Woodturning has been in existence since the 1300 BCE in Ancient Egypt where the first two-person wood lathe was made. This innovation has evolved over time and now has important upgrades such as revolutions per minute (rpm) that help us monitor its efficiency for different woodworking projects.
Woodworking broadly encompasses all arts of making decorative designs and products from wood while woodturning literally refers to the craft of working on wood as it turns with the help of a machine called a wood lathe.
A wood lathe makes the work of any woodworker much easier. Turning wood allows for controlled cuts and designs to be engraved on the wood. These help in making elegantly designed wood decorations and turned furniture legs among other wood products.
Its efficiency and necessity in carpentry coupled with the plethora of wood lathes in the market make it extremely challenging to choose the best lathe, especially due to their expensive price.
In this article, we break down the best wood lathes based on quality, performance, price, and amount of space it takes up.
Pick #1 JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch by 21-Inch Variable Speed Wood Lathe - Top Pick
If you are making a purchase purely based on quality, the Jet JWL-1221VS currently tops the best wood lathes in the market but with a small twist. The machine is designed to cater to the needs of more advanced users and is not a great fit for beginners. Despite being the best there is, this wood lathe is considerably more expensive than many alternative products.
Built with control in mind, this Jet model comes with a unique speed control featuring continuous and discrete control types. With the latter, you can easily adjust your spindle speed at fixed RPMs while the continuous one allows for spindle speed running at any RPM within a range of 60 to 3600. Furthermore, this model also comes with a digital RPM display that informs users of the speed at which their lathe is operating on.
On the downside, the Jet JWL-1221VS has a 21-inch long-distance running from center-to-center and weighs at least 120 pounds meaning that its bench-top is one of the most massive ones around. Therefore, you will probably need a good deal of open space before getting one of these.
Additionally, the 1221VS allows users to easily adapt to different projects as it allows for smooth transitions from forward to reverse turning. It also features an innovative and unique ratchet-style belt tension system that makes it extremely quiet compared to other wood lathes.
Pick #2 Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
The Delta Industrial 46-460 is very comparable to our top pick, the Jet JWL-1221VS, albeit at a much lower price. The 46-460 model also comes with a continuous speed control feature allowing for adjustment of variable speeds, especially on the higher RPM ranges.
This model also has a patented belt-tension system that makes shifting between ranges much easier. This system coupled with its 6-groove belt and a three-pulley speed range, in turn, results in quick changes between different speeds without interfering with the belt position. Unfortunately, the machine does not come with a digital RPM readout and you will have to “eyeball” determine the speed.
Furthermore, this lathe comes with a 10-inch and 6-inch tool rests, and offers more precision with its support for both forward and reverse functions. Sadly, its center-to-center distance is 16.5 inches and you will need a bed extension to turn longer stocks.
The Delta Industrial’s base is made of cast iron for durability and has a wide swing base that makes it able to handle many different turning projects. This coupled with its 5-year warranty, guarantees users that this model is not only just affordable but also long-lasting.
Pick # 3 RIKON 70-100 12-by-16-Inch Mini Lathe
Just to be clear, the RIKON 30-100 is a mini lathe and should not be confused with a full-sized wood lathe. To differentiate between the two, a mini lathe is comparatively small and can be assembled in your home workshop for simple common operations while a full-sized one is a relatively bigger machine capable of doing numerous operations.
Moreover, a mini lathe is more portable than full-sized lathes and, therefore, gives users more flexibility if they decide to rearrange or move their shop.
Weighing approximately 88.5 pounds and with a center to center dimension of 16 inches, the RIKON 70-100 is perfect for short and thick stock. For longer ones, you can easily resort to adding an extra bed extension.
Additionally, this mini lathe offers a large swing capacity of 12 inches over both bed and tool rest, and also comes at an affordable price point. However, it only has high-speed options ranging between 810 and 3900 RPM.
Despite not having a low RPM setting, this RIKON model is much cheaper than full-sized lathes and is a better choice for handling shorter stocks. Additionally, it also comes with a 5-year warranty period.
Pick # 4 Nova 71118 Comet II
Measuring 8.9 x 17.8 x 32.9 inches and weighing in at 82 pounds, the Nova 71118 Comet II is powered by a 0.75 horsepower (hp) motor giving it less power than the average lathe. This makes it ideal for beginners working on smaller projects.
This lathe features a unique composite guard, a three-step pulley system, and a 12-point index function that enables it to provide users with varied speed ranges without interfering with its flexibility.
Its actual speed range is 250 to 4000 RPM and also has a great swing capacity of 12 inches with a spindle capacity of 16.5 inches with an optional extension up to 41 inches. The Nova’s base is built with solid cast iron that enhances its durability over time and also allows it to swiftly absorb vibrations. The tool simply has low vibrations while in operation.
Its other advantages include the forward and reverse functionality that ensures you achieve superior finishes in your work and a dependable warranty. This covers 1 year for motor replacements and 5 years for all the other parts.
However, there have been price fluctuations in Amazon and this has made it hard to evaluate its price value.
Pick # 5 Powermatic Wood Lathe with RPM Digital Readout
Coming in at number 5 is the 682-pound Powermatic wood lathe. With its weight and a 55 x 27 x 31 inches in dimension, this model is quite rigid and stable for professional and commercial woodturning. However, it has limited portability due to its huge weight and moving it around once it has been set up can be a problem.
Being a full-sized lathe, the Powermatic wood lathe is powered by a 2 hp motor and allows users to work within two ranges: one between 50 to 1500 RPM and the other one between 125 to 3500 RPM. For more efficiency especially when working with these varied speed ranges, this model also comes with a variable speed control feature and a digital readout.
Due to its large capacity, this model is very popular and best for people working on larger projects. To be specific, the Powermatic wood lathe’s swing over the bed is 20 inches while that over tool rest is 17 inches. Additionally, its center-to-center distance (the length between centers of the stock) is approximately 35 inches.
Due to its large size and huge weight, this wood lathe is very expensive but to make it worthwhile, you can look for free shipping anywhere. This will heavily cut on the shipping costs. The wood lathe comes with a 5-year warranty that reflects back on its high quality.
Pick # 6 PSI Woodworking Turn Crafter Commander
The PSI Woodworking KWL-1218VS Turn Crafter Commander needs a space of 32 x 11 x 10 inches and weighs 102 pounds. It’s a very powerful wood lathe yet completely user-friendly for a lathe in its class.
This PSI model features some top-notch functions but is designed for users with intermediate skill levels. Powered by a 1hp variable speed motor this lathe is capable of operating under different speeds allowing for smooth interchange between projects. Its digital readout display makes it easy to keep track of these speeds.
While the diameter of the wood being rotated without hitting the lathe’s bed (often referred to as swing bed) is critical during woodturning, this model’s swing bed is more than 12 inches.
For quality assurance and peace of mind, this particular model comes with a 3-year warranty and a built-in handle that makes it easier to move around.
How We Tested Lathes
While there are a few fundamental things that everyone looking to buy a wood lathe should look out for, choosing the best can sometimes still seem daunting. With special regards to online shopping, we understand this challenge and below are the criteria we used in this review.
Just like when we want to buy anything, one should always consider their budget. This should always be in terms of how much you have set aside to spend on it. While there are different types of wood lathes, knowing your budget will help guide your decision in choosing the best one within your means and purpose.
Type of projects we use
Wood lathes are amazing tools that can be used for several varied projects. Well, the nature or rather type of project that we intend to use the lathe for help define the exact kind of tool we need. In this case, you could think of the average thickness of the wood you’ll be working with. Knowing this automatically tells you different specifications that you need to keep an eye out for. This includes things like a swing over bed and center-to-center distance.
Type of speed we need for common projects
Knowing the type of project that you intend to use the wood lathe for coupled with your woodturning skill level will define your capability of working with certain speeds. Luckily, most lathes today come with variable speeds and variable speed control features. These allow different users to work with speeds ranging from 60 RPM to 4000 RPM.
Longevity of Lathe
Another we considered in our criteria was the longevity of the wood lathe. While there are lots of factors that influence the longevity of a tool, we recommend looking at the material used to make the base. Cast-iron builds are much favorable and durable. For an easy consideration, you can quickly check the warranty period offered for the lathe with anything beyond 5 years considered to be long-lasting.