Sep 292012

Lathe is a machine tool used to remove unwanted material from a given workpiece to get desired shape.Introduction to Lathe It is generally used for machining cylindrical workpieces. This article gives you a short introduction to lathe and explains its working.

Origin of Lathe:

The origins of lathe can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. In ancient Egypt, two-person lathes were extensively used. In a two-person lathe, one person would turn the wood (work piece) and the other person would cut the wood with a single point cutting tool. Cutting operation in this lathe, involved a lot of manual labour and consumed a large amount of time.

In Ancient Rome, the Egyptian Design was modified. A turning bow was used to turn the workpiece.

In the medieval period, pedals were used to turn and cut the workpiece. The pedals were operated by human legs.

The origin of modern lathe can be traced back to the time when the Industrial Revolution took place. The Industrial Revolution brought a lot of changes to the world of machines. During that golden period, a number of mechanisms were introduced to lathe. These mechanisms enabled humans to operate lathe semi-automatically. Power generated from steam engines were used to drive lathes.

The introduction of Numerical Control (NC) and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) in the twentieth century, made lathe a versatile, automatically functioning machine tool.

Today, lathe is one of the basic machine tools widely used in industries.

Working of a Lathe:

A typical lathe consists of bed, head stock, tail stock, tool post, carriage and feeding mechanism. Lathe is capable of performing a number of operations. The simplest operation performed on a lathe is straight turning. The working of lathe can be easily understood if we understand straight turning.

Straight Turning:

A cylindrical workpiece is mounted on a suitable work holding device (e.g: chucks, centres). A single point cutting tool is mounted on the tool post. The workpiece is rotated continuously by rotating the head stock spindle. The single point cutting tool is fed against the circumferential area of the workpiece. Unwanted material is removed and a cylindrical job with smooth surface finish is obtained.

Apart from straight turning, a number of turning operations can be performed using lathe. The following video explains some common forms of turning:

Lathe Turning Video

Apart from turning, a lathe is also used for performing facing, thread cutting, grooving, drilling, knurling etc.


Lathe is one of the most versatile machine tools used by industries today. Its versatility makes it an important machine tool in manufacturing technology. A number of profiles can be made on a work piece using lathe.

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Written by

I am a mechanical engineer with a passion for technical stuff. I am the founder and former editor-in-chief of

  • Usman Khalil

    That’s why it is called mother of all machines. Quite informative post. However can you show some pictures of lathe machines used in ancient Egypt and Greece.