Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Wikipedia.


lathe (lāᵺ), machine tool for holding and turning metal, wood, plastic, or other material against a cutting tool to form a cylindrical product or part. It also drills, bores, polishes, grinds, makes threads, and performs other operations. Its principal parts are the headstock (attached to the bed or base of the machine), which holds one end of the material in a rotating spur; the tailstock, which holds the other end, moves along the bed, and can be clamped in position at any point; the cutting tool; and the power feed, comprising the drive and its motive parts.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


A machine for turning metal or wood. The piece to be turned is mounted between two chucks that rotate and the cutting tool can slide back and forth on a track, and be moved closer or farther away from the wood, allowing a variable profile to be cut
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a machine used mainly for working bodies of revolution by chip removal during turning. One of the most ancient machine tools, the lathe has served as the basis for drilling and boring machines.

Lathes make up an important, highly varied group of metalcutting machine tools. Among the turning operations that may be performed on lathes are the machining of cylindrical, conical, and irregularly shaped surfaces, the facing of ends, sectioning, and boring, as well as the drilling and reaming of holes, threading, knurling, and lapping. Milling, polishing, gear-cutting, and other operations may be performed on lathes using special jigs. Wheel pairs, couplings, and pipes are turned on specialized lathes.

The main components of a lathe are (1) the base, with a trough for the collection of the cutting fluid and chips; (2) the bed, with guides for the carriage and tailstock; (3) the fixed headstock, with a spindle and gearbox, which may be located elsewhere—for example, in the base; (4) the movable tailstock, which is attached to the bed in a specific position; (5) the feedbox, which is connected by clutches to the driveshaft and feed screw; (6) the apron, with mechanisms for transmitting motion from the driveshaft to the rack (or to the feed screw of the cross slides) and for coupling the split nut with the lead screw; (7) a support, consisting of a carriage moving along the bed guides, and cross slides moving along the carriage guides; and (8) the rotating unit, with guides for the upper carriage, on which the tool holder is mounted. The upper carriage also moves automatically in some models. The apron mechanism provides for blocking, which eliminates the simultaneous activation of the feed by the driveshaft and lead screw and simultaneous activation of the carriage and cross slides. For rapid traverse of the carriage, the driveshaft is powered by an auxiliary electric motor operating through an overrunning clutch.

During cutting on a lathe, the workpiece, which is held in a chuck or in conical pins, is rotated by the main drive. Provision is made for stepped or infinitely variable control of the speed of the spindle in order to attain the required rate of cutting. The translator motion of the cutting tool is produced by the kinematic chain of the feed motion, whose first unit is the spindle and whose last unit is a rack-and-gear drive in the case of turning or the kinematic pair of the feed screw and split nut in the case of threading. In the case of turning, the feed is adjusted by means of the feed-box; in the case of threading, an apparatus with replaceable gears in the feed adjustment unit, or bracket, is used.

The spindle unit is made rigid and resistant to vibration. The spindle usually rests on rolling-contact bearings. Hydrostatic bearings are used in precision lathes. A faceplate, on which the workpieces are mounted, may be attached to the front end of the spindle. The tailstock is used for working items in conical pins, as well as for fastening the tool in drilling, countersink reaming, and reaming.

The main drive of a lathe may include a single-speed or multi-speed asynchronous electric motor and a multistep gearbox or mechanical variable-speed drive. Regulated DC motors and gearboxes are usually used in heavy lathes. Other drives, such as hydraulic drives, are sometimes used.

The requirements for the automation of small-lot production have led to the development of numerically controlled lathes. These lathes have several special features. In addition to the traditional configuration, an arrangement is used in which the bed has inclined guides; this facilitates the removal of chips and protection of the work area. The cutting zone is covered by a hood. Among the operations that are programmed are range shifting, lengthwise and transverse movement of the carriage, with infinitely variable control of the feed, rapid traverse of the carriage, rotation of the turret, starting, stopping, and reversing of the main drive, and automatic tool changing (with a multitool mount). Self-centering chucks and automatic tailstocks are used in some center-type engine lathes. In many cases, lathes have rotating turrets with separate electric or hydraulic drive. The feed may be accomplished by means of stepped electric motors with servo control units, DC motors, and hydraulic motors; rolling (ball) feed screws are used. The tools are adjusted off the lathe, using optical devices or devices for adjusting cutters according to indicators or setting gauges. Only the replacement and attachment of previously adjusted units or of the entire tool holder are carried out on the lathe.

Universal lathes are used for unit and small-lot production. Lathes equipped with hydraulic and electric reproducing attachments and rapid-clamping automatic chucks may be used in lot production. Automatic and semiautomatic turning and turret systems are used in mass production. The servicing of such automatic systems is reduced to periodic adjustment, feed, and monitoring of the workpiece.

In semiautomatic systems, motions related to the loading and removal of the workpieces are not automated. Automatic control of the operating cycle of these machines is accomplished by means of a distributing shaft to which cams are attached. Three groups of automatic and semiautomatic lathe systems are distinguished on the basis of their auxiliary (return) movements. The first group includes machines with one distributing shaft that turns at a constant speed for a given setting; the shaft controls both the working and return movements. This scheme is used in small automatic systems with only a few return motions. The second group consists of machines with one distributing shaft having two speeds of rotation; the low speed is for the working movement, and the high speed is for return operations. This scheme is usually used for multispindle automatic and semiautomatic systems. The third group consists of machines that have, in addition to a distributing shaft, a high-speed auxiliary shaft, which carries out the return movements.

(For information on woodworking lathes, seeWOODWORKING MACHINE. See alsoVERTICAL LATHE and TURRET LATHE.)


Metallorezhushchiestanki, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(mechanical engineering)
A machine for shaping a workpiece by gripping it in a holding device and rotating it under power against a suitable cutting tool for turning, boring, facing, or threading.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A machine for shaping circular pieces of wood, metal, etc., by rotating the material about a horizontal axis while a stationary tool cuts away the excess material.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a machine for shaping, boring, facing, or cutting a screw thread in metal, wood, etc., in which the workpiece is turned about a horizontal axis against a fixed tool


Brit History any of the former administrative divisions of Kent
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
"The lathe machine can manufacture anything in any size and shape any material, for example, I used it to make pencil case, vase, and office desk decoration," she added.
However, you can put pistol or revolver barrels on a mini lathe or mill.
As we walked through the factory observing the production process, we came to an area full of computer numerical control (CNC) lathes which, we were told, the company began using in 2002, mainly because they were the most modern technology available.
The Justice Department said the lathe was shipped in June 2012 and the indictments were handed down last December.
The tube was too long for the lathe, and the way it was positioned meant one of the jaws of the chuck had tightened on the hole, so there was not equal pressure on the object: Mr Nicholls would have assumed it was securely held and activated the lathe, causing the tube to come out.
Mr Cunningham said: "Our local Stockton Council and partners like AG Lathe are investing vast sums of money and attracting new retail businesses to our High Street, yet we still have one of the town's key assets sitting empty.
The variety of lathes that they offer have the necessary features to suit any job, from small to large.
The operator doesn't need to reach over the chuck to move the shield in and out of position, and the shield will not interfere with lathes that have a rear guard/backsplash.
Police teams raided a lathe shop in the industrial zone of Adana on Thursday and detained three men.
It is a species of turning lathe and the article manufactured is cut not only in a circular form but in almost any other shape so as to accord precisely with the model put into the machine.
BANKING AND CREDIT NEWS-May 1, 2013-- Lathe named as banking chief at First Banks(C)2013 M2 COMMUNICATIONS
It is a seat from a Barnes Velocipede (foot-powered) metal lathe. These were sold in about 1880 and produced by the Barnes Co., Rockford, Ill.