Best Wood Lathe for Turning Bowls in 2021 – Reviews & Buyers Guide

What do you do with your lathe? Do you have a lathe to be able to do a lot of different projects or do you primarily use it for a specific purpose? Some woodworkers like to be able to do a multitude of different things while others simply have one or two steady projects that are all similar in nature.

If you’re a woodworker that mostly wants a wood lathe for turning bowls, then you need a wood lathe that is designed to allow you to do so. How do you choose the best wood lathe for turning bowls? When it comes to turning bowls, there are lots of different shapes and sizes.

In this guide, we will share with you our top picks for the best wood lathe for turning bowls. We had the opportunity to research and do some wood lathe testing to narrow it down the best wood lathes for this purpose specifically.

To choose these wood lathes, we considered specifically the power and the size. The average size for bowl turning on a wood lathe is recommended at least 16 inches so we kept these needs in mind as we narrowed down the wood lathes and we hope you can find something here that works well for you.

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The Best Wood Lathes for Turning Bowls Reviewed

We made every effort to truly find the best wood lathe for turning bowls and that is just what we came here to share with you. Our goal was to provide options for every budget and every need. You will find a complete overview and review, our rating of the specs, as well as some pros and cons for each lathe below.

Let’s get started!

1. Best Overall: Grizzly Industrial G0462 16×46 Wood Lathe

JET Variable Speed Midi Lathe

First up, is our best overall choice, which is a Grizzly Industrial G0462 16×46 Wood Lathe that is designed to be an industrial lathe with variable speed. This is an ideal wood lathe for turning bowls and has a lot to offer. It is large and in charge but it has the power and the size to handle bowl turning needs.

This good wood lathe is built with cast iron construction even down to the stable table legs. It has a nice tool rest base, including a flat wrench tool rests design. It’s a heavy-duty machine that doesn’t vibrate extensively. The swing is 16 inches and it hosts #2 spindle and tailstock papers as well. It operates on 2 HP so it has plenty of power as well.

Spec Ratings (Rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest)

  • Swing Length: 9
  • Materials: 10
  • Vibration: 10
  • Motor: 10

PROS:

CONS:

Why We Like It

This is the best wood lathe for turning thanks to the materials and build as well as the swing capacity and reliability. It’s simple and effective and it holds up great over time.

2. Budget Pick: Rikon Midi Lathe

Rikon Midi Lathe

This next option is a great budget-friendly variable speed midi lathe that will work really well for wooden bowl turn needs. It may not work as well for large bowls since it is a midi lathe and doesn’t have as large swing capacity as full size wood lathes generally do. However, the swing is 12.5 inches and it has spindle locking and the ability to index so you use this as your bowl turning lathes choice.

This variable speed midi lathe has a powerful 1 HP DC motor. The patented belt tensioning system works well for these lathe machines to make changing spindle speeds much easier and smoother. Rikon Midi Lathe still offers interchangeable tool rests and is made with solid cast iron to give you stability and reliability.

Spec Ratings (Rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest)

  • Swing Length: 8
  • Materials: 10
  • Vibration: 9
  • Motor: 10

PROS:

CONS:

Why We Like It

We love this variable speed wood lathe because it gives you something closer to a mini lathe that won’t take as much space but it still offers plenty of power as well as a great speed range so turning bowls will be a breeze.

3. Best Value: Laguna Tools Revo Lathe

Laguna Tools Revo Lathe

If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, you might want to check out Laguna Tools Revo Lathe . It’s a variable speed wood lathe and it has a good value for the money compared to other wood lathes that are similar in nature and design. This 2 HP best wood lathe is powerful and sturdy with an 18-inch swing capacity so you can make bowls of all sizes.

This wood lathe has a cast iron base and controls that are easy to use and read on the top. The spring loaded spindle lock is efficient and you have an outboard swing of 32 inches. The lathe machine uses a 3 phase output drive belt and has a significant variable speed range as well as a self ejecting floor to spindle center.

Spec Ratings (Rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest)

  • Swing Length: 10
  • Materials: 10
  • Vibration: 10
  • Motor: 10

PROS:

CONS:

Why We Like It

From a design that uses three pulley speed ranges to a tailstock cup center that will send wood flying when you need it, you can’t beat this machine. It’s one of the top rated wood lathes and it’s a great value for the money when you consider all of the details.

4. Jet JWL 1221VS 12 x 21 Variable Speed Wood Lathe Machine

Delta Industrial 12-Inch Variable Speed Midi Lathe

If you like the idea of lathe machines that are benchtop or perhaps not quite as large, check out this best wood lathe for turning bowls that is in the midi category. Forget the mini lathe that really can’t hold your bowl anyway, the Jet is in town with variable speed and lots of power for the tasks at hand.

This Jet JWL 1221VS 12 x 21 Variable Speed Wood Lathe Machine pretty much has it all but in a slightly smaller size. It’s a cast iron wood lathe with variable speed, interchangeable tool rest, and a digital readout for the RPM as well. The cast iron construction and the optimal speed range really set it apart. It even has a side unit for your lathe accessories.

Spec Ratings (Rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest)

  • Swing Length: 8
  • Materials: 10
  • Vibration: 10
  • Motor: 10

PROS:

CONS:

Why We Like It

With an electronic variable speed and cast iron build, this midi lathe gives you the minute luxuries of a mini lathe complete with all of the features and functions of a full size. It even has an interchangeable tool rest and a patent pending belt tension system.

5. Powermatic 1353001 Lathe with Risers

Powermatic 1353001 Lathe with Risers

This powerful wood lathe from Powermatic is big and bad. It’s certainly a premium model with heavy-duty build and a higher price tag. It’s highly-rated for quality and durability and it has a LOT to offer. The cast iron build gives you strength and stability. It also has a control box that can be moved for versatility.

From there, the spindle lock is ergonomic and self-locating so you can operate using one hand. You have a full tool rest and this even comes with a specialized bowl turner tool rest as well. Powermatic 1353001 Lathe with Risers comes on risers and wheels so you can be comfortable and move it around as needed. The motor is 2 HP to make quick work of any job you need.

Spec Ratings (Rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest)

  • Swing Length: 9
  • Materials: 10
  • Vibration: 10
  • Motor: 10

PROS:

CONS:

Why We Like It

We love this cast iron monster with variable speed and a mobile control box. You have safety, versatility, and functionality right at your fingertips. You also can’t beat that wood tool rest specialty piece that comes with it!

6. Jet JWL 1640EVS 16 x 40 Wood Lathe

Shop Fox W1704 Benchtop Lathe

Finally, check out this cast iron full size wood lathe from Jet. Jet JWL 1640EVS 16 x 40 Wood Lathe is versatile and powerful and has a really great variable speed range that we love. The cast iron base is solid and simple so you won’t have to worry about vibration or stability. You have 36 integrated indexing positions for plenty of versatility and usability as well.

The variable speed motor gives you spindle speeds of anywhere from 40 to 3,200 RPM and the spindle locking mechanism gives you full control while you work. The control box is sleek with an electronic variable speed readout and simple functions. Everything moves smoothly and the two tool rest lets you manage small projects or large projects however you need them.

Spec Ratings (Rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest)

  • Swing Length: 10
  • Materials: 10
  • Vibration: 9
  • Motor: 10

PROS:

CONS:

Why We Like It

On a whole, this is a high quality machine that delivers results. It has correct tension and a good center to center distance for just about any project. The tailstock taper and smooth movements bring you longer tool life that you can depend on.

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Buyer’s Guide to Choosing a Versatile Machine

Whether you like a good midi wood lathe or you want something large and in charge, you should know what to look for before you purchase a lathe. There are many different features and characteristics to keep in mind and be aware of.

In this buyer’s guide, we will share some of the details that we look at as well as some inspiration for you so that you can make a fully informed decision.

Motor Power

A JET JWL wood lathe used by a woodworker for making turning bowl project
Image by JET JWL wood lathe

Probably the first thing to consider is the motor power when choosing a lathe. Where some lathes like the Shop Fox brand are quality lathes, what you will find is they don’t always have enough power for certain tasks or have non spindle turning function.

When it comes to making bowls, we recommend sticking to a lathe that is 1-3 HP for the motor. Regardless of the size or type of bowl you are making, the best wood lathe for turning bowls needs to be powerful. We really prefer the 2 HP range but in some of the smaller lathes, this simply won’t be an option.

The problem is if the motor isn’t powerful enough, it tends to stall out for projects like turning bowls and that is the last thing that you want to run into.

Swing Size

The next thing to consider for a wood lathe is the size, particularly the swing size. In order to make a bowl, you will need significant swing. You will notice that some of the options here are as low as 12 inches. Keep in mind that these sizes will work for some bowls but will be more limited and may work best for small bowls that are about 10 inches or less.

For turning bowls, we recommend looking for a swing size between 16-20 inches. The bigger the better, because you will have far more versatility to make any style or size. However, 16 inches is typically sufficient for the majority of bowl needs.

In general, the swing length is the length of bowl that you will be able to turn so if you have a 16-inch swing, you should be able to turn 16-inch bowls. However, what we found is you typically will be restricted to about 2 inches less so if you have a 16-inch swing, plan on the bowl maximum to probably be more like 14 inches.

Of course, this variation really might depend on the bowl cut as well so keep that in mind but it is far better to be prepared with more swing capacity than to not have enough, right?

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Headstock and Tailstock

For turning bowls, the headstock and tailstock matter. You will want the headstock to be threaded. A threaded spindle will give you more versatility and control of the bowl. A standard thread will do but this is definitely something to look for. Otherwise, you will need to determine if you can adjust the headstock so it meets your needs.

Your tailstock isn’t quite as essential to be picky with but you need a reliable tailstock. The point of the tailstock is to help your spindle rotate evenly so you will want to pay attention to this. It is really best if the tailstock has a rapid access latch or similar mechanism so that you can lock the live center and keep it secure.

Budget

The prices of the best wood lathe for turning bowls can vary drastically. With the price variations also come quality and feature variations. As you consider your options, you will want to keep your budget in mind and then make a point to look for a wood lathe that meets your needs and fits into your budget requirements.

You can certainly find a wood lathe for bowls that falls into the $500-$900 range but you might be limited on some features or even size so keep that in mind. In addition, you will find that you can spend up to $5,000 for some of the highest quality lathes. Of course, there are lathes that are much closer to the $2,000 mark and they are typically great also.

Since this is such a broad range, you need to plan for the budget before you start shopping so that you can find a good option within your budget.

Materials

Buyer’s Guide to Choosing a Versatile Machine
Photo by Tobias Bjørkli from Pexels
Finally, the materials of the lathe are also important. We don’t just meant the base but the overall materials from spindle to base to motor and everything in between. The majority of lathes are made with cast iron, at least for a base but that doesn’t mean they all are.

 

You will also find solid metals and aluminum can still work nicely. The key here is you want your lathe to be solid and stable. The materials make a difference when it comes to vibration as well so a heavy-duty material that will be stable is absolutely essential to a quality lathe.

The reason that so many lathes are made with cast iron is because this material best absorbs the vibration of the machine while it turns. It’s also a very heavy material so be prepared for this as it will make a difference in the mobility of your lathe.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Best Wood Lathe for Turning Bowls?

Our top pick is the Grizzly Industrial. It has stability and versatility in a full-sized lathe that is easy to use and reliable. You will find that it is suitable for bowls and many other projects as well.

What is the Best Wood Turning Lathe for Beginners?

As a beginner, you may want to start small and then upgrade. We recommend the Rikon. It’s a reasonable price point and is a benchtop model so it’s not as large or heavy. On the plus side, it has a good size and a lot of capability so you won’t be drastically limited on what you can do with this machine.

What Turns a Bowl on a Lathe?

The spindle headstock and tailstock design are what turns your bowl. This spindle is directed by the speed controls and needs to be consistent and sturdy. Pay attention to the drive spurs and the live center as this will impact your bowl.

What is the Best Full Sized Wood Lathe?

If you want the best bang for your buck in a wood lathe, take a look at the Laguna that we shared. It’s a really great value with a lot of capability in a full size lathe.

Conclusion

We hope that you find this guide to be a valuable resource for choosing your next wood lathe. There are some really great options here and some valuable information for knowing what to look for. Which lathe do you have your eye on?

Expert Tip

The more power you have, the better your machine can handle the demands of bowl making. With a lower power motor, you might run into stalling which is incredibly inconvenient.

Did You Know?

In general, your lathe swing size will be about the size of bowl that it can handle. We recommend subtracting 1-2 inches from this to really know what your lathe can handle.

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