I have been a woodworker for 15 years and although I’m not a professional carpenter, I do consider myself an experienced and serious woodworker. I would suggest you consider the following before you make your purchase.
There are quite a few things that determine which wood lathe you should buy.
For instance, do you need a mini or full sized lathe, what accessories do you need, your skill level, how often you will use it, overall ease of use and of course, how much does it cost and where is the best place to buy.
What size lathe do you need?
As you have probably already determined, you have two choices, a mini lathe or a full size lathe.
Well, what’s the difference? The answer to that question besides several hundred clams is really what you intend to cut most. All of us are pretty ambitious when we want to justify buying a new tool.
We say: I need the bigger tool to cut all those table legs and gigantic bowls I’m going to make! When in reality, pens, small round boxes, small bowls and knick knacks are 99% of what we end up cutting.
OK, I’m not trying to suck the life out of your dream of having a really nice lathe, just trying to help you really pick the best lathe for you…
Seriously, think through what you’ll really be turning and get the lathe for that purpose.
Mini lathes are great to learn and can still be used a lifetime. Their only limitation is size of cut.
Full size lathes can cut anything but are bigger and sometime harder to use.
OK, now that I’ve made it even harder for you…
What features are most important?
I think a low vibration lathe is the most important feature. If the lathe you buy has excessive vibration, you won’t get smooth, quality cuts and after a while you’ll get frustrated, stop using it and realized you’ve collected a useless tool. This is actually the biggest difference between quality lathes and less expensive low end lathes.
How the lathe is mounted (and yes it’s kind of important to attach it to something sturdy) makes a big difference in the vibration. If possible, use the manufactures stand because it’s designed to be used with that particular tool. Realize part of the stand design includes absorbing vibration.
If you have a sturdy workbench that is really, I mean really sturdy and doesn’t rock back and forth at all, that would work, but in addition to absorbing vibration, I like the tool stand because it’s also designed to be at the right height for turning for most people. The proper height by the way is that you are turning with your forearms parallel or slightly above parallel to the floor.
Most table tops are a little low for me. When I first started, I used a workbench and had to bend to turn. Next day, my back hurt.
But a stand can always be added later. All you need to know for now are the differences.
Variable speed is also extremely important. The easier it is to change or adjust something the more you will use it and the safer it will be. Think about your table saw. If the blades were easier to change you would change them more often and actually put the dado blade in when you needed, instead of making multiple passes with the regular blade. Same thing here.
My first lathe had only one speed. I hated it. It’s dangerous, too. Make sure you can easily adjust the speed and the controls are in easy reach. I’m convinced most mistakes on lathe projects are because the controls were difficult to adjust and the turner ignored the need to change speeds and miss-cut the wood.
A rotating tailstock is also really nice feature to have. Unless you’re turning bowls 100% of the time and you won’t, you’ll be glad you have this feature. If you find a lathe you like and this is not included, make it your first accessory.
What accessories are really necessary?
As with all tools there are gazillion accessories available. For me, I think a good light is the most important. Some saws have lights that bolt on to the back of the lathe. Not bad, but I prefer to buy a $20 flexible arm light from an office supply store that clamps on to the workbench. With a portable light I can move it to use with other tools, if necessary.
There seem to be as many chucks and accessories for holding the wood as there are ways to cut. This is a rather large topic and I will probably add pages discussing this in the near future. But for now use, the lathe, get a feel for what you like to turn and then buy chucks for that purpose.
Again, whole other subject here but let me make a few simple suggestions. The tools are as important as the lathe. I don’t know how many times, I’ve seen people buy an expensive lathe and then buy cheap turning tools. Just don’t buy one of those 28 pack cheap chisels.
Start out with a good roughing gouge, a good skew chisel and a good parting tool and then go from there. Buy the best tool you can afford.
Cheap tools don’t cut well, are dangerous and will make you experience of wood turning miserable.
1. Powermatic 1352001 Model 3520B 20×35-Inch Wood Lathe with RPM Digital Readout
The Powermatic 3520B Woodworking Lathe retains all the features of classic Powermatic lathes–including a sliding headstock, electronic variable-speed control, and a spindle lock–plus some great innovations. To name just a few, a digital RPM readout makes it a snap to keep track of your speed, a redesigned tailstock offers internal storage, and a laser etched quill conveniently self ejects. With the 3520B, you’ll get classic reliability and advanced technology–the best of both worlds to help you handle your most important jobs.
- Wood turning lathe with digital RPM readout, 20-inch swing, and 34-1/2-inches between center
- Powered by a 2-horsepower, 220-volt, variable speed motor
- Made of heavy-duty cast iron, Assembly required
- Accessories-include guard, tool rest, face plate, wrench, knockout rod and spindle lock
- 50x24x44-inches; Backed by 1-year warranty
2. Jet 708360 JWL-1642EVS-2 2HP 230-Volt 1-Phase Electronic Variable Speed Woodworking Lathe, 16-Inch x 42-Inch
JET’s JWL-1642EVS-2 Variable-Speed Woodworking Lathe provides accuracy, capability, durability, and value. With the versatility of its sliding headstock, electronic variable speed, and capacity for large spindle or bowl projects, this lathe is ideal for serious wood turners and novices alike.
- Variable-speed control for matching the tool speed to a wide variety of turning applications
- Weighs 420 pounds for optimal stability and reduced vibration
- Superior cam lock lever mechanisms for moving the headstocks, tool rests, and tailstocks without any tools
- Includes long tool rests, faceplates, live centers, spur centers, spindle locks, indexing locks, and knockout bars
- Legs with special webbings for two-by-four or tool-and-sandbag shelving
3. JET 708359 JWL-1642EVS 16-Inch Swing 42-Inch between Centers 1-1/2 Horsepower Electronic Variable Speed Woodworking Lathe, 115-Volt 1 Phase
Offering a one-inch swing over the bench and 42-inch capacity between centers, the JET 708359 JWL-1642EVS Woodworking Lathe, 115-Volt 1 Phase is ideal for home shop use. Boasting the versatility of a sliding headstock, electronic variable speed, and the necessary capacity for large projects, the JET JWL-1642EVS is a great lathe for beginning and serious craftspeople alike.
- 1-1/2-horsepower electronic woodworking lathe
- 16-inch swing, 42-inches between centers; variable speed (0-3,200 rpm)
- Cast-iron bed and legs
- Includes lathe, tool rest, faceplate, spur center, live center, knockout bar, tool storage rack
- 410-pounds for reduced vibration; 63-1/2 by 20 by 50-inches; 5-year warranty
4. JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch by 21-Inch Variable Speed Wood Lathe
The JET 1221VS is different from anything we’ve made before. In truth, it’s different from anything that anybody has ever made before. The design is better. The features are better. The entire turning experience is better. And it all focuses on one concept… Control.
- Unrivaled speed control
- 60-3600 RPM variable speed
- Optimally designed speed ranges
- Forward to reverse is a smooth transition
- Innovative ratchet style belt tension system (patent pending)
5. Shop Fox W1758 Wood Lathe With Cast Iron Legs And Digital Readout
Here it is. Their fully featured and powerful wood lathe at a competitive price! Featuring a hefty 2 HP motor, ten speeds, a swivel-head for outboard turning, a digital tachometer for exact spindle speed, precision ground cast iron bed, headstock and tailstock quick locks, and heavy cast iron legs for stability, this beauty will handle it all!
- 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
6. RIKON Power Tools 70-220VSR 12-1/2″ x 24″ VSR MIDI Lathe
VSR MIDI Lathe. 1HP 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 Postion Index head allows accurate pattern or design work on projects.
- 1HP 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 Postion Index head allows accurate pattern or design work on projects.
- Electronic variable speeds 250-3850RPM with LED display and forward/reverse functions.
7. Shop Fox M1015 6-Inch by 10-Inch Micro Lathe
This Model M1015 Mini-Lathe is a perfect lathe for someone who wants a durable and well-designed machine that can fit in a small location. This Mini-Lathe gives model makers, toolmakers, gun hobbyists, and the weekend machinist a way to economically produce small precision parts, threaded parts, fittings, and dies. Made in an ISO 9001 factory.
- 4 hex wrenches, 100-2000 RPM spindle speed:
- MT #2 spindle taper, MT #1 tailstock taper
- Double ended wrench, socket head wrench
- Oil cup, stand Included
- Chuck key, 3 external jaws
8.RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe
With its increased capacity, the RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe gives you the opportunity to do more with less space. This powerful, smooth-running lathe offers unique features like a 12-position index head for accurate pattern work, easy access for quick speed changes, a convenient tool holder, and the ability to add multiple extensions.
- 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