A lathe is a machine tool which spins a block of material to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, or deformation with tools that are applied to the workpiece to create an object which has symmetry about an axis of rotation.
Lathes are used in woodturning, metalworking, metal spinning, and glassworking. Lathes can be used to shape pottery, the best-known design being the potter's wheel. Most suitably equipped metalworking lathes can also be used to produce most solids of revolution, plane surfaces and screw threads or helices. Ornamental lathes can produce three-dimensional solids of incredible complexity. The material is held in place by either one or two centers, at least one of which can be moved horizontally to accommodate varying material lengths. Examples of objects that can be produced on a lathe include candlestick holders, cue sticks, table legs, bowls, baseball bats, crankshafts and camshafts.
The origin of turning dates to around 1300BC when the Egyptians first developed a two-person lathe. One person would turn the wood work piece with a rope while the other used a sharp tool to cut shapes in the wood. The Romans improved the Egyptian design with the addition of a turning bow. Early bow lathes were also developed and used in Germany, France and Britain. In the Middle Ages a pedal replaced hand-operated turning, freeing both the craftsman's hands to hold the woodturning tools. The pedal was usually connected to a pole, often a straight-grained sapling. The system today is called the "spring pole" lathe (see Polelathe). Spring pole lathes were in common use into the early 20th Century. A two-person lathe, called a "great lathe", allowed a piece to turn continuously (like today's power lathes). A master would cut the wood while an apprentice turned the crank.
During the industrial revolution the lathe was motorized, allowing wooden turned items to be created in less time and allowing the working of metal on a lathe. The motor also produced a greater rotational speed, making it easier to quickly produce high quality work. Today most commercial lathes are computer-operated allowing for mass-production that can be created with accurate precision and without the cost of employing craftsmen.
A lathe may or may not have a stand (or legs), which sits on the floor and elevates the lathe bed to a working height. Some lathes are small and sit on a workbench or table, and do not have a stand.
Almost all lathes have a "bed", which is (almost always) a horizontal beam (although some CNC lathes have a vertical beam for a bed to ensure that swarf, or chips, falls free of the bed). A notable exception is the Hegner VB36 Master Bowlturner, a woodturning lathe designed for turning large bowls, which in its basic configuration is little more than a very large floorstanding headstock.
At one end of the bed (almost always the left, as the operator faces the lathe) is a "headstock". The headstock contains high-precision spinning bearings.
Rotating within the bearings is a horizontal axle, with an axis parallel to the bed, called the "spindle". Spindles are often hollow, and have exterior threads and/or an interior Morse taper on the "inboard" (i.e., facing to the right / towards the bed) by which accessories which hold the workpiece may be mounted to the spindle. Spindles may also have exterior threads and/or an interior taper at their "outboard" (i.e., facing away from the bed) end, and/or may have a handwheel or other accessory mechanism on their outboard end. Spindles are powered, and impart motion to the workpiece.
The spindle is driven, either by foot power from a treadle and flywheel or by a belt drive to a power source. In some modern lathes this power source is an integral electric motor, often either in the headstock, to the left of the headstock, or beneath the headstock, concealed in the stand.
The counterpoint to the headstock is the tailstock, sometimes referred to as the loose head, as it can be positioned at any convenient point on the bed, by undoing a locking nut, sliding it to the required area, and then relocking it. The tailstock contains a barrel which does not rotate, but can slide in and out parallel to the axis of the bed, and directly in line with the headstock spindle. The barrel is hollow, and usually contains a taper to facilitate the gripping of various type of tooling. Its most common uses are to hold a hardened steel centre, which is used to support long thin shafts while turning, or to hold drill bits for drilling axial holes in the work piece. Many other uses are possible.
Metalworking lathes have a "cross slide", which is a flat piece that sits crosswise on the bed, and can be cranked at right angles to the bed. Sitting atop the cross slide is a toolpost, which holds a cutting tool which removes material from the workpiece. There may or may not be a leadscrew, which moves the cross slide along the bed.
Woodturning and metal spinning lathes do not have cross slides, but have "banjos", which are flat pieces that sit crosswise on the bed. The position of a banjo can be adjusted by hand; no gearing is involved. Ascending vertically from the banjo is a tool post, at the top of which is a horizontal "tool rest". In woodturning, hand tools are braced against the tool rest and levered into the workpiece. In metal spinning, the further pin ascends vertically from the tool rest, and serves as a fulcrum against which tools may be levered into the workpiece.
Unless a workpiece has a taper machined onto it which perfectly matches the internal taper in the spindle, or has threads which perfectly match the external threads on the spindle (two things which almost never happen), an accessory must be used to mount a workpiece to the spindle.
In precision work (and in some classes of repetition work), cylindrical workpieces are invariably held in a collet inserted into the spindle and secured either by a drawbar, or by a collet closing cap on the spindle. Suitable collets may also be used to mount square or hexagonal workpieces. In precision toolmaking work such collets are usually of the draw in variety, where as collet is tightened the workpiece moves slightly back into the headstock, whereas for most repetition work the dead length variety is preferered as this ensures that the position of the workpiece does not move as the collet is tightened, so the workpiece can be set in the lathe to a fixed position and it will not move on tightening the collet.
A soft workpiece (wooden) may be pinched between centers by using a spur drive at the headstock, which bites into the wood and imparts torque to it.
A soft dead center is used in the headstock spindle as the work rotates with the centre. Because the centre is soft it can be trued in place before use. The included angle is 60 degrees. Traditionally a hard dead center is used together with suitable lubricant in the tailstock to support the workpiece. In modern practice the dead center is frequently replaced by a live center or (revolving center) as it turns freely with the workpiece usually on ball bearings, reducing the frictional heat, which is especially important at high RPM. A lathe carrier or lathe dog may also be employed when turning between two centers.
In woodturning, one subtype of a live center is a cup center, which is a cone of metal surrounded by an annular ring of metal that decreases the chances of the workpiece splitting.
A circular metal plate with even spaced holes around the periphery, mounted to the spindle, is called an "index plate". It can be used to rotate the spindle a precise number of degrees, then lock it in place, facilitating repeated auxiliary operations done to the workpiece.
When a workpiece is fixed between the headstock and the tailstock, it is said to be "between centers". When a workpiece is supported at both ends, it is more stable, and more force may be applied to the workpiece, via tools, at a right angle to the axis of rotation, without fear that the workpiece may break loose.
When a workpiece is fixed only to the spindle at the headstock end, the work is said to be "face work". When a workpiece is supported in this manner, less force may be applied to the workpiece, via tools, at a right angle to the axis of rotation, lest the workpiece rip free. Thus, most work must be done axially, towards the headstock, or at right angles, but gently.
When a workpiece is mounted with a certain axis of rotation, worked, then remounted with a new axis of rotation, this is referred to as "eccentric turning" or "multi axis turning". The result is that various cross sections of the workpiece are rotationally symmetric, but the workpiece as a whole is not rotationally symmetric. This technique is used for camshafts, various types of chair legs, etc.
The smallest lathes are "jewelers lathes" or "watchmaker lathes", which are small enough that they may be held in one hand. Although the workpieces machined on a jeweler's lathes are metal, jeweler's lathes differ from all other metal working lathes in that the cutting tools (called "gravers") are hand held and supported by a T-rest, not fixed to a cross slide. The work is usually held in a collet. Two spindle bore sizes to receive the collets are common, namely 6 mm and 8 mm. Two patterns of bed are common: the WW (Webster Whitcomb) bed, a truncated triangular prism (found only on 8 mm watchmakers lathes); and the continental D-style bar bed (used on both 6 mm and 8 mm lathes by firms such as Lorch and Star). Other bed designs have been used, such a triangular prism on some Boley 6.5 mm lathes, and a V-edged bed on IME's 8 mm lathes.
Lathes that sit on a bench or table are called "bench lathes".
Lathes that do not have additional integral features for repetitive production, but rather are used for individual part production or modification as the primary role, are called "engine lathes".
Lathes with a very large spindle bore and a chuck on both ends of the spindle are called "oil field lathes."
Fully automatic mechanical lathes, employing cams and gear trains for controlled movement, are called screw machines.
Lathes that are controlled by a computer are CNC lathes.
Lathes with the spindle mounted in a vertical configuration, instead of horizontal configuration, are called vertical lathes or vertical boring machines. They are used where very large diameters must be turned, and the workpiece (comparatively) is not very long.
A lathe with a cylindrical tailstock that can rotate around a vertical axis, so as to present different facets towards the headstock (and the workpiece) are turret lathes.
A lathe equipped with indexing plates, profile cutters, spiral or helical guides, etc., so as to enable ornamental turning is an ornamental lathe.
Various combinations are possible: e.g. one could have a vertical CNC lathe (such as a CNC VTL), etc.
Woodworking lathes are the oldest variety. All other varieties are descended from these simple lathes. An adjustable horizontal metal rail - the tool rest - between the material and the operator accommodates the positioning of shaping tools, which are usually hand-held. With wood, it is common practice to press and slide sandpaper against the still-spinning object after shaping to smooth the surface made with the metal shaping tools.
There are also woodworking lathes for making bowls and plates, which have no horizontal metal rail, as the bowl or plate needs only to be held by one side from a metal face plate. Without this rail, there is very little restriction to the width of the piece being turned. Further detail can be found on the woodturning page.
In a metalworking lathe, metal is removed from the workpiece using a hardened cutting tool, which is usually fixed to a solid moveable mounting called the "toolpost", which is then moved against the workpiece using handwheels and/or computer controlled motors.
The toolpost is operated by leadscrews that can accurately position the tool in a variety of planes. The toolpost may be driven manually or automatically to produce the roughing and finishing cuts required to turn the workpiece to the desired shape and dimensions, or for cutting threads, worm gears, etc. Cutting fluid may also be pumped to the cutting site to provide cooling, lubrication and clearing of swarf from the workpiece. Some lathes may be operated under control of a computer for mass production of parts (see "Computer Numerical Control").
Metalworking lathes are commonly provided with a variable ratio gear train to drive the main leadscrew. This enables different pitches of threads to be cut. Some older gear trains are changed manually by using interchangeable gears with various numbers of teeth, while more modern or elaborate lathes have a quick change box to provide commonly used ratios by the operation of a lever.
The threads that can be cut are, in some ways, determined by the pitch of the leadscrew: A lathe with a metric leadscrew will readily cut metric threads (including BA), while one with an imperial leadscrew will readily cut imperial unit based threads such as BSW or UTS (UNF,UNC).
The workpiece may be supported between a pair of points called centres, or it may be bolted to a faceplate or held in a chuck. A chuck has movable jaws that can grip the workpiece securely.
In diamond turning, a computer-controlled lathe with a diamond-tipped tool is used to make precision optical surfaces in glass or other optical materials. Unlike conventional optical grinding, complex aspheric surfaces can be machined easily. Instead of the dovetailed ways used on the tool slide of a metal turning lathe, the ways typically float on air bearings and the position of the tool is measured by optical interferometry to achieve the necessary standard of precision for optical work. The finished work piece usually requires a small amount subsequent polishing by conventional techniques to achieve a finished surface suitably smooth for use in a lens, but the rough grinding time is significantly reduced for complex lenses.
Metal spinning lathes are almost as simple as woodturning lathes (and, at this point, lathes being used for metal spinning almost always are woodworking lathes). Typically, metal spinning lathes require a user-supplied rotationally symmetric mandrel, usually made of wood, which serves as a template onto which the workpiece is moulded (non-symmetric shapes can be done, but it is a very advanced technique). For example, if you want to make a sheet metal bowl, you need a solid chunk of wood in the shape of the bowl; if you want to make a vase, you need a solid template of a vase, etc.
Given the advent of high speed, high pressure, industrial die forming, metal spinning is less common now than it once was, but still a valuable technique for producing one-off prototypes or small batches where die forming would be uneconomical.
The ornamental turning lathe was developed around the same time as the industrial screwcutting lathe in the nineteenth century. It was used not for making practical objects, but for decorative work - ornamental turning. By using accessories such as the horizontal and vertical cutting frames, eccentric chuck and elliptical chuck, solids of extraordinary complexity may be produced by various generative procedures. A special purpose lathe, the Rose engine lathe is also used for ornamental turning, in particular for engine turning, typically in precious metals, for example to decorate pocket watch cases. As well as a wide range of accessories, these lathes usually have complex dividing arrangements to allow the exact rotation of the mandrel. Cutting is usually carried out by rotating cutters, rather than directly by the rotation of the work itself. Because of the difficulty of polishing such work, the materials turned, such as wood or ivory, are usually quite soft, and the cutter has to be exceptionally sharp. The finest ornamental lathes are generally considered to be those made by Holtzapffel around the turn of the 19th century.
Many types of lathes can be equipped with accessory components to allow them to reproduce an item: the original item is mounted on one spindle, the blank is mounted on another, and as both turn in synchronized manner, one end of an arm "reads" the original and the other end of the arm "carves" the duplicate.
A reducing lathe is a specialized lathe that is designed with this feature, and which incorporates a mechanism similar to a pantograph, so that when the "reading" end of the arm reads a detail that measures one inch (for example), the cutting end of the arm creates an analogous detail that is (for example) one quarter of an inch (a 4:1 reduction, although given appropriate machinery and appropriate settings, any reduction ratio is possible).
Reducing lathes are used in coin-making, where a plaster original (or an epoxy master made from the plaster original, or a copper shelled master made from the plaster original, etc.) is duplicated and reduced on the reducing lathe, generating a master die.
Watchmakers lathes are delicate but precise metalworking lathes, usually without provision for screwcutting, and are still used by horologists for work such as the turning of balance shafts. A handheld tool called a graver is often used in preference to a slide mounted tool. The original watchmaker's turns was a simple dead-centre lathe with a moveable rest and two loose headstocks. The workpiece would be rotated by a bow, typically of horsehair, wrapped around it.
TURNING: Reduction in the diameter of the work piece is called turning. There are four different types such as straight turning, taper turning, profiling or external grooving. Those types of turning processes can produce various shapes of materials such as straight, conical, curved, or grooved work piece. Turning uses simple single-point cutting tools
FACING: Reduction in length of the work piece is called facing operation. A lathe can be used to create a smooth, flat, face very accurately perpendicular to the axis of a cylindrical part.
BORING: Enlargement of the diameter of the holes is called boring operation. When boring is done in a lathe, the work usually is held in a chuck or on a face plate. Holes may be bored straight, tapered, tool parallel to the rotation axis of the work piece or to irregular contours.
PARTING: A parting tool is deeper and narrower than a turning tool. It is designed for making narrow grooves and for cutting off parts. When a parting tool is installed, ensure that it hangs over the tool holder enough that the holder will clear the work piece (but no more than that). Ensure that the parting tool is perpendicular to the axis of rotation and that the tip is the same height as the centre of the part. A good way to do this is to hold the tool against the face of the part.
THREADING: Threading can be performed on the lathe machine very efficiently because lathe machine is versatile operation machine. Two basic requirements for thread cutting are an accurately shaped and properly mounted tool is needed because thread cutting is a form-cutting operation. The second by requirement is that the tool must move longitudinally in a specific relationship to the rotation of the work piece, because this determines the lead of the thread. This requirement is met through the use of the lead screw and the split unit, which provide positive motion of the carriage relative to the rotation of the spindle.
TAPER TURNING: When the diameter of a piece changes uniformly from one end to the other, the piece is said to be tapered. Taper turning as a machining operation is the gradual reduction in diameter from one part of a cylindrical work piece to another part. Tapers can be either external or internal. If a work piece is tapered on the outside, it has an external taper; if it is tapered on the inside, it has an internal taper. There are three basic methods of turning tapers with a lathe. Depending on the degree, length, location of the taper (internal or external), and the number of pieces to be done, the operator will use the compound rest, offset the tailstock, or use the taper attachment.
COMPOUND RESTS: The compound rest is favorable for turning or boring short, steep tapers, but it can also be used for longer, gradual tapers providing the length of taper does not exceed the distance the compound rest will move upon its slide. This method can be used with a high degree of accuracy, but is somewhat limited due to lack of automatic feed and the length of taper being restricted to the movement of the slide. The compound rest base is graduated in degrees and can be set at the required angle for taper turning or boring. With this method, it is necessary to know the included angle of the taper to be machined. The angle of the taper with the center line is one-half the included angle and will be the angle the compound rest is set for. For example, to true up a lathe center which has an included angle of 60°, the compound rest would be set at 30° from parallel to the ways. If there is no degree of angle given for a particular job, then calculate the compound rest setting by finding the taper per inch, and then calculating the tangent of the angle (which is the: compound rest setting) . For example, the compound rest setting for the work piece shown in would be calculated in the following manner Where TPI = taper per inch D = large diameter, d = small diameter, L = length of taper angle = compound rest setting The problem is actually worked out by substituting numerical values for the letter variables: Apply the formula to find the angle by substituting the numerical values for the letter variables: To machine the taper the compound rest will be set at 22°37 '. Since the base of the compound rest is not calibrated in minutes, the operator will set the base to an approximate degree reading, make trial cuts, take measurements, and readjust as necessary to obtain the desired angle of taper. The included angle of the work piece is double that of the tangent of angle (compound rest setting). In this case, the double of 22°37' would equal the included angle of 45°14'. To machine a taper by this method, the tool bit is set on center with the work piece axis. Turn the compound rest feed handle in a counterclockwise direction to move the compound rest near its rear limit of travel to assure sufficient traverse to complete the taper. Bring the tool bit into position with the work piece by traversing and cross-feeding the carriage. Lock the carriage to the lathe bed when the tool bit is in position. Cut from right to left, adjusting the depth of cut by moving the cross feed handle and reading the calibrated collar located on the cross feed handle. Feed the tool bit by hand-turning the compound rest feed handle in a clockwise direction. When cutting a taper using the taper attachment, the direction of feed should be from the intended small diameter toward the intended large diameter. Cutting in this manner, the depth of cut will decrease as the tool bit passes along the work piece surface and will assist the operator in preventing possible damage to the tool bit, work piece, and lathe by forcing too deep a cut.
THREAD DESIGNATIONS: In general, screw thread designations give the screw number (or diameter) first, then the thread per inch. Next is the thread series containing the initial letter of the series, NC (National Coarse), UNF (Unified Fine), NS (National Special), and so forth followed by the class of fit. If a thread is left-hand, the letters LH follow the fit. An example of designations is as follows: Two samples and explanations of thread designations are as follows: • No 12 (0.216) - 24 NC-3. This is a number 12 (0.216-inch diameter) threads, 24 National Coarse threads per inch, and Class 3 ways of designating the fit between parts, including tolerance grades, tolerance positions, and tolerance classes. A simpler fit. • 1/4-28 UNF-2A LH. This is an l/4-inch diameter thread, 28 Unified Fine threads per inch, Class 2A fit, and left-hand thread.
KNURLING: Knurling is a process of impressing a diamond shaped or straight line pattern into the surface of a work piece by using specially shaped hardened metal wheels to improve its appearance and to provide a better gripping surface. Straight knurling is often used to increase the work piece diameter when a press fit is required between two parts. Two common types of knurling tools are the knuckle joint and revolving head type of knurling tools. The knuckle joint type is equipped with a single pair of rollers that revolve with the work as it is being knurled. The revolving head type of tool is fitted with three pairs of rollers so that the pitch can be changed to a different knurl without having to change the setup. There are two knurl patterns, diamond and straight. There are three pitches of rollers, coarse, medium, and fine. The diamond is the most common pattern and the medium pitch is used most often. The coarse pitch is used for large-diameter work; the fine pitch is used for small-diameter work.
POLISHING ON THE LATHE: Polishing with either abrasive cloth or abrasive paper is desirable to improve the surface finish after filing. Emery abrasive cloth is best for ferrous metals while abrasive paper often gives better results on nonferrous materials. The most effective speed for polishing with ordinary abrasives is approximately 5,000 feet per minute. Since most lathes are not capable of a speed this great for an average size work piece, it is necessary to select as high a speed as conditions will permit.
FILING ON THE LATHE: Mill files are generally considered best for lathe filing. The bastard cut mill type hand file is used for roughing and the second cut mill-type hand file for the finer class of work. Other types such as the round, half-round and flat hand files may also be used for finishing irregular shaped work pieces. Never use a file without a handle. For filing ferrous metals, the lathe spindle speed should be four or five times greater than the rough turning speed. For filing nonferrous metals, the lathe spindle speed should be only two or three times greater than the roughing speed. Too slow a speed may cause the work piece to be filed out of round, while too high a speed will cause the file to slide over the work piece, dulling the file and glazing the piece.