Selecting a wood lathe that fits your needs can be an exciting and also challenging process.
Which wood lathe is best?
Choosing a wood lathe is a very personal experience. One lathe does not fit all. You must match your turning needs and long term goals with your budget, workspace available, as well as other issues that are particular to you.
In this article, we will unpack many of the critical questions that need to ask before you purchase a wood lathe.
Because this site is all about turning wood bowls, we will be addressing bowl making with all the lathes presented in this wood lathe review.
However, because I also know not everyone wants to only make wood bowls, I will cover other aspects of woodturning that pertain to the wood lathe you select.
Wood Lathe Your Decision
Many factors go into making a wood lathe purchase decision.
Size, price, compatibility, function all shape your decision-making process.
For this wood lathe review, I have selected three different models in three different sizes/classes of wood lathes to share with you here.
Each model in this review is manufactured by reputable companies and is highly regarded in the woodturning community.
When it is all said and done, the final decision of which lathe is best for you can only be answered by you.
My goal with this article is to help you understand the benefits of each lathe and class of lathes and to help you know which may fit your needs.
Your Needs First
It’s a good idea to step back and look at your specific needs, goals, and desires when it comes to purchasing a wood lathe.
What type of turning projects do you currently enjoy?
If you enjoy turning wood bowls most and that’s all you want to do, you may not need a long lathe bed necessarily.
However, if you also like to turn spindle work, lathe bed length may be a factor for you.
How much space do you have for your wood lathe?
A benchtop model may be appropriate for a smaller shop.
These are just some of the questions you need to consider when making your selection of a new wood lathe.
Lathe For The Future
Other questions to be asking yourself include:
Where are you along the woodturning learning curve?
Are you brand new to woodturning, or do you have some time under your belt?
New turners might be excited about a smaller bench model, only to outgrow it quickly if they become more serious about turning.
An occasional turner might be best suited for a smaller bench model, or midi lathe, while a seasoned regular turner might need a more substantial lathe.
If you’re brand new to turning, I suggest you get some time in on a “borrowed” lathe before you make a purchasing decision.
Check with your local turning club or see if you can locate a local turner who will show you the ropes.
The more you turn before making a lathe purchase, the more you will understand which lathe best fits your needs now and well into the future.
What Comes With The Lathe
Most lathes come with a variety of items included in your purchase.
Typically, tools for gripping or removing spindle inserts are included.
A live center on the tailstock, as well as a faceplate for the headstock, are often included with a lathe purchase.
Standard tool rests are also included with a new lathe purchase.
Additional accessories can be purchased to fit your lathe.
Be sure to check the headstock spindle thread size as well as the morse taper size to properly size current or future accessories, such as four-jaw chucks and additional faceplates.
Wood Lathe Power
Wood lathes power output is measured in horsepower. I wonder if horses have ever actually powered lathes? Hm? 😉
Turning traditional side-grain mounted bowl blanks requires force (torque) to cut through the end-grain areas of the bowl blank.
Because of this need for power, I do not recommend turning on a lathe with a horsepower rating under 3/4HP.
The experience of turning bowls on a low-powered lathe can be frustrating and inefficient.
When it comes to turning wood bowls, you want a powerful motor, not for high rotation speed but for torque or turning force.
Wood Lathe Swing
The distance from the headstock spindle to the lathe bed is the radius of the swing.
Wood lathe swing is important because it indicates the largest size wood blank compatible on that particular lathe.
The lathe swing is twice the radius. So, if the headstock spindle is six inches above the lathe bed, a maximum 12” bowl blank can be mounted to the lathe.
The bigger the swing, the larger the bowl blank you can attach, as long as the motor is powerful enough to handle that blank.
Wood Lathe Bed Length
As wood bowl turners, we don’t usually need much bed length since the bowl blank is located close to the headstock.
However, if you plan to do any long spindle turnings, be sure to pay attention to the lathe bed length.
Check with manufacturers to see if bed extensions are available for the lathe you’re considering.
Many times, lathe manufacturer’s make lathe bed rail extensions that can add additional length to a lathe bed.
Headstock Spindle Dimensions
The headstock spindle is the threaded connection point at the motor end of the lathe. See this article for more detailed lathe parts descriptions.
Threads on the headstock spindle are measured by the diameter of the spindle first and then the thread count per inch.
A one-inch by eight threads per inch (1”x8TPI), as well as a one and a quarter-inch x 8 threads per inch (1.25”x8TPI), are standard headstock dimensions, but there are many others as well.
Any current or future accessory purchases, such as chucks or faceplates, will need to match the headstock spindle dimensions.
Spindle size adapters are available and can be used when no other options are available.
But, for stable vibration-free turning, I try to avoid adding adaptors and keep the mounted bowl blank as close to the headstock as possible.
The power source needed for lathes is usually 110 volt, standard U.S. house current, or 220 volts.
Larger lathes, with more powerful motors, may require a 220-volt outlet.
Be sure to check what power source is needed for the lathe before you make a purchase.
Variable or Fixed Speed Lathe
When turning wooden bowls, it is necessary to dial in subtle changes to the rotation speed of your bowl blank, especially when it comes to reducing and controlling vibration.
Variable speed lathes are a must as far as I am concerned.
Fixed speed lathes usually offer three different belt pulley positions to adjust speed and torque.
However, when the fixed speed lathe is turned on, the speed ramps up to the top rate for that pulley position immediately, and no further adjustment is possible.
Several of the midi lathes listed below have this three-pulley adjustable option combined with a variable control knob.
The variable control knob provides the subtle speed control necessary, while the pulley positions allow for top speed and torque control.
Most wood bowl turning conditions require precise speed adjustment and do not need speed faster than 1,000 R.P.M.
Because of the importance of variable speed control, I will not be featuring any fixed speed lathes in this review.
In recent years, a new category of lathes has sprouted, midi lathes.
A midi-lathe is a medium-sized lathe that offers many capabilities and is positioned to be larger and more powerful than the smaller mini-lathes but not as big as a full-sized lathe.
Midi lathes are an affordable way to get started in woodturning, and they offer many possibilities.
You can turn just about any type of turning project, including bowls, on a midi lathe.
The size of the bowls may be limited to about 6-9 inches in diameter, despite the advertised swing dimension, but these midi lathes can handle turning wooden bowls.
Because of the smaller motor sizes, most midi lathes have a bit of trouble turning bowls to there full swing size. But back the size of your bowl blank down a bit, and they do a great job.
If you want to make smaller bowls say under about nine inches in diameter, a midi lathe might be a good option for you.
|Model||Nova 71118 Comet II||Jet JWL-1221VS||Delta 46-460|
|Headstock Spindle||1″ x 8TPI||1″ x 8TPI||1″ x 8TPI|
|Morse Taper||2 MT||2 MT||2 MT|
|Power Source||110 Volt||115 Volt||120 Volt|
|Horse Power||3/4 hp||1 hp||1 hp|
|R.P.M.||250 – 4,000||60 – 3,600||250 – 4,000|
|Weight||82 lbs.||130 lbs.||97 lbs.|
|Size||8.9 x 17.8 x 32.9 inches||32.8 x 14.6 x 21.2 inches||36 x 11 x 17.8 inches|
Full-Sized Wood Lathes
A step up from the midi lathes are the full-sized lathes.
Most full-sized lathes have more substantial, more powerful motors, more significant work areas, and are mounted to an adjustable base.
The full-sized lathes are designed for the more serious turner and someone who will be turning wood on a fairly regular basis.
|Model||Laguna 18/36 Revo||Jet JWL-1440VSK||Nova 1624 II|
|Headstock Spindle||1-1/4″ x 8TPI||1″ x 8TPI||1-1/4″ x 8TPI|
|Morse Taper||2 MT||2 MT||2 MT|
|Power Source||110 Volt||115 Volt||110 Volt|
|Horse Power||1.5 hp||1 hp||1.5 hp|
|R.P.M.||50 – 3,500||400 – 3,000||215 – 3,600|
|Weight||500 lbs.||400 lbs.||270 lbs.|
|Size||60 x 26 x 47 inches||87 x 57 x 38 inches||10 x 18 x 42 inches|
Professional lathes are much like full-sized wood lathes, but they are built a bit more stout and sturdy and designed for regular use.
If you turn wood often and feel you’ve outgrown your current lathe, it may be time to step up to a more professional wood lathe.
Pro wood lathes have many extra features, including better speed control and stability.
Professional wood lathe models can sometimes be custom modified with more powerful motors and additional available options. Check the manufacturer to learn more details about options.
Be sure to check the power source for each professional lathe because most pro lathes require 220-volt current.
If you don’t have a 220-volt electrical outlet available in your workspace, you will need to have one installed.
|Model||Powermatic 3520C||Grizzly G0766||Robust Sweet 16|
|Headstock Spindle||1-1/4″ x 8TPI||1-1/4″ x 8TPI||1-1/4″ x 8TPI|
|Morse Taper||2 MT||2 MT||2 MT|
|Power Source||220 Volt||220 Volt||110 or 220 Volt|
|Horse Power||2 hp||3 hp||1.5 or 2 hp|
|R.P.M.||40 – 3,200||100 – 3,000||60 – 2,900|
|Weight||726 lbs.||584 lbs.||460 lbs.|
|Size||55.2 x 27.2 x 30.5 inches||24.2 x 69 x 24 inches||56 x 50 x 28 inches
Wood Lathe Review Conclusion
Selecting a wood lathe can be a challenge when you first start turning.
Once you gain some experience at the lathe, you will more easily know which lathe fits your needs best.
Take your time and review the various lathe facts, and hopefully, the wood lathe best suited for you will become clear.
Let me know what wood lathe you turn on now and what made you decide on that model. Leave a comment below.