Every woodwork shop should have a wood lathe, you may not know it now but by the time you reach the end of this article, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without one. If you’re unfamiliar with a lathe, also known as a woodturning lathe, you’re certainly not alone, it’s a machine tool that you can use to cut, sand, shape, knurl, drill, deform and so on.
Working with wood can sometimes seem a little daunting, with everything needing to be perfect including shape and ensuring you have those smooth corners.
You can get lathes for various materials but the woodworking lathes date back the furthest and actually, all other lathes have been developed from this kind. This is the most traditional and well-known version of the lathe due to its ancient history. It’s a very simple tool that consists of an adjustable horizontal metal rail which rotates on an axis to perform all its functions. You stick your piece of wood in between the two sides and it spins giving you easy access and control to do as you wish.
If this is the first you’ve heard of a lathe but think that it could be useful to you, never fear as we are here to provide a woodwork lathe 101 and give you the low down on everything you need to know in order to find the one that will work best for you.
Once you know which type of lathe is best for you, learning how to use it won’t be too difficult to pick up and you’ll be glad to have this trusty tool in your workshop.
What is a Wood Lathe?
Essentially a wood lathe is a tool that helps you turn to wood as you work with it. By having this control over your piece, you can guarantee a more polished and flawless result. The tool consists of a bad, headstock, tailstock and tool rest. While you rest your wood between the stocks, you hold your tool and the rest of the work is still manual.
Getting To Know Your Wood Lathe
This is the part of the machine that holds your spindle in place. This is the side where you will also find the motor and drive belt that turns the spindle and generally you should look to this side for options to adjust the speed.
You should be able to adjust the tool rest and it’s where you would put your woodturning tools to support them throughout your work
Tool Rest Banjo
You use this to lock your tool into place. Simply tighten or loosen it depending on whether you want to keep the tool in place or remove and replace it. You can adjust it to be in whatever position you feel most comfortable.
It’s able to spin freely as it’s supported by bearings despite being held in place by the headstock. The spindle is attached to the belt which is connected to the motor. You can normally purchase attachments that you would attach to the spindle in order to hold whatever object you have chosen to make
You can slide the tailstock along the lathe bed (the foundation of the tool) and lock it into place depending on how big your piece is. The tailstock is responsible for holding the tailstock quill in place. The quill is the rotatable shaft, usually controlled by a wheel which can extend or contract to make the correct amount of space for your wood piece. This, together with the headstock spindle, holds your piece of wood steady while you work.
Which one is right for you?
Firstly, what is it you need it for? Do you need something that comes with or has the capacity to hold extra attachments? Do you need it for cutting, sanding, shaping? What size will you be working with? Do you need a smaller lathe or one that extends long enough to fit something like a wardrobe door? When you’re choosing the right wood lathe for you, you have to consider the space you need, the tools that will come in handy and also since they’re bulky machinery, how much space you have to store one. Don’t forget to also always look at the available speeds.
What do you need it for?
Wood lathes have many functions so the first question to ask yourself is, what are you hoping to use it for? You can make stunning furniture, impressive wooden decorations, candlesticks, bowls, and even toys. So, are you looking to make small objects like bowls, toys or small decor that might sit on a table? Or perhaps you need it to create furniture and other large items? Really, there is no limit to what you can do with your wood lathe. Just don’t forget to also consider all future projects too.
Do you have access to electricity or a generator? These tend to be run by motors and are cordless but just double check before you buy if you need to be sure that not having access to a power socket will be an issue.
Naturally, we recommend checking out which wood lathe is perfect for you before making a decision as they’re not the cheapest item you can add to your workshop. You should always check out to see what others have had to say, especially if they bought their wood lathe for similar projects as you plan to use it for. Below, we will give you some guidance at the different price brackets as well as the pros and cons, after all, the manufacturer is hardly likely to tell you the cons right? We would recommend using Amazon to see the best product reviews due to its vast and global customer base. With a website as popular and widely used as Amazon, you are most likely to get a well-rounded review on any product you cast your eye upon.
Our Wood Lathe Picks
We are going to take yours through some of the best wood lathe tools available to see which ones rank at the top of their category. For this list, we will separate our findings into price ranges to save you the hassle of looking above or below your budget. We will also show you the pros and cons of each model so that you can decide which one is best for the project for which you intend to use it.
On a budget
Maybe this is your first time and you are looking for something on a budget to take it for a test run or maybe you just don’t want to spend loads. Well, here is our guide for the best wood lathes that won’t break the bank.
|Size||26″ x 10″ x 12″|
|Speed||750 to 3200 rotations per minute|
This product comes with an easy to use lever clamping system which comes in handy when you want to be sure that your wood won’t move mid job and ensures that you will have clean and precise results.
The tailstock seems to throw off some users but if you make sure you read through and understand the instructions, then it shouldn’t be a problem.
This is a good choice for a beginner as all the basics are there it’s not terribly expensive for a newcomer or just someone looking for this tool as a hobby.
It’s better for small projects and anyone looks for expert professional use might be better off looking elsewhere.
- Straightforward to use, nothing complex about the setup.
- Ideal for small projects
- Comes ready to use
- The tailstock doesn’t extend enough to make it practical for horizontal drilling
- It doesn’t have a high endurance for longer projects
- Tool rest doesn’t go low enough for certain projects
|Size||57.2″ X 9″ X 14.9″|
You get a strong and sturdy frame which reduces the vibrations from the motor and you can rely on it to hold your wood in place while you work.
You have four possible speeds which help if you plan on working on a range of different projects.
It’s small and light so storage shouldn’t be an issue. This makes it ideal for home wood projects as it’s compact and can be easily set aside.
You can also use this one for larger projects and it comes with accessories fit for operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, and deformation.
This one is also great for beginners and hobbyists as it’s simple to assemble and very easy to use.
- Quick and easy to assemble
- The low bar which makes it practical for larger projects
- Sturdy frame means you won’t have to deal with vibrations
- It doesn’t have a long endurance time
- You need to be extra careful in checking you’ve secured your wooden items in place
- The tool rest base is quite low so it’s not ideal for round projects like bowls
|Size||12″ X 18″|
|Speed||520, 900, 1400, 2150, or 3400 RPM|
The weight of this wood lathe means that it should hold steady and be stable while you’re going to work on it. You can do anything from creating table legs to smaller items such as bowls, cups, pens or toys.
You have the tool rest which is big enough to support any tools you may need to use. It’s easy to use and holds your wood steady while you get to work.
This is a pretty ideal wood lathe for hobbyists and beginners as it provides you with all the basics that you need for your projects.
While the weight is meant to be enough to keep sturdy, some say that they need to clamp it down as it is not heavy enough to stand alone without moving.
- It’s light, compact and easy to store
- Quick and simple to set up
- Ideal for small projects
- It can be a little slow at starting up
- It doesn’t come with any extra accessories
- The locking mechanisms can play up if they’re not perfectly assembled into place
Ok, so you’ve used a wood lathe before and you love it and you’re ready to commit to a good one that still won’t cost you an arm and a leg. In that case, here are the ones we recommend you take a look at.
|Size||35.8″ x 14.6″ x 21.2″|
|Speed||¾ Horse Power motor|
You’re paying a little extra for quality here and you certainly get it. It runs smoothly and quietly and holds your piece in place as you work. You don’t have to worry about it vibrating either and ruining your wood.
It arrives more or less ready to get started and it’s super quick and easy to move the pieces to install or adjust the piece of wood you’re working on.
Unlike some of the other wood lathes on this list, there is an only one-speed option so while that might be ideal for some projects, it is definitely worth checking out if it’s powerful enough for you, depending on what it is you need it for.
Some users claim that the dimensions are misguiding and that despite following the size guidelines, their wooden items did not fit within the parameters.
- It runs smoothly and quietly
- Quick and easy to move the belt to another pulley
- Powerful and arrives pretty much ready to go
- Make very sure that your dimensions match what it says on the wood lathe
- No variable speeds
- The size claims to be able to hold doesn’t always necessarily ring true
Mophorn 12 x 18 Inch Wood Lathe Bench Top Heavy Duty Wood Lathe Stepless Speed Regulation Digital Display – $368.99
|Size||12″ x 18″|
With this one, you get a powerful motor with electronic variable speed control and you can adjust the speed depending on your needs.
It’s more heavy duty but doesn’t be put off by that as it means that it will be able to hold its own weight and run more smoothly. This also means that all the parts are harder and more resistant to wear and tear to keep up with the heavy duty frame.
You can monitor your speed on an easy to read digital display.
It tends to have a longer operation life and is ideal for use anywhere for a school workshop to an engineering lab.
- The variable speed which can be read nice and easily on a digital monitor
- The heavy duty frame helps keep the machine steady
- It runs quietly
- You may need a size adaptor the chuck
- It is quite heavy duty and bulky
- Not ideal for long turnings like bats
Maybe you’re a pro and you know you are ready to pay top dollar for the absolute best. Here are our top picks for you.
More than $800
|Size||64″ x 18″ x 16″|
First up, you have ten potential speeds on this wood lathe so it’s almost a guarantee that you will find one that suits you and your project.
As you can see above, it’s heavy but this cast iron frame really helps with precision as it won’t be affected by the vibrations of the machine.
You can see that it’s quite a heavy machine so it might be in your best interest to get a second person to help you to assemble it, although for some that might be more of a burden.
It’s easy to use to a great investment whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned expert.
Word of warning, since it is so heavy, be extra careful when moving, handling or assembling the wood lathe as to avoid injury.
- It runs smoothly without vibrations
- It’s easy to assemble
- Great range of speed and power
- Some claim that the headstock, tailstock and tool rest doesn’t fit well
- There are complaints that the dimensions are misguided
- The various elements can be hard to use and need to be dealt with gently
|Size||17.5″ x 63.2″ x 20″|
You get a lot of power with this wood lathe and you can adjust the speed so it’s pretty ideal for any size project you have in mind. You can change the speed up without having to change the belt which saves time and means you can work faster. However, it doesn’t go below 600 RPM so take that into consideration if you are mostly focussing on smaller items.
It comes in six separate pieces so there isn’t too much assembling involved.
Another heavy duty machine meaning that you won’t be able to feel the vibrations while working which will help with a steady and flawless product.
Despite its size, it works quietly as well.
- A good variable speed control
- Works quickly, smoothly and quietly
- Long durability
- Quite heavy
- On some occasions may need to bolt the machine to the ground to keep it steady
- The headstock and tailstock may not match up according to some users
|Size||43″ x 11″ x 19″|
|Speed||215- 3600 RPM|
It has long durability, which you would hope for with this price.
You have a nice range of speeds which makes it ideal for most wood projects. The speed is changed by opening the access panel and changing the belt position on the step pulleys. Adjusting the motor speeds is done manually.
It’s expensive but if you’re new to this don’t be put off as you pay for what you get. It’s so simple to use and ideal for small and large wooden items.
It’s so easy to assemble and you are essentially ready to get started. The alignments aren’t as problematic as we have seen on some of the cheaper machines.
Like the previous wood lathe, you might want to consider an extra pair of hands when assembling this and please do be careful as it can be heavy.
- It has long durability and endurance
- It works quickly and smoothly to help you achieve perfect product too
- You have a nice variety of power and speed making it perfect for all size projects
- It’s expensive
- Changing the belt isn’t the easiest task
- The customer service is poor if you do come across any issues
We hope you find this a handy guide when deciding which wood lathe is good for you and what you need to consider before making your purchase. As your needs could change depending on your budget and what you are looking for out of your wood lathe, we have chosen our top choice at each price band.
Best Wood Lathe on a Budget
We have chosen the WEN 3420T 8 in. x 12 in. Variable Speed Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe as our pick for the best budget wood lathe. It’s Amazon’s number one Best Seller and honestly, we think these shoppers have excellent taste. THere’s next to no assembling involved and using it couldn’t be easier. Just make sure you read the instructions properly before you get started. Sure, this may be more ideal for small projects but for this price range you can be sure to get your money’s worth. It doesn’t come with extra accessories but it works like a charm.
Best Midrange Wood Lathe
Moving on to our mid-range favorite, we’ve chosen the Jet 719115 JWL-1221SP Step Pulley Wood Lathe. It’s affordable and sturdy so you certainly shouldn’t regret this choice. Again, it doesn’t come with anything extra but it more than makes up for it with what it can do. It’s another easy to assemble the machine and moving the belt to another pulley is quick too. Sure, it doesn’t have the speed variables that others do have but with the right power, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. It runs quietly which is always a bonus too.
The Best Premium Wood Lathe
Finally, if you’re ready to invest in a more pricey option then we would suggest the Shop Fox W1758 Wood Lathe With Cast Iron Legs And Digital Readout. We don’t think you need to be an expert to appreciate how good this wood lathe is and if you’re ready for that commitment we urge beginners to consider it too. It’s so easy and quick to put together and is ideal for projects of all sizes. Most importantly, while with some of the cheaper wood lathes, wear and tear become an issue sooner, due to the heavy duty and sturdy frame and other parts, you can be sure this will be your trusty sidekick for years to come.