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Are small lathes dangerous? Do I need training before operating one?

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  • Are small lathes dangerous? Do I need training before operating one?

    So I mentioned on another forum about getting a lathe for hobby purposes and immediately got a ton of responses saying to NOT do this without training and then supervision first, that lathes are among the most dangerous machines there are, that HORRIBLE accidents can occur, etc...I understand that with larger lathes, they can scalp, decapitate, yank off arms, etc...they said they can also fire projectiles such as a broken tool cutter that the lathe spits out at high speed.

    My question is, do I really need training before purchasing the lathe to experiment with? I know the safety precautions such as safety goggles, no long sleeves, no long hair, no loose clothing, no gloves, etc...I said to them that lots of people use hobby lathes, they said that means squat and that most such people already likely have extensive experience with them.

  • #2
    Any machine is dangerous if used improperly. It sounds like you have an understanding of safety, so I'd say you should be OK. Use common sense and if in doubt, ask! There are plenty of people in this forum and elsewhere that are more than happy to answer any question you might have.

    Sandro Di Filippo

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    • #3
      I would say yes, a small lathe can hurt you, but you can learn to be safe around them, it just takes common sense and some caution. Watch lots of lathe videos on YouTube, ask questions here, maybe find a local hobby machinist that is willing to mentor you in exchange for a few cold refreshments. Lots of community colleges offer machine shop classes that you could eventually look into, that's how I started in this.

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      • #4
        The nice thing about belt drives is you can keep them loose so an "event" would simply cause the spindle to slip.
        Location: Jersey City NJ USA

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        • #5
          Originally posted by canucktoolmaker View Post
          Any machine is dangerous if used improperly. It sounds like you have an understanding of safety, so I'd say you should be OK. Use common sense and if in doubt, ask! There are plenty of people in this forum and elsewhere that are more than happy to answer any question you might have.

          Sandro Di Filippo
          Read the books, watch the videos, and think about what you are going to do, and the forces you are about to apply to the part you are making. in relation to hoew you are holding it The biggest danger comes from flying tiny slivers in the eyes, the next is workpieces leaving the machine and hitting you, the next on the list is flying fragments of broken tools, perhaps next is the temptation to actually touch the parts while they are revolving before you have deburred them, and whatever you do do NOT Stick a finger in a revolving hole, especially one with a thread in it. Dropping the chuck on your fingers while removing it from the mandrel is a minor annoyance. All of the above can be avoided , I have had over 50 yrs now, still have all my fingers and both eyes functional. Have fun , work safe, work in YOUR comfort level Regards David Powell.

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          • #6
            These guys on youtube are lathe masters.

            Doubleboost https://www.youtube.com/user/doubleboost
            Abom79 https://www.youtube.com/user/Abom79
            Keith Fenner https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDm...pPfJQATIkfgY2Q

            Watch these guys and learn.

            One piece of advice I can add to the above comments is dont stand in front of the chuck / tool, stand off to the side a bit. Then if something does come out, it wont hit you.
            https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIF...7S66kX1s8rd0qA

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            • #7
              Coolbeans, thanks all for the information. I am actually planning to become a professional machinist, but I would like to get a lathe to experiment with before I attend the machining courses.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Joe_B View Post
                These guys on youtube are lathe masters.

                Doubleboost https://www.youtube.com/user/doubleboost
                Abom79 https://www.youtube.com/user/Abom79
                Keith Fenner https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDm...pPfJQATIkfgY2Q

                Watch these guys and learn.

                One piece of advice I can add to the above comments is dont stand in front of the chuck / tool, stand off to the side a bit. Then if something does come out, it wont hit you.
                Thanks for the links and the tip.

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                • #9
                  Another question that talks about machine size without stating any idea of just what is meant by the term used to describe that size.

                  JUST what do you mean by a "small" lathe. Some would think something like a jeweler's lathe with a 2" or 3" swing. Others would think in the 9, 10, even 12 inch range.

                  A lathe cuts metal. It will cut you. So any lathe, even a wood lathe, can have some danger associated with it. I started many years ago with a Unimat, which has about a 3" swing and is only about 16" in overall length. I can easily pick it up and carry it about. It came with a fairly good manual and I just started cutting metal with it. I did not do more than perhaps a few ordinary cuts to my fingers while using this machine and most of them were probably from handling the sharp tools or work with freshly cut edges.

                  On the other hand, if you have a small lathe with a motor that has 1 HP or more and perhaps slow speed settings in the gears which will produce a lot of torque, then there are other dangers. People have had arms and even more wound around a work piece as it spins. But this takes a lot of HP and torque.

                  A course may not be necessary or even possible in your area. But do get some decent reading materials on shop practices. Books, magazines, manuals, etc. Read them. Understand them. Ask questions here if you do not understand. You should be OK.
                  Paul A.
                  SE Texas

                  And if you look REAL close at an analog signal,
                  You will find that it has discrete steps.

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                  • #10
                    Treat it like a tablesaw
                    and you'll be fine.

                    -Doozer
                    DZER

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MachineMan384 View Post
                      Coolbeans, thanks all for the information. I am actually planning to become a professional machinist, but I would like to get a lathe to experiment with before I attend the machining courses.
                      Awesome, best of luck to you. Like I said I took a few weekend classes in machining at my local community college, now I'm 8 weeks away from being done my tool and die apprenticeship. If you have any questions about taking the leap to starting an apprenticeship and becoming a licensed machinist, please feel free to ask. [emoji3]

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                      • #12
                        Machine Man why don't you try putting your location in, there could be some one right in your town that could help.

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                        • #13
                          I bought my Harbor Freight 9x20 lathe (and a mill/drill and other machines) before I had any training or experience. I learned by reading some books and talking to a machinist friend, but before long I got some scrap material and a box full of used lathe cutting tools, end mills, boring bars, and other items on eBay, and I started experimenting. I used the lowest speed, and I also always made a habit of manually rotating the chuck to make sure everything was clear and safe. It is actually possible to do some work (like single point threading) using a spindle crank instead of the motor.

                          There are some choices you might make to acquire a lathe. Generally, good advice is to get the largest and best quality machine you can afford and fit into your shop, and there is also the question of buying a new machine or a used one. There are pros and cons to every decision. You might like the challenge of buying something in rough condition for cheap and fix it, but that can be frustrating and costly. Personally, I would probably go that route, but if I needed a machine that I could use immediately, I like the "Hi-Torque" machines offered by Little Machine Shop, and they are good people to deal with. You will also probably spend at least as much on tooling as the machine itself, and you can take some risk and maybe get bargains on eBay odd lots, or purchase new.
                          http://pauleschoen.com/pix/PM08_P76_P54.png
                          Paul , P S Technology, Inc. and MrTibbs
                          USA Maryland 21030

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                          • #14
                            Personally I would avoid a heavily used machine as your first machine. I feel like trying to learn to machine on a lathe that is totally clapped out is going to make your initial experience much more frustrating. Once you have some experience using a machine tool, especially if you start an apprenticeship, then you would be in a better place to evaluate a used machine or even be able to do some repairs to it.

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                            • #15
                              A small metal lathe is safer than many other popular power tools. Table saw, chain saw, radial arm saw for instance. I dear say wood shapers are probably more common in home shops than metal lathes. People buy those and all other sorts of other power tools and don't take an 8 week seminar before turning them on.

                              Use common sense and standard safety practices. Eye protection, no loose clothing, hair tied back, etc. etc. and you'll do fine.
                              Gary


                              Appearance is Everything...

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