Morse taper and morse taper shanks are also a metal machining term, not a term solely related to woodworking as such. It refers to the specific method of attaching a machine's working head to its motorized shaft, which is to precisely cut a tapered hole at the end of the shaft and a piece of the shaft on the head that is ground into a mating cone to fit that hole exactly. Morse taper fit is so precise into the shank that when tapped together, the two elements hold tight and transmit the required torque with virtually no slip. Breaking the friction and separating a morse taper shank combination again requires considerable force, but not so much that it cannot be done in the event of the need to replace the working heads or maintain the machine.
The Morse taper was invented in 1864 by Stephen A. Morse, an enterprising mechanic, who developed it to reliably connect two rotating parts of a machine. The orthopedic industry has adapted these cones, under the generic name of Morse cones, as a way to reliably connect the modular total joint components directly on the operating table. The principle of a Morse taper shank is like a cone in a cone. The spigot and bore are equally tapered. Close contact occurs when the hole in the femoral head is screwed into the femoral shaft. The cone of the femur compresses the walls in the opening as it expands. In this way, the stresses inside the materials hold both components together.
All common lathes and drills use a tapered spindle to clamp the tooling and one way is to use morse taper shanks. They are designed for a male slightly tapered spindle that fits into the machine's hollow housing. The tooling movement forces the sleeve back into the housing, raising the surface strain between the two metal surfaces, and slippage is avoided by the resultant friction. The specification ensures correct centering of drill arbors and turning centers and rapid installation.
A variety of standards have been developed and adopted by industry to simplify the assembly of these two elements, the most popular of which is the morse cone that was developed in the late 19th century.
Eight sizes are available, from MT-0 to MT-7, to quickly see what size morse taper shank you have, just measure the large diameter at point 'A', and then you will most likely get enough information to be able to order the correct grip. The typical tooling for lathes and wood drills in the woodworking arena is MT1 or MT2, so you shouldn't have much trouble determining which one you have.
To determine the size of the morse taper of a lathe head spindle or a tailstock actuator, you can measure the shank diameter of an existing drive or rear means that may fit. If you do not have an existing center or drive to measure, measure the hole of the hollow morse taper shank on the head spindle and/or tailstock actuator of the lathe. Most lathes use the same MT in both the head and tailstock. However, some lathes will use one MT size in the butt and a different MT size for the tailstock, so be sure to check both to get the correct MT size accessories you need for your lathe.
Make sure that you check the tapered pin on the large end. Due to the morse taper shank, the measurement will vary when using a caliper depending on where you are measuring along the spindle. Measure the large diameter of the tapered pin. Your measurement should be close enough to reveal the actual Morse taper shank of the shaft. There are lathes with other sizes of morse taper, but sizes 1, 2, and 3 are the most common sizes for popular wood lathes. Machine and industrial lathes can be even larger. Morse taper is a very useful method of holding tooling in place with great holding force while allowing easy removal. Morse taper shanks are also found on drill chucks used in lathes and drills.
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