Basic Lathe Operation 101 – A Beginners Guide to Turning, Cutting and Boring

If you’re new to metalworking and want to ensure that you’ll finish your project with the same number of digits that you started with, follow this simple and easy guide on basic lathe operation. The guide covers all facets of turning, cutting and boring with a metal lathe, enabling you to do a broad scope of metalworking projects.

Metal Turning

Metal turning can be used for a wide range of applications from artisans specialty pieces to forming all types of round metal parts designed for commercial requirements. It can either be performed by hand or for industrial or commercial purposes with a CNC lathe.

Some of the many different types of products that can be created with metal turning include: specialty lighting, rocket nose cones, brass instruments, cookware, decorative household goods, gas cylinders and urns.

You can form nearly any type of ductile metal with metal turning, such as aluminium, stainless steel and alloys. The size of equipment that you use directly correlates to the diameter and the depth of the parts that are being formed.

How to Use a Lathe for Metal Turning

  • Step 1. Mount a formed block in the drive section of your metal lathe.
  • Step 2. Clamp a metal disc that is pre-sized for the specific purpose against the block with a pressure pad that is attached to the lathes tailstock.
  • Step 3. Then apply a localised force using levered tools to the workpiece which results in it flowing over the block. The standard tool that’s used in metal turning is known as a spoon, but there are other tools that can be used for this process which offer different results.

Metal Cutting

Metal cutting involves removing excess metal using tooling to meet the exact specifications of your metalworking project. There are a variety of metal cutting processes available that can help you achieve different results. These fall into three main categories which are identified below:

  • Machining: which covers all chips producing processes.
  • Burning: this includes all of the processes where metal is cut through oxidation.
  • Miscellaneous: specialty cutting processes which don’t fall into either of the other metal cutting categories.
  • Whether metal cutting is done for a domestic, commercial or industrial application would determine what technologies are used for this process. The technologies that are used to cut metal include:
  • Manual: metal cutting tools such as snips, chisels, saw and shears are used for manual cutting.
  • Machine: methods used for metal cutting using a machine range from sawing, drilling, turning and grinding to milling.
    Welding or burning: plasma, oxy fuel and laser are some of the burning methods applied for metal cutting.
  • Erosion: the various erosion technologies that are used in metal cutting are abrasive flow machining, water jet and electric discharge.
  • Chemical: the main type of chemical technology applied for metal cutting is photochemical machining.

How to Use a Lathe for Metal Cutting

  • Step 1. Make sure to use the right cutting tool for the application. You’ll also need a metal ruler to measure the dimensions of the cut.
  • Step 2. Tightly load the cylindrical part that you are wanting into your lathe using your chuck.
  • Step 3. Load the cutting bit into your tool post. This is the tool that you plan on using for your first cut. Make sure that your cutting bit is tightly installed and that it’s set in the holder to be perpendicular to the part.
  • Step 4. First lock the cam firmly onto the tool post. Make sure the lathe carriage is near the chuck end of the lathe and with the cross feed wheel bring the tool closer so the ruler can be pinched against the part, enabling it to be turned. Be careful not to damage the ruler by not tightening this too much, but just enough so the ruler stays in place and doesn’t slip, so it stays between the tool and the parts surface.
  • Step 5. If your tool height has been set in the right position it will be completely vertical. Set the locking nut tightly over the top of the adjusting knurled wheel, which will preserve the setting.
  • Step 6. Now release the cam and remove the cutter before installing it longitudinally on the lathe’s axis before flipping it around so you can take the facing cut. If it’s not centred it will cause a small nib to be left. Readjust the knurled wheel in the tool holder and keep cutting in small increments until the cutting is accurate.

Metal Boring

Metal boring using a lathe can be done with a cutting tool that has a single-point or alternatively a boring head. It is undertaken to produce cylindrical and conical surfaces through enlarging a hole that’s already present in a work piece. If the hole is non-tapered then the cutting tool will sit on an axis of rotation that’s parallel whereas if the hole is tapered the tool is on an angle to the same axis.

Both straight holes and tapered holes can be created through lathe boring.

How to Use a Lathe for Metal Boring

  • Step 1. Secure the workpiece in the chuck.
  • Step 2. Feed a boring bar with an attached insert on the tip into the hole already present in the work piece.
  • Step 3. Rotate the workpiece until a chip is formed. Depending on the tool, material and the rate the boring bar is fed into the hole will determine if the chip that’s created is either continuous or segmented.
    These metalworking tips will allow you to successfully use a metal lathe for all types of applications and projects.


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