Lathes: The Basic Principles of Maintenance

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Lathes: The Basic Principles of Maintenance

Lathes are any machine tools that rotate the workpiece on its axis to cut, sand, drill, or turn a variety of materials including wood and metal. Like any machine or system, lathes tend to lose effectiveness after repeated use. There are many things that can go wrong with a lathe over time. If a wood or metalworker follows the basic principles of maintenance, the working life of the lathe can be extended by many times. Some of the principles are deceptively simple: keep the lathe lubricated and remove debris. Others, such as replacing worn blades, can be a bit a more involved.

Regardless of the issue, people can find replacement parts and machine tool oil at a variety of sources, including many DIY shops. The best place to find maintenance related items for lathes is eBay. The site has products and parts for almost every lathe and they can be often purchased at a significant discount to the normal retail price.

Lubricate the Moving Parts of the Lathe

Perhaps the most common problem with lathes is the lack of lubrication. This is an ongoing process that should be maintained to allow the moving parts to keep running smoothly. There are many types of lathes, so lubrication levels and areas are different. However, there are some common parts that require lubrication. The oil levels should be checked while the lathe is warming up. When using the lathe, allow it to warm up for approximately 10 minutes at 1200 rpm to allow the oil to flow to all of the moving parts.

Headstock Lubrication

The headstock includes the spindle bearings, headstock gearing, and shafts. These parts are lubricated via a distributor tank, which is found under the headstock top cover. Lubricating oil is provided by a pump or an oil slinger found in the headstock. The oil level in the headstock should be maintained and there is a oil level indicator found on the headstock front face to help with this. Lathes with a pump are filled with oil via a filler tube that can be found behind the headstock end guard cover. Lathes with oil slingers are supplied with oil through a filler plug on the headstock cover. When the lathe is in daily use, the oil in the headstock should be topped up weekly.

Gearbox Lubrication

There is an oil tank found in most lathes that supplies lubrication to the gears in the gearbox. The oil sight window is found on the front or side face of the gearbox. The oil in the tank can be topped up using the filler elbow behind the headstock end cover. Oil levels in the gearbox should be checked at least once a week.

Apron Lubrication

As with the gears in the gearbox, the gears in the apron need to be lubricated. The apron oil tank can be the reservoir for the manually operated pump to lubricate the nut, bed ways, and cross slide ways. Oil can be added through the filler plug on the saddle. Oil in the apron should be checked weekly.

Remove Debris from the Lathe

Swarf is term used to describe the turning, chips, and fillings that are created as the lathe works either wood or metal. It is a big problem for the maintenance of the lathe and should be removed as soon as is practically possible. Chips and other debris should be removed from the chip tray so that the coolant is allowed to drop into the reservoir. If chips are not removed, the coolant can be pumped back into the lathe without entering the reservoir. The build-up of debris can also cause rust and absorb oil. This results in drying out of a previously lubricated surface. A paintbrush can be used to remove cuttings so that they are not forced under the apron as it moves towards the chuck.

Wipe the Lathe

The lathe should be wiped down after each use. A clean cloth should be used to remove coolant that has splashed on the machine to prevent corrosion. The inside of the lathe should also be wiped to keep the paint from peeling. Never use petroleum-based liquids to clean the bearing surfaces of the lathe, as that can leave residue that breaks up the oil used to lubricate it. Instead, use mineral spirits.

Remove Metal Debris

When working with metal, small bits can be embedded on the chuck jaws. To remove the debris, compressed air should be used. Screwdrivers and other hard tools should not be employed for this purpose because they can damage the edges of the lathe tools. String-like metal fragments should be removed from the lathe bed using a metal hook. Covering the lathe when it is not in use is a good idea. A cover protects the machine against debris in the workroom, as well as dust and moisture.

Sharpen Lathe Blades

A great way to save some costs and ensure that a lathe has sharp blades is to do it without using professional sharpening service or by just replacing the dull blades. In addition to sharpening the blades, a grinder can be used to fashion custom lathe tips. To sharpen the blades, lathe owners can use the following process:

Steps to Sharpen Lathe Blades


Dress the grinding wheel

Apply moderate pressure to the grinding wheel

Allows a new surface to be created for grinding lathe tools

Grind the first side of the lathe tool

Tool should be held at a 10 degree angle

Tool should be set between 0.5 and 0.64 cm to create a proper angle for the cutting tool

Grind the other side of the lathe tool

Opposite side of the lathe tool is used to sharpen the tip, which should be less than 90 degrees

Grind the top of the tool

Top of the tool should be placed at a 15 degree angle toward the grinding wheel

Tool should be tipped slowly towards the grinder while moving the tool to the right

Break the tip of the tool

Point the top of the tip at the grinding wheel

Grind the tip just a little bit

During the grinding, turn the tip right and left to create a radius on either side of the tip

This process can save a lathe user a great deal of money annually, after start-up costs have been taken into account. It does require a moderate amount of skill and should not be attempted by novice machine tool users. Lathe users can check the amount of wear on a blade by rubbing a fingernail close to the headstock. This is the area where the most wear can be found.

Dismantle the Lathe

From time to time, it might be necessary to dismantle the lathe and give each part a thorough cleaning. This is also the time when replacement parts can be identified, purchased, and installed. After the lathe has been dismantled, the parts should be sandblasted to provide the deepest cleaning. Sandblasting also allows the lathe parts to have the strongest bonds between the base metal and finishing materials. Headstocks, gearboxes, and aprons should be stripped by hand so that sandblast dust does not get into the bearings. A pure polyester resin should be used as a primer for the parts before the paint is added. After the coating is applied, the parts should be sanded then painted with a two part epoxy paint. Blades can also be reground to make them sharper before the lathe is reassembled.

How to Find Lathe Maintenance Items on eBay

eBay has many machine tools and relevant maintenance items. To find lathes on eBay, you can access the site's search engine found near the top of most pages. Type in "lathes" and you can find a great number of complete tools and parts. To narrow your results, you can add words to your search or use the categories suggested by eBay. For example, replacement blades can be found by typing "lathe blades". Make sure that you spell all of the keywords correctly to find exactly the right items.

Evaluating Sellers by Their Feedback Score

When you are engaging in a transaction on eBay, one of the key pieces of information about the seller that you should check is their feedback score. If you are going to buy a lathe or a replacement lathe part, you should pay attention how other buyers have rated the seller. The higher the score, the more confident you can feel. Various coloured stars indicate the number of ratings a seller has received. Positive feedback ratings are determined by the percentage of results over the past year.


Lathes require a certain amount of maintenance after each use. So, in order for them to last for the longest period of time, they should not be left until a part is no longer functioning. The time spent maintaining the lathe can allow the machine tool to last for much longer. Among the simplest maintenance principles that can be performed are cleaning the lathe, removing any debris, and ensuring that the moving parts are lubricated properly. More involved principles include sharpening the blades and dismantling the lathe for a thorough cleaning.

Following the guidelines presented provides more uninterrupted use of the lathe. Owners of lathes should get to know the products and parts available on eBay for their maintenance needs. Before purchasing the item, buyers should familiarise themselves with the seller's feedback rating. eBay has maintenance tools and replacement parts for almost any lathe available and these items can be purchased at affordable prices.

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