What Are Lathes?

Posted on Nov 25, 2020


Lathes are the machines that are capable of produce a variety of products in the industrial and artisanal fields, such as products that are made of wood or metal, or the pottery that is made of clay.

The operation of lathes is done by removing materials from the workpieces and getting rid of the chips or swarf so as to make the desired shapes and sizes of the products. Therefore, the lathes are always applied in conjunction with other cutting tools.

The history of lathes can be derived from the ancient Egypt, when the art of pottery was invented in order to make various products, such as daily supplies or weapons. Thousands of year later, the development of lathes has come a long way since the industrial revolution, when the lathes started to be used for industrial purposes.

In the preliminary stage of the applying of lathes, they were usually operated depending on manual forces, as the development of lathes was not that progressive as now. When the applications of lathes fall into the industrial field, in order to produce either small-scale or large-scale products, the lathes that are used now can be manually or automatically operated either way.

Lathes are widely used nowadays since they can perform a variety of works, such as turning, tapping, forming, spiral cutting, finishing, passivation, boring, spinning, grinding, polishing, etc., which provides both practicality and convenience for the manufacturers to invest.


How Does a Lathe Form?

The lathes are designed as various styles and sizes, according to the kinds, usage, and sizes of the workpieces. For example, if the workpiece is made of wood, then a wood lathe would be used, or if the workpiece is made of metal, then the metal lathes would be applied, and the sizes of the lathes are based on the diameter of the workpiece.

Although the lathes come in different forms and sizes, they are all comprised of some basic components, including a headstock, a faceplate, a carriage, a lead screw, a tailstock, a bed, and a bench.

The headstock is mounted on the left end of the whole device upon the bed, and is equipped with the controllers to adjust the components of it, the main spindle and oil reservoir, and the gearing mechanism.

The spindle of the headstock has a hole that penetrates through the entire length of the device in order to accommodate to long workpieces. It is usually installed with workpiece holders, such as chucks or collets that hold the workpieces in place when they are rotating with the spindle.

The carriage is set between the headstock and the tailstock, and includes the apron, saddle, compound rest, cross slide, tool post, and the cutting tool. The apron is equipped with the gears and feed clutches, and is used to transmit motion from the feed rod or lead screw to the carriage and cross slide.

The saddle is used to support the compound rest and the cross slide. The compound rest is arranged on the cross side, and can be swiveled to the desired angle that the workpiece is supposed to be worked at. The cross slide that is under the compound rest can be moved by the force of the lead screw.

The tool post, which is attached to the compound rest, is used to secure the tool holder and the cutting tool, and the cutting tool would stay stationary when it is held by the tool holder during operation.

The tailstock is mounted on the right end of the device. It supports the other end of the longer workpiece that is clamped by the chuck or collet on the headstock. The bed is the base of the whole components, and the bench is set on the ground and holds the entire device.


How Does a Lathe Work?

The principle of the operation in the lathes is that the cutting tool is held by the tool holder and stays stationary, and the workpiece that is clamped by the chuck or collet on the headstock would be rotated at a high speed with the spindle.

During the process of the rotating, the material of the workpiece is cut and eliminated by the cutting tool, so as to make the desired shape and size of the product, then the procedures are finished.

The spindle of the headstock is driven by the electric motor, which transfers the electric energy to the kinetic energy. Once the kinetic energy is delivered to the workpiece, then the workpiece would be rotated with the spindle, which is how the lathe works.


What Types of Lathes Are There?

There are a variety types of lathes that are used in the corresponding fields, and they can be either manual operated or automatically operated, depending on the types of the lathes they belong to, including bench lathes, speed lathes, engine lathes, tool room lathes, capstan and turret lathes, automatic lathes, special lathes, and CNC lathes.

Among all of the types of lathes, the engine lathes, tool room lathes, and bench lathes works similarly and are used for smaller volume of manufacturing. In contrast, the capstan and turret lathes are the improvement of the engine lathes, as they are capable of making a larger volume of products.

In addition, the CNC lathes are especially widely used nowadays. The CNC stands for computerized numerical control, which means the lathes are operated by following the programs that are designed in advance. Through the instructions of the computer, the lathes can be operated according to the program automatically, which makes the products that are made by CNC lathes contains with better precision and more versatile applications.


Lathes vs. Milling Machines

The lathes and the milling machines seem to be applied with the same purpose, which is to make products by cutting materials from the workpieces. However, they still have some differences in the methods of operation and the cutting tool that each one of them uses.

  • Methods of operation
    As far as we know, the lathes are operated by fixing the cutting tool to make it stationary, and rotate the workpiece with the spindle of the headstock, and complete the work when the cutting tool and the workpiece come in contact to each other.

    In contrast, the operation method of the milling machines is the opposite to the lathes. The milling machines are operated by holding the workpiece, and rotating the cutting tool to make the similar effect as the lathes.
  • The cutting tool
    When it comes to the removal of the materials, the cutting tools matter. In the lathes, the cutting tool that is clamped by the tool holder is usually single-bladed, while the cutting tool in the milling machine has multiple blades or multiple points.

    Although the cutting tools in either lathes or milling machines are different in the numbers of the blades or points, they still can achieve the desired appearance of the products that are supposed to be made by moving the workpieces in the form of lathes, and changing the cutting tools when using the milling machines.

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