A wood lathe is a power tool for your workshop or garage that rotates a piece of wood around a horizontal axis so you can cut, sand, drill, turn, and face the wood to form it into a finished shape. Common wood lathe projects include chair or table legs, spoons, bowls, cups, and even pens, with many more advanced projects available to you once you feel experienced enough to take them on.
The best wood lathe for your workshop will depend on the amount of space you have, the power output you need, and the type of woodworking projects you want to take on. In general, mini or benchtop wood lathes are best for small workspaces, midi wood lathes are for medium workspaces, and full-size wood lathes require standing space in your workshop, so they take up the most space. No matter what size you choose, make sure you invest in a high-quality wood lathe that will perform as expected and last for years. Take a look at the wood lathes and wood lathe accessories below selected as the best products in their respective categories.
- BEST OVERALL: WEN 3421 3.2-Amp 8″ by 12″ Variable Speed Mini
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WEN 3420T 2-Amp 8 in. x 12 in. Variable Speed
- BEST LOW-SPEED: Delta Industrial 46-460 Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
- BEST BENCHTOP: SHOP FOX W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe
- BEST MIDI: Nova 71118 Comet II DR – Midi Lathe
- BEST FULL-SIZE: Grizzly Industrial G0462-16″ x 46″ Wood Lathe
- BEST LATHE STAND: WEN LA8800 225-Pound Capacity Steel Lathe Stand
- BEST LATHE ACCESSORIES: PSI Woodworking LCHSS8 Wood Lathe 8pc HSS Chisel Set
Types of Wood Lathes
Wood lathes come in three types, including mini/benchtop, midi, and full-size. However, if you have a drill press, you can also use a wood lathe attachment that enables you to turn wood vertically instead of horizontally.
A wood lathe is considered to be a mini or benchtop lathe if it has 20 inches or less distance between centers (DBC) and 12 inches or less of swing over bed (SOB). Simply put, the DBC is the maximum length of wood that can be used, while the SOB refers to the maximum diameter of wood that can rotate on the lathe.
Mini wood lathes are smaller than both midi and full-size wood lathes, making this type a great option for small workspaces. These mini lathes are also very good for working with small intricate items or adding intricate details to larger items, as long as they fit within the capacity of the lathe. This type of wood lathe is normally the most affordable option, making it a great starting point for beginners.
Midi wood lathes fall between mini wood lathes and full-size wood lathes in both power and size. These mid-size wood lathes were designed with the compact size of a benchtop wood lathe and some of the power potential of a full-size lathe, allowing you to take on larger projects without having to sacrifice floor space in a crowded workshop. This type of wood lathe ranges widely in DBC, frequently dropping below 20 inches in size, but it typically remains at or above 12 inches of SOB. With the increase in size, the midi wood lathe also increases in cost, but this style is still more affordable than a full-size wood lathe.
Full-size lathes have powerful motors and they take up the most space, typically standing on the ground at a height of about 4 feet so that you have easy access to your project. These large lathes can have a very wide DBC, ranging over 45 inches in length, and an SOB that exceeds 15 inches in diameter.
With a full-size lathe, you can take on a variety of projects, including making detailed table legs or making your own baseball bat. However, the size and power of this wood lathe mean a higher cost than either the midi or the mini wood lathes, so this type is only recommended if you have previous experience working with wood lathes or if you require a large capacity for your intended project.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood Lathe
Before investing in a new wood lathe, consider these important product features to be sure you purchase a tool that meets your needs.
Size and Weight
When you are looking for a new wood lathe, you need to consider the amount of space you have available in your workshop or garage and the location where you want to put your wood lathe. Keep in mind that these power tools are designed to be heavy so that they do not jostle the wood while you work, so you will need a sturdy surface for benchtop and midi wood lathes.
Full-size wood lathes stand on the ground at a height of about 4 feet. This means you won’t have to worry about lifting them up to a benchtop, but it also means that if you want a wood lathe this big, you need to ensure you have the floor space. Before buying a wood lathe, measure the space you have available and compare it to the product dimensions to ensure that it will fit.
The base of a wood lathe is an important factor to keep in mind because it is responsible for providing a solid foundation that can absorb vibrations during operation. Even small vibrations can significantly affect your project, causing unintended cuts and gouges, as well as being a possible safety hazard.
To help prevent this issue and to keep your wood steady while you work, you will want a wood lathe with a cast-iron base. Cast iron is a dense metal that is very heavy, ensuring that the wood lathe remains stable and that the vibrations caused while you are working do not affect your project. Even mini wood lathes will normally use cast iron to ensure that their mobile design does not come at the cost of your project’s outcome.
Headstock and Tailstock
The headstock on a wood lathe is the side that has the power converter to the motor and will also typically have your speed control. The headstock spindle is a small metal piece that extends from the headstock to the center of the wood lathe, and it is designed to pierce your project, providing the necessary powered rotation.
The tailstock of the wood lathe can be adjusted to fit the length of the wood that you are placing in the center. Once the wood is in position, the tailstock locks in place to prevent the wood from moving vertically or horizontally while still allowing it to rotate evenly. This pincer-like grip on the wood ensures that your finished product can be designed to be symmetrical, though there is a degree of experience and skill that you must achieve before the results begin to resemble the initial plan.
Power and Speed
The power output of a wood lathe is measured in horsepower (HP), with light-duty mini wood lathes typically having an output of about ¾ HP, while full-size wood lathes average 2 HP. The power output of the motor increases the potential speed of a wood lathe, allowing you to work at a faster speed using a full-size wood lathe than with a mini or midi wood lathe.
Speed is measured in rotations per minute (RPM) with a range of 250 to 4,000 RPMs between products. Speed is important because smaller pieces with more delicate cuts must rotate faster than large, heavy pieces to ensure that the cut is properly controlled as the cutting instrument moves through the wood.
The voltage of the wood lathe should be noted to ensure that it can be used with a regular 120V outlet or if you will need to have an available 240V power source. The location of the power switch on the wood lathe won’t directly affect the power or speed output, but if it is in an inaccessible or hard-to-reach portion of the lathe, then it could be troublesome or even dangerous to use while you are working.
The capacity of a wood lathe can be determined by the DBC and the SOB.
- DBC refers to the distance between the headstock and the tailstock. This measurement determines the maximum length of wood that you can use with your wood lathe. It can range from as small as 12 inches to longer than 40 inches.
- SOB is the measurement used to determine the maximum diameter a piece of wood can have before it can no longer fit in the wood lathe. Mini wood lathes may have an SOB as low as 6 inches, while a full-size wood lathe can have a 15-inch or greater SOB, allowing you to take on much larger projects.
The tool rest on a wood lathe is a feature that makes the lathe safer and more convenient. This is because the tool rest is a horizontal bar that gives you a place to position your cutting tools so that they remain stable while you cut into the rotating wood. Though you have to ensure that you set the tool rest to the appropriate distance from the rotating wood because if it is too far away then the tool rest will not be able to provide the necessary support.
Mini and midi wood lathes typically have tool rests that fasten directly to the lathe, allowing you to get close to small projects. Full-size wood lathes can be used on larger pieces of wood, so these lathes may come with extending tool rests that fold out from the lathe to better position them for broad woodworking projects.
With a powerful and potentially dangerous tool like a wood lathe, you need to be careful while working. Simple mistakes can cause accidents and injuries, like wearing loosefitting clothing and jewelry that can get caught in the rotation of the lathe, pulling you toward the rapidly rotating wood.
Another safety consideration is your personal protective equipment, or PPE. While working with a wood lathe, you should have a face shield to keep your eyes, nose, and mouth safe from flying wood chips. You should also have a set of work gloves that can help to keep your hands safe without interfering with your woodworking ability. Lastly, wood lathes and other power tools typically operate at volumes that are damaging to your hearing. Use a pair of earplugs or any other hearing protection to keep your hearing safe.
Wood lathes can come with a range of accessories to help you get the best results from your work, with common accessories including chisels, gouges, spring calipers, and hones.
- Chisels are primarily used for finishing work when you use them with a wood lathe. The flat edge of a chisel can seem daunting at first because it has a higher likelihood to skip while you are working than the double edge of the gouge. However, when used correctly, a chisel can make your project much better by cutting down on the need to sand to attain the same smooth surface.
- Gouges are a type of chisel that comes in a range of sizes and cut profiles. Gouges are used for making broad, medium, or fine cuts. Roughing gouges, for instance, are used at the beginning to remove any surface wood you won’t need, while spindle gouges or shallow fluted gouges are intended for more precision cuts and designs.
- Spring calipers are an accessory that is not used for cutting, sanding, or shaving wood. Instead, these simple tools are designed to measure the diameter of the wood as you work on it so that you know when you reach the desired depth of your cut.
- Hones are used for removing metal burrs from your wood lathe and cutting tools. Burrs occur during normal use, so you won’t likely be able to avoid them. However, they are easy to remove with an inexpensive hone, giving you a clean cutting edge.
Our Top Picks
These top picks of wood lathes are the best in show when it comes to quality, price, and reputation. Use this list to help you find the best wood lathe for your workshop.
Add a new wood lathe to your workbench so that you can craft pens, bowls, cups, or even your own chess pieces with this mini wood lathe that has a DBC of 12 inches and an SOB of 8 inches. The lathe weighs only 45 pounds, so you can easily move it to a new location in your workshop or store it out of the way when it is not in use. The base is made of solid cast iron to help absorb vibrations while you work.
You can use this ⅓ HP wood lathe for broad applications or for precise cuts by adjusting the speed from as low as 750 RPM to as high as 3,200 RPM. The mini wood lathe comes with two interchangeable tool rests measuring 4½ inches and 7 inches, and a 2.3-inch faceplate that is used for working on non-spindle pieces like bowls and cups that must be hollowed out.
If you are new to wood-turning or you are just looking for an inexpensive wood lathe to add to your workshop, then the WEN 3420T Mini Wood Lathe is a great choice and is ideal for precision woodworking projects. The mini wood lathe uses a ⅓-HP motor to produce a variable speed range from 750 RPM for broad, coarse cuts to 3,200 RPM for very small, precise designs.
This wood lathe has a 12-inch DBC, an SOB of 8 inches, and comes with two interchangeable tool rests that measure 4½ inches and 7 inches in length. The compact size and lighter weight of 43 pounds of this wood lathe make it easy to move around and reposition in a smaller workspace.
Benchtop wood lathes typically come with very high speed ranges because these smaller lathes can only be used to work on small pieces of wood stock, which require high speeds for effective wood-turning. However, the Delta Industrial Midi Wood Lathe has a low speed range from just 250 RPM to 1,725 RPM, which is ideal for the wide wood stock capacity of 16½-inch DBC and 12½-inch SOB, letting you work comfortably on larger projects.
This 1-HP midi wood lathe also has a reversing function that allows you to switch the direction the wood is turning with the flick of a switch, because as most experienced woodworkers know, to produce a smooth finish you must sand a turned piece of wood against the grain. The wood lathe weighs 97 pounds and is made of durable cast iron. It also comes with a 3-inch faceplate for non-spindle applications and two interchangeable tool rests measuring 6 inches and 10 inches.
If you are interested in finding a wood lathe that is small enough to sit on your workbench, then this mini wood lathe is a great option with a full cast-iron construction to reduce vibrations and increase stability while you work and a weight of just 52 pounds. The mini wood lathe has a ⅓-HP motor and comes with a 5¾-inch faceplate for non-spindle cuts and two tool rests that measure 4½ inches and 7 inches in length.
With this mini wood lathe, you can select a speed between 700 RPM to 3,200 RPM, allowing you to take on many different projects, including pens, cups, and chess pieces. The wood lathe has a capacity of 12-inch DBC and an 8-inch SOB and also has a large paddle safety switch to control the on/off function of the lathe. The broad size of the paddle switch makes it easy to use in the case of an emergency, allowing you to shut down the lathe quickly without fighting with a smaller switch or dial.
For a product with a higher capacity than a mini wood lathe but a more compact form than a full-size wood lathe, you need this midi wood lathe that is made of heavy cast iron and weighs 82 pounds, allowing it to absorb vibrations and increase stability while you work. This wood lathe comes with a 3-inch faceplate for non-spindle cuts, and a 6-inch tool rest for better control with a chisel or gouge.
The midi wood lathe has a ¾-HP motor and a massive speed range between 250 and 4,000 RPM, allowing you to work on an incredible variety of projects as long as the wood stock fits the 16½-inch DBC and 12-inch SOB capacity. This wood lathe also has a forward and reverse switch as well as a digital readout to help you find the optimal speed for each application.
If you have the space in your workshop or garage for a full-size lathe and you want to work on large wood stock, then this 354-pound full-size wood lathe is an excellent choice. The wood lathe features a digital readout system to help you select the best speed for your project and has a speed range from 600 RPM to 2,400 RPM, which is ideal for working with large pieces of wood.
The full-size lathe is made of cast iron to ensure stability and minimal vibration while you turn and has a 2-HP motor that drives the wood through your cutting blades without faltering or skipping. It also has a large wood capacity, with a 43-inch DBC and 16-inch SOB, and a built-in tool rest extension for better access to larger materials and at different angles.
A low workbench may not seem like a big problem when you first begin, but after a few minutes of being hunched over to properly angle your cutting tools, it’s likely that your body is going to start to ache. With this steel lathe stand, you can adjust the height of your lathe in 1½-inch increments, adding a range of 24½ inches minimum and 34½ inches maximum to the base height of your wood lathe.
The steel design can be adjusted in length between 23¼ inches to 37¼ inches, and it can hold up to 225 pounds, making it compatible with the majority of benchtop and mini wood lathes. The lathe stand absorbs vibrations to increase stability for your cutting tools, weighing 47½ pounds.
While a wood lathe is an extraordinary power tool, it isn’t effective unless you have a set of cutting tools to go along with it so that you can shape the wood stock as it rotates. This eight-piece set of cutting tools is made with high-speed steel, which has a high durability rating, outliving high-carbon steel tools by a ratio of 6 to 1. This high-quality set also comes with a wooden case for storage and carrying.
Each tool in the set measures 16¼ inches in length, with a 6¼-inch blade and a 10-inch hardwood turned handle. Included in the set are a parting tool, spear scraper, 1-inch chisel, ⅝-inch chisel, round nose scraper, a bowl gouge, a spindle gouge, and a roughing gouge so that you can take on a variety of woodworking projects.
FAQs About Your New Wood Lathe
Before investing in a new wood lathe, take a look at these frequently asked questions and their answers below.
Q. How do you use a wood lathe?
A wood lathe can be a very dangerous power tool if you don’t know how to use it, so always educate yourself on a new tool and try some test pieces before attempting a full project.
To use a lathe, you must secure a piece of wood stock in the wood lathe, ensuring that it is tight enough that it will not fly off the lathe when you begin to work. Position the tool rest to give yourself a comfortable distance between the cutting tool and the wood stock.
The next step is to turn on the wood lathe, starting at the lowest speed setting if it is your first time so that you can get a feel for the resistance that pushes against the cutting tool when you work. If this isn’t your first time, then the speed should be set to a level that is appropriate for the stock you are working on.
Once the wood stock is rotating, you can use your cutting tool to begin cutting the wood stock, taking care to shape it the way you want. When you feel as if you are done, put the cutting tool down, away from the wood lathe, and then turn off the power. Do not touch the wood stock until it has come to a complete stop.
Q. What can you make on a wood lathe?
You can make a wide assortment of wooden objects, including spoons, bottle stoppers, rings, pens, bowls, cups, and decorative art.
Q. What wood is best for wood-turning?
Beech. It’s a hardwood, wherein most species don’t have a distinctive grain pattern and have a very light color. Some woodworkers may think that it is a disadvantage, but some appreciate its plainness. Nevertheless, Beechwood is durable and abrasion-resistant, so it is suitable to make bowls and other related items.