If you’ve ever used a candlestick, pool cue, baseball bat or bowl, you should thank machine tooling—or, more specifically, the lathe.
You’re probably asking yourself at this point: What is a lathe? A lathe is a machine used to shape a material using a rotating axis that presses the material against various tools (a simple example is the potter’s wheel, though wood and metal are commonly shaped by lathes today). Unless you work in high precision machining or machining services, you probably don’t know, but this tool has been used for thousands of years to create many important objects. Here’s a brief history of why you should be more appreciate of the lathe:
- The lathe is thought to have been invented in Ancient Egypt. This early model required two people: one person to turn the work piece, and one to press the tools against the project.
- The Romans improved on the Egyptian design, and by the Middle Ages a foot pedal was added so that a craftsman could both work the lathe and hold his woodworking tools.
- James Watt, an 18th-century mechanical engineer and inventor, needed precisely bored cylinders in order to continue with his plans for an engine. This led to the rise of an important industrial machine: the boring mill. Developed by John Wilkinson, this machine water powered and helped to foment the Industrial Revolution.
- During the Industrial Revolution, steam engines were used to power lathes, allowing for more powerful and precise tooling.
- In the second half of the 20th century, lathes were connected to computers, allowing for either manual or computerized control.
- Sophisticated lathes are now used in heavy machining and machine tooling. That means this this tool is used to make many of the other tools we (or our mechanics) use every day. They perform a wide variety of functions on multiple axes, such as threading, boring, turning and facing.