The difference between the 5-speed and variable speed:

 

- The larger the diameter of the piece you are turning, the greater the velocity of its outer edge. Big wood must spin slow, small wood must spin fast.

 

- No way can you turn a 12” bowl at the same rpm as you would turn a pen, so changing speeds is an absolute necessity. 

 

- 5-speed lathes usually accomplish this by using stepped pulleys. Every time you want to change speeds you must stop and move the drive belt. 

 

- Variable speed control allows you to change speeds with a lot less time and effort.

 

- If you only turn pens; then a 5-speed machine will do fine, and save some money.

 

- If you want to do a wide range of stuff, including bowls, you need a variable speed machine.