How to use a metal lathe machine for beginners

Updated February 21, 2017

By following some simple instructions and allowing the machine to warm up and become lubricated, you can make simple parts as a beginner. By making sure that your tools are tight and that you set the starting point correctly, your parts can be both well-made and to the specifications noted in the print.

Turn the spindle on to warm up and lubricate before cutting. Set the speed to about 1000 RPM and allow it to spin for about 10 minutes. During this time you can get your tooling ready.

Insert a tool block into the tool holder. There is a spot for a tool block that can hold a insert cutter. Make sure to tighten the tool block as well as possible. These cutters have removable inserts for cutting along the z axis, which will be left to right as you are facing the lathe.

Insert a drill chuck into the tail stock. The tail stock can be used to drill holes into raw material. This is a crank on the far end that has a measuring device for you to use for precision depth cuts.

Stop the spindle from turning to set your zero, zero point. Bring the tool holder to as close to the end of the piece as possible. Place a 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) block in the gap between your tool tip and your work piece. Slide it in and out until it becomes tight. Back your tool out on the x axis, toward you. Set your micrometer wheel to zero and move it 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) toward the work piece. This is your z zero point.

Bring your tool's z axis toward the spindle and slowly bring the tool tip toward the work piece. Slide a 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) block in between the tool tip and the piece until the block is tight in between the work piece and tool tip. Bring the tool block to the right past your work piece, set your x-axis micrometer measuring wheel to zero and turn the measuring wheel 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) away from you. Reset the wheel to zero; this is your x zero point.

Bring your tool tip to about 6 mm (1/4 inch) away from the work piece on both the z and x axes. Be careful not to be too close to your work piece when you start the spindle. Set your speed based on the material you are cutting and turn the spindle on.

Slowly bring the x axis to the desired cut depth. If you need to remove1.3 cm (1/2 inch) worth of material, your final dimension on the micrometer wheel will be 6 mm (1/4 inch), as material is taken from both sides as you cut. The final dimension on z will be what the micrometer reads as this operation is measured in absolute terms.


Start slowly and measure your work as you go.


Do not try to take too much material at one time; make several smaller passes if possible.

Things You'll Need

  • Tool holder
  • Inserts
  • Drill chuck
bibliography-icon icon for annotation tool Cite this Article

About the Author

Christian Mullen is a graduate from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in finance. He has written content articles online since 2009, specializing in financial topics. A professional musician, Mullen also has expert knowledge of the music industry and all of its facets.