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17 Types of Lathes (With Pictures)

Man operating lathe grinding machine

Lathes are used to shape different workpieces. They remove stock from the workpiece surface to get the desired shape and size. They can be used in several applications such as metal working, wood turning, glass working, thermal spraying, and metal spinning1.

Some lathe machines can perform several operations, including knurling, cutting, drilling, and sanding. Lathes also vary in their construction, design, and use. The most critical parts of the lathe include the lead screw, bed, spindle, guideways, prime mover, headstock, transmission system, chuck, and others.

The type of lathe you require depends on your needs and the material you want to shape. They are available in different sizes and shapes. Each type of lathe has particular applications and distinct characteristics.

This article offers an insight into the different lathe types, properties, and applications.

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The 17 Types of Lathes

1. Turret Lathes

Also referred to as capstan lathe machines, turret lathes are used for high-volume duplicated parts. These lathes are used to perform different operations such as reaming, turning, facing, and boring. They feature a hexagonal turret mounted on the saddle other than the tailstock.

Several tools can be fixed on turret lathes to carry out several operations on your workpiece. After each operation, you should rotate the turret, leading to massive production of interchangeable sections using one machine. Turret lathes are best suited when you want to perform sequential operations on your piece.

Using one lathe for different operations helps you to save time and minimize mistakes. They work effectively for mass production of large quantity parts2, and they are also the improved type of lathe machines.

Turret lathes feature three tool posts that require a massive floor space compared to other types of lathes. They work perfectly for large jobs, and the great thing is that they are also easy to operate compared to other lathe machines.

2. Speed Lathe Machine

Speed lathe machines are also referred to as wood lathes. As the name suggests, these machines work at high speed. They feature a high-speed spindle used to make items like bowls, baseball bats, and different furniture parts.

The machine is simpler than most of the other lathes. It features a tool turret, tailstock, and headstock. The lathe doesn’t have a feed mechanism; thus, you must operate the feed manually. The machine has a speed ranging between 1,200–3,600 revolutions per minute.3

The speed lathe machine is easy and simple to operate because it doesn’t have a feed rod, gearbox, carriage, or lead screw. Unlike most other machines, the precision you get when using these lathes is less because it is hand-operated.

The lathes require great skills, and a firm hand to offer spick and span contours, and smooth curves on your workpiece. Some of the work you can do with speed lathes include polishing, wood turning, metal spinning, and centering.

3. Engine Lathe Machines

These lathe machines were mostly used in steam engines in the 20th and 19th centuries. However, modern engine lathes are powered by individual motor drives. They are suitable for manufacturing operations of different metals. You can use the machines to carry out various operations like knurling, turning, facing, grooving, and threading.

Engine lathe machines feature bed, headstock, saddle, and tailstocks. They have moveable tailstocks used to support the knurling operations. They also have a rigid headstock. With these machines, you can feed the cutting tool in both longitudinal and lateral directions by feed mechanisms. The lathes are used in industries because of the availability of high and low-power operations. They are available in a wide range of sizes up to sixty feet.

All the major parts such as the carriage, headstock, cross slide, feed rod, compound rest, and tailstock are mounted on the lathe. The tailstock and headstock are mounted in a longitudinal direction. Like the speed lathe, the engine lathe’s headstock features a spindle with several speed ratios in the gearbox.

Cross slide and compound rests are placed on the carriage to allow for angular, transverse, or cross movement. The feed rod gives the linear moment to the carriage in the machine’s longitudinal direction. There is also a lead screw for making threads on your workpiece.

4. CNC Lathe Machine

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. CNC lathe machines offer high-level accuracy within a short time. The machines are designed using similar components to the manual lathes. These components include a chuck, spindle, centers, tool turret, headstock, and tail stock.

CNC lathes have a CNC control panel that other machines don’t have. The control panels offer input instructions and run programs. You can use the lathes for automotive, aerospace, and other applications. They are the most famous lathes because of their high working speed and accuracy.

The machines are more advanced since they use computer programming to control the lathe tool.4 When you feed the programs on the computer, it starts accordingly with high speed and accuracy. Even with few skills, you can operate this machine after you do the initial setup.

Like capstan and turret lathe, CNC lathe machines are used for mass production. However, capstan and turret do not feature programming feed systems. CNC lathe machines have components with high-level accuracy on dimensional tolerances.

5. Automatic Lathe Machine

As the name suggests, these lathes operate automatically. Unlike the standard lathe machines, automatic ones are the most suitable for mass production. They feature a mechanism that allows for automation. You don’t have to manually change the tool because of the automation function.

The most significant benefit of using automatic lathes is that one person can operate four to five machines simultaneously. They are high-speed and heavy-duty lathe machines.

6. Tool Room Lathes

Tool room lathes are used when you need high precision in your workpiece. You can use them for drilling, turning, reaming, grinding, and boring. The lathes are suitable for high-precision tools and other jobs requiring high accuracy.

The gearbox is attached to the headstock to provide different speed ratios varying from low speed to high speed. This gives you several options for speed, going from low to high speed. The lathes are operated at speeds going up to 2,500 revolutions per minute5.

They have the same parts as the engine lathes, but the tool room lathes are built with high-level accuracy and arranged in the correct sequence to give high precision. Some of the products you can use with the lathe include precision tools, metal die, fixtures, and jigs.

7. Bench Lathe Machine

These are small lathes mounted over a bench. They are used for work that doesn’t require high-level precision. These lathes have the same components as the engine and speed lathe.

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Special Purpose Lathes

These machines are used to execute specific functions that cannot be done with other lathe or standard machines. They are more suitable for heavy-duty production of identical sections. Special purpose lathes include multi-spindle, vertical, wheel, production, and duplicate lathes.

The lathes are used for machining journals and rail rods. They turn the threads on the locomotive wheels. The lathes are applied in jet engines rotor machining. The lathe bed and headstock spindle axis are usually at a right angle. Here are some of the special purpose lathes:

8. Wheel Lathes

These are large special purpose lathes designed to turn tired and solid wheels, roadways wheels, and worn-out locomotive wheels threads. The machine turns them into the correct profile by shelling all unwanted shapes and removing spots.

9. Bench Type Jewelers

These are the smallest of the standard lathes made specifically for machining small parts with higher-level precision. The lathe features a feed screw, chuck, and others. The feeds and controls are calibrated in small increments leading to the higher precision of the piece.

10. Crankshaft Lathes

These lathes have attachments such as threading, taper turning, and others. The machine is mainly used to turn long parts such as engine shafts, air compressor crankshafts, turbines, etc.

11. Vertical Lathe Machines

These lathes are used for tasks such as large gear blanks, dense and heavy flywheels, and others. They are the same as the horizontal lathes. Due to space limitations, you can use vertical lathes in the place of the horizontal lathes.

Vertical lathes are also more preferred for boring and turning on heavy and large rotating parts that cannot be supported on other types of lathes. The machine features a dense, heavy base to the lower part that carries the face plate to hold your workpiece.

12. Precision Lathes

Precision lathes are machines that work with a dimensional accuracy as small as 0.002 millimeters. It works more perfectly than a grinding machine because of its fine dimensional accuracy.

13. Facing Lathe

This is a lathe with a carriage driven by a separate motor with an independent main spindle. The tailstock is not usually indicated and is used mainly for machining the end faces of large cylindrical projects.

14. Frontal Lathe

Frontal lathes have two carriages, one on each end. Two heads are making it possible for the machine to work on two jobs simultaneously. The lathe is suitable for smaller tasks.

15. Production Lathe

Production lathes feature a bed inclining towards the rear end. This feature ensures that the machine removes the chips completely and fast, saving time on heavy work. It’s made for mass production of cylindrical parts, and it enhances the production rate. However, you cannot use it for repair work.

16. Duplicate Lathe

The duplicate lathe features a tracer that is connected to the carriage. The tracer moves the template and guides the carriage. It’s suitable for mass production of similar parts whereby the previously produced part works as the sample.

17. Screw Cutting Lathe

The machine is used for screw cutting and operates through cams and cam plates. It helps in the mass production of screwed parts and is mainly used for precision screw work.

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Lathes are machines that help shape different workpieces. However, they do not come in one-size-fits-all designs. There are different types, and the one you require depends on the material you are working on and your specific requirements. Considering the more automated CNC lathes, manual lathes, and specialty lathes, you get a lot of options to choose from.

By checking the different features and results expected, you will be able to determine the best for your job. For instance, you can choose turret lathes for mass production or tool room to get accurate results.

Featured Photo Credit: QBR, Shutterstock


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