7 Key Features to Consider When Looking for Your Next Wood Lathe

A wood lathe is an important tool in the world of wood turning. It is used to create a wooden object of near perfect symmetry, but can also be used in conjunction with other tools for things like sanding, knurling, facing and deformation.

The wood lathe is quite complex and it consists of a motor and 2 points. These 2 heads are referred to as the headstock and the tailstock. It also includes a chisel or a gouge. We have decided to dig a little deeper and look at the top wood lathes to help you and show you which important features you will need to look at when purchasing a wood lathe.

Key features to look for in the top wood lathes:

Since wood lathes are not all the same and there are also various brands, it is fundamentally important that you know which features are the most important. This will not only ensure that you get great value for your money, but it could also help you find the perfect needle in this large haystack.

1. Base:

The base or foundation of a woodworking tool is generally important and this is also a key feature that you need to look for in your lathe. No matter which size wood lathe you choose to invest in, the bed is crucially important.

The bed is the horizontal beam that which stretches across the base of the lathe. This is generally made from cast iron and we would recommend cast iron for its stability and weight. If the beam is not heavy enough, this could potentially cause some vibrations, which will affect the quality of your work.

While the lightweight lathe might be might seem easier to use, the heavier and more stable lathes will be much easier to control and work with. Many woodturners have also resorted to adding their own weights to the lathe, which could include sand or any heavy stone objects.

2. Length:

Another thing to need to keep in mind is the length of the lathe. The headstock is securely attached to the one end, while the tailstock is on the other end. This is used to accommodate the spindle. If you are looking to turn those larger items like table legs, you might need to look for a longer bed.

There are also many versatile lathes that can be purchased for affordable prices on the market today. These lathes, like the midi lathes, are capable of extending the bed, which will allow you to turn spindles of up to 36 inches.

3. Height:

Height is another thing you will need to keep under consideration. The typical lathe should perfectly come up to your elbows when you are working. This will eliminate the need for bending over, which could reduce your working efficiency.

The great thing about the height is that you might be able to adjust this and put things underneath it to increase the height to where you need it to be. We do not recommend working with a lathe that is too high as this will be problematic when it comes to aligning the tools properly and you will have some accuracy issues when working.

4. Motor:

Most lathes have motors that range from 1.8 HP-3.0HP. These typically have variable speed controls and that also range from 500RPM-4000RPM. The bigger motors are generally designed for those larger wooden pieces. If you plan on turning smaller items like wooden pens, the smaller and motor should be effective.

The prices also vary greatly on these motor and if you want a bigger motor, you should certainly be ready to spend a few extra bucks. The great thing about these bigger motors is the fact that they can be used multi-functionally for those smaller items as well and they are also much heavier and more stable.

5. Head Stock:

The head stock is attached on the one side of the lathe and if you intend on turning bowls and spindles, you will need to have a decent faceplate to hold the wooden piece without the tail stock. If your intent is to turn larger items, you will need to have a headstock that turns away from the base. This should give you enough clearance and allow you to use the tool rest.

6. Tailstock:

The tailstock is found on the opposite side of the base. This will keep the spindle centered and rotating evenly. The tailstock need to securely lock in place at any position on the bed. If the tailstock is not secure, you might find yourself with an unbalanced working experience, which could potentially spoil your perfect wood piece.

7. Tool rest:

Safety is generally the number one thing that should be taken into consideration when looking for a good wood lathe. As a rule of thumb, any tool that is used should be rested in the tool rest. This will just give you much more safety and eliminate those stubborn and unnecessary injuries.

The tool rest should be able to securely lock into place anywhere on the lathe. This will also ensure that you have no reason to take risks and use the lathe without the tool rest. More tool rests can also be added when turning larger items on your lathe. If the tool rest is not secure and locked into place, you should not even take the risk of using it as a loose tool rest is just as dangerous as no tool rest.

A few other things to keep in mind:

· The size of the project you are taking on: Knowing the size of the project you are taking on will make choosing the perfect wood lathe that much easier. The mini wood lathes are perfect for those casually working in their garages, but a more efficient midi lathe might be the best option if you intend on turning larger items.

· Available work space: You should always keep in mind how much space you have available for the lathe. Since these things can be quite large, the sometimes might not fit anywhere. If you intend on turning larger pieces, you should find a bigger working space with more moving freedom for your larger lathe.

· Power Switch: The power switch is sometime overlooked and this is still a crucial part of the lathe. The power switch should be large and easily accessible. If something does go wrong, the power switch can simply be flipped and the entire operation can be stopped.

· Maintenance: The drive belts should also occasionally be checked and this could sometimes begin to wear and tear. This will negatively affect your work. Maintaining and keeping your lathe in order is a responsibility you need to keep.

Final Thoughts:

Now that you know how to choose a wooden lathe, you should not have any excuses for not getting the ideal one to suit your needs. We would like to thank you for reading this article and we would also like to encourage you to share a few more of your lathing experiences, as well as tips with us if you think we might have missed any.

Photo: Wood Turning, by Chris Parflitt, cc license

  • June 26, 2017
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