The Wood Turner’s Selection Guide, Part I: Choosing a Lathe

Comments (0)

Choosing a wood lathe can seem like a daunting process, but it can be broken down into four main factors: lathe power, type of projects to be turned, available space, and cost. There are three terms used to describe lathes: swing (maximum diameter of project which can be turned), distance between centers (maximum length of project), and motor horsepower (how fast the lathe can do work).

Small, bench top lathes are available which have a 9” or 10” swing and work well for projects such as pens, kitchen tools, and small bowls. They can be mounted on a bench or an adjustable stand to fit a person’s needs. Motors are below 1 horsepower and require a 20A 120V circuit. Models are available from Jet and Rikon.

If space is a concern, but lathe capacity is a requirement, a good choice is a Midi lathe. They typically have a 1 horsepower motor with EVS (electronic variable speed) and the ability to reverse rotation. Swing is 12” with distance between centers 14” to 20”. Most Midi lathes have an optional bed extension which allows either longer projects or outboard turning for increased swing. Mounting can be on a bench or stand, a 20A 120V circuit is required, and models are available from Rikon, Jet, and Laguna. The Midi is a nice lathe for a part time turner as it has the power to do most any project and similar controls to the large lathes.


The author with various lathes on display

Having swings between 14” and 24”, the large lathes are a high quality, professional option for the serious wood turner. The price range will start around $2500 and go up to $7000 or more. Almost all will come with a heavy stand and the lathe itself will also be quite heavy. Common features include EVS, reverse rotation, and distance between centers of 35” to 42”. Horsepower options are 1½hp (20A 120V) or 2hp (20A 220V). The Nova lathes autosense the input power, so changing the plug and switching voltages will change the horsepower. They utilize a DVR (digital variable reluctance) motor with infinite speed control, a low minimum speed, constant torque, and programmable options. Other lathes have two speed ranges which are switched by changing a belt. Outboard turning and mobility kit options are available, manufacturers include Rikon, Nova, Laguna, Powermatic, and Jet.

The height of the turner can also be a factor. The spindle of the lathe should be at the same height as the turner’s elbow. Some stands can be adjusted, other times matching to a specific model is required. Subtle differences in controls can also be a factor. The best thing is to look at options in person to determine proper fit and functionality.


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page