Finding the best wood lathe for turning bowls is a challenge which often presents itself as your desire to work on larger bowls starts to grow. You might be able to get away with carving out smaller bowls on almost any lathe, but working on larger and more intricate bowl projects will require you to look elsewhere. In this guide, we will take a look at the characteristics which are common among wood lathes which are most suitable for turning bowls. Our goal is to make the process easier for you and more often than not, get you thinking about your future projects and excited about what you will be able to accomplish with a brand new tool.
The Best Wood Lathe for Turning Bowls
If you are looking for the absolute powerhouse among the current household lathes, the Powermatic 1352001 is the right choice for you. Although it is a costly tool, you will know exactly where those extra dollars went.
The Powermatic lathe will accommodate the largest bowls of 20 inches in diameter with its massive swing. Although not critical for bowls, the distance between centers on this lathe is an impressive 34.5 inches. It is a powerful tool driven by a 2 HP 220 volt motor the speed of which can easily be varied by a digital knob. Furthermore, you will have full peace of mind over the turning speed as the lathe also provides the user with a readout of the actual speed.
The Powermatic lathe is the Caddilac of the industry. It will suit most of your project needs and deliver quality results again and again. If you are looking for a reliable tool to invest in, the Powermatic will definitely deliver.
If you are interested in checking out some of the advanced features as well as the items included with the lathe and personal reviews, click the link below.
Top Requirements of a Wood Lathe for Bowl Turning
As mentioned above, there are certain requirements and specifications which make a lathe particularly suitable for turning bowls. In this section, we will explicitly outline these factors and discuss as to why they play an important role in the selection process.
Wood Lathe Swing Over Bed
The swing over bed of a lathe is the distance from the spindle to the bed. Essentially, this measurement will be the upper limit of the radius of your wood lathe.
Bowls will typically have a wide frame, which means that you will be limited to small bowls if you choose a lathe with a small swing over bed. Therefore, we recommend paying close attention to this parameter and making sure that the lathe you choose will be adequate for the types of bowls you want to turn.
In general, turning bowls above 10-12 inches will require you to look into full-sized lathes. Benchtop and mini lathes will typically be built for smaller projects and stay below the 12-inch mark.
Outboard & Sliding Headstock
If you are looking to turn bowls larger than the swing over bed of the lathe permits, you might be able to get away by turning overboard or by moving the headstock to the end of the lathe. By doing so, the restriction of the bed is essentially lifted and allows you to turn an object of a size unrestricted by the lathe.
Variable Speed Control
Working with bowls will typically keep the revolutions per minute (RPMs) of your lathe at the low setting. However, you will need to vary the setting as you remove a significant amount of material from your blank. Bowls turned from rough lumber are particularly impacted by various speeds of your lathe.
The bottom line is that we recommend looking for lathes which allow you to vary the speed without moving belts. This practice is still required on a lot of low-end wood lathes but does get old really fast as you work on your projects.
Wood Lathe Height
A lot of users fail to pay attention to the height of a particular lathe. It is an important parameter we recommend you pay attention to as it becomes a lot more enjoyable to work on a lathe which is properly positioned for your stature. Furthermore, an improper height will restrict your movements and make it harder to work on a number of projects.
The rule of thumb is that the spindle center should be at your elbows. If that is not the case, you should consider raising or lowering the lathe until it is at that point.
Total Lathe Weight
It may seem advantageous to own a smaller, lighter lathe. However, if you are looking to work on bigger projects such as bowl turning, it is important to keep in mind that a heavier lathe will give you a lot more stability. Furthermore, turning large wood blanks can be hazardous if the wood is not properly balanced on a smaller lathe.
Depending on the size of the bowls you wish to turn, we recommend looking into the heaviest lathes your budget can cover. Having a heavier lathe will translate into lower vibrations and an easier time to work with chunkier pieces of wood.
Accessories for a Perfect Bowl Turning Experience.
Working with the right tools can make all the difference when it comes to bowl turning. Having the best lathe for turning bowls is definitely a step in the right direction, but knowing the right tools is also important. In this section, we will take a look at some specialty tools which are particularly useful for turning a perfect bowl.
4 Jaw Self Centering Wood Chuck
Turning a bowl requires you to carve out the exterior as well as the interior. The challenge comes into play once you have to mount the bowl onto the headstock without damaging the walls you have finished turning. A wood chuck will do exactly that. It will clamp onto a tenon or recess which is carved out by the woodworker and allow him to place the bowl on the headstock.
We wrote an entire article on how to use a wood lathe chuck. We highly recommend you check it out if you aren’t familiar with the tool.
Recommended Tool: NOVA 48232 G3 Reversible Wood Turning Chuck
A bowl gouge is the primary carving tool used for removing excess wood from your bowl blank. It may seem that you can get away with a different kind of gouge, but it usually is more challenging and time-consuming.
We recommend investing in a sturdy tool which will last you for decades. In addition to owning the tool, we encourage you to learn the proper technique of using it. Below, you will find an excellent video you can watch on how to use the bowl gouge.
Curved or S-Shaped Tool Rest
A tool rest is a key component of a wood lathe. When properly used, it is able to absorb all the forces created by the cutting action of a tool resting on it. In the case of bowl turning, the challenge is making sure that the tool rest is close to the work area while you are working on curved surfaces.
The solution to the problem mentioned above is a tool rest which is not straight (offered with most lathes), but curved. Such a design allows the wood turning process to be much more fluid as the tool rest allows you to position the tool at an equal distance at all times.
Keep in mind that it is definitely not a mandatory accessory and you should be perfectly able to carve your bowls without a curved tool rest. It only makes the process easier.
Recommended Tool Rest: NOVA 9092 Large Bowl Rest with 8.5″ diameter
Finding the Right Lathe for Bowl Turning for You
At this point, you should be fully equipped with information and knowledge on how to identify the right wood lathe for you. Based on the need to turn bowls, you should be looking for a larger lathe capable of handling wood stock up to the diameter of your choosing. If budget allows, select a lathe with a larger motor and variable speed capability. Lastly, pay close attention to the height and weight of the lathe as they will impact the experience you will have.
We’ve written an extensive review guide on some of the best lathes on the current market. If you haven’t already, we recommend that you go through it and see if anything peaks your interest.
In conclusion, we want to hear from you and your particular projects. Have you made a decision on which lathe you want to invest in? Which parameters did you consider? Is there anything else we should add to the article?