When you’re first starting out in the wonderful world of woodturning, it’s essential to have a lathe that’s designed for beginners.
But finding the best wood lathe for beginners can be challenging, and that’s exactly why I put this list together—to help you, an aspiring woodturner, find the best entry-level wood lathe so you can start learning the craft right away! Let’s begin!
In a hurry? The WEN LA3421 is by far the best wood lathe for beginners, as it’s easy to use, built-to-last, and capable of achieving terrific results. Plus, it’s affordable, versatile, and backed by a decent warranty.
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Best Beginner Wood Lathes
- #1 Best Overall – WEN LA3421
- Best Value – Shop Fox W1704
- Best Quality – RIKON 70-105 Wood Lathe
- Best Design – Excelsior 5 Speed Mini Lathe
- Best Wood Lathe With Legs – JET JWL-1440VSK
1. WEN LA3421 Wood Lathe – #1 Best Overall
- Perfect for turning pens, bowls, cups, chess pieces, and other small workpieces
- Features an 8-inch swing over the bed and a 13-inch distance between centers
- Soft-start 3.2-amp motor starts gradually to prevent damage to the motor and maximize safety
If you want to master the basics of woodturning in no time at all, you’ll need the WEN LA3421, as it’s undoubtedly the best mini wood lathe for beginners, mainly because it’s efficient, easy to use and maintain, and more affordable than other mini wood lathes.
The first thing I should point out is its slow-start, 3.2 AMP motor. Sure, it won’t go from 0 to 3,200 RPM in a second, but this slow-start feature protects the motor so it works well for a long time. I think it starts up just fine, and I definitely like the added protection.
It can generate 750-3,200 RPM, and its swing-over bed is 8”; the distance between centers is 13”.
Although it can be used for a wide variety of woodturning tasks, it’s great for turning bowls, cups, pens, chess pieces, and other small workpieces, as it’s compact and lightweight (44.5 lbs).
Like most mini wood lathes, it has MT1 spindle and tailstock tapers, and there are two tool rests (4-1/2” & 7”) so achieving top-tier results is easier.
And thanks to some pretty reliable lever clamping systems, the tailstock and tool rests can be adjusted quickly and easily.
What comes with it? Well, you’ll get a flat wrench, headstock spur center, tailstock cup center, knockout rod, and a 2.3” faceplate that’s ideal for non-spindle workpieces.
Finally, this benchtop wood lathe is backed by a two-year limited warranty, and this mainly covers defects related to materials or workmanship.
What I Liked
- It doesn’t have any bells and whistles, so it’s ideal for beginners who are learning the basics.
- It’s made of thick metal, so it’s sturdier and pretty resistant to impact damage.
- Its tool rests lock firmly in place, so you don’t have to worry about them moving during operation.
- Its motor is efficient and responsive, so you can count on it serving you well for years.
What I Didn’t Like
- May struggle a bit when turning a larger, heavier workpiece.
- Prone to overheating if you run it for awhile.
2. Shop Fox W1704 – Best Value
- Motor: 1/3 HP, 2 Amp, 110V, Single-phase, 60 Hz
- 12-inch distance between centers
- 8-inch swing over bed
The Shop Fox W1704 is an all-around fantastic mini wood lathe for beginners, but its most attractive quality is its super-low price. With this lathe, you can learn woodturning without investing a ton up front, so you won’t be out thousands if you decide woodturning isn’t for you.
Equipped with a 2 AMP, single-phase motor, this cast iron wood lathe can generate 700-3,200 RPM, yet it’s not as loud as other mini lathes when it’s running—love that!
Its swing-over bed is 8” and the distance between centers is 12”, so it’s technically smaller than the Wen system discussed previously.
An MT1 spur center is employed with an MT1 live center, and there’s a 3/4” x 16” TPI RH spindle.
It’s 23-3/8” long and 5-1/2” wide, and it weighs 52 lbs; I like that it’s a little heavier because more weight translates to more stability.
Another mini wood lathe that’s great for pen turning and small cutting/shaping tasks, it comes with two tool rests: one 4-1/2” rest and one 7” rest. It also comes with a 5-3/4” faceplate.
And like other mini wood lathes, it’s backed by a two-year limited warranty, so you can operate it with more peace of mind for at least the first two years.
What I Liked:
- Its variable-speed control knob is responsive and easy to adjust, so changing speeds is seamless.
- Its quieter, smoother motor ensures all workpieces will turn continuously.
- Its adjustable components are black while its base is beige, and this distinction makes it easier to use.
- Its tool rests are versatile, so they can slide up and down or lock firmly in place.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The locking nuts for the locking plate need to be tightened often.
- The tool rests are a little bumpy, and even minor bumps can lead to imprecise results.
3. RIKON 70-105 Wood Lathe – Best Quality
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Even though the RIKON 70-105 Wood Lathe is exceptionally powerful for a mini wood lathe, it’s still accessible to beginners, as it’s a relatively simple machine that comes with all the supplementary tools and components you’ll need to carry out a range of woodturning tasks.
Its motor is a 6 AMP juggernaut that can reach its top speed in mere seconds. As far as speed settings go, there are three: (1) 250-850 RPM (2) 430-1,450 RPM & (3) 950-3,200 RPM.
There’s a larger swing-over bed, and the distance between centers is 16-1/2”. Therefore, this wood lathe has more capacity than other beginner models, and I’m a big fan of this!
MT2 tapers are employed at the headstock and tailstock, and there are 24 indexing positions.
As far as dimensions go, this benchtop wood lathe is 39” x 13-3/8” x 15-5/8”, and it weighs 95 lbs. Obviously, it’s one of the heavier wood lathes, but this shouldn’t be a problem if you don’t plan on moving it much.
For special features, there’s a digital RPM readout to enhance accuracy, and it switches from forward to reverse spinning flawlessly every time.
There’s a ball bearing system for the spindle to ensure this vital component stays in good working order for many years, and all its locking handles are reliable and stick-resistant.
The control box is magnetic, so I can move it to a convenient spot before I start turning—talk about efficiency!
And if you add the 13-1/2 bed extension that’s sold separately, it can turn workpieces with diameters up to 15”.
Regarding what it comes with, you’ll get the following when you purchase this top-of-the-line wood lathe:
- 9-1/4” tool rest
- 6” tool rest
- Spur center
- Live center
- 3” faceplate
- Knockout bar
- Tool holder
And last but certainly not least, it comes with a five-year warranty, which makes the purchase even better!
What I Liked:
- Its components are machined to align perfectly, so achieving high-quality results is easy.
- It has the capacity to turn larger workpieces, so it’s more versatile than other entry-level lathes.
- Its movable magnetic box ensures it’s safer and easier to control.
- Its locking mechanisms don’t stick during adjusting, so you can make adjustments faster.
What I Didn’t Like:
- It’s not the most portable mini lathe because of its weight.
- The quill is prone to loosening, so you’ll end up tightening it a lot.
4. Excelsior 5 Speed Mini Lathe – Best Design
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Of course, many wood lathes are well-designed systems made of cast iron, but the Excelsior 5 Speed Mini Lathe takes durability and reliable operation to another level, and in many ways it can even measure up to full-size wood lathes.
It also has a powerful 1/2 HP motor that’s capable of generating up to 3,200 RPM, so it’s not just tough but strong too.
And on this mini wood lathe, there are five speed settings (as opposed to three): 760 RPM, 1100 RPM, 1600 RPM, 2200 RPM, and 3200 RPM.
Its cast iron structure is chrome-plated for added strength and visual appeal, and I love its non-slip feet because they ensure top-notch stability, whether I’m spinning small wooden objects or tackling larger projects.
As far as specs go, it has a 10” swing-over bed and the distance between centers is 18”.
There’s a spur center on the headstock, and the tailstock has a ball bearing live center. Also, an MT2 spindle taper is employed.
And unlike other beginner mini wood lathes, this one provides access to the pulley system, which is great if you—like me—want to know your tools inside and out so you can take care of them better.
It has cam-locking ratcheting adjustment levers to keep the adjustable components firmly in place during operation, and it comes with a knockout bar—as it should!
Finally, it has a removable safety switch, so it’s easy to shut down or turn off no matter how it’s positioned.
What I Liked:
- It’s built to last and has more capacity than other mini wood lathes, so it can take on larger projects.
- It has five speed settings instead of three, so it’s easier to get the exact speed you want.
- Its non-slip feet will keep it in place, whether it’s spinning quickly or slowly, forward or backward.
- It’s chrome-plated to ensure it can be both physically tough yet visually appealing.
What I Didn’t Like:
- It only has two bolt holes for an extension bed, so aligning an extension bed can be challenging.
- Its motor could burn out quickly if you constantly use it to turn pieces with larger diameters.
5. JET JWL-1440VSK – Best Wood Lathe With Legs
- Sliding headstock pivots 360 degrees with 7 positive locking positions (0, 30, 60, 90, 120, 180, and 270…
- Variable speed from 400-3,000 RPM
- Positive locking tool rest with redesigned clamping
JET is one of the most respected names in the wood lathe manufacturing space, so it should come as no surprise that the JET JWL-1440VSK is one of the best wood lathes on the market right now, and it’s the perfect machine for beginners and professionals alike.
A 230V system, it’s capable of generating 400-3,200 RPM, and I love that it reaches its max capacity in no time at all.
But one of the coolest things is its 360°-pivoting headstock with seven locking positions (0°, 30°, 60°, 90°, 120°, 180° & 270°). Thanks to this, the lathe has 36 indexing positions, so it’s incredibly versatile.
Its swing-over bed is 14-1/2”, and the distance between centers is 40”; this can be extended to 60” with the proper extender.
The headstock spindle bore is 3/8”, and the quill will travel 4-1/2”.
Like other wood lathes, it has an easy-to-see digital readout, and it comes with a tool rest that locks firmly in place no matter where it’s positioned.
But unlike all the other wood lathes on my list, this one has cast iron legs to ensure unbeatable stability, and there’s a positive-locking tool rest that has an innovative clamp.
Plus, there’s a safety key to prevent the tailstock quill from rotating unexpectedly, and if you’ve been around here awhile you know I’m all about extra safety!
As far as dimensions and weight go, this wood lathe is 74″ x 18″ x 49” and weighs 352 lbs, so it’s the heaviest product on my list by far.
And when you purchase it brand new, it comes with the following:
- Spindle index pin
- Spur center
- Live cone center
- Knockout bar
- Faceplate wrench
- Tool rest extension
Lastly, it’s backed by a five-year limited warranty, but only if the tool is going to be used for commercial woodturning. If not, it’ll be backed by a much-shorter two-year warranty.
What I Liked:
- The extension bed fits perfectly, so you can attach it in mere seconds.
- Reaches max RPM quickly and without straining the motor, so you can get to work quicker.
- It has the most versatile headstock I’ve seen, so you can do all kinds of woodturning tasks.
- It’s a stand-alone midi lathe, so it’s ideal for those who want to work standing up.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Doesn’t go slower than 400 rpm.
- Purchasing it is a big commitment, as it’s much more expensive than other lathes.
What to Consider When Buying a Wood Lathe for Beginners
Size & Capacity
When you’re just starting out, you don’t need a massive, full-size lathe. A mini lathe, on the other hand, is perfect for small projects.
Get something with a decent swing-over bed (8″+), and the distance between centers should be 14″ or more. After all, more capacity means more versatility.
And when you finally feel like you’ve mastered the mini lathe, start looking at midi lathes, as these are good transition tools for those who want to master the full-sized lathe one day.
Motor & Speed
Without a powerful and efficient motor, a wood lathe wouldn’t be able to spin workpieces as fast as it does.
So, when you’re shopping for a mini lathe, don’t settle for anything that can’t generate up to 3,200 RPM—this is the standard.
And if you can find a mini lathe that’s capable of generating less than 100 RPM, jump on it right away; most lathes can spin super fast but few can spin super slow.
Looking for more help to set-up your lathe? Check out the video below!
Most wood lathes have a cast iron construction, so they can withstand a lot. This heavy metal will make even a benchtop lathe hard to move, and that’s exactly what you want—stability!
Sure, a wood lathe shouldn’t be at risk of sustaining impact damage, but sometimes accidents happen, And when they do, it’s good to have a mini wood lathe that can take a hit.
A wood lathe technically could be operated without a tool rest, but this would be like driving a car without a steering wheel.
The tool rest is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a component on which woodturning tools rest while they’re removing material from the workpiece.
Many pen turners come with multiple tool rests—one large and one small.
Finally, the best tool rest will lock firmly in place, and it’ll be smooth all around so your woodturning tools never get hung up on little bumps, gaps, etc.
Headstock & Tailstock
The headstock and tailstock are two of the most important components on a mini wood lathe, but they’re also the most misunderstood components.
Usually, an MT2 taper is part of the headstock, and the tailstock is equipped with one of these as well.
Essentially, these components hold the workpiece in place, and a versatile wood lathe will have an adjustable headstock and tailstock.
Safety features are critical on a wood lathe, whether we’re talking about a mini wood lathe or a full-size wood lathe.
After all, this tool spins workpieces incredibly fast, so it can be real dangerous if there aren’t safeguards.
For example, some have emergency shutdown switches, a movable digital spindle-speed indicator, and state-of-the-art locking mechanisms for all adjustable components.
Price & Warranty
Most quality mini wood lathes go for $300-$400, but you can find capable models that are sub $300. And if you want an extremely capable mini lathe, expect to pay one- or two-thousand dollars.
As far as warranties go, the majority of mini lathes are backed by a multi-year warranty, and usually mini wood lathe warranties cover defects related to materials or workmanship.
Searching for a midi wood lathe? Check out these absolute best midi lathes!
To recap, the WEN LA3421 is the overall best wood lathe for those who are just starting out, as it’s easy to learn, capable, reliable, tough, and much more affordable than other mini lathes that are just as good.
The Shop Fox W1704 is one of the best wood lathes for anyone who’s looking to learn woodturning without making a huge investment up front, and in many ways it measures up to mini wood lathes that cost more.
Finally, there’s the RIKON 70-105 Wood Lathe, and this is the mini lathe to use if you know you’ll be using a professional wood lathe one day, as it’s well-built, efficient, and able to do complicated woodturning tasks.