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What Size Metal Lathe Should I Buy?

If you have found yourself in need of a metal lathe, you have probably come across the complications that arise when searching for one amongst the crowd of many. One of the most common question is - 'What size metal lathe should I buy?'.

There are lots of different products available on the market, and they all cost different amounts and are of different qualities.

What Size Metal Lathe Should I Buy?

When it comes to buying a metal lathe there are going to be lots of things that you will need to consider.

One of the most important things to think about is size, and if you haven’t needed to use a metal lathe before, then you might be wondering what size you should buy.

To give you a better idea of what you need, we are going to go through everything that you need to know about metal lathes in this article, so you will know exactly what you need to get. 

What is a Metal Lathe?

A metal lathe is a type of lathe that is specifically designed for precisely machining materials that are quite hard.

Originally, they were designed to machine metals, but they are now used for a wider variety of applications and on a broad range of materials.

There are different types of lathes that would be better suited for different materials and uses, but metal lathes are specifically for harder materials.

They are strong tools that can be used to remove material from a rotating workpiece through the use of movements of various cutting tools.

Looking to do some precise woodworking with a lathe? Check out the best mini wood lathes on the market and start turning boring pieces of wood into art.

The design of the lathe itself will vary depending on the intended application, but there are some basic features that you can expect to find on some of the most common types. Typically, these machines will consist of a headstock, bed, carriage, and tailstock.

Some of the better machines will feature broad bearing surfaces for stability, and they will be manufactured with careful precision. This helps to ensure that the different components of the machine will be up for the demanding task at hand.

Construction of a Metal Lathe

We have briefly mentioned some of the features that you can expect to find with a metal lathe, but it can often be useful to know exactly what you are dealing with.

This information can be especially useful to know if you have no prior experience with using lathes.

Headstock With Spindle

This can usually be found on the left side of the lathe, and the headstock will work to hold the spindle in place, usually with bearings.

There is often a motor with a pulley that will provide the power that is needed to rotate the spindle and part, and the size of the spindle will vary from ½ inch to 1 ½ inches in diameter.


The chuck is the specialized clamp that is used to hold a cylinder. The chuck will hold the workpiece, and most lathes will be able to hold workpieces that are between 5 and 66 inches.

There are lots of chucks that will have a through-hole to allow for long pieces to extend through the chuck and behind the lathe. This is another thing to consider in terms of the size that you need.

Lathe Bed

The lathe bed is much simpler as there are only two different options. These options are the British flatbed and the American v bed.

For smaller lathes, it doesn’t really matter which one you use as it doesn’t make a difference to the overall performance of the lathe.

However, for larger lathes, the beds can also be rounded or slanted, depending on the intended application.


The tailstock is usually an optional feature for many of the new styles of lathes, and its purpose is really simple. The tailstock is there to hold the far end of the workpiece.

It isn’t usually necessary to use on for smaller pieces, but they are really important for larger pieces.

By using a tailstock, you will be able to reduce the flex in the workpiece, as too much flex can lead to a warp or curve in your piece, which you do not want to happen.

Carriage, Cross-Slide, and Turret

These are three parts of the lathe that are important to know about. The carriage is a set of bars that will run across the length of the lathe.

The cross-slide will rest on top of the carriage and hold the turret. The turret will house the different cutting and boring tools that will be used on the part.

This might seem complicated, but it is actually simpler than it sounds.

What Size Metal Lathe Should I Buy?

In the United States, you will usually find lathes that are 8 inches by 24 inches.

The first number refers to the maximum diameter that a workpiece can have and still be above the lathe bed. This is typically referred to as the swing of the lathe.

The second number will be referring to the distance between the headstock and the tailstock, or the longest piece of material that the lathe will be able to handle.

Not sure how lathes work? Read our lathe guide and learn tips and tricks from professionals. 

In other places, the measurements might mean different things, which is why it is important to check before you buy.

If you are working on a smaller piece, then you will probably find that a 3 x 15-inch lathe is the smallest one that you should use.

However, a lathe that is double that size, 6 x 30 inches, is around the biggest that a home lathe can be.

What You Need to Know About a Metal Lathe

Something that you should be aware of is that lathes can be really heavy.

It is not uncommon for a 3 x 15-inch lathe to weigh around 30kg, and sometimes they can weigh even more than this. You may need additional equipment to lift and move a lathe.

For lathes that are bigger than this, you can expect it to be too heavy for you to carry, even with help. You will need to think about where it is going to go and get some help to get it there.
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