A wood lathe is an extremely useful power tool for any decent woodworking workshop. It is a mechanical tool that spins the object that is being worked on around a horizontal axis at a high rate, thus allowing the woodworker to shape the object in question using various metal tools, such as chisels.
Basics of Woodturning
Typically these metal woodworking tools are held against the tool rest, which in turn is attached to a rail, which gives the tool stability and precision that would be hard to achieve by simply holding the hand tool in your hands while woodturning.
A wood lathe can be used for many different tasks from very small to larger projects, for example creating furniture legs, shaping bowls and plates, or making any other objects that have radial symmetry about one axis. Without a wood lathe creating such wooden parts would be very slow and tedious. With a lathe, however, these tasks are simplified immensely because the machine spins the pieces of wood at a very high speed with its powerful motor.
The wooden piece is usually attached to a lathe chuck, which is a kind of a holding mechanism, while the other end is pressed against a live center.
Usually, after shaping the wooden part using a metal cutting tool, the tool rest is removed for safety reasons, but the wooden piece is left spinning. This is when the woodworker can take a piece of sandpaper and apply it to the still spinning wooden object, thereby removing any unevenness and coarseness of the surface caused by the metal cutting tool. After this process is finished, what you have is basically a ready-made wooden detail that can be immediately used in constructing whatever piece of furniture you are working on. This wooden part that you just created now only needs varnishing or painting.
Good Lathe Projects
In the hands of a reasonably skilled woodworker, creating an object such as a table leg may only take some minutes using a wood lathe. This greatly decreases the amount of time a person needs to spend on producing parts for furniture or whatever it is that they are making. And time is money, so eventually, getting the best wood lathe, with some practice, will save you a lot of money. That’s, of course, if your Workshop produces lots of wooden parts that require such radial symmetry. These tools are designed to provide efficiency and productivity in a working environment.
A wood lathe is definitely one of the best and first tools to get if you are setting up a reasonably serious workshop. Perhaps not every amateur woodworker will need a wood lathe in their shed, but any production workshop will have a hard time producing anything useful without one.
Choosing a Lathe
Before buying a wood lathe for your shop, it is highly recommended to do some online research and find the best wood lathe that will fit your particular needs. Which one exactly you need will depend on your requirements, and particularly in regards to the size and the precision of the details that need to be produced. So, have a look on the web and make a good choice.
There are many powerful wood lathes on the market, and many of them you can even buy on Amazon if you want to. You will need to decide what sort of lathe you want in terms of size: a full-size one with cast iron legs and tool storage, a mini lathe, or one of the medium sized midi lathes. The last two are usually benchtop lathes meaning they are not standalone machines.
In all likelihood, you would want a variable speed lathe, since working with only one spindle speed will be very limiting.
Best Options on the Market
Some of the top wood lathes are for example, the Shop Fox W1704, the Jet JWL1221VS and the PSI Woodworking TCLC10VS, which is a 10 inch swing midi bench top lathe. There are also models by Rockler Excelsior, Grizzly and Delta Industrial – all of these manufacturers produce top-notch wood turning lathes.
Pay attention to things like swing and RPM (rotations per minute), because these will determine the size and complexity of work you will be able to do: table legs need length, whereas bowls will need a lot of swing. The HP or horsepower will determine the power of the powertool. Additional features like a digital readout for RPMs, spindle lock, speed controls etc are always nice. Finally, you may want to look at CNC lathes that will do much of the cutting for you, making it physically easier, but perhaps limiting your creativity.
Some people even build their own lathes, but that not for eveyone: