Best Wood Lathes of 2017 – Top Picks & Reviews

Wood LatheA woodworking shop cannot be without a wood lathe – every carpenter knows this. Turning wood is as important an operation as planing or sawing. Without a wood lathe, your ability to create beautiful woodwork becomes severely limited.

Now, imagine that you’re working on a coffee table for your living room. You’ve planed and polished the wooden surface to perfection. But then, you think about legs to go with the brilliant top. What are your options? One thing is for sure. If you don’t have a wood lathe, you have only one option. Ugly and irregular wooden stumps.
However, if you had a wood lathe, you can turn beautiful legs for your table. Only your skill and imagination limits the number of choices. You can go for trumpet legs, spiral legs, saber legs, reeded legs, or fluted legs. A wood lathe brings so many options to the table – literally.

MODELPRODUCT DIMENSIONSITEM WEIGHTUSER RATINGPRICE
Powermatic 1352001
Powermatic 1352001
55 x 27 x 31 inches
682 pounds
4.4/5
$$$$$
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JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch
JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch
32.8 x 14.6 x 21.2 inches
137 pounds
4.3/5
$$$$
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Grizzly H8259
Grizzly H8259
33 x 17 x 12 inches
77 pounds
4.2/5
$
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RIKON 70-100
RIKON 70-100
33.8 x 18 x 11.5 inches
91.4 pounds
4.2/5
$$
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Delta Industrial 46-460
Delta Industrial 46-460
36 x 11 x 17.8 inches
97 pounds
4.2/5
$$$
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If you’re a professional or semi-professional woodworker, I don’t have to tell you about the importance of wood lathes. But, if you’re just getting into carpentry, just ask yourself, “How long am I going to stick to just sawing, planing, and chiseling wood?” With a wood lathe, you can take your craft to the next level.
But, buying a wood lathe is no easy task. There are many products in the market and they all compete for your attention. If you’re ready to spend a lot of time and effort to study the merits and demerits of each product, you will eventually get the product you’re looking for. But, we can help you find what is the best wood lathe on the market.


The Best Wood Lathes of 2017

So, if you’re interested in bypassing a ton of brain strain, jump right to our wood lathe reviews. In case you don’t understand a term in the review, read the buying guide that follows the reviews. The guide explains everything you need to know and do before buying a wood lathe.

#1 JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch – Our Top Pick

JET JWL-1221VS 12-InchThe Jet JWL-1221VS is the best wood lathe on the market. This model is extremely popular among intermediate to expert wood turners. However, the price does put this model out of reach for most beginners. But, if you’re willing to reach deep into your pocket and shell out $800 to $1000, then this is the product for you.

The reason this model stands head and shoulders apart from other products on the market is the speed control. Speed control comes in two types: continuous control and discrete control. Discrete control lets you set the spindle speed at fixed RPMs, such as 430, 810, 1230, 1810, 2670, and 3900. Continuous control lets you set the spindle speed at any RPM within the machine’s range. For example, you can set any speed between 60 RPM and 3600 RPM on the 1221VS. The 1221VS has a digital readout that tells you the speed at which the machine is running.

However, the machine has two downsides. First, the center-to-center distance for the 1221VS is 21 inches. If you want to turn anything longer than 21 inches, you will need a bed extension. Second, the machine is heavy. At 120 pounds, you must have a strong bench to mount the machine.

Pros

  • Continuous speed control from 60 RPM to 3600 RPM
  • Digital RPM read out
  • Smooth transition from forward to reverse
  • Soon to be patented ratchet style belt system
  • 5-year warranty

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
  • Bed extension needed for pieces more than 21 inches

#2 Grizzly H8259 – Best For The Money

Grizzly H8259 Although the 1221VS is a phenomenal machine, not everyone can afford it. For those searching for a low-cost solution, the ideal wood lathe is the Grizzly H8259. This is the best wood lathe for the money. Costing around $300, the H8259 is one of the cheapest wood lathes you can buy without compromising quality. But, at this price point, the H8259’s features aren’t as fleshed out as they are in the 1221VS.

Unlike the 1221VS, which offers continuous speed control, the Grizzly’s 1/2 hp motor offers 5 discrete speed settings: 826, 1205, 1713, 2422, and 3337 RPM. But, the 1221’s speed control system is unparalleled in the market. So, we can’t hold this against the H8259.

Now, let’s compare the cost to capacity characteristics of our top pick and our budget pick. The H8259’s swing over bed is 20 percent less than the 1221’s. The H8259’s swing over tool rest is 23 percent less than the 1221’s. The H8259’s center-to-center distance is 12 percent less than the 1221’s. But, the H8259 costs 60 percent less than the 1221. So, Grizzly hasn’t stepped down the capacity as much as it has stepped down the price. This is why the Grizzly H8259 is a top-notch budget wood lathe.

But, the Grizzly H8259 comes with only a one-year warranty. In summary, this is a great model for people getting into woodturning. For experienced woodworkers, they can use this as a standby machine or a portable lathe.

Pros

  • Very high value for money
  • High capacity for its price
  • Lightweight and portable

Cons

  • Discrete speed control
  • 826 RPM is the lowest speed
  • 1-year warranty

#3 RIKON 70-100 – Best Mini Wood Lathe

RIKON 70-100The RIKON 70-100 is mid-range wood lathe. The 70-100 matches our top pick in terms of swing over bed and swing over tool rest. So, if you’re into turning thick and short stocks, as opposed to thin and long stocks, then this machine is for you. It’s priced between $350 and $400. So, it’s quite affordable too.

Although the H259 is a fantastic budget-buy, it does not have a low-RPM setting. The lowest it can go is 826 RPM. However, the RIKON 70-100 can go as low as 430 RPM. So, the 70-100 provides a better speed profile. In addition to 430 RPM, you can set this machine to 810, 1230, 1810, 2670, and 3900 RPM.

However, the center-to-center distance for this machine is only 16 inches. However, you can overcome this problem by adding an extension bed. You can overcome limitations on the length of the bed. But, you can’t add extensions to increase a machine’s swing.

The best part about this product is its warranty. Products at this price range don’t usually come with a 5-year warranty. This shows the amount of care that RIKON puts into its products. So, if you’re looking for a mini lathe, this is the best one you can buy.

Pros

  • 6 speeds
  • Budget friendly
  • Ideal for turning bowls and short stocks
  • 5-year warranty
  • Semi-portable

Cons

  • Discrete speed control
  • Short center-to-center distance
  • Could have provided a bed extension

#4 Delta Industrial 46-460 – An Honorable Mention

Delta Industrial 46-460If there’s a wood lathe that can compete toe-to-toe with our top pick, it’s this one. Like the 1221VS, the 46-460 also comes with continuous speed control. You can set the speed at any value between three ranges: 250 to 750 RPM, 600 to 1800 RPM, and 1350 to 4000 RPM. While the 1221VS provides more range at low RPM, the 46-460 provides more range at high RPMs. So, the 46-460 is ideal for finishing large pieces of stock wood.

Selecting the required range is easy because of the Delta’s patented belt-tension system. You will not have any trouble shifting the range. However, the 46-460 does not have a digital readout. You will have to eyeball the speed. Although the 46-460 offers the best in class swing, this machine falls short in the center-to-center length. At 16.5 inches, you’ll need a bed extension to turn stocks longer than 16 inches.

But, not everyone requires a long tail bed. If you’re the kind of person who turns mostly bowls, then the 46-460’s 12.5 swing over bed will let you work on pieces that most other lathes can’t fit. Depending on your work, this machines shortcoming may not bother you at all.

In conclusion, I would say that this machine is a great alternative for people who want a high-end wood lathe but don’t have the budget for the 1221VS. The 46-460 compares favorably with the 1221VS in most matters. Even in the case of warranty, the two products match each other because the 46-460 also comes with a 5-year warranty.

Pros

  • Premium performance at reasonable price
  • Continuous speed control
  • 1 horse power motor
  • Greatest swing over bed
  • Patented belt tension system
  • 5-year warranty

Cons

  • No speed readout
  • Short center-to-center distance
  • Needs an extension for working pieces longer than 16 inches

#5 Powermatic 1352001 – For The High-End / Professional

Powermatic 1352001If a significant part of your income comes from turning wood, then you need a commercial wood lathe. As far as commercial wood lathes go, the Powermatic 1352001 is the product of choice for many professional wood turners. With a 2 hp motor, this beast lets you turn wood within two ranges: 125 to 3500 RPM and 50 to 1500 RPM. Unlike other models we discussed, the 1352001 is a full-sized wood lathe, not a bench top lathe.

You can change the speed using the variable-speed controls. The digital readout will tell you exactly what speed you’re working at. While the speed range may not blow your mind, after all the 1221 and 46-460 also offer variable-speed control, the Powermatic 1352001 shines when it comes to capacity.

This model’s swing over bed is 20 inches and swing over tool rest is 17 inches. The center-to-center distance for this model is 36 inches. So, if you want to work on massive projects, you should buy this model.

Powermatic has also modified the headstock and tailstock to suit professional requirements. For example, the headstock has a spring-loaded locking button to remove and install accessories quickly and easily. Also, the tailstock has a built-in storage unit where you can keep frequently used tools.

However, this machine is not designed for portability, and it is quite large and heavy. So, make sure you have enough room in your workshop to accommodate this machine. Like all quality products in this space, this machine comes with a 5-year warranty. But, for a $4000 price tag, this is not a product for non-commercial wood turners.

Pros

  • 20 inch swing over bed and 17 inch swing over tool rest
  • Variable speed control with digital readout
  • 36 inch center-to-center distance
  • 5-year warranty
  • Full-sized machine

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Only for commercial use
  • Not portable

Wood Lathe Buying Guide

The list of woodturning lathes is long and so is the list of questions pertaining to them. You can find the answer most of the questions yourself. But, you must know where to look and understand what you’re looking at. A product’s technical specifications sheet is the first place to hunt for answers.

To the untrained eye, the data will not make much sense. Consequently, you fail to grasp a clear picture of the product’s capabilities and limitations. Fortunately, this buying guide will help you sort through the sea of information and find the product that’s ideal for you. However, before you dive into spec sheets, you must make a few critical decisions.

What kind of critical factors must I consider before looking for products?

Yes, I get that you’re eager to shop for lathes. But, let’s take a few moments to look at a few important parameters that influence buying decisions.

  • Budget: From low-cost wood lathes cost between $200 and $300. Mid-range lathes cost between $300 and $800. High-end lathes cost thousands of dollars. If you’ve never turned wood before, an entry-level lathe will help you learn the basics of turning. Such lathes are ideal for home users. But, if you have many hours under your belt, a mid-range lathe will allow you to hone your craft. Wood turners use lathes in this range for home use and commercial purposes. However, high-end lathes are only for people who turn wood on a commercial scale.
  • Type: Depending on the space in your workshop and your needs, you can go for a bench top lathe or a full-sized lathe.  A bench top lathe is lighter and more portable than full-sized lathes. But, full sized lathes offer more swing and center-to-center distance. Before you buy the lathe, decide whether you want to place it on a countertop or have it stand on the floor. Once you’ve decided, measure the space you allocated for the lathe. Measure the length, width, and height of the space. Be sure to include enough clearance on all sides for easy access and safe operation.
  • Work: The nature of your work significantly affects the type of wood lathe you must choose. First, think about the maximum thickness of wood you plan to turn. This decision influences the swing over bed and the swing over tool rest base. Next, think about the maximum length of the wood you plan to turn. This decision influences the distance between centers. It will also help you decide between buying and extension or not.
  • Speed: There’s a thumb rule when it comes to turning wood. When you multiply the thickness of the stock with the RPM, you should get a number between 6000 and 9000. For example, if I’m turning a 4-inch stock, the speed must lie between 1500 RPM and 2250 RPM. But, if I am doing rough cuts, I will run the machine slower than the range I mentioned. On the other hand, if I am doing fine cuts, I will run the machine faster than the given range. So, if you know the size of the wood stock you will turn, it will help you decide the RPM range.

After finalizing these parameters, look for products that match your criteria. You will find information related to these parameters in the technical specification sheet.

Where can I find the technical specification sheet?

Visit the manufacturer’s official web page. Most official web pages have a search function, usually at the top right. Enter the product name in the search window. From the results, choose the product you want. On the product page, you will see a link to the technical data sheet or user manual. The links mostly lead to a pdf document. Download the document and open it. If you’ve downloaded the manual, look at the table of contents to find the page that lists the specifications for the product.

The tech specs look confusing. Is there a fast way I can process the info?

There sure is. No matter how the manufacturer structures or formats the data sheet, you can group the information you need into the following clusters:

  • Electrical Data: This section contains information related to the following:
    Motor Power: This value is expressed in horsepower (hp). Typical values range between 1/2 hp and 1 hp. This range is enough for non-commercial and semi-commercial use.
  • Supply Characteristics: Pay attention to the supply voltage, phase, and full-load current. Then, make sure you have a power socket that matches these characteristics.
    Lathe Capacity: This section contains information related to the following:
  • Swing Over Bed: This value indicates the maximum thickness of the stock you can turn without hitting the bed. Swing over bed limits the diameter for bowl turning.
  • Swing Over Tool Rest: This value indicates the maximum thickness of the stock you can turn without hitting the tool rest. Swing over tool rest limits the diameter for spindle turning.
  • Center-to-Center Distance. This value indicates the maximum length of the stock you can turn during spindle turning.
  • Headstock: This section contains information related to the following:
  • Speed: The speed of the headstock may be ranges or discrete values. For instance, the 1221VS states the speed ranges, but the 70-100 states the speed in discrete values. Lathes that indicate speed range offer better speed control.
  • Spindle Characteristics: This indicates the taper of the spindle according to the Morse Taper scale. It also contains data regarding the spindle’s thread per inch and bore diameter. This data is useful when it comes to fixing the workpiece on the headstock.
  • Tailstock: This section contains information related to the following:
  • Tailstock Characteristics: This indicates the taper of the quill according to the Morse Taper scale. It has data regarding the quill travel and tailstock hole’s diameter. Again, this data is useful when attaching the workpiece on the lather.
  • Material: This section describes the material out of which all the major parts, such as headstock, tailstock, bed, tool support, and tool support base are made. Cast iron and stainless steel are the most commonly used material for making lathes.
  • Dimension and Weight: This section has information regarding various dimensions. Do no ignore this section. Since you’ve already measured the space for the lathe, this section will tell you whether you have enough to keep your machine. The weight, of course, tells you how heavy the machine is. Unless portability is a consideration, the heavier the better. Heavy machines dampen vibrations and increase turning precision.

You can scan the sheet from group to group until you are sure the machine matches your requirements. Understanding your needs and the spec sheet thoroughly will allow you to intelligently adjust your initial assumptions.

Great, I think I know enough to buy a wood lathe. So, what are my options?

The product review section in the article is a great place to start. The section covers premium quality entry-level lathes, mid-range lathes, and high-end lathes. Since it caters to such a diverse array of customers, you’re likely to find what you’re looking for in one of the five products. However, if you want to scout the prospects on the market, you can scope products from Jet, Nova, and RIKON Power Tools.


Conclusion

The lathe is the mother of machine tools. It was a tool used to make other tools. The earliest lathes date back to Ancient Egypt. Such lathes took two people to operate with one to turn the lathe and the other to cut the wood. That was about 3,300 years ago.

In three millennia, the principle behind the wood lathe hasn’t changed. But, the machine has come a long way in terms of performance, features, and capacity. Thanks to many technological advances, the wood lathes of the 21st century are of high quality compared to wood lathes form the industrial revolution era.

Now, here’s a quick recap of our review. The Jet 1221VS is our top pick. If you have the budget for it, get this lathe. However, if you’re a short of the target by a couple of hundred dollars, you can buy the Delta 46-460. But, if you’re looking for a budget model, consider buying the Grizzly H8259. And remember, the RIKON 70-100 is less than a hundred dollars away from the Grizzly. If you can stretch your budget a little more, you can get a great mid-range wood lathe.

At every price point, you will find many products. However, the quality within the price range varies a lot. The market has high-quality budget lathe, as well as low-quality high-end lathes. Without the right knowledge and guidance, you may go down the wrong road. Hopefully, I have made It easier for you to make a sound decision.