The Best Wood Lathe for Turning Bowls: Buying Guide and Reviews

One of the key signs of a devoted woodworker is finding a lathe in their garage. The lathe is a statement that you’ve moved to the next level from assembling to crafting. It’s one of the most fun and challenge tools you’ll own, but it can make all the difference.

You move from the statement of, “I made that table” to “I crafted that table”. The lathe gives you the ability to handcraft and design each curve and cut of your wood. However, not all lathes work the best when your turning bowls. There are certain elements to look for when choosing a lathe when your end goal is making handcrafted bowls. We’ll take you step-by-step of the pros and cons as well as the features and benefits to find the best wood lathe for turning bowls.

Top-Rated Wood Lathes for Turning Bowls

  1. NOVA 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini Lathe (Our Pick)
  2. WEN 3420T Variable Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe (Budget Pick)
  3. Delta Industrial 46-460 Variable-Speed Midi Lathe (Premium Pick)
  4. Jet JWL-1015 Wood Working Lathe
  5. SHOP FOX W1704 Benchtop Lathe

Our top picks for the wood lathe for turning bowls

Our top pick for the best wood lathe for turning bowls is the NOVA 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini Lathe. Nova provides you with the 3-step pulley system and great speed range. Along with the quick action cam controls for precise adjustments we feel this is the best choice for the consumer.

Best Wood Lathes for Turning Bowls Reviews

1. Our Pick: NOVA 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini Lathe


Specifications

  • Motor Power: ¾ hp
  • RPM Range: 250 – 4000
  • Swing Over Bed: 12’’
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    Swing Over Center: 16.5”
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    Material: Metal

Key Features

  • 3 Pulley System
  • Grinder Wheel Add-on
  • Bed Extension

Features & Benefits

  • The NOVA comes with a powerful ¾ hp variable speed motor giving you precise control over your speeds for various projects.
  • This model’s RPMs range from 250 – 4000 RPMs which help you with lathe large blocks of wood all the way to the table legs.
  • With the 12 – 16.5-inch swing you can fit large wood blocks onto the table. You won't be limited by the NOVA if you’re trying to carve out a large bowl.
  • The NOVA also comes with an extendible bed option. It will extend up to 41 inches. Either it is a wide bowl or a long leg you can work on it with the NOVA.
  • This lathe is strengthened by a composite guard and a rapid access latch.
  • The On/Off switch has been enhanced for a faster start and stop. Additionally, it’s fitted with a no-vault release for safety.
  • The Nova comes with the 3 step Pull System which gives you flexibility and multiple speed ranges.
  • This model is solid cast iron which gives you peace of mind the machine is quality. Cast Iron helps drastically remove the vibration from the machine.
  • The lathe comes with a forward and reverses switch for changing directions.
  • The NOVA’s 12 point index is simple to fix to your desired adjustment. This comes in use a lot for furniture makers. Also gives dial in power when you call for it.
  • The Nova comes with the patented grinder wheel add on. The wheel locks into place and not only do you have a lathe but a chisel sharpener in one station.
  • The Nova grinder wheel comes with a whitestone wheel with an outer case and a safety eye shield
  • The NOVA lathe comes with a support line and a 2 -year warranty.  

Pros

  • Grinding Wheel Add-On
  • Variable RPMS
  • Table Extension

Cons

  • Heavy Machine

2. Budget Pick: WEN 3420T Variable Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe

Specifications

  • RPM Range: 750 – 3200
  • Swing Over Bed: 8’’
  • Swing Over Center: 12”
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    Material: Metal

Key Features

  • Variable Speed Operation
  • Slow Start Motor
  • Two-sized tool rest

Features & Benefits

  • The WEN variable speed lathe operates the RPMs of 750 -3200 giving you a nice range to work a variety of different projects.
  • The lathes swing gives you 8 inches of clearances over the bed and 12 inches over the center providing a good amount of room for larger blocks.
  • It also comes with an easy-to-use clamping system to help with adjustments.
  • The WEN comes in stock with a flat wrench, a headstock spur, a tailstock center, and a 5-inch face plate for turning non-metal items.
  • The MT1 tail stock is a strong feature measuring at 1inch by 8 TPI, the tailstock accommodates for a variety of accessories.
  • The WEN has a 2 amp motor slow starting system to prevent damage and enhance the safety of the operator.
  • This model comes with a handful of helpful accessories; a knockout rod, two tool rests, a faceplate, a tailstock cup center, and a headstock spur center.
  • With the easy-to-use high and low dial, you can control the speed of your lathe with accuracy.
  • WEN models come with an outstanding warranty and a strong customer support line to field your questions and or concerns.

Pros

  • Multiple Accessories
  • Slow Start Tech
  • Simple Speed Dial

Cons

  • No Grinder Wheel Option
  • Shorter RPM Range

3. Premium Pick: Delta Industrial 46-460 Variable-Speed Midi Lathe

Specifications

  • RPM Range: 1725 max
  • Motor Power: 1 HP
  • Swing: 12.5”
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    Material: Metal / Cast Iron

Key Features

  • Cast iron parts
  • Variable speed
  • Two direction turn

Features & Benefits

  • The Delta comes equipped with a powerful 1 hp motor to turn any size block you need.
  • Additionally, it has a max of 1725 RPMs with variable speed settings to handle various different projects you might have.
  • This lathe has a large swing capacity ranging up to 12.5 inches, giving you enough turning room to make a nice bowl.
  • The variable speed operation comes with a three-pulley system which gives you the luxury of changing speeds without the trouble of adjusting the belts.
  • With the forward and reverse option, you’re able to achieve a high-quality finish. Furthermore, it has a quick flip-switch system.
  • The Delta has a patented belt tension system allowing you an easy speed change with the correct tension.
  • This model comes equipped with key accessories like the heavy duty knockout handle, onboard storage to store tools, and a ball bearing live-center.
  • The Delta is made with cast iron to ensure you that you have a quality machine. Cast iron also is great for reducing vibrations from the late.
  • The lathe is backed with an amazing 5-year warranty, one of the best in the market.
  • Out of the box, the lathe comes with three faceplates, 6-inch and 10inch tool rests, tool rest base, knock out bar, live center and wrenches.

Pros

  • Included accessories
  • 5-year warranty
  • High RPM Max

Cons

  • Smaller swing
  • No extended table

4. Jet JWL-1015 Wood Working Lathe

Specifications

  • RPM Range: 500-3975
  • Motor Power: ½ HP
  • Swing Over Bed: 10”
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    Swing Over Center: 15.5”
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    Dimensions: 26L x 7W x 14H

Key Features

  • Cast Iron Bed
  • Live Center Tailstock
  • Six Swindle Speeds

Features & Benefits

  • The Jet is a versatile machine coming with six swindle speeds:  500, 840, 1240, 1800, 2630 and 3975.
  • This lathe is integrated with 24 different position indexing.
  • The Jet’s ½ hp motor will be able to turn large blocks of wood or handle any project you throw at it.
  • This model has a wider bed which helps provide increased rigidity.
  • The swing on this lathe is a comfortable 15.5 inches giving you the option to lathe large wood blocks if desired.
  • This model also provides additional accessories if you see fit, bed extension, stand, and stand extension.  
  • The Jet lathe comes with an amazing Red Assurance 5-year warranty. The Red assurance warranty gives you nationwide service repair centers. Additionally, it comes with a service line.
  • The base of the lathe is stationed an easy power switch. Easy to access in case of need of a quick shut off.
  • The Jet also has a live center tailstock.
  • The bed is made of cast iron which helps reduce vibration produced by the machine. Also ensures a high-quality machine.

Pros

  • Red Assurance
  • Available Accessories
  • Six Speeds

Cons

  • No slow start
  • Accessories not included

5. SHOP FOX W1704 Benchtop Lathe

Specifications

  • RPM Range: 700-3200
  • Motor Power: 1/3 HP
  • Swing Over Bed: 8”
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    Swing Over Center: 12”
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    Dimensions: 26 3/8 x 5 ½ (Inches)

Key Features

  • Small Footprint
  • Variable Speeds
  • Cast Iron

Features & Benefits

  • The Shop Fox comes with a small footprint which makes it beneficial when trying to save workbench space.
  • The lathe, though a smaller model, has a sizable swing allowing you to craft decent sized wood projects.
  • With the cast iron table, you can be assured it’s made with quality in mind.
  • The Shop Fox also comes equipped with two tool rest; 4.5 inches and 7 inches.
  • The lathe has 13 inches between centers giving you room to work on some smaller projects.
  • The RPM range gives you the flexibility to work with different types of woods and different sizes.
  • The 1/3 hp motor is perfect for smaller projects comes with a single-phase unit.
  • The Shop Fox comes with a 5 ¾ inch faceplate which attaches to the spindle for non-spindle turning, ideal for making bowls.
  • The Shop Fox comes with a two-year warranty that covers any factory defects that might arise during use.

Pros

  • Face Plate Bowl Add-on
  • Compact

Cons

  • Limited Power
  • Small Project Use

Buying Guide

The lathe is one of the most unique tools you’ll own. This tool is reserved for those who don’t want to buy a popcorn bowl, they want to make one. It’s much more than a standard circular saw which you need to accomplish a task. It’s more like a pencil in the artist’s hand. You approach the lathe with the mindset of creating more so than accomplishing a task.

With that in mind, we want to show you some of the things to look out for when selecting the best wood lathe for turning bowls. We’ll walk you through the make-up of the lathe, the accessories you’ll need and touch on why swing matters when working with bowls.

bowl lathe for sale

The make-up of the bowl lathe

The lathe can look intimidating at first glance. With all the knobs, spindles, and gearboxes it’s hard to know how to approach it. Like any tool you have, the more you use it the more you understand it. We’ll cover the basic components you’ll find on your lathe.

Bed

The bed is just as it sounds, it’s not the foundation of the machine, but where all the components rest. It’s the rectangular frame that the carriage moves along. It’s also a factor in how to measure the swing of the machine.

Tailstock 

The tailstock is a mount on the end of the bed that holds the workpiece. It has the ability to slide and adjust to accommodate various workpieces. It also comes with an optional mount to attach to it.

Tool Rest

The tool rest is the component that moves along the bed. Its primary job is to hold the tools in which you would use, typically chisels. Depending on the model it might carry other features as well.

Chuck

The chuck is attached to the spindle which rotates the workpiece. The chuck’s primary job is to hold the workpiece. The chuck will have a three jaw or a four-jaw depending on the machine’s requirements.

Spindle

The spindle is what turns the workpiece. It’s connected to the motor by a long shaft which rotates the spindle. The spindle is then connected to the chuck which holds the workpiece.

Speed Gauge

The speed gauge is the key element to a lathe. It provides you with the freedom to adjust the speed of the turn. We’ll highlight why this is important later in the article.

Why swing matters in bowl turning lathes

wood lathe for making bowls

The swing is probably the most important factor to look at when buying a lathe. The reason being is the swing determines the size of material you can work on and when making a bowl this is important.

The way to measure the swing is to measure the distance between the center of the spindle and the bed. The distance between these two parts will give you the maximum diameter.

Take the diameter and multiply it by two and you’ll have the swing measurement. With the swing of 12 inches, you’ll be able to make a bowl with the max circumference of twelve inches.

The perk of using some of the lathes listed above is their ability to move the beds, which opens open the swing distance. You might have noticed the, swing over center measurement, which is the extended swing measurement when the bed is adjusted. This feature allows you to spin larger bowls.

One more measurement to know is center to center. This does not pertain to bowl making, but it’s good to know for other projects. This measurement is the distance between the headstock and tailstock. The distance between these parts informs you of the length of workpiece you’ll be able to fit on the lathe.

What to look for when buying the best lathes for bowl turning

Many of the lathes mentioned above vary on the features they include. However, there are common features that need they all come with. Below are some features to take notice of to find the right lathe for your needs.

Variable Speed

All the lathes we listed above have variable speeds which are important. When working with various wood types and sizes you will need to adjust the speed to accommodate for these variables.

A good rule of thumb is the wider the stock the slower the speed. With the models listed, you’ll have the luxury of dialing the speed to fit the project you’re working on.

Slow Start Motor

This feature is made with safety in mind. When you have a large block of wood attached to your lathe it’s a great thing to have a slow start. If you have your dial turned to a higher RPM with no slow start and flip the power switch, you might have a block of wood flying at you if not attached properly.

The slow start feature allows you to make sure you have a secure latch on your workpiece before the turn is accelerated.

Tale Stock Additions 

The tailstock can have different attachments to give you a variety of uses on the lathe. Either it is a cup center, or the tapered stock, and even a grinder wheel.

Our pick the Nova lathe has a patented grinder wheel attachment similar to a bench grinder. This is a convenient attachment, giving you the luxury of sharpening your chisels on the same machine you use them.

Cast Iron Bed

This is a minor feature but important. The bed of the lathe can potentially receive some abuse due to the nature of the machine. Cast iron ensures you won’t damage the machine accidentally.

Safety, Care & Maintenance 

When working with a lathe safety is the highest priority. The lathe is an open-faced machine and accidents can happen if you’re not being mindful. Here are a few bullet points to keep you safe.

  • Always keep your work area clean before you operate. Clean three feet in every direction around the machine. Sweep up shavings and any trash that might have accumulated.
  • Never stop the lathe with your hands. Always let the lathe naturally come to a rest when powered off.
  • Do not wear loose fitting clothing. Because the machine revolves at high speeds loose clothing can become caught in the machine.
  • Make sure to secure the latch on the chuck and tailstock. If the latch becomes loose during operation, power off and step a safe distance away until the object comes to a rest.

After every use make sure to dust any debris that has gathered and examine the spindle and tailstock.

wood bowl lathes

FAQs

Q: Which direction should the late turn?

A:  There are two types of lathes in this aspect. Single phase, which the motor turns in one direction. The other type the motor moves both forward and reverse. The motor running forward has the top of the wood spinning toward you, in reverse, it rotates away from you.

Q: Can you use the lathe to turn metal? 

A: Technically yes, but it’s not advised. The reason being is metal is a vastly different material than wood, which is why they make metal lathes. We would not advise it.

Q: What size lathe should I have?

A: There is not a correct answer, because it will vary based on the project. The things you will need to look for is swing and center to center measurement.

What is the best wood lathe for turning bowls: Our Pick

We would recommend the NOVA 46300 Comet II Variable Speed Mini LatheThis lathe comes equipped with a patented grind wheel perfect for sharpening chisels. It also has a large swing of 16.5 inches of center great for large bowls.  Additionally, it comes with a bed extension to lengthen the center to center distance, which is why we recommend this versatile lathe for consumers.

A solid option if you’re on a budget is the WEN 3420T Variable Speed Benchtop Wood Lathe. The WEN lathe is equipped with variable speed options and a slow start motor for safety. WEN makes quality products around the board and comes with a strong warranty which is why we recommend it.

For a premium choice consider the Delta Industrial 46-460 Variable-Speed Midi Lathe. With variable speeds, you have plenty of choices of speed to turn your bowls. The JET comes with a cast iron bed for quality measures and has an outstanding 5-year-warranty making it a strong choice.

Resources & Further Readings

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