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.
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 a 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.
- 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.
- 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?