Lathes and Planers

Lathes and planers are must-have woodworking tools to help create unique, shapely pieces

Lathes and Planers

Lathes and planers are very different woodworking tools in terms of the tasks they handle, but they are very similar for helping create unique works of art.

This buying guide highlights the different uses of each one offers, along with the individual types, power and speed of each.

Lathe Types and Uses

Lathes help shape wood by turning the work piece while chisels and gouges whittle wood away

  • Lathes are used to create such items as furniture legs, bowls, balusters and more.
  • A tool rest slides on the bed between the headstock and tailstock of the lathe so you can steady your tools as you shape the wood.
  • Lathes are available in stationary and bench-top models, with stationary models offering more power, while bench-tops save on money and space.
  • Mini-lathes have a smaller capacity and are compact, portable, and have a lower cost, great for hobbyists.

Lathe Capacity and Speed

There are two important capacity dimensions for lathes, the swing and the distance between centers.

  • The swing is the maximum diameter piece you can turn.
  • The distance between centers is the maximum work length a lathe can handle.
  • If turning large bowls, you need a spacious swing.
  • If turning table legs, you need a length that can handle long pieces of wood, not just a large diameter.
  • Lathes are designed with a range of capacities, including micro-sizes for shaping pens and other tiny work pieces.
  • Some lathes allow you to mount a faceplate on the outside of the headstock for oversized turning.
  • Lathes range in horsepower from ½ - 3.
  • Difficult materials require a lathe with more horsepower.
  • Electronic and level speed controls are more convenient than step-pully adjustment.

Type Capacity Power Weight Advantages


  • Max. swing: 12" to 16"
  • Max. distance
    centers: 30" to 42"
  • 1/2 hp to
    1-1/2 hp
  • 100 to 200 lbs.
  • Enough capacity and power for most
    home and many professional users
  • Can be moved and transported to
  • Most use standard power outlets
  • Lower cost than stationary


  • Max. swing: 4" to
  • Max. distance
    between centers: 10" to 16"
  • 1/2 hp or less
  • 30 to 100 lbs.
  • Compact, storable
  • Portable, can be taken to jobsites
  • Available with capacities that meet the needs of many hobbyists and home users
  • Lower cost than standard bench-top


  • Max. swing: 16"+
  • Max. distance
    between centers: typically 40"+
  • 1-1/2 to
    3 hp
  • More than 200
  • More capacity, power and durability
  • Better stability, reduced vibration
  • Available in models designed for heavy-duty bowl turning
  • Long-lasting performance under
    demanding conditions

Planer Types and Uses

The two main types of planers are stationary and bench-tops, with hand held also available

  • Bench-tops are less expensive and more compact.
  • Stationary models are great for tackling large stacks of lumber.

Planer Capacity and Speed

There are three important capacity dimensions for planers, the width of the stock, the depth of stock thickness and the depth of the cut

  • Stationary planers usually offer 3 – 10 horsepower with demanding voltage and amp requirements.
  • Bench tops offer 13 -15 amps and 120 V.
  • The width capacity of planers are usually 12 – 20 inches.
  • The depth of stock thickness is often 6 inches.
  • Stationary planers can remove more wood material in a single pass compared to bench tops.

Type Capacity Power # of Knives Advantages


  • Max. workpiece width: 12" to 15"
  • Max. workpiece
    height: 4" to 6
  • Max. depth of
    cut:1/32" to 1/8"
  • 13 to 15
    amps, 120V
  • 2 or 3
  • Compatible with most home
    power outlets
  • Compact, space saving
  • Portable, can be transported to
  • Adequate for most home users


  • Max. width: 13" to 24
  • Max. workpiece
    height: 6" to 10"
  • Max. depth of cut: 1/8" to 3/16"
  • 1-1/2 hp to
    10 hp
  • 3 or 4
  • Able to process large quantities
    and sizes of lumber
  • Faster and more efficient for big
  • Heavier weight enhances stability and reduces vibration
  • More knives deliver a smoother