Wood lathes can be used to make a variety of classic wooden trinkets, furniture, and décor that will last a lifetime. For a beginner and even intermediate wood cutter, however, it can be difficult to choose the best wood lathe for your wood cutting project. Use these reviews to determine the best tool for your next wood cutting task.
The Powermatic 3520B
If you are looking for a powerful and heavy duty wood lathe, the Powermatic 3520B is one of the top models around. This wood lathe includes a 2 horsepower variable speed motor that is capable of taking single phase or triple phase input. There is about 2.8 feet distance between the tailstock and headstock centers, allowing for small to medium size wood stock to be turned.
The Powermatic 3520B is made out of cast iron and weighs over 680 pounds. Because of its size and weight, vibration is minimized and stability increased. This model comes with a tool rest, spindle lock, faceplate, wrench and knockout rod.
The Nova 24221
For a lighter kit, consider the Nova 24221 16 x 24″ 8 Speed Wood Lathe. Although this wood lathe is made of cast iron as well, it is considerably smaller and lighter than the Powermatic 3520B. Users may need to add weights to the base of the lathe due to its smaller size and may have to provide their own ballast shelf.
Despite its smaller size, the Nova 24221 lathe has a 1.5 horsepower motor which ranges from 100 to 3,500 RPM. There are 2 feet (24 inches) between the tailstock and headstock centers, making this a great model for small to medium sized projects and for beginners.
The Nova is able to rotate in reverse and all parts of the lathe are easy to slide and adjust. This is one of the more affordable lathes on the market and is perfect for both beginner and expert wood cutters.
The Jet JWL-1642EVS
For a larger and very similar version of the Powermatic 3520B wood lathe, try the Jet JWL-1642EVS. This cast iron wood lathe spans 3.5 feet (42 inches) between tailstock and headstock centers, allowing wood cutters to work on medium to large size projects.
The headstock is designed for outboard turning as well and includes a spindle lock that can be operated via a push button. This is the perfect tool for someone who has experience in wood cutting and is planning to complete more advanced projects.
The legs are spaced widely to accommodate uneven surfaces and provide greater stability. This lathe includes a digital readout that allows the user to change speeds quickly and easily. The Jet JWL-1642EVS lathe can turn as slow as 50 RPMs and as fast as 3200 RPMs.
For serious wood cutters that are interested in both small and large projects, this is a great lathe to consider.
The Shop Fox W1758
One of the top performing wood lathes is the Shop Fox W1758. Perfect for large wood working projects, this one stretches 3.8 feet (46 inches) between the headstock and tailstock centers.
Turning speed ranges from 600 rpms to 2400 rpms and this lathe operates using a 2 horsepower motor. Even during high speeds, vibration is minimal due to the heavy cast iron material used.
The Shop Fox W1758 is one of the lowest cost large wood lathes out there. This wood lathe is equipped with a swivel head to accommodate outboard turning with a tool rest extension.
Best Mini Wood Lathes
Stand-alone wood lathes are created for craftsmen who are interested in doing a variety of projects from small to large jobs. For wood cutters who create smaller works of art, a mini or tabletop lathe is the best option. Some of the top mini lathes and midi lathes are listed below.
The Delta Industrial 46-460 – This midi lathe is one of the most powerful lathes for wood cutting of 2015. This 1 horsepower machine has a reverse function and 3 pulley speeds.
Shop Fox W1752 – The Shop Fox W1752 has 6 variable speed settings and can go up to 4,000 rpms. There is 15.5 inches between headstock and tailstock centers and the Shop Fox W1752 has a 10 inch swing.
Rockler Excelsior 5-Speed Mini Lathe – For newcomers and beginners, this is a great and affordable model to get you started. It is simple and uses a 5 speed pulley system to reach speeds ranging from 760 rpms to 3200 rpms.
Choosing the Best Standalone or Mini Wood Lathe
It can be difficult to decide which lathe model is the best one on the market today. The most important thing to take into consideration when selecting the best wood lathe for you is what wood cutting projects you are most interested in.
If you are a first time wood cutter or a beginner when it comes to using this power tool, you may want to start with one of the mini or tabletop options listed above. These are great for experimenting with small projects such as wooden toys, pens, and small pieces of home décor.
For more advanced or intermediate wood cutters who are interested in medium to large size wood cutting projects, consider one of the larger standalone devices. These wood lathes are made of cast iron and are extremely secure due to their size and weight. The distance between the headstock and tailstock centers is larger, meaning you will be able to complete a wider variety of projects.
How to Use a Wood Lathe
Wood lathes can be used to create beautiful works of art, functional pieces of furniture, and unique additions to your home décor. Whether you are working with a small, medium, or industrial size tool, learn how to use your lathes using these tips and ideas.
Choosing the Right One
Selecting the best wood lathe for your home project is vital to the outcome of your furniture or décor. For small projects, such as: toys, ink pens, and candle holders, choose a small, bench top lathe. For larger projects like furniture, a larger industrial size one will work better. The following lathes are commonly used for most wood projects:
- Mico-Lathe/Benchtop Lathe – These smaller lathes have an easy –to-adjust tool rest and tailstock. They are most commonly used for the smallest projects.
- Mid-Sized Floor Lathe – For a more solid base and finer speed control, consider a mid-sized floor lathe. These lathes can be perfect for furniture legs and lamps.
- Bowl Lathe – If you have a larger work space and you are interested in making bowls, consider a larger bowl lathe.
- Heavy Duty Floor Lathe – These lathes require a large workspace, but typically operate at 1.5 horsepower or more. Heavy duty floor lathes are perfect for large, heavy wood projects.
Find the Right Cutting Tool to Use
There are many types of cutting tools that can be used with your lathe. Depending on the intricacy and design of your project, you may need to use a variety of these tools on one project. Some of the most common wood cutting tools for lathes include the following:
- Scrapers – These wood cutting tools are most commonly made from a rectangular bar. Some of the most common scraper shapes for beginners include: square nose, left skew, right skew, round nose, and half round scrapers. They can be made from carbon steel or high speed steel.
- Chisels – Chisels are also most commonly made from a rectangular bar; however, unlike scrapers, chisels are double beveled. Chisels can either be made with a square nose or with a skewed angle.
- Parting Tools – A narrow chisel is called a parting tool and is used to separate waste material from the ends of your finished project. Parting tools can come in the following shapes: fluted, waisted, rectangular, and square.
- Spindle Gouges – The spindle gouge is a narrower tool that is shapped like a fingernail or half an ellipse. This is a great tool for reaching restricted places during spindle turning.
- Roughing Out Gouges – These gouges are larger than spindle gouges and should not be used to create bowls. Use roughing out gouges in the early stages of the spindle turning process.
Learn Proper Wood Cutting Safety Precautions
After you research the type of wood lathe you will need for your wood cutting project and you become familiar with your wood cutting tools, learn proper wood cutting safety tips. The lathe creates beautiful works of art and functional pieces of furniture and home décor, however, beginners and expert craftsman can put themselves and others at risk if safety precautions are not taken. Read the following safety tips before operating the device:
- One of the first things you should do after purchasing a power tool is read the operating manual. By reading the instruction guide, you will be able to evaluate all parts of the tool and ensure they are present and in proper working condition before you begin.
- After you are familiar with the machine, choose your wood material carefully. Try to avoid working with pieces of wood that appear damaged, have many knots, or look as though they may split easily.
- Keep your wood cutting tools sharp to avoid access pressure while cutting. Be sure to use both hands while cutting the wood. Your left hand should be supporting the tool’s leading end while your right hand holds the handle.
- Do not move the wood cutting tools with your hands and arms alone. Allow your entire body to move back and forth with the motion of the tool.
- Do not touch the wood with your fingers or hand while the lathe is moving. Wait until the lathe comes to a complete stop to check the progress of your work.
- Do not leave the wood lathe running while unattended.
- Wear a dusk mask, safety googles, closed toe shoes, and hearing protection when operating the wood lathe.
Select the Wood You Will Be Cutting
As mentioned in the previous section, it is important to evaluate your piece of wood prior to cutting. Select wood that is in good condition without excess knots and splits in it. If you are an inexperienced wood cutter, try a softer wood first. Great woods for beginners are balsam fir, yellow pine, or lodge pole pine.
Square and Cut the Stock
If you are starting with a piece of wood that is not square, such as a 2×4 piece of lumber, be sure to cut the wood to a 2×2. After you square your lumbar, cut the wood into the desired length needed for your project. Beginners and first timers should try pieces that are no longer than 2 feet long. It is more difficult to maintain the diameter on longer pieces of wood.
After your wood is square, cut the square corners into octagons to reduce the amount of wood that will need to be shaved off once the stock is on the lathe. The octagonal shape of the ends will give you a head start on the cylindrical shape you are trying to achieve.
Position Stock in Wood Lathe
Mark the center of each end of your piece of wood and place it between the lathe centers. Slide the tailstock until it is pushing into the tail end of your wood piece. Use the hand crank to tighten the tailstock spindle until the piece of wood has been pushed into the spur center of the headstock spindle. Be sure the wood stock is securely held by the tailstock and headstock of the lathe. If the wood is not secure, it may fall or fly off after the lathe is turned on.
Position Tool Rest Parallel to Wood Stock
Place the tool rest about ¾ of an inch away from the piece of wood you’re working with. The closer you place the tool rest to the stock, the more control and leverage you will have over the tools.
Hand turn the wood lathe after you have set the tool rest to make sure there is enough room for the stock to turn.
Practice Using Your Wood Cutting Tool
After choosing the right spindle, gouge, or chisel, be sure to practice holding the tool before you begin cutting. Your right hand will be located on the tool handle while the left hand is used for support behind the tool rest. Allow your body to sway back and forth with the movement of your tool and lathe and be sure to keep your elbows in and braced against your body for control.
Turn it on
Once everything is in place and you are comfortable with the secureness of the wood stock and position of the tool rest, turn on the wood lathe. Start with the slowest lathe speed to ensure all parts are moving correctly and the wood is secure.
Ease your wood cutting tool slowly towards the wood piece at a perpendicular angle. If you make contact too quickly with the wood, you may gouge the wood or jam your tool.
Once you become comfortable, begin moving the cutting tool parallel to the rotation of the wood stock. Push the tool evenly in passes so that you remove the same amount of wood with each pass. You can stop the lathe frequently during the process to check the progress of your work. Use a caliper to measure the diameter and consistency of your wood piece.
Sand and Finish Wood Piece
Once you are finished cutting, sand your piece of wood down for a smooth finish. This can be done while the lathe is turned on or off. If you choose to sand while the lathe is still turning, be sure to move the paper back and forth frequently to avoid removing too much wood from one particular area.