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Lathes are used for shaping materials by rotating the workpiece against the cutting tool in precision applications. They are used in boring, cutting, drilling, facing, knurling, threading and turning operations. Woodworking lathes are also available for turning, cutting, sanding, knurling and drilling at higher speed applications.

Diagram of a Lathe

Lathes diagram

Essential Tips:

The headstock is located on the user’s left side of the lathe bed. It contains the main spindle, oil reservoir and spindle speed mechanism. The apron in front of the lathe is used for powering the feed and threading operation. The spindle has a full length hole for accommodating longer workpieces.

The tailstock is located on the user’s right side of the lathe bed (opposite location of the headstock.) It is designed to support one end of the workpiece when machining between the centers. It can handle longer pieces that are held by a chuck as well as drills, reamers and taps when used with a drill chuck.



Lathe Types:

Choosing the right lathe is critical for the performance of your operation. The correct machine type (lathe) is determined by several factors, including the swing size bed length and the type of material being machined.


Bench Lathes Image

Bench Lathes are used for light- to medium-duty work and are mounted onto a workbench or stand. They are capable of machining larger work than hobby lathes with swings of 9" to 13".


Engine Lathes Image

Engine Lathes are used for heavy-duty work and offer heavy casted machine bases with built-in coolant systems and foot brakes. The swing range on these lathes is from 13" and larger.


Miniature Lathes Image

Miniature Lathes, also known as hobby or micro-lathes, are used for machining small parts. They can have swings that range from 3" to 9".


Toolroom Lathes Image

Toolroom Lathes are used for collet work and precision finishing operations.


Turret Lathes Image

Turret Lathes are used for the repetitive re-production of a part. The turret is an indexable tool-holder that can be used with different cutting tools for multiple cutting operations. They index out of the cutting area after the task is completed.



Spindle speed control indicates the type of mechanism used to drive the speed at which the spindle turns.

Frequency Drive systems, also known as Electronic Variable Speed control (EVS), are similar to gear change systems, but the speed is controlled electronically. These systems feature several speeds within a specified speed range.

Geared Head lathes generally feature drive belt(s) from the motor to the headstock. Speed changes are made by shifting gear lever combinations in the headstock.

Variable Speed Pulleys are driven by a V-shaped belt system and a variable speed assembly, which has an infinite speed range regulated by the turn of a dial.

Phase: refers to how the current passes through a motor.

Single-Phase refers to one phase line (coil) that connects to and runs voltage through the motor. Single phase lines are not as efficient as three-phase motors.

Lathes Image

Three-Phase refers to three individual lines (coils) that connect to and run voltage through the motor. Each line alternates in a sequence as they reach their voltage peak. They provide a more stable flow of voltage and more horsepower to the equipment.

Lathe Bed is the supporting surface on which the saddle and tailstock are moved.

Cross Slide is a fixture attached to the lathe that can be moved in and out. It is used in conjunction with a handwheel to feed the tools to the workpiece.

Distance Between Centers refers to the maximum length of the workpiece that can be held between the headstock and the tailstock.

Horsepower measures the mechanical power output. It is calculated from the torque exhibited at a standard RPM for rotary motion. The more horsepower, the more torque during an operation.

Swing measures the largest diameter of the workpiece that can be rotated on the spindle without hitting the bed-ways.

Spindle Bore Diameter is the measurement of the hole in the spindle.

Spindle Taper Size (sleeve) is the measurement of the sleeve’s taper on the spindle. Spindles with sleeves are designed for adapting Morse taper shanks so they can accommodate either larger or smaller Morse taper holders. Ideal for better grips during an operation.

Lathes Image

Spindle Taper Size (no sleeve) is the measurement of the spindle’s taper.

Tool Post is the part of the lathe that accommodates the mounted tool holders.

Voltage is the force of electromotive power that causes the charge between two points in an electrical field.

Ways are the bearing or guiding surfaces on a machining tool that aligns the parts on the machine. They can be flat or V-shaped.


Related Lathe Equipment from MSC:

Digital Readout (DRO) systems are used for indicating the position of the cutting tool relative to a workpiece. The positions are detected by encoders mounted on the axis. They feature a numeric display and keyboard. DRO systems are used with milling and boring machines, lathes and surface grinders. Please refer to Tech Essential DRO Systems for more information.

5C Collets are used to hold a workpiece while it is being machined in turning or milling operations. They are designed with a thread at the end to allow the collet to be pulled against its taper to clamp the workpiece.

Lathe chucks are used to accurately clamp a workpiece on a lathe for turning operations or can be used on an indexing fixture for milling operations. Manual lathe chucks manually open or close jaws with a screw or pinion. Power lathe chucks use hydraulics, pneumatics or electricity to close the jaws. They have a high gripping accuracy and are designed for mass production. Please refer to Tech Essential Lathe Chucks for more information.

Drill chucks are devices used to hold a drill or other cutting tool on a spindle. They are available in keyed, keyless or hybrid systems allowing for quick changes of a drill bit.

A variety of lathe accessories are available including Lathe Machine Stands, Lathe Slides, Lathe Spindles, and more.