There are many different types of lathes in the handyman's armory, although the most familiar are the wood lathe and the metal lathe. There is, in fact, not that much difference between the two in terms of wood cutting, as both are equally able to make a slice in a piece of wood. The metal lathe is as adaptable and effective as the wood lathe, so it may seem academic. There are, however, some other differences which may influence whether you want to use a wood lathe or a metal lathe in your project.
As noted, both wood and metal lathes are equally good at cutting down wood, so if this is your main purpose in getting a lathe, either will do. The metal lathe may be used for more precise and closer work. The metal lathe is generally much tougher than the wood, and will therefore stand a lot more bashing and misuse than the wood lathe. You may also decide to make only small cuts into the wood, in which the metal lathe is perfect since it is much slower, and therefore the wood can be guided around more easily.
There are a number of lathes available, depending upon your need, but most are stable and garage or workshop bound. This is true for metal lathes, but you may be able to find small wood lathes that can be carried from job to job, which is essential if you want to use your lathe on a building project, or if you work in craft industries around the country.