the reach of the operator’s leg. This makes it easier to turn the machine off quickly during emergencies.
For safety reasons, it is better to choose a model you can turn off instantly if you need to.
This section of your lathe contains details such as the motor power in horsepower (HP). It also includes information about supply voltage, full-load current and phase. Make sure the supply characteristics match your power socket.
This provides data on the spindle’s bore diameter, thread per inch, and taper. The information will help you determine the specific applications you can complete with the lathe.
Here you will see information about the material used to construct the machine. Manufacturers make the best wood lathes from cast iron.
A great feature to have on your wood lathe is an adjustable lamp. This accessory allows you to work in low visibility conditions without the risk of injuries. It can also increase your accuracy and boost productivity by allowing you to work for longer.
You can get more out of your wood lathe with the right accessory. This is helpful if your unit lacks face plates, tool rests, or has a short bed. All you need do is to buy aftermarket accessories for improved capabilities.
Types of Wood Lathes
Wood lathes come in different sizes and levels of sophistication. Depending on their size, these tools fall into three categories.
These are the smallest wood lathes. Mini lathes are ideal for turning pens, little bowls and other small items. They have sub 1HP motors, less than 18 inches of distance between centers and their swing capacity is less than 12 inches.
However, some mini wood lathes have a higher swing capacity and extendable beds to accommodate larger stock.
Mini lathes are the preferred choice of homeowners, hobbyists and professionals who work with small items. They usually have a benchtop design although some models come with stands.
They are lighter, portable and mobile. The biggest advantage of mini lathes is their compact design which makes them easy to transport. However, these tools cannot accommodate large work pieces because they have smaller a distance between centers and reduced swing capacity.
Midi Wood Lathes
These are the intermediate-range wood lathes. They provide the capabilities of larger machines without the bulk. Many of this type ship with 3/4 HP motors, enough for most heavy-duty wood turning applications.
The only downside to medium size lathes is their inability to accept larger work pieces. However, they are mobile and more durable than mini models.
Midi lathes are perfect for the roving professional. If you need a mobile wood lathe for training different categories of woodworkers, midi lathes combine mobility and versatility.
Full-Size Wood Lathes
These are heavy-duty machines used in multi-functional workshops. They often come with 1HP to 3HP motors which provide enough power for precision turning tasks.
Full-sized wood lathes require large workshop space for storage and operation. They are also expensive and would only make economic sense if you are buying for commercial purposes.
These tools have the largest swing capacity and longest beds, allowing operators to work on longer and wider pieces. Full-size lathes are heavier and less prone to vibration, making them easier to use.
If you have the funds and the space for one, a heavy-duty wood lathe is the ideal choice.
Full Size vs. Mini Wood Lathe
Full Size Wood Lathes
- A full-size wood lathe is the largest wood turning tool. It comes with its own stand and has a large beam, usually made from cast iron.
- Full-size lathes are mostly found in large commercial workshops where operators use them for extensive repetitive work. These machines are ideal for fast material removal, turning spindles, bowls and larger stock.
- Their extensive center-to-center distance and higher swing capacity can accommodate longer and wider work pieces without hitting the beam or tool rests.
- Full-size lathes are sturdier and more stable compared to smaller models. Because they are heavier, operators can work with minimal vibration, improving safety and precision. However, industrial lathes are the most expensive and some require three-phase electrical outlets to work. You also need more woodshop space to store them.
Mini Wood Lathe
- Mini wood lathes are the smallest. Most units have a benchtop design, are lighter and portable. They are perfect for turning pens and other small pieces.
- Mini wood lathes are suitable for hobbyists and homeowners because they are easy to use and affordable. Their compact size makes transportation easy and storage takes considerably far less space compared to full-size models.
- Mini lathes are prone to higher levels of vibration because of their lightweight construction. Except for models with rubber feet, these machines are not the best for precision jobs if you are inexperienced.
- A slight disturbance of the tool during operation can cause serious injury and damage the machine. You can get a mini lathe for practice and small turning projects. With more experience, you will learn to adjust your cutting tool to the machine’s behavior.
- If you want more stability during turning tasks or require a higher precision, upgrade to a midi-lathe. However, there are many affordable mini lathes that deliver professional results. You only need to know how to use them properly.
Single Speed vs. Variable Speed Wood Lathe
A single speed wood lathe spins the stock at a constant speed. You can’t change the motor output even if you want to turn a delicate piece of wood that requires a faster rotation. Likewise, you can’t reduce the speed to remove material quickly.
Single speed wood lathes are used in professional workshops for large-scale repetitive applications. They serve as a secondary or primary lathe that does the heavy tasks before fine-tuning on a variable speed unit.
The biggest advantage of single speed lathes is that they are specialist tools that perform one task with perfection. However, they lack versatility and are not the best for beginners.
Variable speed wood lathes allow you to adjust the motor output to specific requirements. Many variable control lathes have rpm ranges of 250 to 3400, making them ideal for a wide range of applications and users.
Depending on the design, these units are suitable for precision turning, and fast material removal. You can use them for finishing and any other task a wood lathe can do.
You can also check out our in-depth lathe vs. mill article if you are interested in metal works.
Wood Lathe Tools and Accessories
A wood lathe is useless without cutting tools and other turning accessories. If you want the best out of your woodturning machine, get:
- Roughing Gouge: This small tool is used to remove material from the stock to give it a round shape. It is usually made from steel and has a U-shape designed for fast removal of stock for the next stage in the turning process.
- Spindle Gouge: This is a semi-circular tool used to turn coves. It is available in different sizes and has shallow grooves which you can grind up to 45 degrees.
- Bowl Gouge: This tool is used to hollow out stock when making bowls on the wood lathe. It comes in various sizes and shapes and made from high strength steel.
- Skew Chisel: This tool has an oval or rectangular cross-section. It is used to plane the stock after making it cylindrical. Skew chisels are best for professionals because they require a high level of precision and attention to detail.
- Center Finder: A center finder helps you pinpoint the middle of a stock. It does this by marking two diagonals on the stock, with their point of intersection being your focal point. One side can identify the center of a round stock while the other side determines the diagonal on a square stock.
- Scraper: A scraper is a finishing tool. You use it for fine internal finishes after using the mass removal tools mentioned above.
Read on to find more details on choosing the best bench grinder.
- Can I turn wet wood?
It depends. If you are making a box, it is better to use dry wood as the lid and sides can shrink when the wet stock loses moisture. You can turn bowls wet as the moisture makes it easier to remove material. You only need to postpone their finishing until they dry.
- Why is my lathe vibrating uncontrollably?
This is often the result of an off-center stock. Try to remount the wood and make sure you lock it in position at the center. If this does not work, try shaving off some material and re-center the workpiece.
- Why is my lathe making a grinding noise?
A lathe makes a grinding sound if it lacks lubrication. The oil may be low or you have broken seals. Check the lubricant and change any faulty seals. Contact the manufacturer if the problem persists.
- Is a wood lathe dangerous?
The main cause of injuries with wood lathes is inexperience and free-handing tools to the stock. It is important to turn with a low speed at the beginning and always use the tool rest. Wear protective gear such as goggles before working on a wood lathe.
- How fast does a wood lathe spin?
A wood lathe’s speed depends on the power output of its motor. Variable-speed models can rotate from 250 to 4000 rpm, making them ideal for a broad range of woodturning applications.
- How to turn wood on a lathe?
Make sure to also check out our planer buying guide and oscillating tool reviews.
If you are passionate about woodturning, the single most important tool in your woodshop is a wood lathe. Despite its simple and millennia-old design, the machine is an indispensable tool for sculpting boxes, bowls, spindles and a variety of other objects.
Considering the huge price of lathes, you need to know how to get the best wood lathe for your money. We hope this article helps you find the perfect model with all the features you need to bring your woodturning fantasies to life.
Whether you are a professional turner or enthusiastic hobbyist, our wood lathe reviews provide the necessary details to help you shop with confidence. Regardless of your budget, the market is full of products with desirable features at excellent prices. But you need to understand your requirements before shopping. This piece will help you make an informed purchase.