7 Best Power Lathes | March 2017

We spent 29 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Thinking of building your own Pinocchio? Whether you are a hobbyist woodworker building intricate models or a professional furniture maker, our selection of power lathes contains the right model for your next project. Skip to the best power lathe on Amazon.
7 Best Power Lathes | March 2017

Overall Rank: 3
Best Mid-Range
Overall Rank: 1
Best High-End
Overall Rank: 2
Best Inexpensive
The Grizzly G8688 is small but packs a punch, with features like a turret tool post, chip tray, splash guard and inch and metric reading dials. It is great for hobbyist and small jobs, but is not meant to handle heavy duty projects.
The large capacity RIKON 70-100 Mini features a 12" swing and 16" between centers for more space to do your work while maintaining a low profile on your workbench. It also has the ability to add one or more bed extensions.
The Jet JWL-1015 puts professional quality machinery in the price range of the amateur woodworking enthusiast. It is engineered with a sturdy steel construction and has extra-wide feet for excellent stability.
The NOVA 46300 Comet II is the most versatile & innovative small lathe on the market, with the capacity and stability of a larger machine. It delivers an exceptional turning experience for key woodworking functions.
  • guard has a rapid access latch
  • motor has a robust die cast housing
  • no-vault release for added safety
Brand NOVA
Model 46300
Weight 82.4 pounds
The JET JWL-1221VS offers a user-friendly design with an innovative ratchet style belt tension system and unrivaled speed control. With its power, functionality and ease of use, you can't go wrong with this must-have tool.
  • smooth forward to reverse transition
  • works with multiple attachments
  • operates between 60 and 3600 rpm
Brand Jet
Model JWL-1221VS
Weight 137 pounds
The Proxxon DB 250 is ideal for turning pens, model railway items and dollhouse items, such as cups, plates, pots, and vases. With the electronic speed control, it allows you to easily add fine detail touches to your projects.
  • tool rest turns 360 degrees
  • comes with 6 collets
  • very lightweight and compact
Brand Proxxon
Model 37020
Weight 6 pounds
The premium Powermatic 3520B is a mighty lathe which features a digital RPM readout that makes it a snap to keep track of your speed. Plus a redesigned built-in tailstock offers storage of small, often-used tools and equipment.
  • ergonomic chrome-tipped handwheels
  • strong 2-horsepower motor
  • laser etched quills self eject
Brand Powermatic
Model 1352001
Weight 680 pounds

The Chicken And The Lathe

It's a mystery to the larger portion of the populace how things like screw threads are cut so perfectly into metal, or how the legs of a well made chair can be honed and detailed to such perfection. The truth of the matter is that the machine used for these and many more such nuanced applications in shaping and cutting is rather simple.

The lathe, and we'll spend our time here predominantly discussing power lathes, looks like a terribly complex and difficult to use instrument at first glance. It's got a handful of parts that all seem to move in different directions, and it presents a front akin to the pottery wheel and all its attendant difficulty in craftsmanship.

When it comes down to it, however, the lathe works like nothing more than a very fast rotisserie. Where a rotisserie spins a piece of meat to ensure that all of its sides cook evenly in the presence of a single heat source, your lathe spins a piece of wood or metal to ensure that it evenly meets with a cutting, drilling, or sanding device, among others.

While a rotisserie takes its spit, which is the rod used to support and turn the meat, and puts it through the food, your lathe has a device in the larger end, or headstock, that grabs onto the item you intend to shape. This is also where your power comes from, as the heastock houses your lathe's motor, delivering an incredibly fast spin to the material in question. The shorter end, or tailstock, can grip or drill into the other end of your piece, giving you more support as well as the ability to create internal, female threads, or to create pilot holes and other useful punctures.

Underneath your work space, on the part of the lathe that lives between the stocks, known as the bed, there's a unit that can move your tools for cutting and shaping on a perpendicular axis to your piece, as well as a rotating compound that allows you to create more nuanced angles along the edges of your work.

When you do eventually get your lathe home or into your workshop, make sure to impress your friends by demonstrating its power, as well as your knack for analogous thinking, by getting a nice juicy chicken from the store and taking it for a destructive and meaty spin. Or don't; that's up to you.

Power And Nuance At Your Fingertips

Finding a lathe suitable for the tasks you intend to pursue shouldn't be terribly difficult. All the lathes on our list present you with strong, durable work spaces and precise craftsmanship. What you need to focus on when picking from among them will begin, most likely, with size.

Most of the lathes on our list are meant to live on a work bench, though you will see the occasional free-standing lathe. The free-standing options often have longer beds and more powerful motors, which are ideal if you're working with bigger, heavier pieces. For simpler wood and metal work, however, you might not need all that power.

If you find your power is sufficient, but that your work space is too tight, look for a lathe that has an easily extended bed. These have openings at the ends where you can see the track in which the saddle moves parallel to the work space, as well as two or four holes in the body of the lathe bed. This is the point at which you can attach a bed extension.

If the sizes and powers of any of these lathes will suit your needs, then you might want to compare the mechanisms by which individual parts of your lathe move. Traditional designs utilize a small wheel to run the saddle along its track, and smaller levers to manipulate the cross slide and compound. Artisans with bigger hands would do well to avoid a lathe that compresses the size of its controls to shrink the overall footprint of the lathe, as these will be much tougher to manipulate.

When The Machines Began Their Takeover

One of the great fears in the age of interconnected machines and artificial intelligence is that there will eventually be a splinter group of self-aware androids capable of building smarter and smarter machines with more destructive power than ever before, all with the sole intention of destroying mankind and presiding over a purely mechanical world. Pretty scary stuff.

It may not seem like it, but the lathe is front and center at the very dawn of this idea, as it was the first machine tool that lead directly to the design and creation of other machine tools. Sure, the human element was till present, but a revolution on this scale will take millennia.

Those early lathes just so happen to reach back millennia, all the way to ancient Egypt. These units, active from around 1300 BCE, were manually operated (electricity was still a good ways off). One person used a rope to rotate a piece of wood or stone, and another person would use a cutting object of some kind to carve shapes and designs into said wood.

Much later, in the late 18th century, British engineers designed a lathe that was literally horse-powered. It also positioned the work piece vertically so that a boring tool could sink into it as it turned. These were used primarily in the development of stronger, more accurate cannons that wreaked havoc in the US during the Revolutionary War.

Another hundred years on, lathes drew power from steam and water pressure, eventually adopting electric motors around the turn of the 20th century, giving us the basic design for the power lathes you have to choose from today.

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Last updated: 03/25/2017 | Authorship Information