Introduction to Manual Lathes

Introduction To The Manual Lathe



A manual lathe is a type of machine tool which rotates the workpiece about an axis against the edge of a cutting tool.  The workpiece created has symmetry about the axis of rotation.  The cutting tools can be moved about the workpiece in two different axes known as X and Z.  In the X axis, cutting tools are moved front to back.  In the Z axis they are moved left and right. The workpiece is usually held in place about the axis of rotation using a chuck or collet.  It can also be held in place by either one or two centers, one of which can typically be moved horizontally to accommodate varying workpiece lengths.


Lathes can be very dangerous machines.  It is extremely important to maintain good safety habits while operating them.  Make certain the workpiece and tool post are secured.  Verify you are using the correct spindle speed for the particular material you are cutting and that your cutting tool is not dull or chipped.  Be aware of the proper size and depth of cut that you can safely take depending on the speeds and feeds that you are running.  Always tie up loose hair or clothing before operating a lathe.  To keep a lathe in the best possible operating condition, there are preventative maintenance steps that need to be taken.  Before each use, verify that the machine has the proper amount of lubricant and add some if needed.  Clean the lead screw using a string and wipe away any chips that may remain from the last use.  Check the cross slides and if necessary adjust the gibs.  If you plan on using the tailstock, check its alignment and adjust it if it is out.  Doing proper maintenance on your Lathe is essential to keeping it in good running condition.  Lathes have and always will play a key role in the world of manufacturing and precision metalworking. The following is a brief explanation of the components that make up a lathe:

Operations on a lathe:

– Turning

– Knurling

– Drilling

– Facing

– Grooving

– Boring

Ways to hold a workpiece:


  • Ways – the flat or V-shaped bearing surfaces that align and guide the moving parts of the machine
  • Carriage – the assembly that moves along the ways and supports the tool post
  • Headstock – the end of the lathe that holds the spindle and the drive that rotates the workpiece
  • Tailstock – the device at the end of a lathe that uses either a live center or a dead center to support longer workpieces while they are being machined
  • Bed – the foundation of the entire machine that holds the headstock, tailstock and carriage in alignment
  • Saddle – the casting that fits onto the top of the bed and slides along it
  • Apron – the often flat and rectangular box that contains the drive mechanism for the machine’s power feed
  • Compound Rest – consists of the top slide and the cross slide that are used for angular movement
  • Tool Post – mount for various types of cutting tools
  • Lead Screw – a long, threaded rod normally found running along the front of the bed that transmits power to the carriage using a gear arrangement
  • Gearbox – box that contains different sized gears that are adjusted by reading a gear chart and moving the levers to the appropriate positions




Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top