A Glimpse at the “Mother of Machining Tools” – Lathes

Posted on Nov 23, 2020


What is lathe and how does it work? What are the different types of lathes? In this article, we'll show you the answer.

What Is a Lathe

Lathes are an essential machining tool used across manufacturing industry, primarily for shaping metal or wood. It works by rotating a workpiece about an axis of rotation to carry out various operations, such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, deformation, facing, and turning, with tools that are applied to the workpiece to create an object with symmetry about that axis. Simply put, the main use is to remove the unwanted parts of the material, creating a nicely shaped workpiece.

There are many types of lathes that are specialized for distinct materials and techniques. People have used lathes for centuries to make parts for other machinery, as well as specialty products such as musical instruments and bowls. Whatever the type of lathe, they all utilize the fundamental holding and rotating mechanism to perform the intended tasks.


Who Are the Lathes Intended for?

Lathes are known as the mother of all machining tools, which can be used a wide variety of applications, including drilling, sanding, knurling, shaping, turning, cutting and deformation. This kind of versatility is hard to match by other machining tools, thus why so many metalworkers and woodworkers rely on lathes for their lines of work.

If you need a machining tool is precise in both cutting and shaping, a lathe may be ideal for your intended work. Lathes are perfect for those that require a versatile piece of equipment capable of completing the tasks in complement to other machining tools.


How Does Lathe Work?

To understand how lathe works, we’ll have to break it down into several components, including the bed, spindles, tailstock, and motor. Here is how each of them works:

  • The bed that holds everything together: All components of a lathe are attached to a bed. The bed is essential the base of the lathe which acts as the deciding factor for the lathe size. The distance from the main spindle to the bed will indicate the maximum diameter limit.
  • Headstocks for proper orientation: The headstock should be located on the left, and the tailstock should be on the right. Check and make sure that you are not standing on the wrong side of the lathe.

The headstock is where the main operation happens that the power of the motor is applied to the workpiece. Part of its purpose is to hold the main spindle as yo should see the spindle here too. The motor can be located underneath the lathe bed, on the left nearby headstock. A lathe can have either a hydraulic motor or some type of electric motor.

  • Adjustable parts: You can simply adjust the toolrest for rotation and height. For safety reasons, though, you should only do this when the machine is turned off. Upon loosening it to adjust, double check to make sure that it is tightened again before proceeding. Similarly to toolrest, you must not make these adjustments while the lathe is working.
  • Attachment and accessories: The spindles, including the rotating core spindle that holds the workpiece, may be outfitted with distinct attachments and accessories. To allow the retrofitting, the main spindle is usually hollow and threaded on the outside. Some of the useful accessories for the main spindles include chucks, centers and faceplates. You can hold the workpiece in place with the help of these attachments.

Different Types of Lathes

There are actually many types of lathes, all of which has its own purpose and application. But the most common lathes can be categorized as the woodworking lathe and the metalworking lathes. Wood working lathes, as the name suggest, are designed to support different wooden workpieces. They typically operate at as peed of 500 to 1,000 revolutions per minute (PRM).

There is also the metalworking lathe. Metals in general are harder than wood, which is why metalworking lathes are required as a stronger and sharper cutting tool to handle this basis of work. Metalworking lathes come with a variety of different sizes, shapes and materials, but they are all meant to cut through common metals like steel and aluminum.

In addition to metalworking and woodworking lathes, you will also be able to find glass-working lathes. This is a type of lathe that is designed for working on glass workpieces. It is used to make glasses and optical materials by exposing them to a cutting tool that is stationary. On top of the aforementioned, there are many other types of lathes including metal-spinning lathes, ornamental turning lathes, cue lathes, patternmaker’s lathes, etc.


Lathes Safety

Using a lathe is not a complicated task, but do not get too comfortable because that is usually when mistakes happen. Here are some of the things to watch out for to ensure your safety:

  • Wear the right gear:
    Your safety glasses with side protectors should always be on, or even a face shield. It not, always equip one before lathe operation. Also, never wear rings, gloves or watches while using a lathe as they can get in the way.
  • Check the shields:
    Before your lathe operation, make sure everything is where it is supposed to be. If anything looks wrong or suspicious, label it (e.g. “out of service”) clearly before exiting the area.
  • Keep the tools sharp:
    Inspect all of your lathes tools beforehand. Lathe tools that are dull and damage will not only be effective, but can also be dangerous to use. Labe and fix before proceeding.
  • Power off before making adjustments:
    Never make any adjustments to the lathe while it is running. If you notice anything wrong, make sure the lathe is completely shut off before doing anything, just like what you would do to electronic appliances. Similarly, if you need to perform any maintenance on the lathe, you should remove the power source completely beforehand.

A lathe is a machining tool that features a rotating workpiece and a stationary cutting tool. It is not difficult to use but should be operated with caution. Now that you have a basic understanding of lathes and how to use one safely, you are ready to use a lathe!


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