A wood lathe is a very versatile equipment to keep at home. Not only does it drill or sand wood, but you can also use it for cutting, knurling, facing, turning and fixing deformations among all others.
However, quality work is only done with the best wood lathe. And so today, we are featuring a buying guide article to help you find the best wood lathe for your project. Take note that there are lots of other factors to consider when buying a good wood lathe.
Last update on 2019-07-20 at 10:37 PST - Details
Things To Keep In Mind
The major parts of a wood lathe would be its bed, spindle, headstock, tailstock, tool rest, and banjo. It is important to take note of these parts and to check them first if they are properly installed or functioning.
Before you start your hunt for the best wood lathe, here are several things you must consider first before buying.
#1 The size of your project and the lathe
It is crucial that you take note of the size of your project. Buying a good wood lathe would be meaningless if your project won’t fit in it. Remember, the size capacity of your wood lathe is dependent on the maximum length between its two ends. For short, the bed.
The length and diameter of your project are the two major measurements to look out for. If you plan on traveling with your lathe or taking it to a work site, it is best to buy smaller or medium-sized machines. Those which can be mounted to a workbench.
But if the project is all about a size such as turning table legs and such, it is best to buy a larger one. Finally, is the lathe to small or too tall for you? Remember, if the height of the lathe is not suited for you, you might suffer from backaches after your projects.
#2 The base/bed of the lathe
Heavy cast iron bases or wood lathe beds help reduce vibrations during a project, and this is very important. The heavier and sturdier the base is, the easier it will be for turning, and the more accurate/precise your work will be.
Moreover, vibrations while turning wood can be quite dangerous for whoever is using the lathe.
#3 The motor specifications and features of the wood lathe
These two factors are crucial as they also affect the safety of the user. The motor specifications help you weigh out the capacity of your wood lathe’s engine. The engine range of lathes usually lies somewhere between ⅛ to 3HP.
The minimum and maximum RPM of the lathe is also a precious information. Some lathes have different speed motor controls as well as belt driven motor controls. Belt driven motor controls are those that need to be turned off first, so you adjust the belt that changes the speed.
Although the belt driven motor control seems like an inconvenience, it is also important to take note that the variable speed control can be a lot more expensive than the belt driven one.
However, if you feel like you need to get more done faster, then it’s best to buy the one with variable speed control.
#4 The headstock and the tailstock of the wood lathe
These two are very important since they will be doing most of the work. It is crucial that the headstock is powerful and steady as it will be doing the turning. The tailstock, on the other hand, is situated opposite the headstock.
It is a rotating pin which keeps the spindle at the center and rotating evenly. For maximum versatility, it should be a given that your tailstock can be locked securely in any position along the bed.
Now finally, it is critical to note as a wall that these aren’t all the factors you should consider when buying a wood lathe. These are just some of the basics covered, but there are still a lot of other factors out there.
For instance, your budget preference, your work space at home (is it going to fit comfortably in your workplace?) and the warranty. Although a warranty is not a compulsory offer among manufacturers and distributors, it is still an important factor.
Good quality wood lathes can get pretty expensive, and it would be a waste only to buy a new one if your older wood lathe broke a particular part. Take note if there is a warranty offer, how long the warranty is and what are the parts covered.
How to Maintain Your Wood Lathe
Maintaining your wood lathe can help you prolong its life. Here are some tips on how to keep your wood lathe.
- Regularly clean your wood lathe. Most especially the headstock and tailstock. Make sure to check for any debris as this can affect the alignment and accuracy of your turning.
- Give the tool rest some attention by smoothing it down and waxing it. Smoother edges would mean better long cuts.
- Use a silicon spray to reduce friction in the banjo and the tailstock. This will help you move them with more ease.
- Most importantly, don’t forget to clean wood shaving and brush the headstock threads. These can not only help keep your wood lathe in top performance, but it can also contribute to maintaining the headstock alignment with the tailstock.
We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to clean and maintain your wood lathe. Checking up on its parts now and then for malfunctions will help you prolong its life.
So do not be afraid to research further on ways how to clean and maintain your wood lathe. Find out which products work best for your wood lathe and use them to keep your equipment in top shape.
Our Top 5 Picks
The Jet JWL-1015 Wood Working Lathe has six spindle speeds ranging from 500 to 3,975 RPM. It has an integrated 24 position indexing and easier access to belts using its improved tensioning system. Also, it offers an increased rigidity due to its wider bed ways.
It measures 15 ½” between centers and is technically classified as a mini-lathe. Despite this, it promises as much features and utility as a full-sized lathe. In addition, It boasts that it’s suitable for beginners and also for people who want a small but powerful wood lathe.
- It has a 5-year warranty.
- Changing speeds is easy.
- This is a good lathe for beginners.
- It is very user-friendly.
- It’s smaller than most lathes, so it’s also a good choice if you don’t have a lot of space.
- It’s affordable.
- It costs less than $500, which is relatively cheaper than other lathes.
- A lot of the parts are made out of plastic.
- It might feel less sturdy or well made for some people.
- It does not have a reverse speed.
This wood lathe by Nova offers a speed range of 250-4,000 RPM using its ¾ HP electronic variable speed motor. It has a 16.5” between center capacity which is expandable to 41.5” using an optional bed extension accessory. It has a 12” swing capacity.
Moreover, it has a forward and reversing switch, making this machine more flexible for various types of projects. The on/off switch has a no-fault release for additional safety. It’s also portable and smaller than other models so you can save space even with a full-featured lathe.
- It comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
- It comes with a reversible chuck.
- The motor is quiet.
- Perfect for working any time of the day.
- It might be underpowered for some users.
- If you’re working on bigger pieces, this might not give you enough power.
- You have to break in the motor before using it.
This wood lathe from Powermatic boasts a digital readout that displays the RPM. It’s powered by a 2-horsepower, 220-volt, variable speed motor. Also, the speed on low ranges from 50-1,200 RPM and on high it’s from 125-3,200 RPM.
It’s made of heavy-duty cast iron, and at 682 pounds. Thus, it is resistant to vibration thanks to its rigidity and stability. It has a 20” swing and 34 ½” between centers, allowing you to use it for almost any kind of project no matter how big or small.
- It comes with a 5-year warranty.
- It comes with a guard, faceplate, tool rest, wrench, spindle lock and knockout rod.
- It does not vibrate.
- The sturdy cast iron body prevents it from vibrating while in use, ensuring a smooth work progress.
- It requires assembly.
- Some parts are hard to assemble especially when the tools needed are not included in the package.
- The tailstock is quite thick.
This micro woodturning lathe manufactured by Proxxon is perfect for those who like to work on smaller things. It comes with six different collets from 5/64 to 5/16 inches. It has an adjustable tool rest, an aluminum-cast bed, and a tailstock with a live center.
The speeds are electronically adjustable, and they range from 1,000 to 5,000 RPM. In addition, it has a 3.15” swing and a distance of 9.84” between centers. The tool rest height can be conveniently adjusted, and it can turn 360 degrees. Weighing 5.5 pounds, it’s a very light and portable device.
- It is good for smaller projects.
- If you mainly focus on turning pens, dollhouse parts or items, and other small crafts, this is the lathe for you.
- No need to buy bigger and pricier machines as this gets the job done for small-scale projects.
- It comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
- It’s quiet and does not vibrate.
- The tool rest is quite small.
- You might have to move it around a lot while using.
- Centering it can be difficult.
- You should only apply a light pressure on the tailstock, or else it won’t be centered.
This mini lathe by RIKON Power Tools has six easily adjustable speeds ranging from 430 to 3,900 RPM. It features a 12” swing and is 16” between centers which can be expanded using bed extensions. It doesn’t take up that much space, so it’s good for smaller workshops.
Furthermore, this lathe has a 12-position indexing head, a self-ejecting tailstock, an 8” tool rest, and other handy features. The self-ejecting tailstock has a ram that can travel up to 2 ½”, saving you valuable time. You can mount this onto a stand, or use different tool rests or face plates, too.
- It is backed by a 2-year limited warranty.
- The speed change is easily accessible.
- This helps you change speeds quickly and efficiently.
- You can add multiple extensions.
- The 12-position indexing head is ideal for detailed work.
- Detailed pattern work becomes a breeze.
- It also allows for the spindle to be locked in place for the easy removal of various accessories.
- Changing speeds might be a hassle.
- Speed changes work by moving the motor and adjusting the belt.
- If you’re used to electronic speed adjustment mechanisms, this might be a challenge for you.
- The packaging and handling of the product are not very good.
- Product may come in slightly damaged or with missing components.
- If this happens, you may call the manufacturer for a replacement.
Out of all the wood lathes mentioned, the Powermatic 1352001 comes out the victor. Though it is the priciest option out of the five products, the quality that comes with it is hard to beat. The cons are easy to work around with that it hardly becomes a problem.
It is also the biggest one out of the five of these, making it the most versatile. From small to large-scale projects, the Powermatic wood lathe can handle it all. The digital readout is certainly a nice bonus as is the large speed range.
If space isn’t an issue and you’re willing to shell out cash for a high-quality wood lathe, look no further than Powermatic. Of course, if you have more specialized needs or are running in smaller spaces, the smaller lathes are pretty good as well.
Thomas Roberge is a Pro himself, who has been in the business of home renovation and construction, working with various tools. He used to be the owner of 2 local construction companies with over 18 years experience. His works also include writing inspiring Do IT Yourself Tips and Tricks.