For those of us who aren’t very handy with tools, a lathe can be both a source of confusion and a source of some great help. Lathes are used to hold and rotate an item in order for several operations to be performed.
An example of a manual lathe is a potter’s wheel, which uses a petal to keep the clay rotating as the potter shapes it. Items like instruments, table or chair legs, screws, and baseball bats can be made from a lathe, as the material continues to rotate and can be manipulated. Lathes are very common, and chances are you’ve seen one in action, even if you can’t place the name.
The turning function can either happen automatically or can be controlled, but it is used to achieve a constant grain on the wood. For example, baseball bat wood is milled into a cylinder and then the lathe is used to customize the bat’s texture and shape, as well as whittle down the ends. Thinking of a lathe like a pottery wheel but for other items helps to picture what the machine does.
If a piece of wood needs to be shaped into something unnatural, like a smooth chair leg, then a lathe is what is used to keep the wood moving as it is trimmed and shaped to fit the specifications of the chair. Lathes have been used a lot throughout history, with manual lathes that were powered by hand, fading out as more water, steam, and electric powered lathes were created and used.
But it’s safe to say that without the lathes, we wouldn’t have a lot of the cylindrical items that we normally use today, and whether it is manual or powered, a lathe can provide a lot of function to a workplace.