How to Use a Metal Lathe – A Beginner’s Guide

"Metal worker with work wear and gloves is turning metal on a lathe"

Did you start working in a factory or have an upcoming high school project? Or do you have a plan to set up your new home workshop and try to run a test first with a beginner’s metal lathe?

You may have theoretical knowledge about almost everything in the factory. But do you have any field experience?

The answer may be “no.” Well, that’s nothing to be concerned about. Many of the newbies have felt the same.

Now, Metal Lathe may be the next thing you have to work with. And you can’t help feeling nervous about that.

Never mind, I am here to guide you out of this problem, just hold on. Before going through the working process, let’s revise what a Metal Lathe machine is.

Note: Due to the differences in interstate laws in our country, unfortunately, Vtimeout temporarily disabled the participation of US people. So this contest currently is only for my readers who are from the United Kingdom.

What is a Metal Lathe Machine?

The metal lathe is a machining apparatus used to shape metal pieces by holding and rotating it by the lathe. At the same time, a tool bit is moved forward into the work for cutting action.

The lathe machine has been developed a lot for producing screw threads, drilling, cutting, tapping, turning, etc. of metal nowadays. In contrast, the basic lathe was designed to cut cylindrical metal stock only.

By the way, you can find out my pick for the top-listed heavyweight metal lathe out there if you want after reading this.

Things You Need to Know Before Starting

The lathe has two ends, the headstock, which spins, and the tailstock, which stays still to support the workpiece. There are two typical measurements in lathes to look into. One is the distance between the centers of the headstock and the tailstock moving it into the end.

The other measurement is called the center height. It generally gives the idea of the swing measurement while purchasing a lathe. Swing measurement denotes the distance between the center of the headstock and the bed.

Some of the small lathes have only three speeds or pulse width modulated DC motors. On the contrary, some might have gearboxes that can be even up to 6-speed gearboxes starting from 140 to 1710 rpm to rotate the spindles.

However, there are also some gears in some of the lathes to change the speed of the lead screw.

How to Use A Metal Lathe

Metal Lathes are used for numerous projects. Each of them is different in operation like cutting, drilling, boring, etc. It’s not possible to write all of them in one article as the main aspect is to how to run the machine.

So let’s say you want to sharpen the drill bits with the help of a metal lathe as it’s mostly done with a grinding tool. Here are steps you need to follow to use a metal lathe as a beginner for sharpening a drill bit.

Step 1

In the bit sharpening operation, you will have to use a bit and a piece of aluminum. Before starting, you need to understand some terms of the bit. Watch the bit from different angles, and you’ll find some edges on that. Those are called back rake, which is the angle on the top of the bit.

Step 2

There are positive, negative, and zero back rakes if you see them from the side. Negative bits are generally used for high force cutting. We are going to use positive rakes in this operation.

There is also side rake; that angle affects chip dispersal and heat also. Nose radius is another thing I would suggest a bit that would help your bit from cracking or chipping out faster.

Step 3

When it comes to grinding your bit, you have to think about the clearance angle. Think about a piece coming at your left side. If you place the bit horizontally to the object, it would be turning, and if vertically, it would be facing.

Step 4

If you want to cut a shoulder, you have to make sure there’s a clearance angle between the workpiece and the bit.

The next thing you are going to do is making your bit centered up. Whatever it is, a three-jaw chuck or four-jaw chuck, just bring the chucks altogether using your chuck key.

Step 5

Now put the bit in the bit holder and tighten it properly. Bring the tool holder with the bit mounted on it closer to the center of the chuck as much as possible. Find the exact center of the chuck and tighten the tool holder when you’re done.

Step 6

Put the aluminum piece that we’re using between the jaws of the chuck and tighten it properly. Turn on the spin. Remember, the centering you did can’t be always perfect so you might have to make some adjustments depending on the cut.

Step 7

Next, manually bring the tool holder closer to the workpiece and put it horizontally with the aluminum for the turning. You can see the angle allowing the curls coming out of the piece to drop back and off the bit. It’s not going forward to stick up into the chuck or spinning component.

Move the bit in a vertical line with the aluminum, and it will do the facing. So, you can do both the turning and facing on the same bit.
This type of face cut is typically good for soft materials like steel or aluminum etc.

A good way to ensure if the bit is still centered up is to find any edges on the facing surface. If there’s any, then move your bit a little higher, and that’ll do.

Automatic Feed for Ease of Working

A manual feed did the whole process. But lathe machines can have an automatic feed. Automatic feed refers to the gears mounted on the back of your lathe. You can change these different gears for different speeds for operations like threading and so on.

You’ll find a chart on the back of your gearbox door about what gears you use for which work, speed, etc. Activating automatic feed will reduce your job and will automatically pull the feed towards the headstock. These can be used for both facing and turning as there is an automatic feed both in and out.

Using Live Center

Instead of having a small piece of the workpiece if you have a longer one, then you have to support it at the end to perform the turning operation. You can support the object with a live center that has bearings in it and can spin with the object.

Drilling with the Lathe

You can also drill out a piece at the center using the tailstock. Use the lever at the back of your tailstock to pop in the drilling tool and lock it down. Bring it over to the rotating workpiece, and that’s it. You can make a hole in the object. Remember to use lubricant while drilling, as it will make your tool last longer.

So, that’s literally all the basics you need to use a metal lathe.

Four Recommended Metal Lathes for Beginner Machinists

1. BestEquip Metal Lathe 7″ x 14″: The Overall Best

"Blue and White colored BestEquip 7 x 4 metal lathe with size detail in a white background"
  • 7″ swing and 14″ between centers
  • Motor: 550W DC Single Phase
  • Spindle Speed: 0-2250 RPM
  • Infinitely Variable Speeds
  • Swing Over Cross Slide: 110mm
  • Tailstock Taper: Mt2
  • Spindle Taper: Mt3
  • Cross Slide Travel: 65mm(2.53″)
  • Chuck Diameter: 100mm(3.94″)
  • Inch Thread: 12-52 T.P.I
  • Spindle Accuracy: 0.01mm
  • Weight: 101.9 lbs

2. Grizzly G8688 7” x 12” Mini Metal Lathe

"Olive green colored Grizzly G8688 Mini Metal Lathe in a white background"
  • 12″ bed swing, 36″ between centers
  • Motor: 2 HP, 220V, single-phase, 1725 RPM
  • Spindle speeds: 9 speed (70-1400) RPM
  • Bed width: 7-1/4″
  • Spindle bore: 1.57″
  • Spindle taper: MT#5a
  • Tailstock barrel taper: MT#3
  • One MT#3 live center
  • Two MT#3 dead centers
  • Swing over cross slide: 7″
  • Weight: 1251 lbs
  • Warranty: 2 years

3. Mophorn 7×12 Upgraded Version Metal Lathe 550W

"Blue body, white leg Mophorn 7 x 12 Inch Metal Lathe in a white background"
  • 9″ Bed swing and 19″ between centers
  • Motor: 0.75 HP, 110V, 1 phase, 9A, 1720 RPM
  • Speed: 6 speed (130-2000) RPM
  • Spindle bore: 0.78
  • Spindle taper: MT#3
  • Swing over cross slide: 5″
  • Swing over saddle: 5″
  • Cross slide travel: 4-1/4″
  • Compound travel: 1-7/8″
  • Carriage travel: 16″
  • MT #2 dead center
  • MT#3 dead center
  • Weight: 304 lbs
  • Warranty: 2 years

4. BestEquip Metal Lathe 8×16 Inch 750W

"A silver and green color bed BestEquip 8x16 inches Metal Lathe with it's accessories in a white background"
  • 7″ Bed swing and 12″ distance between centers
  • Motor: 550W, 110V, 1 phase
  • Spindle Speed: 02250 RPM variable speed
  • Spindle Bore: 0.83″
  • Spindle Accuracy: 0.0004″
  • Swing over cross slide: 4.3
  • Top slide travel: 1.38″
  • Cross slide travel: 2.56″
  • Tail Stock Taper: MT2
  • Spindle Taper: MT3
  • Both Forward and Reverse
  • Weight: 57.2 lbs
  • Warranty: Contact seller

A Few Tips to Help You Remain Safe

  • Try to avoid full sleeve dresses while working. Do not wear a tie or apron or anything that hangs up. Remove rings and watches before you start working.
  • Whenever you need to make adjustments, stop the lathe.
  • Never use your hands to remove chips and swarf, use pliers or a brush.
  • Wait until the lathe stops completely before you change spindle speeds.
  • Use protective eye gear while working.
  • Do not forget to remove wrenches and chuck keys before operating.
  • Sharp cutters, centers, and drills can be dangerous, so handle them with care.
  • Keep your full concentration on what you’re doing. Slight inattention can cause a serious accident.


Whether it’s a hobby or job, learning how to operate or work with a metal lathe can give you a handful of benefits. You can make various kinds of objects on your own for household use and so on. Besides, if you can learn and handle the device properly, it can even provide you a well-paying career.

I’ve tried my best to cover all the things that you need to learn and operate the lathe in this article in short.

Last but not least, try to avoid taking too much material at once; make smaller pieces if you can. Work with patience, begin your work slowly, and take a measurement of your work as you go.

My recommended review articles:

The GRIZZLY G8688 Review of the year
Honest review for The Grizzly G0602

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