What Are The Differences Between a Wood and a Metal Lathe?

Differences Between a Wood and a Metal Lathe

One of the essential machine in the manufacturing industry is said to be the lathe machine. But what is a lathe machine?

It is an ancient tool that is used for cutting or shaping woods and metals. It is one of those tools that are used worldwide, reasons why it’s also commonly known as the mother of the tool room.

Wood Lathe

The wood lathe is said to be the oldest form of woodworking lathe in the lathe world. All the other modernized lathes that you usually see nowadays on the market can be obtained from the traditional wooden lathe.

The wood lathe has an adaptable horizontal rail which is called the tool rest. The tool rest is where the piece of wood is placed. And, the operator is supposed to put all their design tools on the surface.

The most common shaping tool that is used by the wood lathe is metal; metal can make the rough veneer. So sandpaper can be applied onto the wood after reshaping to have a smooth finishing. This factor is not completely mandatory, but this additional information might help you in the long run.

Wood lathes can be of few varieties. The difference between the tradition lathe and the wood lathe is that they do not have the horizontal rail. Since there is no rail, the objects could be placed anywhere at one point, and it can be of any size too.

Metal Lathe

A metal lathe is a huge deal nowadays in the modern world, starting from automotive companies to any manufacturing industries. The metal lathe might seem to be very similar to a wood lathe.

However, computer-controlled systems are used to fit the tool-post and tool positioning. Lead screws are used to make the tool-posts maneuver.

Cooling fluids are most of the time necessary while using a metal lathe considering metal can become exceptionally hot in the course of cutting and shaping.

Threads for bolts, crankshafts or other heavy metal objects, can be produced using these metal lathes. Whereas for industrial and practical grounds, metal lathes are a great option. The execution of metal lathes can be a bit stimulating considering tools are put into the main to be ‘turned’ or cut or shaped.

The pitch of the lead screw usually controls the thread pitch of a few of the cuts, and this might create provocation while working with metric and American based threading system.

There is a gear named the transposing gear which can help to understand the use of 127-tooth gear better. The only drawback is that this could be often known as the voluntary equipment and could raise the overall cost of a metal lathe.

Difference between Wood and Metal Lathe

Today we are about to talk about the two kinds of lathe machines that are widely used through the world these days. One is the wood lathes which are also known as the traditional wood lathes commonly used for cutting, polishing, shaping or sanding any wooden objects.

On the other hand, there are modern metal lathes which is widely used for cleaning or cutting metal objects. Let’s not worry just yet because we will be talking further about the two kinds of lathes in this article so that you would be able to figure out your perfect purchase.

How to Use

Wood lathes operate in a manual manner, which means it needs more physical strength in case of using it with hands, also while preparing the materials would need supervision at all times. It is said to be easier to use them than the metal lathe.

On the other hand, a metal lathe is programmed by computer, so it’s said to be more accurate for using.


Wood lathe confirms the quality of bending easily without breaking when it comes to designs. It is also said to have a primary mechanism, which makes operating much less complicated.

But in the case of a metal lathe, proper training is required for operating. Although it offers an extended amount of accuracy since it flawlessly makes the designs.

Also, while dealing with the hardest materials, metal lathe is a better choice.

Shaping and Cutting

Wood lathe might not be suitable for cutting hard metal objects, but they can be used to shape and polish metals. They are commonly used while processing tables, rails, baseball bats etc.

However, the metal lathe is mainly used to make parts of machines, because they can handle dealing with durable hard metal and wooden objects.


The wood lathe is less accurate than a metal lathe, however wood lathe rotates faster than the metal lathe due to the variety of the size and works its suppose to manage. So keeping that in mind, metal lathe becomes more precise than a wood lathe.  

Safety Hazards

Wood lathes are likely to cause most hazards, due to defects from timber. The airborne dust might cause eye damage, and while the spindle is on rotation mode, there is a risk of entanglement.

The hazards on metal lathes are just as similar, the flying objects could cause eye damage, and entanglement could be an issue in rotating movable parts. One additional risk that metal lathes have is the exposure to loud noise which could cause ear damage.


Wood lathes come on preferable shapes, for example, if you are asking the lathe for your home requirements or small business use, there are small table-cloth version of the lathe available for you.


Wood lathes are usually available and more affordable than metal lathes. People frequently buy them for use at home. Metal lathe, however, is very expensive and is only recommended for industrial and practical applications. Also, it requires proper training, so using it for domestic purposes is not endorsed.


Wood lathes are very transportable, which means when you have bought it for some specific purchase and your work is done; you could use it from one workshop to another without any hazard or chaos. They are commonly used for simple projects, such as interior decor, jewelry items, etc.

Lathes with heavyweight or arrangements always stay back in the workshop or factories after the work is completed. These are the lathes that require a motional position. That’s the case for a metal lathe.


Wood Lathe: It is more affordable Easier to use than the metal lathe Simple mechanism, so less likely to break down Adaptable to creative deigns

Metal Lathe: Designed for accuracy and control. The cuts and notches are done for perfectly and precisely than it is done in the wood lathe Strong enough to handle hard materials Even on small items, the work can be done precisely


Wood Lathe: Less precise Requires physical strength skills to operate Take time to learn how to use

Metal Lathe: A large number of electrical components which creates hazards when it needs maintenance or repairing Requires time to learn to program Offers minimal adaptability in terms of designs

What Is the Difference between CNC and Conventional Lathe?

A conventional lathe is a two-axis machine, where the controlling depends upon your choice of RPM, the feed gears.

Whereas the CNC is said to be a 2-4 axis that basically operates by a “computer numerical control”, where every axis is said to have a call screw with servo motor and encoder which helps to position the machine within.

Conventional lathe requires physical presence as you have to change and load all the tools by hand with the help of either a basic tool-post or a device called quick-change.

On the other hand, if we talk about the metal lathe, every tool present in the computerized tool changer should be programmed in a way that it is in contact with each tool.

To increase the axis count, a CNC lathe might also have a milling tool option, while some of the conventional lathes come with a digital readout system that is very accurate and also may use a dial indicator to measure the axis’ absolute activity.

Which Lathe Should You Choose?

Both lathes come with several benefits that could be suitable for respective purposes. If you are new in lathing, you would probably want the basic and straightforward kind, and wood lathe is one to be recommended as it’s also easier to use.

However, if you have your discrete choice and need, you should focus on which lathe will help make your work easier and smoother, without any hazard.

People who are good with computer controlling programs, using metal lathes should be a piece of cake. Also, it’s more practical to use, as while you put your lathe on work you don’t have to stick to it and supervise it at all times.

Instead, you can have your other job done, which is not possible in wood lathes, considering you have to supervise it at all times. But wood lathes helps you work on your skills and techniques. Just as I said before, both has its drawback and benefits, all you have to figure out is which one you think suits your choice and habits.

Lathe work is said to be one of the oldest art form, which is still practiced the same way it was done thousands of years ago. Not much has changed on the practicing and crafting since the beginning of lathe machines.

Also, it’s believed that when something comes near to perfection not much can be done to rectify it, and lathe machines have stuck with us for more than three thousand years now and still appreciated just the same.


Overall hopefully, this article will assist you in finding your preferable and affordable lathe. Whatever your reason might be, could be for entertainment purpose or workplace. We hope with the help of this article; you would be able to find your desirable lathe and join the world of the lathing art.

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