Sometimes known as a toolmaker’s lathe, a universal lathe has the ability to set a part at compound angles. A simple lathe is a tool that uses two jaws to clamp a workpiece in a horizontal or vertical position. A universal lathe is a multipurpose clamping device that adjusts to hold an irregularly shaped object. Typically, this gripping tool rotates and holds an item in diagonal, horizontal, or vertical positions. Manufacturers sell universal lathes in many sizes and configurations and often customize lathes to suit a specific purpose.
There is no standard configuration for a universal lathe. Universal is a buzzword many manufacturers use to describe lathes that are more complex than a simple lathe. When purchasing one of these lathes, the buyer must consider the needs of his project. Some projects need fixed or permanently fixed lathes, while other projects may need mobile or handheld devices. Universal lathes are available with a variety of components such as soft grip grips for woodworking.
Some of the jobs that need universal lathes include CNC machines, mills and other industrial machines; large and small woodworking tasks; and manufacture of fly fishing equipment. These lathes range in size from very large models with large jaws to very small tabletop models. Often, jewelers set up small universal lathes to hold jewelry pieces during production. Some of these types of lathes have special accessories. For example, the fly fishing tackle manufacturer’s lathe and the jeweler’s lathe often have alligator-style tongs and rubber or silicone coated jaws.
One of the most practical components of many universal lathes is the turntable. This allows the worker to adjust the work angle without removing the part from the vise or without repositioning the vise on the bench. Some lathes have multiple joints, allowing the worker to reposition the item horizontally, vertically, and diagonally simultaneously.
When purchasing a universal lathe, it is often useful to test it out. The jaws must hold securely without allowing the item to slip. If it is a portable vise, it should allow the worker to securely clamp it to a table or bench. Lathes sometimes tend to move while the operator is working on a project. This is not only annoying, but it can be dangerous.
Some manufacturers sell accessories for their universal lathes. For example, a company that sells a universal lathe for making and customizing golf clubs offers accessories like an extension, extra jaws, and a drip tray. Consult the manufacturer for accessories that may be available.