What Is The Difference Between A Wood Lathe And A Metal Lathe?

what is the difference between a wood lathe and a metal lathe

A lathe is a tool that is used in the manufacturing industry. It is known for its versatile nature. It can turn, cut, face, drill, deform and sand wooden and metal workpieces. Lathes can be classified based on how they hold the workpieces.

Milling machines are used to hold stationary workpieces for a rotating cutting tool; on the other hand, a lathe is used to hold a rotating workpiece for a stationary cutting tool. The way lathes function is the same in all cases. The workpiece is placed onto the lathe. After it is secured, the lathe rotates while a stationary cutting tool works against the workpiece’s rotation.

There are two types of lathes available in the market, metal lathe or wood lathe. So, how are these two different? And can they be used in place of each other?

Main Differences

So what is a wood lathe?

Wen 34027

As the name suggests, the wood lathe is designed to be used exclusively for woodworking applications. It does the same job as stated earlier; it can turn, deform, sand, face, drill and cut wooden workpieces. Wood lathe works like every other lathe, but it specifically holds a wooden rotating workpiece to a cutting tool. Since wood lathes are designed only for wooden workpieces, they cannot work with harder materials like metal. 

The design and structure of a wood lathe are simpler than their metal counterparts. A pulley system is normally used to control the speed at which the workpiece rotates in a wood lathe. A wood lathe works perfectly to manipulate wooden workpieces. Although not much power is produced as compared to a metal lathe. 

Read: What are the advantages and disadvantages of a lathe machine?

What is a metal lathe?

A metal lathe, as you might have guessed, is designed to perform metalwork applications. Since a metal workpiece is much harder than a wooden one, a metal lathe is extremely powerful. It is capable of creating a lot of power to manipulate metal workpieces aggressively. It can deform metal workpieces made of common metals like iron, aluminum, steel, etc. 

Grizzly metal lathe

This tool is also called the metalworking lathe. This powerful machine is most commonly used to manufacture applications that involve metal workpieces.

Along with a strong metal lathe, a powerful cutting tool is used against the rotating surface to manipulate the metal workpiece. The workpiece is placed onto the lathe. After it is secured, the hardened cutting tool is used against the rotation and presses the metal workpiece’s surface. 

Metal lathes can often be used to manipulate wooden workpieces too. While a wooden lathe cannot be used for a metal workpiece, a metal lathe, on the other hand, can be used to work with not only metal pieces but sometimes wooden ones too.

Cost & Mobility

The main difference hence between the two remains in what kind of workpieces they can work with. A wood lathe will work with wooden workpieces, while a metal lathe can work with metal and, at times, with wood.

Besides this, a metal lathe is more complex, bigger, and more powerful than a wood lathe. Since the metal lathe is more heavy-duty and generates more power, it is costlier than a wooden lathe. And because a wooden lathe is smaller and simpler, it can be moved easily around, unlike a metal lathe. 

Read: Can You Turn Soft Metals on a Wood Lathe

Can a metal lathe be used for wood?

Now a question that is asked by many is that can a metal lathe be used for wood? The answer to that is yes. You can turn a wooden workpiece on a metal lathe. But the metal lathe may have a different effect on different types of woods depending on their density. Metal lathes are designed for tougher materials, so they will work fine with hardwood but may be too powerful for abrasive or softwood. If you are using a wooden workpiece on a metal lathe, you adjust the speed to alter the effect to achieve what you aim for. 

Read: 6 Best Wood Lathe For Beginners.

As mentioned earlier, metal lathes are costlier because of their design, features, and capacities. The additional features on a metal lathe are necessary to work on a meal workpiece. Even though a metal lathe can be used for wood, it is not the best option because a metal lathe is much more expensive, and the features will be of no help for a wooden workpiece. Besides just the cost factor, some factors can cause inconvenience if one used a metal lathe for wood. 

Why you should not use a metal lathe for wood

The first factor to be considered is convenience. Setting up a metal lathe is not an easy task if you compare it to a wood lathe.

A metal lathe will require specific tools that will go to the right places, needs adjustments according to your workpiece, and the speed needs to be adjusted. On the other hand, there is no need to set up a wood lathe. You only have to place the lathe in its position, secure the piece and go. 

The finish of the product

The next factor can be the finish you get on the final product. Since the wood lathe was designed for wood, it is the best option. The finish will be much better. A wood lathe can work on all kinds of woods, but a metal lathe may have different effects on different kinds like mentioned earlier.

A good woodturner will give a good result without much effort, but a metal lathe will need more adjustments and may not give the same finish as a wood lathe. 

Manual control

On a wood lathe, you get manual control over the cutting tools. So, if you think that the edge is dull or it seems that it may fail, or the angle is wrong, you can manually control the cutting tool. This allows you to be more intimate with the project and know what is going on instead of relying completely on the machine. 

You can not only adjust the cutting tool, but you can use your own hands to cut and turn the wooden workpiece. You can allow yourself to be more creative with the details and changes that you think your workpiece needs even in between the process. 

This makes it interesting as you can use both the help for your wooden piece, can use the cutting tool with the machine for the basic work, and then control the tool yourself for details. 


So, the final answer to the question is one can use a metal lathe for wood. But since a wood lathe is meant for wooden workpieces, it has drawbacks when you use a metal lathe for wood.