Canadian Woodworking


Photos by Manufacturers; Illustration by Len Churchill


Get the most out of your lathe.

The swing is the largest diameter work piece a lathe can rotate. The distance between centers (DBC) is the longest work piece that can be held between the head and the tail stocks. Benchtop lathes, which can be mounted on a user-built or commerical stand, provide all the features and performance that most hobbyist woodworkers, furniture makers, and DIYers will need. An optional bed extension to increase the DBC can be added to many models. Larger stationary lathes provide more power, have greater swing and DCB capacities, longer quill travel, less vibration, and offer more accessories.

Benchtop Lathes
Price: $250-$1,400
Swing: 10″-14″ DBC: 14″-18″
Motor: 1/3 HP-1 HP
Speed Range: 250-4,000 RPM
Spindle Thread: 1″, 8 TPI
Spindle Taper: MT2

Stationary Lathes

Price: $2000-$7,000
Swing: 12″-24″ DBC: 16″-43″
Motor: 1 HP-3 HP
Speed Range: 50-4000 RPM
Spindle Thread: 1-1/4″ x 8 TPI
Spindle Taper: MT2 – MT3

Wood chips fly at considerable speed, and in the blink of an eye you can be left without one. Invest in good quality safety glasses (or better yet a face shield). And avoid loose clothing that could get tangled on your work.

Purchase a bench-top grinder and sharpening jig to keep your turning tools in top condition, and spend the time to learn how to sharpen properly. It’s not complicated. Alternately, purchase tools that use replaceable disposable insert cutters.

You can’t turn what you can’t see. Provide adequate overhead, or focused task lighting, on your work.

When spindle turning, rather than standing still and moving your arms, keep your arms pinned to your sides, and shift your body back and forth – you’ll find it easier to make long flowing cuts.

Be cautious of buying large tool sets. You may end up with tools you’ll rarely, if ever use. An alternative is to buy a tool, learn how to use it, and repeat. A good place to start is with a roughing gouge for turning a square piece of wood to round.

Last modified: September 29, 2023

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