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Lathe is an example of a machine tool

A machine tool is a powered mechanical device, typically used to fabricate metal components of machines by machining, which is the selective removal of metal. The term machine tool is usually reserved for tools that used a power source other than human movement, but they can be powered by people if appropriately set up. Many historians of technology consider that the true machine tools were born when direct human involvement was removed from the shaping or stamping process of the different kinds of tools. The earliest lathe with direct mechanical control of the cutting tool was a screw-cutting lathe dating to about 1483.[1] This lathe "produced screw threads out of wood and employed a true compound slide rest".

The first machine tools offered for sale (i.e. commercially available) were constructed by one Matthew Murray in England around 1800.[2]



Machine tools can be powered from a variety of sources. Human and animal power are options, as is energy captured through the use of waterwheels. However, modern machine tools began to develop only after the development of the steam engine, which led to the Industrial Revolution. Today, most machine tools are powered by electricity.

Machine tools can be operated manually, or under automatic control. Early machines used flywheels to stabilize their motion and had complex systems of gears and levers to control the machine and the piece being worked on. Soon after World War II, the numerical control (NC) machine was developed. NC machines used a series of numbers punched on paper tape or punch cards to control their motion. In the 1960s, computers were added to give even more flexibility to the process. Such machines became known as computerized numerical control (CNC) machines. NC and CNC machines could precisely repeat sequences over and over, and could produce much more complex pieces than even the most skilled tool operators.

Before long, the machines could automatically change the specific cutting and shaping tools that were being used. For example, a drill machine might contain a magazine with a variety of drill bits for producing holes of various sizes. Previously, either machine operators would usually have to manually change the bit or move the work piece to another station to perform these different operations. The next logical step was to combine several different machine tools together, all under computer control. These are known as machining centers, and have dramatically changed the way parts are made.

From the simplest to the most complex, most machine tools are capable of at least partial self-replication, and produce machine parts as their primary function.


Examples of machine tools are:

When fabricating or shaping parts, several techniques are used to remove unwanted metal. Among these are:

Other techniques are used to add desired material. Devices that fabricate components by selective addition of material are called rapid prototyping machines.

Several regions of the United States became centers for machine tool development between 1800 and 1950, including Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Cincinnati, Ohio; Rockford, Illinois; Providence, Rhode Island; Springfield, Vermont; Windsor, Vermont; Hartford, Connecticut; and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

See also


  1. ^ Moore, Page 137, figure 213
  2. ^ Moore


  • Moore, Wayne R. (1970), Foundations of Mechanical Accuracy (1st ed.), Bridgeport, CT, USA: Moore Special Tool Co., LCCN 73-127307  .

Further reading

External links



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