Are you planning to create some high quality, smaller tools out of wood? Things like pens, bowls, fishing lures and even bottle stoppers can easily be created with a wood lathe and they can be a whole lot of fun as well. You’ll be able to create some great tools and gadgets for yourself or even as a business if you’re so inclined.
We’ve gathered a list of some of the top options when it comes to wood lathes so that you can get started on the right foot. You definitely don’t want to spend a lot of your time and money trying to get started just to find out that you’ve chosen the wrong lathe for the type of work that you want to do. Keep in mind that your personal preference and projects are the most important thing to consider.
You’ll need to think about things like the type of projects, the size of projects, the space available and even how much money you have available. We’ve looked at each of these different features to help you get a better understanding of them and then we’ve created a list of some of the best options that you’re going to find so you can get started right.
Rikon Power Tools Mini Lathe
If you’re looking for a small option you’re definitely going to like this ½ HP motor and the small size of this particular lathe. At 10” x 18” it’s capable of turning out projects that are small but still high quality. It has a heavy cast iron bead as well as the headstock and tailstock, all of which help to reduce the overall vibrations in the system.
It also has a machined bed and components that make sure you have the right level of alignment every time that you use it. The sleek color and style are an added bonus, but it’s everything else you’re going to remember. You get 5 different speed ranges here that can get you just about anything from boring barrel holes to shaping and finishing.
It even comes with a live center, tool rest, knock-out bar and wrenches. The moderate weight makes it easy enough to move if you need to but secure enough that you don’t need to worry about it moving while you’re using it. If you’re looking for smaller projects you’re definitely going to like this lathe.
Facts and Features
- 10” x 18”
- ½ HP motor
- Small project preferable
- 5-speed settings available
- 74 lbs. total weight
- Cast iron form for less vibration
Shop Fox W1704
With this lathe, you’re getting a bench top option that provides you with 1/3 HP. That means it can definitely get you enough power for most projects and it’s going to offer 2 amp, 110V, single phase, 60 Hz as well. It offers 12” between the centers and an 8” swing over bed, which means you can accomplish a range of different projects quickly and easily and even a little bit larger ones.
You’ll also get two tool rests so you can set things down without having to worry about spacing or finding a table nearby. Made entirely of cast iron you have infinite options for the variable speed control. That means you’re going to have a whole lot more control over everything that you’re doing personally without having to worry about adjusting your work to fit the machine.
Weighing in at approximately 50 lbs. this is a moderately weighted unit that’s going to hold steady when you need it to but also move wherever you need if you’re looking for something portable. It provides between 700 and 3200 RPM for the spindle speed and takes up 23 3/8” x 5 ½” so you’re going to have plenty of room in your workshop as well.
Facts and Features
- 23 3/8” x 5 ½”
- 50 lbs. total weight
- 12” between centers
- 8” swing over bed
- 1/3 HP motor
- Up to 3200 RPM spindle speed
WEN 3420 Wood Lathe
This variable speed option is small, at only 8” by 12”, and it can still give you plenty of power and flexibility to the work that you want to do. It can rotate between 750 and 3200 rotations per minute, which provides you with a whole lot more control over any of the projects that you want to complete. It even comes with a 5” faceplate for turning bowls or anything that you want that doesn’t use a spindle.
Able to work with pieces that are up to 8” wide and 12” long, this system has a 2A motor and an MT1 spindle and tailstock taper. It even has 2 interchangeable work rests. You get a 2-year warranty along with the system, which means you can rest assured it’s going to be high quality and last.
It has a soft start motor that helps to increase the capabilities and the safety of the system itself and it’s relatively lightweight at only 44 lbs. With this system, you get everything you’re going to need, including an easy to use lever clamping system, a flat wrench, headstock spur center, tailstock cup center, knockout rod and the 5″ faceplate that can help you accomplish just about anything that you want.
Facts and Features
- 5” faceplate for non-spindle projects
- 8” x 12” total size
- 750 – 3200 RPM
- 2 interchangeable work rests
- 2-year warranty
- Soft start motor
- 44 lbs. total weight
Jet JWL 1221VS
Here you’re getting a slightly larger option at 12” x 21” but you’re still getting something that will easily fit into your workspace. It has excellent speed control, which is going to provide you with plenty of capabilities for projects. In fact, it can range between 60 and 3600 RPM, which means you can take care of just about anything that you could possibly want.
The forward to reverse process is extremely smooth and there’s an innovative ratchet style belt tension system that keeps it going just the way you want it to every single time. This device weighs more than some of the other options we’ve mentioned, but it provides an excellent turning experience that’s entirely within your control.
It even comes with a 5-year warranty that you can definitely rely on to provide you with excellence when it comes to the quality and features of the lathe itself. There’s no reason to sacrifice when it comes to this one.
Facts and Features
- 12” x 21” total size
- 60 – 3600 RPM variance
- 5-year warranty
- Smooth forward to reverse the process
- 130 lbs. total weight
- Ratchet style belt tension system
GoPlus Wood Turning Lathe
This is the largest option when it comes to wood lathes that we have here. It comes in at 14″ x 40″, which means you’re going to have the freedom and flexibility to work on even larger projects. It has a ½ HP motor that offers 4 different speeds and a swing over bed of 14″.
The seeds themselves are 1100, 1600, 2300 and 3400, so you can definitely get something fast enough to finish whatever you may need. Weighing in at only 55 lbs. it’s also a great option for most purposes and can even be transported easily. With this device, you’re going to have no problem turning just about anything and you’ll love the fact that it can take on small and fine work or larger projects with ease.
For those who are just getting started or those who have been working with these types of tools for a long time, this is a great option. It’s moderately priced and it can use a variety of different attachments when you’re looking to improve your options.
Facts and Features
- 14” x 40”
- ½ HP motor
- 4-speed settings
- 1100 – 3400 RPM
- 55 lbs. total weight
- Great for beginners or advanced users
- Moderately priced
- 14” swing over bed
Mophorn 10 x 18 Inch Wood Lathe
This wood lathe from Mophorn packs a punch. It comes with a powerful 550W motor, as well as digital speed readings so that you know precisely how much power you’re using. The wood lathe also comes with a 10” swing over bed and 18” distance between centers so that you can work with an array of woods without a problem.
Because this wood lathe is intended for bench tops, it comes with rubber feet on the bottom of the cast iron base. This makes the machine more stable when you’re working on various surfaces. The gross weight is a little more than 85 pounds, so it’s probably not something that you can relocate instantly. But if you work in a garage and need to keep it in storage, it’s easy to do so.
Things We Like
- The motor provides up to 550W of power
- You can work between 500 and 3,800 RPMs, receiving a digital reading
- Somewhat portable
Things We Don’t Like
- You’ll probably need a size adapter for your chuck
- A bit too heavy to lift and relocate quickly
Delta Industrial 46-460 Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
If you’re looking for a wood lathe with a bit more swing capacity, you’ll want to check out this option from Delta. It comes with a 12.5” swing capacity, which Delta says is the largest capacity in the class. The drive spindle is 1”.
Woodworkers will also find that this lathe comes with a three-pulley speed range. Customers can change speeds quickly, thanks to the patented belt tensioning system. There is also a forward and reverse functioning feature that will allow you to achieve a smoother finish than with some other lathes.
Things We Like
- Large 12.5” swing capacity
- Forward and reverse functioning
- Belt system allows you to change speeds quickly
Things We Don’t Like
- Maximum RPM is 1,725
- Weighs nearly 100 pounds, so not very portable
JET JWL Variable Speed Wood Lathe
If you’re looking for a wood lathe that provides you with optimal speed control, you’ll want to check out the JET JWL Variable Speed Wood Lathe. When using this machine, you’ll find that speeds vary from 60 to 3,600 RPM. Woodworkers can also shift from forward to reverse motions effortlessly. This is thanks in part to the company’s ratchet-style belt tension system.
There is also an integrated, spring-loaded spindle lock. Woodworkers will also find this tool very convenient to use, thanks to the conveniently-located controls. For those interested in a wood lathe that provides maximum control, this product is worth checking out.
Things We Like
- Speeds varying between 60 and 3,600 RPM
- Ratchet-style belt tension system allows you to change from forward to reverse motions easily
- Controls are located in a spot that will keep you safe while allowing you to change speeds
Things We Don’t Like
- Heavy – weighs roughly 130 pounds
- Some customers complained that this product broke after a few months of use
Jet JWL-1015 Wood Working Lathe
Another option to consider from Jet is the JWL-1015 Wood Working Lathe. Woodworkers will find that they can’t vary speeds as much when using this product. There are six spindle speeds: 500, 840, 1240, 1800, 2630, and 3975. However, this wood lathe comes with 15.5” of space between centers as well as an integrated 24-position indexing system.
Jet also incorporated broad bed ways into this product, hoping to increase rigidity. We found this wood lathe to be quite stable. It’s also one of the more lightweight products on our list, checking in at about 75 pounds. This makes it easier for you to move around your woodworking shop.
Things We Like
- 15.5” of space between centers allows you to work with larger pieces of wood
- Lighter than most models
- Five-year warranty
Things We Don’t Like
- Limited speed fluctuations
- Some users mentioned problems with Jet’s customer service
Wood Lathes – Everything You Need to Know
If you’re considering adding a wood lathe to the tools in your woodworking shops, it’s crucial that you take the time to understand everything there is to know about the product. We’ve provided you with a bit of information so that you know what you’re looking for.
What is a Wood Lathe?
A wood lathe is a machine that carpenters and woodworkers use to form pieces of wood into a particular shape. Whereas many devices, like saws, cut wood in a straight line, a wood lathe allows you to create bows and curves in your wood.
When using a wood lathe, you’ll attach a piece of wood to an arm that spins. You control how fast the wood spins. The best wood lathes allow you to change the speeds considerably. If the machine turns too slow, you won’t be able to make cuts, especially if you’re using a thick piece of wood. If the machine spins too quickly, you won’t have any control of the wood.
As the machine spins, you can use various tools to make impressions in the wood. You can use wood lathes to create smaller products, like chess pieces. Or, you can use it to make things like bowls. If you’re looking to put curves into your wood, a lathe should do the trick.
The machine can save you time, as you would otherwise need to carve the wood by hand. Additionally, you’ll find that when using a wood lathe, your pieces come out much more evenly-carved than they would be if you used your hands.
Wood Lathe Terminology
When shopping for a wood lathe, you’re likely to come across an array of terms. We’ve provided a brief overview of the terms, categorizing them by their purpose.
The first thing you’ll need to do when using a wood lathe is to mount your wood to the machine. You can do so with a faceplate, which is a flat disc that you attach to the wooden piece by using screws. If you choose to use a faceplate, you’ll want to make sure that you drill it into a “sacrificial” part of the wood.
You can also mount the piece with a spur, otherwise known as a drive center. This tool is a “spike” that you use to grab and hold the wood. You’ll leave an imprint in your material if you use a spur.
The last method you can use to mount the wood to your lathe is a four-jaw chuck. This piece works similar to a drill chuck, in that it compresses onto the wood directly.
Other terms you’ll come across are the drive center and the live center. These are the two points where you’ll hold the wood in place. When you turn the machine on, these centerpieces will begin rotating, in what’s known as “spindle turning.”
One of the other most common terms you’ll see listed is the lathe swing. The lathe swing refers to the maximum diameter that the equipment can handle. An average lathe swing is around 10” – 12”. Lathes that are more portable will likely have smaller swings. You’ll probably find yourself paying more for a lathe that offers a swing of 15” or more.
Wood Working Tools
Once your wood is spinning, you can use an array of tools to help form different shapes. One of the most common types of tools for wood lathes is chisels. The chisels that you use for wood lathes are different than the chisels that you would use for standard woodworking.
Sharpening chisels are a must when using a wood lathe. The sharper you keep these chisels, the better results you’ll receive. You’ll likely find that the tools will dull quickly when you use them on a wood lathe, so you’ll want to sharpen them after each use. A bench grinder is useful for sharpening chisels.
If you purchase chisels in a kit, you’ll likely also receive products like scrapers, gouges, and parting tools. You’ll use scrapers when finishing a product, as they can help you put finer details into a piece. You’ll use gouges early on in the process to help rough out a part and take out large chunks of wood. You’ll use parting tools for trimming down rough edges of the piece.
There are a few other tools that you may want to consider adding to your kit to help turn you into a master artisan. These tools include things such as calipers, center finders, compasses, and inside-diameter calipers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Debating whether you should invest in one of the best wood lathes for the money? You’re likely looking for answers to some of the questions that we’ve listed below.
The short answer is that you don’t. If you tend not to make curved pieces of wood, you may find that you can do so by hand without a problem. However, if you tend to work with curved pieces of wood, a lathe helps simplify the process tremendously.
You’ll also find that a lathe will produce pieces of much higher quality. They’ll be much smoother. A lathe can save you considerable time.
Technically, any type of wood will work with a lathe. This is one of the most primary benefits of the tool. However, you’ll probably find that using softer pieces of wood will make it easier to use the machine. Additionally, you should be cautious when using pressure-treated lumber. It can be challenging to use a chisel or gouge on wood that’s so tough.
When shopping for a lathe, you’ll find that various products provide different speeds to woodworkers. You’ll want a product that offers variable speeds. When you are first starting with the wood, you’ll want to use a lower speed. After centering the lumber, you can increase the speed to help with the carving process.
You should never notice the wood starting to wobble when using a lathe. As a rule of thumb, you should spin the lathe faster the later you are in the project. Just remember that the more quickly you turn the lathe, the more sensitive the wood is to the tools you’re using. Also keep in mind that if your lumber contains any defect, it’s prone to cracking at higher speeds.
Wood lathes are like any other type of equipment that you have in your woodworking shop. When you use them correctly, they are safe. If you do not follow proper procedures or safety guidelines, you will put yourself in harm’s way. Make sure that you are extremely careful when working with a lathe.
Even if you intend to work at high speeds, you should always have the motor on the slowest speed to get started. Gradually work your way up to the highest speed. You should never have your motor turned to the highest setting when you turn the machine on. Not only could this destroy the motor, but it could also put you in harm’s way.
Lastly, make sure that you are always using eye protection when working with a lathe. Although eye protection like goggles may be adequate, we prefer to work with a full face shield. You’ll find that wood shavings fly all over the place when using a lathe. There’s a strong chance that wood chips could fly back into your face and cut you.
When using a wood lathe, we recommend that you go out of your way to keep your tools sharp. This will help produce high-quality pieces. Furthermore, it will prevent the chisel from “bouncing” or “skipping.” You’ll want to make sure that your blade is sharp enough to cut into the wood, even when using harder pieces of lumber.
Also, try to use high-quality wood stock. You’ll find it much more challenging to use wood with cracks or knots.
Features That Matter
There are three general sizes when it comes to lathes (though the specifics are going to vary greatly). You’ll be able to choose between mini-lathes, medium size, and full-size options. A mini-lathe is one that’s great for smaller projects and lesser use.
It’s great for those who aren’t doing a whole lot of high power or large projects. They’re also great if you need something that’s portable. But if you’re going to be completing large projects or if your lathe isn’t going to be moving around you may want to opt for a larger one.
Make sure you pay attention to how much space you actually have available for your work. You don’t want to choose the perfect lathe and then find out that it’s not going to fit where you want it. Instead, make sure that you look at your spacing first and then automatically rule out anything that won’t fit.
You’ll want to only look at something you can work with. Keep in mind that there are plenty of great options at absolutely any size, so even if you have a small amount of space you can still get something that’s going to work great.
Though you don’t want to base your decision entirely on the price of the lathe that you’re getting it’s definitely something to consider. Luckily, there are budget options that are going to give you plenty of flexibility and freedom when it comes to the type of projects that you want to create.
If you really want the top of the line you’re going to need to pay for it, but if you’re not quite as strict about the features or the capabilities of the lathe you may be able to save a little bit of money along the way.
Variable Speed Control
If you have control over the specific speeds of your lathe at different times and you can adjust it faster or slower you’re definitely going to have more flexibility. If you don’t have variable speed control you’ll have to change out belts in order to get the different speeds, but you’ll have a cheaper option on your hands. Variable speed is going to cost you more but it’s going to work faster and more accurately.
Make sure you look at what comes along with the lathe (if anything). You’re going to need a variety of other tools in order to make it work for you so make sure you start from here and move up with even more options.
You’ll need turning tools and a sharpening system at the very least and these may come with the lathe. You’ll also need things like a face shield, dust masks, and a dust collector. These likely won’t come with the lathe (though they might) but they’re things you’re going to want to look for at least.
No matter what you’re planning to do with your new wood lathe you’re going to need something that’s high quality. We’ve taken a look at several different options so you can make sure that you’re ready for anything and definitely ready to take on that next project. Whether you want to just get started in the field or you’re looking to take your business to the next level there’s something out there for you.
Take a look at each of the ones that we’ve selected, and see what’s going to be best for your needs. If you decide that you don’t like any of these you now have the ability to find one on your own because you know what it’s going to take to get something good.
Take a look at each of the features that we’ve mentioned and then find a wood lathe that fits the features that you’re looking for. Whether you want to just do a little more research on your own or you think you’ve found something else great just taking a look at what it can do and what you want it to do is a great place to start out.