best wood lathe As every seasoned carpenter knows, you can’t have a woodworking shop without a wood lathe. The ability to turn wood is an element that’s just as important for your projects as planning or sawing – and can genuinely bring your creations to the next level. Technically, you could do it by hand. However, if you’re serious about sculpting wood, investing in the could be the best move you ever made.
That’s why this article is all about showing you what these fantastic woodworking tools are all about – and teaching you how to find the one that fits your skill level and requirements perfectly.
Why Buying a Wood Lathe?
If you ever saw carpenters and woodworkers sculpt pieces of wood into intricate shapes, and you wondered how they do it, the secret is in the wood lathe. Whereas a tool you might be much more familiar with, the saw, cuts wood in a straight line, a lathe lets you create curves and bows in the wood.
In essence, a wood lathe is a rather simple yet highly efficient machine used for woodturning. Your workpiece is rotated at high speed, and in a way that allows you to shape or sculpt it against sandpaper, a grinder, or a cutting tool.
It could be done by hand, as well, by forcing a sharp place against the wood manually, but using a lathe makes the process much faster, and minimizes the likelihood of mishaps. Plus, the results are always much more professional-looking and evenly-carved than when they’re done by hand.
If you don’t work with curved pieces of wood, you could get away with not buying one. But if you’re thinking of taking on more complex projects that could require producing round wooden objects, from pens and bowls to stair rail spindles, you’re going to need a wood lathe – and a set of tools to go with it.
It doesn’t matter what you plan on making with it – pens, door handles, chess pieces, pepper mills, or drawer pulls. The same goes for whether or not you plan on selling your creations or merely gifting them to friends and family. You still need a versatile tool that will make the process as fast and straightforward as possible, and that’s what a wood lathe is meant to do.
But considering how many different options you’ll come across on the market, picking the right wood lathe can be quite tricky, especially for those new to woodturning. Don’t worry, though – we’re here to help you make that choice.
We tested and reviewed the market’s leading products, put together a list of vital criteria for choosing the perfect wood lathe for your woodworking shop. And now we’d like to share all our findings and experiences with you! Let’s get straight to it!
Meet the Best Wood Lathes
The Good: The forces behind this lathe are a 1HP motor, a 21-inch cast iron bed, and a speed of 3600 RPM.
The Bad: It weighs a hefty 130 pounds, but that’s only a downside if you want a more portable lathe.
The Bottom Line: There’s a fine line between small, budget-friendly units and high-end ones, and this lathe walks it with grace. It’s well-designed, durable, and high-performing – and that’s why we’re so comfortable with recommending it to everyone, from novices to seasoned professionals.
The Good: It’s strong, it’s durable, and it lets you change not only speed but the direction, too. What more could you ask for here?
The Bad: We can’t get over the fact that it came with completely wrong wiring, resulting in backward operation.
The Bottom Line: It handles heavy-duty work with ease, it weighs 100 pounds, and it offers quite a bit of control – that’s what makes it an outstanding choice for anyone interested in woodturning. The steep price might turn some people off, though.
The Good: The slow-start motor, combined with the speed control knob, makes it easy to find a suitable speed for your project.
The Bad: The main issue is that it’s too light and too underpowered to handle any severe woodturning work.
The Bottom Line: It feels average, at best. We had success with smaller projects – pens, chess pieces, and the like – but that’s about it as far as its power goes. That’s more than enough for hobbyists and DIY-ers – and that’s this model’s target crowd, anyway.
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The Good: With a narrow footprint and a speed range of up to 4000 RPM, this unit is small but mighty.
The Bad: The main issue – and safety concern – is that, unless it’s bolted down, it lacks stability.
The Bottom Line: We’re not entirely sure where we stand with this product. Hobbyists and woodturning newbies might find it useful, but there are certain aspects of this lathe that need drastic improvements. The only advice we could give you is to proceed with caution.
Those are only the basics, though – you’ll find our detailed opinions and reviews if you keep on reading!
All of the Factors Considered
There are quite a few brands that manufacture wood lathes these days, and a wide selection of models, too, each boasting different features and performance specs. We understand how overwhelming you may feel when faced with so many options, especially if you’re relatively new to woodturning. That’s why we took the time to do the research and put together this ultimate list of factors to consider when buying a wood lathe.
First and foremost, you have to make sure that you’re buying a sturdy, well-made wood lathe. You can’t get high-quality results if you don’t have a solid foundation to back it up. That’s true, no matter what features it has or how powerful it is. And when we say a “solid foundation,” we mean a sturdy bed – the main horizontal beam that runs across the base of the wood lathe and is typically made of cast iron.
Also, pay attention to how heavy it is. Weight might not seem like an essential factor, but it does minimize the vibrations caused by woodturning, which is crucial both regarding safety and functionality.
The next crucial factor you need to consider when choosing a wood lathe is the motor – and the power it’s capable of delivering.
Wood lathes typically come equipped with motors that range from as little as 1/8HP to up to 3HP – and in some rare cases, even more – with speeds that go from a few hundred RPM up to 4000 RPM.
Picking a suitable motor power level comes down to the size of your projects:
Low-powered motors handle small projects with ease, and if you don’t plan on turning anything bigger than a pen or a chess piece, you’ll be fine. But if you plan on working on larger projects, you need to ensure that it’s spinning at a consistent rate. And the stronger the motor, the bigger the piece it’s capable of handling.
Variable Speed Control
When it comes to woodturning, having a certain level of control over the wood lathe’s speed provides quite a bit of versatility for your projects. For those less informed on the subject, different spindle speeds are required for handling different types of projects. So, the more extensive the range of available rates, the more versatile the lathe is.
Keep in mind that the models with variable speed controls often come with higher price tags, though. If you’re trying to save a couple of bucks in the process, you could skip this handy feature. If you do, you’ll have to settle for changing belts manually to reach different speeds.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. However, if you want your work to be fast and accurate, you should at least consider investing in a unit with variable speed.
There are two specific dimensions you need to factor in before you make your choice – and they should be based on the work you plan on carrying out on your wood lathe:
The length between the lathe’s two ends will determine the maximum extent of the workpiece that you can turn on the machine.
The size of the swing determines the maximum diameter that you can turn on it.
On that note, you’ll have three general sizes to choose from, although their specific dimensions can vary greatly – mini, midi, and full-sized lathes.
For smaller projects and more casual, hobby-oriented use, a mini-lathe should be more than enough. Medium-sized options appear to be quite handy, too, especially when they come with extendable beds. However, if you genuinely need that extra space, we highly recommend that you opt for a full-sized lathe. They may not be portable, but they handle large, complex projects with ease. That’s something you won’t be able to get from a smaller, more compact unit.
One thing we’d like you to remember here is that a wood lathe isn’t a standalone woodworking tool – it’s more of a facilitator for larger jobs. In short, it requires quite a bit of additional tools to make it work. That’s why checking what’s included in the offer – if anything – is so important.
Granted, most wood lathes found on the market will include at least the most basic accessories, such as the faceplate, the live center, and the spur center. You’ll probably have these ready to use right out of the box.
However, if you’re serious about woodturning, you’ll undoubtedly have to make some additional investments here. For example, you’ll have to get yourself a chuck, among other things that aren’t typically sold along with the actual wood lathe.
Now that we have that covered, it’s about time to see how they compare to one another when we factor in the things mentioned above.
In-depth Reviews of 5 Best Wood Lathes
JET JWL-1221VS Wood Lathe
Everything a midi lathe should be
Right out of the box, we could tell that this lathe was built to last – and make your job a lot easier, too. It has a hefty cast iron bed, conveniently located controls, and a working surface that’s 21 inches long.
Easy controls for optimal speed
The force behind this lathe is a 1HP motor that allows it to develop speeds of up to 3600 RPM, and at the same time, goes as low as 60 RPM for more controlled movements and work. It’s the ease of changing speeds through a control knob that blew us away, though.
The weight is both a pro and a con
The Jet JWL-1221VS weighs a staggering 130 pounds, which was quite a shock considering its reasonably compact footprint. We’re glad it has a bit more weight to it, as it makes it more stable. The trade-off here is that it’s not very portable.
It’s going to cost you
We don’t mind paying more to ensure that we’re getting an excellent woodworking tool – and you shouldn’t, either. However, we still feel the need to point out the hefty price tag of over $800 to the budget-conscious consumers reading this review.
Who Should Buy this Product
We’re comfortable recommending this model to virtually everyone – from newbies to the most seasoned professionals. It’s easily one of the best-designed wood lathes we came across, and a mighty ally that every woodturner, carpenter, and even DIY enthusiast should have in their toolbox. One thing’s certain – it’s going to be the inspiration and the driving force behind all your future projects!
What to Watch Out For
Besides the weight and the not-so-affordable price, we couldn’t find much to complain about here. Granted, after we’ve done our research, we found out that quite a few users had issues with quality control – things being loose, parts not aligning correctly, and the like. We haven’t experienced any of these things, though, so we feel like it wouldn’t be fair to count them as actual downsides.
Okay, this one’s easy. Considering everything we’ve learned about this wood lathe, we’re confident in its performance enough to say that it’s an ideal, high-performing woodturning tool for pretty much anyone – beginner to pro. The robust frame and the powerful motor will lend you the confidence needed to take on larger, more complex woodworking projects – and take your craftsmanship and skills to the next level! Trust us; you’ll love this one!
Delta Industrial 46-460 Midi Lathe
A sturdy, modern-day lathe build
The all cast-iron construction of the machine feels sturdy and durable. And with the total weight of nearly 100 pounds, it’s massive but stable – that’s what makes it capable of handling some heavy-duty work. We appreciate that it comes with the headstock and tailstock perfectly centered, as well.
Quite a bit of rotational power
Powered by a 1HP motor, this lathe brings quite a bit of rotational force to the table, reaching speeds of up to 4000 RPM, with three available speed levels. The belt-tensioning system makes switching speeds easy for maximum power transfer and effortless turning.
A minor wiring mistake
The Forward/Reverse switch works backward. It’s not a big deal, and you’ll get used to it, but it’s something that left us feeling confused. Delta’s manufacturers managed to make such a sturdy piece of equipment, yet failed to get the wiring part right.
Not one for the casual hobbyist
The larger the lathe, the higher the price – that’s a pretty standard thing. However, with a price tag of nearly $800, we have to admit that we expected more from it than parts that need upgrading and basic mistakes such as messed up wiring.
Who Should Buy this Product
Although relatively compact, this midi-sized wood lathe delivers a mighty punch with its 1HP motor and variable speeds that go as high as 4000 RPM. It holds enough power to handle all sorts of projects – and with ease, too. We’d be insane not to recommend it to anyone who has the budget for it!
What to Watch Out For
None of the issues we’ve had with this particular model could be considered deal-breakers. There’s nothing about it that we could pinpoint as a significant product flaw. Instead, it’s the combination of a few small, but annoying mistakes. For instance, both tool rests need to be replacing, and the Forward/Reverse switch comes with incorrect, backward wiring – and these are things that shouldn’t be an issue with a lathe that costs nearly $800.
Even with the downsides – and the not-so-budget-friendly price tag – in mind, we still feel like this is a solid, reliable piece of woodturning gear that’s bound to leave you feeling impressed. After all, it does what it’s supposed to rather well. Once you get the hang of this powerful, little tool, and the reversed controls, in particular, you’ll probably thank us for recommending this Delta lathe to you in the first place!
WEN 3420T Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe
A slow start equals improved safety
Our favorite feature of the unit’s 1/3HP motor is that it starts slow and builds its speed gradually. It doesn’t go full-speed straight away, which is a perfect safety measure for beginners and lets you find the desired rate for your project without much hassle.
A few essential accessories
A lathe in itself, without any of the accessories we talked about earlier, is nearly useless. That’s why we’re glad to report that this one comes with quite a few handy additions, including two tool rests, a knock-out rod, a five-inch faceplate, a headstock spur center, and a tailstock cup center.
It feels a bit underpowered at times
We’re willing to take into account that this is a mini-sized lathe, but that doesn’t mean that it gets a pass on things like insufficient motor power. Although it holds its ground with small and simple projects, the lack of power rears its ugly face with larger pieces of wood.
You control the speed
The motor develops speeds between 750 and 3200 RPM, which, again, is not as broad of a range as you’ll see in some other models. On the flip side, variable speed control is ensured through the use of a knob, which lets you change speeds quickly and easily.
Who Should Buy this Product
As we pointed out before, the WEN 3420T is a mini-sized wood lathe that’s perfect for beginners, inexperienced woodworkers, and pretty much any hobbyist out there who’s trying to figure out whether woodturning is something they’d like to explore further. Plus, its relatively small footprint makes it a perfect addition to even the smallest of work areas.
What to Watch Out For
Somehow, the motor turned out to be the best and, at the same time, the worst thing about this particular model. While it offers a pretty decent speed range that goes up to 3200 RPM, we noticed that it struggles quite a bit – to the point of staling, even – whenever you deal it a large piece of wood. It won’t be an issue if you’re only working on small pieces, though.
If you’re mostly into small DIY projects or you’re a woodturning novice looking to polish your skills before you can move on to the more advanced projects, the chances are that this lathe offers everything you need. However, we can’t recommend it to anyone serious about woodturning – it lacks power, and it’s too small to complete more complex tasks. That’s pretty much all we’re going to say about this particular model.
SHOP FOX W1704 Benchtop Lathe
Solid construction, compact size
The base of this lathe is made of cast iron – as it should be, anyway – which lends it some much-needed durability and minimizes vibrations. The distance between centers is 12 inches, paired with an eight-inch swing, which is a typical working surface for benchtop lathes.
Handles small projects with ease
As we pointed out earlier, this is a relatively small unit, so the 1/3HP motor shouldn’t come as a surprise. And based on its performance, it doesn’t need any more power than that – it develops speeds of 700 to 3200 RPM, which should handle almost all small-sized projects with ease.
Refuses to stay in place
You’d think that a 50-pound weight of this unit would be enough to keep it in place, and it is – for the most part, that is. If you dare to put its dimensions to the test with a larger piece of wood, it will jump around the table, though.
There’s something rough about the tailstock
One thing we noticed when we first powered this thing up was that the tailstock didn’t run as smoothly as we expected. There were quite a few rough spots that required some sanding down before everything started running smoothly again.
Who Should Buy this Product
If you’re only buying a wood lathe to see if woodturning might be a suitable hobby for you, chances are you’ll be working on small-scale projects – and small tasks are what this model does best. Its compact frame fits most workbenches easily, and it offers just enough power and versatility to let you work on your skills.
What to Watch Out For
When you get a tabletop wood lathe, let alone one that weighs nearly 50 pounds, you probably expect it to stay put on that same tabletop, right? That’s what we thought, too. Imagine our surprise when we noticed that it tends to move around – and even jump – unexpectedly! Not only is it a significant safety hazard but a deal-breaker for inexperienced woodworkers, too.
Considering that it’s a mini lathe, it’s quite good – but that’s about it. We can’t compare it to larger models, because that would be like comparing apples and oranges, yet at the same time, when we compare it to similar-sized options, it still doesn’t blow us away. It’s a decent option by all accounts, even with the downsides factored in, but we expected more for our money – and it left a bitter taste in our mouth.
Nova 71118 Midi Lathe
Plenty of power for smaller projects
Although it may not be the most powerful motor on the block, the 3/4HP engine still packs enough force to handle moderate woodturning projects, developing a speed of up to 4000 RPM. It’s equipped with an On/Off switch, which makes it more responsive – and safer to use, too.
Choose your speed
Thanks to the Three-Step Pulley System, you have the option to choose one of the three-speed ranges – low, medium, or high – for maximum flexibility in most woodturning applications. Depending on the project, you can run it as low as 250 RPM, or as high as 4000 RPM.
A bit off-center
One thing we noticed when we first set everything up is that the headstock and the tailstock don’t quite line up. You’ll probably have to nudge the tailstock a bit to get them perfectly centered. It’s not a big deal for the most part, but it’s worth noting.
Too narrow for its own good
Although a narrow footprint can be considered a plus for small work areas, it’s a huge drawback when it comes to the overall stability of the wood lathe. It’s prone to tipping over, so, bolting it down to avoid this is highly recommended.
Who Should Buy this Product
If you’re new to woodturning and only exploring it as a potential hobby, or you typically work on small-scale projects, producing pens, door handles, drawer pulls, and the like, buying a full-sized lathe wouldn’t make much sense for you. What you need is a midi lathe, such as the Nova 71118 Comet II.
What to Watch Out For
Although we’ve experienced a few issues with this wood lathe, our chief complaint – and the thing you should pay attention to if you decide to buy it – is that it lacks stability. We believe that the issue is the unit’s design. The swing seems to be too large for the somewhat narrow base of the machine, making it easy to tip over the wood lathe if it’s not bolted down.
Where do we stand with this one? Well, it does offer quite a few handy features, including the variable, three-speed options, and a Forward/Reverse switch, but it certainly has its shortcomings, too. That’s the main issue here – for every noteworthy aspect of this unit, there’s an equally disappointing one that makes it hard to recommend. A hobbyist or someone new to woodturning might be entirely happy with its performance, though.
The Best Wood Lathe – JET JWL-1221VS Wood Lathe
Highlighting a single product as the best is often tricky business, but as soon as we laid our eyes on this particular wood lathe, we knew that there was something special about it. And once we got a chance to put it to the test, it only convinced us further – the JET JWL-1221VS Wood Lathe is the best wood lathe on the market!
Although it comes with a high price, we firmly believe, based on its performance, user-friendly controls, and overall quality design that it’s worth every penny you spend on it. That’s what made it our top pick for today!
Even though we decided to highlight one of them as the best wood lathe, they all have something worth recommending. Whether you’re a woodturning expert or a complete beginner, any of the products listed above would be a worthy addition to your workshop. It’s okay if you don’t agree with our choice. The decision is ultimately yours, though, and you should base it on your needs and preferences. Hopefully, with this article, we’ve made it easier for you to make an informed purchase decision. If you found the info presented here helpful, share it with others, as well! Have fun with your next wood sculpting projects and see you next time!