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What is a Precision Lathe?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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A precision lathe is a computerized lathe used to create detailed solid objects from a single piece of wood or metal. Using a sophisticated computer software, the precision lathe can produce a near-finished product with minimal waste. A lathe functions by spinning the raw materials while cutting, drilling, sanding, knurling or deforming. The use of a lathe produces a finished product that is symmetrical along the axis of rotation.

Earlier versions of a lathe have been traced back to the Egyptians, who developed a two person lathe using a manual process. This design was improved by the Romans who added a turning bow to provide a more consistent turning rate. In the Middle Ages the pedal was added to allow the craftsman to use both hands to work on the wood. This type of lathe is called a spring pole lathe and the development was critical to expanding the types of items that could be created on a lathe. A great lathe was the first lathe to allow the piece to turn continuously but was powered by one person turning a crank while the other worked on the piece.

Only during the early 19th century was a motorized lathe developed. This change significantly reduced the time needed to complete an item and allowed the addition of metal in the process. The addition of computers in the early 1970s created precision lathes that are used today for the mass production of high quality product. This shift has removed the need for master craftsman and replaced these roles with computer operating technicians.

A precision lathe is able to cut and shape a material to within 0.001 inches (0.00254 cm) of accuracy. The cylindrical basis of the lathe means that the material is secured at each end and the product is created by the removal of materials from the solid item. A precision lathe is used to create baseball bats, table legs, poles and a wide range of ornamental pieces.

In order to work with a precision lathe, you will need to be trained on the specific equipment used. The original design of the product is completed by a product design and the actual programming is done by the lathe operator. Repeated testing is completed before the mass production work is started. The modern lathe is a highly complex machine that can product thousands of items an hour.

When purchasing a precision lathe, it is important to review the detailed product specifications. Make sure it will have the capability of creating the types of products that you require. Check the details of the warranty and service agreement to ensure that your investment is properly covered.

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