Choosing a Woodworking Lathe for Your Woodworking Project

Your woodworking project may at some point require a woodworking lathe, which will spin the wood at a regulated speed so you can shape it with any of a variety of sharp cutting tools. Woodworking lathes are either small and sit on a table top, or large, with their own attached legs that can be fastened to the workshop floor. The two most important types of woodworking lathe attachments are faceplate turners and spindle turners. Learn more from the explanations below about the types of woodworking lathes and how to choose the correct type for your project.

Tabletop and Freestanding Lathes

Use a tabletop lathe for a small project that you can hold in one hand such as a bowl, a cup, or miniature furniture for models or doll houses. Micro tabletop lathes are useful for detailed work on very small objects like these, while mini lathes can handle larger projects. Use a freestanding lathe for long wood pieces to make lamp bases, table and chair legs, or for making large bowls more than 12 inches wide. Choose a freestanding lathe that can swing outward away from the lathe bed to make broad bowls, either shallow or deep. Freestanding lathes specifically designed for making bowls can weigh up to 800 pounds and have up to a 44-inch swing radius.

Spindle and Faceplate Turning

Spindle turning creates a long slim cylinder such as a table leg. You set a long wood piece between two cylinders called spindles, on the top and bottom of the lathe, which, as they turn, carve the piece of wood into a tubular shape. With a faceplate turner, you attach the wood to a flat face on the lathe, and the other stock of the lathe has a spindle on it, which hollows out the wood in a broad flat convex or concave shape, creating a bowl. Choose a lathe which can be adapted to both kinds of work if your customer range is varied, or you can have two lathes set up in your woodworking shop—one for each type of turning.

Tool Rest

Lathes come equipped with a tool rest, which holds the wood chisel steadily as it moves with the lathe. The tool will remain in contact with the wood and will not easily fly out of your hand. The tool rest can be adapted to hold a sandpaper block or sponge, which you can use to burnish off rough edges and splinters from the wood piece. The tool rest is sized proportionally to the lathe, so it can measure from 6 inches to 14 inches in length.

Lathe Speed

Mini lathes are usually rated in speed from 500 rpm to about 3500 rpm. Larger freestanding lathes can run at much slower speeds for greater control, from 0 rpm to just over 3000 rpm.

How to Choose a Woodworking Lathe

Assess the kinds of work you do most often, the materials you work with, the size of your projects and the amount of detailed lathe turning they will require in order to choose and purchase the kind of woodworking lathe that will meet your needs.