Wood and metal lathes are sophisticated tools. A lathe holds an object and spins it about a central horizontal axis, allowing you to shape objects like baseball bats, lamps, and other symetrical items. You can turn bedposts, small pens, tiny tops, or large bowls. Wood lathes are defined by their turning capacities and size. Heavy, stationary lathes often weigh more than 1000 pounds while the micro lathes are less than 30 lbs. The maximum length between the headstock and tailstock centers is called the "spindle capacity". This is where you turn lamps, table legs, and furniture parts. If you are going to be turning bowls, then you'll want to know the swing capacity which measures the largest diameter blank that a lathe can handle. Lathes allow both inboard (over the bed) and outboard (away from the bed) turning - outboard turning is used for larger diameter since the bed is out of your way.
- Standard size lathes provide a minimum of a 12 inch swing for bowls and 36-inch spindle capacity. The 2 most common types are light-duty benchtop or heavy-duty stationary lathes. A benchtop lathe usually weighs between 150 and 300 lbs and has a 1/2 to 1 HP motor all costing less than $1000. Although most light-duty lathes can accommodate large table legs and most spindle work just fine, the ones with smaller motors seem to have trouble with green-wood blanks (eventhough their swing capacity suggests otherwise). These lightweight benchtop machines lack the power, slow speeds, and overall sturdiness to securely turn heavy bowl blanks. Stationary floor lathes have larger motors, 1 1/2 to 3 horsepower, and weigh over 300 pounds. These heavy-duty lathes combine power, slow-speed, and weight and are made for production work. Stationary lathes have larger spindle and swing capacities compared to light-duty lathes and many come with electronic motor controls. With all the added functions and features, prices start closer to $1500 and go up fast. Bowl-turning lathes come with big motors and advanced speed-control systems that give you power as well as very slow speed. Those 2 features let you safely turn big, heavy bowl blanks. A bowl turning lathe is usually shorter than a stationary lathe, but offers heavy duty construction for stability. Mini lathes are compact and portable and much shorter and smaller than standard size lathes (hence the name "mini lathe"). Mini lathes are benchtop machines that have swing capacities up to 10-inches, spindle capacity of 18-inches, and they can weigh up to 100 pounds. You should be able to find a quality mini lathe for less than $500. Mini lathes are great if you don't have a lot of space in your workshop or want to move the machine often, but keep in mind that they are limited in scope. A micro lathe has the ability to turn the spindle at high speeds (great for small pens), but their limited swing capacity makes them very specific in use. They tend to weigh less than 40 lbs. and the swing capacity is 6-inch or less. When buying a lathe you will need to consider the type of work you will be doing, specifically size of material. That will determine the weight, power, speed range, speed changes, and lock levers of the lathe you should buy. The top manufacturers are Jet, Gizzly, Delta, Powermatic, Stubby, Fisch, Klein, Wilton, South Bend, CNC, Atlas, and Chuck. We researched reviews online by experts and owners to come up with the best lathes in each category (see below for details). If you are looking for a quality used lathe, consider Ebay for the best selection. You can browse the up-to-date list of best-selling lathes online here
Best Benchtop Lathe:
Grizzly makes some excellent woodworking machines and their Grizzly G1067Z Swivel-Head Wood Lathe - Z Series
($499) is top rated benchtop lathe as reviewed by owners and experts. The all ball bearing lathe with 1/2 HP motor gets great marks for quality and value. Use it for spindle turning or faceplate turning. You get a full 14" swing capacity and 40" between centers (spindle capacity). There are 6-speeds that range from 600-2100 RPM and the variable speed control provides plenty of flexibility on speed. The precision cast-iron bed keeps the lathe stable and the versatile machine turns out wonderful work. View all Grizzly lathes here
- The PSI TCLPRO Turncrafter PRO
is a 4 Amp 10-Inch Swing by 18-3/4-Inch between centers 1/2 Horsepower benchtop woodworking lathe that owners say performs quite well. It's #1 RATED on Amazon
and delivers 5 speeds from 500 to 3200 rpm. You get a 18 to 40 inch turning capacity and the product itself is made with cast iron. Comes with a 6 inch tool rest, spare drive belt, 3 inch faceplate, live tailstock center, and a #2 Morse taper spur center. For the money it's hard to beat this benchtop lathe.
Top Stationary Lathe:
The Powermatic 3520B 20" Wood Turning Lathe w/ DRO ($2800) is the best stationary lathe on the market. It features sliding headstock with electronic variable speed and new digital RPM readout. There is a 2-position mount for the optional bed extension, a spindle lock and built-in spindle indexing on the head stock. The 2 HP 220V motor can be run on either 2ph or 1ph. Other top features are a brass knockout, ball bearing spindle, drive center, 3" face plate, and a 14" toolrest. This heavy-duty stationary lathe from Powermatic works great on platters, stool legs, bowls, and much more. Owners say that even for amateur woodworkers, this stationary lathe will work wonders since it is so easy to operate. As with any woodworking piece of power equipment, read the manual and instructions first to get acquainted with all the working parts. RECOMMENDED
- Check out the Powermatic 1791254 Model 4224
- a beautiful 3 HP lathe with a digital spindle with RPM readout. We also say the JET 708359 JWL-1642EVS
is another excellent buy at less than $2000. Features a 1 1/2 horsepower motor, 16 inch swing and 42 inches between centers, and variable speed from 0 to 3200 rpms. The cast iron bed and legs make this Jet lathe very sturdy and durable. Weighs over 400 pounds which helps to limit vibrations. We are a little disappointed in the 1 year warranty, but several owners say this is the "best lathe I've ever owned" and professional woodworkers give the 708359 high praise.
Popular Bowl-Turning Lathes:
We read countless reviews on bowl-turning lathes and one name kept coming up, that was the Stubby Lathe. Although manufactured by Omega in Australia, they are available in the United States through special order. John Jordan runs Stubbylathe.com
and you can contact them for ordering purposes. Back to the machine itself, we read an excellent review by Tim Yoder of the Northeastern Oklahoma Woodturners and were able to view the posted messages on the Stubby newsgroup at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stubbygroup/
. The Stubby 1000 weighs about 780 lbs and cost close to $6000 but from all accounts, this lathe is worth the money and wait (often takes 1-3 months to get it shipped). The Stubby has a 20" swing and 16" between centers with it's standard configuration. When you get it fully extended, the 1000 has a 44 inch swing and 34 inches between centers. The lathe comes with a sliding bed that is mounted on a swiveling turret, 2 banjos, and 2 beds. The bed can be swiveled 360 degrees by simply taking a retaining pin out. This allows the operator to place the tool rest in lots of locations. The Stubby 1000 lathe does not come fully assembled, so be prepared for some heavy lifting and do it yourself assembling of this beautiful lathe. Tim Yoder describeds the Stubby 1000 as having "plenty of power and everything is rock solid" and he goes on to say "the bed slides easily and its fit is so finely machined everything matches up perfectly". Other owners say the lathe is quiet and smooth, gives them increased productivity on projects, and is a "joy to use". There is a smaller Stubby 750 which often is easier to get than the Stubby 1000.
Best Mini Lathe:
Looking for a quality, mini lathe that is both compact and portable, then consider the Fisch TC90-100 Turning Center Wood Lathe ($300). Amazon.com lists some great mini lathes, but after adding up all the advantages and disadvantages, the Fisch TC90 comes out on top. It's made with heavy cast construction, has a 1/2 HP motor, has an easy access speed change with 6-speeds that range from 500 to 3700 rpm. It features a 10-inch diameter turning, 2 1/2 inch tailstock spindle travel, and 15 inches between center. The Fisch also accepts an easy mount bed extension which then gives it up to 39 inches between centers. You get a 3-inch face plate, 6-inch straight tool rest, double bearing live center, dead center, knock out bar, and spanner wrench. Great for turning chair legs and arm spindels and the machine has plenty of power to go along with a smooth operation. Owners say they like how easy it is to get access to the belts for changing speeds. The one knock against Fisch in almost all the reviews was that their customer service is lacking. It took some people multiple emails and phone calls to get the simplest issues resolved. Great value for the price though. Jet mini lathes are very popular as well and they too get excellent customer feedback on their Jet 708351VS/JML-1014VS Variable Speed and the Jet 708351B/JML-1014 14" Mini Lathe (both are slighly more expensive than the Fisch listed above). RECOMMNEDED
: The Jet models continue to perform well and bring in good reviews from users. Browse the sizes and models of Jet lathes here
Top Micro Lathe:
It was not easy finding information on micro lathes, but once we came across the BonnieKlein.com
we were sold on the Klein micro lathe. The Klein lathe sells for about $365 and has a 5" swing and 12" between centers. You get a bed, headstock with arbor and spur drive, tailstock with live centers, faceplate, tool rest, pulley set, and belt. It does not come with a motor. Weighs about 27 lbs and the cost with a motor is about $430. We did find another company that makes quality micro lathes called Taig and their MicroLathe II sells for $437. You can purchase it online at Taigtools.com