I have been a woodworker for 15 years and although I’m not a professional carpenter, I do consider myself an experienced and serious woodworker. I would suggest you consider the following before you make your purchase.
There are quite a few things that determine which wood lathe you should buy.
For instance, do you need a mini or full sized lathe, what accessories do you need, your skill level, how often you will use it, overall ease of use and of course, how much does it cost and where is the best place to buy.
What size lathe do you need?
As you have probably already determined, you have two choices, a mini lathe or a full size lathe.
Well, what’s the difference? The answer to that question besides several hundred clams is really what you intend to cut most. All of us are pretty ambitious when we want to justify buying a new tool.
We say: I need the bigger tool to cut all those table legs and gigantic bowls I’m going to make! When in reality, pens, small round boxes, small bowls and knick knacks are 99% of what we end up cutting.
OK, I’m not trying to suck the life out of your dream of having a really nice lathe, just trying to help you really pick the best lathe for you…
Seriously, think through what you’ll really be turning and get the lathe for that purpose.
Mini lathes are great to learn and can still be used a lifetime. Their only limitation is size of cut.
Full size lathes can cut anything but are bigger and sometime harder to use.
OK, now that I’ve made it even harder for you…
What features are most important?
I think a low vibration lathe is the most important feature. If the lathe you buy has excessive vibration, you won’t get smooth, quality cuts and after a while you’ll get frustrated, stop using it and realized you’ve collected a useless tool. This is actually the biggest difference between quality lathes and less expensive low end lathes.
How the lathe is mounted (and yes it’s kind of important to attach it to something sturdy) makes a big difference in the vibration. If possible, use the manufactures stand because it’s designed to be used with that particular tool. Realize part of the stand design includes absorbing vibration.
If you have a sturdy workbench that is really, I mean really sturdy and doesn’t rock back and forth at all, that would work, but in addition to absorbing vibration, I like the tool stand because it’s also designed to be at the right height for turning for most people. The proper height by the way is that you are turning with your forearms parallel or slightly above parallel to the floor.
Most table tops are a little low for me. When I first started, I used a workbench and had to bend to turn. Next day, my back hurt.
But a stand can always be added later. All you need to know for now are the differences.
Variable speed is also extremely important. The easier it is to change or adjust something the more you will use it and the safer it will be. Think about your table saw. If the blades were easier to change you would change them more often and actually put the dado blade in when you needed, instead of making multiple passes with the regular blade. Same thing here.
My first lathe had only one speed. I hated it. It’s dangerous, too. Make sure you can easily adjust the speed and the controls are in easy reach. I’m convinced most mistakes on lathe projects are because the controls were difficult to adjust and the turner ignored the need to change speeds and miss-cut the wood.
A rotating tailstock is also really nice feature to have. Unless you’re turning bowls 100% of the time and you won’t, you’ll be glad you have this feature. If you find a lathe you like and this is not included, make it your first accessory.
What accessories are really necessary?
As with all tools there are gazillion accessories available. For me, I think a good light is the most important. Some saws have lights that bolt on to the back of the lathe. Not bad, but I prefer to buy a $20 flexible arm light from an office supply store that clamps on to the workbench. With a portable light I can move it to use with other tools, if necessary.
There seem to be as many chucks and accessories for holding the wood as there are ways to cut. This is a rather large topic and I will probably add pages discussing this in the near future. But for now use, the lathe, get a feel for what you like to turn and then buy chucks for that purpose.
Again, whole other subject here but let me make a few simple suggestions. The tools are as important as the lathe. I don’t know how many times, I’ve seen people buy an expensive lathe and then buy cheap turning tools. Just don’t buy one of those 28 pack cheap chisels.
Start out with a good roughing gouge, a good skew chisel and a good parting tool and then go from there. Buy the best tool you can afford.
Cheap tools don’t cut well, are dangerous and will make you experience of wood turning miserable.
1. Powermatic 1352001 Model 3520B 20×35-Inch Wood Lathe with RPM Digital Readout
The Powermatic 3520B Woodworking Lathe retains all the features of classic Powermatic lathes–including a sliding headstock, electronic variable-speed control, and a spindle lock–plus some great innovations. To name just a few, a digital RPM readout makes it a snap to keep track of your speed, a redesigned tailstock offers internal storage, and a laser etched quill conveniently self ejects. With the 3520B, you’ll get classic reliability and advanced technology–the best of both worlds to help you handle your most important jobs.
- Wood turning lathe with digital RPM readout, 20-inch swing, and 34-1/2-inches between center
- Powered by a 2-horsepower, 220-volt, variable speed motor
- Made of heavy-duty cast iron, Assembly required
- Accessories-include guard, tool rest, face plate, wrench, knockout rod and spindle lock
- 50x24x44-inches; Backed by 1-year warranty
2. Grizzly G0632 Variable Speed Wood Lathe, 16 x 42-Inch
Aside from its large turning capacities, this machine has all of the features you would hope for in a Heavy-Duty Wood Lathe. For example, electronic variable speed in two speed ranges, digital speed readout, a swiveling headstock for outboard turning, indexable spindle, spindle lock pin and a forward and reverse switch for outboard bowl turning are just some of the standard features you can expect. The bed is precision-ground steel for strength and durability, and the heavy cast-iron legs can be easily adapted for adding more mass. Best of all, this lathe runs on single-phase power, so it can be used in home shops as well as the workplace. The variable-frequency drive runs the 3-phase motor to provide variable-speed control and maximum torque at low speeds. If you’re looking for a lathe that will handle all of your turning needs, this is the one!
- Motor: 1-1/2 HP, 220V, 3-phase with single-phase VFD
- Power requirement: 220V, single-phase
- Swing over bed: 16″
- Swing over tool rest base: 11-1/2″
- Distance between centers: 42″
- Heavy-duty, precision machined steel bed and cast-iron legs ensures stability and minimize vibration
- 1-1/4″ x 8 TPI RH headstock spindle
- Variable-speed spindle control with digital readout
- Speed range, high: 250-3200 RPM low: 100-1200 RPM
3. Jet JWL-1440VSK 1 hp Wood Lathe with Legs
Do you want a lathe that’s as versatile as your turning? The 1440 lathe from JET can be tailored to accomplish a wide range of projects. With a sliding and pivoting headstock, variable speed, and many other great features this lathe meets the needs of woodturners. Experience the 1440 lathe and see how versatility takes shape.
- Sliding headstock pivots 360 degrees with 7 positive locking positions at 0, 30, 60, 90, 120, 180, and 270 degrees for maximum variability and optimal user comfort
- Variable speed from 400-3000 RPM
- Positive locking tool rest with redesigned clamping
- Optional extension bed mounts in 3 separate positions for larger outboard turning or 60″ between centers
- Acme thread in tailstock
- Improved tailstock quill locking with anti-rotation key
- Easy-to-read RPM display
- CSA Certified
4. NOVA 24221 8 Speed Wood Lathe, 16 x 24″
Wood Lathe is updated with a new look for 2017, with updated NOVA Black color and decals. Apart from the look, this model provides the same feature set as the very popular previous model. This Lathe offers a solid 1.5HP AC motor, 16″ swing capacity (expandable to 29″ capacity outboard with optional Outrigger accessory) and 24″ between centers, expandable in 20″ increments with the optional bed extension accessory. Excellent entry level Lathe that has enough versatility and power to give many years of turning.
- 1.5 HP traditional AC motor
- 8 speed range, from a low 215RPM through to a high of 3600RPM
- Steel and cast iron stand included as standard equipment
- Full swivel head functionality and solid cast iron components complete the package
- Available in 11/4″8TPI thread
- Includes 1.5HP AC motor, belt, stand, 2MT live center, 2MT spur/drive center, 3″ faceplate, 12′ toolrest, manual and fastenings
5. Shop Fox W1758 Wood Lathe With Cast Iron Legs And Digital Readout
Here it is. Their fully featured and powerful wood lathe at a competitive price! Featuring a hefty 2 HP motor, ten speeds, a swivel-head for outboard turning, a digital tachometer for exact spindle speed, precision ground cast iron bed, headstock and tailstock quick locks, and heavy cast iron legs for stability, this beauty will handle it all!
- Motor: 2 HP, 110V, single-phase
- Heavy-duty, precision ground cast iron bed and cast iron legs ensure stability and minimal vibration
- Lever speed adjustment, 10 speeds: 600 – 2400 RPM
- Quick lock/release levers for tailstock and headstock; 0 Degree, 60 Degree, 90
- Degree, 120 Degree and 180 Degree headstock rotation
6. JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch by 21-Inch Variable Speed Wood Lathe
The JET 1221VS is different from anything they’ve made before. In truth, it’s different from anything that anybody has ever made before. The design is better. The features are better. The entire turning experience is better. And it all focuses on one concept… Control.
- Unrivaled speed control
- 60-3600 RPM variable speed
- Optimally designed speed ranges
- Forward to reverse is a smooth transition
- Innovative ratchet style belt tension system (patent pending)
7. Nova 46301 Comet II Variable Speed Midi Lathe Bundle with Nova G3 COMET II Reversible Chuck, 12” x 16.5”
NOVA 46300 Comet II 12-Inch x 16-1/2-Inch Variable Speed Midi Lathe – portable and space saving, yet delivers the capacity and rugged stability of larger machines. The forward and reversing switch offers additional flexibility for a superior finish. With its 12″ swing capacity over bed and 16.5″ between center capacity, expandable to 41″ with the optional bed extension accessory, you can turn a wide variety of projects.
- Its powerful 3/4HP electronic variable speed motor offers a wide speed range from 250-4000rpm
- Lathe available in 1″ 8TPI thread
- Standard equipment: 3/4HP variable speed motor, 3″ faceplate, handwheel, 6″ tool rest, 2MT Drive center, 2MT Live Center, knockout bar, manual and fastenings
8. Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
Featuring a ball-bearing live center, heavy-duty steel knockout bar, and onboard storage for easy access to adjustment tools, the Delta 46-460 industrial 12-1/2-inch variable-speed midi lathe handles even heavy-duty jobs with ease. Ideal for professional woodworkers, this machine gives you fast, smooth results and offers variable speed for consistency and control.
- Powered by a 1-horsepower max, 1,725-rpm motor for robust performance
- 12-1/2-inch swing capacity–the largest in its class
- Variable speed with three pulley-speed ranges
- Includes 6-inch and 10-inch tool rests and 3-inch face plate
- Backed by a five-year warranty
9. RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe
With its increased capacity, the RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe gives you the opportunity to do more with less space. This powerful, smooth-running lathe offers unique features like a 12-position index head for accurate pattern work, easy access for quick speed changes, a convenient tool holder, and the ability to add multiple extensions.
- Easy Access Speed Change: Provides ample room to change speeds quickly
- Self Ejecting Tail Stock: No need to use the knock-out bar to remove the center
- Laser engraved ram with 2-1/2-Inch travel
- Ability to Add Multiple Extensions
- 1/2HP Motor
10. Woodtek 143009 10″ Midi Lathe
The perfect midi lathe for small projects from pens to chair legs. The Woodtek 10″ Midi Lathe is the perfect lathe for small projects like pens, chess pieces, small bowls, duck calls, ornaments, chair legs and other small turnings. It has the same features as other 10″ midi lathes but at an affordable price. Features poly-V belt drive, self-ejecting tailstock and convenient side access for fast belt changes. Lathe included 6″ tool rest, 3-1/8″ faceplate, spur center, live center, chrome handwheel, knockout bar and instruction manual.
- Motor – 1/2 HP, 115VAC, 5A, 1PH
- Speeds (6) – 500, 840, 1,240, 1,800, 2,630, 3,975 RPM
- Swing – 10″ (7-1/4″ over base)
- Between Centers – 17″
- Headstock Shaft: 1″-8TPI, #2MT, 3/8″ bore
- Tailstock Quill: 2-3/8″ travel, #2MT, 3/8″ bore