Best Lathe for Bowl Turning

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We’re going to give it to you straight: woodturning is addictive! Once you start shaping raw pieces of wood into beautiful objects, it’s hard to stop. In fact, it’s so addictive, many people have turned this highly creative hobby into a full-time profession.

If you’re into woodturning, you know how valuable a lathe is to your work. To help you find the best lathe for bowl turning, we reviewed many of the options on the market. We also included a buying guide with a few basic features you should consider before buying a lathe of your own.

Top 4 Lathes for Bowl Turning

Wood lathes will make life easier when you’re working on a variety of projects. Plus, with all the customizable options they provide, you’ll have way more fun!

One way to use a lathe is by placing the wood piece between the rear spindle and the headstock. This is what the experts refer to as spindle turning. Then, place the piece of wood lengthwise via the motor and adjust the speed accordingly. As the wood piece turns, use the various crafting tools to create your masterpiece.

Another way is to attach the wood piece to the headstock via a chuck or a faceplate. This method allows you to shape both the interior and exterior of the wood piece at the same time.

Now for some product reviews. Here are our top four picks of the best lathes for bowl turning.

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Best Lathe for Bowl Turning: Powermatic 3520C

As soon as you lay eyes on the Powermatic 3520C, you know it’s capable of handling mammoth tasks with ease. Despite its big size and hefty weight, we found it easy to customize and safe to use, even for beginners.

Standing at over 700 pounds, the first feature that caught our eye is the sturdy cast-iron legs. They’re wide to provide maximum balance and stability.

The one downside is it’s not easy to transport. However, what it lacks in portability, it more than makes up for in user-friendly features.

Though, what really wowed us was the 2-horsepower motor. The power provides stability with minimal vibration.

Plus, it allows you to work at speeds as low as 15 revolutions per minute (RPM). Then, for bigger projects, turn it up all the way up to 4,000 RPM for a faster, more precise finish.

The risers also come with riser blocks, which allow for up to six inches of height adjustment. For more customizations, the tool rest can reach an impressive 15 inches.

Like many other models, the Powermatic 3520C has MT2 spindle tapers. Yet, what makes this one stand out is its fully enclosed variable frequency drive (VFD) on the tailstock. Moreover, the forward/reverse switch offers safety, precision, and better control over your work.

We have to mention that the price is higher than the other three machines in our product review. However, if you’re looking to invest in a durable, long-lasting lathe, this is it.

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Pros

  • 2HP motor
  • Moveable magnetic-backed control box
  • Digital readout
  • Riser blocks help adjust the height
  • Offers a stable design and minimal vibration

Cons

  • Less affordable than other models on our list
  • The tool rests aren’t as user-friendly compared with other models
  • Not portable

Best Budget Wood Turning Lathe: WEN 3424T

The WEN 3424T may look cute and cuddly compared to some of the large-sized lathes on the market. After all, its dimensions are 12 x 18 inches and it weighs only 70 pounds. Yet, when it comes to bowl turning, this cast-iron power tool is a beast!

Let’s start with the fact that you get five different speeds: 520, 900, 1400, 2150, and 3400 RPM. That’s enough for a beginner woodturner to create stunning masterpieces.

One feature that will catch your eye is the Morse Taper 2 (MT2) headstock and tailstock spindles. They’re versatile and work great with various tools and accessories.

By the way, there’s an attached accessory holder to keep everything safe and out of the way. In addition, the tool rest is eight inches wide and the faceplate is 3 1/8 inches. Both provide a secure and stable work area.

We do have to mention that the motor is 4.5 amps, which comes to a little more than half a horsepower. This means you’ll have to work at a slower, steadier pace.

Plus, it doesn’t run in reverse. Still, for the price, there’s no doubt this is one note-worthy woodturning machine.

Pros

  • Great value for the price
  • Portable
  • Lightweight
  • Comes with an accessory holder
  • Multi-purpose MT2 headstock and tailstock spindles

Cons

  • The on/off switch can be accidentally triggered, which can be a safety concern
  • Tends to overheat if used non-stop for long periods of time
  • Doesn’t run in reverse

Best Multi-Function Wood Lathe: RIKON 70-220VSR

A powerful and efficient power tool, the RIKON 70-220VSR weighs 124 pounds, which is slightly heavier than other machines on our list. It features a 1-horsepower (HP) motor and is considered the go-to benchtop lathe for a wide variety of woodturning projects.

We found the LED digital speed display easy to use. It allows for optimal control and enhanced precision, no matter how big or small your wood piece may be. We also like the 6-inch tool rest and 3-inch faceplate.

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The tool rest makes working with wood pieces of all sizes easy and hassle-free. We found that the wide work area meant we didn’t have to keep stopping to shift the piece of wood on the spindle.

For added convenience, the Rikon 70-220VSR comes with a tool holder. It’s designed to keep your tools nearby, but conveniently out of the way.

Another plus is you can move the control box anywhere on the cast-iron exterior. This feature keeps the control box safely out of the way and gives you more room to work comfortably.

The speeds on the RIKON range between 250 and 3850 RPM. Those are ideal low and high ranges to maximize accuracy and productivity.

That said, the most impressive feature is that this machine has forward and reverse functions. Most lathes simply work in a forward fashion, so it’s a stand-out feature.

One major drawback is that it’s less affordable than other brands. Nonetheless, it offers a variety of features to entice beginners and impress experts, making it a pretty wise investment.

Pros

  • Magnetic-backed control box can be repositioned
  • LED speed display
  • Forward and reverse functions for added convenience
  • Reasonably priced
  • Multipurpose use

Cons

  • Isn’t suitable for small projects that require RPM lower than 400
  • Slightly heavier than other benchtop models
  • Relatively pricey

Best Benchtop Wood Lathe: Grizzly Industrial T25920

Weighing a little over 80 pounds, the Grizzly Industrial T25920 is a reliable benchtop lathe. It offers speeds between 650 and 3800 RPM. That should provide you with ample power to create your showpiece bowls.

Versatility and convenience play a huge role when choosing the best wood lathe, especially for beginners. The Grizzle Industrial T25920 has both.

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To adjust your desired speed, use the speed dial. The digital readout makes it easy to use and gives you full control over the machine.

One of the first features that stood out for us is its stability. The weight on this cast-iron machine is well-distributed, which reduces injuries and helps you work with incredible accuracy.

We like that it comes with MT2 tapers on both the tailstocks and headstocks. These spindles provide a smooth and consistent movement as you’re working.

The motor is another nice feature. With a 3/4HP, the motor is perfect for small projects. The 3 1/4-inch faceplate allows you to handle your wood piece. It ensures the piece won’t move out of place or shift as you’re moving.

The only downside is the short tool rest. At only 5 7/8 inches, it didn’t provide us with enough space to do big jobs and it doesn’t run in reverse. However, if you’re a newbie or prefer turning small bowls, then you should have no trouble.

Pros

  • Efficient motor
  • MT2 headstock and tailstock spindles
  • Digital speed indicator
  • Reasonably priced
  • Manageable weight

Cons

  • The tool rest is shorter than other brands
  • 3/4HP motor may not be suitable for large woodworking projects
  • Not reversible

Lathes for Bowl Turning: Features to Consider

With all these different options on the market, choosing the best lathe for bowl turning can be overwhelming. Below are a few basic factors to consider.

Size

If you’re mainly doing bowl turning, then a moderate-sized benchtop model would work just fine. It fits in almost any space and offers portability as well as ease of use.

On the other hand, if you’re going to work on something bigger than just bowls, then consider a larger machine. Sure, they’re bulkier and they cost more, but they offer more versatility and efficiency.

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Just remember to pick a size that works well with the task you have in mind. Furthermore, it’s important to check that the base is stable and sturdy to reduce injuries and boost precision.

Weight

Just as with size, the weight depends on the available space you have to set up the wood lathe. It also depends on the types of projects you typically work on.

Beginners usually prefer lightweight models. These provide easier storage and portability. Yet, they’re more likely to shake and vibrate as you’re working, particularly with big projects.

Heavier versions offer better stability and are less of a hazard. They allow you better precision and accuracy on your projects.

Their downside is they’re more expensive than lighter models. However, if you’re looking to make woodworking a full-time hobby or profession, they’re a sound investment.

Motor Power

Besides size and weight, the power of the motor is what ultimately decides whether or not the lathe is up to the task. On average, the recommended motor should be in the range of one to two HP.

Anything less than one HP might not offer the needed power for your projects, especially if you’re working on something big. If you’re only bowl turning, you can use one HP without a hitch. Even motors with less than one HP will do, even though they might not be as sturdy as bigger, stronger machines.

On the flip side, picking a lathe with more than two HP isn’t for the faint of heart. Handling them requires experience because of their high-speed ranges and advanced options.

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Not only that, but even experts sometimes find them difficult to operate. This is why we don’t recommend them for novice woodworkers and hobbyists.

Variable Speeds

The more speed options you have, the more versatile your work can be. Look for machines that offer low-range speeds starting at 200 to 300 RPM. This range is better suited for small projects. Best of all, it allows beginners to ease into the process at their own pace.

The more experienced you get, the bigger your projects will become. That’s when you’ll start looking for speeds of 3,000 RPM and higher.

Some people prefer to start with a machine that offers high speeds. This way, they have everything they need right off the bat. Others prefer starting with smaller, more accessible lathes until they gain more experience.

Tool Rest

The tool rest, also known as a banjo, needs to be sturdy and durable. They’re basically what holds up the load of your work.

Try to avoid tool rests that come with jointed swing arms. They won’t be strong enough to support the wood piece and your tools.

The Verdict

Your choice of the best lathe for bowl turning depends on your woodworking needs. Are you just starting out as a woodturner? Then, you should pick something small and lightweight with a 1HP motor, or even less. Features like these should be perfect for your skill level.

On the other hand, if you’re more skilled, you could be looking to do more than just bowl turning. In that case, your ideal woodturning machine would be something bigger that can handle the demands of a heavier piece of wood.

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It should also have a bigger motor with more amps and horsepower. While these will cost you more, they’re a valuable investment.

At the end of the day, which one you choose depends on your personal preference. Whichever you pick, we know you’ll create amazing pieces of art!

Raised with a fix-it and improvement mindset, my wife and I completely restored our Craftsman-style home. Learning how to DIY a variety of home improvement projects, I started SawsHub with my father. He's the fine woodworker, I'm the DIYer!