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The Complete Product Guide for Lathe Handwheels

Buying new lathe handwheels may seem daunting, especially if this is your first time purchasing one or for a new piece of equipment. For one, you're probably want to make an informed decision that gets you the best bang for your buck yet is of high quality. Unfortunately, this often can be time-consuming reading through several product descriptions that can leave you feeling more confused and undecided.

In this article, we've curated the most vital information you need to know about handwheels for lathe machines, including the different types of handwheels and how they work. When you are done with this guide, you'll be better equipped to purchase your next handwheel with no second-guesses! 

What Kind of Handwheels Does a Lathe Use?

What is a Handwheel?

A handwheel is a manually-operated circular crank used for most machine tools, from sewing machines to car brakes, valves, presses, machine components, and of course, lathes. With lathe machines primarily being used as a cutting tool for woodworking or metalworking.

In the most basic sense, machine handwheels serve one of two purposes—you’ll need them when you have to open and close valves, i.e., to control globe and diaphragm valves carefully. A handwheel-operated valve can be used to override the valve's control system and operate the valve manually.

There are different types of valve handwheels, including top and side-mounted handwheels, handwheels fixed to the valve's stem, hammer handwheels, and handwheels connected to the stem through the gears.

On the other hand, handwheels help you to clamp and adjust your machinery as you like. We will go into the specific functions of different lathe handwheels as this article progresses.

So how do handwheels work? The real answer is: it depends. If you placed an order for a handwheel or you walked into a store to get one, you’d typically end up with one that uses its rim to grip the lathe it is attached to.

But there are several exceptions. We’ve seen lathe handwheels with foldaway, stationary, or revolving handles. From our experience, these types of handwheels are easier to use compared to the one we mentioned.

Handwheels also come in different designs. For instance, solid handwheels do not have any opening between the wheel's hub's inner hub and external diameter.  If you picked up a flat handwheel, you would notice that the diameter of the wheel and that of its hub is on the same plane. A 3 spoke handwheel for lathe milling grinders looks like bicycle wheels, while dished wheels have diameters on offset planes.

Solid vs Spoked Handwheel

Now, let's go over the specific functions of a lathe handwheel. The carriage handwheel is used to manually position and/or hand-feed the carriage in the longitudinal or Z-axis. In contrast, the Cross Feed handwheel is used to manually place and/or hand-feed the compound rest in the X-axis or horizontal axis. A handwheel can also be attached to the lathe's tailstock.

How to Use a Handwheel on a Lathe Machine

A handwheel allows you to control the lathe machine's linear movements as it cuts through threaded stock, metal, and other materials. Handwheels have different designs and specifications, which determines how you use them on your lathe machine. If you have a mini-lathe handwheel, you only need to use your fingers to move it gently as you make fine adjustments to your machine.

Another thing to consider here is the diameter of the handwheel. Larger wheels require a higher turning force. It would be best to consider how much space there is on the lathe machine to make an informed buying decision. The lathe handwheel’s diameter also affects how fine an adjustment can be made during machining.

Aluminum Handwheels

One of the most important questions you should ask before buying a new lathe handwheel is, "what is this handwheel made from?" Plastic, aluminum, cast iron, and stainless steel are some of the most common options you would encounter. So, how do you make the best choice?

First things first, you should know the specifications of your lathe machine. With this information, you'd be able to make an informed choice. But this isn't where it ends. You do not want to keep replacing machine handwheels every other day, so you should prioritize durability.

Stainless steel is a light material that offers better protection against corrosion and other environment-triggered wear and tear. Plastic handwheels are weak and more susceptible to damage, while cast iron wheels are heavier and stronger.

With all these options, we'll bet our money on aluminum handwheels as the choice material for milling machine lathes. Aluminum handwheels offer several advantages, including corrosion resistance, rust resistance, and weighs the least. Let's go over these benefits.

  1. Aluminum weighs less than most of the other materials used for producing handwheels, including steel and cast iron. Aluminum-based materials, in a general sense, can weigh up to 4 times less than cast iron.
  2. Aluminum contains several properties that provide nearly 100% resistance against corrosion and rust. When exposed to external weather conditions, aluminum forms a neat oxide layer over its surface, thus providing weather-tight protection against corrosion.

Main Takeaways

Before buying a handwheel for your lathe machine, you need all the information you can get to help you make an informed choice. Once you have that, you should look for trusted partners that can deliver the highest product quality in line with your preferences.

At Reid Supply, we offer a wide selection of industrial-grade handwheels in different sizes and designs. See our website for more information about our best-selling lathe handwheels and lathe accessories that we have in stock. Also, check out our other industrial hardware, knobs, and tool accessories to use with your drill presses, hand cranks, power tools, or other equipment.

We have a dedicated team to help you find the right parts!
Just call us at
1(800) 253-0421 or send an email to


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