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Best Wood Lathes of 2021

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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Best Wood Lathe Reviews of 2021

Best-in-class
JET JWL-1221VS

JET JWL-1221VS 719200 12″x21″ Variable-Speed Woodworking Lathe

Best for frequent use

A patent-pending belt tension system makes it easier to adjust the tension and create perfect workpieces.

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1 JET JWL-1221VS Review

Perfect for professionals, the JET JWL-1221VS is the best wood lathe you can find. The unit features adjustable speed controls and three speed ranges so that you can match its performance with the application.

A directional control ensures a smooth transition between forward and reverse modes. Another highlight is the ratcheting belt tension system that makes operation easier.

We also like the handy tool storage caddy. The LCD screen that shows the speed is tiny, but apart from that, this wood lathe has no flaws.

Best value
PSI Woodworking KWL-1018VS

PSI Woodworking KWL-1018VS Turncrafter Commander 10″ Midi Lathe

Best for avid hobbyists

A large LCD screen makes it easy to spot and adjust the speed at a glance.

Check price on Amazon

2 PSI Woodworking KWL-1018VS Review

The PSI Woodworking KWL-1018VS may not be as big as our best in class, but this wood lathe was built with avid hobbyists in mind. It is powered by a ¾-horsepower engine that provides sufficient power for most crafting projects.

Two belt positions allow you to pick from 500-2,000 RPM or 1,500-3,600 RPM ranges. You can use it for crafting pencils, bowls, cups, and even figurines and chess pieces.

Solid construction and cast iron base guarantee excellent stability during use and durability. It even has built-in handles and is easy to move –excellent value for 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
WEN 3421

WEN 3421 8″ by 12″ Variable Speed Mini Benchtop Wood Lathe

Best for beginners

This mini lathe is an excellent choice for woodworking enthusiasts who want to learn how to use one.

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4 WEN 3421 Review

If you’ve never used a wood lathe before and don’t feel ready to spend heaps of cash, check out the WEN 3421. This machine is perfect for beginners, costing a fraction of the price of our best-in-class or best value.

It is obviously smaller, but it’s fully functional, and you can use it for making a wide range of objects. The only thing to keep in mind is that you’ll only get one speed range, between 750 and 3,200 RPM.

This lathe doesn’t have lots of bells and whistles, but it does what it’s supposed to do, and it’s cheap. An excellent choice for occasional use or learning.

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

Best value
PSI Woodworking KWL-1018VS

PSI Woodworking KWL-1018VS Turncrafter Commander 10″ Midi Lathe

Best for avid hobbyists

A large LCD screen makes it easy to spot and adjust the speed at a glance.

Check price on Amazon

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