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 planning 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 new wood lathe, you have probably found that the number of lathes on the market makes it daunting to find the best wood lathe for you.
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 5 best 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 wood 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 that adapts to any project or skill-set, then, this wood lathe is one of the best wood lathes available and it won’t let you down.
- Innovative Design: Ratchet-style belt tension system (patent pending)
- Optimal Speed: Choose from three speed ranges (60-900/110-1,800/220-3,600)
- Convenient Controls: Easy-to-reach controls and digital readout
- 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 diameter. 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 provides a sturdy frame for various work pieces. With a durable cast iron construction, it 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 wood 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 is a versatile wood lathe with an 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 wood lathe you’ll ever need.
That’s a fact which is only strengthened by the quality cast iron construction 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 is renowned for its 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 a 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 on 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 control 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.
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 one of the best wood lathes you can afford.
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.
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 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.
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 the distance between centers on your wood lathe, and will let you know if you need to think about adding an extension to your lathe.
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 spindle speeds you want from your wood lathe.
Once you have all these parameters planned out, simply look for wood lathes that meet your criteria to find the ideal wood lathe. 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.
Choosing The Best Wood Lathe – The Basics
Perhaps you are are a beginner when it comes to wood lathes.
If so, it will help you to learn more about the various parts of a wood lathe, and how wood lathes work, so you can understand the jargon and terms when choosing the best wood lathe for you.
So here’s a quick rundown of the things that matter including the criteria used in our chart above.
Wood Lathe Size
Let’s start with the size of the wood lathe as a whole as they are classed by their size, in 3 classes.
Mini wood lathes are the smallest wood lathes used for small, narrow jobs like pens and small ornaments. A mini wood lathe will typically be used on a benchtop as they won’t have any supporting legs.
The next size up is a midi wood lathe, which is fairly obviously the mid-range lathe. A midi wood lathe can handle jobs with a larger diameter, like turning small bowls.
Although larger than mini lathes, a midi lathe can also be used on a benchtop. But you can get a midi wood lathe with its own support legs so it is free-standing.
As you can see in our list of the best wood lathes some are a benchtop wood lathe and some have their own legs built-in.
You would think, following on from mini and midi, that the final class of wood lathe would be something like maxi or even large wood lathe, but it seems that it’s just called a lathe, a plain regular wood lathe.
These are the full-size wood lathes; a more professional large wood lathe that can be used to turn pretty much anything.
Probably the most important part of the lathe is the headstock. It is the part of the lathe that houses the motor, and that holds and spins the piece of wood in the lathe. It sits on one end of the lathe bed.
The headstock spindle is the threaded center part of the headstock that spins. This is threaded to attach various wood lathe accessories that ‘hold’ the wood at this end.
The specifications to look for on the headstock spindle are the thread count and diameter. A 1″ x 8 TPI spindle has a 1″ diameter and 8 Threads Per Inch (TPI).
Also, the inside of the headstock spindle is hollow and tapered to accept accessories. The size of this is the Morse Taper and sizes are MT-0, MT-1, MT-2 and MT-3 and up, with MT-0 being the smallest.
The lathes on our list are all similar in having head spindle tapers of MT-1 and MT-2.
You will want to know these two specifications, the spindle size and the morse taper, when buying accessories or using existing accessories on your wood lathe.
The tailstock sits on the lathe bed at the opposite end of the lathe to the headstock. The tailstock slides along the lathe rails towards the headstock to push up against the piece of wood to hold it firmly in place.
The tailstock spindle also has a taper inside and is measured in the same way as the headstock spindle. Also in common with the headstock spindle, the models on our list have a tailstock spindle taper of MT-1 and MT-2.
The previously mentioned lathe bed is the flat horizontal structure with rails on which the headstock and tailstock sit. A lathe bed is often a cast iron construction. Having a heavy-duty cast iron base gives the lathe strength and stability.
A crucial feature to look at when purchasing a wood lathe is the distance between the lathe bed and the headstock spindle. This is an important measurement to know because it determines the maximum diameter of wood that the wood lathe can hold and turn.
For example, if the distance from the headstock spindle to the lathe bed (the radius) is 5 inches, then the maximum diameter of wood will be 10 inches. This maximum diameter is known as the swing distance, swing capacity, swing over bed, bed swing, or simply just swing.
It’s important to remember that the swing distance isn’t the distance from the spindle to the lathe bed. The swing distance is double that distance to give you the maximum diameter possible.
So the swing distance is the maximum diameter of wood you can turn in the lathe. To give you an idea, a mini lathe will have a swing distance of up to around 2-inches which is why mini lathes are only suitable for small, slim pieces of wood.
The lathe with the biggest swing distance on our list is the Nova 1624 II with a swing capacity of 16-inches.
If you want to be turning bowls you need to know that they will fit in the wood lathe.
Distance Between Centers
Now you know what and where the headstock and tailstock are, you can learn about the distance between centers, or center distance.
The distance between centers is the maximum gap between the headstock and the tailstock, and therefore the maximum length of wood that the wood lathe will accept.
Combine this with the swing capacity and then you know the maximum overall size of wood you can use in any particular wood lathe.
These two sizes, swing distance and distance between centers, are in the description of a lathe to signify the size of wood it can turn. In the US a lathe is described using the format ‘swing distance x distance between centers’.
So number 1 on our list of the best wood lathes, the JET JWL-1221VS, is described as a 12″ x 21″ wood lathe. This means it has a swing distance of 12 inches and a distance between centers of 21 inches. So the largest wood it can accept will be 12 inches diameter by 21 inches long.
As is often the case there is also a clue in its name. The 1221 in JWL-1221VS being a condensed version of its capacity, 12″ x 21″.
So hopefully now if you see a Rikon Power Tools 70-105 10″x 18″ mini lathe it makes much more sense to you. Although we are still wondering why 70-105. Answers on a postcard.
The electric motor is attached to the headstock and rotates the headstock spindle and in turn the wood in the lathe.
You’ll see that the wood lathes on our list have motors that range from 1/3 HP to a 2 HP motor on the Shop Fox W1758.
A variable speed wood lathe means that you can adjust the spindle speed and in turn (yes, deliberate choice of word) the speed that the wood turns in the lathe.
The greater the range of variable speeds and the more variable speed settings that a lathe has, the more options you have in your projects and the wood you use.
There are various methods to adjust the speed in a variable speed wood lathe including electric, mechanical, and belt and pulleys. Some have the nice addition of a digital RPM readout for speed accuracy.
All the wood lathes in our list have variable speed and their speed ranges from 60 to 3600 RPM.
In fact, one of the things that make the Jet JWL-1221VS the best wood lathe on our list is that it has variable speed in the entire speed range of all the other lathes on the list combined, 60 to 3600 RPM.
Some models have forward and reverse functions to turn in the opposite direction. This can help achieve better results.
Once your wood is in place and spinning you need something to cut/turn or machine the wood. This is where the tool rest comes in. It is where you attach or hold the cutting tool.
You can hold the tool yourself using the tool rest as support as you move it against the wood. Or you can attach the tool to the tool rest for a more precise and uniform cut.
Adjusting And Securing
Both the headstock and tailstock can have various attachments and pieces of equipment on them, mainly for precise adjustments and preventing unwanted movement. These include:
The headstock and tailstock can have a hand wheel to wind them towards the center. Initially you would slide the entire tailstock along the lathe bed rails towards the headstock. The hand wheels are then used for more precision movement to close up or open the gap.
An index wheel is used to place markings around the wood to assist in shaping it as the job demands. For instance, you may want marks at 90-degree points around the wood. The index wheel helps you do this.
This feature locks the spindle to prevent it from turning so you can remove accessories. A spring-loaded spindle lock makes life easier.
A tailstock lock prevents the tailstock from moving on the lathe bed once it is positioned correctly.
Hopefully, you are now better equipped to make a decision on which is the best wood lathe for your needs.