There is something undeniably intriguing about a beautiful wooden object. Whether it is used for home decor, ornaments or personal accessories, wood has a particular kind of elegance, especially because there is usually a lack of joints or screws holding these wooden objects together.
This look is not only beautifully rustic but intriguing too. After all, how do you turn a block of wood into furniture legs, goblets, pots, jewellry, and more? The answer is with a wood lathe.
Any professional wood craftsman will tell you that a lot of their work is impossible without one of these tools. It’d be hard to imagine a workshop without a wood lathe!
Therefore, there are a huge number of wood lathes on the market today, and it can be hard to know if what you’re getting is the best pick. Well, we’re here to make your life a bit easier when it comes to choosing a wood lathe.
Below, you’ll find 10 of the best wood lathes on the market right now, as well as a buyer’s guide that tells you what the important factors to keep in mind are when buying a wood lathe.
OUR TOP PICK
Powerful while still being easy to use, the KWL-1218VS from PSI Woodworking is an excellent wood lathe with some incredible functions that not only simplify your woodturning projects, but help you get them done faster too.
The KWL-1218VS is a midi lathe, the style of lathe you’ll probably use the most over a mini or full-sized lathe. When it comes to midi lathes, it’s hard to beat the KWL-1218VS in terms of its powerful performance and functionality.
It has a powerful 1hp motor with variable speed (120V-60HZ), and a digital readout that lets you monitor and work at the most precise speeds possible. Another thing that makes this mid-lathe unique is its dual belt positions - 500 to 1800 RPM and 1950 to 3800 RPM.
- Convenient: This is thanks to the built-in handles that make the turner extra convenient.
- Extendable cast-iron base: This can be extended for turning up to 42-inch projects.
- Versatile: Thanks to its 12-inch swing capacity, this lathe can be used for a number of different projects.
- Digital readout feature: This enables you to accurately monitor the speed of the lathe.
- 18-inch distance between centers.
- Slightly flimsy flex shaft: The flex shaft for the work light isn’t that durable.
A great choice for beginners, hobbyists, students and those who love DIY, a bench-top wood lathe is portable, and is used for turning small pieces of wood.
This bench-top lathe from SHOP FOX is one of the best out there. It’s portable and lightweight, great if you anticipate moving your lathe around and if you don’t have a dedicated workshop to keep it in.
It packs a punch with its ⅓ hp motor, and the variable speed ranges from 700 to 3,200 RPM. It’s excellent for turning small items such as small bowls, pens, and rings.
Something that makes this bench-top lathe particularly unique is the inclusion of a 5.75-inch breastplate that threads onto the headstock. This is great because it can turn objects that are unable to be supported by the tailstock like bowls.
- Good spindle and swing capacity: With a spindle capacity of 13 inches and swing capacity of 8 inches, this bench-top lathe is great for turning small projects.
- 5.75-inch faceplate: Attach this to the headstock to enable non-spindle turning.
- Durable cast-iron construction.
- Backed by a 2-year limited warranty.
- Loose locking plate bolts: The bolts that hold the locking plate on the bed do become loose quite easily and will need frequent tightening.
So if the above lathes are excellent midi-lathes and bench-top lathes respectively then what is an excellent full-size commercial lathe?
That honor has to go to the Powermatic Wood Lathe. For professional woodturners who want to spend a bit more to ensure quality, they can’t go wrong with this full-sized lathe.
It’s hard to find a more powerful lathe than this. It features a two hp motor, and you can choose from two speed ranges - from 125 to 3500 RPM, or 50 to 1500 RPM. So while the variable speed settings of this lathe is nothing to write home about, its capacity sure is!
It has a center-to-center distance of 36 inches, making this lathe capable of delivering on the biggest projects. It’s wing capacity is also particularly impressive - 17 inches over tool rest and 20 inches over bed.
Furthermore, it also comes equipped with a digital readout, so you’ll always know the exact speed of turning.
- Headstock with modified spring-loaded button: This can lock and unlock accessories quickly.
- Built-in storage space: You can find this in the tailstock and is a handy storage place to keep your tools.
- Digital readout function.
- Backed by a 5-year warranty.
- Heavy and large.
- Not a budget-friendly option.
No matter your wood-turning goals you are sure to accomplish them with the JWL-1440VSK wood lathe from Jet. This versatile lathe is a premium product however, with a hefty price tag.
But when you take a closer look at its features you won’t find on most of its rivals, it’s easy to see why it commands such a high price.
One of the first things you notice about this wood lathe is the sliding headstock. It pivots a full 360 degrees and locks in seven different angles - 0,30,60,90,120, 180, and 270 degrees.
This enhanced range of headstock positions alongside its variable speed settings, ranging from 400 to 3,000 RPM, makes this lathe incredibly convenient to use.
A highlight of this lathe is the optional extension bed that can be attached in three different positions and used to extend the center-to-center distance to a huge 60 inches.
- Easy-to-read RPM display: This keeps you easily updated on the speed of the woodturning.
- Redesigned clamping system: The clamping system of the tool rest has been redesigned to ensure secure locking.
- CSA certified.
- Backed by a 5-year limited warranty.
- Not budget-friendly: This is one of the more expensive lathes we’ve recommended.
- Not beginner-friendly: This lathe is really only suitable for experts.
Bench-top wood lathes are designed for small projects that require limited spindle and swing capacity and limited power. This bench-top wood lathe from WEN has a flat wrench, two hex wrenches (3mm and 5mm), an accessory holder, a knockout rod, a headstock spur center and a tailstock cup center.
Unlike most midi and full-size lathes that have continuous speed control, the WEN 3420T lathe has five discrete speed settings - 520, 900, 1400, 2150, and 3400 RPM. It also included a handy 3.125-inch faceplate that can be used for non-spindle workpieces like cups and bowls.
Power capabilities are also not a concern for this bench-top lathe, as its 4.5A motor provides optimal torque. It’s 70+ pound frame is super durable, meaning you don’t have to worry about wobbling or vibration during operation. This is a lathe we would highly recommend for beginners.
- Easy-to-use lever clamping system: This allows you to precisely adjust the tailstock as well as the tool rest with ease.
- Wide variety of accessories: The accessories available with this lathe make it great value for money.
- Great for small workpieces: Looking to make small pieces like pens and chess pieces? This lathe may be for you! It perfectly fits workpieces that are up to 8 inches wide and 12 inches long.
- Backed by a 2 year warranty.
- No mounting holes to permanently fix a surface: While this bench-top lathe is very sturdy, if the surface is not perfectly straight you may experience wobbling.
One of the best midi lathes out there, the Industrial Variable-Speed Midi Lathe from Delta comes with a knockout bar, tool rest base, wrenches, live center, chrome 3-inch face plate, manual and 10-inch and 6-inch tool rest.
Although it is a midi lathe, it’s still perfect and powerful enough for professional woodworkers who want to complete heavy-duty projects. If you’re a beginner, we recommend getting used to a mini lathe before upgrading to this to really get the most out of this lathe.
It’s powered by a 1hp motor, and has an impressive 12.5-inch swing capacity - a rarity among midi lathes! Thanks to its three pulley-speed ranges, you can also select speed without having to change the belt position. Inaccuracy is also not a concern with this lathe, with its forward and reverse functions.
- High rate of accuracy: The ability to rotate the turned piece in forward as well as reverse directions leaves no room for error.
- Swift speed changes: Change speeds quickly thanks to the lathe’s patented system for belt tension.
- Sturdy cast-iron construction.
- Backed by a 5-year warranty.
- Extension required for bigger projects: This is due to the 16.5-inch distance between centers.
RIKON’s Power Tools VSR Midi Lathe is a lot like RIKON’s 70-100 Mini Lathe, sharing similarities in design and functionality.
But compared to its smaller counterpart, this midi lathe packs double the power into its 1hp motor. It has a swing capacity of 12.5-inches and a spindle capacity of 20-inches which is enough to create large bowls or platters.
But the motor isn’t the only place where RIKON have upgraded this midi-lathe. It also has an incredible 24-position index head, offering exceptional accuracy when creating designs and patterns. Like the Delta, it also features dual functions of forward as well as reverse turning - which we’ll always appreciate!
Turning speed isn’t an issue either as it offers electronic variable speeds ranging from 250 to 3,850 RPM.
- LED display: This enables you to accurately monitor the speed of the lathe.
- Easy to store: You can either keep this lathe on a bench, or get the accompanying stand and keep it on the floor.
- Beginner-friendly: With an easy-to-follow manual, this is the ideal lathe for beginners who have upgraded from a mini-lathe.
- Perfect for small to medium sized projects.
- Cost prohibitive for hobbyists: As this is quite an expensive midi-lathe it may be out of reach for hobbyists and beginners not wanting to invest too much in a lathe.
The most expensive and powerful full-size wood lathe on our list, the MLAREVO 1836 from Laguna Tools is a high-quality lathe for experts and professionals who want to invest in a premium lathe.
If you really want to invest in a full-sized lathe, then you can’t go wrong with the MLAREVO 1836 with its powerful 2hp, 220-volt electric motor.
There’s no need for extensions for huge projects, as this lathe has a swing capacity of 32-inches and a 41.5-inch distance between centers. There’s also two speed ranges to choose from - 50 to 1,300 RPM or 135 to 3,500 RPM.
- Ergonomic: The control panel has an ergonomic, angled design that makes this full-size lathe comfortable to use.
- Lock handles on the back: The lock handles for the headstock and tailstock are located on the back of the lathe for a smooth, convenient session without interruption.
- Steel bed: This allows for smooth movement of the cast iron headstock.
- Digital readout: No need to worry about inaccurate RPM readings.
- Cost prohibitive: At nearly $3,000 this full-size lathe is probably more suited to professionals or those looking to add to their lathe collection.
The Grizzly H8259 Bench-top Wood Lathe on the other hand, is a bench-top lathe perfect for woodturning beginners, enthusiasts, and those who enjoy DIY. It is also incredibly budget-friendly, so you can save money on this lathe without sacrificing quality.
Of course, as with mini lathes and other bench-top lathes, the H8259 is intended for small projects. While it is the ideal machine for those new to the world of woodturning, it’s also a handy item for professionals and experts to have on hand too.
This lathe has five discrete speed settings - 3337, 2422, 1713, 1205, and 826 RPM. It also has an excellent spindle and swing capacity, and the 1/2hp motor is powerful enough to take on small projects.
However, the machine does get very hot when used for an extended period of time. The tailstock also doesn’t lock down as tightly as other lathes. But these two issues pale in comparison to the efficiency of this budget-friendly lathe.
- Sturdy construction: The H8259’s durable construction means it will last longer than most other bench-top lathes.
- Little noise and vibration: There’s no annoying vibration that could affect the final product, and this lathe makes little noise so will not disturb others around you.
- Beginner-friendly: This is one of the most user-friendly bench-top lathes out there.
- Backed by a 1-year warranty.
- Hot motor: The motor tends to heat up after prolonged use.
This excellent bench-top lathe from Mophron is budget-friendly and comes in three variants - 10 x 18 inch, 10 x 18 inch with digital display, and 12 x 18 inch with digital display.
This wood lathe has a high-quality build that guarantees long-lasting performance. It’s also packed with a powerful 550W motor with variable speeds and digital readings to give you the most efficient, smoothest and convenient woodturning experience possible. Its speed ranges from 500 to 3,800 RPM.
When you purchase the Mophron Bench-top Wood Lathe you also get a toolset and a manual. This lathe also has a swing capacity of 10 inches over its bed and an 18-inch distance between centers, giving it the edge over other bench-top lathes.
Its cast-iron, heavy duty construction is also impressive, with rubber feet to provide even more stability. Operational inefficiency is no longer an issue with this heavy duty lathe!
- High-quality headstock: The precisely grounded shafts and gears not only ensures a quiet, smooth operation but also makes the lathe longer-lasting.
- Rubber feet: These help to keep the lathe stable while you’re working.
- Powerful 550W motor.
- Sturdy cast-iron construction.
- May be too fast for some: As the minimum speed of this lathe is 500 RPM, it may be a bit too fast for smaller and more intricate projects.
Best Wood Lathes Buying Guide
We’ve covered some of the best wood lathes on the market from full-sized lathes, to bench-top and midi lathes, but you may be wondering what it is that woodturners look for when buying a new lathe.
While a lot of the decision comes down to what the woodturner wants to make, there are also universal factors that are worth considering no matter what your budget, and no matter how intricate or grand your projects are.
As we’ve already mentioned, there are three types of lathe to choose from. These are full-size, midi, or mini/bench-top. There is no right or wrong lathe, it all depends on individual preferences and needs, and the space you have in your workshop.
A mini lathe is great if you don’t have a lot of space and you want to create small objects like bowls, pens, and rings. If you have a large workshop and you’re a professional woodturner, then a full-size lathe is probably what you need.
If you fall in the middle of these two categories (for example you’re a professional woodturner with a smaller workshop and who creates smaller pieces), then a midi lathe might be the best choice.
We’ve mentioned speed ranges a lot, and you may be wondering what the optimal speed range even is.
Generally, it’s to do with the thickness of the stock, and will depend a lot on the size of the wood stock you will be working with.
Depending on what you will be creating with your woodturning, your budget will differ significantly.
For beginners and hobbyists who don’t make money from their woodturnings, it’s best to go with a mini lathe that will set you back between $200 and $500.
For those with more experience in the field and are professional woodturners, a lathe in the range of $500-$900 would be ideal. But some expert and professional woodturners invest thousands of dollars into their full-sized lathes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a wood lathe better than a metal lathe?
Not really, as it all depends on what you want to create.
There isn’t really a correct answer as one is suitable for working on wood, while the other is intended to be used for metal.
Why are wood lathes manually controlled whereas metal lathes are mechanically controlled?
Mainly, it’s because of safety. Metal lathes are obviously a lot more dangerous than wood lathes, and it’s risky to try to manually control them. However, this doesn’t mean that using a wood lathe isn’t without risk and you should always be careful. Always wear protective gear while turning wood and make sure there is enough clearance on all sides of the lathe.
How fast should a wood lathe run?
Typically, the wider the stock is, the lower speed should be. A general speed lathe has a minimum speed of 500 RPM and a maximum of 4000 RPM.
What is the best hobby lathe?
It all depends on what your hobby is. For example, if you like to make smaller objects like bowls, pens, or rolling pins, a mini lathe should get the job done. If you like to make bigger, more elaborate pieces, then you probably need a larger machine to accomplish this.
Buying the best wood lathe doesn’t mean stretching your budget, but you also need to purchase high-quality tools to really get the most out of your machine.
Woodturning is a very specific skill that takes a lot of time and patience to master. There is a gradual learning curve, but with persistent effort you can easily see yourself improve.
We hope our recommendations have given you an idea of what kind of wood lathe is ideal for you, based on your skill level and what you would like to make.