A Brief history of Lathes

A Lathe is a tool that rotates a workpiece to allow operations such as cutting, drilling, sanding, facing and turning to take place. We most commonly use a Computer Operated Lathe in our turning operations here at Bronte Precision but despite all the modern technology that now goes into them, lathes are thousands of years old.

history of lathes and manufacturing


Usages of lathes date all the way back ancient Egypt along with Assyria and ancient Greece also using the tool. It has been discovered that Egyptians developed and used a two-person lathe around 1300 B.C.  The two-person lathe allowed one person to use a rope to turn the woodwork piece, while the other person used a sharpened tool to cut the wood into a desired shape. While this was developed in one part of the world, the Romans were developing their form of the lathe in another part of the world. The ancient Romans added a turning bow to the lathe. By using a woodturning lathe, Romans were able to make lidded boxes and containers from materials such as boxwoods. The Romans were also able to make furniture using the advances they had made in woodturning lathes. 


Early versions of lathes developed differently across the globe. In the east a Turner would sit on the ground, drive the spindle with one hand whilst chiselling the work piece with the other. In China Lathes the spindle was driven by a pair of pedal which would turn a coil and rotate the workpiece, freeing up both hands to carve the piece. In Europe, a very similar model existed only it required only one pedal to function. These early lathes could produce simple items of crockery, furniture and decorative objects such as simples.

15th Century

Over the course of generations, improvements were made to the simple Lathe which incorporated the use of heavy lumber in the frame of the lathe to Increase the stability. Leonardo da Vinci is credited with a number of contributions in this era.

horizontal boring machine1700s

One of the first Horizontal Boring machines was created at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwhich. It was horse powered and installed to produce canons. One of the key characteristics of this boring machine was that the workpiece was turning as opposed to the tool making it technically a lathe. Over the years Water Wheels and Steam Engines were adapted onto the boring machine, making it faster and more efficient.

19th-20th Century

As power sources advances, individual electrical motors began to power each lathe and starting around the 1950’s servomechanisms were applied to the control of the lathes. Over time numerical control was coupled with computers, which gives us the CNC lathes that are widely used today to create all manner of different components. In today’s production a virtual drawing of the finished components is used to create a code which the CNC machine understands and is used to move the cutting tool to form the component. Mider CNC machines are highly accurate and able to produce components with tight tolerances and complex geometries.

Bronte Precision have 8 CNC machines and produce large and complex components for a wide range of industries and customers. Contact us today with your machining requirements for a no obligation quotation.