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Most of woodturning can be accomplished by classic hand carving. As cost effective as it is, it’s not nearly as efficient as a lathe. If time is your most valuable asset, then the wood turning apparatus is a staple machine to use with your projects. The best wood lathe for beginners is WEN 8″x 12″ Variable Speed Lathe.
Most affordable option for beginner wood turners that supports small sized projects. All updated features for a fraction of the cost.
Buying and using a lathe deserve their own separate explanations. Detailed descriptions and reviews help determine which one best fits your needs, as well as knowing relative jargon to understand certain aspects of the reviews. Additionally, knowing all of this well help create a frame of reference and develop a familiarity with lathes.
The Best Wood Lathe For Beginners
Establishing what suits you is most important; what good is knowing how to use a lathe if you don’t have one
Finding the right wood lathe to start with can be a tricky task by itself. To help you, we’ve compiled a list of the best wood lathes for beginners along with a little bit about what each one can do for you as a novice wood worker.
Most affordable option for beginner wood turners that supports small sized projects. All updated features for a fraction of the cost.
- 12 inch length and 8 inch width workspace
- Two different interchangeable Tool Rests
- Soft start variable speed motor
- 2.3 inch faceplate, MT 1 spindle and tailstock taper
Lathes like the WEN 3421 are great for beginners that just want to dabble with small items like pens and chess pieces. This particular model is designed specifically for pens. The size of this lathe is just right for setting on top of work bench or table top and makes for a great sit down project lathe.
The variable speed motor on this lathe allows it to turn from 750 to 3,200 rpm making it quite a fast little turner. The 3.2 amp motor also has more power than similar wood lathes of its size. The portability combined with the power in this model make a great starter lathe for when you don’t have a lot of room but want to be able to put in actual work on your first lathe. It comes with some additional fittings and two different tool rests that are great for letting you chisel out grooves and notches for more intricate pieces.
Easy to use full sized lathe for larger projects like bowls. Rotation control displays digital readout.
- Innovative ratchet style tension built
- 24 indexing positions
- Built in tool carriers
- Convenient controls with digital read out
The JWL 1221 is a full size lathe suitable for the largest projects. With a 12 inch length and 21 inch depth you can make anything from large bowls to furniture legs with this model. The unique thing about this particular lathe is that although it is full sized, it has a number of convenient features that are great for both novice and professional woodworkers alike
One of the best features of this lathe is the precise controls that are accompanied by a digital read out, this allows you to get near exact control of the speed of rotation and the patent pending tension system keeps the piece steady while it spins. A number of other features such as the built in tool caddies and the easily modified thread in tail stock makes working with a variety of pieces easy even for a beginner. For anyone looking to work with a full size lathe, this is a good choice.
Cast iron, variable speed wood turning tool that supports heavy projects at higher RPMs.
- Solid cast iron construction
- Infinitely variable control speed
- Supports heavier woods thanks to the motor and frame
This lathe is a bench top model made of cast iron. Though it has the same size restrictions of other bench top lathes with 12 inches between centers and an 8 inch depth, this lathe can support a wider variety of woods.
This is thanks to the cast iron body construction, which adds significant weight to the lathe and prevents vibrations at higher rpms. This allows the spindle to freely support heavier and denser woods without worrying about stability. For new woodworkers looking to try out hardier woods or who just want something sturdy this is a great choice. It also features easy to use analog controls and an infinitely variable speed control for setting just the precise speed you want instead of using pre-determined speed values.
Five speed lathe for a range of workpieces, heavy or light. Great turning pens, bowls, or furniture pieces.
- Cast iron construction for limited vibration
- 5 Speed ranger
- Self ejecting tail stock
- Comes with wrenches and tool rest
This particular mini lathe was designed specifically for turning pens. What sets it apart from other mini lathes is that it has a larger depth at 10 inches and a much longer distance between centers at 18 inches. It is also made of cast iron instead of aluminum giving it great stability even at high speeds or with longer or heavier pieces. The ½ HP motor gives it plenty of power to turn even the most stubborn or heavy pieces you can fit.
The 5 speed ranger has settings to allow for all stages of work, boring barrel holes, roughing out pen billets, shaping work and finishing work. This helps to simplify the process from start to finish. The lathe even includes a knock out bar and wrenches to help get you started.
Mid range option for small to medium size workpieces with an optional bed extender. 1HP motor and cast iron base that encourages difficult projects.
- Powerful 1HP motor
- 2 Distinct belt positions
- Built in handles and additional tools
- Cast iron base
This is a medium sized midi lathe that is suitable for turning chair legs, medium sized bowls and other small to medium objects. What makes this particular lathe a standout for the beginner or the expert is the powerful 1HP motor, a size reserved mostly for full size lathes. There is an optional bed extender as well for working with swing out distances of up to 42 inches, making this medium sized lathe capable of working almost any piece.
Furthermore, this lathe has a number of features and components that make it an excellent midi lathe to start on. The cast iron base supports the pieces well to offset vibration and the two different belts allow for turning at either low or high rpm rates. The headstock uses the standard 2MT spindle as well, where as many lathes feature a 1MT standard. This lathe is ideal for anyone who wants to grow into their lathe or wants a lathe that will also grow with them.
About Wood Lathes
Woodworking is a great craft in and of itself and making things with a lathe can be both a great hobby and a source of income if you so desire. Before you dive head first into the realm of wood working there are a number of things to consider. While a lathe won’t be everything you need to start woodworking, it is one of the most important tools of the trade and worth knowing everything you can before trying to find the best entry level wood lathe for you.
Consider Your Needs
This is a rather broad statement when talking about buying a wood lathe, but the primary thing to think about is what you want to do and how much you are looking to spend. The best starter wood lathe is the one that works for the projects you want to complete.
If you’re completely new to the world of wood lathes, you may want to try joining a group or experimenting with others’ lathes before buying your own. You can create almost anything under the sun using a wood lathe and the right tools, so before you set out to buy your first one, try to narrow down what you want to do with it.
If, after you’ve had some practice, you find that this is something you really want to work at, then you can begin to consider your options. Smaller, less expensive wood lathes are great for turning things like tool handles, chess pieces, and salt and pepper shakers.
If you’re looking to grow your craft into something more intricate or you want to start a business, you may consider purchasing a slightly larger lathe that will be good to grow into and that is able to handle the frequency of use. There are plenty of great woodturning projects that sell well, and you’ll need an adequate tool that can handle the job.
Even beginner wood turning projects have a list of workpieces that are relatively simple to do and can be sold for a decent amount.
Finding Space For Your Lathe
It’s important to remember that a lathe is a sizable piece of equipment, with moving parts, a motor, and other accessories to help you shape the wood. Finding the right space for your lathe and all your tools is important. You’ll want a properly comfortable enough space to work with your lathe. Luckily, you can find the best beginner lathe for you that fits both your space and your budget as long as you shop smartly and know what you’re looking for. We’ll break down the sizes now.
Mini-Table Top Lathes
These are the smallest size lathes and are suitable for objects like pens, candle holders, chess pieces, and other small pieces. The standard diameter or “swing” you can turn on a tabletop lathe is 8”. We’ll dive into the full terminology later on but know that a number of components go into the size determination of your lathe.
Midi- Medium Sized Lathes
Medium sized lathes are good for turning larger pieces of wood for making things like art pieces, bowls and larger tools. A typical midi lathe allows for turning of 12” to 14” pieces. Midi lathes have more room for larger pieces of wood and also have a motor with more horsepower to allow for turning of heavier and denser woods as well.
Full Sized Lathes
These are the biggest and most powerful lathes you can get. Full sized lathes are what is typically used in a professional wood shop. With these you can turn pieces large enough to make furniture, large bowls, decorative artwork, or just about anything you can imagine. As you might expect these lathes take up the most space, have the largest diameter work surface and the most powerful motors of the three sizes.
The size of the lathe doesn’t necessarily tell you what will be the best starter wood lathe for you, there are plenty of medium and full sized lathes that will be good for beginners. The size of the lathe dictates the types of wood you can turn on them and what you can ultimately create.
Now that we’ve started talking about the types of lathes out there and what they’re capable of, let’s go over some of the important lathe related terms before we talk more in depth about lathe features
Headstock – The front spindle of the lathe attached to the motor. This is where you attach your wood to turn and create your pieces
Tailstock – The spindle on the opposite end of the wood lathe. The tailstock is used to steady pieces against the head stock or to hold longer pieces while turning
Bed – The bottom of the work space or floor of the lathe
Swing – Swing refers to the size of an object that you can work with measured by its diameter from the spindle of the lathe to the bed. If the spindle sits 4” above the bed, the swing or maximum diameter of the object can be 8”, 4” above and below the spindle.
Spindle Size – Used to determine what accessories will fit on the headstock and tailstock of your lathe. There are a wide range of spindle sizes for different needs.
Spindle Thread – Size of the threads or grooves on your spindle, used to attach different tools for woodworking to the lathe.
Morse Taper – Measurement of the diameter or size of your spindle, abbreviated as MT. MT ranges from 1 to 20. Standard MT is 2, going up or down depending on the size of the spindle and the necessary accessories to work a piece of wood.
Distance Between Centers – This refers to the space between the headstock and the tailstock or the length of wood that the two spindles can hold. This helps determine how big a piece you can work on your lathe
Now that we’ve covered some of the common terms found in woodworking, we can dive a bit further into picking the best wood lathe for a beginner.
Lathe Components and Tools
There are many factors that determine how easy a lathe is to use. How the lathe is constructed can be a big factor in whether your pieces come out right or not.
After becoming a bit more familiar with the way it works and is constructed, you’ll begin to really understand the implications of a machine like this on your wood lathe tools for woodturning (chisels, gouges, etc.) All of which you will need to even begin a project, otherwise I hope you enjoy watching wood spin!
Durability and Weight
This may not be the first thing you think about when thinking about woodworking, but how well made, sturdy, and balanced your lathe is will play a big role in whether you can actually work the piece of wood you have mounted.
For starters, the motor that turns the spindle can create a lot of vibration. Vibration creates shaking, which when trying to shape a piece of wood is not a good thing. If the base of your lathe is constructed properly, it will be heavy and sturdy enough to absorb the vibration to keep your wood pieces steady on the spindle.
Most quality lathes are made of materials like cast iron. More expensive models may employ stainless steel bases with cast iron legs. The heavier materials are great for working with large pieces or unbalanced logs and unshapely hunks of wood.
Swing, Spindle, and Thread
These three components all have to do with the size of the piece you can work, the attachments you can use and the fittings for them.
A bigger swing means a larger diameter piece can fit in between centers on your lathe. The diameter of your spindle determines what inserts can fit inside the head or tailstock of the lathe. This is important for shaping your pieces.
The thread size determines the types of chucks and faceplates that will fit on your spindle.
Knowing these dimensions is crucial when trying to figure out what sort of pieces you can make. This is why it is generally a good idea to have a larger lathe than you need in the beginning so that if you decide to move up to working with larger pieces you will have the required space and dimensions.
Motor and Horsepower
So the heart of your lathe is the motor. As you may have guessed, the motor is what drives the spindle and keeps the piece of wood spinning. The bigger the motor and more horsepower it has, the higher speeds it can handle as well as the heavier pieces of wood that it can keep spinning consistently.
A smaller motor such as one a mini table top lathe won’t be able to handle a large untamed chunk of wood as well as the motor on a full size lathe. The best beginner lathe will be one that has enough power to handle your project, there’s no need to start with a smaller, less powerful motor if you think you want to create a large object, use what suits your needs.
Drive System and Lathe Speed
There are a wide array of options when it comes to the drive system of your lathe and how to control the speed. Belt driven systems are simpler but require you change the belt to change the speed of the lathe. These typically are used by AC Motor systems that operate with belts and pulleys to rotate the spindle.
There are a few types of electronic drive systems that allow for easier control of lathe speed with a knob or switch and many of them have options for changing the amount of torque when spinning and other considerations. Some of these options require a lot of maintenance and technical experience with your lathe to get the settings right so you may want to experiment a bit before upgrading to a fully electronic drive system, though there are a number of benefits.
Beyond the big considerations listed above, there are a number of other options, add-ons and benefits you can look for once you’ve gotten used to your first lathe. Features like spindle extensions, movable head and tail stocks, digital displays and remote control shutoffs are great additions to help customize the performance of your lathe.
There are dozens of options for building a lathe setup to make almost anything. Once you find the best starter lathe for you, you can begin to assemble the perfect toolkit for all the objects you desire.
Whether you’re looking for a small mini table top lathe with simplistic features so you can start out just turning a couple of pens, a full size lathe for turning whole furniture pieces, or something in between, our list has you covered. We tried to find options that would cover a wide range of uses and features so that users could find something they wee comfortable with and that would allow them to take on the task of woodworking with ease. Hopefully by checking out our list, the next time you’re looking at lathes you’ll have an idea for just what you’re looking for .