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5 Best Wood Lathes For Your DIY Projects

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Last Updated: 23 July 2020
best wood lathes

Whether you use it for personal accessories, home décor, or ornament, wood tends to have this unique elegance. By owning a good wood lathe you can create pieces of practical use around the house, like bangles, rings, pots, goblets, or even furniture legs.
Ask any professional and they will say that you cannot run a successful woodworking shop without having the best wood lathes 2020 ready to go at any hour.
Because as with every specialized shopping you have to do the research, we thought it would be useful to compile some of the best pieces ranging from a mini wood lathe or even serious ones.

Now, if you are just starting building your rack even with a small wood lathe, this will be very helpful, as several companies produce a wide array of options. We scanned and analyzed several wood lathe reviews from the market so let’s see what we’re talking about.

Top 5 Best Wood Lathes: Comparison Table

Awesome Quality
JET Variable Speed Wood Lathe
Powerful + Durable
Delta Industrial Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
WEN Variable Speed Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe
Nova Midi Lathe Flexible Woodworking System
RIKON Mini Lathe
JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch by 21-Inch Variable Speed Wood Lathe
Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
WEN 3420T 2-Amp 8 in. x 12 in. Variable Speed Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe
Nova 71118 Comet II DR - Midi Lathe Flexible Woodworking System, 12”, Powerful Electronic 3/4 HP variable speed
RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe
$849.99
$659.99
$163.11
$498.65
$546.06
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Awesome Quality
JET Variable Speed Wood Lathe
JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch by 21-Inch Variable Speed Wood Lathe
$849.99
-
-
Powerful + Durable
Delta Industrial Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
$659.99
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-
WEN Variable Speed Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe
WEN 3420T 2-Amp 8 in. x 12 in. Variable Speed Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe
$163.11
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Nova Midi Lathe Flexible Woodworking System
Nova 71118 Comet II DR - Midi Lathe Flexible Woodworking System, 12”, Powerful Electronic 3/4 HP variable speed
$498.65
-
-
RIKON Mini Lathe
RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe
$546.06
-
-

Best Overall: Awesome Quality - JET Variable Speed Wood Lathe Review

JET Variable Speed Wood Lathe
  • Unrivaled speed control
  • 60 to 3600 RPM variable speed
  • Optimally designed speed ranges
  • Forward to reverse is a smooth transition
  • Innovative ratchet style belt tension system (patent pending)

Great Construction: Powerful + Durable - Delta Industrial Variable-Speed Midi Lathe Review

Delta Industrial Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
  • Powerful 1 hp max, 1,725 rpm motor
  • Large 12-1/2-inch swing capacity provides the largest capacity in its class. Drive spindle: 1 inch -8 RH TPI thread
  • Electronic variable Speed with three-pulley speed ranges provide the required speeds needed to turn a project without changing belt position
  • Patented belt tensioning system for easy and quick speed changes and sets the belt at the correct tension every time for maximum power transfer and longer tool life
  • Forward and Reversing function allows the turner to achieve a superior finish. Sanding a turned piece with the grain causes the wood fibers to lay down and remain rough.

Great For Beginners: WEN Variable Speed Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe Review

WEN Variable Speed Benchtop Mini Wood Lathe
  • Perfect for pens, chess pieces, and other small workpieces
  • Soft start variable speed motor adjusts anywhere from 750 to 3200 RPM
  • Includes a 5-inch face plate for turning non-spindle workpieces
  • Fits workpieces up to 12 inches long and 8 inches wide (max recommended working diameter: 5 inches)
  • Features a 2-amp motor, an MT1 spindle and tailstock taper, and two interchangeable tool rests

Versatile Variable Speed Range: Nova Midi Lathe Flexible Woodworking System Review

Sale
Nova Midi Lathe Flexible Woodworking System
  • Speed Range: 250 - 4,000 RPM with its powerful electronic variable speed motor.
  • Digital Readout: Quickly dial-in the correct speed for the job, material and conditions. you’re not limited to potentially dangerous fixed-speed steps.
  • Forward and reverse switch: Forward and Reverse Switch offers additional flexibility with the Nova Lathe and allows you to achieve a superior finish
  • 12” Swing over bed and 16.5” between centers. Expandable to 42“ with optional bed extension accessory (Additional purchase).
  • 3” Faceplate, 6” Tool Rest, Spur-Drive Center, Live Tailstock Center, Knockout Bar, Lathe Handwheel Unit. Manual with parts breakdown and fasteners.

User-friendly: RIKON Mini Lathe Review

RIKON Mini Lathe
  • Easy Access Speed Change: Provides ample room to change speeds quickly
  • Self Ejecting Tail Stock: No need to use the knock-out bar to remove the center
  • Laser engraved ram with 2-1/2-Inch travel
  • Ability to Add Multiple Extensions
  • 1/2HP Motor

Buyer’s Guide: All You Need to Know about the Best Wood Lathes

What Is A Wood Lathe?

What Is A Wood Lathe

A wood lathe is a machine designed to shape the wood in any form you desire, whether it is a vase, spindle, vase, bowl or any other items. To create such a device you have to attach a piece of wood to a spinning arm and then use various tools to trim the wood when the wood lathe machine spins.

What Is A Wood Lathe Used For?

When you are about to build vessels out of carved wood or you have designed other specific implements for the general use, especially if you are just starting, you need to get the best wood lathe for beginners that you can find. Also, the fact that it will take far less time than it would have taken you if carved manually, and an unmatched level of finesse at the execution of the surface.

How Fast Should a Wood Lathe Turn?

The wood that is supposed to be turned must be done so at a regular speed that is considered appropriate. Judging by how a regular table top wood lathe would perform, a good speed is between 500 RPM and 4000 RPM. If you want to take away a valid point then know that the wider a stock is, the lower the speed you need.

Wood Lathe Vs Metal Lathe

Wood Lathe Vs Metal Lathe

The difference that we can notice between the two wood lathe options is that the metal lathes can serve both woodworking and metalworking. Whereas the wood lathe machine can only serve the purpose of woodworking, the good part being that you can get a cheap wood lathe for any budget.

The former has a design specifically made for sanding, drilling, cutting, or turning pieces of wood into house items

How To Use A Wood Lathe

When you have the best wood lathe for the money you have in the budget, the next step is learning how to use it best and do the job that you need. First, you need to make sure that the lighting in the workshop is proper as it is a vital part of the process. A good try is getting a mobile lamp that can shine light at different angles and help you see certain imperfections.

When looking at a benchtop wood lathe with its sanded surface, it can look smooth but have some marks underneath all the fine powder, so that’s where a good light source can make the difference.

How to Choose the Best Wood Lathes

How to Choose the Best Wood Lathes

When it comes to choosing the best wood lathes you have to consider several key factors to look for when going around the hardware general store. Let’s see exactly what those features are.

Dimensions

If you prefer to buy a variable speed wood lathe or a bigger one, you have to take into consideration what exactly you will execute with it. Once you know what some of the projects are, you will know what size of a hobby wood lathe to get.

If you decide to go for a large wood lathe, be prepared to chip in with some more money as the manufacturing process takes longer and is more expensive than when you craft the best mini wood lathe.

Material

It is a good thing that you can use several types of materials, such as aluminum, titanium, steel or plastics. The materials used by the best full size wood lathe mustn’t go above the size limitations, such as the diameter and length of the machine.

Another important aspect to keep in mind when buying a beginner wood lathe is to know that the material will affect some aspects of the manufacturing process, such as the speed of the rotating lathe.

Motor

Some of the best motors for an inexpensive wood lathe would be around 750 watts that have at least a 400 mm processing distance, otherwise, you risk to violate some of the basic safety instructions about woodworking with the best midi wood lathe.

Spindle Speed Range

Some call the spindle as the heart of the headstock, as it is an essential part of the woodworking rotating-cutter machinery, as they are the support of millions of cutters that are featured on the surface of the spindle. Some wood lathe brands take pride into their spindle technology and market it as a special feature on the box

Speed Controls

The speed control needs to be mastered in the first few lessons that you take a beginner in woodworking. For instance, let’s say that you are to be working with a small tree trunk that is around 3 inches wide. You will then have to use the heavy duty wood lathes at a speed of 600 rpm to safely gouge away. After you are done with the first high points you can move over to a speed of 1500 to 2000 rpm.

By knowing what type of wood you have then you can set the proper speed for its processing, meaning that dry wood will be more difficult to shape and you will need a higher speed.

Swing Capacity

Swing Capacity

The distance that is between the two centers and the swing will help determine what capacity your wood lathe has, which means you will know the maximum size allowed for the wood piece you are about to turn. Take this useful information and use it to prevent scenarios where you have a piece that is too big and don’t fit tightly on the lathe. If you know that you are about to work on big pieces of wood, then our advice is to buy a lathe with a bigger swing capacity to not risk any unforced errors that might resolve injuries. That reminds us of the importance of having the best work gloves out there.

Indexing Positions

The indexing positions are used as guiding lines for the whole sketch. It is the most fundamental step of any project, as that is the exact moment when your plan will receive an outline and a general idea of where things are headed. You can use an indexing wheel that can be attached to the spindle and become a helpful assistant in your workshop, as you can always lock the disk at any angular position you like.

Stability

How Fast Should a Wood Lathe Turn

When turning a 40-50 lbs. piece of wood it is clear that you will need excellent stability on your wood lathe as you don’t want things to get out of control when spinning at 2000 RPM.

That is why most of the heavy-duty wood lathes have to be bolted down to the floor so they have absolutely no movement whatsoever during the turning process.

Make sure you rigorously test the stability level of the device before deciding to buy it, as there is never too much caution when it comes to work-related accidents.

Price

A good thing about today’s wood lathes market is that there are so many different manufacturers that are competing for the market, that they make it impossible for you not to find something in your budget. The prices go from $150 to $2000+ depending on the purposes that you are buying it, because if you need one for industrial purposes then you will most likely take out a decent amount from your budget, as opposed to buying a cheap wood lathe for your own personal woodworking shop from your garage.

Best Wood Lathes Types

Mini (benchtop) wood lathes

Mini (benchtop) wood lathes

A mini wood lathe is designed to be a machine that gives you the ability to create various shapes and structures from any piece of wood that can be attached to the lathe. What you have to keep in mind at them is that you will have to work together with the turning arm and help finalize your ideal results.There are so many things that can be crafted out of a benchtop wood lathe, including a sugar bowl, a toy for babies, or even a flower vase.

Midi wood lathes

Midi wood lathes

The midi lathes are generally beefier and bigger than the mini lathes and can give your wallet a pretty surprise, as they can be very cheap, between $280 and $340. A good feature about them is that they fit so well into any sort of work and will take up very little space on your floor. They were introduced somewhere around the late 90s.

Full-size wood lathes

The general purpose of these heavy-duty wood lathes is mostly industrial as there can be serious amounts of money made from woodturning. That is why they then tend to be bigger and heavier than other models on the market, and you might need the best router table you can find to match it.

The motors are quite powerful on them as they are designed to make the handling process a little bit easier and more comfortable. Make no mistake, these are not the kind of machines that you would fit in the backend of your home garage.

Accessories You May Need

We will go through some of the most important accessories and a couple of ideas about them.

Full-size wood lathes
  • Centers – There are only two types, the live and the dead one. The live one is the one that will fit straight into the headstock spindle and it will revolve with your work. The dead centre is the one that you use in the tailstock spindle and it doesn’t revolve with your workpiece.
  • Chucks – It’s a device that will help you hold and rotate the wood piece in the lathes. And they are used to hold wood pieces that are too short for being fixed between the two centres. They are also attached with two bolts to the spindle while screwing on the backplate on the nose of the spindle.
  • Carrier or lathe dog – The dog or carrier is used to clamping the work that you just placed between the centers or on the mandrel.
  • Drive plate – It’s a simple circular plate that threaded and bored out just enough so it can be fixed on the spindle nose. It is also responsible for carrying a hole where the used pin is held. When you get to using a bent-tail dog you will see that the pin has to be taken out before you insert the bent tail into the hole
  • Mandrels – The mandrels are mounted exactly between the two centers and it helps the work revolve. It is a bar designed in the shape of a cylinder and it has a hole at each of its ends that are used to hold hollow pieces of work for external polishing.

Best Wood Lathes FAQ

How to set up a wood lathe?

For setting up a wood lathe, you first need to make sure that you have all the necessary space around it so you can safely maneuver the device when executing your projects. After you have carefully selected the space and put the whole machinery in place, you have to prepare the surface. Make sure you use the best sandpaper you find and clean the steel area and then apply a light coat of wax for the final polishing session, the same way you did with the best wood router that you have in your workshop. After you have done this thoroughly all-around the device, with every single piece of metal, then you are ready to happily use it.

What is the best lathe for beginners?

If you are looking for installing a lathe for the first time, then don’t worry as most of the general devices available on the market today are easy to use and you can get the hang of it quickly. Perhaps you would like to start with a mini or a midi wood lathe and stay away from those heavy-duty lathes that are used in factories and other large construction operations. If you get one that has around 500-600 watts power and can get to 4000 RPM then you have more than you need for your first time.

Is a Wood Lathe Better Than a Metal Lathe?

It depends a lot on what are the purposes that you are interested in when buying a lathe. If you plan to work in projects that involve wood pieces and metal pieces as well then it is recommended for you to go with the metal lathe machinery, because it can help you process both of the material. As opposed to the wood lathe that can only help you with the woodworking projects as it cannot process metal sheets.

We will let you decide what is best for you, based on what we mentioned above.

Can you use a wood lathe for metal?

As we stated earlier, one can’t process metal objects on a wood lathe, as it lacks the basic key components that are required for metal-working. It can only be used for wood.

Are wood lathes dangerous?

They can be dangerous if you don’t apply all the important safety instructions and use only safe equipment when you are working on your projects. You have to be somehow skilled with a chisel because if you don’t hold it at a proper angle it could force your wrist and even break your arm or worse. It’s no joke when it comes to wood-turning so we strongly recommend you take all the necessary precautions when handling a lathe.

Should you wear gloves when operating a lathe?

If you are about to wear gloves before operating a lathe make sure they are tightly fit on your hand as there is the risk of a loose glove to get caught into the spinning machinery and generate serious injuries. Avoid having loose clothes or loose gloves when operating with a spinning device, not only when operating a lathe.

Verdict and Our Recommendation for 2020

Our top choice is the JET Variable Speed Wood Lathe as it is one of the best wood lathes that we have ever seen. The vast majority of the reviewers had this model on their top three preferences and we think that it has a certain weight. By using the top-tier functions that are installed on it, all your projects will be simplified and accelerated as you are most likely to finish earlier than you projected. These are the best wood lathes 2020 has seen so far and we strongly recommend it, as well as all the other hardware tools on the homemakerguide site.

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PRODUCTS TESTED BY HomeMakerGuide
How We Tested
We reached out to our verified reviewers that have experience in this area of expertise and asked them to test all the vital features that we could think of. Features such as weight, what materials can or cannot be used with it, how smooth are the motions of the process, or how fast can they finish the project. After analyzing and weighing all the pros and cons, we came up with the above-mentioned article.
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