Lathe Machine: The Complete Buying Guide in 2024

Lathe machines have been in existence for ages and their invention dates back to the 1300s. Over the centuries, these machines have undergone some significant changes resulting in advanced devices like the CNC lathe.

What is Lathe Machine

A lathe machine is a multifaceted apparatus that subjects your workpiece to a revolving cutting tool that extracts unwanted chips from it. It comes with a horizontal axis fitted with a trimming object that trims your workpiece.

Components of a Lathe Machine

Lathe is engineered to accomplish a myriad of cutting operations with utmost precision. While this may seem like a simple task, it is actually the opposite and it requires numerous high-level components.

Components of Lathe Machine

Components of Lathe Machine

· Bed

This component is known as the bed due to the significant role it plays. It provides a rigid base that supports the supplemental components of your lathe machine.

Due to the weight of these components, the bed is typically manufactured using robust materials like cast iron. Furthermore, it comes with guideways such as the V ground way, which align your tailstock and carriage.

· Guideways

Your lathe’s guideway is the component tasked with controlling the motion of other essential components like the carriage and tailstock.

As such, it is designed to be stiff, strong, and non-frictional. Your lathe machine may come with one of the following guideways;

  • V guideway: This guideway is primarily designed to regulate alignment in cylindrical grinders.
  • Inverted V guideway: Just like the V guideway, this guideway is also engineered to control alignment in cylindrical grinders.
  • Flat guideway: The flat guideway is specialized for alignment purposes.
  • Cylindrical guideway: This guideway simply handles the feeding of spindle bars and is typically installed on surface grinders.

Introduction Video about Lathe Machine

· Headstock

You will find the headstock on the left end of your lathe machine’s bed.This component is generally made from iron and is responsible for holding your spindles, motors, and gears. It can also feature a taper, which serves the purpose of clasping essential tools like drill bits.

· Spindle

The spindle is simply an integrated shaft held by your machine’s headstock and it is typically tasked with clasping your workpiece in position and rotating it.

Most lathe spindles are manufactured from alloy steel, which is treated to tolerate high heat. It is connected to the headstock with the help of bearings and you can easily adjust its rotating speed.

· Carriage

As the name suggests, the carriage is the cast iron apparatus found between your headstock and tailstock.

It is primarily tasked with controlling the movement of your machine’s cutting tool on your workpiece. This component comes fitted with the following sub-components;

  • Saddle: The saddle is designed with an ‘H’ shape and it rides along your lathe’s pathway while supporting the compound rest and cross slide.
  • Cross Slide: The cross slide typically advances across your workpiece or perpendicular to your bed. While moving, this component clasps your tool post thereby foreseeing the accurate movement of your cutting tool.
  • Tool Post: The tool post is an essential component of your lathe machine and you can find it bolted on your lathe’s compound slide. It is primarily responsible for strategically and firmly holding your lathe’s trimming object.
  • Compound Rest: The compound rest is another pivotal carriage component attached to the saddle. It is designed to support longitudinal and angular movements and it simply links the compound slide to your cross slide.
  • Compound Slide: The compound slide allows you to make angular adjustments to your cutting or trimming object. With this tool, you can drill tapers or angles that are impossible to achieve with your lathe’s headstock.
  • Apron: Typically mounted on your carriage’s front, this component regulates the movement of your cutting object. It comes with specific mechanisms like clutches and gears, which regulate the longitudinal motion of your carriage.

· Tailstock

This is the component that holds the loose end of your workpiece and you can adjust its positioning on the bed to accommodate varied sizes of workpieces. The tailstock serves numerous functions;

  • Securely holding the loose end of your workpiece. This keeps it from moving around or vibrating during machining.
  • Clasping the essential trimming objects. This includes reamers and drills.
  • Switching off the exterior taper.

· Cutting Apparatus

The cutting tool is a sharp object that carries out the actual shaping or trimming process. This component cuts through your workpiece while precisely cutting out unwanted parts.

Advanced lathe machines feature an array of integrated yet distinct cutting tools, which may include;

  • Threading tools
  • Knurling tools
  • Facing tools
  • Boring tools
  • Turning tools

· Chuck

The chuck is a simple yet pivotal component revered for clasping firmly your workpiece. It comes with adjustable clippers that hold your respective objects firmly and strategically. Your lathe machine may feature the following kinds of chucks;

  • Collect chuck
  • Three-jaw chuck
  • Four-jaw chuck

· Center

The center is a supplemental component designed to provide surplus support to your respective workpieces. This support ensures that your objects are less prone to breakages or bending. They come in two distinct types;

  • Dead Center: You can find the dead center as an immovable component on your tailstock. This type of center is primarily built to hold your workpieces by the free end.
  • Live Center: You can find a live center installed on your lathe’s headstock spindle. Unlike the dead center, this component moves as your workpiece moves thereby minimizing friction.

· Faceplate

The faceplate is typically circular and large, just like a plate and it is designed to widen the holding area for irregularly shaped workpieces. A faceplate allows you to securely clasp your workpieces in scenarios where the chuck is unable to provide sufficient support.

· Feed Shaft

The feed shaft is a unique component that is typically made from alloy steel and is fitted just beneath your lead screw. It simply determines how fast or slow your lathe’s cutting tool handles your workpiece.

· Lead Screw

The lead screw is the elongated threaded pole that moves your lathe machine’s carriage over the bed during essential operations like thread cutting.

· Chips Pan

This is simply the collection tray that picks up the unwanted parts cut out from your workpiece. This tray plays a pivotal role in collecting this debris since uncontrolled accumulation may lead to damage.

· Legs

Legs are literal stands tasked with securely and strategically supporting your lathe machine’s bed. They are typically manufactured using heavy-duty materials to withstand the heavy weight of your lathe. For a stronger foundation, you can bolt the legs of your lathe to the ground.

· Hand Wheel

This is a wheel designed to be operated by hand and you can find it on your lathe’s carriage. Thanks to this component, you can adjust the positioning or movement of essential components like carriage and tailstock.

· Bull Gear

The bull gear is a component featured on the headstock and it is designed to elevate the torque of your lathe machine. This consequently allows your lathe to accommodate heavy cutting or turning. The bull gear however shrinks the spindle speed of your lathe machine.

Heavy Duty Lathe Machine

Heavy Duty Lathe Machine

Operating Your Lathe Machine

Setting up your lathe machine and getting it up and running is not as simple as powering on a switch. It necessitates a particular set of skills and precautions. Here are some instructions for you to follow to optimize the performance of your lathe.

Starting Your Lathe Machine

Powering on your lathe machine may seem easy but it is an intricate process that you must approach with great caution.

First, ensure you have observed the appropriate safety measures. This may include putting on the requisite protective gear. Then proceed to;

  • Activate the power switch on your lathe.
  • Mount the relevant tools on your lathe machine.
  • Place and position your workpiece on your lathe’s chuck.
  • Set your lathe’s spindle speed.

Fine-Tuning Your Lathe’s Spindle Speed

With your lathe machine up and running, you should then proceed to modify the speed of your lathe’s spindle.

This is essential as it ensures you get the desired cutting or shaping results while optimizing the operation of your lathe machine. To adjust spindle speed, adhere to the underlying instructions;

  • Refer to Your Lathe’s Manual: First, have a look at the manual that accompanied your lathe machine during delivery. This manual should contain specific spindle speeds for specific materials and cutting operations.
  • Fine-tune the Spindle Speed: Now that you are fully aware of the recommended spindle speed for your specific workpiece, proceed to set your preferred rate. You can use a manual gearbox or a variable frequency drive.
  • Test the Set Speed: Finally, place a piece or demo of your workpiece on the lathe and perform your desired cutting operation. This will help you attain your desired surface finish.

Cutting Your Workpiece

After you have set up your lathe machine and appropriately set your spindle speed, it is time to let your lathe do the actual machining. This may include turning, drilling, or cutting among others. Here are a few instructions you will need to follow.

  • Make certain your workpiece is well positioned on the chuck and so is your lathe’s cutting object.
  • Then gradually move your lathe machine’s cutting tool towards your respective object.
  • Once there is contact, the cutting operation will automatically commence. And since you have predetermined the spindle speed and cutting depth, you will achieve your desired finish.

Monitoring the Cutting Operation

Once your lathe machine roars into action, it is paramount that you pay close attention to the operations of its distinct components.

Do not forget to also check on your workpiece frequently to avoid damaging it. Some of the necessary checks you should complete include;

  • Inspect your lathe’s coolant flow.
  • Scrutinize your cutting tools to ensure they are 100% functional.
  • Constantly examine your workpiece to ensure the depth of cut and surface finish meets your expectations.
  • Check and modify the lathe machine’s feed rate and spindle speed.

Stopping Your Lathe Machine

Although shutting down your lathe machine is as simple as pressing a switch, you must adhere to the specified shutdown protocols. This guarantees your safety and that of your equipment. Here is the appropriate shutdown process.

  • First, gently and slowly shove off your spindle lever to turn it off.
  • Secondly, deactivate your lathe’s coolant pump.
  • Detach your processed workpiece from your lathe machine. Do not forget to clean off the cut chips or parts.
  • Finally, press the switch button on your lathe machine to turn it off. Give it a few moments to ensure all moving parts are stationary.

Troubleshooting Your Lathe Machine

 Vertical CNC Lathe Machine

Vertical CNC Lathe Machine

Troubleshooting your lathe machine is essential as it helps you determine likely issues in advance. Your lathe may be vulnerable to some of the following issues.

  • Vibration: You may notice shaking movements in your workpiece or lathe machine during the cutting operation. To correct this, ensure your workpiece is firmly clasped or the legs of your lathe machine are firmly grounded onto the floor.
  • Overheating: Overheating is a common problem associated with lathe machines and it is often a consequence of low heat dissipation. To correct this wrong, simply elevate the coolant flow and extract the accumulated debris.
  • Undesired Surface Finish: This may be a consequence of numerous factors including, poorly positioned cutting tools, incorrect spindle speeds, and blunt cutting tools. To rectify this, simply ensure that your cutting tool is well-positioned and sharp.
  • Inaccurate Dimensions: You may notice that the depth of cut in your workpiece does not meet your requirements. Well, this may be a result of inaccurate tool geometry. To achieve precise cutting dimensions, make certain that your tool geometry and calibration are correctly set.

Lathe Machine Operations

Lathe machines continue to grow in prominence and this is primarily driven by their versatility. They are not your average cutting tools since they can adequately fulfill other numerous functions including;

· Turning

Turning in Lathe Machine

Turning in Lathe Machine

Turning is the primary reason lathe machines were created. This simple yet indispensable process is accomplished once you attach your piece or workpiece to a rotating axis.

As the object rotates, it is subjected to a controlled cutting tool, which rips off unwanted chips from your object. Turning may take either of the following forms;

  • Taper Turning: In taper turning, your workpiece and your lathe’s cutting tool are positioned at a specified angle. This gives you a processed object with differently-sized ends. This is known as the ramp transition.
  • Step Turning: This turning operation is widely referred to as step turning because it produces workpieces that resemble a step. That is, the diameter of your object’s top end differs greatly from its lower end’s diameter.
  • Contour Turning: This turning process is known for generating workpieces with unique contours. To achieve this, contour turning deploys your cutting tool along an axis at a preset geometry. To achieve perfect contours, multiple passes may be necessitated.
  • Chamfer Turning: This turning operation typically generates processed workpieces that resemble those generated by step turning. However, the edges of pieces generated by chamfer turning tend to have square edges.

· Threading

Threading in Lathe Machine

Threading in Lathe Machine

Threading is a unique cutting process that sees your lathe’s cutting tool maneuverer precisely cut through the sides of your workpiece to generate threads. This operation relies on specialized cutting tools and it can leave your workpiece with external or internal threads. If you desire deeper threads, you may have to subject your workpiece through multiple threading operations.

· Grooving

Grooving Operation in Lathe Machine

Grooving Operation in Lathe Machine

Grooving generates processed objects with narrow channels on their perimeter. The shape and design of the groove on your workpiece may be customized by incorporating unique cutting tool shapes. Common groove shapes attained during this operation include rectangular and U-shaped grooves.

  • Face Grooving: This is a distinct grooving operation that trims a groove on the face of your workpiece. This is typically accomplished by running the cutting tool on the face of your object.
  • External Grooving: External grooving sets your grooving tool to move from your workpiece’s central point while cutting out unwanted parts.

· Parting

Parting Operation in Lathe Photo Courstey Custom Part

Parting Operation in Lathe Photo Courstey CustomPart

As the name suggests, this cutting operation leaves you with two or more workpieces after alienating them at a specified point during machining. Lathe machines specialized to serve this function often come with a part catcher, which is tasked with collecting the alienated piece.

· Facing

Facing in Machining Process

Facing in Machining Process

Facing is a distinct operation that leaves you with a cylindrical workpiece featuring a smooth surface. This is achieved by setting the cutting tool to move along your object’s length while trimming off a thin layer of material. Facing typically cuts off a thin layer of material at one end of your workpiece.

· Knurling

Knurling Process

Knurling Process

Knurling requires you to have a lathe machine with a specialized wheel equipped with teethed knurls to generate textured workpieces. This machining operation is primarily designed to elevate the gripping effect of your workpiece. You can imprint various patterns on your workpiece including diamond patterns, which can feature on a designated part of your object.

· Reaming

Reaming Process

Reaming Process

Reaming is a unique cutting operation that does not necessarily involve cutting. It is essentially designed to broaden cavities that were drilled into your workpiece earlier. As such lathe machines specialized for reaming operations come equipped with reamers that are characteristically larger than the preinstalled hole.

· Drilling

Drilling with Lathe Machine

Drilling with Lathe Machine

Drilling is a cutting operation accomplished by specialized centre lathe machines equipped with drill bits. This leaves your workpiece with holes or cuts that match the diameter and design of the attached drill bit. Lathe machines specialized to undertake drilling feature a distinct tool holder or a specialized tailstock, from where you can mount your drill bit.

· Tapping

Tapping is principally designed to make internal threads on your workpiece. For instance, to generate internal threads on a nut, your lathe machine will drive a tapping tool through the pre-drilled hole in your nut. This tapping tool will then cut through the insides of your workpiece to create a functional nut.

· Boring

Boring Operation

Boring Operation

Boring primarily creates cavities in your workpiece or broadens pre-existing holes. Boring lathe machines feature a robust tool that is gradually driven through your workpiece to eliminate unwanted parts. If you are using a boring lathe to widen a pre-existing cavity, make certain that your boring tool is larger than the specified hole.

Types of Lathe Machines

Lathe machines have over the years proven their worth to diverse manufacturing processes. And owing to the unique demands of distinct manufacturing processes, today, we are endowed with a plethora of different lathe machines. The most common lathe machine types include;

CNC Lathe

The CNC lathe machine is highly specialized thanks to the inclusion of computer programming, making it one of the most accurate lathe machines. This computerization means you can utilize the CNC lathe for countering, tapering, threading, and facing among other cutting operations.

CNC Lathe Machine

CNC Lathe Machine


  • Reduced set-up time.
  • Supports repeatable machining.
  • Lower labor expenses.
  • Can handle complex patterns.
  • Unmatched cutting accuracy.

Speed Lathe

This is a lathe machine specifically designed to achieve faster production times by hastening the cutting operation. They boast of exceptional spindle speeds and a typical speed lathe can achieve spindle speeds as high as 3600 RPM. This type of lathe machine may suit you perfectly if you are looking to light-cut, debur, or polish your workpieces.


  • It is compact and can comfortably fit on a moderately sized worktable.
  • It is specialized to complete cutting operations at high speeds (as high as 3600 RPM).
  • It comes with a strong braking system allowing you to pull the plug on its operations quickly and precisely.
  • Compared to other lathe machine options, it is relatively cheaper.

Engine Lathe Machine

The engine lathe machine is broadly exploited across multiple manufacturing processes due to its impressive automation profile. It comes with automated components, which facilitate the automated and precise loading of your workpieces onto the lathe as well as the positioning of the cutting tool. Engine lathes are often utilized in machining, threading, and turning operations.


  • They are quite versatile hence you can utilize them to accomplish numerous cutting operations including drilling, knurling, and turning.
  • They utilize interchangeable cutting components, which are positioned with the aid of automated tools making them quite precise.
  • They generally produce workpieces of the highest quality due to advanced control systems.
  • Just like speed lathes, engine lathe machines can also achieve high cutting speed.

Toolroom Lathe Machine

The toolroom lathe is specialized to provide machine shop owners and toolroom operators with a dependable cutting and shaping solution. Owing to their expected applications, they are manufactured from robust materials and they can attain extremely high spindle speeds. As such, they are prominently used to manufacture precision parts like medical equipment and prototypes.


  • They rely on high-level components including bearings and this reduces the risk of deflection or inaccurate cutting.
  • Their ability to achieve precise machining results means that you can utilize them to handle complex or sensitive workpieces.
  • They come with digital readouts, which provide you with real-time data about their operation.
  • Their heavy-duty construction makes them quite long-lasting. This translates into financial gains in the long run.

Automatic Lathe Machine

Automatic lathe machines are distinguished by their self-activating components which include programmable controls and automatic tool changers. This means that to get your automatic lathe running, you will require little or no human input. These types of lathes come in two distinct categories;

  • Single-Spindle Lathe Machine: The single-spindle lathe is characterized by a singular spindle which limits the number of workpieces you can work on simultaneously. As such, this machine has a simple design, which makes it relatively cheaper.
  • Multi-Spindle Lathe Machine: This automatic lathe machine is designed to handle numerous workpieces at ago. The typical number of spindles fitted into these lathes ranges from 2 to 12. This makes the multi-spindle lathe a valuable tool for large-scale metalworking principle and woodworking.


  • Compared to their manual counterparts, automatic lathes guarantee unrivaled production times and productivity.
  • By utilizing computer numerical control (CNC), these lathes minimize the risks of human errors. This results in high-grade workpieces.
  • In addition to offering unmatched productivity rates, automatic lathe machines also allow you to carry out repetitive cutting operations.
  • Due to the high level of mechanization in automatic lathes, you will incur significantly lower labor costs.

Turret Lathe Machine

This advanced machine can serve a myriad of cutting operations thanks to the inclusion of multiple cutting gadgets. These gadgets are aggregated in hexagonal turrets. As such, you are not necessitated to change your lathe’s cutting tool mid-operation. You can operate the turret automatically with the aid of computers, manually, or using hydraulic mechanisms.


  • The turret is capable of holding up to 6 cutting tools and this eliminates time wastage.
  • When you are using a turret lathe machine, you are guaranteed higher productivity due to the mini time wastage.
  • Thanks to a high automation level, turret lathes allow you to achieve precise cutting by eliminating the risk of human error. This is especially beneficial when positioning your cutting tool. This guarantees accuracy, which translates into high-grade workpieces.
  • By holding multiple cutting tools, this lathe allows you to save on labor. This makes it a worthy machine for large-scale manufacturing.

Bench Lathe Machine

The bench lathe is a small-size cutting and shaping equipment designed for small-scale production like jewelry making and model making. It can comfortably fit on an averagely-sized table hence the name bench lathe.


  • Bench lathe machines are not only small-sized but they are also portable. This means that you can easily move them around multiple worktables.
  • Owing to their simplicity and small size, they are quite affordable.
  • Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, you will find operating a bench lathe quite straightforward.

Features to Look for When Buying a Lathe Machine for Sale

With a myriad of distinctively endowed lathes available today, it is important that you comprehend the features that distinguish high-level lathes. They include;

  • Bed Size: The size of your lathe bed is a crucial factor you cannot afford to ignore. Its length and width directly impact the size of the workpiece your lathe can accommodate.
  • Tooling Options: The lathe machine of your choice should feature versatile tooling options to accommodate more cutting operations. However, you may opt for a lather with a specialized cutting tool if you are dealing with unique workpieces.
  • Control System: The type of control system incorporated into your lathe determines the level of automation and quality of output. As such, you should pay attention to the kind of controller installed and its supported software.
  • Motor Provisions: A robust motor is essential if your cutting operations are designed to handle heavy-duty pieces. It is thereby essential that you factor in motor specifications such as horsepower and expected lifespan.
  • Spindle Speed Range: The speed of your lathe’s spindle has a huge say on the efficiency of your lathe machine. You should bear in mind that a low-speed range is necessary for heavy workpieces while a higher range suits better high-accuracy operations.
Manual Lathe Machine

Manual Lathe Machine

Safety Practices You Should Observe When Handling a Lathe Machine

Machines can be quite dangerous if inappropriately handled or operated and your lathe machine is no different. Here are the main safety guidelines you should adhere to.

  • First, inspect the main components of your lathe machine and ensure they are well-mounted and functional.
  • Put on the recommended protective gear before handling the machine. Make certain your PPE fits well to avert accidents that may arise when your gear gets stuck in the lathe.
  • Make certain your cutting tool is well-sharpened to avoid irregular cutting which may swing debris.
  • Try to focus on one task at a time and do not leave your lathe machine unsupervised.
  • If you have support staff operating the lathe, make certain they receive adequate training prior.

Common Lathe Machine Applications

Cutting, threading, and facing are just some of the most renowned operations actualized by a lathe machine. These operations are essential in the manufacturing of numerous wooden, glass, or metallic pieces hence lathes find great usage in the following fields:

  • Metal working
  • Jewelry making
  • Woodworking
  • Prototype Creation
  • Automotive Industry
  • Thermal Spraying
  • Glass turning
  • Artwork
  • Sculpture making
  • Medical device manufacturing

If you are looking for highly efficient lathe machines at affordable prices, Tsinfa CNC Equipment is your trusted partner.

More Resources:

What is Lather used for – Source: TSINFA

Heavy Duty Lathe – Source: TSINFA

How to use Metal Lathe – Source: TSINFA