Capstan Lathe vs Turret Lathe: The Surprisingly Simple Difference

Last Updated on July 3, 2023 by GotFunnyPictures

In the world of machining and manufacturing, efficiency and precision are paramount. The choice of machinery can significantly impact the production process, and this is where the debate often arises: Capstan lathe or Turret lathe? 

Both machines have their unique features and uses, but what sets them apart? This question often leaves manufacturers scratching their heads, especially when they need to make a decision that could impact their production line. 

So, what is the difference between a capstan lathe and a turret lathe?

The main difference between a capstan lathe and a turret lathe lies in their construction and the type of operations they are suited for. A capstan lathe is a lightweight machine designed for quick, small-scale operations, while a turret lathe is a heavy-duty machine built for larger, more intensive tasks.

And here’s a summary of the key differences in table form:

FeatureCapstan LatheTurret Lathe
Weight and ConstructionLightweight, less rigidHeavyweight, more rigid
Movement of Turret Tool Head and SaddleTurret tool head mounted over the ram, which is mounted over the saddle. Ram moves to provide feed.Turret tool head directly mounted on the saddle. Saddle moves to provide feed.
Workpiece SizeSuited for shorter workpiecesSuited for longer workpieces
Speed of OperationsFaster due to lighter constructionSlower due to heavier construction
Ability to Give Heavy CutsLimited due to less rigid constructionCapable due to rigid construction
Method of Indexing Turret Tool HeadAutomatic indexing by reversing the hand wheel of the ramManual indexing by rotating the turret after releasing the clamping lever
Method of Gripping the JobUses a colletUses a power jaw chuck
Diameter of Workpiece They Can MachineUp to 60mmUp to 120mm
OrientationUsually horizontalAvailable in both horizontal and vertical orientations

But if you want a more detailed discussion, first you’ll need to know a little bit more about each type of lathe. So let’s discuss!

Understanding The Capstan Lathe

The Capstan lathe, often referred to as a ram-type or second-operation lathe, is a variant of the traditional lathe machine with a distinct design and functionality that sets it apart.

Description and Construction

A Capstan lathe is a lightweight machine, designed for speed and efficiency in small-scale operations. Its construction is less rigid compared to other types of lathes, which allows for faster operations but limits the machine’s ability to handle heavy cuts.

The key components of a Capstan lathe include the headstock, bed, feed box, carriage, tool post, hexagonal turret, saddle for ram, lead screw, and ram. The machine’s design is typically horizontal, making it suitable for a variety of machining tasks.

How a Capstan Lathe Works

The working of a Capstan lathe revolves around the turret tool head, which is mounted over the ram. The ram, in turn, is mounted over the saddle. This arrangement allows the turret tool head to move longitudinally along the bed for different operations.

The turret tool head houses multiple tools, enabling the machine to perform more than one operation at a time without the need for tool change. This feature significantly reduces the time taken between different machining processes, enhancing the machine’s overall efficiency.

Limitations and Advantages

Despite its advantages, the Capstan lathe does have its limitations. Its lightweight and less rigid construction restrict it from taking heavy cuts. Moreover, due to the limited movement of the ram, it is best suited for shorter workpieces.

On the other hand, the Capstan lathe’s advantages are notable. Its ability to house multiple tools and perform several operations simultaneously makes it ideal for mass production. The machine’s fast operations due to its lightweight construction also contribute to its efficiency.

Now let’s talk about the turret lathe. 

Understanding The Turret Lathe

The Turret lathe, a significant advancement in the realm of lathes, is a robust machine designed to handle larger, more intensive tasks. It is a versatile tool that has found its place in various industries due to its unique features and capabilities.

Description and Construction

A Turret lathe is a heavy-duty machine, built to withstand larger operations and deliver high precision. Its construction is more rigid compared to a Capstan lathe, which allows it to handle heavy cuts and larger workpieces.

The primary components of a Turret lathe include the headstock, bed, feed box, tool post, carriage, lead screw, feed rod, hexagonal turret, and saddle. Turret lathes can be either horizontal or vertical, providing flexibility in their application.

How a Turret Lathe Works

In a Turret lathe, the turret tool head is directly mounted on the saddle. Unlike the Capstan lathe, the feed is given by moving the entire saddle unit, which allows the turret tool head to move over the entire bed in the longitudinal direction. This feature enables the Turret lathe to handle longer workpieces.

Like the Capstan lathe, the Turret lathe also houses multiple tools in its turret head, allowing it to perform several operations simultaneously without the need for tool change. This feature significantly enhances the machine’s efficiency and productivity.

Limitations and Advantages

The Turret lathe’s heavy-duty construction makes it slower in operations compared to a Capstan lathe. However, this same feature allows it to handle heavy cuts and larger workpieces, which would be challenging for a Capstan lathe.

One of the significant advantages of a Turret lathe is its ability to handle larger workpieces and perform heavy cuts due to its rigid construction. Its capability to house multiple tools and perform several operations simultaneously makes it ideal for mass production. Furthermore, the Turret lathe’s versatility, as it comes in both horizontal and vertical orientations, adds to its appeal in various industries.

Now that we’ve talked about the turret lathe and the Capstan lathe individually, let’s compare and contrast them. 

Comparison Between Capstan and Turret Lathe

When choosing between a Capstan and a Turret lathe, several factors come into play. Both machines have their unique features, advantages, and limitations. Here, we will compare these two types of lathes based on various aspects:

Weight and Construction

The Capstan lathe is a lightweight machine with a less rigid construction. This makes it suitable for quick, small-scale operations. On the other hand, the Turret lathe is a heavy-duty machine with a more rigid construction, designed to handle larger, more intensive tasks.

Movement of Turret Tool Head and Saddle

In a Capstan lathe, the turret tool head is mounted over the ram, which is mounted over the saddle. The ram moves to provide feed to the tool. In contrast, in a Turret lathe, the turret tool head is directly mounted on the saddle, and the entire saddle unit moves to provide feed to the tool.

Workpiece Size They Can Handle

Due to the limited movement of the ram, a Capstan lathe is best suited for shorter workpieces. Conversely, the Turret lathe, with its saddle moving over the entire bed, can handle longer workpieces.

Speed of Operations

The Capstan lathe, being lighter in construction, can perform operations faster. The Turret lathe, being heavier, operates slower but can handle more intensive tasks.

Ability to Give Heavy Cuts

The less rigid construction of the Capstan lathe restricts it from taking heavy cuts. In contrast, the Turret lathe, with its rigid construction, can handle heavy cuts.

Method of Indexing Turret Tool Head

In a Capstan lathe, the turret tool head is indexed automatically by reversing the hand wheel of the ram. In a Turret lathe, the turret is manually rotated after releasing the clamping lever to index the turret tool head.

Method of Gripping the Job

A Capstan lathe uses a collet to grip the job, while a Turret lathe uses a power jaw chuck.

Diameter of Workpiece They Can Machine

Capstan lathes are used for machining workpieces up to 60mm in diameter. In contrast, Turret lathes can machine workpieces up to 120mm in diameter.

Orientation (Horizontal or Vertical)

Capstan lathes are usually horizontal, while Turret lathes are available in both horizontal and vertical orientations.

Summary

In summary, the key differences between a Capstan and Turret lathe lie in their construction, operation, and the type of tasks they are suited for. The Capstan lathe, being a lightweight machine, is ideal for quick, small-scale operations. On the other hand, the Turret lathe, with its heavy-duty construction, is designed for larger, more intensive tasks.

The choice between a Capstan and a Turret lathe depends on the specific requirements of the task at hand. For operations requiring speed and efficiency with smaller workpieces, the Capstan lathe is a suitable choice. For tasks involving larger workpieces and needing heavy cuts, the Turret lathe is more appropriate.
So that’s it. While you’re here, make sure you check out some of our other articles, like best metal lathe tools and best metal lathes for home workshops.