Why Are Lathes So Dangerous?

Known by many as the “mother of machining tools,” a lathe is a powerful workshop tool that can be used for a variety of tasks. However, it can also pose a danger to the operator when used incorrectly or in the event of a freak accident.

Lathes are so dangerous because of the speed and weight of their moving parts. The most common causes of death and injury because of lathes include the entanglement of clothing in moving parts, being hit by loose objects on the machine, and being hit by a poorly secured or oversized workpiece.

Whether or not you feel comfortable operating a lathe, accidents with the machine can be deadly. They can occur with even the most experienced craftsman. Read on to learn more about how a lathe works, the potential hazards that may come up when using it, and what precautions you can take to stay safe in the workshop.

What Does a Lathe Do?

Lathes are primarily used for shaping metal or wood. They work by securing the workpiece, or the object being worked on, to the headstock or tailstock and rotating it around a stationary cutting tool to remove unwanted pieces. The lathe’s method almost mirrors that of a milling machine, where the cutting tool rotates around a stationary workpiece.

You can use a lathe for a wide range of tasks aside from shaping, including drilling, sanding, knurling, turning, cutting, and deformation. There are also different types of lathes to use on different materials and techniques.

What Can Go Wrong While Using a Lathe?

Although lack of experience can pose a risk in lathe operation, you also don’t want to be too comfortable in your skills since that could also increase your chances of making a mistake. As mentioned earlier, some of the most common accidents that occur in lathe operation are getting caught in the moving parts, being hit by loose objects that you left on the lathe bed, and being hit by the workpiece if it’s not fitted correctly into the machine.

Injuries that you may face resulting from these accidents include broken fingers, cuts on your hands, and hot shrapnel in your eyes. In order to help you avoid these misfortunes, we’ll go over a few hazards that you’ll want to look out for when using a lathe.

Workpiece Sticks Out Too Far Beyond the Headstock

This hazard is easy to miss but also simple to control by trying to minimize the length of your workpiece in the first place. However, a workpiece that extends too much may bend and hit nearby workers during spindle rotation. If you’re an employee or manager of a workshop, you can avoid this danger by using a bar feed tube to hold the workpiece that sticks out past the headstock.

You can also lower the speed to make sure it won’t bend during rotation or install barriers around the area to make sure no one gets in range of being hit in the first place.

Chuck Key Left in the Chuck

If you forget to take out the chuck key, it may fly off and hit a nearby worker once the lathe gets turned on. At very high speeds, an incident like this could be extremely destructive. For that reason, it’s important to remember to take out the chuck key before you turn on the machine. Additionally, if you’re a workshop manager, you can try to avoid this situation altogether by using a spring-loaded or self-ejecting chuck key.

Jacobs 3653 K3C Thumb Handle Chuck Key with 5/16-Inch Pilot-Size for Jacobs Series 34-33C ,633C Keyed Chucks
  • Nickel thumb grip styles increase leverage and user comfort
  • Soft steel handles Limit the potential for dangerous fracturing under excessive load
  • Self-ejecting models with spring-loaded ejectors ensure key disengagement after tightening

Last update on 2023-06-13 at 18:38 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Chuck Jaws Don’t Securely Clamp the Workpiece

If your workpiece isn’t held tightly inside the chuck, there’s always a chance that it might fly out. Like in the last scenario, a passerby may get hit by the loose piece, which can cause significant injury, especially if it’s made of metal. For this reason, it’s important to make sure the chuck you choose is suitable for the workpiece you’re using and that it meets manufacturer specifications.

OrangeA K11-250 Lathe Chuck 10 Inch 3 Jaw, Self Centering Chuck Milling Hardened Steel, Internal External Grinding for Lathe Drilling Milling Machine
  • Quality Material: The lathe chuck body is made of high-quality hardened steel, and the hardness test of the jaws and guides is HRC58-62. It has high strength and toughness, compression resistance and durability, and long service life.
  • High Precision: The wood lathe chuck jaws and three jaws are self-centering, the alignment accuracy is less than or equal to 0.002" / 0.05 mm, and no adjustment is required after installation. The high precision design of the chuck bevel gear guarantees the accuracy of the chuck operation.
  • Double Jaw Chuck Jaws: Internal jaw is a positive L-shape, and external jaw is an inverted L-shape. The clamping range of this chuck is between 0.24" / 6 mm - 9.84" / 250 mm, which is suitable for clamping a variety of industrial parts.

Last update on 2023-06-13 at 18:38 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Worn or Damaged Tools Are Used on the Lathe

Broken or defective tools won’t just result in a botched job; they can pose a threat to safety as well. They may cause the machine to act unpredictably, creating irregular or long cuttings that may lead to lacerations. Additionally, a damaged tool could also potentially become a projectile that may fly off and hit the operator or someone else in the shop.

If you don’t own or manage the machine, you may not be able to take control of the machine parts replacement. However, it’s a good idea to do a quick check before you start using the lathe to make sure everything looks like it’s in order. If you’re concerned that something seems damaged, you can let the manager know and refrain from using the machine until it’s fixed.

Incorrectly Polishing Workpieces

While lathes can work as a quick and effective tool for polishing your workpiece, the process can also be pretty dangerous, especially if done improperly. Slipping up could even cause the operator to get entangled in the machine. To stay safe while polishing, check your workpiece before you start to make sure that there aren’t any protruding bolts or notches that could get snagged in the cloth.

Then, as you’re polishing, be sure to hold your cloth by the ends and refrain from wrapping it around your handles or around your workpiece. You’ll also want to start at a slower speed to keep it under control and to minimize danger if something happens.

Safety Precautions To Avoid Incidents

While it’s important to stay alert while using the lathe to prevent accidents, there are also numerous steps that you can take beforehand to lower your risk of danger.

Dress Appropriately

Before you even enter the workshop, make sure you’re wearing the right clothes for the occasion. You’ll want to avoid wearing gloves, rings, watches, or loose clothing in order to lower the risk of getting caught on the machine. Similarly, make sure that you tie back any long hair so that it’s out of the way while you work. Many workshops will also require you to wear goggles or glasses to protect your eyes, sometimes in addition to a face shield.

If you don’t have any protective eyewear, we’d recommend these DEWALT Safety Work Goggles.

DEWALT GOGGLE Concealer Clear Safety Work Goggle DPG82-11D
  • Clear Anti Fog Lens; CE 2-1. 2 R1B / Clear Anti Fog Temples; CE R EN1663 B
  • Elastic head strap provides a comfortable, easily adjustible fit
  • Clip attachment allows for easy lens replacement

Last update on 2023-06-13 at 18:38 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

In terms of footwear, you should never walk into a workshop or an area with heavy machining with open-toed shoes or flip-flops. Many advise that operators always wear steel-capped safety shoes while working with a lathe. However, if that’s not possible, you should at least wear a sturdy pair of boots. 

Clean Up Your Workspace

Clutter and debris in the workshop can pose some serious safety risks, ranging from a piece of shrapnel getting into your eye to much more life-threatening accidents. Before you start working, take a lap around the machine to ensure that any garbage or objects on the ground are picked up and out of the way.

DEWALT 20V MAX Hand Vacuum, Cordless, For Wet or Dry Surfaces, 1/2-Gallon Tank, Washable Filter, Portable, Bare Tool Only (DCV517B), Black
  • Gore HEPA wet/dry filter of DEWALT cordless vaccum traps 99.97% of dust at 0.3 microns
  • Dual clean-up modes of DEWALT 20V vacuum allow for debris removal with either the front utility nozzle or extendable rubber hose
  • 1/2 gallon tank with heavy-duty latch is easy to empty and clean

Last update on 2023-06-13 at 18:38 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you notice any oil or grease on the floor, make sure you wipe it up and clean off your shoes, so you don’t slip. Lastly, you’ll want to make sure the area on and around the lathe is completely clear. You should be confident that there’s a 0% chance of anything flying out once you turn on the lathe.

Check the Machine

As previously mentioned, it’s essential that every part of the lathe is in good working condition. Take a look around and inside the machine to make sure that the tools are sharp and intact. If you notice that you need to perform any maintenance, unplug the power source before you start touching anything.

Final Thoughts

While the lathe is an incredibly versatile and useful tool in the workshop, it’s essential to take the proper precautions to avoid incidents. Plan out a safety checklist to go through every time you enter your workspace, and always be alert when operating machinery. With the proper preparation, it’s easy to stay safe while using a lathe.


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