In a hurry and just want to know what’s the best lathe for bowl turning? The Delta Industrial 46-460 12-1/2-Inch Variable-Speed Midi Lathe is your best choice. Keep reading to find out why.
While you can make many things on a lathe, bowls remain one of the most popular turning projects. A lathe that matches your current needs with room to grow will provide enjoyment for years.
I will cover some of the features you should consider below, followed by a review of six popular models that many consider the market’s best lathe for bowl turning.
The best lathes for making bowls compared:
What Is The Best Type Of Lathe For Turning Bowls?
For most of us, turning bowls is just one aspect of our woodworking journey. The best woodturning lathes come in three sizes, with each offering advantages and disadvantages, such as:
- Mini-Lathes – These smaller lathes do not take up much room. They are limited to small bowls due to a limited swing over the banjo.
- MIDI Lathes – This design works well for bowls up to 12-inches. The longer center-to-center distance is useless for dedicated bowl turning, however.
- Full-Sized Lathes – A full-sized power tool will meet all of your turning needs. These designs take up more room and cost more than required for most bowl turning needs, however.
The shorter bed of a mini lathe is ideal, but the swing clearance on these smaller models limits you to miniature bowls. You might find yourself outgrowing a mini lathe’s capacity as you advance in skills and interests.
I have found the MIDI lathes to be great for all but the largest of bowls. You can get up to around 12-inches of swing on these lathes, and the longer bed is useful for furniture and post projects. MIDI lathes would be the size I would recommend to most hobbyists.
If you have space and money, a full-sized lathe will cover all of your needs. Serious turners looking to make large bowls 12-inches or larger will need this type of lathe.
Small shops, multi-purpose spaces, and spare rooms may lack the dedicated space these tools require. Full-sized lathes can be quite expensive as well.
Features You Want To Consider
Swing of a lathe
The swing of a lathe indicates the maximum diameter of the piece you can turn. Most manufacturers measure this from the top of the bed to the center of the spindle. Doubling that distance gives you the swing.
Woodworkers often measure the swing from the top of the banjo to the center of the spindle. That proves a better gauge as the banjo is often sitting under your stock as it spins. Some manufacturers list this secondary swing as well.
Diameter of the spindle
The spindle turns the stock while helping to hold it in place. There is a decent amount of torque placed on this component, and most mini or MIDI lathes will have a spindle with a one-inch. That will allow you to turn bowls up to 12-inches in diameter.
Larger bowls require a spindle of at least 1 1/4 inches to turn safely. The larger spindle will not flex under the strain of stock bigger than 12-inches. Manufacturers use eight threads per inch, no matter what size of spindle the lathe uses.
Lathe speeds in RPMs
Manufacturers usually offer variable speed settings on lathes. For turning bowls, lower speeds are necessary. Rotations Per Minute (RPMs) indicate a speed range.
Models that offer variable speed controls are better than fixed multiple settings. A wide range of adjustments allows you to match speeds with stock size more accurately.
Pulleys vs. Electronic Variable Speed
Several lathe models allow you to adjust speed by moving drive belts from one pulley to another. Hybrid models provide further adjustments on each pulley with electronic controls.
Total EVS controls eliminate the need for adjusting drive belts by hand. Electronic controls are quicker to use and provide more control options than a drive belt and pulley system.
6 Best Lathes for Bowl Turning: The Reviews
Delta Industrial 46-460 12.5 x 16.5 Wood Lathe
- Powerful 1 hp max, 1,725 rpm motor
- Large 12-1/2-inch swing capacity provides the largest capacity in its class. Drive spindle: 1 inch -8 RH TPI thread
- Electronic variable Speed with three-pulley speed ranges provide the required speeds needed to turn a project without changing belt position
Delta Industrial’s 46-460 is a compact design that gives you 12.5 inches of clearance over the bed (9 9/16 inches swing over the banjo) and 16.5 inches between centers. The short bed provides limited space for furniture projects, but it is perfect for bowl turning.
This model comes at a mid-range price point. Delta Industrial offers a durable product that comes with a five-year limited warranty. That is one of the better coverage packages and should produce consumer confidence about this lathe.
A patented belt tensioning system aids with making quicker adjustments between speed settings. You reach the controls through a small hatch, and the housing provides little access room. The design helps to maintain a small footprint on your bench, though.
Speed ranges are higher than on the Jet, coming in at 250 – 700 RPMs, 600 – 1,800 RPMs, and 1,350 – 1,400 RPMs. These speeds will work for smaller bowls, but they may be a bit high for the big stock sizes you will turn on this lathe.
It weighs only 97 pounds, but that is adequate considering the shorter bed on the 46-460.
- Offers 12.5 inch clearance over the bed
- Shorter bed takes up less space
- Covered by a five-year warranty
- Short bed limits versatility
- Lacks lower speeds for 12-inch bowls
Jet JWL-1221VS 12 x 21 Wood Lathe
- Unrivaled speed control
- 60 to 3600 RPM variable speed
- Optimally designed speed ranges
The JWL-1221VS offers users a 12-inch swing with 21-inches of clearance between centers. Turners can use this lathe for bowls up to 10-inches without issue. The banjo may prevent you from achieving a full six-inch space from the spindle center, however.
You will notice the higher price point for this MIDI sized lathe right away. It is the most expensive model on the list and could be beyond woodworkers with a tight budget.
Jet incorporates a ratcheting system to switch the belts on this lathe. Three pulleys represent Low (60 – 900 RPMs), Medium (110 – 1,800 RPMs), and High (220 – 3,600 RPMs) ranges. Changing between pulleys is easier with the ratchet system, making it a stand out feature on the JWL-1221VS.
Inside the pulley compartment, you have 24 index positions. That provides finite adjustments that can match many turning needs. The lower ranges are ideal for turning bowls.
The lathe weighs 137 pounds. Most of this weight is located in the bed and should help keep vibrations to a minimum. Jet does offer a stand that can be purchased separately from this lathe, should you want to keep your benchtop clear.
- Ratchet-style tension system for belts
- Low end RPMs dip to 60
- Large levers easy to manipulate
- It has a large price tag
- Locking levers can work loose
Nova 46300 12 x 16.5 Wood Lathe
- Speed Range: 250 - 4,000 RPM with its powerful electronic variable speed motor.
- Digital Readout: Quickly dial-in the correct speed for the job, material and conditions. you’re not limited to potentially dangerous fixed-speed steps.
- Forward and reverse switch: Forward and Reverse Switch offers additional ﬂexibility with the Nova Lathe and allows you to achieve a superior ﬁnish
The 46300 from Nova is another compact design, offering you 12 inches of swing over the bed and 16.5-inches of space between centers. Like the Delta, the shorter bed is a space saver that will not be an issue for bowl turning. You can purchase extensions to provide more versatility with a longer bed.
Nova offers this model at a mid-price point, putting it in reach for most users. The design has been around for a few years, with many of its features now standard on other lathes.
This model rates at 230 volts. It will help to improve the performance of the 3/4 Horse Power engine. That may put it on par with a one Horse Power motor operating at a lower voltage, but it may dip in output when turning a 12-inch blank.
It uses a standard pulley system, with three pulleys offering additional increases to torque. The lathe is variable speed, with ranges between 250 – 4,000 RPMs.
Nova’s 46300 has a one-year warranty, something that could be improved.
- Its lightweight makes it easy to move
- Includes quality spindles in the box
- Control labels are bright and clearly marked
- Uses a smaller 3/4 Horse Power motor
- Lighter weight transfers more vibration
Rikon Power Tools 70-105 10 x 18 Wood Lathe
- Rikon mini lathe: This Rikon mini lathe features a ½ motor that provides ample power for all turning needs. With a 10” swing and 18” between centers, this mini lathe also has a self ejecting tail...
- Sturdy and Dedicated: Designed specifically at the request of pen turners who wanted a sturdy, dedicated machine for their craft. This scaled-down, basic mini lathe is made from cast iron, so...
- 5 speed ranger: This mini lathe has a 5 speed range that covers the bases for boring barrel holes, roughing out pen billets, turning to shape and finishing.
Rikon Power Tools makes this list with a mini lathe design. The 70-105 offers 10 inches of swing over the bed and 18 inches between the centers. That small clearance is good for miniature items but limits bowl size.
You can buy this lathe at a low price. That makes it an option for casual turners or woodworkers that cannot afford a MIDI or full-sized lathe.
The low weight is due to the smaller swing and bed. It weighs 74 pounds, and the height is under 15 inches. You can store this on a shelf when it is not in use.
This product is cast-iron, but it does transfer more vibration than it would with a large bed. It should not be an issue for turning smaller objects, however, and will not be a problem when sanding. There are plastic components that may not last as long as metal parts would.
You can select from five different settings for speed (500, 1175, 1850, 2225, and 3200). Rikon Power Tools covers the 70-105 with a five-year warranty.
- A mini lathe is easy to store away
- Design is easy to use
- Priced for casual users
- 10-inch swing limits bowl size
- 1/2 Horse Power motor is weak
WEN 3424T 12 x 18 Wood Lathe
- Attack work pieces up to 18 inches long and 12 inches wide
- Switch between five different speeds: 520, 900, 1400, 2150, or 3400 RPM
- Includes 3-1/8 inch Faceplate for turning bowls, cups and other non-spindle work pieces
The 3424T represents WEN’s benchtop lathe design. You will get 12 inches of swing over the bed, with 18 inches between centers. That provides bowl turning space as well as the ability to turn longer pieces.
The stand out feature of this design is the price point. It is the cheapest model on the list, putting it in range of the smaller budgets and woodworkers who are wanting to explore a lathe.
The controls are user friendly. You can select between five different speed settings (520, 900, 1400, 2150, and 3400 RPMs). Those speeds cover a variety of needs, but the lowest setting could be too fast for 12-inch bowls.
At 70.3 pounds, this lathe will transfer some vibration. The metal used for the body is thin compared to most cast-iron designs. It will prove easy to move compared to other MIDI designs.
If you are new to lathes, the power button and pulley locking handle make this a simple power-tool to use. The headstock and tailstock use an MT2 design that provides smooth operation and a variety of accessory attachments.
- The cheapest price tag on the list
- Includes 3 1/8-inch faceplate
- Tailstock includes crank
- Metal body is thin
- The toolrest/banjo could be improved
Grizzly Industrial T25920 12 x 18 Wood Lathe
- This Variable-Speed Wood Lathe provides 12" of turning radius and spindles up to 16-1/2"
- The three speeds range from 650 to 3800 RPM so you can find just the speed you need to finish whatever job your heart desires
- This lathe was also made in an ISO 9001 factory and includes a digital spindle speed indicator
The T25920 is a mid-range priced tool, which may come as a surprise to those familiar with this brand name. This lathe offers 12-inches of swing over the bed, which equates to roughly 9 1/2 inches over the banjo. You can turn 18-inches between the centers, which is more than many of the smaller 16.5-inch designs reviewed above.
A 3/4 Horse Power motor will power through miniatures fine, but you may not reach full RPMs with large stock loaded on the lathe. Knob controls provide you with variable speed settings between 650 – 3,800 RPMs. A digital readout is positioned on the headstock and is easy to read.
Power and speed controls are mounted on the headstock, allowing users to make adjustments with their left hands. The control box mounts on the exterior of the lathe body, exposing wires in the back.
The spindle assemblies for the head and tailstock are well-crafted. They will not need replacement and should serve your needs for the life of the lathe. It is worth noting that Grizzly’s warranty only lasts for one year, however.
- Well designed head and tail spindles
- Digital read-out is easy to see
- Levers lock securely
- Metal transfers sounds as well as vibration
- Wires are exposed in the back
Turning In The Best Performance
Bowl turners of all skill levels will find any of the lathes reviewed above worth the investment. With that being said, the Delta Industrial 46-460 12.5 x 16.5 Wood Lathe is the best lathe for bowl turning.
The mid-range price is affordable for most woodworking shops. Those who are serious bowl turners will be willing to spend the extra money on a good lathe.
It offers 12.5 inches of swing over the bed, which is more clearance than the other lathes. The clearance over the banjo is over 9.5 inches.
Delta’s patented belt system is quick to use, and it helps to maintain proper tension on the belts at all times. This will provide accurate RPMs and extend the life of the belts as well.
Finally, bowl turners will appreciate the lower speed settings, especially the 250 RPMs on the L pulley.