What Does a Lathe Operator Do?

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  • Written By: M. West
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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Lathes are pieces of machinery that shape, bore, or cut a screw thread in a substance such as wood or metal. A lathe operator is responsible for the preparation and planning of such machinery tasks, as well as the actual execution of them. The goal of the operator is to perform functions on workpieces that meet the appropriate criteria and specifications. A wide range of duties is necessary for the operator to achieve this goal.

To prepare for a task, a lathe operator studies blueprints and tooling instructions to determine the correct procedure to follow. He is responsible for planning the operation in such a manner that facilitates maximum efficiency in tool usage and time. This operator performs machine maintenance regularly, and checks tools for signs of wear. Part of his duties is to make adjustments of the lathe controls, modifying such functions as rotation speeds and depth of cuts. He will use a variety of tools and equipment to perform the needed tasks on the workpiece.

The work environment of a lathe operator can be in a specialized tool production section of a factory or tool shop. Work settings are normally indoors in a heated, well-lighted area. Typically a five-day, 40-hour-work week is involved, some of which may be in afternoon or evening shifts. Working overtime may be needed to meet deadlines. Job hazards involve sharp cutting tools, moving machine parts, and irritating dust.


Educational qualifications to become a lathe operator will vary somewhat. Some employers offer on-the-job training, while other companies may prefer a high school diploma with one or two years of post-secondary education. This education could involve up to one year of vocational education classes or the acquisition of a two-year associate degree. Vocational education classes that provide training in machine tool operations and machine shop will enable students to develop expertise in using machinery. Such programs will also teach how to calculate dimensions and impart competency in the use of precision-measuring instruments.

In addition to the educational requirements a lathe machinist must have certain innate abilities. Good math skills and manual dexterity are needed. A nice degree of spatial awareness is necessary to be able to perform all the tasks involved in this field. Character traits of being conscientious, precise, and responsible are an advantage. Being analytical and detail-oriented are essential to success in this field.


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