Wood Lathe Reviews
This page is designed to help you learn about wood lathes in general.
To read our general reviews and see an excellent video on turning, scroll to the bottom of the page.
To see more detail reviews on specific brands and models click the links below.
If you already know which lathe you would like, the best prices always seem to be at Amazon and in most cases, include free shipping and no sales tax.
Jet 708376 JWL-1220 12-Inch X 20-Inch Wood Lathe
Powermatic 1352001 Model 3520B 20×35-Inch Wood Lathe with RPM Digital Readout
Wood Lathe Reviews
Before you decide on what lathe you need there are a few things to first consider. For instance, do you need a mini or full sized lathe, what accessories do you need, your experience level, frequency of use, durability, simplicity of use and of course, what does it cost and where is the best place to purchase.
Now let’s get started with wood lathe reviews!
What size lathe do you need?
Should you consider a mini lathe or a full size lathe? Maybe the most important question of all. Let’s help you answer it.
What do you want to turn? We’ll tell ourselves, I need the bigger tool to cut all those table legs and super sized bowls I’m going to create! When in reality, pens, small round boxes, small bowls and knick knacks are 99% of what most people end up turning. True, but I want the lathe the guys use on my favorite woodworking TV show. Understandable…
But if you’re a first time lathe user and you want to make a variety of things, consider the mini lathe. Today’s mini lathes have enough power to turn about anything you want short of very long pieces. There small size and compact features also make it easier to learn on and perfect your skills.
If one day you decide that you do have the skills, budget and desire for a larger lathe, then you’ll know what features are important to you and you’ll buy a lathe for your particular skill level at the time. You’ll then also have two lathes that you can use for different and specific functions.
From a space standpoint, consider more than just the footprint of the tool. You will need space in the back of the tool and on the sides as well for dust collection or other accessories.
For the money, you will probably get more features and a better motor on a good mini lathe that on the lower quality full sized lathe.
If budget is a concern, also realize that accessories and even the wood are typically less that what you would use on the full size lathe.
Although it might sound like I’m a mini lathe only proponent, I’m not. I have just seen many people buy a lathe that was hard to use and quickly became frustrated and stopped using the tool. If you need or more importantly want a full size lathe, just make sure you have the skills (or will acquire them) to get the most out of your purchase.
What features really matter?
I want a lathe that is smooth and has hardly any vibration. Vibration or lack of is one of the main differences between cheap and well built lathes. If I could impress anything upon you in this lathe review is that you get what you pay for here.
If the lathe is not smooth, the tools will dig into the wood, you’ll get chip out. Even your good cuts will be jagged, you’ll sand a lot more and after a short while, you’ll probably get frustrated and the tool will gather dust.
Then you’ll have to explain to your wife why you stopped using that new tool you just bought. The tool that you just had to have…
How the lathe is attached (it’s really important to attach it to something sturdy) makes a huge difference in the amount of vibration. If you can, use the manufactures stand because it was created to be used with that tool. The design of the stand also helps absorbing vibration, as well.
If you have a sturdy workbench that is really, I mean really sturdy and doesn’t rock back and forth at all, that could work, too.
But a stand can always be added later. All you need to know for now are the differences.
Variable speed is also extremely important. The easier it is to change or adjust something the more you will use it and the safer it will be. Think about your table saw. If the blades were easier to change you would change them more often and actually put the dado blade in when you needed, instead of making multiple passes with the regular blade. Same thing here.
My first lathe had only one speed. It wasn’t the end of the world. I actually didn’t change speeds as much as I though I would. For your lathe, just make sure you can easily adjust the speed and the controls are in easy reach. I’m convinced most mistakes on lathe projects are because the controls were difficult to adjust and the turner ignored the need to change speeds and mis-cut the wood.
A rotating tailstock or live tail center is also really nice feature to have. Unless you’re turning bowls 100% of the time and you won’t, you’ll be glad you have this feature. If you find a lathe you like and this is not included, make it your first accessory.
What accessories are really necessary?
For me, I think a good bright light is the imperative. I prefer to buy an inexpensive flexible arm light from Office Depot or Walmart that clamps on to the lathe where I need it. Its maybe fifteen dollars or so. With a portable light, I can also use with other tools, if I want.
If your dust collection system is a broom and dust pan, maybe this is not a topic for you. But realize your router and your lathe will put out the most wood chips in your shop. You certainly don’t need it day one, but if at all possible get a dust collection “funnel” for about 20 bucks (click here) to capture most of your shavings. Simply hook it to your shop vac. Just make sure you get the correct hose and fittings. The day I added this accessory, my joy of turning increased exponentially!
There seem to be as many chucks and accessories for holding the wood as there are ways to cut. This is a rather large topic and I will probably add pages discussing this in the near future.
But for now use the lathe, get a feel for what you like to turn and then buy chucks for that purpose. But if you’re interested now, here’s a nice assortment.
The tools are as important as the lathe, maybe more so. Often, I have seen people get an expensive lathe and then get really cheap turning chisels. Just don’t buy one of those 28 pack cheap chisels sets.
Remember that 28 pack of cheap router bits you bought and quickly realized you wasted your money??
Cheap tools don’t cut well, are dangerous and will make you experience of wood turning miserable.
Start out with a good roughing gouge, a good skew chisel and a good parting tool and then go from there. Buy the best tool you can afford. Then add chisels as you need them. Click here to see an assortment of wood turning tools.
Watch this video by Nick Cook at Jet. He shows lots of various turning techniques.
Which wood lathe is best for you?
I hope these wood lathe reviews have helped you decide which lathe is best for you. I’ve only discussed the basics here. However, to see more model and brand specific information, click the links below to see specific models.
I personally buy a lot of things at Amazon. I always get quick deliverly, good service and best of all, free shipping and no sales tax. Click the link below to see more reviews and more models than I have covered here.
Good Luck with your new lathe!
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