Turning a block of wood into a usable bowl is highly satisfying and will have you wishing you had started woodworking earlier. But before you get started on wood-turning bowls, you will need a wood lathe.
Choosing a wood lathe can seem a daunting task at first, what with all the options available. But with a little research, you should be able to pick out the best wood lathe for turning bowls.
As a fellow traveler on the exciting woodturning journey, I want to share some of the things I have learned in my ten or so years. Additionally, review the best wood lathe for turning large bowls I have used over the years.
What To Check Before Buying The Best Wood Lathe For Turning Bowls
But before we get into the reviews, let me first take you through some of the features that influenced my decision when making this list. I also look for these features when shopping for the best wood lathe for turning large bowls.
Tips For buying Wood Lathe For Turning Large Bowls
On average, wood lathes feature motors with a power output of between 1HP and 3HP. I recommend sticking with at least a 2HP motor for turning large bowls. However, if you can afford to upgrade to a 3HP motor lathe, go for it.
For those of us who want a lathe for turning small bowls, though, a 3 or even 2Hp motor may be a bit too much. If you are a hobbyist or new to wood lathes, I recommend sticking to a 1Hp or 1.5Hp lathes, which are typically offered at a lower price compared to more powerful models.
Like any other power tool, lathes tend to generate vibrations when in use. These vibrations can cause the entire machine to become wobbly. To address this challenge, manufacturers use steel beds.
A steel bend gives you the stability you need to use a wood lathe without it wobbling.
Full-sized wood lathes are usually heavy, with some such as the Grizzly Industrial G0766-22 weighing up to 500 pounds. But why is this? Well, as mentioned, these machines tend to vibrate a lot when in use.
A heavier machine will be less affected by these vibrations than a lighter one. Thus, a heavier lathe will be a better option.
When working on a wood lathe, you want to be comfortable and not have to bend over to operate it. This is why height is an important consideration. But how high should a wood lathe be from the ground?
The basic rule of thumb is that the height should be the same height from the ground as the height to your elbow.
Variable speed control
The speed at which a lathe rotates is measured in Rotations Per Minute or RPM. So how fast should a lathe be? Well, it depends on the size of the workpiece you are working on. Large pieces require a slower RPM.
On the other hand, smaller pieces require a higher RPM. As such, variable speed control is crucial. It allows you to set the speed of rotations to match the type and size of wood you are working on.
For large bowls, a variable speed of 50 to 100 RPM minimum is the best. For the maximum speed, it can be 3000 to 4000 RPM.
Consider These Factors If You Want To Buy The Best Benchtop Wood Lathe: Small Project
What if you want to purchase a small benchtop lathe for home use? Well, the features to consider will be different from those of a full-sized unit. For a benchtop lathe, the most important features to consider will be.
The first thing to consider is what accessories the lathe comes with. A chuck will be a great accessory to have. In particular, a four-jaw chuck. While a three-jaw chuck may offer convenience, it cannot compare to a four-jack in terms of precision.
A faceplate is another accessory that I recommend. This tool will come in handy when you have to turn odd-shaped things.
Even though mini lathes tend to cost considerably less, you still want a machine that will last. Cast iron is the most common material used to make these machines. This metal is durable and very sturdy.
For an excellent mini lathe that will serve you for a long time, I recommend a cast iron.
While full-sized lathes feature powerful motors of up to 2HP, the same cannot be said about their benchtop counterparts. For benchtop, 1HP is the most you can expect to get. Most benchtop features a ½ or 3/2 HP motor.
If you can find a 1HP model, it will make a better option. However, ¾ HP will be sufficient for most people’s small projects.
The amount of money you want to spend on a mini-lathe also matters. Most mini lathes cost less than $500. Thus you should get one that suits your needs, and that is within your financial reach.
Top 3 Best Lathe For Turning Large Bowls Reviews
If you want a lathe that will serve you for a lifetime, be ready to cough up some serious dough. And if you are ready to spend thousands of dollars on a tool, it needs to be the right tool. As such, you will need to be very careful about the lathe you spend your hard-earned money on.
That being said, here are my top three best wood lathe for turning large bowls picks.
Powermatic 3520C 35″x20″ Lathe
Whenever I think about the best full-sized lathes, Powermatic is the first brand that comes to mind. In particular, the company’s 3520 series of lathes. There are 3 models in the series, with the 3520C model being the best of the bunch and has a pretty hefty price tag as well.
An upgrade on both the 3520A and 3520B models; this is one heavy unit. So heavy is it that there are pianos that weigh less. So if you decide to buy this unit, just know that you will need help moving it.
My favorite thing about this unit is that the spindle speed can be adjusted from as low as 15 RPM to 3200RPM. This, coupled with the distance between centers of 35.5 inches, means you can turn large bowls with ease.
But what about its power output? Firstly, this uses a 220v power outlet. So you may need to call an electrician if you only have 110v sockets. Secondly, it features a 2HP motor.
No doubt this unit will be a step-up for anyone who can afford it and have enough space. Measuring 69.5 by 36.5 by 47 inches, this machine will take a considerable amount of space in your shop.
So is it worth it? Yes, it is, especially if quality and longevity are what you are looking for.
Grizzly Industrial G0766-22″ x 42″
The Grizzly G0766 is significantly cheaper than the Powermatic 3520c. More importantly, it is more affordable than its closest sibling, the Grizzly G0800. So why should you go for the G0766 instead of the pricier G0800?
Honestly, the G0766 offers more value for your buck. It can handle the same workload as its pricier sibling. Thus I don’t think there is that big difference between the two to justify the G0800 heftier price tag.
While this is marketed as a 3HP lathe, I wouldn’t say it is a true 3HP machine. But this isn’t such a big deal for me, and it’s not something you will hear users complaining about.
Especially when it offers a whopping 22-inch swing and a distance between centers of 42 inches, but what excited me the most was the two-speed ranges. There is a low range of 100 to 1200 RPM and a high of 100 to 3200RPM.
Not as impressive as the 15RPM minimum range of the Powermatic, but it should still serve you well when turning large bowls.
Overall, this is perhaps the closest you can get to a budget full-sized lathe.
Laguna Tools Revo Lathe 220v 2HP 18″/36″
The Laguna Tools Revo Lathe is available in two variants an 18 x36 inch and a 24 x36 inch. The former is the cheaper of the two, and I feel it is a better option for those on a tight budget.
Its 18-inch swing over bed and 36-inch distance between centers make it the smallest among my three best wood lathe for turning large bowls. However, this is still sufficient for turning significantly larger bowls than a mini benchtop lathe.
As for its spindle speed, it is variable and comes in two ranges. You have the 50 to 1300RPM lower range and the higher range of 135 to 3500RPM. Personally, I prefer using the 50 to 1300 RPM range for bowl turning.
Also, there is a reverse and forward switch to switch the rotations between reverse and forward movements. There is a control panel with all the knobs and switches needed to operate the machine.
This control panel is conveniently positioned at an angle that makes it easy to access. The height from the ground is also comfortable for most.
Best Wood Lathes For Bowls Under $1000 For Semi-Professional Projects
If you are a bit more price-sensitive, then a medium-sized lathe will be a better fit. So if you are not ready to spend $1000 plus on a lathe, there are plenty of options in the under $1000 price market to choose from.
JET JWL-1221VS 12 “x21” Variable-Speed Wood Lathe
The Jet JWL is the great lathe for the money and one that I have been using for a while now. Some people have labeled this the best wood lathe for medium bowls, and it’s hard to argue with them.
One of the reasons it is labeled as the best is its adjustable spindle speed. The speed ranges from 60 to 3600 RPM. This is quite impressive for a lathe of its price range. Setting the speed is relatively easy also.
This machine is a bit bigger and heavier than most of its competitors. But as we have already seen, this is a good thing.
The 1HP motor runs on a standard 115volt, which is excellent for those of us who use 115v power outlets. There is also a reverse sliding switch. When I first got this machine, I often wondered whether the switch was in reverse or forward mode.
While I wish the switch’s design was different, the reverse and forward features are always handy to have.
So what accessories does it come with? Inside the package, you get a faceplate, two tool rests, and a knock-out bar.
Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe
Let’s start with the Delta Industrial 46-460, which is one of my favorite midi lathes. An upgraded version of its predecessor, this unit has some exciting surprises.
Most midi lathes I have used tend to have a swing over bed size of about 12 inches, and this unit is no exception. But what makes this a favorite of mine is the fact that you can extend the bed by an impressive 42 inches.
The previous model had a ¾ HP motor. This model comes with a 1HP motor, which means it can handle more demanding tasks than its predecessor.
Being a midi lathe, it does not have the same speed minimum range as bigger options, but its 3 spindle speed setting is still impressive. You can adjust the speed manually or with automatic variable speed control.
The three-speed settings are 250-750 RPM, 2,600-1800RPM, and 1350-4000RPM. While it is relatively quiet, I found it to be a bit loud at the highest speed.
It comes with several accessories, including two tool rests. There is a 6 inch and a 10-inch tool rest. You also get a 3-inch chrome faceplate.
NOVA 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini Lathe
The Nova 46300 is more of a mini lathe than a midi. It weighs 80 pounds, which in the world of lathes is incredibly lightweight. Though not as powerful as the other two midi lathes, it is still a capable contender.
The swing capacity is what you would expect from this kind of lathe. At 12 inches, it makes it easy to turn medium-sized bowls.
While it is the smallest of the three midi lathes on the list, it features three-speed settings. With these settings, you can adjust the spindle speed from 250 RPM to 4000 RPM.
For hobbyists, this is perhaps the best lathe for bowl turning. It sits in between a full-sized lathe and a medium-sized one. Thus it will not take up a lot of space in your shop, but should off you improved performance compared to other mini lathes.
The 3/4HP motor is not inspiring, but for such a machine, it is understandable.
Best For Small Woodturning Projects Under 500
If you are just starting out or own a hobbyist, a small wood lathe will make more sense than a full-sized or midi. There are plenty of options in the mini-lathe categories. These are usually smaller units with a price tag of under $500 and mostly made of cast iron.
WEN 3421 3.2-Amp 8″ by 12″ Variable Speed Mini Benchtop Wood Lathe
WEN is a brand that always comes to mind whenever I think about mini benchtop lathes. The company has an excellent selection of these little machines. But my favorite is the WEN 3421.
Why you ask? For starters, this cast iron machine has a 3.2 amp motor. Now, this is a far cry from the 2HP motor of the likes of the Powermatic. But for its size, it’s pretty impressive. Not many 8 inch lathes have this kind of motor.
It should give you enough power to work with 12 inch long locks of wood. Due to its size, I recommend using it for small bowls of less than 12 inches.
As with other lathes, this one has a variable spindle speed. The speed can be adjusted from 750 to 3200 RPM. This speed range is a bit higher than that of pricier models, and there is a good reason.
Smaller pieces require a higher spindle speed than larger blocks of wood. Thus this speed range is suitable for the WEN 3421.
SHOP FOX W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe
Another name that is synonymous with small-sized lathes is shop fox. So how does its W1704 compare to the WEN 3421? In terms of size, both are 8-inch lathes. Meaning they can accommodate blocks of 8 inches in length, and both feature a cast iron construction.
But where this model has the edge over the competition is the width of blocks it can take. It can handle 13 inch wide blocks. As for speed, it ranges from 700 to 3200 RPM. Which, as I mentioned, is standard for small-sized lathes.
This is also ideal for small projects. And with its ⅓ HP motor, it should handle most small projects with ease.
For non-spindle work, it does feature a 53/4 inch faceplate. While it ticks many of the right boxes, I have found that finding replacement parts for it can be a nightmare.
Other than this, it is still an excellent option for hobbyists and people who are starting out in woodturning.
Why are lathes so dangerous?
Lathes can be dangerous power tools even to the most experienced of us. As you may know, a lathe uses a spinning spindle to chip off pieces of wood. This spindle spins at very high speeds, some reaching up to 4000 RPM.
Anything that gets caught will be pulled towards the machine at such high speeds, be it a shirt sleeve or even your hair. Lathes have been the cause of countless injuries and should be used with care.
Setting up a new lathe
When you get your new lathe for the first time, you may be tempted to use it right away. And while I understand your excitement and eagerness, there are a couple of things we need to do first.
The first thing we need to do is remove the drive spur center and the live center. Once you have removed them, the two examine them to ensure the tips are in good shape and are not bent.
Also, ensure the morse taper on the headstock is clean. You can use a compressor to clear out the taper before returning the live spur center.
The next important thing to do is to check the lathe’s alignment. To do this, loosen the tailstock and move it close to the headstock without touching it. Tighten down the tailstock and look closely at the points of the spur center and live center.
Ideally, the two should line up perfectly, and if they do not, you need to align them. In case they are not aligned, pop opens the headstock to access the belt. You will notice Allen screws inside the tailstock.
Loosen these four screws and the tension of the belt. Next, with a rubber mallet, tap the headstock in the direction you need to align the tips, either left or right. Once done, tighten the four screws in the headstock again.
Frequently Asked Questions
What size lathe is suitable for me?
This will depend on what you want to do with the lathe. For turning small bowls and other small pieces, a small benchtop unit of 8 by 12 inches will do. However, if you plan on working on larger workpieces, a medium-sized one of more than 12 inches will be ideal. For professionals who work on large projects, full-sized lathes are the suitable options.
What is a suitable lathe for beginners?
A min or benchtop lathe that is inexpensive can be used on small projects, which is easy to move.
Should I wear safety gloves when using a lathe?
Safety gloves are always recommended when using a lathe. The gloves protect your hands while handling the lathe.
Which is the best midi wood lathe?
From my list, I would have to go with the JET JWL-1221VS 12 “x21” Variable-Speed Wood Lathe, which performed better than the other two models on my list.
Lathes come in all sizes, and the best wood lathe for turning bowls will depend on your needs. Mini or benchtop lathes are suitable for beginners and hobbyists. Full-sized models, on the other hand, are ideal for professionals.
Last update on 2023-06-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API