While many wood lathes these days are sold as portable models, most are considered to be stationary machines. As such they are mounted on benches and stands and left for in the same spot for long periods of time. In order for work to be performed well, comfortably, and without injury, the lathe needs to be at a proper height for long term usage.
As a general rule of thumb, start to determine the height of the lathe by standing comfortably with your hands by your sides and feet about shoulder width apart. Measure from the bend of your elbow to the floor. This is the height to make the center line of the lathe.
Now measure from the tip of the spur center to the bottom of the lathe itself, not the stand if it is on one. Subtract this from your elbow height and you have the desired height of the stand.
This is of course, a compromise. Every turner is a bit different with different heights and body types. However, over the years this has been a good starting point for wood lathe setup. It can easily be upset by manufacturers who supply stands with their lathes. A good idea is to stand at a lathe on its stand in the store and actually hold a tool over the tool rest to find out if that is comfortable and then ask yourself if it would still feel good an hour later after wrestling with a piece of wood.
It may be that the best avenue is not to get a supplied stand but rather to make your own. However this is not always possible or reasonable. Sometimes the lathe you want is only available with the stand, the manufacturer’s stand may be far superior to one you can build, the lathe and stand were a gift, the lathe and stand are integral or something else get sin the way.
There are two simple solutions depending on circumstance and these solutions are also usable if more than one person is going to use the lathe. The first is to raise the lathe by using pads under the feet of the stand or by adding support pads to the stand under the lathe so as to add height. While the height may be lowered by cutting down the stand this may be seen as a drastic measure and it is often easier and better to raise the floor area around the lathe with a low, wide and very stable box on which to stand. Above all, make sure the footing for both lathe and person is safe and secure.
Following these simple guidelines will give a goos start to lathe height. With experience do not fail to remember that persons and preferences differ and your preferred height of your preferred lathe may be different than someone else’s. The idea is to find what works for maximum health, safety and enjoyment.