The 8 Best Wood Lathes For Beginners (A Complete Guide)

Wood lathes are manufactured in three sizes. The mini, mid, and full-size wood lathes are available to purchase and can each perform a variety of projects. If you are a beginner looking to set up your woodwork workshop to do some projects that require woodturning, you need to be aware of the costs of the lathe and associated shaping tools.

The mini-lathes have an 8 to 10-inch swing over the bed and 12 to 15 inches between the centers of the lathe. Mini-lathes range in price between $200 and $600 and are ideal for beginners and younger woodworkers to learn the basic skills of woodturning and cultivate an interest in bigger projects.

Getting set up with a mini-lathe and essential shaping tools should cost the novice woodworker no more than $1000. These mini-lathes have spawned a new generation of pen-makers and will allow for small bowls up to 8 inches in diameter, egg bowls, and hollow forms to be made.

Let’s look at the best options in the market for each lathe category and the associated cost and size of projects that can be attempted.

best wood lathes for beginners

Mini, Midi, Or Full-Size Wood Lathes – Beginners Choice

A survey conducted among woodworkers showed that almost 50% of them were working on standard full-size lathes. Many of those surveyed were beginners that had learned on full-size lathes. Most woodworking training facilities will have full-size machines installed, allowing for people with varying levels of skills to work on.

Budget is the most important aspect to consider when buying your lathe to start learning on and attempting projects. Mini-lathes cost between $200 and $600 for the lathe only. The additional shaping tools cost $30 to $180 each. A mini-lathe can accommodate work pieced up to 8 inches in diameter and 15 inches in length.

Midi-lathes are an excellent choice for most, with 12 to 14-inch swing over the bed that can handle any furniture length pieces. They cost $600 to $1500 and can be mounted on a stand or a workbench. Midi-lathes have variable-speed DC motors and more powerful DC motors.

Full-size lathes are the workhorses of the woodworking industry. Many older models can be purchased and refurbished for very little money. Full-size lathes are popular with beginners and will cost $2500 to $9500 with 22 inches over the bed and the length of workpieces adjustable to 10 feet. Full-size lathes can produce a full array of woodworking projects.

The costs quoted thus far are only for the lathe and do not include accessories such as mounting stands and woodturning chisels. The consensus opinion among woodworkers is to buy as much as your budget allows. You will quickly outgrow a mini-lathe unless you are happy only to limit your projects to small items.

Let’s look at each size category and look at the top-rated products in each category.

Mini-Lathes: The Top Five Products For Beginners

The art of turning wooden pens has inspired many novice woodworkers to only consider mini-lathes for the workshops. The compact mini-lathes can fit into the most compact workshop and can enable a variety of small woodturning projects to be made.

Here is a selection of mini-lathes that are available at woodwork stores or online that come highly recommended.

Delta Industrial 46-460 Mini-Wood Lathe

The Delta 46-460 is ideal for users of all skill levels and is powered by a variable speed 1HP DC motor and capable of a maximum speed of 1725 RPM. The 12.5-inch swing clearance is the biggest in the mini-lathe class. A three-pulley system allows the speed to be varied without the need to change the drive belt.

Sturdy cast-iron construction will provide stability and durability for this machine. The DC motor can change direction with the flick of a switch allowing forward and reverse operation. Also included in the price of the Delta 46-460 are the following items:

6″ tool rest, 10″ tool rest, 3″ chrome faceplate, tool rest base, Knockout bar, Live center,  Wrench

The Delta 46-460 has a patented belt-tensioning system that is the best in class for mini-lathes.

JET JWL-1221VS Mini-Wood Lathe

The JET JWL-1221VS Mini-Wood Lathe is powered by a variable speed 1HP DC motor and capable of a maximum speed of 3600 RPM. The 12.5-inch swing clearance is comparable to the best in the mini-lathe class. Integrated indexing to 24 positions is a standard feature.

A digital meter displays the rotation speed of the DC motor, and the speed can be varied from 60 RPM to 3600 RPM via a rotating knob. The monitoring and control of the speed are straightforward and effective.            

Sturdy cast-iron construction will provide stability and durability for this machine. The DC motor can change direction with the flick of a switch allowing forward and reverse operation. Also included in the price of the JWL-1221VS Mini-Wood Lathe are the following items: 3-inch faceplate, four-prong drive center, live tailstock center, two tool rests

WEN 3424T 4.5-Amp Mini-Lathe

This mini-lathe is the ideal machine for a novice woodturner to start to lean on. The five-speed variable settings and the 4.5 Amp DC motor is powerful enough to do a range of small to medium-sized projects. The bed space is 18 inches long with a swing over a height of 12 inches.

A simple clamping system and 8-inch tool rest make operation easy. The 3.125-inch faceplate is suitable for projects requiring no spindles, such as turning cups and bowls. The price includes the headstock center, the tailstock center, a flat wrench, knockout rod, 3mm and 5mm He wrenches, an accessory holder, and the 3.125-inch faceplate.

The variable speed adjustment knob can select speeds of 520, 900, 1400, 2150, and 3400 RPM, ideal for controlling the speed for the most intricate projects.

SHOP FOX W1704 Mini-Wood Lathe

The SHOP FOX W1704 Mini-Wood Lathe is very well-built and comes highly recommended by owners of this budget-friendly lathe. The sturdy cast iron construction and powerful motor make this lathe ideal for turning out small projects from rings, pans, and bowls.

Powered by a 0.33HP, 2 Amp AC motor, the lathe has a swing over a height of 8 inches and a length of 12 inches between centers. The price includes two tool rests, one spur center, one live center, a 1.75-inch spindle, and a 5.75-inch faceplate.

The motor can operate at variable speeds between 700 and 3200 RPM. The speeds can be dialed in via a conveniently located control knob. 

RIKON 70-100 Mini-Wood Lathe

The RIKON 70-100 Mini-Wood Lathe is powered by a 0.5 HP, 6.6 Amp motor and is designed with a 12-inch swing over height and a center to center distance of 16 inches. A 12-position index head allows for accuracy and is easy to access.

The RIKON 70-100 features a quick change speed adjustment from 430, 810, 1230, 1810, 2670, and 3900 PM. The required drive belt adjustment is made via a conveniently located access cover. A locking arm and tension release lever are used to adjust the speed.

This mini-lathe is supplied with a knockout bar, adjustment wrench, 8-inch tool rest, live center, spur center, spindle lock, a tool holder, and pan-head screw.

The Final Verdict Of The Best Mini-Lathe For Beginners

Based on the build quality and power of the drive motor, the Delta 46-460 is the clear choice amongst the five models reviewed. The price reflects the quality and versatility of this model.

The resale value of a brand like Delta Industrial will also mean that you will not lose much money when looking to upgrade to a midi or full-size lathe.

Full-Size Lathes: The Top Three Products For Beginners

The overlap between mini and midi wood lathes is significant, and more than 50% of the woodworkers surveyed indicated that they prefer to work on full-size lathes. Many woodworkers advise investing in the best equipment once and not going through successive upgrades. Let’s look at some of the highest-rated full-size lathes on the market.

Grizzly Industrial GO462 Wood Lathe

The Grizzly GO462 has a 16-inch swing over height above the bed and is powered by a 2HP motor with a digital speed readout. Adjusting the speed of the motor is quickly done via a one-handle adjustment and does not involve changing belts or pulleys. Speeds are adjustable between 600 to 2400 RPM.

The solid cast-iron construction provides stability and durability expected from an industrial machine. The 46-inch distance between centers means that you can take on some big-size projects. The tailstock and headstock are fitted with quick-lock/release features. The headstock includes a 6-inch faceplate, live cup center, and spur center.

The Grizzly GO462 is uncomplicated and sturdy and is the ideal full-size wood lathe for a beginner. The machine will allow you to learn and grow the size and complexity of your projects without the need to upgrade. The Grizzly GO462 can become part of a professional workshop should you choose woodworking as a career.

Powermatic 3520B Wood Lathe

The Powermatic 3520B Wood Lathe offers the most power per Dollar of the full-size wood lathes available in the market today. At a hefty price, this machine offers a great deal of power and functionality.

The Powermatic is the ideal machine for both beginners and experienced woodturners. The 20-inch swing over height and 34.5 inch center to center distance can accommodate an extensive range of projects. Twenty-four indexing positions for drilling hole patterns or routing flutes and other equally spaced decorative finishes are possible.

The drive motor is a 2 HP, 220V, 6.2 Amp fan-cooled motor with enough power to do any job. The motor is equipped with an inverter and can run on single-phase or three-phase electrical input. The power from the motor is transferred via two multi-groove pulleys driven by a poly V-belt.

At 682 pounds, the cast iron lathe is precision machined, rigid, and stable. The vibrations caused by heavy out-of-balance pieces of wood will be contained by the sturdy design of the heavy frame. Backed by a five-year warranty, the machine comes standard with a host of accessories and equipment.

The Powermatic 3520B wood lathe is excellent value for money and represents one of the top-rated full-size wood lathes available in the market. These machines are sought after in the used market and retain their value due to their sturdy design and feature-rich capabilities.

Shop Fox W1758 Lathe Wood

The Shop Fox W1758 represents excellent value for money in the full-size wood lathe category. The cast-iron frame is sturdy and solid, allowing you to work smoothly without the interference of vibration. The 338-pound machine will withstand a lot of vibration coming from an unbalanced workpiece.

The 2 HP motor provides sufficient torque to allow work on the hardest woods. An easy-to-see digital readout provides the operator with feedback as to the speed of the motor. Speed changes can be effected via quick lock/release levers on the headstock and tailstock. Speeds can vary between 600 and 2400 RPM.

The machine comes loaded with all the required accessories, such as a six-inch faceplate, spur, and live center. Many would expect to pay a lot more for a full-size machine at this price range, but the Shop Fox W1758 offers exceptional value.

Conclusion

Purchasing a wood lathe for a beginner can cost between $200 and $1200 and will enable you to consider a range of lathes from small to full size. The buyer should decide what the size of the project is that they are planning to do.

Bigger is better when it comes to wood lathes. You can do small items on full-size lathes, and you can proceed to more extensive projects as your skills and confidence grow. Mini-lathes will only ever be suitable for small bowls and pens. There is nothing wrong with buying a mini-lathe when that is all that you will need.

Midi and full-size lathes will allow you to stick to one lathe for all your projects, big or small. Consider what is available in the used market and instead buy a used full-size machine if you are constrained by budget. The sturdy construction of the cast iron frames ensures that lathes are not easily worn out by use.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

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