A (mini or hobby) lathe is a machine tool which spins the workpiece to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, or deformation with tools that are applied to the workpiece to create an object which has symmetry about an axis of rotation. (Hobby) lathes are used in woodturning, metalworking, metal spinning, and glassworking. Lathes can be used to shape pottery, the best-known design being the potter's wheel. Most suitably equipped metalworking lathes can also be used to produce most solids of revolution, plane surfaces and screw threads or helices. Ornamental lathes can produce three-dimensional solids of incredible complexity. The material can be held in place by either one or two centers, at least one of which can be moved horizontally to accommodate varying material lengths. Other workholding methods include clamping the work about the axis of rotation using a chuck or collet, or to a faceplate, using clamps or dogs.
Examples of objects that can be produced on a lathe include candlestick holders, cue sticks, table legs, bowls, baseball bats, musical instruments (especially woodwind instruments), crankshafts and camshafts.
The lathe is an ancient tool, dating at least to the Egyptians and known and used in Assyria, Greece, the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
The origin of turning dates to around 1300 BC when the Egyptians first developed a two-person lathe. One person would turn the wood work piece with a rope while the other used a sharp tool to cut shapes in the wood. The Romans improved the Egyptian design with the addition of a turning bow. Early bow lathes were also developed and used in Germany, France and Britain. In the Middle Ages a pedal replaced hand-operated turning, freeing both the craftsman's hands to hold the woodturning tools. The pedal was usually connected to a pole, often a straight-grained sapling. The system today is called the 'spring pole' lathe (see Polelathe). Spring pole lathes were in common use into the early 20th century. A two-person lathe, called a 'great lathe', allowed a piece to turn continuously (like today's power lathes). A master would cut the wood while an apprentice turned the crank.How to make a spin top toy:
During the Industrial Revolution, mechanized power generated by water wheels or steam engines was transmitted to the lathe via line shafting, allowing faster and easier work. The design of lathes diverged between woodworking and metalworking to a greater extent than in previous centuries. Metalworking lathes evolved into heavier machines with thicker, more rigid parts. The application of leadscrews, slide rests, and gearing produced commercially practical screw-cutting lathes. Between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, individual electric motors at each lathe replaced line shafting as the power source. Beginning in the 1950s, servomechanisms were applied to the control of lathes and other machine tools via numerical control (NC), which often was coupled with computers to yield computerized numerical control (CNC). Today manually controlled and CNC lathes coexist in the manufacturing industries.
Lathes come in three sizes, too big, too small or just right, so the lathe you select very much depends on what you will be using it for. Small parts can be turned on a large lathe but it just doesn't feel right, everything around the part is just too big. Large parts can not be turned on a small lathe if they exceed the lathes capacity so a lathe should be selected to fit the type of work that will be done on it most of the time.
Lathes also come in two styles, screw cutting and plain, most lathes today are screw cutting with the exception of a few small hobby lathes. There are attachments for some of the hobby lathes to converet them to cut threads but it is probably best to settle for a proper screw cutting lathe to start with.