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Best Wood Lathes

Looking for a high-quality wood lathe for decorative woodwork? Find the best wood lathes for DIY projects and industrial uses in our in-depth review.

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Powermatic 3520B

Powermatic 1352001 3520B 20×35-Inch Wood Lathe

The best commercial lathe

Industrial-grade tool fits a wide range of workpiece sizes and comes with digital RPM readout.

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1 Powermatic 3520B Review

The Powermatic 1352001 is no doubt the best wood lathe on the market. This industrial-grade machine is powered by a reliable 2-horsepower variable speed motor that can operate on either single-phase or three-phase input for high-torque and maintenance-free operation.

Capable of handling most workpieces, the tool also features a robust cast-iron construction and comes with accessories including a spindle lock, face plate, guard, and tool rest designed to make operation smoother and safer.

Versatile and adaptable, this wood lathe boasts 24 indexing positions a 20-inch swing for creating equally spaced decorative finishes or drilling hole patterns in wood pieces of all sizes.

Ideal to use for heavy-duty, high-volume demands, the Powermatic 3520B packs all you could ask for from a wood lathe built for performance.

Best value
Jet JWL-1440VSK

Jet JWL-1440VSK Wood Lathe

Large outboard turning

Either for a professional or home workshop, this wood lathe brings excellent value for the money.

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2 Jet JWL-1440VSK Review

Powerful enough to withstand high-volume demands and coming at a price point appealing to the hobbyist, the Jet JWL-1440VSK brings great value for money.

This machine has what it takes to handle most workpieces. It comes with a sliding headstock that turns to 360° and features seven positive locking positions, ensuring user comfort and variability.

Like our best-in-class pick, this wood lathe features variable speeds from 400 to 3000 RPM and an easy-to-read LCD display that allows for an easier adjustment of the speed.

This single phase tool is powered by a reliable 1-horsepower motor and comes with a convenient leg set. CSA certified, powerful, and designed to handle most workpieces, the Jet JWL-1440VSK is no doubt the best wood lathe for the money.

Also great
Jet 719500

Jet 719500 JWL-1640EVS 1.5 HP Wood Lathe

Expensive but powerful

High-end machine features an infinitely variable speed and advanced headstock locking handle.

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3 Jet 719500 Review

The Jet JWL-1640EVS has some of the features of our best-value pick but is more powerful and comes with an electronic variable speed which can be adjusted as desired between 40 and 3200 RPM.

A performing headstock locking handle and cutting-edge features differentiate this machine from the mass, while the sliding headstock turns to 360° for versatile operation.

Built for industrial use, this wood lathe boasts a 1.5-horsepower motor and a high-torque three-phase input.

Undoubtedly, this is one of the most reliable machines on the market and makes a great alternative to our best-value choice if you need more power and don’t mind paying for all the extra features.

Best budget
Delta 46-460

Delta Industrial 46-460 Variable-Speed Midi Lathe

Reliable bench midi lathe

Affordable machine ideal for enthusiast hobbyists boasts a large swing capacity.

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4 Delta 46-460 Review

The Delta Industrial 46-460 is one of the most inexpensive in its class and features a 12.5 inches swing capacity perfect for handling smaller workpieces.

A patented belt tensioning system ensures a quick change of speeds while the forward and reversing function allows achieving a superior finish no matter the task.

Ideal for the hobbyist, this machine is powered by a 1-horsepower motor and boasts a maximum speed of 1,725 RPM.

Predisposed holes allow easy bolting of the tool to the bench while the cast iron construction ensures durability and strength.

Not as versatile as our best-value pick but cheaper, the Delta Industrial 46-460 is the best budget midi wood lathe you can get.

Best Wood Lathe 2021 Buying Guide

1. Types of wood lathes

Both the professional and hobbyist woodworkers know which are the differences between the various types of wood lathes, but a novice can easily be confused by the wealth of models on the market. In broad terms, wood lathes are of two types:

  • Benchtop lathes: Differ in size from mini lathes designed for wood crafters to mid-size units which pack some of the benefits of a full-size machine, but are smaller and less expensive. All benchtop models come with predrilled holes that allow bolting the unit to the surface to prevent sliding due to vibrations.
  • Floor lathes: Are similar to the mid-size benchtop and vary in size from midi to large, industrial-grade lathes. These models come with freestanding legs, are heavier and more expensive, but also more powerful than the benchtop lathes.

2. What is the best wood lathe size?

Project suitability is key to choosing the best lathe for you. What do you want to turn? Small workpieces like pens and decorations? Mid-size objects? Bowls? Each of these requires a different type of machine.

Wood lathe sizes:

  • Mini benchtop lathe: Is ideal for small projects like crafting wood pens. Look for a high-speed model that can reach around 2,500 RPM (revolutions per minute) to guarantee the accuracy of the details.
  • Midi benchtop lathe: Perfect for making table legs, wooden lamps, and other medium-sized objects. These objects typically require lower turning speeds up to 1,500 RPM but a solid cast-iron base.
  • Mid-size floor lathe: Typically used for turning bowls. You should choose a model providing a large workspace and sufficient power to turn the workpiece. Look for at least 1-horsepower motors.
  • Industrial floor lathe: Ideal for turning large workpieces including decorative objects and furniture. A versatile model should output at least 1.5 horsepower and come with electronic variable speed controls for a quick adjustment during work.

3. Lathe motor power

Most wood lathes come with motors ranging from 0.125-horsepower to 3-horsepower. Obviously, the larger the motor, the larger the workpiece your machine can handle, but a more powerful motor also means a more expensive lathe.

You should again consider the size of your projects before deciding which is the best wood lathe for you.

  • A wood lathe up to 1-horsepower could be ideal for most hobbyists and won’t break the bank. However, these machines are typically unsuitable for turning larger workpieces or bowls.
  • Mid-range units range from 1 to 1.5 horsepower and withstand most amateur and light-duty demands, including turning bowls, wooden table legs, lamps, and decorative objects.
  • Heavy-duty commercial wood lathes boast motors from 5 to3 horsepower or higher and can handle all types of workpieces.

4. Wood lathe speed

Owning a powerful machine is only part of the picture. You must also check the speed range and adjustments.

Most wood lathes on the market come with variable speeds ranging from around 500 to 3,000 RPM which are either fixed, controlled by a belt pulley or variable, controlled either mechanically or electrically.

Speed control types

  • Belt pulley fixed speed mechanisms: Are the simplest and cheapest models, they are reliable but changing the rotating speed is awkward. The speed range is also limited, and most belt pulley machines rarely have more than three-speed
  • Mechanical variable speed mechanisms: Are more comfortable to use than the belt pulleys and come with a broader range of speed adjustments, typically more than five. However, the speeds can only be adjusted while the machine is running and are noisy.
  • Electric variable speed mechanisms: Are the simplest to use and offer the broadest range of adjustments. Some of the best wood lathes allow for indefinite adjustments in ranges between 50 and 3,000 RPM or higher, and most models come with LCD screens that display the selected speed. However, they tend to be more expensive.

How to assess the max speed?

Just because your machine can reach 3,000 RPM, it doesn’t mean you should use the lathe at that speed. As a general rule, the smaller the workpiece, the higher the rate to handle it. But if you want to have the certainty of staying on the safe side, there is a simple formula you can use to figure out the ideal speed range for your project.

All you’ll have to know is the diameter of your workpiece and to remember the empirical numbers 6,000 and 9,000 used to determine the lower and upper limit of the range.

How to calculate RPM?

Divide each of the numbers above by the diameter of your workpiece. For example, the safe speed limit is:

  • 1,200-1,800 RPM for 5-inch diameter workpiece
  • 750-1,125 RPM for 8-inch diameter workpiece
  • 375-562 RPM for 16-inch diameter workpiece

5. Wood lathe build

You should also check the construction of the machine. Even mid-size wood pieces tend to be heavy, so investing in a model that can handle your tasks is essential. Most wood lathes are made of cast iron, a material renowned for its strength and durability.

The most critical component to check is the lathe’s bed, which is the horizontal beam across the base of the machine. This has to be solid enough to hold your workpieces, but also heavy, to reduce the machine’s vibrations.

Not portable

Unlike many workshop tools, wood lathes are not supposed to be portable, and the heavier the machine is, the easier it will be to use. The only exception is the mini lathe, which is portable but which still has to be heavy enough to ensure a safe, vibration-free operation.

6. Best lathe bed length

Two structural elements that can make or break the deal are the headstock and the tailstock. The former is fixed to one end of the bed; the latter slides along the bed from the opposite end to accommodate the length of the workpiece.

Together, they determine the length of the bed. Depending on your purpose, you will need a longer or a shorter lathe bed. Some of the best professional wood lathes have longer beds up to 36 inches and can accommodate most workpieces, including table legs or large diameter bowls.

Bed extensions: yes or no?

Some shorter bed wood lathes come with bed extensions that allow woodworkers to handle pieces larger than the original length of the bed.

  • A bed extension is not recommendedif most of your projects require a longer bed. For instance, if you turn table legs that consistently need a bed longer than 15 inches, it would be wiser to invest in a machine with a 20-inch swing from the start.
  • A bed extension is recommended if you are investing in a machine with a suitable bed length but occasionally handle longer workpieces. Some of the best wood lathes come with extensions that can help you handle pieces up to 60 inches long.

7. Tool rest

The tool rest is an important safety feature that gives you the possibility to rest any of your tools on the lathe while the machine is running, helping you achieve flawless results and prevent injuries.

One indispensable thing on your tool rest is a good locking mechanism that can keep your tool securely as the workpiece is turning. If the tool rest lacks this feature, consider upgrading your choice or investing in a machine with no tool rest at all, as the risk of having a loose tool on the lathe poses more hazards than having to work with no tool rest.

8. Other important features to check

  • Height: The best wood lathe must have just the right height to allow you to work comfortably without bending. Issues often arise in the freestanding models which may be too high or too low for a user.
  • Power switch: Make sure the power switch is large and easy to access in an emergency. This will help you turn off the machine immediately if something goes wrong.
  • Maintenance: All wood lathes need maintenance, but some models require more attention than others. Electrical models are the easiest to maintain but the more expensive to repair. On the contrary, belt pulley models require constant maintenance but are cheap to adjust in case of malfunctions.

9. The Best Wood Lathe for the Money

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