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What Are the Best Tips for Lathe Safety?

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  • Written By: Kirsten C. Tynan
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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The best tips for lathe safety include preparation before using the machine, safe work habits while operating it, and proper care after its use. Before turning on the lathe, the operator should be properly trained, don appropriate personal protective equipment, and inspect the work area. While the machine is operating, the operator should pay attention to the workspace for any signs of a problem developing. After shutting down the machine, proper machine and tool care help to ensure a safe workspace after the job is complete.

Prior to turning on a lathe, the operator should be properly trained in its use. Lathe training classes for amateur or professional purposes are available through schools, community organizations, companies, and professional organizations. The operating manual also provides valuable lathe safety information for the specific machine at hand.

Beyond having a working knowledge of the equipment, the operator should wear personal protective equipment appropriate for ensuring lathe safety. This includes safety glasses or a face shield to prevent eye injury as well as hearing protection. Respiratory equipment such as a dust mask can prevent inhalation of harmful particulates. Hair should be tied back, jewelry should be removed, and close-fitting clothing should be worn to prevent any of these catching in the machine.

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When the operator is ready to begin, the first step in ensuring lathe safety is to inspect the work area, equipment, and work piece. Proper lighting is important, as is a clean work area with all tools, materials, and debris removed from the surface of the lathe. Once the work piece is seated securely in the chuck, the chuck key should also be removed immediately. The operator should ensure that all guards and locking devices are securely in place before turning on the machine. A wheel on the lathe allows it to be turned manually to ensure the work can rotate completely without interference before power is turned on.

An essential aspect of lathe safety is to check the speed of the lathe before power is applied. Beginning at too high a speed can break the cutting tool or work piece, putting the operator at risk of being struck and seriously injured. Appropriate starting speeds vary depending on the size and material of the piece as well as the depth of cut. The operator’s manual usually provides recommended speeds. As a general rule of thumb, the initial speed should be slow and increased gradually as removing material makes the work more balanced.

When the lathe has been powered up, everyone in the area should stand clear of the area known as the “red zone” or “firing zone.” This is the area directly in front of and behind the work where flying material is most likely to strike someone as it is cut away. Nobody should lean or reach over the lathe while it is rotating.

While the lathe is in use, the operator should pay attention for signs that might indicate a problem. If the machine or work piece is vibrating or shaking, the operator should turn the lathe off and determine the source of the problem. All necessary steps should be taken to correct it before turning the machine on again. This may require reducing the lathe speed, rebalancing the work piece, seating it more deeply in the chuck, or other measures.

As the work piece rotates, one side will be moving downward while the other side will move upward. By cutting on the side moving downward, the operator can reduce risk of being hit by debris. Momentum on that side will direct material being removed down toward the floor rather than upward where it may cause injury. It is an essential lathe safety habit that the operator does not touch the work nor remove debris by hand while it is in motion. No bare blades or tools with uncovered tangs should be used for cutting because they can be forced back toward and potentially injure the operator.

The operator should not leave the lathe in motion unattended, nor leave it until it comes to a complete stop. To safely stop the lathe, the operator may allow it to come to a stop on its own or use a brake designed for this purpose. When the work session is over, the lathe should be powered off, the work area should be cleaned, and tools should be put away. This will help to ensure that others passing through the area or using the machine do not accidentally slip or trip on debris or tools. With proper attention before, during, and after lathe use, good lathe safety practices can greatly reduce risk to the operator and others nearby.

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