How to choose the right lathe

Stationary Lathe Choices

The Nova/Teknatool DVR XP is a well performing intermediate lathe.  The strong points are its lack of drive belts, being a direct–drive reluctance motor.  However the electronic controls make speed changes somewhat slow compared to other electronic control systems.  The headstock pivots through 360-degrees, with detents at 15-30-90 degrees, but it does not travel and the locking mechanism can be quirky.  The toolrest/banjo assembly is good, the tool rest leaves a lot to be desired and the tailstock does not have the tool self-ejecting feature other modern lathes have within its price range.  Overall, it is a bit of a light-weight for serious woodturners, but more than adequate for the occasional or hobbiest turner.


For the same dollars, the Jet 1642 lathe (2 HP model) has the weight, stiffness and features of more expensive lathes.  Except for the tool rest/banjo assembly it is nearly without fault in its price range…and a better toolrest/banjo  assembly can be obtained from another manufacturer.


Probably the best lathe for the professional/semi-professional/dedicated hobbiest would be the Powermatic 3520B.  It is a well balanced, powerful and very well made tool, whose only fault that I have found lies in that it does not have a locking device for the spring-loaded spindle lock…a problem which is easily corrected with 3-minutes of effort.

Although this is the “baby” Powermatic lathe, it performs as well as, and in some cases better than, other lathes costing twice as much.


Bench-top Lathes 

Features to consider, in order of priority would be:

  • Horsepower
  • Mass
  • Speed control
  • Reverse function
  • Turning (Swing) diameter
  • Bed length
  • Cost


Most mini/midi lathes (there is no real distinction between them except for marketing claims) have low-torque ½ horsepower motors.  Jet this past year came out with a ¾ HP lathe (12-20) but I think they have over-rated the motor.  Delta has this past year come out with 1 HP motor in a 12-in swing lathe, having electronic variable speed (with reverse) and appears to be a real winner.  These lathes are available with purpose-built steel stands (to which castors can be easily fastened) which provides mobility to them; lathes mounted on benches tend to be difficult to use and  to store.


A studio should have a large capacity bandsaw of at least 18-inch capacity on the table, re-saw range of at least 12-inches and 2 ½  HP or better.  A combination belt/disc sander, a good 8” grinder with 120-grit wheels and a sharpening jig system, drill press and combination chip collection/air filter system sized appropriately for the shop area. 


Turning tools recommended for spindle and bowl turning are (we have a full post about tools, read it here):

  • 3/8-in bowl gouge fingernail profile
  • ½-in bowl gouge fingernail profile
  • 5/8-in bowl gouge fingernail profile
  • ½-in bowl gouge continental profile
  • 1-in HD curved bowl scraper
  • 3/8-in bedan
  • 1 ½-in skew
  • ¾-in skew
  • ¾-in curved scraper
  • 3/8-in spindle gouge
  • ½-in spindle gouge
  • 1-in squarenose scraper
  • 1/8-in diamond parting tool
  • 1/16-in fluted parting tool
  • Specialized deephollowing tools as needed
  • Coring (bowl saver) system as/if needed


- Capt. Jack Wayne

woodturning classes

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