The Amateur’s Lathe

LH Sparey’s Amateur’s Lathe is on my  ‘must read’ list for not only anyone interested in home shop machining, but also anyone interested or studying mechanical or manufacturing engineering.  I think that the book is so good that it should be a mandatory part of a first year engineering course.


Even though the publishing of this book is seriously showing its age (the drawings, typing and photographs could be updated in quality), the content is very very good.  Sparey approaches the information within the constraint of doing work on one piece of equipment: a small workshop lathe.  So many teach that the lathe is only for turning work, such as turning small shafts or bushings.

The reason I like the book so much is because it encourages you to think outside of the box.  It helps develop the skill of trying to complete a project using the tools at your disposal.  It teaches one of my favorite words: ingenuity.  “Ingenuity is the quality of being clever, original, and inventive, often in the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges. Ingenuity (Ingenium) is the root Latin word for engineering.”  Ingenuity is solving a problem within the constraints you are placed in.  And remember constraints produce good design.

Ingenuity is the skill we desperately need in engineering.  Engineers today are really good at math, but math is only one tool to solve a problem.  At some point we have to move from the theoretical to the practical.  I remember  one of my professors (a mathematician / engineer) jokingly told me that solving the problem is the important part – you can find any idiot to do the math.  He was joking, and wasn’t downplaying the importance of mathematics, but rather highlighting the importance of solving the problem.

So if you are a mechanical or manufacturing engineer – read the book to get an interesting insight to what a small bench lathe can really do – while actually learning how to use a lathe.  If you are someone working in your shop the book has excellent insight and information to get those machining projects done you think you don’t have enough tools to do.

It’s on Amazon here.  Don’t let the bad reviews fool you – you have to read the book and think not just look at the pictures.


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