General Lathe Operations


     General operations on the lathe include straight and shoulder turning, facing, grooving, parting, turning tapers, and cutting various screw threads. Before these operations can be done, a thorough knowledge of the variable factors of lathe speeds, feeds, and depth of cut must be understood. These factors differ for each lathe operation, and failure to use these factors properly will result in machine failure or work damage. The kind of material being worked, the type of tool bit, the diameter and length of the workpiece, the type of cut desired (roughing or finishing), and the working condition of the lathe will determine which speed, feed, or depth of cut is best for any particular operation. The guidelines which follow for selecting speed, feed, and depth of cut are general in nature and may need to be changed as conditions dictate.

Cutting Speeds.

    The cutting speed of a tool bit is defined as the number of feet of workpiece surface, measured at the circumference, that passes the tool bit in one minute. The cutting speed, expressed in FPM, must not be confused with the spindle speed of the lathe which is expressed in RPM. To obtain uniform cutting speed, the lathe spindle must be revolved faster for workplaces of small diameter and slower for workplaces of large diameter. The proper cutting speed for a given job depends upon the hardness of the material being machined, the material of the tool bit, and how much feed and depth of cut is required   . Cutting speeds for metal are usually expressed in surface feet per minute, measured on the circumference of the work. Spindle revolutions per minute (RPM) are determined by using the formula:

     12 X SFM     = RPM

   3.1416 X D

Which is simplified to:



Where SFM is the rated surface feet per minute, also expressed as cutting speed.

RPM is the spindle speed in revolutions per minute

D is the diameter of the work in inches.

In order to use the formula simply insert the cutting speed of the metal and the diameter of the workpiece into the formula and you will have the RPM.

Turning a one-half inch piece of aluminum. cutting speed of 200 SFM. would result in the following:

4 x 200 = 1600 RPM


     Table 7-2 in Appendix A lists specific ranges of cutting speeds for turning and threading various materials under normal lathe conditions, using normal feeds and depth of cuts. Note that in Table 7-2 the measurement calculations are in inch and metric measures. The diameter measurements used in these calculations are the actual working diameters that are being machined. and not necessarily the largest diameter of the material. The cutting speeds have a wide range so that the lower end of the cutting speed range can be used for rough cutting and the higher end for finish cutting. If no cutting speed tables are available, remember that, generally. hard materials require a slower cutting speed than soft or ductile materials. Materials that are machined dry. without coolant. require a slower cutting speed than operations using coolant. Lathes that are worn and in poor condition will require slower speeds than machines that are in good shape. If carbide-tipped tool bits are being used, speeds can be increased two to three times the speed used for highspeed tool bits.


    Feed is the term applied to the distance the tool bit advances along the work for each revolution of the lathe spindle. Feed is measured in inches or millimeters per revolution, depending on the lathe used and the operator's system of measurement. Table 3-3 in Appendix A is a guide that can be used to select feed for general roughing and finishing operations. A light feed must be used on slender and small workplaces to avoid damage. If an irregular finish or chatter marks develop while turning. reduce the feed and check the tool bit for alignment and sharpness. Regardless of how the work is held in the lathe, the tool should feed toward the headstock. This results in most of the pressure of the cut being put on the work holding device. If the cut must be fed toward the tailstock. use light feeds and light cuts to avoid pulling the workpiece loose.

Depth of Cut

    Depth of cut is the distance that the tool bit moves into the work. usually measured in thousandths of an inch or in millimeters. General machine practice is to use a depth of cut up to five times the rate of feed, such as rough cutting stainless steel using a feed of 0.020 inch per revolution and a depth of cut of 0.100 inch. which would reduce the diameter by 0.200 inch. If chatter marks or machine noise develops. reduce the depth of cut.


     Graduated micrometer collars can be used to accurately measure this tool bit movement to and away from the lathe center axis. Thus. the depth of cut can be accurately measured when moving the tool bit on the cross slide by using the cross slide micrometer collar. The compound rest is also equipped with a micrometer collar. These collars can measure in inches or in millimeters, or they can be equipped with a dual readout collar that has both. Some collars measure the exact tool bit movement. while others are designed to measure the amount of material removed from the workpiece (twice the tool bit movement). Consult the operator's instruction manual for specific information on graduated collar use.


Figure 3-45. Graduated micrometer collar.

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