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8 Different Types of Lathes

By: David S. Miles | Last Updated: January 11, 2024

Lathe machines are extremely popular amongst professionals and DIYers. They are used for shaping different types of workpieces, and they are famous for their great capacity. However, there are different types of lathes available on the market.

If you are looking for the perfect lathe for you, but you don’t know the differences between the types then you are in the right place. Today we are going to share with you information about different types of lathes so you can make the right choice.

1. Bench Lathes

Bench lathes are machines that are mounted over a bench. They are not big in size, and most of the time they are used for precise work. The parts that they have are almost the same as the parts of an engine lathe and high-speed lathe.

As we already mentioned, they are very accurate and most of the time they come with attachments of a larger lathe. The bench lathe can perform almost any operation that a bigger machine can do.


  • accurate, used for precise cuts
  • small in size
  • can perform many different tasks


  • attached to a bench, hard to be moved around

2. Tool Room Lathes

The tool room lathe machines are famous for their high precision. They can also perform different operations such as drilling, boring, reaming and grinding. The gearbox makes it possible for the user to control the speed from low to high, which gives precision.

The parts that the tool room lathes use are kind of similar to the engine lathe, but they are built to be more accurate and they are arranged in special sequence so they can achieve high precision.

They are mostly used by professionals, since they give a lot of precision. It may be hard for a beginner to achieve that.


  • very precise machines
  • can do many tasks such as turning, drilling, reaming, grinding, broring, etc.
  • speed can be controlled
  • attachments such as follower rest, chucks, turning attachment are included 


  • expensive ones, parts can be expensive since they are specifically designed

3. Speed Lathes

Speed lathers are also known as wood lathes and they are popular because they work at high speed. They are most often used in wood turning, spinning or metal polishing.

They are used for making bowls, furniture parts and many other items. They are simpler than other lathes, since they don’t have a feed mechanism. Speed laths are operated manually. Their speed can go up to 3600rpm.


  • can work with high speed
  • can deal with different task such as centerng, machining of wood, polishing of metal
  • simple and easy to be used


  • operated only manually which may be difficult for some people who have no experience

4. Engine Lathe

Engine lathes are extremely popular machines used in the early 19th century. Nowadays they are powered by motor devices, which makes them extremely powerful. Most of the time they are used for operating with different materials.

They can deal with tasks such as facing, turning, grooving, knurling, etc. They consist of simple parts, which can be expensive sometimes. The engine lathe is portable and can be used by people that change their location often.


  • very powerful machines that can work with metal
  • used for different operations such as grooving, facing, threading, etc.
  • can operate in lateral and longitudinal directions


  • expensive extra parts

5. Capstan and Turret Lathes

The capstan and turret lathe machines are basically improved engine lathers that can be used by professionals for continuous work and hard, large tasks. 

The head of the machine is special and it can rotate, which gives the opportunity of changing the operation without manual change. Furthermore, they are perfect for mass production and carrying out a lot of operations with the same machine.


  • perfect for mass-production
  • powerful 
  • can change operation without manual involvement


  • not portable

6. Special Purpose Lathes

As you can guess by the name, a special purpose lathe can be used for dealing with specific types of tasks that can not be achieved with other machines. They can be used for production of parts.

Furthermore, they can be used for vertical lathers, multi spindle lathes, tracer, duplicate lathers, etc. The special purpose lathes are good for rail rods and journals. However, they may be expensive and they are more suitable for professionals.


  • with special purpose lathes you can deal with tasks that can not be done with other lathes
  • they are powerful and can deal with different materials


  • expensive parts, expensive machines
  • hard to be used

7. Automatic Lathe

As we can guess by the name, the automatic lathe machine works automatically. Those machines are great for mass production, since as you already know you do not need a person to work with it.

Their mechanism can work automatically, and they do not require change of tool manually. One person can operate 5 machines at the same time, which makes them very productive. They are heavy and they can not be easily moved around.


  • powerful
  • can be used for mass-production
  • work automatically, 5 machines can be operated by one person


  • not portable

8. CNC lathe machine

CNC lathe machines, or in other words the Computer Numerical Control lathe provide very high accuracy, very fast. They do not consist of different materials than a manual lathe, but they have specific component- a CNC control panel

This control panel gives the opportunity of using a CNC lathe and running programs and providing instructions, also for application as automotive, aerospace, etc. These machines are very popular among professionals and DIYers.

The CNC lathes are advanced tools that give both accuracy and fast work, they are perfect for beginners too, since you only need to do an initial setup. They can be used for mass production.


  • can be used for mass production
  • very high accuracy and very fast work
  • they can work with programming system
  • come with CNC control panel


  • expensive machines with expensive parts

Which lathe is best for me?

It is hard to say which lathe is best for you. Maybe you have some specific tasks to deal with? Then you should buy a special purpose lathe. Do you need a lathe for mass-production? Then you know that the capstan and turret lathes are your best option. 

If you want to work with high speed and operate manually you need speed lather, and if you are looking for extreme precision- get a tool room lathe. You should always consider the tasks you are going to accomplish first.

You should always do some good research on the specific model you want to buy. Sometimes the opinions of people are a better source of information than anything else.

There are many different lathes available on the market and we covered some of them today. However, you should not focus on the most expensive, or popular one, but on the one you need to accomplish your tasks.

Now you know a lot about the different types of lathes and we hope you know which one is the best for you.We wish you good luck in your lathe journey!

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the 3 main types of lathe?

There are more than 3 types of lathes, and we already mentioned them. However, the main types are a speed lathe, an engine lathe, a turret lathe, a tool room lathe and a CNC lathe. 

They differ by functions.The speed lathe is famous with its high speed and manual control, the engine lathe is used for different operations, the turret lathe is good for mass production , the tool room lathe is perfect for precision and the CNC lathe operates with programming.

How many types of lathe are there?

There are 8 types of lathes and we mentioned all of them. They differ by design and functions.

How are lathes classified?

Lathes are classified based on the way they work, based on their design and mechanism. They are also classified on their duty and power. Furthermore, the lathes are classified by their specifications and the tasks they can accomplish.

What tools do lathes use?

Lathes can use different tool such as:

  • thread cutting tool
  • boring tool
  • forming tool
  • turning tool
  • facing tool
  • chamfering tool
  • internal thread cutting tool/ thread cutting tool

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