Anatomy of a Lathe

lathe-001Just bought a lathe and feeling a touch in awe of it? The first thing then is to familiarise yourself with what is what around the lathe?

This particular lathe is a Warco WM240B (review of the WM240B). This is a good size for a general purpose hobby lathe with a maximum swing of 240mm (this is the maximum diameter that can be turned), distance between centres of 400mm (this is measured by removing the chuck and fitting a centre in the headstock and a centre in the tailstock and is the distance between the two). One important dimension is the maximum swing over the cross-slide as this will determine the largest diameter you can turn of any significant length (the cross-slide can travel underneath the turning part), this is 145mm for the WM240B.


The lathe bed, picked out in colour in image on the right, is the part of the lathe that connects everything together. The headstock at one end and the tailstock at the other. The saddle moves back and forth on the bed. The bed has precision ground surfaces so that the headstock, tailstock and saddle all remain parallel whatever the relative position along the bed.

It is important that the bed is fixed to a flat sturdy bench that will not move over time and that the lathe bed is adjusted on these fixings to ensure it is flat and true.

The running surfaces of the lathe bed should be kept oiled and clean of rust and abrasives.

Lathe Carriage


A principal part of a lathe that carries the cutting tool and consists of the saddle, compound rest and apron.

On top of the lathe carriage we have the cross-slide, on top of this the top-slide and then the toolpost sits on top of this.


The most common chuck is a 3-jaw for round or hexagonal stock. The 4-jaw chuck is the most universal chuck and the collet chuck for precision and high-speed round stock.

Changing the chuck can be a bit tricky initially and there are some care points.


This sits on top of the Carriage and gives the motion to move the tool normal to the axis of rotation and hence to face the part.


Lathe Headstock


Contains the main shaft that the chuck or faceplate is bolted to and which the drive motor and gearing is fitted to. The headstock locates on the bed and the shaft runs parallel to the bed, the accuracy of this alignment is crucial.

The chuck has an alignment flange on the headstock spindle and is then fixed in place with bolts, thus allowing a 3-jaw or 4-jaw chuck to be fitted as well as a much larger faceplate to allow odd shapes to be machined.


Lathe Tailstock
Lathe Tailstock


Opposite end of the bed to the head that is moved manually into position and locked. A drill or centre can be fitted to the tailstock that are aligned to the headstock and used to drill or support longer workpieces.

The tailstock can be moved manually along the bed by first releasing it from the lathe bed, pushing it along the bed and then locking it to the lathe bed – the locking mechanism is normally actuated using a lever, but this can be using an allen key on smaller lathes.

The tailstock is then operated with a handle and this moves the mandrel towards or away from the main lathe chuck.


Turning tools for the lathe are normally made from High Speed Steel and are held in the toolpost that sits on top of the cross-slide.

Depending on the material being machined different cutting angles and materials for the cutting tools may be used.



About Nigel 187 Articles
Have been making models since I was around 7 years old and using a lathe from the age of 11, a self taught engineer with a passion for making model engines.

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