What is a Lathe?

The tool maker’s single most important machine, the lathe, is a machine that is used to accurately shape wood, metal, or other materials. Rotating the material around a fixed tool, the lathe finely removes unwanted material, resulting in a highly accurate, finished workpiece.

Lathe operators are among the most highly skilled engineers in any machine shop and have expertise in a number of processes.

With their importance and versatility in mind, if you’re looking for machining work to be completed and your supplier doesn’t have a lathe, you better run quickly to the nearest one who does.

Wondering why?…

Why Use A Lathe?

Lathes are one of the single most important machine tools that engineers have at their disposal and can be used for range of jobs. From shaping, sanding, or drilling to cutting, turning, or trimming, lathes (either wood, CNC or other) are often referred to as the “mother of machine tools”, which is why it is the preferred tool for so many engineers.

The main reason a lathe is preferred over other machine tools is down to its versatility. Projects often require huge amounts of machining, ranging from precision cutting to highly accurate shaping; with lathes being able to help with all machining possibilities.  

A single lathe can do the job of multiple machine tools, meaning that you can also optimise your machine shop’s workspace and achieve the same results as having multiple single operation tools.   

Its versatility as a machine shop tool is down to its unique features which are broken down below:


What Are The Main Features of a Lathe?

A lathe is made of a number of parts but can be broken down into 5 key components, making it a standout machine tool within your machine shop:

·       Head Stock

Located on the left-hand side of the lathe the head stock includes the more mechanical sides of the machine tool that drive the rotation speed.

·       Tail Stock

The tail stock is located on the opposite of the lathe to the head stock and is the side that the workpiece is supported.

·       Carriage

Sitting between both head and tail stock, the lathe carriage is used to guide the tool as the bit cuts the manipulated workpiece.

·       Bed

Connecting to the headstock, the bed allows the tailstock and carriage to move up and down along its axis.  

·       Swarf Tray

Collecting the swarf and slurry, the lathe swarf tray is used to keep a safe and tidy workspace.

Any lathe should also include a lead screw and feed rod which together help move the carriage along its axis, as well as a hand wheel to manually move all independent parts.

It’s important to note that this would only apply to a manual lathe as a CNC lathe would be controlled using an HMI screen.

a lathe before operation

Lathe Safety

A lathe is designed to help shape material meaning it features extremely sharp objects and fast-moving parts, making it extremely dangerous if used incorrectly.

·       Sharpen Lathe tools

How many times have you heard the saying “a poor work man blames his tools”? When it comes to maintaining lathes, ensuring the tools are sharp is essential.

Blunt tools and damaged bits not only result in poor results but can be hazardous to the even the most trained lathe operator.

·       Maintain Lathe Shield & Guard

When using lathes, it is not uncommon for sharps of metal or wood to fling off in any number of directions creating a dangerous environment for the operator.

With this in mind, it is vital to ensure that lathe guards are in good condition and covering the correct part of the machine before operation.

·       Wear Correct PPE

Although you might find yourself rolling your eyes at the commandments of more health and safety, but when using a lathe, it is vital to ensure goggles and gloves are being used.

·       Have the Correct Lathe Training (or use an expert)

Lathes are among the most complex machine tools and therefore require the highest calibre of engineers.

Whether a CNC lathe requiring computer input, or a manual wood lathe, operators require regular training and the latest health and safety knowledge.



Lathes are the single most important machine tool at an engineer’s disposal.

Offering quality results for components of all materials, a lathe provides the end user with a precision machined workpiece.

With a range of safety features, and core components that stand lathes out from other machine tools, now’s the time to start thinking about what sort of machining your workpiece requires.

Ercon’s extensive machine shop includes multiple lathes, operated by highly skilled engineers. This ensures the best quality finishes for your machined products.

Speak to our team of experts today.

machining experts