If you are going to do any serious woodworking you will need a good wood-turning lathe in your shop.
The ability to turn wood is every bit as important as sawing or planing planks and drilling holes. If you don’t have access to a decent wood lathe the types of products you can produce are significantly reduced.
But, if you’ve started the search for a lathe you probably found that the number of lathes on the market is daunting. There are so many brands of lathe available and so many different features on each model that finding the best wood lathe for your money is tough to sort out.
We understand your frustration, which is why we put together a handy Wood Lathe Comparison Chart to help you cut through all the noise.
Wood Lathe Comparison Chart
Below is a handy table letting you compare and contrast what we feel are the best 5 benchtop wood lathes on the market.
Let’s start as we mean to go on with this strong offering from Jet. Let’s be honest; this model comes with a pretty hefty price point. But, it’s easy to see why the second you delve into what this wood lathe has to offer.
Jet claim that this is different from anything on the market, and they aren’t wrong. Even better, this entire lathe has been created with control in mind. And, given that better control leads to better woodwork; you could say that’s a fact that might work in your favor.
The most notable thing about this lathe by far is it’s unrivaled speed control. That’s right; this model comes complete with 60-3600 RPM variable speed, and controls that are located conveniently for your use.
This adaptability ensures that experienced and newbie woodworkers alike can produce some fantastic pieces on a lathe like this. As if that weren’t enough, this lathe also comes complete with features that offer further ease, such as a smooth forward to reverse transition and 24 integrated indexing positions for improved performance. Not to mention that, unlike many woodworking options, this model is incredibly quiet once it’s up and running.
It’s this and much more which ensures the Jet JWL-1221VS gets an impressive 68% of five-star reviews on Amazon. If you want a quiet offering which adapts to any project or skill-set, then, this wood lathe won’t let you down.
- CONVENIENT CONTROLS: Easy-to-reach controls and digital readout. Recommended Circuit Size (Amps)- 10
- OPTIMAL SPEED: Choose from three speed ranges (60-900/110-1,800/220-3,600)
- INNOVATIVE DESIGN: Ratchet-style belt tension system (patent pending)
- HANDY STORAGE: Includes a tool storage caddy on each end of the machine
- ADDED SAFETY: Removable yellow On/Off safety key
Fill your house with your own woodwork with the WEN 3421 8-inch by 12-inch variable speed mini wood lathe. You will now easily be able to fit work pieces up to 12-inches long and 8-inches. The minimal design is ideal for pens, bowls, cups, chess pieces, and other small work pieces. You will be able to take on larger projects around your home with this tool.
With a stunning build quality, the WEN 3421 it provides a sturdy frame for various work pieces. Made from cast iron, features a 2.3 inches face plate, an MT1 spindle and tailstock taper and two interchangeable tool rests. Adjust the variable speed anywhere from 750 to 3200 rotations per minute. The WEN 8-inch by 12-inch variable speed benchtop wood lathe features an MT1 spindle and tailstock taper to tightly grip workpieces, two tool rests (4-1/2-inch and 7-inch) to provide the needed support for chisels and tools during operation, and a 3.2-Amp motor to keep things turning. The easy-to-use lever clamping system makes adjustments to both the tool rest and the tailstock, simple and precise.
The WEN wood lathe also includes a flat wrench and a headstock spur center, a tailstock cup center, a knockout rod, and a 2.3-Inch faceplate for non-spindle workpieces. And, because it’s a WEN product, your lathe comes backed by a two-year warranty, a nationwide network of skilled service technicians, and a friendly customer helpline.
- Perfect for pens, bowls, cups, chess pieces, and other small workpieces
- 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
3. NOVA 1624 II
We’re back up in the price stakes now, but many would argue that it’s worthwhile for everything the Nova 1624 II has to offer. The most iconic thing to note about this lathe is the fact that it comes complete with its own stand. That makes this the ideal option for the home or beginner woodworker who doesn’t have space for some of the bulkier lathe options available on the market.
The sleek stand and portable design of this lathe mean that you can fit it into your garage or shed space with ease. And, that’s not where the Nova benefits end, either.
This design also has a versatile eight-speed range, as well as a powerful motor and a vast array of accessories, such as extendable beds. There is so much adaptability on offer with this model, in fact, that you can guarantee it’s the only lathe you’ll ever need. That’s a fact which is only strengthened by the quality cast iron used throughout this lathe, and the total five-year warranty you can expect to see.
This is recommended as the ideal entry-level lathe, and it’s easy to see why. Features like the swivel head functionality and the addition of accessories ensure that this model can grow as your woodworking skills do. And, as mentioned, the easy stand and set up ensure that you can get started even without a significant woodworking space. Bear in mind, though, that the accessories for this option are pretty pricey in themselves. If you’re willing to pay for the lathe you want, though, there are few more adaptable and long-lasting offerings than this one.
- 1.5HP AC motor
- Variable speed range from 215 – 3600 rpm
- Stand included
- Full 360° swivel head
- Solid cast iron
Proxxon are renowned for their high quality precision tools. This 37020 Micro Woodturning Lathe DB 250 is no exception. It’s ideal for turning pens or dollhouse items such as cups, plates, pots, vases, columns, also for model railroad items including power or signal posts and tanks, doll and marionette limbs. Thousands of classical model building items may be turned with ease. Adding final touches with paint to your workpiece at lower speeds is easily achieved with the help of electronic speed control. The tool rest is conveniently adjustable in height as well as it turns through 360° allowing for centerless turning. The overall length of the lathe is 15-3/4 inches by 3-3/4 inches height and weighs 5.5 pounds. The low weight and slim design provide for quiet, precise, vibration-free, and fatigue free use without ever compromising performance.
Turning in miniature is a pleasing hobby. One can make glasses, cups, saucers, vases, and columns for a dollhouse. In model trains, one can make lighting masts, windows, tanks. Limbs for marionettes and hundreds of classical miniature turning tasks may be carried out with ease. The Proxxon 37020 Micro Woodturning Lathe DB 250 features: a 110-120V AC motor with 1/8 hp (100W) and 60Hz, for a variable speed control covering between 1,000 and 5,000rpm. The center distance is 10″, with 1-3/5″ swing, and a 1″ swing over support. Also, a headstock spindle bore of 13/32″ and tailstock travel 1 3/16″. Includes 6 collets of 5/16″, 1/8″, 5/32″, 15/64″, 5/16″, 13/32″, a drive center, a live center, and a faceplate.
- For turning in miniature, even for series production of small parts
- Powerfull, high torque drive with variable speed 1,000 - 5,000rpm
- Centre distance 250mm and 40mm swing, ball bearing spindle bored through at 13/32" (10mm)
- Square carrier with back centre, stable tool rest adjustable in all directions
- Scope of delivery: 1x PROXXON MICRO Woodturning Lathe DB 250 including collets, drive center, live center, face plate. Part number: 37020
We’re staying around the same price point with the last lathe of this list. The Shop Fox W1758 again comes complete with cast iron legs. In fact, this offering looks a lot like the Grizzly G0462 at a glance.
The two models even share a digital readout. That’s not surprising when you consider that Grizzly is a parent company. But, the Shop Fox certainly has plenty of its own to boast, especially when you consider the affordability of this option.
Admittedly, the variable speed on this offering is less than the Grizzly at 600 to 2400 RPM, but that’s still not a bad offering considering the lower price of this lathe. If you’re starting out, this lower speed variability may even make this lathe more appealing to you. Fewer speed choices mean less to get your head around when you’re learning.
While we’re on the subject of making your life easier, the Shop Fox W1758 also comes complete with a three-way adjustable tool rest with extension. This ensures easy adjustments for projects of any type and size, while the outboard turning capabilities mean that you can even work on larger pieces. Add to that the adjustable cast iron tailstock, and it’s plain to see that this is a lathe with a wide range for such an affordable selection.
The only real compromise which you face with this lathe is the fact that it has a shorter warranty than most at two years. But, when you consider that this lathe comes complete with free shipping and such a low price point, that’s a small compromise to make.
Admittedly, a closer look at reviews for this product reveals that it may not be best for professional or hardcore woodworkers, as could already be deduced from its affordability. But, if you’re a home woodworker looking for a lathe that suits, you could do a lot worse than the Shop Fox W1758.
- Motor: 2 HP, 110V, single-phase
- Heavy-duty, precision ground cast iron bed and cast iron legs ensure stability and minimal vibration
- Lever speed adjustment, 10 speeds: 600 - 2400 RPM
- Quick lock/release levers for tailstock and headstock; 0 Degree, 60 Degree, 90 Degree, 120 Degree and 180 Degree headstock rotation
- Includes: 6-Inch faceplate, MT#2 spur center, MT#2 live center and tool rest w/ swivel arm base
Comparing Benchtop Wood Lathes
When it comes to picking out a benchtop lathe for your shop, there are a few critical features to evaluate as you make a decision.
Here are some of the top things to consider before making a choice.
- Price – You can find a low-cost wood lathe for as little as $200, and high-end lathes (like this Powermatic 1352001) cost several thousand dollars. But as with most things – with wood lathes, you get what you pay for. An inexpensive lathe won’t hurt your wallet, but it will be short on features and significantly limit the types of projects you can turn. If you are just getting started turning wood you may get by with an entry-level lathe, but don’t expect it to meet all your needs or last for an extended time. If you are making a living from woodworking – or at least some decent side income – then it is probably worth investing in better tools.
- Brand – Often (but not always) brand names matter. Better brands get the reputation of being a better brand because they put out better quality products and have better support systems in case something goes wrong. Picking up a no-name generic wood lathe from China may be cheaper, but as the tools get more expensive it is nice to know there is a quality company backing up your tools.
- Size – We all wish our woodshop was huge, but that isn’t the reality for most woodworkers. In a perfect world, you could have a dedicated lathe area in your shop, with a dedicated cabinet and wall space for all your different chucks, blades, and bits. But if like most people space is at a premium, a benchtop lathe may be a much better choice. Being both lighter and more portable, benchtop wood lathes can be brought out when a project calls for turning and then stored when other tools need the space. Either way, be sure to check overall the overall footprint of any wood lathe you are considering, to ensure you have enough room for it to operate and for you to work it safely.
- Projects – The type of projects you typically work on significantly impacts the kind of wood lathe you should pick. The first thing to consider is the max thickness of the wood you intend to turn. That answer will determine the swing over bed and the swing over tool rest base you need to consider. After that take note of the max length of wood you intend to turn. That number will tell you the range you need for distance between centers on your wood lathe, and will let you know if you need to think about adding an extension to your lathe.
- Speed – One of the woodturning rules of thumb is that if you multiply the lathe’s RPM by the thickness of the wood stock you should end up with a number somewhere in the range between 6000 to 9000. As an example – if you want to turn four inch stock, the speed must lie between 1500 RPM and 2250 RPM (4×1500=6000 and 4×2250=9000). But that rule of thumb is affected by the type of cut you plan to do. For rough cuts, you would likely run the lathe slower than 1500 RPM, and for fine cuts you may turn it faster than 2250 RPM.
But overall, if you know the size of the wood stock you intend to turn, you can calculate the RPM range you want from your wood lathe.
Once you have all these parameters planned out, simply look for wood lathes that meet your criteria. As most of those items indicate – knowing the type of projects you plan to do will help you make a decision. If you are doing simple projects – like turning small bowls, a smaller lathe will do. If you’ve never turned a bowl on a wood lathe, here is a good YouTube video demonstrating how to do it:
More complicated projects may require more features from your lathe. You may have to do a little additional research to find all the info you need, but thankfully most manufacturers publish their spec sheets and user manuals online.