21 Helpful Metal Lathe Tips For Beginners

Last Updated on 31st August 2020

Image Credit: Youtube.com/User: Build Something Cool

As a follow up to our recent in depth review of some of the best metal lathes on the market, we have brought together some helpful tips you should bare in mind when you switch on your new machine.

The fact is, if not used with a suitable amount of respect, you could do yourself some serious harm. These are powerful tools with a lot of moving parts. For a beginner there can be a lot to take in.

By considering the following points you will be able to use the lathe safely and get the results you desire in no time at all.

So if you are ready? Let’s get to it…

21 Helpful Metal Lathe Tips For Beginners

1. Careful with the chuck key

A tip from metal lathe Use 101. Never leave the chuck key in a chuck. When the lathe starts spinning, it will send that key shooting across your workshop with enough force to impale you.

2. Dressed for success

Dress sensibly when using your lath. Loose clothing, dangling jewelry or ties are a big, fat no. The reason is self-explanatory – you simply don’t want anything to get caught in the machine.

3. Watch the Mane

If you have long hair, you know what to do: Tie it back or wear a hat.

4. Eye protection


Eye protection should be worn at all times when operating your lathe. You’re in your workshop, you don’t need to worry about what you look like. Nor should you be complacent and fail to fetch the glasses if they don’t happen to be close by. An airborne slither of metal in the eye is enough to blind you.

5. Clean & Tidy Workspace

We’ll get the safety tips out of the way first. Always keep the area around your lathe clear of unnecessary items and oil-free. That includes materials on the floor around your lathe. One trip, and well you get the idea.

6. Using the clamp holder

The clamp or holder is there for a reason. You should keep as much of the tool supported as possible. The end result is less strain on your machine and the reduced chance of the cutting tool beginning to chatter.

7. Avoiding Tailstock Strain

Lathe operators should use the tailstock centre to support the workpiece end on any job that isn’t short or light. This will ensure that the load on your headstock bearings is reduced.

8. Bearings

While we’re on the subject of bearings; when it is time to adjust your plain headstock bearings, make sure that you slacken the drive belt completely first. It will make the job significantly easier.

9. Careful Lubrication

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You need to lubricate your headstock bearings frequently. Apply a little light oil using an adjustable-drip oil pot. This will give you more control and will allow for delicate applications of lubrication when required.

10. Oil levels

Check the level of the reservoir oil supply each day before you use your lathe.

11. Check the earth

If you have bought a used machine, the most important issue you should look at before turning it on is to ensure the lathe has been electrically earthed correctly.

12. Clean your taper

When inserting a centre in either the headstock or tailstock you need to make sure that you clean out the taper first.

13. Practice makes perfect

Before diving in to carry out a difficult job on expensive (or maybe scarce) material. Pull out some old piece of practice material and have a go on that first.

14. Leave the turnings alone

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Leave any steel turnings alone as they snake away from your work piece. Not only are they sharp, they can also snag the skin and pull your hand towards the spinning mechanisms of the lathe.

15. The cold shop

During the winter your workshop can be cold. This means your tools will be too. They won’t run at optimum levels straight away. Fire them up at a slow speed to begin with and let them gradually warm up before you start work.

16. Buy a quick-set toolholder

A quality quick-set toolholder will make a big difference in the efficiency of your work. If you don’t have one already, make it a priority to change that.

17. Careful when moving

Image Credit: Practical Machinist

Moving a machine? Lathes are very heavy. Make sure you get a help in hand any time that you decide to budge one, even if it is to another location on the same bench.

18. Sharp tools

If you are running a small, mini lathe, you should ensure that all your cutting tools are sharp, (in the face of diminished power the lathe does not want to be under strain because of dull edges). Using a slip stone across the top surface will help achieve this.

19. Put a cork in it

Place a cork into the open end of the headstock spindle. This will help stop broken material dropping down onto the changewheels.

20. Close eye on the top slide

Keep an eye on the top slide. Makes sure it is not unnecessarily forward as you work. Aim to keep the cutting tool close to the centre of the compound slide if you can.

21. Respect your machine

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Remember: Your lathe is a powerful machine. Despite quick-stop buttons and other safety features, the sharp spinning heart of the tool can do horrendous damage in seconds. Treat it with the respect it deserves.

Further Reading:

Image Credits: Youtube.com/Users: Build Something CooldoubleboostPractical Machinist


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