What are the Different Types of Lathe Machines?
Have you ever wondered how they bake baseball bats, wood pens, camshafts, screws, metal dies, or even locomotive wheels? If you have, then the answer might be a bit of a shocker: it’s all thanks to lathes.
What is a lathe machine?
Lathe machines are used for removing the material off of stock or a blank. The stock is placed in between two “holders” which keep it in place while a machine rotates the stock at various speeds. With the help of external tools such as chisels, you can remove some of the material from the stock. With each rotation and increased pressure, more material is removed.
However, how do speed and a metal chisel produce locomotive wheels? Well, it all comes down to the different types of lathe machines available.
Types of lathe machines
In general, there are six different lathe machines out there that serve the same purpose – spinning and removing material from a blank – but are used for different materials. From wood to metal, there’s a lathe machine for shaping any material you can imagine.
As the name suggests, this is a type of lathe machine that can be used to shape wood blanks into beautiful pieces of art (e.g., baseball bats, bowls, pens). Speed lathes usually have up to three or four different speeds with a maximum of up to or beyond 2,000 RPM. Switching between gears involves changing the position of the drive belt on different pulleys.
The most important components of a speed lathe are the head and tailstocks, tool rest, and the bed. These are the smallest types of lathes out there, meaning that they have limited capacities regarding the length and width of a blank. This is best used for small tasks like making bowls and pens, though extension tables can help increase the distance between the headstock and tailstock.
The next type of lathe is specifically designed for metalwork. It became all the rage back in the late 19th century when it was first conceived. The most surprising thing about this machine during its infant stages of production was that it ran off of steam rather than electricity. It was a “green” machine for producing some rather revolutionary products.
The most significant components in an engine lathe include the headstock, tailstock, cross slide, compound rest, and feed screw. Like the speed lathe, this machine is able to produce spin up to various speeds, depending on the type of metal you’re working with and what you’re doing (reaming, polishing, etc.).
If you need to make your own precision tools, jugs, and metal dies, then the tool-room lathe has your back. For making these pieces, you’ll need extreme precision; something that neither speed lathes nor engine lathes can offer.
These machines are mainly found in large manufacturers for a number of different applications, including but not limited to drilling, reaming, knurling, and turning. A tool-room lathe can also be set to perform specialized jobs like making customized fixtures and creating screw threads.
To change the speed settings on the tool-room lathe, you don’t need to tamper with any drive belts or pulleys. Instead, they will have a gearbox attached to the headstock which lets you select the appropriate speed.
The turret lathe is another metalworking machine, but this is built specifically for mass production. This type of lathe eliminates many variables in the production process that could hinder the final product, making mass production a possibility.
The way this lathe works is that multiple shaping tools are mounted on a saddle. An operator programs the machine to use a specific tool for a specific job then to automatically switch to the next tool for further processing.
Using this machine doesn’t require having a steady hand but rather a bright, creative mind in order to get the turret lathe to work in the right order at the right time to eliminate costly mistakes. Since everything else is automated – e.g., mounting the next stock in between the headstock and tailstock at the right orientation and level – so you don’t need to worry about shaky hands leading to nonstandard results.
Lathes can also be custom made to fit the operator’s needs. Some special-purpose lathes can take up the space of an entire room like a wheel lathe – a machine used to make locomotive wheels, roadway wheels, and the like – while others may only take up a few square feet on your workbench like a jeweler’s lathe – a machine for shaping small pieces of jewelry.
Other special-purpose lathes include crankshaft lathes (turning long pieces of stock for creating crankshafts, engine shafts, turbines), vertical lathes (a lathe where the headstock and tailstock are positioned vertically rather than horizontally).
The final type of lathe machine that we want to mention is the CNC (computer numeric control) lathe. This is one of the most modern types of lathes which have replaced many other types in large manufacturing plants. It’s mainly used for jobs where accuracy is of the utmost importance.
Like a turret lathe, the operator doesn’t need to hold onto any shaping tools in order to produce the desired shape, but instead operators need to be skilled in various designing programs like CAD. After creating a pattern using the designing program, the operator needs to send commands to the machine. The shaping tools already mounted onto the machine will get right to work, producing cuts at the desired depths. With a CNC in your factory, you can rest assured that everything coming out of it, provided that the operator knows what he or she is doing, will come out without any defects.
These are the most common types of lathe machines. For regular Joes looking to do some bowl- and baseball bat-making, you don’t need to look any further than speed/wood lathes. They will provide enough power and speed for you to make a ton of beautiful wood-based art. The only things you need are shaping tools, a steady hand, knowledge on how to operate a lathe, and patience. Businesses looking to mass produce metal-based items while simultaneously reducing downtime should take a look at some of the other types of lathe machines.