The most important part of metal lathe usage is setting up the machine. If a lathe is set up properly, you can eliminate waste and damage to the machine or cutting tools. When you first start using a lathe, it's important to learn the basic controls of the machine as well as basic cutting techniques and slowly move to more advanced cutting methods. Once you have mastered the basics, you are well on your way to making complicated parts for aerospace and automotive uses.
Clean the lathe off before setting it up for turning. Blow off any chips or debris from the chuck and its jaws as well as from the tool block and tail stock. Chips can get under parts of the lathe and cause problems keeping your parts within their tolerances; tolerance refers to the amount of error that is acceptable on the finished product.
Remove or adjust the jaws of the chuck. Make them tight enough on the raw material to turn at very fast speeds. Loosen the screws on each jaw and move them in or out depending on the size of your raw material. You can also replace them with any specific jaws cut for the material you are using. Slide them from their tracks, replace them with another set and tighten the screws on each jaw.
Place the raw material into the chuck jaws and tighten it using the chuck key. Turn the chuck on to see if the raw material is turning concentrically. If it is not, turn the chuck off and lightly tap the raw material until it looks straight, then turn the chuck on once again to verify its correct placement.
Place the tool you will use to cut the outer dimension in the tool block. Secure it using a wrench by turning the retention bolts to clamp down the tool's shaft. This will assure that the tool will not move out of place under pressure. Touch the tip of the tool to the end of the raw material and rest your micrometer measuring wheel to zero. This will allow you to cut certain dimensions along the Z-axis accurately.
Turn on the chuck, making sure it is turning the right way as dictated by the position of the cutting tool. If the tip is facing up, you want the raw material to be turning counterclockwise, or clockwise if the cutting surface is facing down. Take your first cutting pass very slowly to assure that you are making the correct depth of cut. Measure the piece after you have taken the first cut to assure accuracy.