Best Wood Lathes (2020 Complete Guide)

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​A good wood lathe is a must-have for anyone who deals with wood. Whether it’s your profession or just a hobby, you’ll be happy to find that the market offers a wide range of such tools.

Some have more generous applications, whereas others are more limited. The price points may also be a reason for confusion, so keep reading if you want to learn how to spot the best wood lathe!

​Snapshot​! Best ​Wood Lathes

​In a hurry? Here are our top picks​:

Best Overall
Runner-up
Best for the Money

Comparison Chart of the ​Best Wood Lathes

Product

Our Rating

​Price

Jet 719500 JWL-1640EVS

​Best Overall

Grizzly Industrial G0462

​Runner-up

Jet JWL-1015

​Best for the Money

Nova 71118 Comet II DR

Best Mini Wood Lathe

Shop Fox W1836

Best Benchtop Wood Lathe

Grizzly Industrial G0766

Best Grizzly Wood Lathe

Jet JWL-1221VS

Best Jet Wood Lathe

Grizzly Industrial T25920

Best Wood Lathe Under $500

Wen 3421

Best Wood Lathe Under $200

Grizzly Industrial G0733

Editor's Pick

Are All Wood Lathes The Same? 

Some wood lathes are built as standalone power tools. Others come in mini sizes that require sitting on a workbench. Each one encompasses a selection of features, with more or fewer accessories in the package. Some are designed with variable speeds you can easily select. Others are a bit more difficult to adjust.

Choosing the size of your wood lathe will depend on what kind of wood you’ll work with. The distance between centers indicates the maximum length of the wood piece it can handle. And the swing over bed indicates the diameter or the width of the wood piece it can handle.

What Size of Wood Lathe Do I Need? 

Motor and woodworking capabilities determine the size of a wood lathe. The smallest models have a 1/2 or 3/4 HP motor, whereas the more powerful ones come with 3 HP motors. Small sizes have a 12-inch DBC and 8-inch SOB, with the largest ones heading to a 47-inch DBC and 18-inch SOB.

The larger these values, the larger the woodworking capacity. But, also notably, the larger the wood lathe! So, apart from considering what kind of project you’ll be handling, you must also consider the space you have at hand, in your workshop.

How to Choose a Wood Lathe 

Choosing the right wood lathe for your needs will help you maximize your investment. You’ll be able to pick a model that serves its purpose at its best. And you won’t end up looking to replace it soon after you’ve bought it.

Power Within A Budget

A powerful motor will easily tackle all kinds of chores, but it’s expensive. If you’re going to use the maximum power only occasionally, you’ll think twice about paying the price. Still, there are models with a compact design, a motor above the average, and available for an attractive price.

For instance, most small-sized wood lathes come with a 1/2HP motor. However, at times, you’ll be able to find one with a 3/4 HP motor for an affordable price. We’ve selected a few in the reviews below!

Size And Adjustment Options

As discussed in the section from above, the swing over bed and distance between centers draw the line regarding a lathe’s capabilities. While the SOB is pretty much limited, the DBC can be adjusted with a so-called bed extension. Pick a model that supports working with such an accessory. That way, you can easily extend the DBC up to 42 inches!

Woodworking Functionalities

For woodworking, in particular, certain features may come in handy. The reverse operation, for once, is highly valuable because it allows you to perform high-quality sanding on the wood pieces you’re crafting.

The same goes for indexing! A wood lathe that supports an indexing head will let you work your wood on preset angles and even draw circular divisions on it. You’ll see some lathes have an indexing head with up to 24 positions and increments of 10 to 160.

Quick Take: Best ​Wood Lathes

Hoping to cut right to the chase? Below are the best ​wood lathes:

  1. ​Best Overall: Jet 719500 JWL-1640EVS
  2. ​Runner-up: Grizzly Industrial G0462
  3. Best for the Money: Jet JWL-1015

Review of the Best Wood Lathes 

As always, general information is truly useful when put into practice. Take a look at the following roundup of the best wood lathes on different categories!

​Best Overall:
​Jet 719500 JWL-1640EVS

PROS

  • Supports reverse sanding
  • Extended, 5-year warranty
  • Features electronic variable speed
  • Designed to provide maximum versatility
  • Sturdy wood lathe with powerful but quiet motor

CONS

  • Could use a somewhat longer faceplate
  • Works with two belt-driven speed ranges

Our Review

Our best overall selection is Jet’s 719500 wood lathe. It has a 1.5 HP motor that can be tweaked to anything from 40-3200 RPM. And apart from the powerful motor, it supports a great swing capacity of 16.5 inches. It comes with 36 indexing positions, and the digital readout is making it even more attractive.

At 57 x 31 x 28 inches and 300 lbs, it’s sturdy, and it facilitates a smooth operation, with minimal vibrations. The lathe has a conveniently placed tool holder, side-mounted. Its tailstock quill can travel a good 4 inches, and it features laser-etched increments right on the quill.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

There are lots of things to like about it, and many different reasons to make it a top choice. Knowing you can do reverse sanding and outboard turning is great news. What’s more, it also comes with a spindle lock and an indexing head, standing out as a truly versatile wood lathe.

​Runner-up:
​Grizzly Industrial G0462

PROS

  • Powered by a sturdy motor
  • Good value for the price tag
  • Supports 10 different speeds
  • Comes with a generous DBC
  • Solid, heavy-duty cast iron body

CONS

  • No reverse operation for sanding
  • Tool rest extension not so reliable

Our Review

The second-best wood lathe you might want to consider comes from Grizzly. Its 2 HP motor is truly outstanding, and it will serve you well when it comes to turning large bowls. Speaking of heavy work, it does have a solid cast-iron construction that gives extra stability and little to no vibrations.

If you’re looking for numbers, consider the 16-inch SOB and the 46-inch DBC. The spindle bore is cut to 3/8 inches, and the 10 speeds it can work with vary from 600 to 2400 RPM. Like any respectable wood lathe, it features a digital readout and a handy cupped live center!

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Grizzly power tools are notorious for their reliability and enhanced performances. This wood lathe raises to the expectations. And it will probably be difficult for you to choose between this one and the best overall. Among the things that catch the eye, consider the tool rest extension that comes in the package and the headstock swivels for easy outboard turning.

​Best for the Money:
​Jet JWL-1015

PROS

  • Supports up to six different spindle speeds
  • Makes a great choice even for the beginners
  • Provides excellent value for a low price point
  • Facilitates a wide range of positions for indexing
  • Features a rigid construction with a wide bed for extra stability

CONS

  • No variable speed
  • Works with small to mid-sized pieces

Our Review

Is it possible to get a great woodworking lathe for a fraction of the costs that come with top of the range products? Yes, it is, and that’s precisely what Jet’s JWL-1015 model – the version without variable speed – has to offer you. You’ll hardly find a wider range of useful features in such a small and compact product, for this price point!

What’s more, just like all the other Jet lathes, this one, too, is backed by a 5-year warranty. It weighs less than 80 lbs. And the 35 x 18.1 x 14.56 inches format makes it perfect for any workbench. Add the 15-1/2-inches DBC, the six spindle speeds, and the 24 indexing positions it supports, and what else could you look for?

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

A low price, paired with many useful features, makes it cover many interests and woodworking needs. However, this product stands out as a very affordable and user-friendly wood lathe for first-time users. If you’re just starting to work your hand on a lathe, this might be your best choice without breaking the bank!

​Best Mini Wood Lathe:
Nova 71118 Comet II DR

PROS

  • Straightforward to set up and intuitive to use
  • Powerful motor built with electronic variable speed
  • Large DBC, easily expandable with bed extension
  • Comes with numerous handy accessories in the package
  • Provides extra flexibility in operation, with reverse switch

CONS

  • Tool rest could be sturdier
  • Motor warranty limited to 1 year

Our Review

Sized as a mini lathe, but with the capabilities of a full lathe, this midi woodworking lathe from Nova can prove a smart investment. It weighs only 82 lbs and measures 8.9 x 17.8 x 32.9 inches, with a ¾ HP motor and a 250 – 4.000 RPM capability. In a nutshell, it is portable, saves you a lot of space, but covers a wide range of woodworking needs, too.

The DBC is set at a standard 16.5 inches with the option to extend it through a 42 inches bed extension accessory. And its SOB, which sets the tone for bowl turning capacity, is sized at 12 inches. The variable speed range and the switch for activating the forward/reverse operation are also part of its capabilities.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Made of quality materials, with sturdy 2MT spindles and a nice range of NOVA smart accessories, it’s a precision machine that makes woodworking a pleasure. It also features digital readout, and the 3-step pulley system lets you enjoy multiple speed ranges with little to no setup efforts.

Best Benchtop Wood Lathe:
Shop Fox W1836

PROS

  • Powered by a sturdy motor
  • Comes with a 2-year warranty
  • Supports optional bed extension
  • Features a heavy-duty live center
  • Sits on rubber feet that dampen vibrations

CONS

  • Left-hand thread direction only
  • Occasional reliability issues with some products

Our Review

This mini wood lathe from Shop Fox makes an irresistible choice for benchtop operation. It weighs 85 lbs and measures 8.9 x 17.8 x 32.9 inches. And its SOB is set to 12 inches, whereas the DBC is a generous 15 inches. The ¾ HP universal motor, single-phase, handles two speed ranges - 500 to 1.800 RPM and 1.000 to 3.800 RPM.

All in all, it offers great working capabilities in a compact design. It comes with 24 index points, adjustable with 15-degree increments. And the variable speed control lets you run speed adjustments on the go, with a practical digital RPM readout.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

For a benchtop wood lathe, it’s great that the Shop Fox W1836 comes with a heavy-duty live center. Even the first-time users can learn the ropes of turning spindles almost on the double. And with the cast iron tailstock and the handy tool holder, making solid adjustments is simple and intuitive.

​Best Grizzly Wood Lathe:
​Grizzly Industrial G0766

PROS

  • Supports an indexing head
  • Solid and large cast-iron bed
  • Large SOB and maximum DBC
  • Outstanding motor capabilities
  • Electronic variable speed control

CONS

  • Requires a dedicated 220V line for operation
  • Really heavy and takes extra space in your workshop

Our Review

For the fans of Grizzly power tools, this industrial wood lathe brings excellent value for the money. While it may seem pricey, it does feature a 3 HP, 3-phase, 220 V motor, and a 22-inches SOB with 42-inches DBC configuration.

In a nutshell, it is large and powerful. And you can’t go wrong by choosing this particular model. It has electronic variable speed control, and it features an electronic spindle speed reader. It encompasses a 17-1/2-inch tool rest base, and the tailstock barrel can travel for up to 4-1/4 inches. Whereas the headstock can literally be positioned anywhere along the bed.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

For all of the features from above, one would have to pay thousands of extra dollars when purchasing a similar power tool from a different manufacturer. The value for the money is outstanding, and the quality of the tool truly stands to the expectations that the Grizzly brand has set over the years.

​Best Jet Wood Lathe:
Jet JWL-1221VS

PROS

  • Speed control is intuitive and easy to use
  • Provides a good selection of speed ranges
  • Facilitates both forward and reverse operation
  • Top-quality wood lathe, ideal even for beginners
  • Features a patent-pending, innovative belt tension system

CONS

  • Some quality control issues
  • Occasional complaints on shipping quality

Our Review

This variable speed lathe from Jet is one of the manufacturer’s top-rated power tools designed for woodworking. It is very user-friendly, something that beginner operators will love about it. But, at the same time, it can make a great, affordable choice for the more experienced ones.

With a 1 HP motor and 60 to 3600 RPM variable speed, it features handy speed control options. It also has an innovative ratchet-style system for tensioning the belt. And it comes with Jet’s famous 5-year warranty. The excellent combo of woodworking capabilities, size, and price make it a top choice among the best wood lathes from Jet.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Given its 12-inch SOB and 21-inch DBC, it is a nicely sized wood lathe that can handle many different requirements. It facilitates both forward and reverse operation, and switching between the two is a breeze. Not to mention that it comes with an acme thread in tailstock, and it boasts 24 indexing positions, for even more flexibility with your woodworking projects.

​Best Wood Lathe Under $500:
Grizzly Industrial T25920

PROS

  • Compact but solid construction
  • Features a digital RPM tachometer
  • Makes a good choice for beginners, too
  • Motor supports variable speed adjustments
  • Sits well on benchtops and takes little space

CONS

  • Tech support could be better
  • Not a good fit for large workpieces

Our Review

Investing in a good quality wood lathe can be challenging. But seeing such an affordable model from a reputable manufacturer like Grizzly is sure worth all the attention. For under $500, you can get the Grizzly Industrial T25920 with a 3/4 HP motor, and you won’t regret doing so!

It has a 12-inch SOB with an 18-inch DBC. Its spindle speeds are variable, with a digital readout for the RPM, which can go anywhere from 650 to 3800 RPM. And the MT#2 spindle and tailstock tapers are part of this great deal. But there’s a lot more you’ll enjoy about it!

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

This is a relatively small wood lathe, specifically designed to sit on a working bench. Yet its construction is quite solid and it allows easy adjustments for both the tailstock and the tool rest. You’re getting dedicated live and spur centers. And you can basically work a wide range of small to mid-sized projects on it, with maximum comfort and satisfaction.

​Best Wood Lathe Under $200:
Wen 3421

PROS

  • Tailstock is easy to unscrew
  • Features variable speed motor
  • Ideal wood lathe for small workpieces
  • Decent performances for a very low price
  • Powerful motor compared to similar products

CONS

  • Requires a relatively slow work pace
  • Won’t accommodate large workpieces

Our Review

For less than $200, this Wen 3421 mini lathe will teach you the art of woodworking. Minimal expenses and maximum satisfaction are possible, if you use sharp tools and take off the material gradually. The 12-inch DBC and 8-inch SOB dictate what workpieces you can tackle with it. While the 3.2-Amp motor is more powerful than other wood lathes sized at 8 inches.

The variable-speed motor can work from 750 to 3200 RPM. And you can tweak it to work on small bowls, cups, pens, or other items like chess pieces. The package includes a 2.3-inch faceplate, two interchangeable tool rests, a tailstock taper, and an MT1 spindle - everything you need to get to work.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

This small cast-iron lathe specifically built for woodworking is surprisingly sturdy and easy to work with. It weighs 45 lbs, so it will find its place even in a small workshop. And it has a powerful motor, way above what you’re getting from other models in the same size range.

​Editor's Pick:
Grizzly Industrial G0733

PROS

  • Wide range of variable speeds
  • Extra-large distance between centers
  • Electronic spindle control and readout
  • Sturdy precision-ground bed made of cast-iron
  • Powerful motor for heavy-duty woodworking tasks

CONS

  • Live center removal requires a knockout tool
  • Working on low speeds comes with low torque

Our Review

Yet another amazing Grizzly power tool made it to this roundup of the best wood lathes. Our editor’s pick comes with a great 2 HP motor, a swing over bed of 18 inches, and a distance between centers of 47 inches. It also features cast-in shelf brackets, which will allow you to add extra mass. And it facilitates variable-speed control with two torque ranges.

Forward or reverse operation is only a switch away. The digital speed indicator is convenient to use. And the utility basket from underneath the bed will certainly come in handy at some point. You’re going to need some time to read the entire list of features, but one thing is clear: quality and innovation are at the core of this solid lathe.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

First, the power and the bed make it an irresistible choice. Then, there’s a price tag that is hard to beat, for everything it brings to the table. For your convenience, the headstock, the tailstock, and the tool rest supports are all with lever-action cam locks. You’ll be able to adjust it in an instant, and it will work like a charm. Plus, it has an emergency stop switch.

Lathe Tips and Tricks for Success

Aside from knowing how to pick a suitable wood lathe, one must also know how to make the best of it. Operation-wise, you should consider the following aspects: 

Avoid Split Wood

If the wood is split or it has knots, the risk of accidents is significantly higher. Parts of it can fly apart anytime during operation, so, stay away from this type of wood! 

Use The Right Tool

Woodworking implies relying on gouges, parting tools, chisels or scrapers, mostly. Pick the right tool and keep it properly sharpened. Carbide tools are more expensive, but also more effective. 

Watch Your Body

Don’t use your hand and arm’s strength only. Keep your elbows tight on the body, leaning in during the cut. It will add extra strength, helping you make significantly cleaner and smoother cuts.

​Comparison Overview: How Does It Stack Up?

Lathes remove materials from a workpiece. Depending on the workpiece, one might look for either wood or metal lathes. Also, there is the common question of what to choose between a mill and a lathe, since both have the same general application. Here’s what sets the difference:

Mill vs Lathe

Mills and lathes are similar, though only up to a point. Usually, a mill can perform the same types of cuts as a lathe. But it takes more knowledge and more patience to set it up in order to be able to perform a particular cut.

A lathe, on the other hand, requires fewer settings and works much easier. Cylindrical parts are usually of superior quality when crafted on a lathe. Whereas the other shapes, more complex, as long as don’t involve cylinders, can be easily done on a mill.

Wood Lathe vs Metal Lathe

Lathes have been initially conceived for metalworking, but plenty of models designed for wood showed up lately. By default, a wood lathe has a simpler structure, it is also lighter, and it requires less power. A metal lathe is more complex, with electronic components, and can deform any type of metal, whereas wood lathes can’t cut any metal.

How to Use a Lathe 

Curious about a few introductory steps on how to use a wood lathe? Here’s a short step-by-step tutorial. Make sure you read it till the end, and you’ll find a video resource to clarify things even more.

  • Dress up appropriately, with tight clothes with short sleeves;

  • Bring your carbide turning tools at hand;

  • Attach the wood to the lathe between its two centers:

    • Mark the centers of the two ends of the workpiece;

    • Take the spur center and place its tip in the center of one of the two ends;

    • Use a wooden mallet to secure it in that hole;

    • Then, insert the spur center with the wood piece attached to it;

    • Bring that other center to the other end of the workpiece;

    • Lock the tailstock in the right position;

  • Then, lock the tool rest into position, making sure that the workpiece can turn freely next to it;

  • Move to the side of the wood lathe and hit the On/Off switch;

  • Set the lathe to low power, to begin with;

  • Get yourself a square carbide cutting tool and place its flat, backside on the tool rest;

    • Make sure it sits parallel to the floor and start slowly feeding it into the rotating workpiece;

  • You can switch the cutting tools as you see fit, up until you get the shape you want;

  • Finally, you must sand the workpiece to give it a smooth finish.

If you feel you could use more details with any of the steps detailed above, take your time to watch the full video of how to use a wood lathe, here:

Conclusion 

While there are only a handful of companies that manufacture wood lathes, the models they release are various. So, choosing the best wood lathe can be a daunting task, especially if you’re just starting out, and you have a limited budget. But with the products we have reviewed within this buyer’s guide, your options are clearer now!

People Also Ask

Still having some questions on your mind? Take a look at the following issues that buyers often need to clarify, for an even more informed purchase.

What is a Lathe?

A lathe is a machine that changes the shape of different workpieces by rotating it against a cutting tool. The workpiece can be made of wood or metal, but also other materials. And the cutting tool is usually changeable, with different particularities and applications.

What is a Lathe Used For?

With a lathe, one can drill or groove, sand or flute, turn down the diameter of a material, face, or thread it. Turning is one of the most common applications, followed by facing and threading. Making wood bowls is a popular activity for a wood lathe.

How Does a Lathe Work?

A lathe has an axis of rotation where you secure the workpiece. And a tool post where the cutting tool is held. During operation, you’re feeding the cutting tool against the rotating workpiece. Depending on the type of tool you’re using, you’re getting different results, as the machine removes the material from it.

Why Are Lathes So Dangerous?

A lathe spins the workpiece fast. If anything goes wrong, the workpiece can crack, and parts of it will be propelled with high speed, which can result in some serious injuries. There’s also the risk of entanglement hazards if you’re wearing loose clothing or jewelry.

Can You Turn Metal On A Wood Lathe?

A wood lathe isn’t designed for turning metal. This doesn’t mean it can’t do the job, but mostly that it isn’t recommended to try it. Though, on a powerful wood lathe, soft metals like brass or aluminum could be deformed.

How Fast Should A Wood Lathe Turn?

The number of revolutions per minute that the lathe can support and the diameter you’re turning will dictate the speed. Most lathes support a speed between 500 and 3000 RPM. Your wood lathe should have a chart on it, indicating what RPM is generated by a specific pulley arrangement.

What Tools Are Needed For Wood Turning?

Mostly, a 3/4-inch spindle roughing gouge, a flat-section skew chisel at 1-inch, a 1/4-inch parting tool, two 3/8-inch spindle gouge, and square ground bowl gouge, and a French-curved scarper, ideally the heavy-duty type. The higher the quality of the tools, the better the results you’ll be getting.

How Long Does Wood Need To Dry Before Turning?

For every inch of your woodwork’s thickness, it takes a year of air-drying. If you follow this rule, you’re going to get a perfectly dried wood for using it on a wood lathe. Of course, the wood must be protected from extra humidity during that time.

How Much Does a Lathe Cost?

Given the many differences between the wood lathe models on the market, the prices also vary a lot. A beginner might look up and find a decent wood lathe priced around $200. Whereas the most experienced users, or those looking for a lathe with great capabilities, might pay as much as $2.000, even $2.500.