Wiki article on this topic: A lathe is a machine that rotates a workpiece about an axis of rotation to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, deformation, facing, and turning, with tools that are applied to the workpiece to create an object with symmetry about that axis.
Lathes are used in woodturning, metalworking, metal spinning, thermal spraying, parts reclamation, and glass-working. Lathes can be used to shape pottery, the best-known design being the Potter's wheel. Most suitably equipped metalworking lathes can also be used to produce most solids of revolution, plane surfaces and screw threads or helices. Ornamental lathes can produce three-dimensional solids of incredible complexity. The workpiece is usually held in place by either one or two centers, at least one of which can typically be moved horizontally to accommodate varying workpiece lengths. Other work-holding methods include clamping the work about the axis of rotation using a chuck or collet, or to a faceplate, using clamps or dogs.
Examples of objects that can be produced on a lathe include screws, candlesticks, gun barrels, cue sticks, table legs, bowls, baseball bats, musical instruments , crankshafts and much more.
The lathe is an ancient tool, with tenuous evidence for its existence at a Mycenaean Greek site, dating back as far as the 13th or 14th century BC.
Clear evidence of turned artifacts have been found from the 6th century BC: fragments of a wooden bowl in an Etruscan tomb in Northern Italy as well as two flat wooden dishes with decorative turned rims from modern Turkey.
During the Warring States period in China, ca 400 BCE, the ancient Chinese used rotary lathes to sharpen tools and weapons on an industrial scale.
The first known painting showing a lathe dates to the 3rd century BC in ancient Egypt.
The lathe was very important to the Industrial Revolution. It is known as the mother of machine tools, as it was the first machine tool that led to the invention of other machine tools. The first fully documented, all-metal slide rest lathe was invented by Jacques de Vaucanson around 1751. It was described in the Encyclopédie.