Metal lathe school projects

Updated March 23, 2017

High schools that offer shop classes have the ability to teach students how to use the metal lathe. Lathes can be used to precisely machine, or cut away, bits of strong, durable materials, such as metals, plastics and other materials. Several projects can be undertaken by students to practice using a lathe.

Gift Tags and Garden Labels

Assign your students to create a metal gift tag or garden label using the lathe. They can draw a design of their tag on paper and measure its size before selecting a piece of metal to use. Zinc is commonly used for metal tags. Students can create interesting shapes, like Terrain's zinc bird tags, or sculpt intricate designs on the edges of their tags.


Students can learn to make ball-peen hammers, which are a small type of steel hammer with a rounded end where a traditional hammer's claw would be. The other end of the hammer is rounded and flat like a traditional hammer and is used for nailing things down. Students can shape the rounded part of the hammer using the lathe with your guidance. Bring several ball-peen hammers to school to show them what their finished product should look like.

Captive-Ring Shafts

Students will enjoy mastering the lathe to make a bar of aluminium into a shaft with a captive ring. They will need to shape the bar into a cylinder and then machine away a portion of the middle of the bar to leave a captive ring on it. The finished product will look like an exercise dumbbell with a ring around the centre portion that cannot be slid over either end, which is why it is called a "captive" ring. It doesn't have much function other than being an interesting paperweight, but your students will love it because it looks impossible to make, but it is not. Bring an example or show photos so that students understand what to make. Ask them to draw pictures of their project and write out the steps they will need to take to complete it. This will help them understand and correctly order the tasks at hand.

Wind Chimes

Assign your students to be creative and design their own wind chimes. They can machine aluminium cylinders on the lathe and other interesting components, such as Terrain's birds mentioned in the gift-tag section. Remind them to cut a hole in each part so that they can insert string to connect each piece. This would be a great project to do before the winter holidays or Mother's Day so that students can give their completed projects as gifts.

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About the Author

Talia Kennedy has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in "The New York Times," "San Francisco Chronicle" and "The Sacramento Bee," among others. Kennedy has a master's degree from the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.