Either you really have a lot of time to kill, or your life must be really boring! So let me get this straight, you are sat on the internet, with access to things from cute puppy videos to funny dank memes, but you want to know about the
With that out of the way, a warm welcome to all of
Oh, how silly of me! I forgot to tell you what a lathe actually is! A lathe, by its simplest definition, is a machine that is used to turn something against a machine. That piece of material is altered by friction between the material and the machine, and the shape changes based on how you are turning it.
You can essentially use a lathe for different kinds of altering, based on the kind of machine you are using. For example, you could drill a hole into it, make it pointy, from sandpaper, bore or turn it using a lathe.
All of these seem like somewhat recent developments. Yet, there is proof that the lathe has been there for quite a while already!
The first lathe would show you that it is an ancient tool. The evidence of the first lathe was found in Greece, although the piece of evidence isn’t the lathe itself, but a product of the lathe. It was a bowl made of wood that was recovered from Mycenae. Carbon dating estimated that it was made and used around 1100 to 1400 BC.
It was made such that the bowl was arched upwards on the ends. Additionally, it was drilled in the center and had support legs underneath as well. The precise curvature, although somewhat coarsely done, shows that there was some kind of lathe even during those times. This shows some form of turning which is only possible with a lathe.
The hole in the middle also hinted at the possible existence of a lathe. Here, it was more difficult to come to a set conclusion, but experts suggested that perhaps some kind of pointed object was held while the bowl was rotated along the lathe, which caused friction to drill into the bowl.
Now, during the next several hundred years, technology improved much slower than the rate at which it does now. As a result, the lathe was probably made of some kind of wood or stone.
Around the 8th century, BC archaeologists discovered a distinguishable lathe which was used for turning. It was located in what we would call present-day Northern Italy. The first piece was discovered in an ancient tomb, which was aptly called “Tomb of the Warrior”. It is in Corneto.
Again, this was not the lathe itself, but a bowl once again. But this time it was a part of a bowl that was discovered. This was one that looked properly rounded, not something that could be achieved by crude stone tools. It was also well-polished, meaning there was some sort of stone equipment that could finely chisel a thin slice off the surface.
The combination of curvature and polish convinced the archaeologists that the tool in question was a lathe, possibly made of stone or wood, that had some from polishing feature and a way to form patterns.
Additionally, they also discovered several other artifacts belonging to these ancient people which looked to have been made by turning. Although many of these were not polished, they had precise curves that were similar to the bowl and had similarly done patterns on the body.
It is likely that during this time the lathe spread to other parts of the world, or was discovered in a different from elsewhere. As early as 600 BC as a matter of fact. For example, archaeologists found similar wooden dishes that had a flat base with curved rims that were ornamented with patterns, all the way over in present-day Turkey.
The fact that the turning and pattern decorations were found in both these places and different times suggest the sharing of ideas, though nobody knows how.
Then, there were some boxes made of wood that was discovered in Crimea. These had undergone turning when they were being made, and one of these even had a kind of protective cover on the exterior. The complex nature of the box indicates not just the fact that the people knew sophisticated methods turning, but used a more advanced version of a lathe.
This seems fairly logical because these were dated to
The fact that the turning was more complicated means the lathe that
Much of the artifacts during these times were, in fact, just partial fragments. That is until a Northern Bavarian town revealed the presence of a complete bowl in Uffing. This particular piece, which was dated to be from the 6th century BC,
This particular bowl had a complex build, with curvatures the shape of a goblet, an uneven base and included design elements across the body of the bowl. There is very limited proof that complex building tools existed in those times, so it is likely that they used enhanced craftsmanship and a better lathe for such intricate details.
Given the time during which this was made, needless to say, this possessed quite some skill well above the times. This was the historical trend at that time, of course, but the main issue here is that there has been no actual discovery of lathes, just potential items that were made from one.
These changed when diagrammatic evidence started being published. From then on, people would leave drawings of lathes that were in use at that time. From
The first of such evidence revealed a rotary lathe during China’s Warring States time. During the war, several of the Chinese factions used them to make sharpened edge weaponry such as crude spears and arrowheads. Such was the presence of these lathes, it formed an ancient armament industry during that period.
Start of Documented Lathes
Afterward, people discovered drawings of lathe paintings from ancient Egypt. The first of its kind, it revealed a lathe that was used for turning. It had a formation whereby the lathe’s rotation tool was turned by a strap attached to it, and moving the strap caused it to rotate. Talk about ancient Einstein!
The build itself was such that two small wooden beams protruded out of a flat, wooden plank. Between these, there was a cylindrical work-piece which was attached by iron spikes to the two beams. Essentially, it was like a solid toilet-paper roll support that you could rotate!
Given the setup, it was pretty obvious that it needed two people to operate. This was proven when pictures emerged of two people using it simultaneously, with one person alternating between pulling the strap in either direction, while the other person brushed the material that needed altering against the rotating work-piece.
The lathe, along with some skill, yielded rather impressive results. It could be used to sharpen tools, carve out detailed structural curves and create uniform patterns. Seems like we aren’t the only people who have an obsessive compulsion towards symmetry!
It was also during this time that a similar variant was discovered to have existed in India. However, unlike the model in ancient Egypt, this was done by having the earth as the base of the tool. The Indians achieved this by burrowing two holes on two ends and puts in two wooden supports.
Next, the work-piece is placed by having some form of support going through the supporting stands themselves. These could be nails or sharp tree twigs. These support two pieces of long wood that are placed perpendicularly (facing left to right) which creates a cavity. This cavity is occupied by the main work-piece, often a long wooden bar.
The strap is placed on one side, while the worker sits on the other side. An assistant had to pull the two ends of the strap around to move the work-piece around while the main workman sharpened and shaped as he pleased.
With time, other tools started being invented, and with the need for more advanced tools on the horizon, lathes became more and more complex. That is when the Asian Einstein version of the lathe evolved to make more advanced things, namely weaponry. This would end up giving rise to the BowLathe.
The bow lathe was made specifically to work on the bowstring. It worked in a couple of ways, but the concept is the same. The bowstring is tied around the work-piece first, and while keeping the bow still, it is moved from one end of the work-piece to the other. By doing so, you have a sharpening effect on the bowstring which causes it to become finer and more precise while transferring more energy to the bow.
The clear advantage with this is that it can be done by one person. All you need to do is keep the work-piece still and move the bowstring around. Also, notice the fact that the machine has gotten more simple and effective.
It has a base, which is elevated by two beams. These connect to a pair of beams that encapsulate the work-piece, via nails stuck to the beams on both ends. As a wise man once said, it flies like a butterfly, but stings like a bee!
Of course, depending on who you see, there are different variants of this. For example, a rigid variant was found to have been there
Likewise, an Egyptian variant was found with a similar structure, but with subtle differences in the way they work. It is much more versatile than the other two bow lathes. Like the rest, you twist the bowstring around the work-piece. However, this included an extendable plank as well, which could be used to adjust the force on the bowstring.
To achieve this, it had another plank between the work-piece and the adjustable plank. This created a triangle-shaped bowstring, which could be used to change the bowstring tension to get the desired effect. I know what you are thinking. Man, these Egyptians were good!
Another great part of this variant was that it could do heavy-duty work as well. By changing the turning technique, you could use your feet to hold onto the work-piece and keep it from vibrating and use it to do heavier work.
From this version, during the 13th-century lathes were upgraded to another kind, called the pole lathe.
The pole lathe was a change from the intense manual work required. Not that it was some wicked gizmo of any kind, but it added a semblance of automation into something otherwise completely manual. It was invented by including a pole and treadle combination into the mix. The cord which was previously handled manually is now joined to the pole and the treadle on both ends.
Here, the treadle acts as the object moving the cord. By pulling on the treadle with the feet you could get the work-piece moving. The pole would then bring it back by rotating the work-piece the other way.
According to historians, this was used to make quite a few things. You could find some cutlery, musical instruments and some other stuff that were made from pole lathes. However, more advanced variations were used to make furniture, wheels, etc. This is on par with the development of technology, as more complex items started being made on a small scale.
The pole lathe had the same functionality regardless of what kind it was, so it enabled single craftsmen to get more work, and more complicated work, done properly.
This was followed by arguably one of the most important kinds of lathes to ever have been discovered. This is what experts suggested tobe called ‘The Great Wheel’.
The Great Wheel Lathe
This may seem like something an average Joe could come up with, but at that time it was revolutionary. The wheel was intended to have something continuously moving. To get this done, Romans were found to have used some sort of pulley. Now, the Romans made this pulley by having two wheels with a smaller one connected to the larger one.
This works by having the smaller one work independently,i.e. you could change the motion of the cord on the smaller pulley. The energy would transfer to the bigger pulley. The larger pulley would, in turn, be the decisive one, basically, the one which does all the work.
Needless to say, this was a giant leap towards automation since you no longer directly controlled the main lathe work-piece. In addition to this, you could work on much bigger work-pieces and do more heavy-duty work with relatively little effort. This big wheel-small wheel combination was common in the middle ages.
This was particularly important to what came afterward. The foot treadle lathe, which pioneered mass production of clothing, is found even today in what we call sewing machines.
The foot treadle lathe was different from the
This was made extremely effective by a flywheel and belt combination. By pressing on the treadle, you would set it into motion, and this would be enhanced by the flywheel. The end result was a small pulley being rotated.
What’s better is that there were several edges on the flywheel and the pulley to allow users to have variations of speed that would be consistently maintained. It was what allowed the stereotypical images of women sewing to be prevalent across the world.
These are what led to the beginning of the industrial revolution. The lathe’s basic functionality, which was turning something to get some kind of work-piece rotating, would end up being the difference-maker.
As the Industrial Revolution began, a form of lathe called the Horizontal Boring Machine was invented by Jan Verbruggen. This was a unique lathe which used a small wheel where a horse was put. The horse would be made to run, and the result was the same as that of a treadle lathe: moving a bigger wheel.
However, this allowed the mass production of heavy pointing towards the American Revolutionary War, namely cannons with enhanced power and precision.
As you can see, much of the work here for lathe began pointing towards industrial mass production.
Along with that, steam engines started to become a thing. Fossil fuel powered engines that would be rotated by hot steam would be used for a variety of work. Shafting allowed the energy to be converted into motion energy, which in turn helped move the lathe without any human’s physical input. Ladies and gentlemen, we enter the realm of automation.
This led to the invention of the slide-rest lathe which would end up being used to move metal around. This would work with the steam engine heat energy as the input. Similar to the treadle lathe, a single, smaller rotational object would be used to move. The slide-rest lathe here would then transfer the energy from steam into motion energy.
The slide-rest lathe, which was attached physically to some kind of axle, would then move with the help of a leadscrew. This was the basis for the first steam engine large transport ships, power generators and so on. It also led to the invention of metal cutting lathes.
As the use of metal became pervasive across the world, people started to make enormous lathes for large pieces of contraption. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution had changed the entire world, and the lathe lit the flames for the changes to occur.
The invention of electricity exponentially increased the
As computers and digitalization became frontrunners of new technology, lathes received staggering changes too. Not in terms of the workload this time, but in terms of accuracy. This was done by having a serving stalled alongside other tools to provide numeric control of lathes. Once computers came into the mix, it led to the invention of computerized numerical control (CNC).
Although both manual and automatic lathes exist now, with the increase in technology, and an ever smartening world, what will happen
Who could have imagined a simple, rotating object would one day have changed the world for the better? If you think about it, you may not have been reading this if it weren’t for the lathes you know! But you don’t think of that, do you? You only think of yourself!