The Best Wood Lathe for the Money

Have you ever entertained the thought of making your own live edge bowls or wood ink pens? What about spindles, boxes, or vessels to put things in? You can turn these ideas into reality with a few lessons on wood turning and how to use a lathe. In order to get you closer to that goal, I’m going to look at products in the range of $450-$700 where you can get great value for your money. The best wood lathe for the money can without a doubt be found in this range. As you go up in price, you go up in features, quality, durability, and ease of use. However, spending more doesn’t always get you the best value. As my father always taught me to ask, is it a good value?

What to Look for in a Wood Lathe

First off, think about what types of projects you’ll be turning. Do you want to turn wooden bowls? Handles, pens, salt & pepper shakers, live edge bowls? The list could really go on and on because there are so many projects you could potentially work on. Turning wood can be a very fun and rewarding hobby. So what do you want to make? The size of your projects will determine the size lathe you’ll need. Which leads us to our first decision to make: capacity.

Capacity – The distance between the spindle and the tailstock quill is referred to as the distance between centers. This will determine the maximum length of wood you can use in your projects. The maximum diameter wood you can use is known as the swing. Smaller lathes will have a swing of 12” and larger ones 20” or larger. If you have more money to spend, you can afford a larger lathe and work with bigger pieces of wood.

Accuracy – When manufacturing the bearings, gear boxes, control rods and other pieces, a manufacturer can choose to invest in quality parts or decrease costs by using parts with lower tolerances and thus less quality. Higher quality parts result in higher accuracy in your final product as there’s less internal vibration impacting your work. Those better quality parts come at a higher overall cost and a bigger investment.

Variable speed motor – Depending on your project, you may need to speed up or slow down your rotation to achieve different results. Look for a product that has adjustable RPM’s while maintaining low speed torque. This will be a factor of what type of motor is used. In low RPM’s, you may need to maintain torque to continue cutting.

Additional Wood Turning terminology

Outboard turning – In order to accommodate work that is larger than the swing or diameter of what the lathe allows, some manufacturers make a headstock that can rotate and turn away from the body. This allows you to use a separate tool rest to make larger items. Be careful though, this can be dangerous if done incorrectly.

Bed Extension – This is usually an add on that increases your distance to center to accommodate larger projects.

The Best Wood Lathe for the Money

As my favorite pick, the Jet JWL-1221VS has a variable speed control by use of a knob. You can adjust the RPM from 60-3600RPM and also forward to reverse. The digital display is very nice so you can see the exact RPM. Swing over the bed is 12 1/2” while the distance between centers is 20 1/2”. While at 1 HP, this motor is 115v so you don’t need to run a new circuit for it. It will run fine on a 10amp circuit. The 5 year warranty covers defects in workmanship or materials but does not cover misuse or neglect. Their technical service number is 1-800-274-6846. This is a very solid product, constructed well, and very durable. It has one of the best values for the money!

Features

  • 1HP 60-3600 RPM Motor
  • Electronic Variable speed
  • 12 1/2” swing over bed
  • 20 1/2” distance between centers
  • 5 year warranty
  • Link to manual

The Next Best Lathe for Turning

I like the NOVA 46300 Comet II because of the features it offers at a relatively good value for the money. You’ll notice minimal vibration and very quiet once you’ve got it mounted with bolts to your work area. However, with a ¾ HP motor, you may have to switch the belt to a lower speed setting for more torque at lower RPM’s. But for the price, it’s a very great value to spend your hard earned dough on. This is a great beginner lathe and has flexibility to add a bed extension as you grow and work on larger pieces.

Features

  • ¾ HP 250-4000 RPM Motor,
  • Electronic Variable Speed
  • 12” swing over bed
  • 16 1/2” distance between centers
  • 1 year warranty
  • Link to manual

My Value Pick


I love the Delta Industrial 46-460 because it has plenty of power at lower speeds. It can get down to about 250RPM. Second, you can turn pieces up to 12” in diameter. You may want to bolt it down to a surface to provide some extra stability when turning. It doesn’t have a digital speed readout, but you can still estimate the speed using a chart provided. It also has a reverse switch that will help you when sanding to get a finer finish.

Features:

  • 1HP 1,725 RPM Motor
  • Variable speed motor, 3 pulley speed ranges
  • 12 ½” . swing over bed
  • 16 1/2” distance between centers
  • Cast iron construction to reduce vibration and increase stability
  • 5 year warranty
  • Link to manual

The Step Up

If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket and you really want to splurge, read further. First, check out the American Beauty by Robust. It comes in 220V only sporting a 2 or 3HP motor, variable speed, forward and reverse. It’s fully adjustable, made with steel, and use industrial grade components for a buttery smooth piece of machinery. This is one of the best you can buy.

Additional Resources

For those just getting started, here are some great resources and ideas to get your creative mind thinking about new projects to work on.

How to make a small bowl

Richard Raffan explains how to make a small bowl out of Cherry wood

 

Multi-axis Wood Turning

Mark Sfirri is a legend in the industry, one of the greatest. When you watch this video, just think about how he could possibly make some of the pieces he does. When he draws his project on the piece of paper and cuts it out, think about the process his mind is going through to have the foresight and vision of the outcome.