Background information of a lathe machine

The tail-stock 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 types of tooling. Its most common uses are to hold a hardened steel center, 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 carriage comprising a saddle and apron topped with 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 usually another slide called a compound rest, which provides 2 additional axes of motion, rotary and linear.


Atop that sits 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 rather 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 conditions which rarely exist , an accessory must be used to mount a workpiece to the spindle.

A workpiece may be bolted or screwed to a faceplate , a large, flat disk that mounts to the spindle. In the alternative, faceplate dogs may be used to secure the work to the faceplate. A workpiece may be mounted on a mandrel , or circular work clamped in a three- or four-jaw chuck. For irregular shaped workpieces it is usual to use a four jaw independent moving jaws chuck. These holding devices mount directly to the lathe headstock spindle.

In precision work, and in some classes of repetition work, cylindrical workpieces are usually held in a collet inserted into the spindle and secured either by a draw-bar, 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 the collet is tightened, the workpiece moves slightly back into the headstock, whereas for most repetition work the dead length variety is preferred, as this ensures that the position of the workpiece does not move as the collet is tightened.

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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. 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 , as it turns freely with the workpiece—usually on ball bearings—reducing the frictional heat, especially important at high speeds. When clear facing a long length of material it must be supported at both ends.

This can be achieved by the use of a traveling or fixed steady.

If a steady is not available, the end face being worked on may be supported by a dead stationary half center. A half center has a flat surface machined across a broad section of half of its diameter at the pointed end. A small section of the tip of the dead center is retained to ensure concentricity.

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Lubrication must be applied at this point of contact and tail stock pressure reduced. A lathe carrier or lathe dog may also be employed when turning between two centers. In woodturning, one variation 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 to a precise angle, then lock it in place, facilitating repeated auxiliary operations done to the workpiece.

Other accessories, including items such as taper turning attachments, knurling tools, vertical slides, fixed and traveling steadies, etc.

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When a workpiece is fixed between the headstock and the tail-stock, 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. The smallest lathes are "jewelers lathes" or "watchmaker lathes", which, though often small enough to be held in one hand are normally fastened to a bench.

The workpieces machined on a jeweler's lathe are often metal, but other softer materials can also be machined. Jeweler's lathes can be used with hand-held "graver" tools or with a "compound rest" that attach to the lathe bed and allows the tool to be clamped in place and moved by a screw or lever feed. Graver tools are generally supported by a T-rest, not fixed to a cross slide or compound rest. The work is usually held in a collet, but high-precision 3 and 6-jaw chucks are also commonly employed. Most lathes commonly referred to as watchmakers lathes are of this design. Derbyshire, Inc.

Other bed designs have been used, such a triangular prism on some Boley 6. Smaller metalworking lathes that are larger than jewelers' lathes and can sit on a bench or table, but offer such features as tool holders and a screw-cutting gear train are called hobby lathes, and larger versions, "bench lathes" - this term also commonly applied to a special type of high-precision lathe used by toolmakers for one-off jobs. Lathes of these types do not have additional integral features for repetitive production, but rather are used for individual part production or modification as the primary role.

Lathes of this size that are designed for mass manufacture, but not offering the versatile screw-cutting capabilities of the engine or bench lathe, are referred to as "second operation" 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 tool post that can rotate around a vertical axis, so as to present different tools towards the headstock and the workpiece are turret lathes. A lathe equipped with indexing plates, profile cutters, spiral or helical guides, etc.

Lathes can be combined with other machine tools, such as a drill press or vertical milling machine.

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  • These are usually referred to as combination lathes. 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. After shaping, it is common practice to press and slide sandpaper against the still-spinning object to smooth the surface made with the metal shaping tools.

    The tool rest is usually removed during sanding, as it may be unsafe to have the operators hands between it and the spinning wood. Many woodworking lathes can also be used for making bowls and plates. The bowl or plate needs only to be held at the bottom by one side of the lathe. It is usually attached to a metal face plate attached to the spindle. With many lathes, this operation happens on the left side of the headstock, where are no rails and therefore more clearance. In this configuration, the piece can be shaped inside and out.

    A specific curved tool rest may be used to support tools while shaping the inside. Further detail can be found on the woodturning page.

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    Most woodworking lathes are designed to be operated at a speed of between and 1, revolutions per minute, with slightly over 1, rpm considered optimal for most such work, and with larger workpieces requiring lower speeds. One type of specialized lathe is duplicating or copying lathe also known as Blanchard lathe after its inventor Thomas Blanchard.

    This type of lathe was able to create shapes identical to a standard pattern and it revolutionized the process of gun stock making in 's when it was invented. Used to make a pattern for foundries , often from wood, but also plastics. A patternmaker's lathe looks like a heavy wood lathe, often with a turret and either a leadscrew or a rack and pinion to manually position the turret. The turret is used to accurately cut straight lines. They often have a provision to turn very large parts on the other end of the headstock, using a free-standing toolrest.

    Another way of turning large parts is a sliding bed, which can slide away from the headstock and thus open up a gap in front of the headstock for large parts. These cutting tools come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, depending upon their application. Some common styles are diamond, round, square and triangular. The tool-post is operated by lead-screws that can accurately position the tool in a variety of planes.