Picking a wood lathe as a beginner is about knowing what you want to turn, your budget, and the space in your shop.
Decide what you want to turn first. It could be bowls, pens, platters, toys, tool handles among others.
When you budget, account for buying turning tools, chuck, sharpening system, and other accessories in addition to your wood lathe.
The space in your shop is equally important. If you need to move your lathe to accommodate other tools, you might need a small lathe or at least a mobile base for your large lathe.
What's in this article?
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Best wood lathe for beginners
1. WEN LA3421 Wood Lathe
|Spindle Direction||Forward only|
|Speed||750 - 3200 RPM|
LA3421 from WEN has a benchtop-type build. It is one of the most affordable wood lathes on this list.
It has a 13" distance between centers and an 8" swing. This provides enough space for working on projects like chess pieces, bowls, pens, etc.
You get the machine with a 4.5" and 7" tool rest. The tool rest supports the tool while working on the wood stock, so a larger tool rest means more space for your tool to rest in a cycle.
If the tool rest is not properly placed, the cutting tool tends to grab or dig into the workpiece. Then you'll have to reposition the tool rest.
WEN also provides a 2.3" faceplate. It can be mounted on the spindle for holding workpieces.
Note that the height of the center or faceplate attached to the spindle and the tailstock will reduce the functional distance between centers.
So on the LA3421 lathe, you won't be able to turn wood stocks precisely 13" in length.
The machine uses a 3/4 hp motor. It rotates the spindle in a forward direction using a belt drive.
An electronic enclosure is integrated into the machine beside the motor. It houses a power switch and speed control knob.
You can precisely set the spindle speed from 750 to 3200 RPM using the variable speed switch.
To get smooth cuts on the workpiece surface, turn it at high speeds. Also, heavy stocks need to be turned at lower speeds.
WEN ships the machine in parts, so you need to assemble it. For reference, detailed assembly instructions with neat diagrams are provided in the user manual.
They provide a 2-year warranty for the LA3421 wood lathe and offer customer support through phone and email.
- Perfect for turning pens, bowls, cups, chess pieces, and other small workpieces
- Features an 8-inch swing over the bed and a 13-inch distance between centers
2. Shop Fox W1704 Wood Lathe
|Shop Fox W1704|
|Speed||700 - 3,200 RPM|
Shop Fox W1704 is a mini-sized wood lathe with a benchtop design. It can house up to 12" long and 8" in diameter wood stocks.
Its large work area makes it the best lathe for beginners who are planning to set up a small-scale profitable business from their workshop.
A 1/3 hp motor powers the spindle. It is connected to a variable speed switch allowing you to control the spindle speed anywhere from 700 to 3,200 RPM.
The variable speed control and the power switch are housed in an electrical enclosure on the left side of the headstock for easy access.
It comes with two tool rests of different sizes. The smaller one measures 4.25", and the larger one is 7" long.
With a long tool rest, you can continuously feed the chisel to the rotating workpiece across a larger area.
In addition, Shop Fox provides a spur center, live center, 3.75" faceplate, and 0.75" x 16 TPI RH spindle with the machine.
You also have the option to get the machine with a chisel set, chuck, and divider set. With the divider set, you can copy dimensions from different parts.
The spindle and tailstock are bored, so you have the flexibility of using knockout bars to remove live and spur centers. A knockout tool is also provided with the machine.
All moving parts on the machine have locking livers and hand wheels for adjusting their placement. To keep all these moving parts in good condition, you'll have to lubricate them occasionally.
The machine comes in parts. With the assembly instructions provided in the user manual, beginners can easily assemble the machine.
You can also refer to the assembly videos made by its community members.
Shop Fox is a brand of Woodstock Inc., So you'll have to register the machine's warranty to them. They provide a standard 2-year warranty for the Shop Fox W1704 wood lathe.
For support, you can reach out to them through phone or email.
It can house 12 inches long and 8 inches diameter workpieces.
Comes with a 2-year manufacturers warranty.
(60, 1100, 1600, 2200 and 3200 RPM)
Excelsior is a 5-speed mini-sized wood lathe manufactured by Rockler. They are well known for their wide selection of woodworking machine tools.
The machine can work on wood stocks of up to 17.75" in length and 10" in diameter.
Its work area is large enough to work on projects like pens, chess pieces, tool handles, bowls, scoops, dibbers, etc.
Rockler also offers a bed extension for the Excelsior wood lathe. So if you also want to work on large projects, you can upgrade the lathe.
Excelsior weighs ~80.5 lbs and has a footprint of 30" x 8". It sits on top of a workbench comfortably.
In addition, its cast iron construction and rubber-insulated legs help reduce vibration while turning.
The spindle on the machine is belt driven by a 1/2hp DC motor, which only turns in the forward direction.
You can change the spindle speed to 760, 1100, 1600, 2200, or 3200 RPM by adjusting the belt position.
The machine also has an optional bed extension available. With this upgrade, the machine will have a 38.5" distance between centers.
With the machine, you'll get a 6" tool rest and a 3" face plate. If you need additional accessories, Rockler has an extensive collection that you can buy.
The machine comes as a DIY kit, and you need to assemble it. Before assembling the machine, verify the part list.
You can contact Rockler for additional supplies or replacements if you have any missing parts.
For support, reach out to them via phone or email.
It can house 17.7 inches long and 10 inches diameter workpieces.
Comes with a 1-year manufacturers warranty.
4. RIKON 70-105 Wood Lathe
(500, 1,175, 1,850, 2,225, and 3,200 RPM)
RIKON 70-105 is a popular wood lathe among pen turners. It can house up to 18" long and 10" diameter wood stocks.
A 1/2 hp air-cooled motor powers it. The motor has an enclosed setup which prevents dust and chips from entering the motor.
The machine uses a belt drive system to turn the spindle. It doesn't require lubrication and also absorbs some vibration.
It doesn't have a variable speed controller, so you'll need to manually adjust the belt to change the spindle speed.
The access door of the belt and pulley system is on the back side of the headstock. It's protected with a slide lock to prevent it from accidentally opening while turning.
You can mount the belt in 5 different positions on the pulley to achieve speeds of 500, 1,175, 1,850, 2,225, and 3,200 RPM.
Be careful when adjusting the belt. Improper belt placement can sometimes stall the motor or spindle.
The cast iron build of RIKON 70-105 gives it a weight of 75 lbs. It helps reduce vibrations by providing a stable platform.
RIKON provides the accessories like wrenches, a tool rest, a live center, a spur center, and a knockout bar with the machine.
Since they made 70-105 for pen-turning jobs, they don't provide faceplates in the package, but if you need one for turning bowls, you can get a 3" or 6" faceplate from RIKON.
The machine comes in parts, and you need to assemble them. You'll get assembly instructions with the user manual.
RIKON provides one of the most prolonged warranty periods. They offer a 5-year warranty for the 70-105 wood lathe.
For queries, you can reach them through phone or email. They also offer replacement parts on their official website.
- Rikon mini lathe: This Rikon mini lathe features a ½ motor that provides ample power for all turning needs. With a 10” swing and 18” between centers, this mini lathe also has a self ejecting tail stock and has easy access to speed change.
- Sturdy and Dedicated: Designed specifically at the request of pen turners who wanted a sturdy, dedicated machine for their craft. This scaled-down, basic mini lathe is made from cast iron, so vibration is not a factor, unlike other lathes made of aluminum.
5. BACHIN Mini Wood Lathe
|Speed||4,000 RPM - 8,000 RPM|
BACHIN is a mini wood lathe. It is the most basic and smallest wood lathe on this list.
It is not as powerful as other lathes on this list, but it is a good machine for beginners who want to carve miniature workpieces.
BACHIN can house 5.5" long and 1.96" diameter workpieces. It is the smallest lathe on this list.
Its work area is only good enough for small, lightweight jobs like making beads, pens, ornaments, rings, etc.
A DC motor powers the spindle. It can turn the workpiece in forward and reverse directions.
It can operate at speeds between 4,000 - 8,000 RPM. Compared to other lathes on this list, the minimum speed of BACHIN is relatively high.
When the workpiece is turned at such high speeds, it can sometimes shoot out of the work area. So make sure you accurately center your workpieces before working on them.
The machine only weighs 4 lbs, and it won't be able to hold itself if you work with hardwoods. You can get successful cuts if you work on softwoods like walnut, pine, etc.
If you are looking for an affordable and portable beginner wood lathe, then BACHIN is a good choice, but you'll have to compromise on versatility.
Also, the manufacturer doesn't provide any valid warranty for the lathe. You'll have to rely on community support.
It is best suited for making chess pieces, beads, and pens.
Doesn't have any valid warranty.
What to Look for in a Wood Lathe?
Size and Capacity
The size is one of the first things you must look for in a wood lathe. Check whether its footprint is compact enough to place it in your shop.
Also, consider the size of projects you plan to work on using the lathe.
If you only want to make small items like pens, little bowls, rings, beads, honey dippers, etc. a mini lathe will serve your purpose.
But if your jobs are large, like a platter, baseball bat, etc., you should get a full-sized wood lathe.
Mini wood lathes generally can house workpieces up to 20" long and 12" in diameter. In contrast, full-sized lathes can accommodate more than 45" and 15" in diameter workpieces.
If you are looking for something in between, then a midi wood lathe might be what you need.
Note that on a full-sized lathe, you'll be able to turn small and large projects, but on a mini-lathe, you'll only be able to process small projects.
Some manufacturers do offer bed extensions for their lathes. So if you need a larger space in the future, you can upgrade it without buying a new lathe.
Manufacturers describe the maximum diameter and length of the workpiece, respectively, as "swing over the bed" and "distance between center."
Also, check for the "swing over tool rest" if you want to put the tool rest above the workbed.
The distance between centers given by manufacturers is not absolute. It is measured without considering the center attachments.
So based on the size of the spur center, faceplate, and live center, the distance between centers available for your project will change.
Headstock and Tailstock
The spindle thread size, bore size, morse tapper, transmission, etc., are some of the major things you must consider when evaluating the headstock and tailstock.
You can see morse tappers on the backside of centers and other accessories that go into the headstock or tailstock.
It helps you verify and get accessories that fit well in the headstock or tailstock.
MT#2 is the most common tapper seen on wood lathes, and accessories for this are easy to get.
Spindle Thread Size
It is decided by the diameter of the spindle thread and the threads per inch (TPI). A spindle with a larger diameter will be more rigid, allowing the machine to handle heavy jobs.
Also, knowing the spindle thread size helps you find the right chucks and faceplates for your lathe.
The spindle bore is a hollow portion of the spindle. It determines the size of the knockout rod or vacuum adapter you can use on a wood lathe.
A lathe with an extended spindle column is the best to turn wood. It exposes the workpiece out of the headstock and provides more access.
A Spindle Lock helps lock the spindle in a stable position. This allows you to remove attachments or workpieces that stick to the spindle.
The spindle index helps you lock the spindle in different positions at a uniform interval. It is helpful if you want to create pattern drawings on the workpiece for further processing.
Check how smoothly the hand wheels move the machine parts. A slow and smooth transmission will allow you to turn wood with good quality.
Also, check whether the headstock can be moved across the work bed. It helps attach wood stocks of various lengths without any additional accessories.
Quill travel is an important feature you have to consider on a wood lathe. A long quill travel will help perform drilling and boring operations on the rotating workpiece.
The motor on your lathe determines its machining power.
A 1/2 hp motor will be enough for small wood projects, but to work on larger projects, the motor has to turn heavy wood stocks, which requires more power. Power of 1 hp is the best for wood-turning projects.
Also, if you want to give a finishing touch to the workpiece by sanding, get a lathe with a motor that you can also turn in reverse.
The speed of a lathe spindle determines how fast you can turn the workpiece. Generally, soft materials like wood are turned at a faster speed.
A speed range of 500 - 3,000 RPM is the best for wood-turning applications.
Also, it's best to choose a machine with variable speed control and a digital readout. It allows you precisely set the motor speed using a rotary switch.
Otherwise, you'll have to adjust the belt position to manually change the speed.
The tool rest supports the tool and helps lay it on the rotating workpiece. It is best to choose a lathe that supports multiple tool rest.
An emergency stop switch will stop the lathe from turning. It helps prevent possible injuries when working with lathes.
The after-sales support from the manufacturer is an important factor to consider.
Compare the warranty and part availability between different manufacturers and choose the lathe that is worthy of its price.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is a good horsepower for a wood lathe?
A wood lathe having a motor with 1 hp of power is a good average for woodworking jobs. With a high-powered motor, the lathe can turn heavier wood. Most beginner lathes will only have 1/4 hp of power, which is suited for running small jobs like turning pens.
What is the best wood to turn on a lathe?
Some of the best wood to turn on a lathe are walnut, cherry, pine, ash, maple, rosewood, etc. Wood having a straight grain structure with medium hardness are easy to turn on a lathe.
How much does a beginner wood lathe cost?
A beginner wood lathe will cost anywhere between $300 - $1,500, depending on their configurations. In general small mini lathes costs less than full-size wood lathes.
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