What’s In A Name: The Definition of a Machine Tool
Friday, April 24, 2015

Just as Juliet Capulet pondered to herself, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” we wondered, would that be the case in every other aspect of life? You see, before her untimely demise, Juliet argues that it does not matter if Romeo is a Montague or not; she still loves him. But if this had been the case for, say machine tools for example, would someone be arguing the same thing? Can’t seem to figure out what on earth we’re talking about? Don’t worry, we’ll give you time to think in this blog post.

Before saws, milling machines, gear shapers and the countless other machine tools we know of today became commonplace to help accomplish tasks and construct useful items, they all had to start somewhere. As the machine tool family nowadays encompasses a broad range of tools, it may be hard to believe some of these tools had lowly — and even ancient — beginnings. But that is just the case for the lathe.

The lathe has had a long and continuously successful history since people first started using it in one form or another from ancient times dating around 1300 B.C.  But while this tool is now commonly used to turn, cut and shape various materials into other forms, it was once (and according to some sources, still is) at the center of a bit of “controversy,” if you will. Not the type of controversy we’d think of in the modern world involving public figures and their email accounts, but with its definition.

You see, according to many, the definition of a machine tool is as follows: “a machine for shaping or machining metal or other rigid materials by cutting, boring, grinding, shearing or another form of deformation.” Seems straightforward enough that this definition could apply to many tools, right? Not so much. As those same people also feel there are true machine tools and then there are the ones that require the human hand (or foot or mouth) to operate, which is the case with many early lathes. There was, and sometimes still is, an argument among those in the industry that true machine tools are those that have their tool path guided by the machine and not by a human. So by this definition, early forms of what we now consider machine tools, such as the lathe and potter’s wheel, aren’t, in fact, machine tools. These would be considered hand tools.

What gives? Well, early lathes required two people to work the device: one person would use a rope to turn the woodwork piece, while the other used a sharpened tool of some sort to cut the wood into the desired shape. By that distinction, that meant a human hand would always be touching one part of the two-person lathe in one way or another. Other varieties of lathes, like those jewelers and watchmakers use, are small enough that they can be held in one hand, so they also require a human’s touch. However, like many other tools, the lathe has seen numerous advancements in its time, and depending on what lathe you’re referencing, it can indeed be referred to as a machine tool — but be careful to whom you’re referring it.

Have we rocked your world or turned your whole life upside down with this life-altering definition? With the inventions of CNC lathes and the continuous advancements with other forms of machine tools, the need for a person to handle a lathe is being phased out. So we’ll ponder the tragic Juliet’s thought once more: Is a rose by any other name just as sweet? Lathes, and a few other machine tools, as we thought we knew them don’t exactly abide by their original definition. But that brings us back to the age-old question, what’s in a name?



 
 

Blog Categories

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    • 02/19/2019 - Lining Your Spindles for Bette
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    • 03/17/2015 - A Brief History of Geometric L
    • 02/10/2015 - 3-D: Not Just for Printers Any
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    • 03/18/2014 - The Basics of Spindle Liners
  • Historical Turning

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The J.F. Berns Company manufactures high quality CNC Lathe and Bar Feeding accessories to increase your machining productivity.  Products include spindle liners, bar chamfering machines, bar supports, spindle stops, draw tubes, draw bars, spindle extensions and special loaders and unloaders.

 

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