Best Wood Lathes for Beginners: Get Rid of Buyer’s Remorse

Best wood lathe for beginners

Buying a second-hand or cheap Chinese lathe from Craiglist to save money could be an option. But if this something you are feeling passionate about and wanna give your best shot, then starting with a fresh quality lathe should be the priority.

Cause the machine is at it’s best in condition now. It will easily outperform an older or cheaper one.

So, what could be the best wood lathe for beginners?

Mentors like Colin Furze, Richard Raffan, Keith Rowley, Barry Gross, and many others have said more or less the same when suggesting a lathe.

  1. What do you want to turn?
  2. Your workspace.
  3. Choose the lathe according to the HP, Variable Speed, and part’s availabilities.
  4. Don’t spend everything just on the lathe cause you need other accessories also.

Now without further intro, let’s jump over to see what could be the possible best for your needs.

Disclaimer: As an Amazon affiliate, I may earn a small percentage from qualifying purchases. This means no extra cost to you. I will only promote products that give the best values.

Best overall Wood Lathes by sizes

Starting with the lathes that are taking over the markets for ages with their qualities and motor powers. Thousands of pro turners have given them the credibilities for maintaining the excellence of quality of the lathes to date.

Best Full-sized wood lathe: Laguna Tools Revo Lathe 220v 2HP 18″/36″

Laguna Tools Revo Lathe 220v 2HP 18"/36" Induction 1725RPM Motor w/Variable Speed Frequency Drive - Model MLAREVO 1836, Black
  • 18″ Swing and 36″ between centers
  • Motor: Induction, 1725 RPM, TEFC
  • 2 HP, 110V/220V, VFD for max torque even at a low settings
  • Phase: 1 Phase Input, 3 Phase Output
  • Spindle Taper: #2MT
  • Spindle size: 1¼” x 8 TPI RH
  • Recommended Breaker: 15 Amp
  • Max Outboard Swing: 32″
  • RPM High: 135-3500
  • RPM Low: 50-1300
  • Shipping Weight: 570 lbs
  • Warranty 2 years

See the latest deals on Amazon for Leguna Revo 1836

For whom

If you are not tight in budget and workspace, then going for a full-sized lathe with more space available for the swing is always the smartest move.

Worth the price

Unlike the big 20” swing heavyweight Powermatic 3520C, the budget for Laguna Revo 1836 is very considerable, being an 18” full-sized wood lathe.

Why choose Laguna 18/36

The question should be, why won’t you? This 450lbs sturdy beast is an American class entirely manufactured in California. A robust, heavy-duty machine like the old Delta 16-42 steel bed lathe but with a different headstock design.

Compare the price with the Powermatic 3520B and C units. Almost 1000 dollars difference with a similar 2HP motor for each (Powermatic feels beefier though), but I must say it’s a hell of a lathe.

It takes just 50 rpm for this beast to take off after you kick it on. That means safer turning and more versatility working with irregular shape or any bigger chunk.

The price difference is only 100 bucks between 100 volts and 220 volts. Definitely go for the 220 volts.

Laguna cut above any Jet or Nova heavyweight out there. Apart from the regular turners, Jet is always better for the beginners—kind of classroom lathe. We see a lot of people all across the country, starting with Jet for their user-friendliness and price.

So, definitely best wood lathe for beginners, and that’s why I put the 1440VSK and 1221VS on the list. But if you are really thinking to hit some serious work and start your journey with a severe professional machine instead, pack this one for yourself.

18” for the bowls, 36” for the spindle, and an extra 32 inches for the outboard bowl turning. The promises they are showing, of course, is eye-catching for any professional turner at this price point.

It’s a class in every way.

Now, do I own one? No. Currently, I have three lathes, including a metal one. Besides, I am more into the Powermatic 3520C (see on Amazon) as I think it’s worth the extra money. I just wish they had this black panther outfit as well.

But as many of the beginners might not be comfortable putting another thousand dollars on the table for almost the same features and motor power, the Laguna Revo 1836 would be the best match overall.

Save the extra bucks for some handy accessories later.

Concerns

To be honest, I didn’t see any negative reviews anywhere that’s legit. Everyone seems to be very satisfied with this unit. You can do your own research.

I’ve even seen many turners have complaints about the Powermatic with the banjo and tool rest that they somehow wanted to replace that. But no one seems to bother by this Laguna Revo 1836 unit. So far so good.

The only concern is that you might have to work like a trojan to shift them from their place when needed. These lathes are damn heavyweight.

So, plan your workspace smartly before they deliver it to your door. And this goes to any full-sized lathe you end up with.

Moving towards the next option, I will have to leave you here with the decision whether you want to go with the full size or not.

Best Midi wood lathe: JET JWL-1221VS Variable Speed Wood Lathe

JET JWL-1221VS 12-Inch by 21-Inch Variable Speed Wood Lathe
  • 12″ swing and 20-1/2″ between centers
  • 1 HP, 115V, Recommended Circuit Size (Amps.)10
  • Spindle Taper: MT2
  • Spindle Bore: 3/8″
  • Spindle Thread: 1″/8 TPI
  • Indexing position: 24
  • 60-3600 RPM variable speed
  • Forward to reverse
  • Weight: 136.4lbs
  • Warranty: 5 years

See the latest deals on amazon for Jet JWL 1221vs

For whom

If you don’t wanna spend a load right away in the beginning, and have a workspace limitation also but still want all the qualities and sturdiness like a full-sized lathe. Midi benchtop lathes are here to play the role.

Worth the price

Considering all the other lathes, Jet JWL 1221VS got almost everything, even a professional bowl turner needs. Only with 2 inches difference in the swing, it’s half the price of 1440VSK (see the price) on Amazon.

Why choose Jet 1221vs

Honestly speaking, the Delta 46-460 could easily beat up this lightweight monster if it were a few years back.

With all the functions working actively like the 1220VS (old one), the Delta gave some extra features like variable speed and reverse option at a minimum price range.

But since Jet felt that they were being outperformed, they immediately came up with the new 1221VS adding up the-

  • Variable speed control for turning bowls
  • Reverse for sanding
  • Beefier and fairly clean cast than before
  • Dead-on alignment
  • Digital RPM readout (not necessary but still)
  • Wider bed rails, beefier headstock belt pulleys
  • Two useful tool rackers.

They started performing better with the large bowl chunk. A bit pricier than the Delta version but worth every penny.

They even have an upgraded version- 1221SP (step pulley). But I like the Variable Speed over the Step Pulley as it doesn’t have the reverse option.

You can go either way, and it’s worth it.

Concerns

  • Many of the pro turners have witnessed a bad quality control of this lathe. But in 90% cases, it’s happening for bad shipping rather than I don’t see any significant issues to talk about.
  • The speed delays a bit to pick up. But that’s good for safety, and you will get used to it very quickly. It’s even good for turning bowls.
  • Need to move the tools from the left side tool rack to get access to the side door to the motor.
  • The white paint quality is not that cool.

I got my 1221vs just fine back in 2015. Nothing loose or broken, no switch problems, even the Styrofoam was fresh. I have my bench, so didn’t call for an extra leg, still solid as a rock.

But if the need should arise to replace it, if you see something broken or noticeable damage, you can return it immediately. They have a good return policy as well.

It’s a fantastic machine for the bowl turners who love making pieces from small to medium ranges. You can turn anything under the 12” wide in diameter.

Anything from bowl to different crafts projects, this lathe will serve you great before you finally move up to something even more significant.

Best Mini wood lathe: Excelsior 5 speed mini-lathe

Excelsior Mini Lathe
  • 10″ swing/ 18″ between centers
  • Horsepower: ½
  • MT2 Spindle Taper
  • Speed Ranges: 760, 1100, 1600, 2200, and 3200
  • Weight: 83 lbs
  • 1” x 8 TPI spindle
  • Only forward

See the latest deals on amazon for Excelsior mini lathe

For whom

Only if you want to stick with smaller crafts, pens, beautiful tiny resin bowls, acrylic duck or goose calls, bottle stoppers, and things like that, then you might want to go with a mini lathe.

Now you can do that with the bigger lathe, but the main difference here will be the price, motor power, and the size of the machine.

But there are up to scratch Mini wood lathes like this robust one from the mighty Rockler to handle small projects. You can later buy your dream lathe after you accomplish something precisely and become more motivated.

Worth the quality

Something under 300 dollars is already compromising with the budget, but will it compromise its class for the price? How it performs in its proper condition. That’s my concern here.

As long as the shipping goes right and all the parts are in good shape, I can bet you will be delighted with the Excelsior mini lathe by Rockler unless you mount it with severe hardwoods.

This works excellent for anything under the ranged diameter. And far better than the Wen minis.

Why choose Excelsior Mini lathe

Turners are satisfied with the quality that Rockler lathes are producing, even with the mini-lathes. You might have seen Mr. Carl Jacobson from Oregon working with this particular unit in his workshop.

I am trying to say that a professional always try to avoid these so-called “mini-lathes” and play with the big birds instead. But when they do, they can be very picky. Won’t take just anything for granted. Ever seen one turning happily with Wen mini? Not really.

Rockler always rocks and has been crushing it with this Excelsior Mini lathe. They are taking over their contender in this category from the beginning.

The best part is that this ½ HP lathe comes with MT2 drive spur/center, whereas most of the minis come with MT1. So, you can pretty much use any MT2 accessories. You can extend the bed to 38-1/2” for spindle work with five different speeds starting from 760 to 3200 RPM. A bit faster for bowls, but that’s okay to me.

Kudos to this great little lathe. I still have it, and I have no plan to get rid of it even if I end up buying the Powermatic giant.

Concerns

It’s been 3 years I have been using this lathe, and it’s been doing pretty well. Boundaries are the same for any mini lathes. Don’t push it too far, that’s the rule.

Though it gave me a hard time leveling the bed extension, to be honest. I wish it has four bolt holes instead of two. This is something you need to take a lot of care, aligning the ways to get it done right. But once set, you are a happy turner.

A lot of people are not happy with the belt changing system, but I hope you will get used to it very soon. Not that big deal to talk about.

Okay, now let’s go for a brand that is offering the cheapest wood lathe possible. But unlike the Chinese mini-lathes, you can have the parts available with the warranty and enough quality.

Best For Budget- WEN 3421 3.2-Amp 8″ by 12″ Variable Speed Wood Lathe

The Shop fox W1704 unit that I mentioned as an alternative could easily fit in this category, but I want something cheaper like super less expensive for someone to gain everything but loose nothing.

WEN 3421 3.2-Amp 8" by 12" Variable Speed Mini Benchtop Wood Lathe
  • 8” swing and 12” between centers
  • Motor: 3.2 Amp (1/3 HP), 120V
  • MT1 Spindle and Tailstock Taper
  • 1″ x 8 TPI
  • Spindle Speed: Variable speed from 750 – 3200 RPM
  • Weight: 45lbs
  • Only forward
  • Warranty: 2 Years

See the latest deals on amazon for Wen 3421 wood lathe

For whom

If variable speed is something you are looking for, but you don’t have the 400 or 500 dollars budget for a Jet or Delta midi, Wen has this unit for the budget problem.

About the quality

Not that much of horsepower but enough to handle lighter projects like acrylic pen blanks, small mallets, duck calls, chess pieces, 5 inches tiny bowls, etc.

Harbor Freight used to sell the same lathe but now has gone into the manual speed and mt2 option so, priced up.

Getting variable speed at this cost is also a pretty cool feature to have, which is the only advantage it has over Harbor Freight mini even at a low price. But to be honest, they are not compatible.

The only difference it has with Wen 3420T unit is the size of the faceplate and motor. I think they came up with 3421 unit after getting negative reviews on motor sustainability.

With not that much of a difference, I would say that you should move with this Wen 3421 unit instead. Having a little more power to the motor is absolutely an extra advantage.

It is a 1/3 Hp nice little lathe til you push it beyond its capability.

Limitations

Keep in mind that this is an MT1, so you can’t use your tools when you move up to an MT2 lathe in the future.

You can definitely turn the small spindle, but you won’t be able to make any table legs as the company advertises unless that’s a table for your cats.

It doesn’t have any digital readout either, so you have to guess the speed yourself, but learning classic and traditional way is always good.

As it’s just under 45lbs, so you might notice the lathe is sliding or moving when turning at a higher speed. Secure the lathe with your benchtop before working.

The final and most significant problem I want to address here is the stalling out of the motor. This 1/3 underpowered motor gets overheated, sometimes handling the hardwoods or bowls, which is not recommended though.

So, you need to start really slow with this lathe. Don’t push too far with hardwoods. Stop the motor, let it cool down then start again.

Finally, I would say to respect its limitations as it is doing with your wallet.

Best Wood Lathe Under 500: Nova 71118 Comet II DR – Midi Lathe

Nova 71118 Comet II DR - Midi Lathe Flexible Woodworking System, 12”, Powerful Electronic 3/4 HP variable speed
  • 12″ swing and 16.5″ between centers
  • HP: 3/4HP, 230v single phase, 60Hz,
  • Speed range: 250 – 4,000 RPM Variable Speed
  • Tailstock: 2MT hollow
  • Quill travel 1.6″/40.60mm.
  • Spindle Thread: 1″ x 8TPI RH.
  • Forward and Reversing
  • Weight: 82.4lbs
  • Warranty: 1 Year Motor and Controller, 2 Year Mechanical and parts

See the latest deals on amazon for Nova Comet II

Absolutely worthy for the best under 500 dollars category. As my research went, the Nova Comet II, Rikon 70-100, Jet JWL 1015, and Delta Midi 46-460, all four of them were compatible with each other.

But we want something that doesn’t exceed the price giving the possible best finishes. So, I have the reason for choosing this unit over them.

For Whom

As the title goes, it’s for the person who has a budget of $500 for only the lathe itself without any attachments. I won’t talk about other accessories here like the chuck (btw it’s the investment you won’t regret).

Why choose Nova Comet II over them

It beats the Delta for the price. Delta crossed the price line here. But if you are not bothered by the extra 100 bucks, I strongly suggest you go with 1 horsepower Delta 46-460. The more the motor power, the more the ability. So, your call.

Now for the others, Nova beats all of them by the power of the motor. Rikon and Jet, they both have ½ hp motors whilst Nova got a ¾ hp giving you more on the table here.

Nova also wins the race for having the lowest rpm of 250 as an advantage for turning bowls. It’s not only better for roughing blanks but also a great option for power sanding on a lathe. Jet and Rikon got 500 and 430 rpm each as their lowest speed.

Moreover, you can’t go reverse with Jet and Rikon units. Nova also added the reverse. Not that important but a nice feature for sanding. It’s always better to have something than nothing.

Talking about the variable speed, they all are, but you don’t need to change the belt manually as Nova is featured with electronic DC VS motor. Good for the lazy turners like me.

They all are cast iron made and around 80lbs, so sturdiness is well maintained.

A little tricky with the warranty policy of Nova here as they have divided it into two services. 1 year for the motor and controller and 2 years for the parts and accessories.

So, the answer is detailed here. Now the call is yours. I would suggest you do your own research.

But as far as I am concerned, based on my experience, it is a great $500 midi lathe with a powerful DC motor for you to start your journey.

The Best Alternative Wood Lathes:

Okay, the lathes that I listed above were the best wood lathes for the beginners according to their size and price. If you wanna see other potential options, here are my best picks for alternative options.

Wrapping up without mentioning these wood lathes, would be unfair.

I am going by their size again.

Jet JWL-1440VSK: Alternative for Leguna Revo 1836

Jet JWL-1440VSK Wood Lathe
  • 14-1/2″ swing and 40″ between centers
  • 1 HP, single phase, 115V/230V
  • #2MT tapers
  • Spindle Thread: 1″/8 TPI
  • Headstock Movement: Sliding/Pivoting
  • Index positions: 36
  • Outboard Turning
  • Speed Range: 400-3000 variable speed
  • Weight: 400lbs
  • Warranty: 5 years

See the latest deals on amazon for Jet JWL 1440vsk

For whom

Maybe, you don’t wanna spend that much as the Laguna is costing, but definitely want another good option for a full-sized, this might be it.

Worth the price

I have a little complaint. I am getting a 14” bed swing with 1 HP motor in compared to Laguna 1836, and only two inches more from the Jet 1221VS midi version.

They should have lowered the price further down. I mean no disrespect for the quality, but if I could save at least 200 dollars here, this could be a real winner.

Why choose Jet 1440VSK

I am certainly not rating it over the Laguna Revo 1836. It is for the possible best alternative option for that.

But it is definitely a sturdier mighty lathe out there with good positive reviews altogether. So, choosing a wood lathe made of solid cast iron with a weight of 413 lbs, and 1 hp power motor at the very beginning is a worthy decision.

One good thing is that the speed dial opens and closes the driver sheave, so you don’t need to move the belts to change the speeds.

My complaint was just for the price they are taking. They could have given it 16” swing at least for bowl turning.

You can read all the fancy features on Amazon like cast iron legs, extra bed options, and staff like that, so I am not wasting your time here (mine also.)

Limitations

Now, every machine has its capabilities and limitations. You cannot expect to put a 20” work on a 14” lathe.

  1. Their lower speed of 400 rpm can be an issue while turning large or imbalanced wood chunk. A little slower rpm and reverse for some situation would have been excellent.
  2. It does not come with chisels or chuck, only faceplate. So large bowl turners need to add some more accessories to that.
  3. You gonna have to need one or two people as the pieces (legs, table, motor, etc.) are quite heavy to assemble. Separate the tool rest, banjo first. It will make it easier.
  4. Lastly, I was reading a review, meanwhile, on Amazon. Someone named Nancy Carlsmith from Medway, ma, found some issues while assembling the headstocks. Later after calling their customer service, they came and fixed that.

If you are overthinking too much, finding out what could go wrong in the worst case, in a worst-case, a machine could stop working.

No one guarantees a lifetime.

Jet is providing a five years warranty so you can call them and set the issues you are having with your wood lathe anytime. They have an excellent customer service reputation also.

That’s why it is always great to go with a brand that has its values. And Jet always keeps promises.

Delta 46-460: Alternative for Jet JWL 1221VS

Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
  • 12.5″ swing and 16.5″ between centers
  • 1-HP, 1-Phase, 120V, 60-Hz, 1725 rpm motor
  • Speed: 250-700, 600-1,800 and 1,350-4,000-RPM
  • Electronic variable
  • Head and Tailstock Taper: #2 MT
  • Drive spindle: 1 inch -8 RH TPI thread
  • Forward and Reverse
  • Weight: 97 lbs
  • Warranty: 5 years

See the latest deals on amazon for Delta 46-460 midi lathe

For whom

Definitely a worthy pick for the midi lovers, a top-notch alternative to the Jet 1221VS. They are quite a similar thing, but Delta goes an extra step with their price.

Should you consider Delta 46-460 instead

I don’t know if I have underrated this big name in the midi lathe industry. Delta has a history of introducing the first Midi lathe in the market probably in the early 90s, so they are the pioneer.

This variable speed unit of Delta has always been my favorite though I sold mine to a club member years ago then got the 1221VS. But I didn’t notice much of a difference between these two.

My 46-460 was smooth and quiet with adequate 1 HP motor power to turn bowls up to 11.” It says twelve inches, but I don’t like working on the edge.

The significant difference between these two is the motor power. Delta machined with one HP motor max, whereas the Jet is ¾. Delta runs and speeds up very quiet and smoothly than Jet while turning reverse and forward.

If you put them on the same bench, Delta sits about two inches taller, which is a plus point for cleaning the chips off the motor.

This is one of the most capable midi in the wood lathe market, no doubt about that. It will grow as your skill will grow.

So yeah, you can choose Delta 46-460 as an alternative to the Jet 1221VS.

Again, do your own research. Take a closer look at all the features. Compare them with your needs then make your decision.

I went with the Jet 1221vs by the way for the extra 50lbs weight.

Limitations

Delta started getting some negative reviews mainly for the switch problems and the unavailability of its parts after the shifting of the company. This caught the eyes of many. Jet took advantage and nailed it.

Delta weighs almost 50lbs less than the Jet. The extra weight is always beneficial for bowl turnings. Cause you definitely want to grab something that’s promising you more sturdiness.

The banjo is not the standard one inch, so aftermarket tool rest will not match (amazon customer review and that’s true).

Some people complain about their customer service, but I know things can get adverse sometimes with any CS department of the world.

So, this is pretty much it—all I can say that it’s a class in its category in every way.

Shop Fox W1704: Alternative for Excelsior Mini

SHOP FOX W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe
  • 8” swing and 13” between centers
  • Motor: 1/3 HP, 4 AMP, 110V
  • MT1 headstock and Tailstock Taper
  • 3/4-by-16-inch TPI (Buy a 3/4” 16 TPI to 1” 8 TPI adapter.)
  • Spindle Speeds: Infinite Variable from 700-3200RPM
  • Weight: 41 lbs
  • Only forward
  • Warranty: 2 years

See the latest deals on amazon for Shop Fox W1704

For Whom

First of all, this is not something a pro-turner would buy over a professional wood lathe, because of their underpowered motors.

They are ideal for smaller things and always considered excellent for the entry-level.

So, starting with a mini lathe as Shop Fox W1704 won’t be a wrong determination at all, alternative to the one made by Rockler.

Why choose Shop Fox W1704

I don’t own this lathe, but I have used it several times. A friend of mine has a small antique shop here in North Vermilion Street. He somehow has a fetish for smaller lathes (I don’t know If he is reading this). I helped him with some of his projects.

I tested the Wen 3420T, Harbor Freight 8” x12”, and this Shop Fox W1704. He bought the shop fox from Craig list, and the rest of them were fresh.

I turned some bangles and small acrylic pens, I run three of them but liked the Shop Fox most because of its sturdiness. (I don’t know some may have a different opinion)

It was less vibrating than the harbor freight 8” x12.” Had a nice finish, no curved texture on the tool rest, pretty smooth.

The HF tool rest was way too high at its lowest position, and that’s a problem to be perpendicular to the center of the piece.

The variable speed control at that low price is also worth mentioning for Shop Fox.

Limitations

Why are you so obsessed with the limitations? Yes, I am talking to you. You won’t know what you like till you try it anyway.

Something of 8” swing and 12” in centers with everything limited can’t free its wings like the big birds that’s pretty obvious, right? Of course, it is.

  • Shop Fox W1704 one is a morse taper 1 unlike the excelsior mini (most of the minis are). Rest is just fine unless you experience bad shipping.
  • Watch for the alignment of the headstock and tailstock. Call them instantly if needed to replace it. It can happen with any lathe you buy.

Once again, don’t expect the quality you see in a full-sized lathe from these mini wood lathes.

But for the price it takes and the quality it delivers, absolutely go for this one.

People also ask

Should I start with a mini wood lathe as a beginner? What will be the best mini wood lathe?

Of course, you can. You will get the opportunity to know the machine as well as the work. Choose any of the mini-lathes from the list above. But check the alignment of the head and tailstock first after you get one in your home.

How do I choose a good wood lathe?

Let’s get to the exact point as I don’t want to make this long. Decide what do you want to turn. Then Consider your workspace. You need some bigger place if you are going for a full-sized unit. No matter what you buy, always go for a good HP motor that has a variable speed option and #2 morse taper. Check if the parts are universal so you can find them in aftermarkets also. Don’t go for Chinese. You know your budget, so choose the lathe according to the budget. If tight, then go for a quality mini or midi. Remember, this is not going to be your last lathe forever.

What size lathe should I buy?

That depends on your budget. It’s like choosing a car. The more you invest, the more quality and variety you get. Pretty simple.

What is the best wood lathe for turning bowls for a beginner?

Any wood lathe with durable Horse Power and maximum swing over the bed with a low variable speed start is the ideal for turning bowls. According to this article, if you want to go big, I would suggest you pick the Laguna 18/36. You will get everything.

Final Thoughts

I need you to remember one thing before wrapping up. These are all human-made machines, and we make mistakes.

That’s why you see some users having a complaint, whereas others are living happily with the same thing. It’s because that particular lathe has got some issues with its parts during manufacturing.

So, no matter what wood lathe you are going to buy, take enough time to check all the parts and accessories carefully after shipping. If you find something odd, let them know instantly and make everything clear.

Turn Safe, Turn Big. Welcome to the turning world!

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