The Five Best Wood Lathes for Woodworkers in 2018 – Comparison

Contemporary woodworking offers a wonderful blend of the classic and modern. There are few hobbies or work opportunities around today that stem from a tradition quite so old as woodworking, and this is indeed reflected in some of the equipment.

Best Wood Lathes

The wood lathe is a tool that has been around from 1300 BCE, when the Ancient Egyptians first developed a two-person lathe.

While it has enjoyed some modern upgrades over time, it is still a great way to put yourself in touch with the long, rich history of woodworking. Today, we will be taking a look at five of the best wood lathes out there to see which model suits you best. 

Best Wood Lathes - Comparisons 


5 Best Wood Lathes - Reviews

 1. Powermatic 1352001 Wood Lathe

Powermatic 1352001 Wood Lathe

The Powermatic is one of the more feature-rich options on the market. For this reason, and the fact of its efficiency and power, we have selected it as our top option on this list.

One of the things that sets this product apart from other tools of its kind is the motor—the Powermatic benefits from a two-horsepower, variable-speed motor, which will give you the ability to apply plenty of torque to your work piece.

The structure of the tool itself is also made to be extremely sound—with a sturdy iron frame that weighs in at nearly seven hundred pounds, the Powermatic is both durable and resistant vibration. These features ensure that you will be able to keep this tool in your shop for years to come, and they will also help keep your work more consistent.

A neat additional feature of this unit is a convenient storage compartment built into the tail stock—while not an explicitly necessary feature, it certainly serves as a convenient way to store tools and keep all of your wood turning equipment centralized into one area.

All in all, the Powermatic is a high-end option that is well-suited for the wood worker that doesn’t mind paying a higher price for a serious piece of equipment.

What we liked

  • High-quality motor
  • Sound construction
  • Storage compartment

What we didn't like

  • Price on higher-end of spectrum

2. Wen Benchtop Wood Lathe 

Wen Benchtop Wood Lathe

This next wood lathe offers a good alternative for wood workers who are looking to get a good product without paying a lot of money for it.

Unlike the Powermatic, this unit is designed to latch onto the top of your worktable which, in part, accounts for its more affordable price.

Thanks to its design, this lathe is more compact than most of the other alternatives—and while people who use their wood lathe often (or for large products) might not consider size and portability such a crucial issue, casual users will definitely find this feature handy.

Size aside, this unit also benefits from a good motor. Though not as impressive as the motor of the Powermatic, the Wen stills give you the ability to adjust the speed anywhere from 750-3200 rotations per minute—this adjust-ability will allow you to take the same custom approach to your projects that higher-end lathes offer.

Finally, the motor of this lathe is designed to start slow in order to avoid inflicting injuries or damaging your work pieces. In the scheme of things, this is a relatively basic feature, but it could make a big difference, particularly for woodworkers with children in their home. 

Unfortunately, since this is not a stationary unit, it is not going to provide the same stability as products like the Powermatic do. 

What we liked

  • Affordable
  • Compact
  • Added safety features

What we didn't like

  • Somewhat lacking in stability

3. Delta Industrial Variable Speed Lathe

Delta Industrial Variable Speed Lathe

The Delta is a cast iron wood lathe that benefits from solid construction, a powerful and efficient motor, and a few other features that are designed to improve the quality of your work.

The powerful 1HP motor that is featured on this unit is able to deliver 1725 RPM while also allowing you to adjust your speed to suit the specific project you are working on. While adjust-ability isn’t an uncommon feature in the world of wood lathes, it also isn’t standard, which is why it is always nice to see manufacturers embracing it as a feature.

What makes this piece of equipment unique, however, is its ability to run both forward and backward. This function allows you to impart a smoother finish on your work piece that could make a significant difference in the quality of your craft.

Finally, the Delta also features an innovative belt tightening system that automatically sets the belt with the perfect amount of tension any time you change speeds—this means you get an improved transfer of power, and, ultimately, a longer life for your tool.

One flaw this tool seems to have is a wiring defect that affects the way you can use the reverse function. Due to this defect, some machines may run backwards when you hit the forwards switch, and vice versa. 

What we liked

  • Solid cast iron construction
  • Belt tightening system
  • Reversible-rotation

What we didn't like

  • Wiring defect in some units

4. Shop Fox W1758 Wood Lathe

Shop Fox W1758 Wood Lathe

Like the Powermatic, the Shop Fox is another powerful, upright wood lathe that benefits from a solid, stable construction.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you look at this machine is the digital readout face plate. This piece of tech gives you precise information on your speed settings, which is particularly useful as the Shop Fox lets you choose from ten different speeds ranging from 600-2400 RPM.

This is an extremely durable and solid tool—weighing in at over three hundred pounds, the cast iron frame provides a solid foundation upon which your work will be less hindered by vibrations than it would be with a table top lathe. 

The Shop Fox also features an adjustable tool rest that will support your turning tool. You will be able to adjust the tool rest via three different settings: “with extension,” extension for outboard turning,” and “outboard turning.”

Unfortunately, the belt on this unit isn’t quite as durable as we would like it to be. It can wear out quicker than you would expect it to, which may infringe upon your ability to control the speed of the tool. You can avoid this with proper maintenance and by paying close attention to when the belt is starting to wear out. 

What we liked

  • Multiple speed settings 
  • Adjustable tool rest
  • Digital readout

What we didn't like

  • Belt wears down quickly

5. Grizzly Benchtop Lathe

Grizzly Benchtop Lathe

The last lathe that we’ll be looking at is on the simpler side, but it is also relatively affordable—making it a good option for casual wood turners.

While the motor is not the most powerful that we have witnessed on this list, at ½ HP it is still sufficient for tackling a wide variety of tasks. Like most tools we have looked at on this list, you will also be able to adjust the speeds that the motor produces—in this case, you will be able to select from five speeds ranging from 826-3337 RPM.

You are also getting all of the standard features that you would expect from a wood lather, such as a tool rest, live rolling center, spur center, and a set of appropriate wrenches.

Of course, since this is a table top unit, it is not going to be as stable as the stationary models we have shown earlier. 

What we liked

  • Affordable
  • Efficient motor
  • Wide range of speeds

What we didn't like

  • Vulnerable to vibration

Buying Considerations

Now that you have an idea of what is out there, here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to make your decision.

Video Credit: WYOMINGWOODTURNER

The Best Might Not Be Best for You

Earlier we have listed the Powermatic for our choice as the best tool on this list. This conclusion was reached based off of the features that unit provides, as well as the overall quality of its parts and construction.

But while the quality of this tool distinguishes it from other, similar pieces of equipment, this alone does not necessarily make it the best option for you—it does make it the best option for the serious user, but if your relationship with this tool is to be casual, or if you just don’t have the space for an upright unit, you may not get very much out of that product.

In order to get the best tool for your situation, inventory your needs and decide how much time and space you want to give to this piece of equipment.

Materials

Materials can make a big difference when it comes to working with a wood lathe. Ideally, the best wood lathes are going to feature strong materials such as cast iron to provide a stable base that is not susceptible to vibration.

This is particularly true of table top lathes, as they do not benefit from the heavier weight, nor the larger base of the stationary models.
Motor

The type of motor that you need is going to depend on what sort of things you plan on working on with your lathe—if you intend to tackle larger projects, you are going to need a more powerful motor in to consistently turn your work piece.

If you plan on working with large stuff, you are going to need a powerful motor and that will cost you a little bit extra. However, if you know that you won’t be working with big work pieces, forgoing a bit of power is an easy way to save some money.

Safety First

Safety is always a concern when working with tools, and the wood lathe is no different. While not nearly as menacing in appearance as a table saw, don’t let the relatively benign look of this piece of equipment fool you—without proper preparation, the wood lathe can still be dangerous.

Proper safety starts before you even approach the machine. Always be sure to wear short-sleeves so that your garments do not get caught in the equipment, and non-slip shoes so that you have a safe and stable base from which to work. 

You should also wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from stray dust, and earplugs to protect your eardrums from over-exposure to loud noises.

Finally, you might also want to implement a dust extraction system. Though excessive dust might not look like much more than a chore to cleanup, it can pose a myriad of health hazards and risks—for one thing, dust buildup is bad for your equipment, and it can also pose a fire risk.

Perhaps more hazardous, however, is the effect that it can have on you. Wood dust is a known carcinogen that can lead to anything from irritated skin even bronchitis or lung cancer. Woodworkers are naturally susceptible to these dangerous afflictions as they experience prolonged exposure to dust. 

That said, regular cleaning and proper precautions should keep you safe so just be sure to follow standard safety procedures every time you work.

Final Verdict

As you can see, there is something out there for everyone. Which of these tools is right for you depends mostly on where you are at in your woodworking—if you have been around the block a few times and are looking for a tool that will empower you to make the most of your experience, the Powermatic might be right for you. On the other hand, if you are newer to the world of woodworking, you might prefer the budget-friendly efficiency of the WEN.

All of the above-listed products are very good at what they do. Just take your time, consider your personal needs, and make an informed buying decision. If you do that, there is truly no going wrong!

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