The Mother of Machine Tools


The Mother of Machine Tools

The Lathe is known as the 'mother' of machine tools. A Lathe is a machine widely used for wood working and machining of metal parts. It is a machine which turns the work piece against a machine tool. The Lathe is used for facing, turning, knurling, taper cutting, threading, gear cutting and many other metal and wood working purposes.

egyptian lathe

It's importance to the industrial revolution is well renowned, but the first lathes were developed in about 1300BC by the ancient Eqyptians who created a two person version. This design was later improved by the Ancient Romans who added a turning bow which eased the work. Later a foot pedal was used for rotating the work piece. This type of lathe is called “spring pole” lathe and it remained in use until the early decades of the 20th century. In 1772, a horse-powered boring machine was developed for making canons at the Royal Arsenal in the UK. During the Industrial revolution, steam engines and water wheels were attached to the lathe to turn the work piece at higher speed which made the work faster and easier.

After 1950, many new designs were made which improved the precision of work.

One of the most influential lathes in history was developed by Henry Maudslay who had worked at the Royal Arsenal. Henry was a British Machine Tool innovator and inventor and he is considered a founding father of machine tool technology.

Maudslay's invention of a metal lathe to cut metal enabled the manufacture of standard screw thread sizes. Standard screw thread sizes allowed interchangeable parts which were tried and tested on the battlefield's during the European and America's wars and the consumer orientated development of mass production a major development in the  economic success of the industrial revolution.

Henry Maudslay

Henry Maudslay Lathe

The three most important manufacturers in the next generation: Richard Roberts and Joseph Whitworth had worked on Maudslay's orders and James Nasmyth was his personal assistant. Throughout the 19th century they built a variety of types of machine tools to respond, in quantity and quality, to the processing of all the metal parts of the new products that were being developed.


Probably the most influential upgrades to the designs of lathes happened in the 20th Century due to the World War's and the escalation of the automotive industry.



During the 21st Century in the 1970's, the development of microelectronics allowed for the development of the CNC Lathe with an integrated computer in the system thus allowing for 3D modelling and machining on an epic and complex scale.

CNC Machine

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