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Types of Lathes Simplified

30 Jun 20

Lathe machines are machines used for shaping various types of workpieces, but they don’t come one size fits all. There are many types of lathe and which one you need will depend on the material you are shaping and your specific requirements.

For those who are looking to clarify the differences of lathe machines, look no further. This guide will take you through the different types of lathes available. We will look at everything from engine lathes to turret lathes and answer “what exactly are CNC lathes?”

Speed Lathe

Used primarily for woodturning, metal spinning and polishing, a speed lathe is a high-speed spindle used to make everything from bowls and baseball bats to furniture parts. Speed lathes are simpler than other lathes and consist of a headstock, tailstock, and tool turret.

Engine Lathe

If you are looking for something to meet your metalworking needs such as boring, drilling and reaming then an engine lathe could be perfect for you. The name “engine lathe” comes from early iterations of the machine, back in the 19th and 20th century, which used a steam engine, though modern engine lathes are powered by individual motor drives. Engine lathes are ideal for manufacturers operating with a range of metals.

Turret Lathes

Capstan and turret lathes are used for high volume duplicated parts. In place of a tailstock, which you would find on an engine lathe, turret lathes have a hexagonal turret mounted on the saddle. Multiple tools can be fitted on this hexagonal turret enabling them to carry out several operations in sequence. By carrying out several operations on a workpiece, you can mass produce interchangeable parts with one machine. Carrying out several operations with the same machine reduces error and saves time. Turret lathes are a great, efficient solution for mass-producing parts.

Tool Room Lathe

Where extreme precision is needed tool room lathes are often the best choice. Offering much of the same functionality as an engine lathe such as drilling, turning, reaming, and boring, tool room lathes are a popular choice. They are often used for precision tools and other such items which require a superior level of accuracy that may be offered by an engine lathe. The gearbox, attached in the headstock, enables tool room lathes varied speed options spanning from incredibly low speed to very high speed.

CNC Lathes

CNC lathes, short for Computer Numeric Control lathes, use CNC programs to achieve the desired results. This enables high levels of accuracy achieved in a fraction of the time it takes to produce the same result with a manual lathe.

CNC lathes are made up of the same components as manual lathes; a headstock, tailstock, spindle, centers, chuck, and tool turret. However, where CNC lathes set themselves apart is one important additional component – the CNC control panel. CNC lathes are operated using the control panel to input instructions and run programs. CNC machines are highly versatile meaning they can be found across industries ranging from automotive to aerospace.

CNC lathes are not one machine, there are several types. Some of the types are CNC version of the manual lathes already discussed including CNC toolroom lathes, CNC engine lathes, and CNC turret lathes. They provide the same results offering the same benefits and have lower skill requirements to operate.

There are many types of lathes. When you factor in manual lathes and more automated CNC alternatives as well as many speciality lathes the list becomes quite extensive. However, the core lathe types, outlined above, will cover all the most common uses, and meet many manufacturers’ needs. Using this guide, you can easily determine the best lathe type for your job whether it be tool room lathes for pinpoint accuracy or turret lathes for mass production.

Article written by: Mike
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