The Top 5 Wood Lathes Reviewed
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.
Best Wood Lathes
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 which 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 which 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 which 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.
- 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)
Down in price but not necessarily quality; we’re transitioning from the most expensive model on our list to the least. Despite the drastically different price points, though, the Delta Industrial 46-460 is not all that different from the Jet selection mentioned above. In fact, this may be the cheapest offering, but you could argue that it stands the best chance against the Jet JWL-1221VS Both models provide continuous speed control with three pulley-speed ranges for better results at any level. The Delta also offers a forward and reverse switch for precise finishes on every single project.
All this comes alongside a patented belt-tensioning system for quicker speed changes and a cast iron construction for longer life. Pair that with Delta’s five-year guarantee, and it’s fair to say that this is an affordable lathe with a guaranteed long life in your woodworking studio.
When you consider the price difference between this and our first model, you could argue that this cheaper option is a no-brainer. And, it certainly gives those high-end lathes a run for their money. If you’re new to woodworking, then, or simply aren’t willing to part with the cash of more expensive options, this is most definitely the right wood lathe for your needs. In few other cheap models will you find such precision controls and adaptability to suit projects of any size you could imagine.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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 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
The Grizzly G0462 is another lathe offering which comes complete with its own stand. In fact, the cast iron legs on this option make it an even sturdier-looking choice than the more expensive Nova. This is certainly a set up which should more than stand the test of time. Even better, this is again a lathe which is ready to go on arrival, no matter the size of your set up.
In fact, you could argue that this lathe offers the best of the options we’ve already spoken about. That’s because it also provides a speed range of 100-3200, complete with a digital readout and variable speed controls for ease of use. You could say, then, that it is a durable lathe indeed, literally ready and waiting to tackle whatever you throw at it. And, it does all this with a pretty respectable price tag. It’s high enough that it’s up there with more expensive models, yet the Grizzly G0462 certainly won’t break the bank like the more top-end options.
A quick look at the reviews on this product also reveals that Grizzly offer fantastic customer service and fast delivery with reliably outsourced companies. Not to mention that many users claim the motor and spindles on a model like this will run as good as new even years down the line.
- 1" x 8 TPI RH headstock spindle
- 10 speeds: 600 - 2400 RPM
- Distance between centers: 43"
- Heavy-duty, precision ground cast iron bed and cast iron legs ensures stability and minimal vibration
- MT #2 spindle & tailstock tapers
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 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 which 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 wood shop 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 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 wood turning 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.
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