If you don’t know what a wood lathe is, it is a type of lathe that’s specifically designed for woodworking. They’re used for cutting, sanding, drilling, face, turn and deform wooden pieces. Obviously, you don’t use a wood lathe on metal, as it’s much harder material, and for that you use a metal lathe.
Wood lathes are smaller than the metal ones, and not as powerful, but you can literally create wooden masterpieces (deforming) with this powerful little tool.
Top 3 Picks
Our top pick, the SHOP FOX, is on the top of the list because it’s great for wood turning smaller items such as rings and bowls, being the ultimate mini wood lathe.
This runner-up can do larger projects and it has amazing variable speeds such as 60-3000 RPM.
The RIKON made it in our Top 3 because it is durable, compact and has a powerful motor of 6.6 amps.
How to choose a wood lathe?
You’ll want to consider these factors when choosing a mini wood lathe because these factors are important depending on what projects you’ll be doing:
It must have a stable base for a wood slab to yield high-quality turned products. And it must have a robust bed to have a stable base. We mean the main horizontal bean at the base of the rod with the bed of a lathe. It is typically cast iron. It should be heavy and as the wood spins on the motor it will minimize the vibration. Vibration is not pleasant in the smallest measure and can not only make it impossible, but also unsafe to transform wood. The heavier the foundation is, the easier it is to transform it.
There are two basic power measurements to take into account, depending on the job you choose to do on the wood lathe. One is the full duration of the swing between the two ends. The distance between the two ends decides the overall duration and swing defines the maximum diameter to be enabled. A mini lathe is going to do if you plan to transform little things like rings or pens. Such wood lathes are pretty cheap and can be attached to a workbench. If you’re traveling, and you need to bring your lathe with you or when you turn, it certainly makes sense to buy these tools.
You’ll want to keep in mind that how powerful the motor is really does matter. Usually with lathes, you get between ⅛ to 3 HP. Obviously the bigger the motor, the larger piece you can turn. Luckily lots of wood lathes come with variable speed control that usually ranges from 400 to over 3000 RPM.
The wooden twisting spindle is wired and is suitable for a variety of equipment such as chucks, etc. You need to make sure you have a regular thread on the thread. This ensures that your threaded accessories are helpful even though your tool is upgraded. The spindle is in fact a spinning pin at the other end of the tool and its function is to keep the spindle focused and rotating at night. It is very critical to make sure that the tail is safely attached to the bed, since it can help to do all kinds of rotating tasks.
When you’re woodturning, it’s important to rest the tool against the tool rest. You’ll want the rest to be at least 10 inches long and of course the wood lathe to be made out of cast iron so you don’t have to deal with any vibration. If the tool rest is loose, that can be a very dangerous situation, so make sure it’s installed right before using.
Most people don’t really think about this because all they care about is whether it turns on or not. But you could accidentally turn it on or off, so the placement of the power switch is actually pretty important so that it’ll be easy for you to turn on and off when needed.
All in all, if you’re just doing small projects, a basic model should suffice. But if you’re using it for larger projects, you’ll want to look for one that has all the features that you want in a wood lathe.
Types of Wood Lathes
There are three types of wood lathes that you should know about, they are:
These types of wood lathes are the kinds you use for delicate and intricate works. They’re also good for making designs in a small and compact space. These wood lathes, because of their size you can usually keep anywhere in your workshop without worrying about the space it takes up.
- Good for fine detailing smaller projects such decorative wooden products
- Can’t do larger jobs such as furniture
These types of wood lathes are good for making different types of curved designs and spindles. Basically, you can shape wood into anything you want. Like the pen lathe, you can store this anywhere you want as it’s usually smaller and compact.
- Good for shaping woods
- Good for curved designs
- Not good for intricate design
- Can’t turn larger pieces of wood
This is the largest wood lathe you can get, and it’s usually placed on the floor. You can do any kind of project with this lathe, but however because of the size, you’ll want a dedicated space for this wood lathe. Most woodworking shops prefer these wood lathes because of their versatility.
- Can do almost any wood working job
- Preferred by woodworkers
- Not compact
- Not portable, you’ll need a dedicated space
Whether you want a pen lathe or floor lathe, it really depends on the project you’ll be doing often. If you’re just doing intricate designs more than most woodwork, then of course you should stick with the pen lathe. But if you need versatility, you should get the floor lathe. You can check out our recommendations on which one to get so you can get the one that’s best suited for your needs.
What to look for in woods for wood lathes
You’ll want to get wood from mature trees, that has a sweet smell and of course looks alive.
You’ll want wood that can handle any climate changes and keeps away termites and other critters out of it.
You’ll want to look for wood that has a darker color in appearance, they just look better for wood turning.
You definitely want wood that can withstand anything such as wear and tear and it’s perfect for wood turning.
You want wood that will be very easy to work with because you are trying to create them into something.
Can you make money with a wood lathe?
Yes, you can turn your woodturning hobby into a business. You can sell your work on Etsy or locally, or wherever you wish.
The 5 Best Mini Wood Lathes
We’re starting off with one of the best mini wood lathes today by Shop Fox. It is very well built as it’s made from cast iron. It is perfect if you are looking to turn smaller items, such as rings or bowls. What’s great about this model is that it’s budget-friendly and it’s super durable, so it’s well worth the investment.
What’s included with this wood lathe?
- SHOP FOX W1704 mini-wood lathe
- Spur center
- MT No.1 live center
- 1-¼” and 7” tool rests
- 5-¾” faceplate
- ¾” x 16” spindle
We want to emphasize that the motor is one of the best features on this wood lathe. The speed is ⅓ HP, 2 amps motor with 700 to 3,200 RPMS. What’s even better you get a variable speed option (it looks like a dial btw) so that you can have more control and variety on whichever projects you are working on.
- Perfect for small projects
- It can stop working at times
Here we have another heavy-duty wood lathe that is 12×18 inches that will let you work with the speed you want. It has a 550W motor with 650 to 3,800 RPM so it’s powerful enough to do the job you need to do with precise speed. This model is also built on cast iron, so you won’t have to worry about durability. As you see, this one is on the larger side, so there’s plenty of space to work with. A cool feature with this wood lathe is that it has a digital readout, so that you can monitor your speed, which is a pretty useful feature in our opinion.
The Morphorn Wood Lathe comes with the following:
- Tool Set
- Powerful for its size
- Comes with tool set
- Digital readout to monitor speed
- Customer service is on the lackluster side
If you’re really serious about turning wood, this is one of the mini wood lathes to consider. You’ll be happy to know that this wood lathe is budget-friendly, and it’s still a high-quality product as well as a high-performing one too.
It has an impressive list of variable speeds from 500 to 2000 RPM, so you’ll have full control of the speed you want while turning your projects. It also has a 4.5 AMP motor, so it’s pretty powerful on its own. You can control the speed with a knob, making things so much easier. You can use small to medium objects on this wood lathe, and still have plenty of room to work with (bed space).
This wood lathe comes with the following accessories:
- WEN 3424T mini-wood lathe
- Headstock spur center
- Tailstock cup center
- Flat wrench
- Knockout rod
- 2 x Hex wrenches (3 mm and 5mm)
- Accessory holder
- 3-1/8 inch faceplate
- Digital speed display
- Comes with lots of accessories
- Some users have reported that there is a high squealing noise after some use
If you’re looking for a wood lathe that gives you better control, then stop right here as the JET JWL-1221VS model will help you with that. It will also help make sure you can do an efficient job with the crazy vibration that will likely screw up any progress made while turning wood. Here are some of the best features of the wood lathe:
- 24 integrated indexing positions for additional versatility
- Ratchet style belt tension model
- Spindle included
- Cast iron bed (which helps stop the vibration)
- Smooth transition
- Digital Control
You get 60-3000 RPM for the variable speed control so you can choose which speed you’d need to do whichever project you’re about to take on.
The JET wood lathe also includes:
- 3” Faceplate
- 4 prong drive center, live tailstock center
- 2 tool rests
- Good control and variable speeds
- Poor customer service support
Finally, here is a durable but high-quality mini wood lathe by RIKON. Let’s look into the specs so you can decide if this wood lathe is for you:
- For power, it includes ½ HP motor with 6.6 AMPS
- Laser engraved ram with 1 ½” distance
- Knockout bar
- Nylon face plate washer
- Tool handle
- Flip up handle
Of course, for the speed, it has variable speed control from 430, 810, 1230, 1810, 2,670, and 3900. So, as you can see, you have so many speed options you can choose from.
We do want to talk about this one cool feature that this wood lathe has which is the 12 position indexing head. Why are we talking about this feature? It can create a lot of different patterns and it makes the spindle stay locked in place so that you can truly focus on what’s really important, your project.
The RIKON 70-100 comes with the following:
- Knockout bar
- Adjustment wrench
- 8” tool-rest
- Live center
- Spur center
- Spindle lock assembly
- Knockout bar for live center pointer
- Tool holder
- Panhead screw
- Of course the RIKON 70-100 mini wood lathe
- 12 position indexing head
- Great variable speed control
- If needing new parts, you could be waiting a long time
How do you use a wood lathe for beginners?
You will want to use the wood lathe by following these simple tips:
Stand with your arms at your side before your lath and bend your elbow to 90 degrees. Even with the elbow, the heart of the lathe is. From there you can make minor modifications. Around a center point I like around an inch. Place yourself in a loose position before the job with the width of your foot apart. Hold in one hand your chisel and tightly tuck your arm to your side. The chisel is regulated by this hand. Put the other hand on the tool rest front and grab the chisel shank. This hand leads the cuts as they advance. Don’t push the chisel off you when you’re cutting. Rather, move your body as it advances carefully.
Set your tool rest to ¼” away from your work. You’ll want to start at low speeds until you are comfortable enough to cut with higher speeds.
Rough the blank
Before you get started, you’ll want to want to rough the blank. Once you do, you can pretty much get started.
It’s very important that you rub the bevel before you get started as well. It directs the cut so you’ll want to make sure it’s pointing in the right direction before using.
You pretty much use the scraper to scrape the work so that you’ll have a clean area.
You’ll want to make sure that the cut is being supported. If it’s not, things can go wrong. So before cutting, make sure the tool is resting on the toolset, so that you are not wobbly leading to poor cuts and possibly a dangerous situation.
Is it hard to use a lathe?
It does require some skill to use a lathe, but there’s so many easy manuals with instructions these days that tell you how to operate it. There’s also YouTube videos that you can watch if you are more of a visual learner.
What is the best wood to turn on a lathe?
You’ve seen all the wood lathes we’ve reviewed today, as we think they are some of the best on the market today. We believe that any of the 5 we reviewed today will be perfect for your next project. We would love to read your comments which you can leave below if you have enjoyed reading this guide today.