Wood Lathe vs. Metal Lathe: Key Differences
A lathe is a machine used for cutting and shaping materials like wood, metal, and plastic. You can use a lathe for turning small pieces of wood, metal, or plastic into useful objects. A lathe is also used to make screw thread by cutting grooves along the length of a cylinder.
Lathes have been in use since ancient times and their primary function was to generate shafts on which other components could be mounted. For example, some windmills have a vane that rotates around a horizontal axis to capture the wind’s energy while millstones were turned by hand with ropes. The more modern version of a lathe is used to make small metal parts and components for industry.
Lathes can be either wood lathes or metal lathes. Each type of lathe has its own unique features and advantages that help it perform specialized tasks. Here we will compare and contrast the differences between a wood lathe and a metal one:
Wood Lathe vs Metal Lathe
Wood lathes are normally used for turning wooden projects, especially spindles and legs of furniture. Wood lathes may also be used to make items like candlesticks, walking sticks, small toys, or bowls. Traditionally they were very simple machines that consisted of a bed with a fixed headstock that was geared to the tailstock end where the wood is held. However these days they are more sophisticated than in the past with features like variable speeds and motorized feed screws.
Metal lathes can be used for various tasks including making metal rods, tubes, and rings through cutting operations on raw material such as bar stock or billets. They usually include an integrated work center that spins while the cutting tool turns, which means that objects can be turned, tapered, or threaded. The metal lathe is capable of creating intricate shapes with various surfaces including an inside surface, outside surface, and step.
This type of lathe is mainly used for turning wood. The bed and headstock are the two main components. It has a spindle that holds a sharp cutting tool or a piece of sandpaper that cuts down the wood to make it smaller in diameter and rounder.
Some have a screw feed that allows you to control how fast the cutting head moves along the bed while others have variable speeds so you can choose what speed works best depending on the material being cut.
Wood lathes don’t need very big motors, but you should try them out before making any purchase decisions. If they have cheap, low-power motors they will be unsuitable for precision work since they won’t have enough torque at low speeds where most fine finishing work is done.
Types of wood lathes:
This is normally set up in a workshop or garage. It is stationary with the bed, tailstock, and headstock fixed to the floor. They are usually very stable so it’s easy to perform precision work on them.
Bench Top Wood Lathes
These are smaller versions of cabinet lathes that you can easily move around the workshop while still maintaining some level of stability because they stand on raised legs that can be screwed into place for maximum support.
Speciality Wood Lathes
Lathes designed specifically for one task like bowl turning, spindle turning, or faceplate (the piece attached to the end of a wooden shaft) turning to make tasks easier since they have features like tool rests and outboard turning supports that allow you to work on one part of the wood or object at a time.
Wood Lathe Features
- A step pulley system with a standard belt drive
- Tailstock which is capable of being offset from the headstock for greater versatility
- A stand that folds away completely for easy storage and transportation
- Variable speed controls that allow the lathe to spin between 500-3000 RPM (Rotations per minute)
- An 8″ swing over bed (the distance between the front and back end of the machine)
- A 1-1/4 HP motor (horse power)
- A No. 55 Morse taper (a type of tapered drill bit used for metal working)
- A tool rest with a quick release mechanism for easy access when making cuts
- An hour meter that displays the total time the machine has been running to track maintenance periods and make sure you don’t run it too much or too little
Wood Lathe Drawbacks
- The lathe cannot be motorised, meaning that it must be turned by hand in order to operate
- String holes need to be drilled into the back end where the drive belt is positioned because there is no hole already included in this spot like other wood lathes we reviewed on our site such as WEN 2305 Variable Speed Wood Lathe .
- The headstock and tailstock do not come with locking levers like other wood lathes we reviewed on our site such as WEN 4208 8″ Variable Speed Midi Lathe , so it is incredibly easy to accidentally change the position of the machine when you are working, requiring that you completely re-adjust all settings again.
Wood Lathe Benefits
- There are many optional accessories you can get to improve your experience such as a piece that adds an infeed bed for better support when making cuts
- The base of the machine is incredibly easy to assemble, taking no more than 20 minutes in total
- The price point is incredible value for money for all the features it offers
A metal lathe consists of a bed, tool post, and headstock with a spindle that holds the cutting tool. The main difference between this type of lathe and wood ones is that they have a rotating tool post instead of a fixed one so you can turn the material being worked on without having to rotate it by hand. There are various kinds of lathes but in general, they all use turning tools to cut metal materials such as sheets, wires, or rods into finished components.
The following are some types of metal lathes:
Engine lathe: This machine uses various heavy-duty accessories for making large-sized components from big pieces of raw material like steel billet. A turret head on an engine lathe is used for cutting internal screw threads, while an independent spindle can be used to turn other types of components.
Universal lathe: These are the most common metal lathes. They are versatile and capable of turning out a wide range of workpieces from small to large in size with ease. They have vertical turrets that include chucks so you can easily secure objects for machining while horizontal turntables allow you to rotate the material being worked on without rotating the whole machine itself by swiveling it around on its bed.
Bed lathe: This type has several variations including the single-ended Type 1 which was typical in early times before double-ended models came along, and the double-ended or Type 2 model which has a rotating headstock that swivels around two pedestals that are also mounted on the bed.
Traveling or Horizontal lathe: As the name implies this model is capable of traveling (horizontally) along its axis to give you great flexibility in turning objects at various angles and positions. The slides can be extended outwards to accommodate long workpieces. Traveling lathes also have a dead center that connects onto the tailstock spindle where there is no rotating component so it doesn’t turn while you turn metal stock by hand using tools like scrapers, cutters, reamers, and files instead of cutting fluids and threading/boring bars.
Screw machine: This type has a spindle with a cam-operated quick change gear set. When the machine is running it rotates at a single speed but you can change the spindle’s speed by disengaging cogs to alter the RPMs. They are capable of high-performance milling, drilling, and threading operations with various workpieces being turned between centers or mounted on other types of lathe accessories like faceplates for machining contours on both inside and outside surfaces.
Metal Lathe Features
- A step pulley system with variable speed control for speeds ranging from 50-2500 RPM (Rotations per minute)
- An internal spindle lock feature that allows chucks to be changed within seconds using a lever located at the back of the machine to switch between drilling holes or threading screws, nuts and bolts without having to empty out your toolbox
- An 8″ swing over bed (the distance between the front and back end of the machine)
- A 1-1/2 HP motor (horse power)
- A No 40 Morse taper or No. 50 Morse taper that is used to hold drill bits, taps, reamers and other types of cutting tools that are used in metalworking
- Precision ground bedways made from cast iron which are incredibly strong for holding precise angles when creating projects with tight tolerances
Metal Lathe Drawbacks
- The lathe cannot be motorised, meaning that it must be turned by hand in order to operate
- Even though tool rests are included with the product, they cannot be used due to the fact that they are made from low-grade aluminium and cause too much deflection in tools, creating uneven cuts with an unlevel surface
- The lathe produces a loud buzzing noise which is distracting when trying to work or concentrate on a project
Metal Lathe Benefits
- There are many optional accessories you can get such as the Wolverine Fence System which attaches itself to metalworking vises and drill presses so that you can work more precisely on projects with tight tolerances
- A 2″ spindle bore for chucks provides amazing stability when cutting through tough material such as steel or iron, preventing flexing during high speed applications
- You have multiple at your disposal including 50-2500 RPM range, a 1-1/2 HP motor and a No. 40 or No. 50 Morse taper
- The headstock and tailstock come with locking levers which provide added security when working to prevent accidents from happening when adjusting the position of the machine
- The price point is incredible value for money considering all the features it offers in comparison to its competitors such as Jet 70015 10″ x 15″ Mini Lathe , Grizzly G9973 12×23 Mini Mill Wood Lathe
Wood lathes are perfect for woodworking hobbyists who want to work on small-scale projects that require intricate detail and a delicate touch, while metal lathes are better suited for larger projects metalworking thanks to their durability and raw power.
So, the main differences between a wood lathe and a metal lathe are:
- Wood lathes are best suited for working on small scale projects while metal lathes are better at handling tasks that require more power
- Metal lathes can be motorized, while wood lathes must be turned by hand to operate
- Wood lathes have variable speeds, but metal lathes have an internal spindle lock feature to easily change between chucks with the turn of a lever without having to empty out your toolbox
- Metal lathes have many accessories that can improve your experience when making cuts, none of which come with wood lathe models
- There is no internal spindle lock feature on woodlathe models so you cannot switch between different types of cutting tools using the same machine
- Wood lathes have a smaller motor, but metal lathes have a larger one that cannot be easily replaced if it were to break
- Metal lathes come with more powerful motors and stronger beds made from cast iron which are durable enough to stand up to wear and tear during each project
- Wood lathes are quieter, stainless steel construction means you don’t have to worry about it rusting under wet conditions
- Both have a headstock and tailstock that work to align the wood or metal against the bedway
- The centres on both types of lathe are created from the same material, ensuring you get accurate results with each cut made
- You can change out your chucks between projects depending on what you need them for with little effort thanks to their spindle locks
- There is an adjustable tool rest for small workpieces so they don’t slip away when cutting intricate patterns
- A reasonable price lets you trial different materials without wasting money if you decide you do not want to continue using it as your main method of creating projects
- Variable speeds let you experiment with different cuts, whether they be fast and aggressive or slow and careful
- Easy to use, so you can teach anyone in your family how to get started without too much trouble
- Both types of lathe work with a faceplate which helps when creating larger pieces that must be turned from one side to the other for symmetry
- Woodlathes literally mean “woodturning”, while metal lathes mean “metal turning” – they are both used to create round objects using a rotating device against a fixed object called a tool rest positioned against the spinning edge of a bed
Metal lathe vs. wood lathe- Which is best for you?
While both types of lathes are effective tools, they each serve different purposes. Wood lathes are great for very small projects that require delicate detail and intricate work since the machine is powered by hand, not an electric motor.
Metal lathes can handle much larger projects than woodturning machines. Instead of having variable speeds like most wood lathes, metal models have an internal spindle lock feature to easily switch between chucks with the turn of a lever. This saves you time when changing your equipment around or swapping out bits for whatever project you are working on next. Metal turners also come with different features which make it easier to cut different items such as steel discs with diamond abrasive wheels or aluminum discs with silicon carbide sandpaper.
Wood lathes are not as complicated to use as metal machines, but they do have a smaller motor and weaker bed made from cast iron which can wear down quickly if you use it for hours each day. Once the bed begins to wear out you would need to replace the entire machine instead of just buying a new part. Wood lathes also take more effort to operate since they must be powered by hand instead of an electric motor or pedal that does all the work for you. This means that your hands take a lot more abuse each time you turn on your woodturning machine so proper protection is needed in order to avoid injury.
Metal lathes are quieter than their wooden counterparts since stainless steel construction prevents rust from forming under wet conditions. The motor is also much more powerful which means you can run the machine at a much faster rate without worrying about breaking or stripping any equipment. While wood lathes have adjustable tool rests, metal models come with an easy-to-use spindle lock feature that allows the user to switch the chucks around in seconds, saving you time getting started on your next project. You can purchase both types of lathe either as stand-alone machines or turnkey packages that are ready to use right out of the box.
When deciding between woodturners and metal cutters it all comes down to what kind of projects you would like to work on. If you are mainly looking for something that will produce small intricate pieces then a woodturning machine might be the right choice for you. However, if you are more interested in large projects that require a more powerful motor and durable bed then a metal lathe might be a better option. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to making this decision. It all depends on your personal preferences and the type of work that you plan on completing while using these machines.
Easy Metal Lathe Project Ideas
Of course, having a machine specifically designed to work with metal will allow you to use it in more ways than one since all types of different projects can be completed. Here are some popular projects that everyone should give a shot:
You’ll need a long piece of stock and a few other tools in order to make these which aren’t hard at all but look very nice when finished. It’s important to either buy or cut down your own metal so they have the desired thickness, otherwise, they won’t stand up on their own and fall apart whenever picked up or dropped. This is why starting out with 25 inches of material is recommended but not required though you may need more depending on what type of design you’re making.
Once you have your metal ready you can start off by drawing up a simple design and cutting it out using the metal band saw before taking it to the belt sander in order to round out any round edges and make everything flat. After this, you’ll need to drill 2 holes so you can attach a key ring and then put on some handles which can be round or square depending on what type of look you’re going for.
If wooden utensils aren’t available then these may be the best choice for cooking though they’re not as common since they tend to be more expensive due to the materials used. In order to get started pick up some long steel rods with a diameter slightly bigger than 1 inch before welding them together in order to form a shape similar to that of a large spoon. Once you’ve done this you can attach the faceplate and drill a hole before putting it on your handle which should be slightly smaller than what it is currently though this will change once everything is smoothed over with sandpaper.
Metal Animal Sculptures
These make for some very interesting decorations when completed and all you need are a few metal rods in order for them to stand up on their own, though creativity may play a factor when trying to make various different types of animals. You’ll need an assortment of triangle shapes that can be welded together into whatever type of animal you’re trying to create such as dogs, cats, elephants, monkeys, and more. Once this is done you can start smoothing everything out using the belt sander and the angle grinder before attaching a head, tail, and any other parts you may want to include.
Metal Knight Statues
This is another one that requires some welding in order to complete though these come with their own kinks such as having to add rivets into every piece in order for them to stay together when standing upright. It’s easy enough just to weld all of the pieces together without any attachments since they’ll be hidden when standing upright though it’s also very important that certain parts are curved so this will provide more stability and prevent anything from tipping over.
Metal Wind Chimes
These can be used both indoors and outdoors if they’re displayed properly and only require a few rods that have been cut down to size, though it’s important to note that metal can rust so you’ll need to paint over it with a clear coat to keep the material from turning completely black.
This is another project that doesn’t require much work and is used as a decoration instead of something functional; all you need are some round rods and flat pieces which will be attached together and fashioned into a shape similar to what lamps look like. When finished you can attach the lampshade and post before plugging everything in for optimal use.
Metal Lathe Safety Tips
Make sure there’s no combustible material nearby that can catch fire, such as sawdust or shavings.
Metal lathes get extremely hot and will cause any wood they come into contact with to burn so use gloves when touching anything. If you want to be able to touch the metal always set it down on a non-flammable surface such as steel in order to cool it down before continuing your work.
The belt sander can heat up pretty quickly and become very dangerous if not used properly; make certain you’re wearing safety goggles in case something goes flying (metal splinters, etc.) and keep your fingers away from the moving parts. Always stand off to the side in case anything comes flying your way and keep your hair tied back in case the cord comes undone (and it will).
Keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case something ignites and remember to read all safety precautions that come with any equipment you may use.
The lathe is one of the most interesting tools out there, but with that power comes great danger such as having spinning objects flying around along with deadly pieces of metal getting hurled at high velocities. Be sure to take every precaution when operating anything like this and learn how each piece functions before trying to make anything; refer to online resources or books for assistance if needed since these types of projects can become quite complex depending on what you’re trying to create.
Easy Wood Lathe Projects
Wood lathes were initially invented hundreds of years ago as part of an effort to create furniture such as cabinets, chairs, and tables. In fact, most of the earliest lathes were made from wood and have been passed down with time so they can be used to produce great furniture pieces. If you’re a DIY enthusiast or a professional looking for a worthwhile project then you should find these easy wood lathe projects something worth giving a shot, though keep in mind that this specific type of equipment is best left in the hands of professionals who’ve spent years mastering their craft.
Wooden Peg Board
It’s easy enough to make your own peg board since all it requires are several wooden panels that will act as the base; you could even recycle old boards if need be by cutting them into smaller pieces before arranging them together into one large panel. Once this is done you can rest the base on two wooden supports before attaching a thin piece of wood to the back where you’ll stick magnets in order for the pegs to stick without falling out, though you could also attach some thin strips on top if needed.
If you’ve ever wanted to make your own home décor pieces, then this is one of the easiest wood lathe projects that can be completed in just under an hour or so. You’ll need several thin boards that have been cut down into smaller pieces with most only containing one coaster while others will require two depending on how big they are; essentially all you need to do is drill a hole through each board and put everything together using glue and screws before running them across sandpaper until they’re smooth and ready for use.
Wooden Dining Table
This is another wood lathe project that won’t take longer than a few hours to complete completely though you’ll need to spend some time sanding it down even further after the job has been finished so everything feels more comfortable while dining. It’s best to get the help of a friend when assembling this one since it requires attaching two legs and a cross piece using screws, all of which must be lined up perfectly in order for the table to stand straight.
Finally, we have wooden toys such as cars and trains; these are usually used by children but can also be created for decoration purposes if they’re painted with bright colors and small details such as windows. You’ll need a few thin boards that have been cut into the shape of your toy, along with wheels and axles that will be attached when everything is put together.
Wood Lathe Safety Tips
No matter how experienced you are when working with wood lathes there is always a chance that something can go wrong and this should be avoided at all costs. Here are some of the most important safety tips to follow when using these machines:
- Always wear protective goggles in order to make sure your eyes are protected from any flying debris that may occur while working;
- Keep your hands away from the spinning stock no matter what since injuries can occur whenever you’re not looking or feel confident that nothing will go wrong;
- Wear gloves if you have them available since they’ll protect both your skin and fingers anytime something goes wrong, but avoid wearing loose clothing which could get caught up by the machine itself.
In conclusion, both types of lathes have their own benefits. Wood lathes are great for smaller projects however metal lathes have a stronger bed and more powerful motor which helps with larger pieces. Metal turners also come with an internal spindle lock feature to switch between chucks in seconds making your job easier and saving you time. When deciding on a woodturner or metal cutter it all comes down to what type of project you plan on using the machine for most often. Whether it be intricate work that must require delicate detail or large projects that need a more durable bed, there is a certain style of cutting machine that will suit your needs.