What Is a Benchtop Lathe?

B. Turner

A benchtop lathe is a tool used to turn wood or metal. By rotating these materials, the benchtop lathe allows users to evenly cut and shape the surface of the object as part of a wood or metalworking project. These tools may be used by hobbyists, wood craftsmen, or by homeowners as part of a remodeling or renovation project. The benchtop lathe is a mid-range option for lathe buyers. It's larger than the basic pen lathe used by beginners, but smaller and more affordable than the floor-mounted lathe found in commercial settings, making it a popular choice for home or garage workshops.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Each benchtop lathe consists of a metal frame, with steel considered one of the most popular due to its strength and weight. A rotating chuck or spindle sits at either end of the machine, with a bed, or bench in between. When a piece of wood or metal stock is fit into the spindles, a motor within the machine causes the stock to rotate along a horizontal axis. Some of these devices feature a simple on and off switch, while others are operated by a foot pedal. The most advanced benchtop lathe models may also incorporate digital displays that can be programmed to create precise measurements and results.

As the stock rotates, users apply stationary tools to the wood or metal to shape the surface. This may include using bits and cutting tools to cut material out of the stock, or holding very hard materials up against the stock to deform its surface. Craftsmen also use sandpaper and other tools to polish or sand the wood or metal as it spins. Some of these tools may fit into special brackets on the lathe, which lock them in place. Others are simply held by hand, and rely heavily on the skill of the individual user.

With some practice, both casual and advanced users can create a variety of objects using a benchtop lathe. Many start off with simple pen or pencil casings made of wood, metal, or plastic. Others progress to more complex projects, such as chair or table legs, or other furniture components. Specialty metal work or art can be made using a lathe, as can objects like bowls or other dishes. With the right type of benchtop lathe, users can even practice traditional glass-making techniques.

One of the primary advantages associated with the benchtop lathe is the balance it offers between affordability and flexibility. These lathes can be used for a much wider range of projects than a pen lathe, and allow users to progress from novice to advanced applications without investing in new equipment. At the same time, these benchtop units are also small enough to fit on a standard work bench, and cost much less than the larger models used in a commercial setting.

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