Best Wood Lathe for Beginners (Our Picks for 2023)


If you consider yourself a hobbyist woodturner then a good quality wood lathe is a must. Your choice of a wood lathe largely depends on the projects you will be tackling and your budget.

For beginners, finding a wood lathe that is user-friendly, reliable, and safe is crucial.

We dedicated our time and effort into researching and testing multiple wood lathes to identify the best options for beginners. Our top picks are user-friendly, reliable, and versatile.

Best Wood Lathes for Beginners

1. Shop Fox W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe

SHOP FOX W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe

We highly recommend the Shop Fox W1704 for beginners seeking a reliable, easy-to-use wood lathe.


  • Sturdy cast iron construction
  • Variable speed control
  • Compact design for small projects


  • Limited capacity for larger projects
  • Requires fine-adjustment of tailstock
  • Some quality control issues with parts

When I first tried the Shop Fox W1704 1/3-Horsepower Benchtop Lathe, I had no difficulties getting started, thanks to its straightforward setup.

The variable speed control made changing speeds super easy. The compact design was perfect for small projects like pens or bowls.

However, as I continued using the lathe, I noticed that it might not be suitable for larger projects due to its limited capacity.

Additionally, the tailstock required some adjustment, which could be challenging for absolute beginners. It’s important to remember that while the cast iron construction is sturdy, there have been some quality control issues with parts.

Despite these minor drawbacks, the Shop Fox W1704 is a great choice for beginners. Its ease of use, variable speed control, and durable construction make it suitable for learning the art of woodturning.

If you’re just starting and looking for the best wood lathe, this one is definitely our top pick.

2. Excelsior 5-Speed Mini Lathe

Excelsior 5-Speed Mini Lathe - Cast Iron Mini Wood Lathe Turn Bowls 10” & Spindles 17-3/4" in – Mini Lathe Machine for Wood for Chair Legs, Small Table Legs, & Decorative Woodturning - Turning Machine


  • Powerful 1/2 HP motor and solid cast-iron construction
  • 5 adjustable speeds for various woodworking projects
  • Space saving on workbench with the 18″ distance between centers


  • Users may outgrow it as their projects increase in complexity
  • The 80.5-pound weight might make it difficult to move around
  • Additional accessories might be needed for more advanced users

When we first started using the Excelsior 5-Speed Mini Lathe, we immediately noticed its robust build and the 1/2 HP motor, which provides enough power for most beginner woodturning projects. Its solid cast-iron construction adds stability and reduces vibration, making it easier for new users to get comfortable while creating their first pieces.

The Excelsior Mini Lathe boasts five different speeds (760, 1100, 1600, 2200, and 3200 RPM) to accommodate a variety of project sizes and types. This feature allowed us to adjust the speed according to the project’s requirements easily.

The 18″ distance between centers ensures that the lathe doesn’t take up a lot of space on your workbench, making it an ideal option for those with limited space.

While the Excelsior 5-Speed Mini Lathe is perfect for beginners, some users might find themselves outgrowing it as their projects increase in complexity.

Nevertheless, it’s still an excellent investment for those starting their woodturning journey and learning the basics. The 80.5-pound weight might make it a bit difficult to move around, but it also adds stability during the operation.

Advanced users might want to invest in additional accessories for more specialized projects, but the lathe offers a perfect foundation on which to build.

3. WEN LA3421 3.2-Amp 8-Inch by 13-Inch Variable Speed Mini Benchtop Wood Lathe

WEN LA3421 3.2-Amp 8-Inch by 13-Inch Variable Speed Mini Benchtop Wood Lathe , Black


  • Offers variable speeds from 750 to 3200 RPM
  • It comes with two interchangeable tool rests for added support
  • User-friendly clamping system makes adjustments simple and precise


  • Not suitable for large-scale projects
  • May require added investment in accessories for specialized tasks
  • The motor might struggle with heavy workloads

We recently had the chance to take the WEN LA3421 3.2-Amp 8-inch by 13-inch variable speed mini benchtop wood lathe for a spin and found it to be an excellent choice for beginners looking to hone their skills in turning pens, bowls, cups, chess pieces, and other small workpieces. Its compact size and beginner-friendly features make this a great starter lathe.

Setting up this wood lathe was a breeze, as it arrived about 90% pre-assembled. The instructions might have been unclear in some parts, but if you are familiar with similar tools or follow instructional videos online, you can figure it out in no time.

The soft-start 3.2-amp motor starts gradually to maximize safety and prevent damage. The variable speed control allows you to adjust the rotations per minute anywhere from 750 to 3200 according to your needs.

However, it is essential to remember that this is a mini benchtop lathe and is not suitable for large or heavy-duty projects. You will need to be patient while working with this lathe, as the motor might struggle if you apply too much pressure or work too quickly.

It might also require some extra investment in accessories if you plan to work with specialized tasks.

The WEN LA3421 Variable Speed Mini Benchtop Wood Lathe is a solid choice for those just starting in the world of woodturning. With its easy-to-use features, versatility, and beginner-friendly design, this lathe is perfect for small projects and gaining experience in the craft.

4. JET JWL-1440VSK Wood Lathe

JET JWL-1440VSK, 14" x 40" Wood Lathe with Legs, Variable Speed, 1Ph 115/230V (719400K)


  • Sliding headstock with 360-degree pivot
  • Variable speed from 400-3,000 RPM
  • Sturdy build and user-friendly design


  • Minimum speed of 400 RPM might be too high for some projects
  • Banjo might crack under stress
  • Heavy setup

When we used this lathe, we found the sliding headstock with a 360-degree pivot to be extremely helpful for turning a wide range of projects. The seven positive locking positions allow for flexibility and adaptability, ensuring you can work with ease and precision.

We appreciate the variable speed range of this lathe, which spans from 400 to 3,000 RPM. It gives you control over your turning projects and helps you achieve the desired results. The build quality of the JET JWL-1440VSK is impressive as well, with a cast iron construction that provides stability and durability.

However, the machine is not without its drawbacks. We found that the minimum speed of 400 RPM might be too high for some projects, potentially causing issues with stability and safety. Additionally, a few users reported that the banjo cracked while outboard turning, so this is something to be aware of when using the machine under stress.

While the setup of the JET JWL-1440VSK wood lathe is relatively straightforward, it is quite heavy and may require additional assistance to complete.

Despite a few drawbacks, we believe the JET JWL-1440VSK wood lathe is an excellent investment for anyone looking for a versatile, beginner-friendly wood lathe.

5. WEN LA3424 4.5-Amp 12-Inch by 18-Inch 5-Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe

WEN LA3424 4.5-Amp 12-Inch by 18-Inch 5-Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe , Black


  • Five-speed options for enhanced control
  • Compact design makes it suitable for small workshops
  • Comes with useful accessories and two-year warranty


  • Manual belt adjustment may take getting used to
  • Lacks a reverse function
  • May not be ideal for larger projects

We found the five operating speeds of the WEN LA3424 (520, 900, 1400, 2150, or 3400 RPM) incredibly useful when working on different workpieces.

With its 4.5A motor providing ample torque, the lathe held our workpieces securely and made turning projects like table legs, bowls, and chess pieces a breeze.

Although the lathe is sturdy and weighs over 70 pounds, it’s compact enough to fit in smaller workshops without taking up too much space. We appreciate the inclusion of essential accessories such as the 3-1/8 inch faceplate, MT2 tailstock, and headstock. All of these make it easy for us to complete non-spindle workpieces and have more versatility with our projects.

One downside we noticed was the manual belt adjustment for switching speeds. While not a significant issue, it does require getting used to if you are new to woodturning.

The lack of a reverse function can be limiting, and the wood lathe may not be suitable for larger projects.

However, for beginners and smaller projects, the WEN LA3424 Wood Lathe meets our expectations and comes highly recommended. With WEN’s two-year warranty and excellent customer support, you can confidently start your woodturning journey with this fantastic product.

Beginner Tips for Choosing a Wood Lathe

When looking for the best wood lathe for beginners, there are several factors to consider. You want to ensure the lathe you choose fits your needs and skill level.


Smaller benchtop lathes are great for turning pens, bottle stoppers, and other small projects. If you plan to turn bowls or larger items, a more powerful and larger floor-standing lathe may be necessary.

Motor Power

The power of the motor is another crucial factor. A lathe with a motor that’s too weak for can be frustrating to work with. Generally, a motor with a minimum 1/2 HP (horsepower) is suitable for beginner projects. However, if you intend to work on larger projects or hardwoods, a more powerful motor may be required.

Variable speed control

Variable speed control allows you to adjust the speed of the lathe based on the specific task or material. Starting with a slow speed is often easier for a beginner, giving more control while you are gaining confidence in your turning skills.

Higher speeds can be used for tasks like sanding and finishing as you become more advanced.

Safety features

Look for a lathe with a safety switch that can quickly stop the motor in case of an emergency. Some models also include a safety shield that prevents wood shavings and chips from flying towards you.

Ease of use

Look for lathes with easy-to-adjust tool rests, locking levers for securing the workpiece, and self-ejecting tailstocks. These features can make your turning experience more enjoyable and efficient.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which lathe is ideal for bowl turning as a beginner?

We recommend a midi lathe with variable speed control for beginners, as it provides enough power and stability for bowl turning without being too overwhelming. Look for a lathe with a swing capacity of around 10-12 inches and a motor of at least 0.5 horsepower. This will ensure that you have the correct size and power needed for successful bowl turning.

Which brands of wood lathe are most trusted?

Jet, Wen, Shop Fox Delta, Rikon, and Nova are some of the most trusted brands in the market. Each brand offers a variety of wood lathes catering to different skill levels and project types. While choosing a wood lathe, carefully evaluate the features, customer reviews, and warranty period offered by each brand for their products.

Is investing in a wood lathe worthwhile for a beginner?

Investing in a wood lathe can be a great choice for beginners who are passionate about woodturning.

A good quality wood lathe will make the learning process easier and provide room for growth and improvement in your skills.

Consider starting with a budget-friendly midi lathe; as you gain experience, you can upgrade to a larger, more powerful model.

Can you recommend any beginner wood lathe projects?

Certainly! Here are a few beginner-friendly wood lathe projects to help develop your skills:

  1. Pens: Turning pens is a popular and easy project for beginners. There are plenty of pen kits available that you can use to create beautiful, custom pens.
  2. Bottle stoppers: Create unique bottle stoppers using various woods and materials. This project will help you practice your shaping skills.
  3. Bowls: Start with simple bowls and progress to more intricate designs as you become comfortable with the lathe.
  4. Candlesticks: Turning candlesticks allows you to experiment with different shapes, giving you more confidence in handling the lathe and chisels.

Remember to start small and gradually increase the complexity of your projects as you gain experience and confidence. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the learning process!