Producing elegantly-turned legs and a number of other wood pieces is extremely easy with the use of a wood lathe. Some users still prefer the traditional hand crank and hand tool method of shaping and making designs, but they are nowhere as efficient as working with high-speed electronic lathes. This machine allows for more controlled cuts and better finishes since the lathe does the turning for you. They can be used for a number of pieces, including fancy table and chair legs, wood pens, and even bowls.
Two popular lathes – the WEN 3420 and the NOVA 46300 – are great choices that every woodworker can find value in. Both machines have received overwhelmingly positive reviews, but their respective manufacturers cater to different markets. WEN is more price-conscious and produces great power tools at affordable prices, whereas NOVA focuses on making heavier-duty tools for intermediate and expert craftsmen. Let’s see how these two wood lathes compare.
This budget-friendly wood lathe sports a 1/3-horsepower motor with a 5-speed transmission. The high gear count gives users greater control over how quickly or slowly they want the lathe to spin, making work on a number of different density stocks a possibility. The motor delivers between 750 and 3,200 RPM.
The Nova 46300 lathe features a slightly more powerful motor – ¾-horsepower – which rotates stocks and blanks at speeds between 250 and 4,000 RPM. The slower minimum speed and higher maximum speed means even greater usability on different wood pieces of practically every size (more on size later). Users can also set speeds using the variable speed dial to choose between five gears with varying maximum speeds.
Speed is important for accurate chiseling on stocks spinning in a lathe. We find that the NOVA offers greater versatility and control in terms of minimum and maximum speed per gear. The 800 RPM top speed disparity makes a huge difference in precision and consistency.
If portability is one of your concerns, then forget about it. The 3420 only weighs around 44 pounds fully assembled. One problem with lightweight, quick-spinning power lathes is disturbing vibrations from the motor and chisel action. We found that this lathe has none of those problems, even when operating it at its top gear.
On the other side of the weight spectrum, this wood lathe weighs around 83 pounds fully assembled. Though it’s near twice the weight of the WEN, there’s no serious issue of portability since it can be carried to and from your truck without straining your back too much. The additional weight also serves to keep the unit steady while spinning at 4,000 RPM.
Both these tools are sufficiently maneuverable, though the power-to-weight ratio is much considerably more efficient in the WEN. This doesn’t mean that the 46300 is worse per se, but the WEN offers greater speeds per pound compared to the NOVA.
Swing and Distance
With lightweight comes smaller size, thought that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The swing-over-the-bed distance is 8 inches and the distance between centers is 12 inches. This compact wood lathe lets users produce more intricate designs when working on professional or DIY projects. This machine is definitely marketed to intermediate users who are learning how to chisel fine details onto small pieces. However, as you begin to work with larger stocks, this tool won’t support your growth.
This larger wood lathe features a 16.5-inch distance between centers and a full 12-inch swing. We found working making fine-detail cuts on small stocks with this unit an easy task. The larger size also means it accommodates larger pieces of stock for making table and chair legs.
The NOVA’s larger swing and length means any piece you can fit into the WEN can be fitted into the NOVA, plus stock that surpass the WEN’s limited size. However, in the end, it depends on what you’re planning on making and how long the stock is.
The tool rest base (a.k.a. banjo) plays an important role in producing perfect designs. The WEN comes with two banjos: a 4-1/2-inch and a 7-inch. Depending on which tool you’re using and what you’re planning on making, you’ll want to use one banjo over the other. The banjo also slides seamlessly along the rails, and the clamping mechanism keeps the banjo from shifting.
The 46300 comes with a single 6-inch banjo – half the height of the unit’s spindle axis. This is the standard size for a number of applications, though you’re limited to what tools you can use on the banjo. Additional banjos can be purchased if need be. We found that the banjo glides just as well as the WEN, and even the clamping mechanism is similar.
We appreciate the two included banjos that come with the WEN, but most woodworkers use banjos slightly shorter or as tall as the spindle axis for common applications. However, as always, the user determines whether the included banjos provide an appropriate height for comfortable work.
The WEN uses MT1 spindles and tailstocks. The small MT size means the wood lathe is limited to light-duty tasks. If you plan on carving bowls or pens, this size won’t be an issue. In fact, the MT1 is designed to assist in producing small objects out of wood. Large ones, not so much.
This unit uses MT2 spindles and tailstocks which are larger and more heavy-duty than MT1. The larger diameter of MT2 spindles and tailstocks is overkill for small-sized lathes and basic DIY projects. Both these spindle and tailstock sizes have a number of accessories which fit them perfectly.
In general, the greater the Morse taper level, the more it can do. However, swing and center-to-center distance plays a vital role in the wood lathe’s capabilities and overall usefulness. There’s no determining which one is superior to the other. The decision lies solely with the user to determine which is more efficient in finishing their tasks.
WEN 3420 vs NOVA 46300: Bottom Line
Though there are several overlapping specs, these two wood lathes are worlds apart. There are many things to like about the NOVA, especially if you’re a professional woodworker who needs a bigger machine for working on larger stocks and blanks, but the WEN win this battle.
The <a href=”https://amzn.to/2GZj78G” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer” target=”_blank”>WEN 3420 provides sufficient speeds with reduced vibrations, more banjos, and sufficient work-space – swing and center-to-center distance – for much less. However, you’re limited to working on small-scale projects, so professional, large-scale furniture makers might find greater value in the larger NOVA 46300.