The best way to choose a metalworking lathe is to consider what you intend to do with the lathe. Most likely, you either want to focus on lathes for hand working metal, or you want to choose a lathe for manufacturing. Creating hand-worked pieces of metal requires a markedly different type of metalworking lathe than what is required to manufacture parts. After choosing a type of lathe, select one manufactured by a company with a good reputation for durable products and good service.
A novice metalworker would probably want to begin with a type of metalworking lathe called an engine lathe. This type of lathe can also be called a center lathe. An engine lathe is a large tool, about the size of the average garage workstation, and features many buttons and knobs. Lathes for manufacturing come in many shapes and with many names, including the turret lathe, the computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathe, and the multispindle lathe, also called a screw machine. Generally, the names of metalworking lathes refer to their means of function.
After you choose the right type of metalworking lathe, determine the quality of lathe you require. If you are going to be manufacturing parts and placing the lathe under heavy use for a long time, you will want the most durable lathe with the best quality reputation you can find. Look for a metalworking lathe manufacturer that stands behind the warranties for his products to get added comfort that the lathe you buy will stand up to the pressures of regular use. Do not overspend for a high-end lathe that will see limited use.
In general, a budding metalworker without immediate manufacturing aspirations should opt for hobbyist models, since upgraded professional options are unnecessary for a learner. Though an engine lathe can fulfill basic metalworking functions, metalworkers seeking faster function or a more polished finish may opt for higher-end metalworking lathe machinery to do their work. For a seasoned metalworker seeking an upgrade, a tool-room lathe might be the right option. A tool-room lathe is essentially a nicer engine lathe designed for more high-volume, polished use than the typical engine lathe. It is usually equipped with more features.