If you’re looking for the best wood lathe then look no further than the Powermatic 3520C. This represents the best in class with a capacity of 35″ x 22-inches, with many new updates for this 4th version of the product.
The Powermatic 3520C wood lathe is a masterful blend of precision engineering and state-of-the-art technology; engineered for the most discerning of woodworkers. This lathe is a tour de force of craftsmanship and versatility, giving you control for the most detailed work. Boasting a host of new features, including a movable control box, even better build quality now weighing 726 lbs., a digital indexing readout for enhanced accuracy — all powered by a powerful 2-hp motor, and much more. With two variable speed settings, give you incredible control (15-1200 rpm / 40-3200 rpm).
This lathe is capable of tackling the most demanding of projects and although quite expensive initially, over the long-term, you’ll be happier as you won’t be able to blame your lathe on the final product. Whether you’re a professional woodworker or a hobbyist seeking to take your craft to the next level, the Powermatic 3520C is an excellent option, beloved by even the most critical woodworkers. You’ll be hard pressed to find a negative review on this wood lathe. The intuitive controls, and precise performance, will ensure that you fall in love with it from day one. And, on top of its features, you get a 5 year warranty for peace of mind.
In truth, the best wood lathe for you depends on what your long-term plans are and the type of projects you plan on working on in the near future. We have plenty of options for you, no matter what your budget is. Nobody ever said that woodworking was a cheap hobby.
Table of Contents...
- 0.1 Wood Lathe Market in 2023
- 0.2 Choosing a Wood Lathe is Personal
- 0.3 Editors’ Picks: Best Wood Lathe for the Money
- 0.4 Overview: WEN 34035 / Variable Speed (14″x20″)
- 0.5 Overview: Grizzly Industrial G0838
- 0.6 Proper Dust Collection
- 1 Indepth Reviews: Best Wood Lathe / 2023
- 1.1 Review : Jet JWL-1221VS / Best Wood Lathe
- 1.2 Review : WEN 3421 / Best Cheap Wood Lathe
- 1.3 Review : Shop Fox W1852 / Best PRO Wood Lathe
- 1.4 Review : Grizzly Industrial T25920 / Best PRO Wood Lathe
- 1.5 Review : JET JWL-1640EVS / Best Wood Lathe
- 1.6 Review : RIKON Power Tools 70-220VSR
- 1.7 Review : JET JWL-1015 / Best MIDI Lathe
- 2 Wood Lathe Buying Guide —
Wood Lathe Market in 2023
There are some tools that separate the best from the rest. I consider a wood lathe to be one of these. A machine that shows you’re a true craftsman. If you’re interested in buying the best wood lathe, you have my greatest respect. Using these machines, you’re able to turn perfectly molded ornate pieces, cut precision holes for screwless joins, and a lot more.
Many beginners start off their woodturning journey making many mistakes that eventually they correct with experience but why not avoiding the mistakes altogether. I prefer to learn from other peoples mistakes rather than have to go through the frustrations myself. Here’s a video that discussed many common mistakes of woodturning and using a wood lathe:
VIDEO: 10 Beginner Mistakes when Using A Wood Lathe
I recently had the opportunity to use the JET JWL-1440VS (see below) to create a set of intricately detailed wooden candle holders for a high-end Italian restaurant in my area. It was easy to work with this JET benchtop wood lathe. The variable speed was essential to creating the final pieces. I would never buy anything other than variable speed. I wish I had lower RPMs like the 3520C by Powermatic, but I was still able to achieve a final look I was happy with. In the end, I was able to create a beautiful set of functional candle holders that were used as the centerpiece of the restaurant’s decor.
Best Benchtop Wood Lathe: JET JWL-1440VS
Overall, the JET JWL-1440VS is a quality option for any professional woodturner looking for precision, versatility, and durability in their lathe. It’s perfect for projects ranging from detailed work to large scale bowls and platters.
Key Features / JET JWL-1440VS
Why RPM’s Matter
When it comes to woodturning, the rotational speed of the lathe, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), plays a crucial role in the final outcome of the project. For larger, unbalanced pieces of wood, it’s advisable to work at lower RPM’s to ensure stability and prevent the piece from flying off the lathe. The JET JWL-1440VS wood lathe, for example, has the capability to go as low as 400 RPM, allowing for precise and safe turning of larger pieces.
But it’s not just about working with larger pieces, lower RPM’s also provide a level of control and finesse that is essential for intricate and delicate work. For instance, at 50 RPM, a woodturner can achieve a level of precision that would be difficult to replicate at higher speeds. The slower rotation allows for more control of the cutting tool and less vibration, leading to smoother cuts and a higher level of detail. As the RPM increases, the level of control decreases, making it more challenging to achieve the same level of precision.
It’s worth noting that more expensive lathes can often go even lower in RPM’s, providing even greater control and precision. However, it’s important to keep in mind that lower RPMs also means slower work, and some projects may require a faster speed to achieve a desired result. It’s a balancing act between speed and control, and the key is to find the sweet spot that works for the specific project and the woodturners skill level.
VIDEO: What’s the Right RPM for your Wood Lathe?
It’s always better to have a greater range of RPM at your disposal but the key is knowing how to set your RPM’s to the right setting. More options aren’t helpful if you don’t know how to use them. Remember VCR’s from the 80’s and 90’s? Well, I recall they had a lot of settings and features that nobody ever used but everyone thought were “cool.” Don’t be that person.
Choosing a Wood Lathe is Personal
The best wood lathe means different things to different people. The type of work you do, the size of your shop, and a bunch of personal preferences will determine which model is going to be the perfect fit.
What exactly is a wood lathe? Let’s answer the most basic question:
A wood lathe is a machine that is used to shape and carve wood into various forms. It consists of a motor, a bed, and a spindle. The motor rotates the spindle, and the bed is used to support the wood while it is being shaped. There are several different types of common wood lathes; with each one of them having its own identity and reason for being.
Turret lathes and Midi lathes are also types of wood lathes. A Turret lathe is a type of lathe that has a vertical tool post, which holds multiple cutting tools. This allows the operator to quickly change tools, making it ideal for mass production. Midi lathes, on the other hand, are smaller in size and are designed for hobbyists and small workshops. They’re less expensive than larger lathes and are suitable for smaller projects such as pens, pepper mills, and bottle stoppers.
When deciding which type of wood lathe to purchase, it’s important to consider the type of projects you will be undertaking and your skill level. A beginner may want to start with a benchtop lathe, while a professional may require a larger, more advanced lathe such as a CNC lathe. The size of the lathe will also influence the size of the projects you can undertake. Larger lathes have a larger capacity and can accommodate larger projects such as bowls, platters, vases, and even furniture components like chair legs and table legs.
Best Cheap Wood Lathe
Not everyone has thousands of dollars to spend on a wood lathe, which makes this WEN wood lathe an incredible buy at around $200. They also have higher end models but if you’re just starting out and want something inexpensive, you won’t do any better than the WEN LA3421.
Key Features: Variable speed, 750 to 3200 RPM, 8″ swing over the bed (13 in. distance between centers), 3.2A motor / 2 year warranty
Includes: 2.3 in. face plate, an MT1 spindle and tailstock taper, two interchangeable tool rests
According to a study published in the Journal of Wood Science and Technology, the most common types of wood lathes used by professional woodworkers are floor-model lathes, followed by CNC lathes. Benchtop lathes are more typically used by hobbyists and beginners. The most common items made on a wood lathe are bowls, spindles, candlesticks, lamp posts, table legs, and even baseball bats.
I’ve seen some wood lathes that I believe to be absolutely wonderful. To another, the same model may be less than ideal. Perhaps it’s a locking handle that frustrates you because you’re always knocking something when you use it. We all have our own opinions when deciding what is important.
A full-size model lathe can accommodate larger projects and has a greater capacity than a benchtop lathe. It also has a more powerful motor, which allows for faster and more precise cuts. Additionally, a floor-model lathe can handle larger workpiece diameters and lengths, and often includes more advanced features such as variable speed controls, digital readouts, and indexing capabilities.
We can never ignore the topic of budget when reviewing power tools. Since a quality wood lathe is never going to be cheap, this is something we’ve carefully considered when selecting our lineup of the best wood lathes for this review.
In terms of price, the range for wood lathes can vary widely. Benchtop lathes typically range from around $150 to $500. Floor-model lathes range from around $500 to $3000. CNC lathes can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. The difference between a beginner machine and a professional machine is the level of precision, speed, and overall size, power, and quality of the machine.
A beginner machine will not have the same level of precision as a pro-grade machine and won’t be able to equal the size that one would be able to pull off and a full-size machine. This is an obvious point. You can’t make something bigger than the capacity of the machine.
The end result is a pretty comprehensive list of wood lathes that are all outstanding in some way. Whether you’re looking for the best budget wood lathe or the ultimate machine for a professional shop, this is where you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Editors’ Picks: Best Wood Lathe for the Money
Laguna / Revo 1836-110-150 / 220V
The ergonomic control panel is a pleasure to use and you can tell the engineers created this lathe for humans. The well laid out buttons and large size are precisely how control panels should be made for any type of machinery.
The steel bed creates a solid foundation, which enables the cast iron headstock to function effortlessly and quietly.
The Laguna Revo 18|36 is a gift from the gods for woodworkers. This has become a favorite among professionals and serious hobbyists. The reason is simple — it works exactly as you would expect. It’s as sturdy as can be with cast iron legs, the control panel is well-designed and easy to use, it’s as quiet as can be and will turn anything you throw at it.
It truly is an awesome piece of machinery and you’ll quickly realize what a joy it is to use. There’s nothing better when you’re trying to realize your vision for a piece and nothing stands in your way in getting the job done. Far too often woodworking machinery looks impressive but when you start using it you feel like it’s working against you, and that’s always a result of poor engineering, but this is not the case with the Revo 18|36, in fact, the opposite.
Laguna is a reputable brand so you don’t have to worry about getting support from them if you need it. If you buy it online, make sure your register it on the Laguna site within 30 days to get your two-year warranty. This is essential and don’t forget. Register it as soon as you purchase it and get that out of the way.
Another reason why I love the Laguna brand is because they create a lot of educational content to explain to customer how to use it and set it up. For example, for the Laguna Revo 18/36 they have a 15-PART Video series on how to set it up, straight out of the box. This is unbelievable and a rarity, but I know you’ll appreciate it if you decide to make this this lathe your own. Watch the Revo 18/36 Series on youTube
VIDEO / See the Laguna Revo 18|36 in Action
Overview: WEN 34035 / Variable Speed (14″x20″)
Best Value Wood Lathe for Hobbyist Woodworkers
Wen has been refining their wood lathes with a consistency that indicates they’re serious about making quality woodworking tools. The WEN 34035 is their biggest and most powerful machine. So, if you find this wood lathe bigger than you need you can take a look at the other models. We review the 3421 model later in this article.
This is a solid wood lathe that remains still and quiet when it’s turning your wood. You get more length and width compared to other bench-top planers which allow you expand the size of your projects. Even if you don’t think you need this size wood lathe, it’s nice to have room to grow into.
You’ll likely discover that you don’t need to bolt this wood lathe to your bench because it’s so sturdy standing on its own, but for safety reasons it’s probably a good idea to keep it secure. Who knows, if there’s an earthquake you don’t want this lathe falling over. This is an excellent buy and should be on your list for best value wood lathe for beginner woodworkers.
Overview: Grizzly Industrial G0838
Best Bowl Turning Wood Lathe
If you love making bowls — big or small — then this is the right wood lathe for you .Well, this can make more than just bowls. If it involves turning wood this machine is superb. It has enough torque for turning hard woods at really low speeds. The Headstock slides along the precision-ground cast-iron bed and can be locked in place on the tailstock side for outboard turning of much larger pieces.
The optional T28372 Bed and Tool Post Extension provides an impressive 28″ swing over the bed extension. The extension can also be mounted to the end of the lathe bed for a total of 47″ between centers. In other words, this machine can scale to make anything you can think of. Grizzly is a premium manufacturer and this is one of their newer models, and well worth the price. This isn’t the cheapest but if you’re serious about your craft, this is a top contender for the best wood lathe for the money.
Proper Dust Collection
Woodworking is a beloved hobby for many, but it comes with a significant health risk. Wood dust, which is produced during the sanding, cutting and shaping of wood, is known to be carcinogenic. Therefore, it is crucial to have a high-quality dust collector in your workshop to keep the air clean and safe. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, is not enough to protect you from the harmful effects of wood dust.
Proper airflow control is essential to capturing and removing wood dust from the workshop. This includes the use of well-designed or modified tools and hoods that can capture the fine dust before it is scattered throughout the shop. Additionally, providing enough air volume (CFM) at each tool to collect the fine wood dust at the source before it escapes is crucial.
To achieve this, a well-designed and efficient system with large enough ducting and cleanly designed duct runs must be implemented. Keeping the air speed (FPM) fast enough to move the dusty air is also important to prevent plugging or dangerous dust piles in the ducting. Finally, using filters large enough to support the volumes of air moved and dust loading with filter material independently certified to provide sufficient fine dust filtering is crucial.
We’ve written two indepth guides on proper workshop dust collecting. It’s absolutely essential that you buy a HEPA system, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time working on your woodworking projects.
The ultra fine wood dust particles will catch up to you one day if you don’t invest the money for a high quality filtration system. Everyone has an opinion on what you should buy but what I’m telling you is based on studies that warn about the real danger of fine wood dust particles and how they affect our health over time.
The science has proven the dangers, which you can read for yourself. I don’t expect you to take my word for it:
Get the Right Size Wood Lathe + Key Features
I recommend watching this video which helps you choose the right size wood lathe to buy. The last thing you want is to spend a lot of money only to find out shortly after buying it that it can’t do what you want it to do, or it doesn’t have an important feature that you didn’t consider. Now is the time to soak in as much information that you need, and then go ahead, and buy your wood lathe. Watch this…
VIDEO : What size wood lathe should you buy?
Indepth Reviews: Best Wood Lathe / 2023
To give you an idea of what you’re in for, take a quick look at the wood lathes that we’ll be reviewing:
This selection should satisfy the needs of all woodworkers. There are some great industrial grade, full-size wood lathes for the professional shop. We also have a great variety of mini and midi benchtop lathes that could work just as well in a professional environment as they would in a home shop. For beginners, wanting a budget-friendly wood lathe, the very affordable WEN3421 should be a perfect choice.
If you’re buying a wood lathe for the first time, or simply need a little guidance in making the perfect choice, I’ll provide a wood lathe buying guide after the product reviews. Everything you need in your search for the best wood lathe, all in one place.
VIDEO | Good Advice on Buying A Wood Lathe
Review : Jet JWL-1221VS / Best Wood Lathe
- 24 integrated indexing positions
- Acme thread in Tailstock
- Conveniently located controls and DRO
- Forward to reverse is a smooth transition
- Innovative ratchet style belt tension system (patent pending)
- Integrated, spring loaded spindle lock
- Optimally designed speed ranges
- Patent Pending
- Unrivaled speed control
Jet power tools are highly respected by professionals seeking an industrial quality machine with exacting precision. One of the great aspects, that I really appreciate about all Jet products, is the price. Yes, the Jet JWL-1221VS is not cheap. It’s only when you compare this lathe to others in its class, that you begin to realize the value that you’re getting. For a wood lathe that can hold its own in a professional wood working shop, the Jet JWL-1221VS is really not expensive.
I was impressed with the Jet JWL-1221VS the moment I laid eyes on it. This is a solid, well-made wood lathe. You’re immediately aware of the bold cast iron construction. It weighs around 120-pounds. Pretty heavy for a 12” X 21” wood lathe. While it’s no mean feat lifting this beast, I like the fact it is not a lightweight machine.
Thick cast iron construction is indicative of indestructible durability. When you’re spending over $800 on a quality machine, you want it to last. The weight also adds a good deal of stability to the Jet midi-lathe. Since this is a benchtop model, with no bolt holes for mounting, it’s reassuring to know it’s not going to move about too easily. An optional stand is available. This will provide an ever greater level of stability and working convenience. The lathe has threaded bolt holes on the sides to secure it to the stand.
The real joy starts when you lift the large paddle-shape safety switch, and the lathe starts to hum into life. It has a gradual startup, which is something I really like. The spindle doesn’t jerk as it starts to spin. It’s a smooth and even glide from 0 RPM to full speed. Kind of like a jet engine on a plane. The switch, like most of the top machines, is designed for ultimate safety. It’s a bumps switch, meaning that in an emergency you only have to knock it down, even using your hip if you’re using both hands at the lathe.
|TECH SPECS / JET JWL-1221VS|
|Swing Over Bed : 12.5″||Motor Power : 1 HP|
|Spindle Bore : 3/8″||Motor Phase : 1|
|Number of Indexing Positions : 24||Recommended Circuit Size : 10A|
Using the digital speed control gives one a sense of the superb quality and understanding that has been incorporated into the design. The LED is display is nicely out of the way, yet easily visible. It’s angled so that you can check the RPM at a glance whilst working. The display is accurate to two decimal points and the speed adjustment dial is directly below the screen. You have virtually infinite speed control from 60 to 3,600 RPM.
The tail stock slides easily along an immaculately polished bed and locks into position with no noticeable movement. It is one of the best wood lathes for accurate centering. I’m in two minds about the locking handle for the tail stock. I suppose there can be no perfect position that will suit everyone. The handle is at the back of the lathe. While it moves easily and locks perfectly without any effort, you have to reach around the back of the machine to operate it. If the handle were at the front, it would be much easier to use. Of course, when the handle is at the front, it is easy to accidentally knock it while you’re working. This type of thing will always be a matter of personal preference.
Turning the tail stock handle to fine tune its positioning is another indication of the sheer quality that defines the machine. The handle moves like it’s made of silk. Quite a paradox when you look at the solid metal in your hand. Few wood lathes are as easy and hassle-free to setup, with superb accuracy all the way.
Diagram : Overview of Components
Moving over to the tool rest, that same sense of superb engineering, accuracy, and durability prevails. It has two large metal levers, making it easy to adjust the height and horizontal position and then lock it into position quickly and accurately. If I had one complaint about this wood lathe, it would be the machining on the tool rests. They’re a little rough around the edges and this can inhibit the ease with which your move tools, like chisels when doing fine detailing. You’ll probably want to grind the surface down a bit, possibly give a bit of a polish too. Of course, you can fit just about any standard tool rest to the Jet JWL-1221VS.
I suppose the headstock on a wood lathe is the big deciding factor. This is where most of the complex engineering lies. Quality and workmanship really shows in this area of the tool. Again, I was pretty much awe-struck at the detail and precision here. The 1 HP (10A 115V) motor is where one expects it to be, under the tool base. It is easily accessible for basic maintenance and is blissfully quiet.
The incredibly silent nature of this motor is not only great for a peaceful shop, it is more evidence of exceptional quality. A motor this quiet has to be a top-grade brushless motor with high-quality bearings. The Jet JWL-1221VS has forward and reverse action, with a really smooth transition.
Three heavy-duty pulleys allow you to set your RPM range: 60 – 900 RPM; 110 – 1,800 RPM or 220 – 3,600 RPM. This is easily done, simply release the ratchet style tension lever, loosen, and move the belt to the pulley that will give you the best RPM for the job at hand. The pulley housing has a cover that lifts to access the inner workings.
A crank handle is located outside the pulley housing, allowing you to manually index the spindle. It has a 24-postion index lock, with a tightening knob, also positioned on the outside of the machine for quick and easy access. The spindle bore is ⅜”.
Whenever I find a power tool that fills me with such admiration, I always feel the need to go in search of faults in order to believe that I’ve given it an objective review. I’ve mentioned that the tool rest could do with a bit of refinement. Though this is hardly a deal breaker, is it? So, I headed off to sites, like Amazon, to check out the customer reviews.
Overall, the Jet JWL-1221VS has received rave reviews, earning a pretty impressive 4.5-stars (from over 400 customer reviews) on Amazon. Reading through the negative reviews, I saw the usual stuff that earns a product less than 4 or 5 stars. Mostly, complaints had to do with damaged products being delivered. This is a common one. I see it for every product I review. We can’t exactly say that it is inferior product, simply because it was manhandled and sustained some damage in process.
Other complaints included: “too expensive” and “too heavy”. I can’t honestly agree with either of these opinions. The Jet-1221VS is more expensive than the average Mickey Mouse benchtop wood lathe. This machine is not average and is certainly no mouse. Yes, it’s heavy but I think this is a distinct advantage for a tool like this.
In the end, I have to conclude that the Jet JWL-1221VS is one of the best in its class. I have huge admiration for the brand and their 5-year warranty speaks volumes as to the confidence they have in the quality of their products. I’ll happily give this wood lathe 4½ stars. Possibly 5-stars if they do a little more finishing on the tool rest.
Visit the JET site to learn more about their wood lathes and other products.
Review : WEN 3421 / Best Cheap Wood Lathe
As far as affordability goes, this WEN is hard to beat, making it the best cheap wood lathe.
- Fits workpieces up to 12 inches long and 8 inches wide
- 3.2-Amp motor provides over 50% more power than most 8-inch wood lathes
- Adjust the soft start variable speed motor anywhere from 750 to 3200 RPM
- Features a 2.3-Inch face plate, an MT1 spindle and tailstock taper, and two interchangeable tool rests
The WEN 3421 and Jet JWL-1221VS are polar opposites. It seems like a strange contrast to be reviewing the domestic grade WEN mini wood lathe directly following the formidable industrial quality Jet lathe. Though, I think it’s best to have these two machines as the entry point to this review. Why do I say this?
The WEN 3421 and Jet JWL-1221VS are two of the most popular wood lathes on the market, for different reasons. The WEN lathe is incredibly cheap, less than 25% of what you’d pay for the Jet JWL-1221VS. As a cheap product, the WEN is obviously not an industrial grade machine. However, the brand is synonymous with good quality at an affordable price.
These two wood lathes are top-sellers is for one common reason – great value for money. The WEN 3421 is cheap but certainly not junk. The Jet JWL-1221VS is not cheap, but costs less than most other professional quality midi wood lathes. Different products, same excellent value.
Reviewing the WEN 3421 does not conjure up thoughts of expert engineering, heavy-duty construction, or state of the art precision. I certainly won’t rate this as an amazing machine. It is practical and sensible. Like a pair of sneakers from Walmart as opposed to top of the line Nikes. That’s a cool thing for beginners or guys who enjoy tinkering in their home shop on weekends.
The plucky little WEN wood lathe shouldn’t set you back much more than 160 bucks. A really cheap price for a wood lathe that will get the job done and is of a pretty high quality standard. At the same time, I would not suggest this mini-lathe for heavy-duty projects. It’s not that powerful and, while pretty robust, it’s not a heavy brute like the Jet or Fox Shop lathes featured in this review.
The WEN 3421 is perfect for a home shop or garage. It weighs a little under 45-pounds. Making it easy enough to lift and carry. You can store the mini WEN lathe quite practically when not in use. The compact size means, you have a slightly limited capacity. Though, I believe being able work with pieces up 12” length and 8” in width is good enough for a small benchtop wood lathe for home projects.
The lathe is made from fairly thick cast metal with a durable powder coating. For an inexpensive wood lathe, it certainly doesn’t feel cheap. The handles are also metal, though they’re fairly lightweight. I don’t get the sense that they will break too easily. None the less, I’d recommend removing all the adjustment handles before storing. I think they could be damaged from hard knocks. Everything still feels quite solid for normal working.
The general design is quite basic. It has a dial to adjust the speed (750 – 3,200 RPM), without any display to indicate exactly how fast the spindle is turning. You sort of go by feel to get the rotation speed you want. This is not unusual, we often dial the speed up or down at first, even with a display to guide us. You can’t set a speed range by changing pulleys. I guess performing really detailed tasks, requiring more precise speed control, would be a bit challenging with this lathe.
It has a regular on/off switch. This domestic style switch is fairly flimsy, reminds of something you’d see on a kitchen appliance, not a heavy-duty workshop machine. You should be careful not to damage it when moving the lathe around your shop.
I wouldn’t recommend trying to work too fast, especially when cutting hardwood. The 3.2A motor is not the most powerful. Many users have burnt the motor out, trying to push the little WEN lathe beyond it’s capabilities. Working with soft wood is no problem. If you’re going to try harder material, be patient and only remove small layers with each turn. If you try force a chisel into hardwood to speed thigs up, the motor will labor and possibly overheat.
You get two tool rests (4½” and 7”), which are quite well-made and easy to use. Adjusting the tool rest is simple, with a regular locking handle. The spindle has no index locks and uses a less common MT1 taper thread.
Since I didn’t have overly great expectations for the WEN 3421, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. This is not a very powerful machine. I have to emphasize that the WEN mini-lathe is designed for light-duty work on smaller pieces. For this, it’s quite remarkable. The general quality and workmanship way exceeded my expectations, and the WEN 3421 is backed by a very reasonable 2-year warranty. It’s simple, basic, and practical. Really good value for the hobbyist or beginner.
VIDEO | Indepth discussion on Buying A Wood Lathe
Review : Shop Fox W1852 / Best PRO Wood Lathe
- Electronic variable-speed control with digital readout for spindle RPM
- Headstock positions anywhere along the bed
- 10º spindle indexing
- Forward/reverse spindle control
- Includes spur center, cupped live center, knock-out tool, tool rest, 6″ faceplate, and indexing pin
- Tailstock, headstock, and tool rest support have lever-action cam locks for quick positioning
The Shop Fox W1852 is definitely the best wood lathe in this review. It is a full-size, free-standing machine, not really suitable for a small home shop. At around $2,500, the Fox shop industrial wood lathe is not something I’d expect to see in a home shop. This is a large lathe, ideal for commercial wood workers. It obviously has quite an expansive footprint (23” X 81” X 51”) and weighs close to a ¼” ton, 496-pounds.
Working capacity is almost unlimited, with a 42” length and 22” width. For the most versatile use of this incredibly long table, both the headstock and tailstock move along heavy cast iron rails. You can basically position your workpiece anywhere along the 42” length of the lathe, very convenient.
Smooth-gliding handles allow you turn the tailstock precisely into position. On the opposite end, a similarly fashioned handle allows you to manually turn he spindle, with indexing at every 10°. The 1¼”, 8TPI spindle (with right-handed thread) has forward and reverse modes. Both the head and tailstock have MT2 tapers. The tool rest also provides for a wide range of working positions, with 16” swing over and 18” swing over base.
The tailstock, headstock, and tool rest are all adjusted using heavy-duty cam lock levers. This makes everything super quick and easy. Once secured into position, there is absolutely no movement on any of these components. Ultimate accuracy, convenience, and durability. Just what I’d expect from a professional grade industrial wood lathe.
Powering this juggernaut of a machine is a brutishly powerful 220V 3-phase, 3HP motor. Two speed modes are provided by a dual pulley system, giving you a range of 100 RPM to 3,200 RPM. Changing the pulley ratio is greatly simplified, using a solid cam lock lever.
As one would expect from a lathe of this caliber, minutely accurate digital speed control is a given. You can dial the speed up or down, using a knob on the vertical face of the headstock housing. A digital display is mounted, quite conveniently just above the speed adjustment dial. I don’t really like the angle of the screen; it is completely vertical. I prefer a screen that is angled slightly upward, allowing you to look down as you work to check the speed. Using the Shop Fox W1852, you have to step back to get a good look at the RPM display. The on/off switch is conveniently positioned, easily accessed in an emergency. This is an industrial style push/pull switch.
If you’re wondering if there are any complaints with regard to the Shop Fox W1852. There are none that I could find. In my opinion, this is just about the finest wood lathe that you’ll find anywhere. Because this is a rather expensive machine, with a limited market, there aren’t that many customer reviews. Those I found, all stated that the Shop Fox industrial wood lathe is exceptional – nothing but 5-stars all-round.
This is, without a doubt, a solid top-quality professional grade wood lathe. The Shop Fox W1852 is a robust, heavy machine, secured to an incredibly sturdy stand. It is just what I’d expect to see in a high-end wood working shop. For countless years to come, the Shop Fox 42” wood lathe will continue to produce perfect results, with extreme accuracy and ease of operation. Even if you don’t need the largest or best industrial wood lathe, you have to marvel at the sheer magnificence of the fine engineering that makes such a splendid piece of industrial equipment. Simple awesome.
|TECH SPECS / Shop Fox W1852|
|Motor: 3 HP, 240V, 3-phase (with inverter), 13.5A||Distance between centers: 42″|
|Required power supply: 240V, single-phase||Spindle speed: variable, 100 – 3200 RPM|
|Inverter size & type: 3 HP Delta VFD-MS||Spindle threads: 1-1/4″ x 8 TPI RH|
|Swing over bed: 22″||Spindle taper: MT#2|
|Swing over tool rest base (banjo): 18″||Tailstock taper: MT#2|
|Swing over tool rest: 16″||Tailstock barrel travel: 4-1/4″|
|Overall dimensions: 81″ W x 23″ D x 49.5″||Tool rest width: 14″|
|Electronic variable spindle speed control with digital readout||Shipping weight: 584 lbs.|
|Headstock positions anywhere along the bed||Single-phase frequency drive provides 3-phase variable-speed control and additional torque without requiring a 3-phase power supply|
|10 deg. spindle indexing||Forward/reverse spindle control|
|Includes spur center, cupped live center, knock-out tool, tool rest, 6″ faceplate, and indexing pin||Tailstock, headstock, and tool rest support have lever-action cam locks for quick positioning|
Review : Grizzly Industrial T25920 / Best PRO Wood Lathe
- 12″ x 18″ Variable-Speed Wood Lathe
- 3/4 HP motor. Variable speed control : Range (650-3800 RPM)
- Heavy-duty cast-iron construction provides plenty of mass and stability for wood turning. Bolt up to the 3-1/4” faceplate and turn plates and bowls up to 12″ wide and spindles up to 16-1/2″ long.
- 8″ x 30″ footprint won’t take up a ton of space on your workbench. Add the optional T27327 Bed Extension and you’ve got a full-size lathe that can turn up to 40″ between centers.
- Ideal for : pen turning, bowl work or those new to wood turning. Setup out of the box is simple.
- Like all of the Grizzly lathes, the T25920 comes with a 1-year warranty covering parts and assuring the unit is free from factory defects. (Consumables are not covered by the warranty.)
- The manual for the T25920 was written by Grizzly’s U.S. based Documentation Department and is packed with useful information. The complete and easy to read manual makes it easier to assemble and maintain your lathe.
- The Grizzly Technical Support team is U.S. based. Parts and accessories for the mill/drill are available on-line and shipped from the Grizzly parts warehouse in Springfield, MO.
I like the Grizzly Industrial T25920 mostly for the great value it offers. This mid-sized wood lathe is only slightly smaller than the Jet JWL-1221VS and is of the same outstanding quality standard. Despite being a worthy competitor to the impeccable Jet midi-lathe, the Grizzly T25920 is noticeably cheaper. Possibly the best value for money in this class of industrial-grade wood lathes.
The entire machine is made of high-grade cast iron, with a seriously durable polyurethane coating. Without any doubt, this is a heavy-duty lathe designed to last. I really like that, especially when considering the relatively low price tag for a commercial grade machine.
Capacity is very practical – 12” swing over bed and 18” between centers. A nice size for a fairly compact benchtop wood lathe. The Grizzly Industrial T25920 is not that heavy for such a solid machine, weighing only 79-pounds. It stands solidly on four strong rubber feet which can be removed, allowing you to bolt the Grizzly wood lathe directly to your workbench for a totally secure mount.
Power is derived from a 5.3A, ¾ HP brushed electric motor. This is one area, where the cheaper price (compared to the Jet JWL-1221VS) shows. This motor is nowhere near the same extraordinary standard of the 1 HP brushless Jet motor. While not exceptional, I believe the power provided by the Grizzly motor is quite satisfactory for a lathe of this size. Probably better than any other in a similar price range.
The usual V-belt setup is used to transfer power to the headstock. It utilizes two pulleys, offering either 300 RPM – 1,200 RPM or 1,000 RPM – 3,700 RPM. Changing the belt position between pulleys is not that easy. You need to open the headstock in two places, loosen a screw on the belt tensioner, then tighten and close everything after you’re done. A far cry from the cam lock levers and quick access on more sophisticated lathes. At this price, I’m not really complaining about this. It’s probably more cost-effective to build a reliable system without any fancy components.
The on/off switch is of an industrial quality standard, but certainly not a safety bump switch. Another minor issue that I can overlook at the price. The digital speed adjustment, on the other hand, is what I’d call perfect. Like all modern digital lathes, you have a wonderfully accurate, well-calibrated speed dial. The spindle RPM is displayed on a 4-didget LED screen, that is in the ideal position. Situated at the top of the headstock, at a convenient angle, this screen offers the best visibility whilst working. I love it.
The tailstock has a very easy to use cam lock with a solid metal handle. This important component ensures that the tailstock is perfectly secured into position. You have to reach around the back to move the tailstock. I always prefer front-mounted handles. Though, not everyone agrees. A large metal turn handle allows you to move the tail stock into position with absolute control. The head stock also has an outboard handle but no preset indexing.
The tool rest is also fantastic. All sold metal and well machined, it has an easy camlock horizontal adjustment with a screw handle to adjust the height. The tool rest has a vey reasonable 9½” swing over to the tool rest base. The spindle has a MT#2 taper, thread size: 1” X 8TPI. These standard sizes are always a plus.
It’s great to know that you can find an industrial grade midi wood lathe for under $600. This what really appealed to me when reviewing the Grizzly Industrial T25920. My first choice in this class would be the Jet JWL-1221VS, I think most would agree. If we were looking at the price, and possible budget constraints, the Grizzly lathe would probably be more sensible. Apart from the power difference and 3-inches less length capacity, the Grizzly should be just as satisfying to use as the Jet midi-lathe. It’s a simple decision: do you want to pay top dollar for the very best or save a bit without too much compromise.
Review : JET JWL-1640EVS / Best Wood Lathe
- 36 integrated indexing positions
- Banjo uses non-marring, positive locking wedge system to securely hold tool post
- Convenient leg-mounted tool holder
- Conveniently located digital readout
- E-drive Inverter features a built in EMI filter
- Electronic infinitely variable speed from 40 – 3200 RPM
- Extended spindle nose houses dual headstock spindle bearings
- Headstock slides for maximum versatility
- Improved tailstock quill locking mechanism incorporates an anti-rotation key
- Inverter is enclosed for added protection
- Newly designed headstock locking handle accessible from front of lathe
- Rubber tool mat on top of headstock
- Spindle lock latch frees up both hands
- Tailstock features Acme threads for smooth and durable movement
- Tool post locking mechanism designed for year of consistent strength
Slightly cheaper than the giant Shop Fox W1852, the Jet JWL-1640EVS is a great alternative for a heavy-duty full-size wood lathe. The cheaper price means that it does not have the same enormous capacity as the Shop Fox lathe, but the Jet is a true equal when it comes to industrial, heavy-duty quality and supreme precision engineering. Definitely a top choice for professionals.
As with any Jet product, the JWL-1640EVS is the epitome of fine engineering and enduring durability. Immediately, you can tell by the 377-pound weight that this is one tough machine. Cast iron and high-quality materials are used throughout.
From the ground up, I marveled at just about every aspect of the Jet JWL-1640VS. The stand is designed for maximum stability and has removable plates holding the four adjustable solid metal feet. This means that you can bolt the stand to a level floor or use the screw adjustment on the feet to create a perfectly level working surface, even if your shop floor is less than perfect. Another cool addition is the tool rack, mounted to one of the legs.
Distance between centers is incredibly versatile at 40” with 16½” swing over the bed. The headstock and tailstock both rotate on a horizontal axis of almost 360°, giving you really easy access and versatility. Solid camlock levers make all adjustments a breeze and you will never be concerned about accuracy. The handles are at the back, which is not my favorite position, as it can be a hassle accessing them easily.
Everyone has commented on how quiet this lathe is. It’s almost uncanny. No one would expect a supremely powerful 1½ HP motor to be this powerful. The torque is insatiable, and this motor will hardly ever labor as many others of the same capacity would. This is thanks to an incredibly sophisticated 230V DC motor. An advanced E Drive inverter is used to supply the current, meaning that this machine plugs into a regular 115V, single phase outlet, with a recommended 20A rating. The inverter ensures that the power supply is constant and stable. This is probably the most efficient heavy-duty lathe you will ever find.
Gearing offers two speed ranges, using the typical belt and pulley system. You can make the change in seconds. The front panel of the headstock opens without any screws or complications. Turn the camlock lever to loosen the belt and turn it back into the locked position once you’re done. Nothing could be easier.
Digital speed control is, as we would expect, truly sublime. It’s minutely accurate and seemingly infinite. A digital display is quite elegantly molded into the front panel. However, it is not angled for the best visibility. You can control the speed between 40 RPM and 1,200 RPM, or 100 RPM and 3,200 RPM, depending on which pulley ratio is used.
The tool rest is superbly crafted and has a generous swing. The headstock slides along the table for great versatility. The headstock is actually unique and wonderful in many ways. The spindle has excellent dual bearings for an exceptionally smooth operation and improved durability. The turning handle, to manually turn the spindle, is now outside the headstock housing, which is much easier to use. The spindle can be locked and has 36 index positions. The tailstock also moves effortlessly as you turn the large hand crank.
When I did some research into customer ratings, my feelings about the Jet JWL-1640EVS were confirmed. Most people appear to love this machine as much as I do. I wasn’t surprised to see a global 5-star rating for good value on Amazon. Every customer rated this lathe as the best value for money. I couldn’t agree more. Over $2,000 may seem like a lot of money. Though, for a truly industrial quality full-size wood lathe, this really is not expensive.
Review : RIKON Power Tools 70-220VSR
- 1 HP motor delivers all the power you need for turning spindles to large bowls or platters.
- Big turning capacity of 12-1/2″ diameter swing and 20″ between centers.
- 24 Position Index head allows accurate pattern or design work on projects.
- Electronic variable speeds 250-3850 RPM with LED display and forward/reverse functions.
- Easy Access Speed Change
- Nylon Face Plate Washer
- Self Ejecting Tail Stock
- Ability To Add Multiple Extensions
I had a lot of great things to say about the Jet JWL-1221VS at the start of the review. Well, the Rikon 70-220VSR is one machine that can certainly challenge the Jet midi-lathe for top spot. Especially if we’re looking at exceptional value for money. The Rikon lathe is a good deal cheaper than its Jet rival. Since there is very little difference in the tech specs, and the Rikon wood lathe is an incredibly well-made machine, I think it deserves the title of best value midi-lathe.
The 1 HP (6A) motor is just as amazing as that fitted to the Jet midi-lathe. This being a hugely powerful, exceptionally smooth, and wonderfully quiet motor. I really didn’t expect this, considering the price. Working capacity is also very similar. The Rikon 70-220VSR provides 20” between centers, 12½” swing over the bed, and a quite impressive tool rest swing over of 9⁵⁄₈”.
Working versatility is accented by the three speed options, provided by the pulleys. Adjusting the belt position is reasonably easy. The top cover of the headstock flips open without a hassle. Loosening the belt is not as quick as the most sophisticated machines, but still quite manageable. Using the digital speed control knob, you have an incredible range of speed options: 250 RPM to 750 RPM; 550 RPM to 1,650 RPM or 1,300 RPM to 3,850 RPM. It also has forward and reverse modes.
The tailstock has the normal camlock lever for sliding it along the bed, with a solid handle to turn it into position. The headstock has an outboard handle and a lock, with 24 index positions. Tool specs are pretty standard, which is always great. Tapers for both head and tailstock are M#2, spindle is 1” with 8TPI. The tool rest is just as great, it moves smoothly with quick easy cam lock adjustments. It has a really cool, and incredibly solid, tool rack behind the headstock.
In keeping with the industrial grade nature of this lathe, it has a paddle-style on/off safety switch, flanked by a pretty ordinary looking forward reverse switch. Even the dial to adjust the RPM is high-quality metal. It has the expected 4-digit screen, which is conveniently angled upward for better visibility. Unfortunately, the screen is positioned very low down, which is not as convenient as those mounted to the top of headstock housing. A minor irritation, especially for tall guys.
The Rikon 70-220VSR has all the hallmarks of a sophisticated modern wood lathe. At a weight of 115 LBS, it’s obviously made from heavy-duty metal components. Yet it’s much cheaper than others in this class of industrial machine.
When you start to look at the myriad of great accessories, I think this lathe becomes far more attractive than its rivals. Rikon have developed the best driving spur I’ve seen. It has a spring-loaded safety cover that prevents the spur making contact with your fingers or a chisel. A really great safety feature.
A 24” Bed extension, increases total distance between centers to an incredible 44” and it has one of the best height adjustable stands. Of course, these are all optional extras, which means you have to pay extra. Since this machine is already cheaper than most market competitors, you have a few bucks to spare for some of the best accessories I’ve seen for a wood lathe. Even more reasons to consider this the best value for money wood lathe.
While this is a professional grade wood lathe, with an incredible 5-year warranty, I think the price places it within reach of home users who are prepared to pay a little extra for the privilege of working with a remarkable, high-quality machine. Customer reviews (4.8-star average) indicate the majority of buyers seem to feel the same way.
Review : JET JWL-1015 / Best MIDI Lathe
- Improved tensioning system with easier access to belts
- Integrated 24 position indexing
- Live center in the tailstock
- Six spindle speeds: 500, 840, 1240, 1800, 2630 and 3975
- Wider bed ways provide increased rigidity
The Jet JWL-1015 is a benchtop mini-lathe with everything one would expect from a professional grade machine, without being overly complicated. This compact lathe is ideal for an industrious commercial shop and is small enough for a home shop. It’s a little pricey for the average hobbyist. Then again, not all non-professional woodworkers are the average Joe. I know there are commercial shops that have a variety of lathes for different types of work. In this environment, the Jet JWL-1015 is perfect for turning small objects, while the larger machines are free for projects that require a greater capacity for material width and length.
While the Jet mini-lathe is quite simple compared to the larger options, it has everything we want and is of the same industrial quality standard as any Jet shop tool. The first thing I noticed is that this model does not have the convenience of a digital speed control knob and speed display. Though it does provide a great range of speed options, using two RPM settings (high and low) and 3 pulleys. This provides 6 variable speeds. You can change the pulley quite easily, then select high or low for 500; 840; 1,240; 1,800; 2,630; 3,975 RPM. You should be able to find just about the perfect speed for any amount of detailed, or high efficiency work. The only drawback is that you can’t make fine speed adjustments on the go. Not a great compromise when you consider the cost savings of using a less sophisticated method of speed control.
This mini-lathe has heaps of power for its size. The ½ HP (5A) motor is probably not as great as the super high-end models. Though, compared to just about any other mini-lathe, it’s fantastic. It’s reasonably quiet and delightfully smooth. The top-grade bearings also place this lathe in a different class to the cheap mini-lathes.
The 15” bed is manufactured from cast iron. Like any Jet lathe, this smaller machine still maintains the high-quality engineering that we expect from the brand. An optional bed extension is also available, increasing your length capacity to 36½”. Swing over bed is quite practical for this size lathe at 10”. A stand can be purchased as an optional extra, displaying the same great quality as the lathe and other accessories.
The cam lock levers, and tool rest, are of the same standard as any of the more expensive Jet wood lathes. This being really tough, easy to use, and accurate. The spindle handle and lock are mounted on the outside of the headstock housing for easy access. The Jet JWL-1015 has 24 index positions. Even the safety on/off switch is the same as the more expensive models in the Jet range. It’s clear that despite being one of the cheaper Jet lathes, it still upholds the same high expectations that we insist on when buying from a brand like this.
Small in size, big on features. This is the best way to describe the Jet JWL-1015 mini-lathe. It is generally regarded as one of the best in its class, even if it is a bit of a drag changing the speed. Even though the price is a bit above what many home users would expect to pay, the Jet min-lathe is a worthy investment for those seeking improved quality, ease of use, and the type of exacting accuracy that separates the amateurs from true pros.
Wood Lathe Buying Guide —
Buying a wood lathe for the first time can be fraught with uncertainty. How much should you spend on a good quality lathe? What size wood lathe do you need? What are the important features to look for? Even experienced woodworkers may have some difficulty making the best decision.
This wood lathe buying guide will share some valuable insight on the matter.
How important is the brand?
Appreciation for the best power tool brands is something that comes with experience. Trust me on this. I’ve been around the block a few times and have tried all sorts of power tool brands.
Starting out on your journey of buying the right tool for the job, it’s all too easy to be concerned with budget rather than the long term objective; buying good quality and having the certainty that comes with service backup, spare parts, and consumer advice.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out buy the most expensive lathe from a top industrial brand. A commercial shop owner will usually go for the top brands. When your livelihood depends on the machinery you use, quality and customer service is paramount.
When you’re buying a wood lathe for hobby projects, it can be really tempting to go for the cheapest option. Two machines may appear to be almost identical. When there is a substantial price difference, we may easily decide, unwittingly, to go with the cheaper option.
It’s only after some time, that this decision can come back to haunt you. Inferior materials, bad design, and above all, poor after-sales service could mean that you don’t get much good use out of the tool.
If your budget is limited, consider the brand first, before looking at cool features. WEN is a good example of a brand that may not provide much, but at least you know that they have a good reputation and should be around many years from now, when your lathe starts needing replacement parts.
How Much does A Wood Lathe Cost?
When it comes to wood lathes, the price range can vary greatly. On the lower end, you can find basic benchtop models for around $200 to $800 but a high-end model can cost as much as $3000, like the Powermatic PM2014. Keep in mind that the highest quality of any type of wood lathe can cost as much as a full-size model. Benchtop lathes typically have a smaller swing capacity, lower speed range, and less advanced features. They’re suitable for hobbyists and beginners who are just starting out and want to try their hand at wood turning.
As you move up in price, you’ll find mid-range models that can range from $1000 to $2000. These lathes typically have a larger swing capacity, a wider speed range, and more advanced features such as electronic speed control and digital readouts. They are suitable for more experienced wood turners who are looking to take their skills to the next level.
At the higher end of the spectrum, you’ll find professional-grade models that can cost anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 or more. These lathes are built with the highest-quality materials and feature the most advanced technology, such as variable speed control, digital readouts, and advanced tool rests. These are designed for professional wood turners, woodworking schools, and large industrial settings.
A high-end wood lathe gives you a greater RPM range, with the ability to be dialed down to a very low RPM, like 15. You’ll never get this much RPM control in a cheap wood lathe. Having total control over your RPM’s is a critical feature to be able to produce the best quality object with nothing to blame but yourself.
One of the main advantages of purchasing a more expensive wood lathe is the increased precision and control that it offers. Higher-end models often feature digital readouts, which allow you to easily monitor and adjust your speed and other settings. They also tend to have larger swing capacities, which means they can accommodate larger pieces of wood. Additionally, they often have more advanced tool rests, which can provide greater stability and precision when turning.
Another benefit of a more expensive lathe is that they’re built to last; designed to withstand heavy use and are made with high-quality materials that will not wear out as quickly as cheaper models. They’re built with the highest quality materials, and you can bet they’ll be heavy. There’s no such thing as a lightweight professional wood lathe. This makes them a better long-term investment for those who plan on using their lathe frequently.
In summary, the cost of a wood lathe can vary greatly depending on the features, size and quality. The cheaper models are suitable for beginners and hobbyists, while the more expensive models are better suited for professionals and advanced woodworkers, who demand more precision and control in their projects. It’s worth to consider the long term investment and the frequency of use before making a decision to buy a lathe.
Mini-lathe vs Midi-lathe: What’s the Difference?
A mini-lathe, also known as a hobby lathe, is a smaller version of a traditional wood lathe that is typically used for small and delicate projects such as pens, bowls, and spindles. They usually have a shorter bed and a smaller swing, which is the maximum distance between the center of the spindle and the edge of the bed. The motor power of a mini-lathe is also usually less compared to other types of lathes. Mini-lathes are great for beginners and hobbyists who are looking for a compact and affordable option for small scale wood turning projects.
A midi-lathe, on the other hand, is a larger version of a mini-lathe and is designed for more advanced woodturners and larger projects. They have a longer bed, which allows for more space to work on larger pieces of wood, and a larger swing, which allows for more versatility in the types of projects that can be tackled. They also have a more powerful motor, which allows for a wider range of spindle speeds, and more advanced features such as variable speed control and digital readouts. Midi-lathes are a great option for those who have outgrown a mini-lathe and want to take on bigger projects.
A benchtop wood lathe is a lathe that is designed to be mounted on a workbench or table. They are usually smaller than full-size lathes and have a smaller swing, but they offer more stability and a more ergonomic working height than a mini-lathe. They are typically more powerful than mini-lathes, but not as powerful as full-size lathes. Benchtop wood lathes are a good option for those who have limited space in their workshop or want a more stable platform for their projects.
Finally, a full-size wood lathe is the largest type of wood lathe available and is designed for professional and industrial use. They have the longest beds, the largest swings, and the most powerful motors. They also have the most advanced features and are built to handle the most demanding woodturning projects. Full-size wood lathes are the most expensive option and are typically used by professional woodturners, schools, and woodworking businesses.
Wood Lathe Features to Consider:
How powerful should the motor be?
These are not called power tools for nothing. The electric motor that provides that power will affect what you can do with the machine forever more. Obviously, more power is better. Conversely, paying extra for power than you may never actually need, is money that could have been spent elsewhere. Buying a lathe also requires other tools, like good quality chisels.
Deciding on the power requirement for any woodworking tool always comes to one common denominator: hardwood vs softwood. A small ½ HP wood lathe could be fine for many projects and will cost less than a more powerful lathe with the same capacity and general spec level.
If you never intend to work with seriously hardwoods, like maple or cherry, then you don’t need to be that concerned about paying extra for a more powerful machine. Though, you never know what you might be doing a few years down line.
If you can find it in your budget, opting for a better, more powerful electric motor is probably the better decision.
The more control you have over the spindle speed, the better your working capabilities will be. Just about all wood lathes use several pulleys that adjust the speed according to the size ratio of these pulleys.
A lower speed is great for doing detailed work. When you’re using a lathe without much power, a slower speed will help when dealing with harder material. Even though it takes longer, using a lower ratio, to reduce the RPM, increases the torque at the spindle. This will prevent the motor from laboring too easily when pressing a wide chisel into harder wood.
High speed settings allow you to work more efficiently when doing initial shaping of the piece. You can remove more material faster as the wood turns.
Apart from adjusting the speed by changing the pulley configuration, many high-end wood lathes also have digital speed control. By turning a dial, you can make very accurate speed adjustments without stopping, opening the motor housing, and changing pulleys.
Wood lathes with digital speed control usually have a digital readout, showing the exact RPM setting. This is very handy, as you soon become accustomed to what speed is best for certain tasks. When you know the exact speed you require, and can immediately set the dial accordingly, you’ll be saving a lot of time and hassle.
The ability to set a lathe to lower RPMs is a feature that is found on high-end lathes, and it’s a feature that allows the woodturner to have more control over the cutting tool. More expensive lathes can typically go down to even lower RPMs. For example, some high-end lathes can go down to as low as 50 RPM. This allows for even more precision and control for delicate projects.
Vibration is the bane of any wood lathe. Generally, cast iron is used for the bed and base of the machine. This provides the weight needed to give the lathe enough stability. It won’t move about as vibration increases. Cast iron is also really good at absorbing vibration. Stainless steel is even better, but costs much more.
You also want to look at the switches and adjustment levels. These must be solid and strong. Cam lock levers save a lot of time and make it easier to perform accurate settings with the least chance of error.
While you can’t see stuff like bearings, this is probably the most important. Good bearings allow for much smoother operation and will last longer. If the spindle and pulleys spin with ease and are very quiet, you have a clear indication that the bearings are up to scratch.
Control and Switches
Positioning of the levers used to make adjustments, control knobs, and switches determine how easily we operate the machine. There is no set rule as to which is the best position for any of the control functions. We need to get a sense of how we work with the machine, when deciding which design best suits our style of working.
The really important thing is the on/off switch. Unless you’ve used woodworking tools for some time, you may not realize this at first. It’s all about safety.
All woodworking tools have an element of danger. Heavy-duty machines spinning at high speed, with all manner of cutting tools, is obviously going to have its risks. You need to concentrate on what you’re doing at all times. Even the most experienced woodworkers may have a lapse in concentration, leading to an accident. This is when you want to be able to switch the machine off as quickly as possible, without giving it a moment’s thought.
A bump switch is, in my opinion, a crucial safety feature on any tool where we are likely to be working with both hands. These switches take the form of a large knob or paddle that you pull out to switch the machine on and push in to switch it off. It needs to be in a position that you can reach it as quickly as possible. This allows you to bump the switch off using basically any part of your body. If your hands are occupied, and you need to switch the lathe off in an emergency, you should be able to swing your hip toward the machine and push the switch into the off position with any part of your hip, thigh, or leg.
Wood lathes are broadly divided into three size categories, mini, midi, and full-size lathes. Mini and midi-lathes are most common in home shops that don’t have the space for a full-size lathe that is in no way portable and can be in excess of 40” long.
The maximum distance between centers indicates the maximum length of the piece you can turn on the lathe. Some mini-lathes have optional bed extensions that can increase this distance when needed.
The swing over bed is the maximum width of the piece you can turn. It is twice the distance between the bed and the center of the spindle.
The tool rest (or banjo) is going to be the part of the lathe that you use just about all the time. Generally, you’ll want a good variety of tool rests, some wider and some narrower. Fortunately, most tool rest designs are one size fits all. You should be able to find any variety of tool rests to suit your needs, regardless of which lathe you buy.
A smooth well-machined surface is what to look for in a tool rest. It allows you to have absolute control over the cutting that you’re using, without it sticking or jerking.