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How To: Measure the Size and Swing of a Wood or Metal Lathe

People often ask us how to measure the size and swing of their wood or metal lathe. Lathes are generally described by the maximum size of material that can be cut or machined on the lathe. Before machining a workpiece, the following measurements must be considered: the diameter of the work that will swing over the bed and the length between lathe centers. Often you will see numbers like 14×40 or 9×42 describing the size of a lathe. So what do these numbers mean?

Wood and Metal Lathe Sizes

How to Measure the Lathe Swing and Size

What does the term “swing” on a lathe mean? The first number is referred to as the swing of the lathe which is the maximum diameter of a piece or work that can fit in the lathe. If you have a lathe and want to measure for the swing, you simply measure from the bed of the lathe to the center of the spindle, and then double that measurement. If you measure 6″, then you have a 12″ swing lathe.

Measure Swing of Metal Wood Lathe


  • Special Note: Sometimes there can be some discrepancies between the actual measured swing and the swing the manufactures label the machine as being. I’ve only seen this on larger geared head metal lathes and European metal lathes. Some foreign lathes were made on metric standards, and they rounded to the nearest US standard size. Some companies labeled them based on the measurement from the top of the cross-slide for the tool holder on the metal lathe to the spindle.  For example this Bradford Metalmaster geared head metal lathe series had actual measured swings of 14.5″, 16.5″, and 18.5″, but Bradford labeled the lathes as 12″, 14, and 16″.


Keep in Mind

On metal lathes, it is important to know the swing over the carriage where your tool holder sits. A lot of companies will give you this specification, and some companies in the past have used this measurement as the size of the “actual” swing of the lathe. It is obvious, if you have to cut something over the carriage of the lathe, it will make your working swing smaller in diameter.

Measure Swing of Metal Lathe



How to Measure Distance Between Centers on a Lathe

The second number in the sequence 14x40 is referred to as the distance between centers. This is the distance between a center in the headstock to a center in the tailstock. This gives you an idea as to how long the working area of the lathe is. However, a lot of companies in the 40’s or before used the size of the bed as the second number.

Measure Distance Between Centers Metal or Wood Lathe

Depending on what tooling and what kind of cuts, drills, bores, etc… you are trying to use can vary the maximum length of material you can work on in your lathe.


A 10×24 lathe can handle work that has a diameter up to 10″ and a length between centers of 24.”

If you need any help identifying your lathe please feel free to send us pictures and information to We’ve identified hundreds successfully.
Please feel free to post comments and questions on this post or any ideas or topics you would like to discuss on future post. And if you need a manual for your lathe, we have all of them listed here at the links below:

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Wood Metal Lathe Manuals

7 thoughts on “How To: Measure the Size and Swing of a Wood or Metal Lathe

  1. Hello, I just purchased a Leblond Regal 24″ lathe from a Government sale. None of the women at the warehouse where I will be picking it up from know anything about Lathes, and I cannot figure out the weight of this machine to ship it. They cannot find the serial number, so that makes things a little difficult. From the pictures of it I determined that it was manufactured sometime in the 1940s to early 1950s. The only certain measurement I could get from them was the length of the Bed. The length in distance was measured from the righthand side of the Head Stock, to the end of the Lathe bed. The Bed was measured along the exposed part of the Ways, from the Headstock to the end of the Ways. That measurement was 9 foot 1 Inch, or 109 inches. Could you also tell me whet the distance is between centers? I have purchased manuals from you before, and will be needing for this machine also. Thank you.


    1. Hank, Thanks for your comment, and I hope the manual for your Bridgeport mill was helpful. Hopefully, you are up and milling by now.

      I went through my Leblond Regal manuals, and I couldn’t find one for a 24″, but we may have one in the file cabinets of ones we don’t have online yet. I did look at our 20″ manual that was from that time period, and has beds that were similar to the length you provided. I did some math and estimated based on the measurements Leblond cared to provide, and what the woman at the warehouse cared to provide. I would believe your distance between centers would be around 85″, and I believe your weight would easily be around 4,000 lbs +.

      When you get it, let me know how close I was.


  2. A few weeks ago I bought a used Duracraft wood lathe model number WL1236, manufactured in 1984. The guy I bought it from couldn’t find the centers, and he didn’t have the manual. How do I know what size centers to buy, and would you happen to have a manual for this machine?

    1. Hi Bob,

      Duracraft made those lathes for Craftsman, and you can find that information, and more, in the manual we have here:

      CRAFTSMAN 113.228000 & 113.228160 Wood Lathe Owner’s Parts Manual

      But the size of spurs or centers for that model would be No. 1 Morse Taper (1MT).

  3. Hello I am looking to get into turning wood . I would like to make drum shells out of whole piece of wood ( solid shell) the smallest diameter would be 8 inchs but the biggest I would do is 24 in diameter the length would very as well up 20 inches any recommendations on a lathe that could do the sizes I am inquiring about .the question I have are for diameter s larger then 12 inches could you use a lathe with a head stock that turns past the bed to turn the bigger sizes . Would you recommend hollowing out the wood before mounting the would . I have never turned a piece of wood .but I would like try it any advice would appreciated thanks John

  4. Hello,

    I just bought a Shun Shin SSB-16CSK metal lathe but I haven’t yet picked it up. The seller doesn’t know much about it and I can’t find any info or a manual online. Can you tell me anything about it, size, or where to get a manual? I assume it’s also branded as other machines but I don’t which ones would be equivalent. Thanks

    1. Hi Don,
      When you pick it up send us a few pictures. It probably was sold under another name. We have lots of Asian metal lathe manuals. We have this Shun Shin:

      Shun Shin SSB-10BS SSB-15BS Lathe Instruction and Parts Manual

      It has a 12″ swing.

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