Metal-turning lathe

Jacques Vaucanson1751

Musée des arts et métiers

Musée des arts et métiers
Paris, France

To give silk a moiré effect, the fabric is passed between two copper cylinders that crush its grain to produce shimmering reflections. The principle is simple but how to perfectly turn the cylinders? For centuries, wooden-framed lathes had shuddered under the weight of heavy pieces being turned. The diameters of the mangles varied with the turner’s skill and strength. Vaucanson invented a revolutionary and precursory lathe. Intent on automating every human gesture, this insatiable engineer mounted the cutting tool on a carriage whose constant displacement is powered by a worm drive activated by hand. The cylinder’s continuous rotation is also manually controlled. Vaucanson also devised prismatic guides to remove the metal shavings, and the lathe’s stability and rigidity is maintained by its entirely metallic frame. Vaucanson defined the principles of the lathe, one of the fundamental machines of industrial mechanics.


  • Title: Metal-turning lathe
  • Creator: Jacques Vaucanson
  • Date: 1751
  • Date Created: 1751
  • Location: France
  • Provenance: Musée des arts et métiers
  • Contributor: Author: Karine Alexandrian. English translation: David Wharry
  • Inventory number: Inv. 00016
  • Credits: © Musée des arts et métiers-Cnam/photo studio Cnam

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