Lathes: Not Just for Heavy Industry Anymore
Monday, August 18, 2014

The basics of lathes are easy to remember: turning, cutting and facing, among other functions, all of which help create an object using a lathe. But, did you know there are specific lathes for distinct purposes? You wouldn’t use a large lathe to create jewelry. Nor would you use a woodworking lathe for metal applications. The lathes designed for specific objects and industries have important roles in their respective applications.

•     Mini-lathes
Working with diameters of 7 inches, mini-lathes can work with some pretty infinitesimal materials. Depending on what brand makes the mini-lathe, the diameter work piece can rotate items 10 inches, 12 inches or even 14 inches long. But what on earth would someone need a small lathe for? Well, mini-lathes are used frequently to make hammer tips, spacers, heat sinks, shafts, small pistons and other items needed for machinists (as well as people who need similar items). Some people take their mini-lathes one step further and use them for non-traditional applications, like making a skeleton key or even small wall-mounted lamps. Mini-lathes are commonly used to make pepper mills, pens and bottle stoppers. Like the name implies, objects made with a mini-lathe turn out to be mini, compared to the industrial world.

•     Glass-working lathes
You guessed it; these lathes are used when working with glass. Their main function is to hold and rotate glass tubing, rods or glass over a flame during production. Depending on what brand of glass-working lathe you use, the structure of this lathe can be similar in design to woodworking lathes, but has a work piece modified differently. The heat from the flame enables the glass to become pliable, enabling a person to form the glass to a desired shape. Though these lathes aren’t as small as mini-lathes, they can have some small measurements as well.

•     Watchmaker’s lathes
Said to be invented by Charles S. Moseley in 1859, the “Geneva” lathe is a commonly used variety of lathe used for watch making. The “Geneva” is recognizable by its features, which are a round bed and flat machining along either back for the full length. Even more so than mini-lathes, watchmaker’s lathes have tiny measurements as they’re intended to be used for tiny precision work. The “Geneva” lathe Moseley created had 6 millimeter or 8 millimeter collet (about 0.236 inches or 0.315 inches). Because of its tiny size, Moseley’s lathe is an extremely delicate machine. Over time, other less delicate lathes, such as the Webster-Whitcombe brand, became more popular as those lathes were more durable. Webster-Whitcombe came onto the scene in 1889 with a center height of 50 millimeters (about 1.97 inches) and collets ranging from 8, 10 and 12 millimeters. Typically, this kind of lathe is mainly used to make watches, but can be used to make some types of jewelry and are similar to instrument lathes.

Though there are many varieties of lathes, these three types are just the tip of the iceberg when delving into the machining industry. Numerous other lathes exist with even more specific uses.

What lathe do you use for your industry? Let us know in the comments!


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