• FA-104179 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Heavy Industry
1800 - 1849

Lathe with wooden flywheel, c 1840


Stylish and pre-industrial: this antiquated piece of equipment still required a workmate to set it into motion. And, with the exception of a few parts, it is made entirely of wood.

Like drilling and milling, turning on a lathe is a machining process based on the principle of rotation. There have been three distinct historical phases, producing turning lathes, machining lathes and automatic lathes. On a turning lathe the workpiece was usually clamped between turning centres and made to rotate. The lathe operator would then machine the workpiece using a hand-guided lathe tool resting on a support. The first machining lathes emerged with the development of the support, which held the cutter in place and replaced the manual aspect of the operation. And, from the mid-19th century onwards, lathe operators were gradually relieved of the task of actually controlling the machining of the workpiece. Now an automatic machine carried out the operating functions based on a specific program, which could be transmitted mechanically, electrically, hydraulically or pneumatically. The program itself was stored via a control shaft, punched tape or diskettes.

The drive system used for the turning gear also went through several phases. In the 13th century the exclusively manual rotation induced by the lathe operator or an assistant was replaced by the rocker lathe. The rocker, a wooden spring firmly clamped at one end, was connected to a footboard by a rope wound around the workpiece. The foot-operated drive created an alternating direction of rotation. In the 15th century, the metal lathe with wheel or crank drive enabled a continuous rotational movement, allowing greater forces to be transmitted and achieving higher cutting speeds. With the drive mechanism now actuated by an assistant, the lathe operator was able to focus fully on his work. Later on, the drive system was achieved by transmissions and, in the early 20th century, mostly by electric motors.

Date of origin: c. 1840

Inv.Nr. 9942
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