Woodturning is a great way to make your woodworking business stand out. A wood lathe makes it easy to create items that range from functional to artistic yet are sure to catch shopper’s eyes. If you want to get started with building a woodworking business that catches shopper’s eyes or if you’re just a hobbyist looking to get started with woodworking these are some of the best wood lathes for beginners.
Things to Consider Before Choosing Your Wood Lathe
To a new woodturner, it may be tempting to dive right in and start buying tools before you’ve ever used a lathe. This can ultimately be a mistake as woodturning is an incredibly broad field and the tools required to make, for example, pens and rings are far different than those required to make bowls or large segmented vessels.
How Will You Be Using Your Lathe
I got started woodturning as a teenager on a family friend’s lathe before our family purchased one. The lathe was a larger model which gave me the opportunity to experiment making both small objects and larger bowls which ultimately helped me decide to buy a larger model lathe myself for our shop and Etsy business.
We highly recommend finding a lathe to turn on before you buy to get a feel for the capabilities of what different models can offer. Friends, maker spaces, and classes at local woodworking stores or art studios are a great way to both learn the basics of woodturning and get a feel for what type of turning you may want to do.
Space for Your Wood Lathe
How much space do you have available for your new wood lathe? Luckily lathes come in a huge range of sizes so odds are you can find one that both meets your needs and will fit within your shop.
Benchtop style lathes are great for people who want to turn small items and don’t have much extra floor space.
Floor standing lathes can take up a significant footprint as they are typically immobile and require clearance on either side so they can’t sit directly against a wall like many other tools. Luckily their lengths can vary greatly from stubby bowl turning style lathes which may only have a 20-inch long bed to full-size models with a 42-inch bed.
Accessories for Your Wood Lathe
Some people in the woodturning will joke that purchasing a lathe is the cheapest part of woodturning. While the basic tools and accessories required to get started woodturning don’t have to cost an arm and a leg they can start to add up once you dive deeper into the craft.
Like many tools, each lathe has its own specifications that may not translate to other models. Spindle size, bed gaps, swing size, etc. These all dictate the accessories that can be used on a specific wood lathe.
Once again this is a great time to consider how you’ll want to use your lathe and how it will play into the future of your business. Buying a small, bench top model now only to realize in a year that you need a larger model, or vice versa, might mean that not only are you buying a new lathe but all new accessories as well.
Luckily, well-built lathes tend to hold their value quite well so if you do find yourself in this situation it shouldn’t be too difficult to recoup a significant portion of your original investment.
Lathe Terminology Tips
Like many hobbies, woodturning comes with its own language and terminology. Here are some tips on commonly used terms with wood lathes.
Headstock – The front of the lathe which is attached to the motor. All wood pieces are attached to the headstock for turning.
Tailstock – The spindle on the end of the lathe that is used to steady pieces again the headstock or help hold longer pieces.
Swing – The maximum diameter object you can turn on the lathe. If the lathe spindle sits 6 inches off the bed that means you can turn a 12 inch diameter object.
Between Centers – The distance between the headstock and tailstock.
Spindle Size – Some accessories fit inside the headstock or tailstock spindle. 2 MT is a very common size on wood lathes.
Spindle Thread – The thread size on the spindle. This can vary between lathes and will dictate the size of faceplates and chucks that will fit on the lathe.
Best Wood Lathes for Beginners
Here are some of our favorite wood lathes for beginners than range from bench top to full size models that will last a lifetime.
Entry Level Wood Lathes
Nova has made a name for themselves in the woodturning world through technological innovation. Their lathes tend to have the most advanced electronics which can make for an easier learning curve for new woodturners.
The Nova Comet II is a great benchtop, midi style lathe with a smaller footprint yet plenty of power to still maximize the full 12-inch swing over center. It features a wide speed range and can run in both forward and reverse which is a huge bonus for sanding.
This is a great lathe for beginners who want to get into spindle turning, pen making, ring turning, etc.
The Jet JWL-1221VS is a similar sized lathe to the Nova but does offer a few upgrades. This model can be used either as a benchtop or floor standing lathe with an optional base. It was features a few extra inches between centers, a more powerful motor and a wider range of speeds.
The minimum speed on the Nova is 250rpm while the jet can go as low as 60rpm. Low end speeds can be helpful during finishing as some finishes are best applied at very low RPMs.
The Jet 1440 is a great introduction to floor standing models. This lathe offers an extra couple inches of swing over the bed and a much longer bed than the benchtop models.
This model also features a motor that is built into the headstock so it can be positioned anywhere on the lathe. This feature makes it easy to both rotate the headstock or use it for outboard turning which can dramatically increase the swing of the lathe.
Note that some people feel that rotating headstocks are an option to avoid as they can easily become misaligned with the tailstock. For bowl turning this isn’t a huge deal but for spindle turning this can introduce a wobble which will result in out of round turnings. This would be especially evident in items like pens which are turned to a very thin, precise diameter.
Higher End Wood Lathes
Now we’re getting into the “buy it for life” level of wood lathes. These large, floor standing models feature powerful motors, large swing capabilities and higher price tags to go along with them. Most of these models are also available in either 110v or 220v options as well.
The Laguna Revo is available in either 110v or 220v and in 2 different sizes with an 18-inch or 24-inch swing over the bed and 36-inches between centers. The Laguna Revo, along with most lathes of this size, also comes equipped with a variable frequency drive system that delivers plenty of power when turning larger items.
Powermatic has made a name for themselves in the woodworking world as building world class machines and the 4224B lathe is no exception. This lathe weighs in at an impressive 960 lbs and features a 24-inch swing over the bed and 42 inches between centers. It is truly a lathe that can handle anything thrown at it.
Some of the premium features also included with this lathe are a built in vacuum chuck, lights, and 115v sockets. These come in handy for extra lights, powering a drill for sanding, etc.
Final Thoughts on the Best Wood Lathes for Beginners
Woodturning can be an incredibly fun hobby and profitable business venture. Choosing the right tools will put you on a track for long term happiness and success. While it may be tempting to take the cheap route with your first lathe I can assure you that it will lead to more frustration than fun. Either making for an unenjoyable experience or extra costs as you quickly realize an upgrade is needed.