Woodturning is a popular hobby, and the lathe is one of the essential bits of kit you need, allowing you to carve pieces of wood into useful everyday objects (such as bowls) or object d’art.
It’s a hugely rewarding hobby, that requires skill and patience. These can be for your own use, gifts, or for the professional a great way to make money.
In this article, we will give some things to consider when buying a lathe and offer our recommendations for the best wood lathe on the market.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Wood Lathe On the Market
- JET JWL-1221VS
- WEN 3421 (Best Budget)
- Delta Industrial 46-460
- Rikon Power Tools 70-105
- Nova 71118
- Powermatic 1352001 (Best Premium)
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices, and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
What is a Wood Lathe?
A lathe is a simple machine used to shape a piece of material, such as wood or metal by rotating it rapidly along its axis whilst you press a fixed cutting or abrading tool against it. They are great for making all sorts of crafts, particularly bowls and pens.
The lathe is an ancient tool, and it has been important throughout history. There is evidence of lathes dating all the way back to Ancient Egypt and it was particularly important to the Industrial Revolution. Modern lathes work in much the same way as they always have although they now use electric power.
In this blog, we discuss all the things you need to consider before buying your very own wood lathe.
Buyer’s Guide – Things to Consider Before You Buy
Wood lathes usually come with electric motors and, like with most machines of this type, their power ratings can differ dramatically. When deciding on the motor that your machine will need you should consider what type of projects you will be using your lathe for.
For smaller tasks, you would be able to find a lathe that has just a 1/8 of a horsepower motor that would do the job admirably. However, this size motor will limit you to only being able to work on smaller pieces.
To use your lathe with projects that are much larger you will need a stronger motor, somewhere between 1 to 3 horsepower. It is worth noting that 3 horsepower motors are towards the higher end of power for models for personal use, so unless you are wanting to use your lathe on some really big projects you probably won’t need anything this powerful, you can always save yourself some money and buy yourself something smaller and slightly less powerful.
Remember that the size of your lathe will affect their power rating too, the smaller the lathe the lower the power rating.
The headstock (along with the tailstock) is one of two parts of the lathe that hold your wood firmly in place. This is where you will be mounting your chuck.
The headstock should be reliably sturdy, and it should be properly modified in case you want to work on different pieces without the tailstock.
Items that need to be hollowed out (for example, wooden bowls) cannot be attached to both the tail and headstock so your headstock should have a strong drive center and faceplate otherwise projects of this type may not work as well.
The tailstock (as mentioned above) is the second part of the ‘lathe clamping equation’. It is a sturdy rotating pin that will secure your piece of wood from the other side as the headstock. This part of your machine will only be used to secure larger projects from the other side. It cannot be used to secure smaller pieces or pieces that need hollowing out (like wooden bowls).
To use a wood lathe well you need to be in control of your project at all times, you cannot rush your work or be too rough with it, you should only take out small pieces of wood at a time. You should take great care when using your hand tools, such as chisels, or you could ruin what you have already worked so hard on.
A tool rest is ideal to help with this. A tool rest will help you lead the tool you are using towards your wood, allowing you to work with it more effectively.
Your tool rest should be mounted nearby your lathe, so it is handily available where and when needed.
Be aware to secure your tool rest tightly to your lathe, if it should get loose and fly off in any direction it could cause danger or injury to the operator.
Some wood lathe accessories typically include a tool rest, tailstock extensions, Jacob chucks, different types of adapters and drive centers, as well as lathe lights, calipers, and other measuring tools, but there are plenty more!
Using accessories with you lathe is a great way to get even more out of your machine that you had previously never realized you could do!
Full-sized lathes can be pretty big, they take up quite a bit of room and need even more space to be able to run efficiently. On top of having to find the space for your lathe, they also come with various bits of additional equipment that will need storing somewhere, such as your tool rests, tools, and all that wood waiting to be turned into your creative projects.
Thankfully, there are some much smaller lathes available so you should be able to find one to suit your space but be aware of the type and size projects you are wanting to create with your lathe.
The larger the project the more powerful the lathe, the more powerful the lathe, the larger it gets, and the larger the lathe, the more space you will need!
I think the most important thing to consider before you buy any expensive machine is what you will be using it for. You would not buy a full-sized kiln just to fire one mug, similarly, you do not need a full-sized lathe just to make some bowls and smaller projects.
However, you do not want to buy a smaller model only to find you need to buy a new one fairly quickly as your projects are too big for your machine. So, consider what projects you are doing now, along with any projects you think you might do in the future, this will save you money, and a lot of stress in the long run.
As with most machines, wood lathes come with quite a varied price range, from your budget machines, right the way through to the more premium, high-end lathes. As expected, the price of your lathe reflects the kind of thing the machine offers, however, do not be put off!
Generally, the larger and more powerful the machine the more expensive it will be, however, if you are only using your machine for smaller projects you won’t need anything of that size or power and so could look more closely at machines towards the lower end of the price range.
If you are after something with a few more fancy features, for example, a variable speed control, you will need to look towards the higher end of the spectrum. Although, if you will be using your lathe regularly to create larger, more complex pieces of work, something more pricey could work out to have been excellent value for money, so make sure to do your research before you buy.
Product Round-up and Reviews – Best Wood Lathe
The Jet JWL is a machine that focuses hugely on control, to great success. The manufacturers claim that this machine has unrivaled speed control and it has a huge range, 60 to 3600 RPM variable speed. It has a smooth forward to reverse transition and an innovative ratchet style belt tension system.
The machine has a 1 horsepower motor, making it ideal for use with a variety of projects. It weighs a rather hefty 136.4pounds and its dimensions are 32.82 x 14.56 x 21.25 inches, so it is not the most dainty and portable of machines, however, it is small enough to fit in a corner of your workspace without taking up too much room.
It is a corded-electric machine that uses 115volts, the cord length is roughly 4ft so be sure you are near enough to a power source to work this machine.
It comes with a 5-year warranty.
- 1 horsepower motor – ideal for using with both small and large projects.
- Solidly built, hefty cast iron.
- Tailstock and tool rest both move and lock into place easily.
- Heavy machine – needs two people to move safely.
This easy to operate smaller wood lathe is ideal for turning small pieces such as pens, bowls, cups, chess pieces. It does have some size limitations, so it probably won’t be great for larger projects. You can fit pieces up to 12 inches long and 8inches wide with this lathe.
It is made from cast iron so provides a sturdy frame for your pieces, it also features a 2.3-inch faceplate, an MT1 spindle, and a tailstock taper and two interchangeable tool rests for added versatility.
This machine is one of the smaller ones on our list, it weighs just 44.9pounds and has dimensions of 28 x 13.3 x 7.6 inches, making it easily portable. The smaller dimensions mean a smaller work area is needed to work the machine too. It uses a standard 120-volt plug. It is a great little machine, ideal for those just starting out in the hobby.
- Ideal machine for beginners
- Small and portable
- Sturdy framework.
- Two tool rests included.
- It is a small lathe so will jam easily and can only make small projects – the largest bowl you can turn is around 6inches.
Delta Industrial 46-460
The Delta Industrial lathe has a 1 horsepower, 1,725RPM motor, making it a great lathe to use in a variety of projects. It has an electronic variable speed with three-pulley speed ranges providing the required speeds needed to turn a project without having to change the belt position.
It comes with a forward and reverse function which allows you to achieve a superior finish on your projects. It also has a large 12-1/2- inch swing capacity allowing it to make a variety of sized projects, for example, the bowl sizes can range from 4 to 11.5 inches in diameter when using this machine. The belt tensioning system allows for quick and easy speed changes and sets the belt to the correct tension needed every time for maximum power transfer and longer tool life.
The lathe weighs 44kg (or roughly 97pounds) and has dimensions of approx. 35.9 x 10.9 x 17.7 inches so it is a reasonably sized machine that is not easily transportable, but it is very solidly built.
- 1 horsepower – great for turning a variety of pieces.
- The large swing capacity means your projects can range in size.
- The belt tensioning system is a great addition.
- Mid-sized lathe, great for small to medium-sized projects but not for any big projects.
Rikon Power Tools 70-105
This mini lathe was designed specifically for pen turners who wanted a sturdy, dedicated machine for their craft. It is a basic lathe that has been scaled back but as the lathe, headstock, and tailstock are made of cast iron, vibration is not a factor.
The lathe weighs in at 74pounds with dimensions of 35.5 x 10.5 x 14.7 inches, so it is one of the smaller sized machines on our list. It is ideal for smaller projects but would not be able to manage larger pieces. It includes a 6inch tool rest, live center, spur center, rubber feet, wrenches, and a manual.
The five-speed ranges cover the bases for boring barrel holes, roughing out pen billets, turning to shape, and finishing. It has a ½ horsepower motor, so it is great for turning smaller pieces but would not be able to cope with turning anything of any real size.
The machine bed and its matching components give it a precise alignment.
- Great beginner machine.
- Reduced vibration.
- Made for turning smaller projects, specifically pens.
- Not big enough for large projects.
- Only has ½ horsepower motor so would not be able to handle turning larger or more complex projects.
The Nova 71118 has a ¾ horsepower variable speed motor which offers a wide speed range from 250-4000 RPM. The option to use both a super low speed, up to a super high speed makes this lathe the perfect choice for turning a variety of projects.
It is portable and small enough to be space-saving yet can deliver the stability of a much larger machine.
It has a 12inch swing capacity over bed and 16.5inches between center capacity, expandable to 41inch with the optional bed extension accessory, using this you can turn a wide variety of projects. This lathe weighs around 82 pounds and has dimensions of 8.8 x 17.7 x 32.9 inches so it would not be great for huge projects but would be pretty ideal for turning a small project.
- Option to use high and low speeds to turn lots of different projects.
- Small and portable.
- Has a ¾ horsepower motor which gives it enough power to turn wide varieties of projects.
- Too small to do larger projects – although it does have the option to extend the bed.
The Powermatic 1352001 is powered by 2 horsepower, 220-volt, variable speed motor, making it the most powerful lathe on our list. It includes a sliding headstock, electronic variable speed control, and a spindle lock, plus lots of other great innovations. The digital RPM readout means it is easy to keep track of your speed and its redesigned tailstock offers some internal storage. The machine offers classic reliability with advanced technology.
With its wide-ranging capabilities, this lathe is perfect for both beginners and the more seasoned woodworker. It is a very adaptable machine, able to accommodate a huge range of projects in a variety of sizes due to its 20inch swing and 34 ½ inches between the centers.
The machine is made from heavy-duty cast iron and weighs in at an immovable 682 pounds and is 50 x 24 x 44 inches in dimensions
This lathe is backed by a five-year warranty and comes with a head and tailstock, tool support base, two leg assemblies, one guard, one 14-inch tool support, one 13-inch faceplate, one live center, one knockout rod, one faceplate wrench, one tool caddy, four levelers, owner’s manual, warranty card and much more.
- 2 horsepower motor that allows for a huge range of projects.
- Great lathe for beginners and experienced woodworkers.
- The digital RPM makes it easy for you to keep track of your speed.
- Assembly will be required, and it is a very heavy machine, you will need multiple people to move the machine.
- The machine is also quite large so will require quite a large area of space.
So, Which Should I Buy?
All the wood lathes reviewed have multiple positives and the one you choose really will depend on your circumstances, in regard to the size and space you have, as well as the projects you are wishing to create.
My favorite budget machine is the WEN 3421. It is a small machine, but it is brilliant for beginners and smaller projects, it is nice and easy to operate and its two tool rests are an added bonus.
The best premium machine on the list for me would be the Powermatic 1352001. It is a large machine and would require plenty of space, but it is unlikely you would need to upgrade your machine at any point making it a good value for money buy.