Big-spin wood lathes
How we chose the field
To be included in our test group, each lathe had to meet the following criteria:
■ Stand on its own legs or base;
■ 16–20" of swing (bowl diameter);
■ At least 24" between centers (spindle length);
■ Cost less than $4,600.
Download our complete comparison results.
A mini- or midi-lathe makes a great starter tool for new woodturners, and may be all the casual turner ever needs. But if you want to turn projects of larger diameters, such as bowls, platters, and hollow vessels, or simply need more power, step up to a full-size, floor-standing lathe.
We tested six big lathes to find the best of what turned out to be a good crop. Brian Simmons, WOOD® magazine's turning expert, put these machines through extensive testing. Here's what he found.
They've got the power
All but one lathe run on 220-volt motors rated at 2 hp. The Nova Galaxi DVR uses a 110-volt, 13⁄4 -hp direct-drive motor—no pulleys and belt to transfer power to the spindle. To test each lathe's torque, we turned green maple bowl blanks, as large in diameter as would fit each model, making deep, aggressive cuts using a 1⁄2 " bowl gouge. No matter how hard we tried, we could not bog down the Oneway 1640 or Powermatic 3520C. Three others slowed a little but never stalled. We were able to stall the Nova, but by backing off slightly to a more reasonable cut, it maintained speed much better.
It's all about that swing
For most turners, swing capacity—the maximum diameter workpiece you can turn over the bed—proves the most enticing feature with lathes of this size. The Powermatic provides a test-best 20" of swing, and all the models accommodate outboard turning for larger diameters, using one of three methods.
On the Jet 1840EVS, Laguna Revo 18⁄36, and Powermatic, you slide the headstock to the tailstock end of the bed. The headstocks on the Grizzly G0733 and Nova both slide and rotate, so you can turn outboard on either end. The Oneway headstock doesn't slide or rotate, but you can do outboard turning on the spindle on the left side of the headstock, shown below. All three methods of outboard turning require accessory bed extensions or tool rests, sold separately.
The Nova has the longest spindle-turning capacity in the test at 461⁄2 ", with the Grizzly close behind at 451⁄2 ". The Powermatic comes up shortest at 26". If you need more length, you can buy optional bed extensions for each model except Grizzly.
Ideally, the lathe's spindle should be centered at the same height as your elbows when your arms hang down. To accommodate different-height turners, each lathe has feet that not only level and steady the machine, but also add height if needed. The Oneway provides the most range with 6" of adjustment built into its legs, and the leveling feet add another 1⁄2 ". The Jet, Laguna, and Powermatic have 11⁄2 " of adjustment, but the Jet and Powermatic come with a pair of 4" riser blocks you can install to add more height. Laguna offers riser blocks as an optional accessory. For the Grizzly and Nova lathes, you'd have to add your own shop-made riser blocks to adjust the height more than 3⁄8 ".
The headstock rules
Except for the the direct-drive Nova, all of the lathes use two sets of pulleys to transfer rotation and torque from the motor to the spindle, in two speed ranges. Each lathe has electronic, infinitely variable speed within each range. Changing belt position and dialing in a precise speed proved easy enough, especially thanks to digital readout on all but the Oneway (which has an intuitive dial and scales).
We especially like the controls on the Jet and Oneway, as well as the Powermatic (shown above). But we found Grizzly's on/off switches, housed inside a plastic cover with an emergency stop switch on the hinged lid, a nuisance. If you push the emergency stop rather than lifting the lid and pushing the tiny off button, you have to change the direction dial to neutral and then back to forward or reverse before you can restart the machine. Laguna's three red buttons—regular stop, emergency stop, and spindle lock—look similar, making it easy to accidentally hit the wrong button until you get used to it.
All of the headstocks have at least 24 indexing stops for repeatable and, if desired, equidistant spacing of flats, flutes, and dovetails on furniture legs, for example. All proved accurate and reliable, but some worked better than others (below). We found Grizzly's indexing system confusing and tedious, but with help from Grizzly customer service, got it to work.
Each lathe comes with a drive center (below) and faceplate, and most accept accessories with a 11⁄4 "×8-tpi spindle with a no. 2 Morse taper. The Oneway uses a metric M33×3.5 spindle with a no. 2 taper. So if you're upgrading from another lathe and have drive centers with the same taper, they'll fit perfectly to all six machines. But for accessories that thread onto a smaller spindle, such as faceplates and four-jaw chucks, you'll likely need to buy adapters to use ones you already own.
Tailstock: the perfect mate
A tailstock, equipped with a threaded quill, serves two primary purposes. First, it holds the "tail" end of a workpiece securely. Second, you use it to hold a drill chuck to bore a perfectly centered hole into a chuck-mounted workpiece.
Each tailstock slides and locks anywhere along the bed, and the centers on the headstock and tailstock should align perfectly. The tailstocks on three lathes—Grizzly, Jet, shown above, and Nova—did not align precisely, which means a hole will be bored at a slight angle. If it's a thin-walled project, or very deep hole, the bore could break through. The Powermatic has an arm on the rear of its tailstock and headstock to hold a spindle for copying, as shown below.
Each lathe provides at least 215⁄16 " of quill travel, with Powermatic leading the way at 43⁄8 ". The more travel, the deeper you can bore holes without having to back out and reposition the tailstock. And the best models (Laguna, Oneway, and Powermatic) use Acme threads rather than V-shaped threads for quill movement. (See illustration below.)
Acme threads beat V-threads in turning
Trapezoid-shaped Acme threads ( below, left) provide stronger contact and wear less over time than V-shaped threads (below, right) when it comes to moving a quill back and forth within a tailstock, especially when boring holes with a drill chuck.
Each quill, below, has a keyway that accepts a key or pin that prevents the quill from spinning as you turn a workpiece. We prefer quills with stopped keyways that prevent them from simply sliding off the tailstock's threaded rod when fully extended. (All six quills self-eject, meaning they release the center when retracted.) We prefer the quills on the Laguna and Oneway lathes. We like Powermatic's quill almost as much, although it does not have a stopped keyway. All but one test model have no. 2 Morse tapers for their quills; the Oneway uses a no. 3 taper.
Removing the tailstock can be challenging with some of the test lathes. We found it easiest on the Jet and Oneway lathes.
Give your tools a good rest
The banjo holds the tool rest so you can put your chisel exactly where you want it. So it should slide smoothly, lock securely, and be as out of the way as possible when in use. The Grizzly banjo required greater force than the others to lock securely, and sometimes it vibrated loose. Three models (Grizzly, Jet, and Powermatic) use a tool-rest lock that can be mounted on either the right or left sides, letting you put it where it suits you best. But with some turnings, such as deep bowls, a tool-rest lock on the front of the banjo works best without being in the way. The Laguna, Nova, and Oneway lathes use this system.
Each tool rest uses a 1"-diameter post to provide stability. The Laguna and Nova lathes come with a 12"-long tool rest, while the Grizzly, Jet, and Powermatic rests measure 14". We like Oneway's 141⁄2 " rest, shown below, best among the test group.
Buy a Oneway ticket to turning paradise
Although the Powermatic made it close, the Oneway 1640 wins Top Tool honors. This lathe has power in spades, a silky-smooth spindle, easy-to-use controls, and tailstock, banjo, and tool rest that work sublimely. Yes, it's a sizable investment at $4,250, but we know you'll appreciate it once you use it.
For $1,760 less, the Laguna Revo 18⁄36 proved to be a feature-laden lathe that won't break the bank. It's our Top Value.
Click on link to view the PDF of the Full Size Lathe Chart.