March 4, 2021

Wood Lathe vs Metal Lathe: Comparison Beyond the Obvious

Wood lathes and metal lathes are the two most common types of lathes. The main difference between wood lathes and metal lathes lies in what they are designed for. A wood lathe is designed to tackle jobs that involve wooden workpieces. The metal lathe is used on metal workpieces. Wood lathes tend to be smaller and simpler than metal lathe machines.

Metal lathes are big and a bit complex. When you want to get a lathe, you need to consider the type of material you will be working on. However, a universal machine might be inconvenient. Below are some notable differences between the Wood lathe vs Metal lathe. 


  • A Wood lathe works on a piece of wood, whereas a Metal lathe works on metalwork. However, the Metal lathe still works on wood.
  • Wood lathes are smaller than metal lathes.
  • Metal lathes are a bit complex than wood lathes.
  • A Wood lathe is more affordable than a Metal lathe.
  • The Wood lathe can work easier without mounting, unlike the Metal lathe that is too heavy to use as a free-hand cutting tool.


They both use the same system when it comes to operation. The work-piece has to be attached to the lathe. It does not matter which type of work-piece you are working on. The reason why it has to be attached is that it has to rotate against the cutting tool. 

What is a Wood lathe?

A wood lathe is a machine that is meant to shape wood material. The cutting process revolves around drilling, sanding, cutting, and deforming pieces of wood. You need to make sure that the wooden piece rotates against the cutting tool to expose the unwanted part.

Exposing tough materials to the cutting tool will not lead to a successful process. Simplicity is one of the characteristics that describe the wood lathe. It does not take much of your space as it is small.

The pulley system regulates the speed at which the lathe runs. Although it is effective and efficient, it does not give out more power than the Metal lathe. The wood machine might not need mounting. 

You can use it as a mobile machine. That makes it easy to put away as soon as you finish with the task. You can detach the head in a short space of time. Although it is difficult to use on hard material, you can still use it to cut light plastic material. 

You can even have a detachable power motor attached to the Wood lathe that you can use on hard material. It can be innovative as you can make it a computer-controlled machine.


  • Simple
  • Small
  • Effective pulley system 
  • It is used as a hand tool.
  • Light


  • Less power
  • Not effective on hard materials

What is a Metal lathe?

Unlike the Wood lathe, the Metal lathe works on metalworking applications. Metal is harder than wood. This is the reason why a wood lathe might not be able to cut through hard material. This shows why the Metal lathe is a powerful machine. It easily deforms hard materials such as steel, iron, and aluminum. 

It is ideal for manufacturing materials. The cutting tool is hard enough to withstand the pressure that comes with metalwork. The cutting tool has to press against the metal piece that is fixed onto the lathe. The work-piece will be rotating against the tool that cuts through the material. The spindle tends to be a bit slow because cutting through metal takes time, not easy. 

Chances are very slim that you will operate the machine at a maximum speed. The machine is quite sturdy and solid, which makes the experience bearable. It would be best if you were an expert when working with the Metal lathe as it requires precision.

When you are looking for accessories, you need to choose mechanically controlled tools and powerful motors. This is why it is heavy. It can be a good tool for industrial machinery and military weapons.   


  • Hardened cutting tool
  • Extremely powerful
  • Sturdy
  • Precise
  • It can be mounted


  • Complex
  • Slower spindle

Main Features

  • Headstock
  • Spindles Gear speed control
  • Tailstock
  • Carriage
  • Bed
  • Handwheel

Wood lathe

Motor and Speed control

The motor is located on the left side of the lathe. The place where it is situated is called the headstock. The motor can be covered or not, depending on the type of motor. I would go for a closed one as it will be more secure. The motors range from ¾ to 2 HP.

Tool rest

The purpose of the tool-rest is safety. You can adjust the angles from which you can shape your wood material from. The switching of tool-bits is made easier and quicker. This might be great for users who have more workload. 

Metal lathe

Motor and Spindle

The motors have a range of 1/8 up to 3HP. This shows that there is a wide range of motors. They have a speed control dial which makes the activity more quick and easy. You can use it to turn metal pieces that require different speeds.

Tool- rest

Just like the Wood lathe tool-rest, it is a four-position-tool-rest that gives you the freedom to place any four tools on different positions that you will be using. That makes switching tools easy. 


A lathe for wood is more affordable as it tends to be simpler and lightweight. A Metal lathe comes at a steeper price as it falls under the industry-mechanic grade. It is made up of complex systems and features that attract an additional cost.

A 22″ x 42″ 3 HP, 3-phase motor wood lathe from Grizzly will set you back just under $2500. In contrast, a 11″ x 26″ 1 HP Single-Phase metal lathe is within the same price range. Wood lathes from Grizzly start from under $500. You would be hard pressed to find a metal lathe in that range.


In summation of the above review, both machines work well to use the appropriate material. Although the Wood lathe is simple, affordable, and light, chances are meager that you can use it on metal pieces.

In contrast, you can use the metal lathe to cut wood. This makes the Metal lathe a versatile tool that might not limit you when it comes to a wide range of materials. I recommend a universal tool that can hardly select material. Your use case should determine the type of lathe that you purchase.

David D. Hughes

Leave a Reply