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What does a Lathe Operator do?

Learn all about Lathe Operator duties, skills and much more. Get expert advice on how to become a Lathe Operator.

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Brenna Goyette
Certified Professional Resume Writer, Career Expert

Published 4 min read

A lathe operator is responsible for operating a lathe machine in order to create or shape parts. The operator must be able to load the machine with the correct material, select the appropriate tooling, and set the controls to produce the desired results. The operator must also be able to perform quality checks on the finished parts.

Lathe Operator job duties include:

  • Read blueprints, drawings, and specifications to determine the correct dimensions and tolerances of the finished workpiece, as well as the appropriate setup, control settings, and operating speeds and feed rates
  • Select the appropriate lathe type, size, speed, and accessories needed to machine the workpiece according to specifications
  • Mount workpieces onto the lathe chuck or faceplate using clamps, setscrews, or other holding devices
  • Align workpieces using various measuring instruments such as calipers, micrometers, and dial indicators
  • Set up and operate computer numerical control (CNC) lathes to perform various machining operations such as turning, boring, drilling, reaming, threading, and knurling
  • Start up and shut down lathes manually or using CNC controls
  • Feed workpieces through the lathe at the correct speed and depth while monitoring the progress of the machining operation
  • Perform various in-process inspections of the workpiece to ensure that it meets specifications
  • Use a variety of hand tools and power tools to remove rough spots from workpieces or to perform secondary machining operations such as deburring

Lathe Operator Job Requirements

Lathe Operators are responsible for operating and maintaining a lathe machine. They must have a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as on-the-job training. Some employers may require certification from a vocational program. Lathe Operators typically have 1-3 years of experience.

Lathe Operator Skills

  • Basic math skills
  • Mechanical skills
  • Blueprint reading
  • Problem solving
  • Attention to detail
  • Safety conscious
  • Organized
  • Good hand-eye coordination
  • Good manual dexterity
  • Patience
  • Physical stamina

Related: Top Lathe Operator Skills: Definition and Examples

How to become a Lathe Operator

A lathe is a machine that rotates a piece of work while a cutting tool is applied to it, shaping it into the desired form. Lathe operators use this machine to create objects such as furniture legs, table tops, and other objects with cylindrical or symmetrical shapes. To become a lathe operator, one must have prior experience working with woodworking or metalworking machinery. In addition, it is helpful to have strong mathematical skills in order to calculate the necessary measurements for each project. There are various types of lathes, so it is important for lathe operators to be able to read blueprints in order to understand which type of machine will be best suited for each job.

The first step to becoming a lathe operator is to complete an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship programs typically last two to four years and combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. During the on-the-job portion of the apprenticeship, lathe operators learn how to set up and operate different types of lathes. They also learn how to select the appropriate cutting tools and how to change them when necessary. Classroom instruction covers topics such as safety procedures, blueprint reading, and math skills.

After completing an apprenticeship program, some lathe operators choose to become certified through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). Certification through NIMS requires passing a written exam and a practical skills test. The written exam tests knowledge of safety procedures, blueprint reading, and math skills. The practical skills test requires the candidate to demonstrate their ability to set up and operate a lathe according to industry standards.

Lathe operators usually work in manufacturing settings such as factories or workshops. They typically work full time on shifts that may include evenings or weekends. Some lathe operators may be required to wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, earplugs, or safety glasses.

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