common types of lathe (a complete guide)

A lathe is used to remove excess material from a workpiece so as to style and size it as desired. Originally, these tools were used solely on metal workpieces. Today, however, lathes can also be used on wood.

There are several different types of lathes available. And in this article, we will be looking at the most common types.

1. Engine lathe

Engine Lathe

Also called a center lathe, is shaped horizontally and is predominantly used to cut metal. It uses a stepped pulley to rotate a spindle with varying speeds. The speeds of an engine lathe can range from 1200 to 3600 RPM.

Specifications of Engine Lathe

Variable speed spindle

Stepped pulley for operating the spindle

Uses of Engine lathe

Drilling to create square blocks

Spinning sheet metal


  • High and variable spindle speeds
  • It is suitable for low power operations


  • Is not as accurate as a CNC lathe

Wood lathe

Wood lathe

As its name suggests this type of lathe is used on wood. It is characterized by a headstock, bed, tailstock, and tool rest. These types of lathes are usually smaller in size than their metal counterparts. 

Features of Wood Lathe

  • Hand operated
  • Belt driven spindle connected to a motor

Uses Of Wood Lathe

  • Turning wood workpieces


  • The tool rest can be adjusted to match the operation at hand
  • Are smaller and require less space than some metal lathes


  • Require manual operation and are thus not as powerful or accurate as metal lathes

Tool room lathes

Tool room lathes are a type of engine lathes that are used for precision works. These lathes are available in small and medium sizes. In a tool room lathe spindle accuracy is emphasized more than in a standard engine lathe.


  • 135 cm to 180 cm bed length
  • Taper turning attachment and follower rests


Production of precision fixtures


  • Is more accurate than a standard engine lathe
  • Is smaller than a standard lathe and requires less space


  • Are used only for small work pieces

Capstan lathes

Capstan lathes are also an improvement on the standard engine lathe. They offer the ability for mass production. They feature a hexagonal head that can change the operation without the need for manual changing

Features Of Capstan Lathe

Boring and reaming

Turning workpiece and end face

Uses Of Capstan Lathe

Chucking types of work

Mass production turning


  • Can accommodate various operations to be performed on them
  • Easy to change operations


  • Not as accurate and precise as tool room lathes

Bench lathe

The bench lathe is smaller than most and as its name suggests it is mounted onto a bench. While small, bench lathes have the same features as larger lathes. They are mainly used for smaller and more precise works.

Features Of Bench Lathe

A hollow bar for attaching accessories

Electric motor or foot powered spindle

Uses Of Bench Lathe

Small precision work pieces

Reducing workpiece material for a new shape


  • Smaller than standard lathes
  • Can do the work of a larger lathe


  • You need to consider the type of bench to mount the lathe onto

Automatic lathes

Unlike other lathes, automatic lathes can handle the entire process automatically without the involvement of an operator. They are used in mass production and feature high-speed spindles and can have single or multiple spindles.


High-speed single or multi-spindles

Automatic operations


Mass production applications


  • Requires little to no input from the operator
  • Can be used for more demanding work


  • Large and will require more space

Special purpose lathe

These types of lathe are used for applications that cannot be handled by standard lathe hence the name. Usually, they are used for particular heavy-duty tasks. Some of the common types of special purpose lathes include; Vertical lathes, wheel lathes, t-lathe, multi-spindle lathes, production lathes, duplicate or tracer lathes. These are used for different special-purpose tasks.

The wheel lathe is used for machining rail rods and turning the threads on a locomotive wheel. The t-lathe, on the other hand, is used for machining jet engine rotors. 


  • It can be used for applications that other standard lathes cannot
  • Are used on larger scale tasks


  • Do not make any practical sense for small use applications.

CNC lathe

The term CN stands for computerized numerically controlled. This type of lathe uses a computer program to control its process. Thus, a program is fed into a computer to operate the lathe. Like the capstone lathe, this type of lathe is also used for mass production.


Computer program operation

High spindle speed


Mass drilling of workpieces

Thread cutting


  • Are more accurate and precise than other lathes
  • Require minimal skill to operate


  • They are large in size and typically cost more

Other types of lathes

  • Horizontal lathes: these have the main axis parallel to the workbench and look like they are lying on the ground. They are typically used for long and long materials with a small diameter.
  • Vertical lathe: in this lathe, the spindle is perpendicular to the table, and the workpiece is clamped to the table. These types of lathes are ideal for heavy workpieces with larger diameters.
  • Crankshaft lathe: This is a special-purpose lathe used to machine the connecting rod and the crank arm side of an internal combustion engine.
  • Roll lathes: this is another special-purpose lathe predominantly used to produce rolls on the rolling mill. It is heavy and cylindrical in shape. 
  • Pipe thread lathe: This type of lathe is used turning large diameter pipe fittings.
  • Slant bed lathe: This type of lathe has an inclined rail structure.


Different types of lathes are used for various purposes. Some are large and used for heavy-duty tasks, while others are small and used for more precise applications. Also, lathes can be used on wooden and metallic workpieces.

The CNC lathe is the most advanced of all the general types of lathes above. The inclusion of computer programming in its operation guarantees efficiency, speed, and accuracy. Special purpose lathes are used in specific industries and are designed to suit those industries. 

All the same, lathes do pretty much the same functions which include centering, turning, boring, drilling, chamfering, and thread cutting.

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