May 18, 2021 07:30

Lathes - Terms and history


In this paper we would like to bring a little more clarity to the terminology of the product lathe.

In the german language we know two expressions, “Drehmaschine” and “Drehbank”. This problem is not existing in the english language, lathe is lathe.

In lexicons it is clearly defined that the term “Drehmaschine” is the current expression. If you refer to the Machinery Directive, you can see that the term “Drehbank” no longer exists in relation to machines.

Similar old / new definitions also exist in the german language in several other fields, e.g. for tools. This might be the reason why a lot of people say german laguage, difficult language.

Lathes can be used in the metal industry, the wood industry or in the plastics sector. There are also applications in which lathes are used as testing machines. With a mounted dial gauge, e.g. the concentricity of a workpiece can be checked very easily within certain tolerance ranges.

If we look at the history of the trades and industries, the terms lathe are not the only ones. Especially in the woodworking industry there is also the hand turning lathes. Ultimately, it is nothing more than a lathe that does not have a tool holder. The turning tools are guided by hand. There is only one support for positioning manually the turning tools. Hand turning lathes can be used not only for wood, but also for other non-metallic materials.

The terms become more confusing, or in other words more differentiated, when it comes to automation from the simple lathe. The whole thing then culminates in the term “machining center”.

On this occasion, terms such as universal machines and workshop machines should not be forgotten.

 If we now present the whole thing historically, without this list claiming to be complete, the list could look like this:

1.    Lathes of the conventional type, driven via central shafts and speed change via belts and pulley sets

2.    Lathes of the conventional type, driven by electric motors and switchable gears for changing the speed

3.    Lathes and automatic lathes of the conventional type, driven by electric motors and control cams

4.    Lathes of conventional type with lead and pull spindles

5.    Lathes with NC control and electric drives

6.    Lathes with CNC controls, sensors, electric motors and servo drives

7.    Multi-axis machining centers with CNC control

Another branch in the directions of multi-spindle lathes, turret lathes or the simple case of counter-spindle lathes shows some of the developments. These machines also initially existed conventionally and have developed through to CNC-controlled lathes.

The categories on in the field of metal (metalworking machines):

  • CNC Lathes
  • Automatic lathes
  • Automatic chucking
  • Opposed spindle turning centres
  • Roundabout turning machines horizontal
  • Roundabout turning machines vertical
  • Conventional lathes
  • Crankshaft lathes
  • Sliding head lathes
  • Center lathes
  • Multislide lathes
  • Multi spindle lathes
  • Camshaft lathes
  • Wheel rim lathes
  • Turret lathes
  • Inclined bed turning machine
  • Other lathes
  • Bar automatics
  • Universal lathes
  • Vertical lathes
  • Cycle controlled lathes


The categories on in the area of wood (woodworking machines):

  • CNC Lathes
  • Hand turning lathes
  • Automatic lathes
  • Opposed spindle turning centres
  • Woodturning lathes
  • Conventional lathes
  • Other lathes
  • Universal lathes


In the compilation of the categories, it is also noticeable that the term “lathe” is primarily used in the metal sector, while the term woodworking lathe is used much more frequently in the wood sector.


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