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What is a Micro Lathe?

By Charity Delich
Updated May 17, 2024
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A micro lathe is a piece of equipment used in machining to precisely cut solid materials, such as aluminum, brass, iron, and steel. These machines can also be used to shape wood and plastic products. Micro lathes are often operated by jewelers, locksmiths, engineers, and designers as well as by hobby machinists and woodcrafters. A micro lathe may also be referred to as a desktop lathe or a table-top lathe.

Lathes have been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as the ancient Egyptian era. Their smaller precision counterparts, micro lathes, have existed in some form or another since at least the early 1800’s. At that time, some craftsmen used these small, precision tools for making things like clocks and watches. Since that period of time, the micro lathe market has developed considerably. Now, micro lathes can be purchased for a variety of purposes, including hobby machining, prototyping, and woodworking.

By and large, micro lathes work by firmly fixing a wood or metal material to a device called a chuck. When the lathe is turned on, the chuck rotates and the material is made to turn around a central horizontal axis. While the material is turning, a sharp cutting tool slices the material into the desired shape. The cutting tool itself remains stationary during this process.

Many micro lathes operate off of electric speed motors. They usually weigh less than 40 pounds (about 18 kilograms) and have a swing capacity of 6inches or less (approximately 15 centimeters). Micro lathes have varying ranges of power and speed. The size of material being cut as well as the type of work being performed are key factors in determining which type of micro lathe to purchase.

There are several advantages to using a micro lathe over a standard size lathe. As the name implies, micro lathes are smaller than full sized lathes. This typically makes them more affordable. Due to their small size, they are also often more convenient to use, particularly if there are space restrictions. For example, a micro lathe can easily fit in a small store, basement, or garage.

Micro lathes present some disadvantages as well. They can be less precise in cutting than a standard lathe. If a job requires a high degree of accuracy, a micro lathe may not be the best machine for the job. In addition, micro lathes are limited in the type of objects that they can shape. For example, larger objects such as furniture pieces can be difficult, or even impossible, to cut using a micro lathe.

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