Have you ever wanted to do your own woodworking project? If so, then you need to have the most important tool in your arsenal.
And no, we’re not talking about the hammer and chisel, although they are also a must-have in any woodworking shop. We’re also not talking about either a wide belt sander or a drum sander that you would also be likely to start looking into if you were really getting serious about that small wood shop you’re trying to build.
Instead, we’re talking about mini wood lathes on this page, and specifically some of the best picks you are able to make depending on your various preferences.
A wood lathe is a must-have for any woodworker and even carpenters who want to have as much flexibility as they can when it comes to woodworking. This tool allows you to transform wood into various decorative or functional objects, such as a vase, bowl, spindle, and so much more.
For many, a mini wood lathe is already enough to meet their woodworking needs because it has most of the essential features present in their bigger counterparts. But don’t think this is only used by beginners; even expert woodworkers use them.
Are you on the hunt for the best mini wood lathe for your own workshop? Read on to find out our top picks that we believe will give you the best value for your money, as well as our reviews for each of them.
What to Look for in a Wood Lathe
Before you start comparing the different wood lathes currently available on the market, you must first know what you need to look for in one. Different wood lathes have different features and options available and you need to determine which ones are essential to you, the same way other things are important if you’re buying a metal lathe.
Among the most important things that you need to consider are:
- Size – while this guide focuses on mini wood lathes, you must first ask yourself if it is indeed the size you need for all the woodworking you have in mind or a full-sized or midi lathe is more suitable. The bigger your projects, the bigger the size of wood lathe you will need. But if you only need one for your turning projects, mini or midi lathes are often enough.
- Base – portability may be your priority but it should not be at the expense of a lightweight base, particularly with the bed. A heftier base means it can withstand vibrations better, allowing you to have an easier and safer operation. In fact, it is easier to turn if the base is heavy. The heavier the base of a wood lathe, the better it is overall.
- Measurement – traditional lathes have a fixed bed, but some newer models have beds that are extendable. Do note that the drawback of having an extendable bed on a mini lathe is that it is not as good at handling vibrations compared to those with a fixed bed. The height of the lathe will also vary, but the ideal height, if you want to avoid straining your back, is where your elbows are of the same height with the lathe spindle.
- Vibrations – while this may in fact have been covered in part in some of the previous things that we included, we wanted to make sure to include it as its own section so that anyone who may simply be skimming over this, will also realize the importance of getting a mini lathe that doesn’t vibrate too much. The heavier the cuts you are making, the more likely it is that these machines may have such a significant amount of vibration to them that you can’t handle the tasks you are intending on doing.
- Motor – most wood lathes have variable speed settings available, but their maximum speeds will depend on their size. Smaller wood lathes have limited speed options. For bigger projects, you will need more powerful motors, but you will also want to be able to adequately adjust the turning speeds, as more variability makes the job easier for you to do.
- Headstock – it should have a standard thread if you want to use various accessories for your woodworking activities. And instead of a fixed one, you should opt for a pivoting headstock if you are using a wood lathe primarily for turning projects because it will be easier to do so.
- Tool rest – choose a lathe that will securely lock in place and is easily adjustable, preferably those that allow you to easily switch between long and short rests. While most wood lathes only come with one tool rest, there are also other models that are equipped with more than one tool rest.
- Power switch – because manufacturers place power switches in various locations in a wood lathe, select one where the switch allows you to turn your lathe on and off easily at any time.
- Cost – always consider your budget. Although that expensive model featuring all the bells and whistles sounds tempting, ask yourself if you really need all those features and sacrificing your budget at the same time. A basic but durable model that costs way less may already be enough for your needs.
You don’t always need to choose a wood lathe that has advanced features, especially if you are just starting out. Look for a wood lathe with features that you know are essential to your woodworking projects. Sometimes, the most basic wood lathes with the cheapest price tag are more than enough for your needs.
Best Wood Lathe for Turning Bowls
A bowl may seem simple but would you believe that it is a challenge to make even for many experienced woodworkers? That is why if you are planning to craft your own wooden bowls, you need to choose a wood lathe that will make it easy for you to do so.
If you are on the lookout for the best wood lathe suitable for your budget, particularly one for turning bowls, here are some of the crowd favorites:
Delta Industrial 46-460
While technically a midi lathe, the Delta Industrial 46-460 deserves to be on this list, even top pick at that. This is because aside from allowing you to work on both big and small projects, it features a 12.5-inch swing capacity – something relatively unheard of in its class. Not only that, this model allows you to easily activate the reverse mode with the flip of the switch.
The patented belt tensioning system present on the Delta Industrial 46-460 lets you effortlessly shift its range without needing to reset the belt. Its 1-HP motor also comes with three different speed ranges, namely 250 to 750 RPM, 600 to 1800 RPM, and 1350 to 4000 RPM, to meet your various woodworking needs. This wood lathe also has a standard 5-year warranty and is crafted using cast iron.
- Features a 1-HP motor with three variable speed ranges
- Comes with a 12.5-inch swing capacity
- Has a reverse mode that can easily be activated using a switch
- Equipped with a patented belt-tensioning system for easy range shifting
- Durable and well-crafted
- Speed range may not be low enough for some
- Does not have a digital speed readout
- Center-to-center distance is short
- More suited for experienced woodworkers
- Quite pricey
RIKON Power Tools 70-105
Suited for both beginners and professionals alike, the RIKON Power Tools 70-105 benchtop wood lathe is considered by many as the ultimate bang for the buck model for turning bowls. It is also equipped with a 1-HP motor with a variable speed ranging from 250 to 3850 RPM and comes with an LED panel for easy monitoring.
Equipped with two Morse tapers, it is heavier than most other mini lathes but this also means it handles vibrations better. It also features a 24-position index head, allowing you to create detailed designs on wood with ease. The RIKON Power Tools 70-105 has a turning capacity or swing of 12” diameter and 20” between centers.
- Solidly built, featuring a headstock, tailstock, and bed made of cast iron
- 6 variable speeds available
- Best for turning short stocks and bowls
- Good for both beginners and professionals
- Has a 5-year warranty
- Quite expensive
- Center to center distance is quite short
- Lowest speed available may not be enough for some
- Only comes with basic features despite its high price tag
If you need to upgrade your basic table-top lathe, consider the popular Jet JWL-1015. Its price may be a turn-off for beginners and casual users but it may be justified because this is tailored more to experienced users that need advanced features, such as better speed control.
In fact, this speed control feature is its main selling point, offering both discrete control and continuous control options. Continuous control means the spindle can be set to a certain speed between 60 to 3600 RPM, while the discrete control allows you to choose between a fixed speed, namely 430, 810, 1230, 1810, 2670, or 3900 RPM.
Unfortunately, the Jet JWL-1015 only comes with a standard tension belt that requires readjustment whenever you need to change speeds. Also, it does not have a reverse mode.
- Comes with a digital screen to monitor RPM
- Offers different speed control options
- Good for small and medium projects, including turning bowls
- Not ideal for large projects
- No reverse mode
- Tension belt must be adjusted together with speed changes
- While it can be used by beginners, it is more suited for experienced woodworkers
On a limited budget? The WEN 3420 may be just for you, especially if you don’t need fancy features. It is beginner-friendly and comes with a simple interface that promotes ease-of-use for anyone. The 5-inch faceplate installed means you can easily craft small objects like cups and bowls, while its lever clamping system allows you to easily adjust the tailstock and tool rest.
Featuring a 4.5A motor, the WEN 3420 not only offers a maximum torque but also 5 available speed settings that allow you to choose between 520, 900, 1400, 2150, and 3400 RPM. This wood lathe also features a soft start that helps prevent damage to it. But don’t let the price tag fool you because it is one of the most durable mini wood lathes around.
- Cheap but solidly built
- Equipped with a soft start
- Ideal for beginners
- Has 5 speed settings to choose from
- Only best for small pieces with measurements not exceeding 8 inches wide and 12 inches long
- May not be enough for power users
Shop Fox W1704
Another relatively inexpensive option is the Shop Fox W1704. Its 5 3/4-inch faceplate makes it ideal for turning bowls, while the 8-inch swing lets you do your turning projects easily. This unit also has 4 1/2 and 7-inch tool rests installed that allows you to make other woodworking projects. The 13-inch distance between centers is usually enough for small projects.
The Shop Fox W1704 features a 1/3 HP motor with variable speed settings. In particular, its speed ranges from 700 to 3200 RPM.
- Equipped with two tool rests
- Made of cast iron
- Suitable for use on most workbenches
- Can be limiting, as it is best used for small projects
- Has no digital panel
These 5 wood lathes are considered top value for money by most woodworkers, especially if it involves turning bowls. However, this is not the only project you can do with all of them; you can also do a multitude of woodworking projects despite their compact sizes.
Again, don’t focus on what all the features these models come with, but identify the important features you need in a wood lathe and focus on the model that meets your requirements and budget.
Why go broke by getting the most expensive wood lathe around, when all you need are its basic features that cheaper counterparts can do? Did this article help you better understand some of the tools you should perhaps start looking into? Do you have very specific requirements that you are interested in getting in the machine that you are looking for? We are in the process of building a tool that can help you select the various parameters that are important to you, and by the end of it we will give you the recommendation that we think is perfect for you. When you have inserted the various parameters you are looking for, that include the price, you’ll then be able to see the reviews and product videos that show you just what you can be expecting for that specific type of machine.
We just want to help increase transparency and help you make those woodworking projects you have always been dreaming of, so if you have any questions or comments on this article, we’ll be happy to hear all of them.
We’ve also created this cool article on the best welding helmets we think you should read.
What can you do with a mini wood lathe?
There are lots of things that you simply won’t be able to do with the same level of precision and the same level of easy as you can when you are using a wood lathe. The smoothness that they are able to provide the wood at the same time as the ease of use, make these machines really essential for any wood shop, or any person who likes making a lot of creations out of this material. Put your carving objects to the side and make way for some of the great things you will be able to make with this machine, that include turnings bowls, platters, vases, bottle stoppers and anything where you want a smooth, consistent outer shell!
Depending on the needs that you may have, you might not even have to pay thousands of dollars for this essential piece of equipment, but can otherwise find machines that are able to provide the same level of functionality for just hundreds of dollars. If you don’t need more than 20” capacity, as well as 12” or less of swing, these mini lathes are great machines that you should definitely be investing in.
With their usual 0.5 HP motors, while still being able to provide turning speeds of upwards of 3,900 rpm, you are significantly increasing the capacity of your workshop! You will want to make sure that you find a model that is good for the things that you are really looking to have it excel at. When you are wanting to rough certain things out, you will not just want to make sure that doesn’t vibrate a hole lot, but you will also want to make sure that it provides the necessary settings possible in order to make spinning easy, both when you are at the lower end of the machine’s capabilities, but also at the higher end where you want to have those fine precision capabilities!
You will also want to be realistic with the machine that you are buying, as there are definite limitations of some of the machines, and if you decide to go towards the cheaper end of the spectrum, you will definitely also end up with some of the same issues that you could expect, making your work harder. You will therefore want to make sure that you are in fact properly preparing yourself for the work that you will want to do, and make sure that the machine’s specs matches your needs.
Whether you are looking to create functional furniture components, like the legs of a couch, or whether you are looking to create a beautiful and decorative element for something else, we’re sure that you will end up finding the machine you have been looking for on this page! These machines will be able to handle all the shaping, smoothing, finishing, fluting and veining that your heart desires, and turn those beautiful pieces of wood into functional and/or decorative elements for your home or shop!
How to use it
With the range of different projects that you might start looking into when it comes to your newly acquired tool, it is also important that you actually learn how to properly use the tool so as to get the maximum amount of benefit out of it. While it’s our intention to create a video on the topic, the same way that we have created supporting resources for various topics like plasma cutters, fuel transfer tanks, waste oil heaters and other things, it is also our intention to build out our range of supporting resources on topics like wood lathes, to help you better understand how you can get the most out of these types of machinery.
The first step in actually using the lathe is to make sure that you have one that is suitable for the project you are trying to get completed, with the ones listed on this platform being great for smaller projects that do not have the same requirements as can be handled by some of the bigger machines, like the length and width of the piece of wood that you will be working on. However, it is also important that you are choosing a lathe that can comfortably handle the weight that you will be working with. Make sure that you match the bed length with the size of wood you are working on.
When you are sure that you in fact have the right lathe for the project, it is important that you find the right cutting too for the project – these are called chissels, with a long solid grip that help ensure you won’t get too tired from doing the work that you are about to embark on.
There is a variety of different cutters you can use, like the spoon cutters, parting tools, scrapers and gouges. The various tools will have certain purposes that they are better at handling, with the gouges being great for creating things such as knurls, but also being great at creating the smooth surface you would want on a bowl.
Scrapers are typically the devices that are used in the initial round where you are simply trying to get the shape right!
It’s a good idea for you to familiarize yourself with the various components of the lathe, including the headstock, tailstock, bed and tool resta, and this would also be the time when you make sure that you read the instructions provided from the manufacturer to make sure that you are in fact following the best procedures, as various lathes may have small differences.
The next step is to find the piece of wood that you will be working on, and you should be aware that the better you choose your initial piece of wood, as well as the main preparation you will be doing, the easier your overall job will be, which means you may want to cut off unwanted pieces and give it the rough shape that you are trying to get to. While you may be able to get the entire piece of wood to its desired shape simply using the lathe, it may not be the easiest way to go about it.
Once the piece of wood has been attached, you will want to ensure that it is free and clear to start spinning. You will want to hand turn the wood first just in order to make sure that you haven’t chosen a piece that is greater than the capacity of the machine.