A wood lathe is a power tool for your workshop or garage that rotates a piece of wood around a horizontal axis so you can cut, sand, drill, turn, and face the wood to form it into a finished shape. Common wood lathe projects include chair or table legs, spoons, bowls, cups, and even pens, with many more advanced projects available to you once you feel experienced enough to take them on.
From personalized and specially-designed pens, to furniture legs and baseball bats, there’s many creations that a wood lathe will assist in making. The trouble with this, is that there are so many options to choose from – so where is the best place to start?
Well, we’ve made it easier for you, with our guide on the best wood lathes available on the market today. We’ve outlined their overall features and specifications, as well as the unique additions which enhance your woodturning skills.
What Does a Wood Lathe Do?
A wood lathe is a machine that gives round and carved shapes to wooden pieces. It’s a must for making furniture and tableware. Wooden curved and rounded things that we see around us, such as a bat, baseball bat, are required to turn through wood lathes.
You can make carved wooden vessels as well as other items using such wood lathes. It works efficiently and saves precious time. You cannot carve and give a proper finish to an object by hand manually. Wood lathes ensure that the wood is properly carved, and the finish is top-notch.
A prefect wood turning lathe feature variable speed control that allows you to select a speed. You can choose a motor with variable speed ranges for finer tasks, and high speed for a comparatively aggressive task for your woodworking needs with lathes.
Wood Lathe Buying Guide
To choose the best wood lathe for your workshop, you first have to know what specifications you have to consider to make the best buying decision possible.
Size Of Wood To Be Worked
Probably the most important thing you should be looking at is the size of the lathe since this will determine what kind of project you can use it to work on.
If you are only interested in turning pens or perhaps other small objects like chess pieces, a mini lathe should be sufficient. However, if you are interested in turning larger bowls or making furniture, something larger will be required.
The most important specs to look at are swing over bed and distance between centers. The former is a guide to the thickness of the stock you can work while the latter gives you an indication of how long a piece of wood you can turn.
Make sure you know what kind of projects you want to work on and be sure to choose a lathe that will allow you to do it.
Types Of Lathes
Related to the size of the wood you want to work is the overall size and weight of the lathe itself. Wood lathes come in two type – benchtop and full-sized.
Benchtop lathes are lighter and easier to move and also have smaller footprints. If you only have a small workshop, this might be a better option.
However, if you want to turn larger pieces and have space, a full-sized, free-standing lathe might be a wiser choice.
The speed of a lathe is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). For larger pieces, you want a low minimum speed whereas, more detailed work, you need a higher maximum speed.
For the upper limit, multiply the thickness of the wood you need to turn by the RPM rating on the lathe – a score of 6,000 to 9,000 is about right. Anything below 500 RPM is very respectable – although even lower than this is sometimes possible.
Most lathes allow you to adjust the speed. Check to see how many speed settings there are as well as how the speed is adjusted. Some lathes require that you stop working to adjust the belt while others allow you to adjust the speed as you work.
Also, some lathes offer infinite speed adjustment – this means you can adjust the speed by turning a knob rather than choosing from predetermined RPM speeds.
Reverse Spin Function
Some lathes allow you to reverse the direction of spin. This is particularly useful when sanding since sanding against the grain gives you a much smoother result. Without this ability, you may have to switch the whole piece around – which in some cases may be impossible.
5 Best Wood Lathes of 2021:
1. PSI Woodworking KWL-1218VS Turn Crafter Lathe
We are starting our recommendations list with the most powerful and easy-to-use lathe of its class. The KWL-1218VS from PSI Woodworking is an exceptional product with some top-notch functions that will simplify and accelerate all of your woodturning projects.
We wanted to keep a midi lathe as our first pick because of its more significant consumer base – you are less likely to use a mini or full-sized lathe. And when it comes to midi lathes, few machines come close to the KWL-1218VS in terms of functionality and powerful performance.
It features a powerful 1hp motor that has variable speed (120V-60HZ). We especially liked its digital readout as it allowed us to monitor and work at precise speeds. What sets this lathe apart from its competition is its dual belt positions – 500 to 1800 RPM and 1950 to 3800 RPM.
2. JET JWL-1221vs Wood Lathe
The JET JWL-1221vs is one of the best wood lathes, and is packed with value. As you can tell by the photo, this thing means business. The beautiful cast iron JET unit is not only attractive but also functional. While you can use it with the stand (pictured) its versatile dimensions makes it ideal for a benchtop lathe in your shop too. JET is a trusted brand of manufacturer of tools, and their wood lathe is no exception.
With a motor that produces 1 horsepower and the digital speed control this JET wood lathe provides power with precision. Variable from 60 rpm to 3600 rpm, the digital rpm module dials in your speed giving you the most control of any lathe on our list. It has a swing over bed of 12 inches and between centers capacity of 21 inches, which you can even extend with the bed extension if you so choose.
The unique belt tension system (patent-pending technology) provides power and precision. The tailstock of the Jet also includes an acme thread, yet another unique trait. Overall, the JET JW-1221vs is a well-designed machine, one of the best wood lathes on the market, great for the hobbyist and professional alike. If you want to learn more about this lathe, you can read our full JET review here. Plus, a five year warranty backs JET products, so you can’t go wrong with that!
3. 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.
4. Powermatic 3520B Wood Lathe
The Powermatic 1352001 3520B Wood Lathe is our pick for the premium choice wood lathe. It uses a powerful 6.2-amp 2-HP motor to create up to 3,200 RPM. It includes two interchangeable pullies that you can switch to adjust the RPMs. One pully operates between 50 and 1,200 RPM and the other between 125 and 3,200 RPM. It’s made of heavy-duty cast iron and provides you with a large 20 X 35-inch work area. A digital RPM meter is easy to read, and it includes several accessories, including a guard, tool rest, faceplate, wrench, knockout rod, and spindle lock.
The Powermatic 1352001 is extremely powerful and never bogs down. You can complete a wide range of projects in the large workspace, and the only thing we can complain about is its extreme 682-pound weight, which makes for a challenging assembly. It provides 35-inches between centers and a 20-inch swing.
5. Delta Industrial 46-460 Tabletop Wood Lathe Machine
This Delta industrial 46 460 tabletop wood lathe comes with 12-1/2 -inch swing capacity, which is one of the largest within its class. You will hardly find other mini wood lathe offer this much capacity.
Incase you don’t know, the swing capacity of a lathe is actually one of the most important parts of the device. The swing capacity represents how big or small of a workpiece can be used and worked with on wood lathes.
With its patented belt tensioning system for easy and quick speed changes and sets the belt at the correct tension every time for maximum power transfer and longer tool life. Additionally, midi lathes combine the power and performance of a full size lathe with the size convenience of a mini lathe.
If a electronic variable speed range wood lathe is all you want, its three-pulley speed ranges will provide you with the necessary speed to turn any project. There is no need to change the belt position to change the speed rage; having a variable one is more convenient.
How to Use a Wood Lathe?
A wood lathe is somewhat a dangerous power tool, which means you have to know how to use the tool perfectly before buying. Most experts suggest you get some knowledge on the new tool and try some test pieces before starting them on your project.
Tightly secure a piece of the wood stock in the lathe and check that it won’t fly off while you start working. Place the tool rest to provide a comfortable distance between the wood stock and the cutting tool. Then turn on the wood lathe and ensure that you start at the lowest speed setting (beginner) to get resistance to feel that pushes against the cutting tool when you work.
In case, if you have experience in using the lathe, then set the speed level appropriate for the stock you are working on. When the wood stock is rotating, then use the cutting tool to start cutting the wood stock. But take care to shape the wood in the way you desire.
After you are done with your work, then put down the cutting tool away from the lathe, and turn off the power. Avoid touching the wood stock till it stops completely.
Before investing in a new wood lathe, take a look at these frequently asked questions and their answers below.
What can we make by using a wood lathe?
We can easily make a wide range of wooden objects like bottle stoppers, spoons, cups, pens, bowls, rings, and decorative art on a wooden lathe, as per your skills and creative levels.
What type of wood is best for wood-turning?
Beech is the perfect hardwood, as most species won’t have a typical grain pattern and has a light color. A few woodworkers prefer it and a few won’t. However, beechwood is durable and abrasion-resistant, which makes it perfect to make bowls and other wooden items.
What can you make on a wood lathe?
You can make a wide assortment of wooden objects, including spoons, bottle stoppers, rings, pens, bowls, cups, and decorative art.