The Best Wood Lathes for Beginners

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Woodturning is a great way to make your woodworking business stand out. A wood lathe makes it easy to create items that range from functional to artistic yet are sure to catch shopper’s eyes. If you want to get started with building a woodworking business that catches shopper’s eyes or if you’re just a hobbyist looking to get started with woodworking these are some of the best wood lathes for beginners.

Things to Consider Before Choosing Your Beginner Wood Lathe

To a new woodturner, it may be tempting to dive right in and start buying tools before you’ve ever used a lathe. This can ultimately be a mistake as woodturning is an incredibly broad field and the tools required to make, for example, pens and rings are far different than those required to make bowls or large segmented vessels.

How Will You Be Using Your Lathe

I got started woodturning as a teenager on a family friend’s lathe before our family purchased one. The lathe was a larger model which gave me the opportunity to experiment with making both small objects and larger bowls which ultimately helped me decide to buy a larger model lathe myself for our shop and Etsy business.

We highly recommend finding a lathe to turn on before you buy to get a feel for the capabilities of what different models can offer. Friends, maker spaces, and classes at local woodworking stores or art studios are a great way to both learn the basics of woodturning and get a feel for what type of turning you may want to do.

Space for Your Beginner Wood Lathe

How much space do you have available for your new wood lathe? Luckily lathes come in a huge range of sizes so odds are you can find one that both meets your needs and will fit within your shop.

Benchtop-style lathes are great for people who want to turn small items and don’t have much extra floor space.

Floor standing lathes can take up a significant footprint as they are typically immobile and require clearance on either side so they can’t sit directly against a wall like many other tools. Luckily their lengths can vary greatly from stubby bowl turning style lathes which may only have a 20-inch long bed to full-size models with a 42-inch bed.

Accessories for Your Lathe

Some people in the woodturning will joke that purchasing a lathe is the cheapest part of woodturning. While the basic tools and accessories required to get started woodturning don’t have to cost an arm and a leg they can start to add up once you dive deeper into the craft.

Like many tools, each lathe has its own specifications that may not translate to other models. Spindle size, bed gaps, swing size, etc. These all dictate the accessories that can be used on a specific wood lathe.

Once again this is a great time to consider how you’ll want to use your lathe and how it will play into the future of your business. Buying a small, benchtop model now only to realize in a year that you need a larger model, or vice versa might mean that not only are you buying a new lathe but all-new accessories as well.

Luckily, well-built lathes tend to hold their value quite well so if you do find yourself in this situation it shouldn’t be too difficult to recoup a significant portion of your original investment.

Lathe Terminology Tips

Like many hobbies, woodturning comes with its own language and terminology. Here are some tips on commonly used terms with wood lathes.

Headstock – The front of the lathe which is attached to the motor. All wood pieces are attached to the headstock for turning.

Tailstock – The spindle on the end of the lathe that is used to steady pieces again the headstock or help hold longer pieces.

Swing – The maximum diameter object you can turn on the lathe. If the lathe spindle sits 6 inches off the bed that means you can turn a 12-inch diameter object.

Between Centers – The distance between the headstock and tailstock.

Spindle Size – Some accessories fit inside the headstock or tailstock spindle. 2 MT is a very common size on wood lathes.

Spindle Thread – The thread size on the spindle. This can vary between lathes and will dictate the size of faceplates and chucks that will fit on the lathe.

Best Wood Lathes for Beginners

Here are some of our favorite wood lathes for beginners that range from benchtop to full-size models that will last a lifetime.

LathePriceSizeNotes
RIKON Mini LathePrice not available10″ Swing x 18″ LengthAffordable with Power to Spare
JET JWL-1221VS$1,099.0012″ Swing x 21″ LengthVariable Speed, 12″ Swing
JET JWL-1640EVS$2,999.9916″ Swing x 40″ LengthFloor Standing, 1.5HP
Laguna Revo Lathe$2,999.9918″ Swing x 36″ Length220v, 2HP
Powermatic 2442B$8,899.9924″ Swing by 42″ LengthHuge Swing, Heavy

Entry Level Wood Lathes

Rikon Mini Lathe

RIKON Power Tools 70-105 10' x 18' 1/2 hp Mini Lathe
166 Reviews
RIKON Power Tools 70-105 10" x 18" 1/2 hp Mini Lathe
  • Rikon mini lathe: This Rikon mini lathe features a ½ motor that provides ample power for all turning needs. With a 10” swing and 18” between centers, this mini lathe also has a self ejecting tail stock and has easy access to speed change.
  • Sturdy and Dedicated: Designed specifically at the request of pen turners who wanted a sturdy, dedicated machine for their craft. This scaled-down, basic mini lathe is made from cast iron, so vibration is not a factor, unlike other lathes made of aluminum.
  • 5 speed ranger: This mini lathe has a 5 speed range that covers the bases for boring barrel holes, roughing out pen billets, turning to shape and finishing.
  • Includes: This lathe includes a live center, tool rest, knock-out bar, and wrenches.

RIKON has made a name for itself in the woodturning world through solidly built yet still affordable lathes. Their lathes have also been readily available throughout the past year whereas many other companies have been unable to keep much of anything in stock.

The Rikon mini lathe is a great benchtop, midi style lathe with a smaller footprint yet plenty of power to still maximize the full 10-inch swing over center. It features a wide speed range and can run in both forward and reverse which is a huge bonus for sanding.

This is a great lathe for beginners who want to get into spindle turning, pen making, ring turning, etc.

JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch by 21-Inch Variable Speed Wood Lathe

JET JWL-1221VS, 12'x21' Variable-Speed Woodworking Lathe (719200)
521 Reviews
JET JWL-1221VS, 12"x21" Variable-Speed Woodworking Lathe (719200)
  • CONVENIENT CONTROLS: Easy-to-reach controls and digital readout. Recommended Circuit Size (Amps)- 10
  • OPTIMAL SPEED: Choose from three speed ranges (60-900/110-1,800/220-3,600)
  • INNOVATIVE DESIGN: Ratchet-style belt tension system (patent pending)
  • HANDY STORAGE: Includes a tool storage caddy on each end of the machine
  • ADDED SAFETY: Removable yellow On/Off safety key

The Jet JWL-1221VS is a similar-sized lathe to the Rikon but offers a few upgrades. This model can be used either as a benchtop or floor standing lathe with an optional base. It features a few extra inches between centers, a more powerful motor, and a wider range of speeds.

The minimum speed on the Rikon is 500rpm while the jet can go as low as 60rpm. Low-end speeds can be helpful during finishing as some finishes are best applied at very low RPMs.

JET JWL-1640EVS

JET JWL-1640EVS, 16' x 40' Woodworking Lathe, 230V 3PH, 1-1/2HP (719500)
59 Reviews
JET JWL-1640EVS, 16" x 40" Woodworking Lathe, 230V 3PH, 1-1/2HP (719500)
  • ADDED PROTECTION: Inverter is completely enclosed.
  • SMOOTH MOVEMENT: Tailstock features ACME threads.
  • CONVENIENCE: Leg-mounted tool holder, and easy-to-access digital readout (DRO).
  • IDEAL SPEED: Infinitely variable speed from 40 to 3,200 RPM.
  • MAXIMUM VERSATILITY: Sliding headstock.

The Jet 1640EVS is a great introduction to floor-standing models. This lathe offers an extra couple inches of swing over the bed and a much longer bed than the benchtop models with 40 inches between centers.

This model also features a motor that is built into the headstock so it can be positioned anywhere on the lathe. This feature makes it easy to rotate the headstock or use it for outboard turning which can dramatically increase the swing of the lathe.

Note that some people feel that rotating headstocks are an option to avoid as they can easily become misaligned with the tailstock. For bowl turning this isn’t a huge deal but for spindle turning this can introduce a wobble which will result in out-of-round turnings. This would be especially evident in items like pens which are turned to a very thin, precise diameter.

Higher End Wood Lathes for Beginners

Now we’re getting into the “buy it for life” level of wood lathes. These large, floor-standing models feature powerful motors, large swing capabilities, and higher price tags to go along with them. Most of these models are also available in either 110v or 220v options as well.

Laguna Tools Revo Lathe

JET JWL-1640EVS, 16' x 40' Woodworking Lathe, 230V 3PH, 1-1/2HP (719500)
59 Reviews
JET JWL-1640EVS, 16" x 40" Woodworking Lathe, 230V 3PH, 1-1/2HP (719500)
  • ADDED PROTECTION: Inverter is completely enclosed.
  • SMOOTH MOVEMENT: Tailstock features ACME threads.
  • CONVENIENCE: Leg-mounted tool holder, and easy-to-access digital readout (DRO).
  • IDEAL SPEED: Infinitely variable speed from 40 to 3,200 RPM.
  • MAXIMUM VERSATILITY: Sliding headstock.

The Laguna Revo is available in either 110v or 220v and in 2 different sizes with an 18-inch or 24-inch swing over the bed and 36-inches between centers. The Laguna Revo, along with most lathes of this size, also comes equipped with a variable frequency drive system that delivers plenty of power when turning larger items.

Powermatic 4224B 1794224K Lathe

Powermatic 4224B, 24' x 42' EVS Lathe with Lamp Kit, 220V 1PH (1794224K)
5 Reviews
Powermatic 4224B, 24" x 42" EVS Lathe with Lamp Kit, 220V 1PH (1794224K)
  • SPINDLE LOCK AND INDEXING: For drilling hole patterns, routing flutes, and other equally spaced features.
  • CUSTOMIZABLE SAFETY: Magnetic-backed moveable control box.
  • BRASS-TIPPED KNOCKOUT BAR: Concentrates the action in the sliding handle; the brass tip will not damage drive centers.
  • IDEAL LIGHTING: Includes two 100-watt task lamps.
  • EASY-ACCESS POWERED ACCESSORIES: 15-amp quad receptacle.

Powermatic has made a name for itself in the woodworking world as building world-class machines and the 4224B lathe is no exception. This lathe weighs in at an impressive 960 lbs and features a 24-inch swing over the bed and 42 inches between centers. It is truly a lathe that can handle anything thrown at it.

Some of the premium features also included with this lathe are a built-in vacuum chuck, lights, and 115v sockets. These come in handy for extra lights, powering a drill for sanding, etc.

Final Thoughts on the Best Wood Lathes for Beginners

Woodturning can be an incredibly fun hobby and profitable business venture. Choosing the right tools will put you on a track for long-term happiness and success. While it may be tempting to take the cheap route with your first lathe I can assure you that it will lead to more frustration than fun. Either making for an unenjoyable experience or extra costs as you quickly realize an upgrade is needed.

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