October 6, 2019

How to Pick the Right Size Lathe

Lathes are an essential part of the woodworking process, and it’s important to know what size to purchase. There are a variety of variables to consider when choosing the best lathe, such as the type of wood you plan to cut (softwood works best), the type of material you want to cut (steel, brass, aluminum, etc.), and the size and shape of the workpiece you want to produce.

What size lathe do we need?

Lathes come in more than 3 sizes:

  • mini lathe: this lathe is for the hobbyist or someone who does not have a lot of space. It’s traditional lathes are about 12 inches in diameter, with a swing over bed of just 30 to 35 inches. These lathes work well on small pieces and they’re great for beginners looking for an inexpensive way to get started before eventually upgrading.
  • mid lathes: these lathes are larger than the mini lathe but still small enough to use in a home shop. They have a swing over bed that’s usually between 31 and 36 inches, measuring from just under 18 inches to about 22 inches across the diameter of the lathe.
  • full size lathes: this is what most people will be familiar with. They have a swing over bed that measures between 36 and 42 inches, with lathes measuring 18 to 24 inches across the diameter of the lathe.
  • long lathes: these are some of the largest machines on the market – but again still small enough for most people’s homes. They have a swing over bed size up to 45 inches. You will find this used in professional environments.

Get a lathe that fits your workspace

This may seem like an obvious point. You want to measure the size of your workspace before you get your lathe in. This includes checking that it can fit through the entrance fully assembled. Some manufacturers have leeway to disassemble products and assist with putting them together in your workspace. In most cases, you want one that avoids this problem.

How to measure lathe size?

Lathes are measured in length and the width of the bed, which is the horizontal section on which you will be turning. The lathe should match your benchtop if this matches up here then it’s a good fit for you.

The lathe must also fit through doorways when assembled.

Get a lathe that is easy to use

If you are a beginner, it is advisable to start with lathes that are suitable for beginners. These tend to be less powerful and have a smaller learning curve. Did you know that choosing the right lathe reduces the chances of accidents and injuries?

Get a lathe with a power source you know how to use

You should also understand the lathe’s power source. If you are unfamiliar with it, then find a lathe that is powered by electricity or compressed air instead of oil.

Get lathes from reputable brands

When shopping for lathes, make sure to buy from well-known and respected manufacturers so that your purchase will be backed up by a good track record. You can also go online to find out what to expect from any model that you may be considering. That also means having support and a community to lean on if you encounter a problem with the lathe.

Get a lathe that you can expand on later

If you are unsure of lathe size and want to increase your options in the future, then look for lathes that have added features such as a headstock or tailstock. This way you can add these accessories later when you know more about what type of woodworking projects will be best suited for them.

These lathes may come with some downsides, such as a lathe that is not self-contained in terms of power or space, but the extra features will make up for it when you have more experience.

What is the maximum size we can have?

The maximum size of the lathe is the long lathe. They have a swing over bed size up to 45 inches. The maximum size of lathes is determined by the lathe’s swing.

Swing is the distance between two lathe centers and on a horizontal plane, it can be measured from both ends of either lathe center to any point on that line or in other words how much an object will turn around when placed at one end of a lathe with its length parallel to this

What is the difference between vertical and horizontal lathes?

The lathes which are vertical lathe machines can be used to produce round, square and rectangular sections in roughing or finishing operations.

They have a bed that the workpiece rests on vertically with a headstock at one end of it. The horizontal lathes run horizontally with its bed parallel to ground level and they’re usually equipped for heavy-duty tasks.

Do not forget about weight restrictions

Weight restrictions for lathes are usually specified as weight capacity in pounds of the lathe machine. In other words how much an object will turn around when mounted.

Part of this will include considering the size of wood that you will be working on. This may not be an issue if you are working on toys or other small wooden pieces.


If lathes were all the same cost, then it would be a lot easier to pick one. But lathes are available at many different price points depending on what you want in them–perhaps from as low as $150 and up into tens of thousands for automated lathe machines that do your bidding!


If you’ve been thinking about getting a lathe or upgrading your current one, we hope this post has helped to clarify the differences in size. You can use it as a guide when comparing different models on the market and deciding which is best for your needs.

When it comes time to purchase a new machine, keep these considerations in mind so that you get the right size lathes for your workshop- even if that means more than one! What do you think? Which of these sizes would work best for what you want to make with your woodworking projects? Let us know by commenting below.

Lathes come in 3 sizes. There are many lathes like this one sitting on the bed of this big one way, in fact, we could check this late between centres in this big way. There’s maybe late he’s. Which are sort of in-between minis and full-size slaves and Aaron excellent choice for most people? 

David D. Hughes
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