What is the Best Wood Lathe?

A wood lathe is an important tool for any woodworker to have in their arsenal, from beginner to professional. There isn’t another tool that can do all a wood lathe can do, but it can be very difficult to find a high-quality brand out of all of the available options. Since this tool typically costs a few hundred dollars and up, you have very little room for error when you select your new model. 

We’ve picked out 10 high-quality wood lathes from different brands that are easy to find both in brick and mortar stores and online. We’ll break down each one and go over the benefits and drawbacks before telling your what they include and the accessories they have. We’ll also add a short buyer’s guide at the end that will highlight the important things to consider when you shop for your new tool

Take a look while we go over swing, center distance, horsepower, RPMs, and much more to help ensure you get the best wood lathe for your needs without breaking the bank. 

1 Large Wood Lathe
A wood lathe allows you to create beautiful projects, and you can make everything from chair legs to bowls, pens, or even chess pieces. These machines can look intimidating at first glance, but many of them are relatively easy to use once you get the hang of it.
Pole lathe turning by nz_willowherb / CC BY-NC 2.0

1. JET JWL-1221VS Wood Lathe – Top Pick 

This is a variable speed wood lathe that comes with a powerful motor that will deliver anywhere from 60 to 3,600 RPMs (rotations per minute). The control knob allows you to easily adjust your RPMs as you work, and it’s more than enough for most projects. It’ll seamlessly switch back and forth between reverse and forward by flipping a switch, and it has a spring-loaded spindle lock that makes it easy to switch projects. 

The belt tension is very easy to adjust with a ratchet-style system. The unit is slightly heavy at 136 pounds, but it won’t move on you with larger projects. The motor also sits under the wood lathe’s headstock, and this allows it to collect a large amount of dust and shaving. You’ll get a 12-inch swing and 21-inches between your centers with this unit. 

PROS: 

  • 60 to 3,600 RPMs
  • Easy forward and reverse switch
  • 12-inch swing 
  • Spring-loaded spindle lock 
  • Ratchet-style belt tensioning system 
  • Easy control knob
  • 21-inches between centers

CONS: 

  • Slightly heavy and bulky design 

2. Powermatic 3520B Wood Lathe – Step-up Pick 

Powermatic’s wood lathe is our step-up pick when it comes to high-quality products. It comes equipped with a powerful 6.2-amp motor with two horsepower that can create up to 3,200 RPMs. You’ll get dual interchangeable pulleys that you can use to switch or adjust your RPMs as you work on your raised planter boxes. One pulley works between 50 and 1,200 RPMs while the other works between 125 and 3,200 RPMs. The heavy-duty cast iron design gives you a big 20-inch by 35-inch work area. 

There is an easy-to-read digital RPM meter included with several accessories like a tool rest, guard, wrench, faceplate, spindle lock, and a knockout rod. It never bogs down and it’s extremely powerful, and you can tackle a large range of projects with a single tool. It does weigh more at 682 pounds, and this can make it difficult to put together. You’ll get a 20-inch swing with 35-inches between centers. 

PROS: 

  • Comes with several accessories 
  • Two horsepower motor
  • Digital RPM readout
  • 3,200 RPMs
  • 20-inch swing
  • 35-inches between centers 
  • Heavy-duty cast-iron design 

CONS: 

  • Challenging to put together

3. Grizzly Industrial H8259 Wood Lathe – Mid-End Budget Pick

This benchtop wood lathe is a slightly smaller and more lightweight option that is suitable for smaller projects. It weighs in at 77 pounds, and the RMPs start at 826 and go up to 3,337. You’ll get up to 18-inches between the centers to fit your wood pieces, and it also has a slightly smaller swing at 10-inches. It will bog down on larger projects, so you should get it if you plan to keep your projects small. Otherwise, you could end up frustrated with how it works. 

To change the speed on this unit, you’ll have to shut it off and manually adjust the belts. While this isn’t a huge inconvenience, it can get tedious if you have to switch it several times for one project. The model will run very hot after a few minutes at almost any RPM, but you can run it slower to help stop this from happening. 

PROS: 

  • Lightweight design
  • Very durable
  • 826 to 3,337 RPMs
  • 10-inch swing 
  • 18-inches between centers 
  • Includes a tool rest and accessories 
  • Easy to clean 

CONS: 

  • Motor runs hot after a few minutes

4. SHOP FOX W1704 Benchtop Lathe – Bargain Budget Pick

This wood lathe from Shop Fox has a 12-inch workspace that allows you to work on smaller projects like creating containers for your container garden or small signs. You’ll get dual tool rests that allow you to complete various turning applications when you use it. This unit can give you up to 3,200 RPMs with a ⅓-horsepower engine, and it has a variable speed control that lets you adjust your RPMs with the flick of a switch. The cast-iron material is very durable and resistant to wear, and the whole machine weighs in at a lightweight 52 pounds to make it easy to move. 

Although this isn’t a hugely powerful piece of equipment, this wood lathe will help you take on smaller projects around your home without breaking your bank. It can bog down on larger projects, and the vibrations can cause some knobs to work themselves loose. It has a smaller 8-inch swing with 12-inches between the centers. 

PROS: 

  • Cast-iron construction 
  • 700 to 3,200 RPMs
  • Variable speed controls
  • 52-pounds 
  • Two tool rests included 
  • 8-inch swing 
  • 12-inches between the centers

CONS: 

5. WEN Variable Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe – Best for Small Projects

This is a mini wood lathe that gives you a decent amount of power for the money. You’ll get a slightly smaller work area that is 8-inches wide by 12-inches long, and it works well for smaller projects like cups, pens, or bowls. It comes equipped with a 3.2-amp motor that turns the wood between 750 and 3,200 RPMs. The MT1 spindle, 2.3-inch faceplate, and tailstock taper all come durably built to withstand heavy use without a problem. It’s mostly made up of cast-iron, but it still only weighs in at 44.9-pounds. 

The RPMs on this unit are slightly slower than other options on the list, but it allows you to take your time and really focus on the task at hand when you use it. There’s also less of a viable range in RPMs, and it can bog down easily if you apply a lot of pressure while you work. You’ll get an 8-inch swing with 12-inches between the centers. 

PROS: 

  • 3.2-amp motor
  • 8-inch swing 
  • Between 750 and 3,200 RPMs
  • 44.9 pounds 
  • 12-inches between centers 
  • 3-inch faceplate
  • Cast-iron design 

CONS: 

  • Can bog down with heavy pressure

6. Delta Industrial Midi Lathe – Best for Quick Adjustments 

This is a variable speed midi wood lathe that has a one-horsepower motor that gives you up to 1,725 RPMs. You can adjust them using the variable speed controller down to 700 RPMs when  you work on your fall decor items or signs. There are different pulleys that change the range of your RPMs as you work, and it comes with a 12 ½-inch swing for smaller projects. You’ll get a patented belt tensioning system to help make quick adjustments, and it weighs in at 100 pounds. 

This wood lathe might not have a 100% smooth operation, and this can make it more challenging to use specific tools in certain areas. It will also start to vibrate more once you start switching to the higher RPMs, and the reverse and forward switches are backwards. This can make it more time-consuming to use until you learn the system. 

PROS: 

  • Variable speed controls 
  • Patented belt tensioning system included
  • One horsepower motor 
  • 12 ½-inch swing 
  • Up to 1,725 RPMs
  • Three pulley speed ranges 
  • Lighter weight 

CONS: 

  • Forward and reverse switches are backwards

7. Mophorn Wood Lathe – Best for Heavy Use

This 81-pound machine is a workhorse despite the smaller size, and it can easily give you 760 to 3,200 RPMs when you work. You’ll get 18-inches between the centers with a 10-inch swing. In turn, you have more than enough space to create chair legs or other mid-sized projects. There is a six-inch tool rest with this unit that lets you seamlessly work, and it has a very durable cast-iron construction that allows you to use it heavily for years without it failing. 

This is a slightly underpowered machine, and there isn’t a clear horsepower listing on any packaging. It can bog down with extended use, and this leads us to believe that it has a lower horsepower rating. If you’re new to using a wood lathe, there are no instructions or guides included with this model, and this can make it more difficult to get the hang of it. 

PROS: 

  • Cast-iron body 
  • 18-inches between centers
  • 6-inch tool rests included 
  • Weighs 81-pounds 
  • 10-inch swing 
  • 760 to 4,200 RPMs
  • Convenient on/off switch placement 

CONS: 

8.  RIKON 70-100 Mini Lathe – Best for Bowl Cutting

This is one woodcarving tool you’ll want to have on hand, and it comes outfitted with a ½ horsepower motor that will give you between 430 and 3,900 RPMs. There is an easy access speed change system included that gives you precision control while it’s running, and you get a 12-inch swing with 16-inches between centers. This is more than enough room for bowl cutting and other small projects. There is a self-ejecting tailstock that can reduce your frustration levels while saving you time when you have to remove a center. It weighs in at 90-pounds, and you can easily expand the bed to accommodate bigger projects. 

The motor on this wood lathe is smaller, and it can bog down at almost any speed because of it. The speed changing system can also get tedious if your project requires you to make several changes to the speed settings. It does have a protective cover on it, but it is slightly looser than we’d like, even though we double-checked the bolt’s tightness. 

PROS: 

  • Self-ejecting tailstock included
  • Easy access speed change system 
  • 12-inch swing 
  • Weighs 88 ½ pounds 
  • 16-inches between centers 
  • 430 to 3,900 RPMs
  • Protective cover included 

CONS: 

  • Changing speeds can be tedious

9. Nova 71118 Midi Lathe – Best for Cutting Chair Legs

This wood lathe comes outfitted with a slightly lower powered ¾-horsepower motor that gives you an RPM range of 250 to 4,000. There is a convenient digital readout that lets you check how fast the wood turns at a glance, and the 12-inch swing with the 16.5-inches between centers gives you enough room to tackle most smaller projects. The forward and reverse switch lets you change directions seamlessly while you work, and it has a six-inch tool rest that is 100% adjustable. 

This machine is easy to move around as it weighs in at just 82 pounds. The digital readout is slightly smaller too, and this can make it a little harder to see. Because there is under a one-horsepower motor on this unit, it can bog down with lighter pressures, and this can be very frustrating if you have to constantly stop and start during a project. 

PROS: 

  • Digital readout
  • 250 to 4,000 RPMs
  • 82-pounds 
  • Forward and reverse switch 
  • 6-inch tool rest 
  • 12-inch swing 
  • 5-inches between centers 

CONS: 

  • Bogs down with light pressure

10. PSI Turncrafter Commander Midi Lathe – Low Light Conditions

This wood lathe gives you a ¾-horsepower motor that delivers anywhere from 500 to 3,500 RPMs. There is a 10-inch swing with 18-inches between centers that gives you plenty of room to work on your vases or other small-scale projects. There is a work light included that will illuminate your work area in all light conditions to let you work well past dusk, and it has a cast-iron base that gives you a durable platform to work. It’s lightweight at 82-pounds, and this makes it easy to move from place to place. 

Since it has a lower horsepower motor, it tends to bog down on anything other than a small project. There are also no instructions included when you buy it, so inexperienced users should beware. There is also no reverse switch included, and the work light can cause a light glare under the correct conditions. The shade can collect sawdust, and this can be a fire hazard if you don’t empty it routinely. 

PROS: 

  • Includes a work light 
  • 18-inches between centers 
  • Offers 500 to 3,600 RPMs
  • 10-inch swing 
  • Cast-iron base 
  • Weighs 82 pounds 
  • Better for experienced users

CONS: 

Best Wood Lathe Buying Guide

Wood lathes do look like very complex and intimidating machines when you first see them, but there are really only a few key components that you have to worry about. Knowing what they are will help you pick out the best model for your needs while staying inside your budget. 

2 Lathe Buying Guide
It’s important that you know which criteria to focus on when you start looking at buying a new lathe because you want to get one that is powerful enough to suit your needs without going way over budget. This can take time, but the end result is well worth your effort.
Lathe by Steven Lilley / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Distance Between Centers

The centers on your wood lathe are the pieces that hold your wood in place. The distance between them tells you how long your piece of wood can be. Most of the wood lathes that made our list have a distance between centers of around 16-inches, but it can vary. In some cases, you can even extend the distance by adding additional pieces to your machine. 

Having a larger distance between centers means that you’re free to take on larger-scale projects with your machine, so we recommend getting one of the biggest you can find. If you only want to create small-scale items like chess pieces, pens, or bowls, you might want to pick out a wood lathe that has a shorter distance between centers. 

Horsepower

The horsepower your machine’s engine produces acts like the unit’s heart. You can easily change your speed settings using pulleys or other methods. Horsepower is the unit that is responsible for torque. If you don’t get enough torque to support your project, the machine will bog down constantly when you press your tools against it. Unless you only want to create pencils and pens, we recommend getting a wood lathe that comes with at least one horsepower to give you enough torque to create garden signs or bigger projects. 

Reverse Direction

A lot of models don’t offer this feature, but having the option to reverse your direction lends flexibility to all you do. This is especially true when it comes down to cleaning up your work or sanding it. In most cases, units with this option simply have you flip a switch to reverse the wood lathe’s direction. 

RPMs

Generally speaking, having a higher number or RPMs will allow you to get a faster workflow and a much smoother finish on your projects. If it doesn’t move quickly enough, the tools won’t create clean cuts. They could also grab onto the wood, and this can cause chips. Higher RPMs are always a better option, but you should also have more horsepower with higher RPMs to get a full package. 

3 RPMs
Mastering the wood lathe and knowing which settings you require to complete your projects will allow you to work without the machine bogging down on you. This can reduce your frustration levels while making sure you get professional-grade results without any chips.
Wood Lathe 2 by Dumphasizer / CC BY-SA 2.0

Swing

The swing refers to how wide you can have your piece of wood when you mount it on the centers before it runs into the table. Just like the distance between centers, having a larger swing value means you can take on large-scale projects. Try to get the biggest swing rating you can comfortably afford unless you’re 100% sure that you won’t need it for any of your projects. It’s always better to have too much room than not enough. 

Variable Speed Controls

The ability to flip between speed ratings is a big part of how your wood lathe operates. There are several ways available to change speeds, including changing pulleys, dials, or manually adjusting the tension. Dial adjusting is generally considered to be the best way to change your speed because you can do it in real-time with minimal effort. As long as you have correct instructions, the other two methods aren’t hard. However, they’re better used with projects that need a single speed for long periods of time. 

Weight

Finally, the weight plays a role in your decision, especially when you’re considering your tool storage between uses. Most of the models we picked out are under 100 pounds, but they can easily exceed this weight several times over. It’s not unusual to buy a wood lathe only to find out that you need to assemble it on your own. Always make sure you can safely manage the machine’s weight on  your own, especially before you buy it and during assembly. 

Bottom Line

When you pick out your wood lathe, we recommend getting a unit that has plenty of room between centers and a higher RPM rating. Our top pick will give you both with a powerful motor and plenty of distance between centers. Bogging down should also be a minimal worry, and the engine should stay cool throughout the project’s duration. We’ve listed out several viable options in a huge range of prices designed to fit almost any budget. 

We hope that these reviews are helpful and they assist you in narrowing down your best wood lathe. Once you get it, you can use it to complete you projects and get professional-grade results each time.

Best Wood Lathe 1 Best Wood Lathe 2

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