Turning is the machining operation that produces cylindrical parts. In its basic form, it can be defined as the machining of an external surface:

Taper turning is practically the same, except that the cutter path is at an angle to the work axis. Similarly, in contour turning, the distance of the cutter from the work axis is varied to produce the desired shape.

Even though a single-point tool is specified, this does not exclude multiple-tool setups, which are often employed in turning. In such setups, each tool operates independently as a single-point cutter.

View a typical turning operation. This movie is from the MIT-NMIS Machine Shop Tutorial.


The three primary factors in any basic turning operation are speed, feed, and depth of cut. Other factors such as kind of material and type of tool have a large influence, of course, but these three are the ones the operator can change by adjusting the controls, right at the machine.

Speed, always refers to the spindle and the workpiece. When it is stated in revolutions per minute(rpm) it tells their rotating speed. But the important figure for a particular turning operation is the surface speed, or the speed at which the workpeece material is moving past the cutting tool. It is simply the product of the rotating speed times the circumference (in feet) of the workpiece before the cut is started. It is expressed in surface feet per minute (sfpm), and it refers only to the workpiece. Every different diameter on a workpiece will have a different cutting speed, even though the rotating speed remains the same.

Feed, always refers to the cutting tool, and it is the rate at which the tool advances along its cutting path. On most power-fed lathes, the feed rate is directly related to the spindle speed and is expressed in inches (of tool advance) per revolution ( of the spindle), or ipr. The figure, by the way, is usually much less than an inch and is shown as decimal amount.

Depth of Cut, is practically self explanatory. It is the thickness of the layer being removed from the workpiece or the distance from the uncut surface of the work to the cut surface, expressed in inches. It is important to note, though, that the diameter of the workpiece is reduced by two times the depth of cut because this layer is being removed from both sides of the work.

Acknowlegement:Some figures and parts of the text of this page are from Materials and Processes in Manufacturnig by E. Paul DeGarmo, J. Temple Blake and Ronald A. Kohser.

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