Screw threads are cut with the lathe for accuracy and for versatility. Both inch and metric screw threads can be cut using the lathe. A thread is a uniform helical groove cut inside of a cylindrical workpiece, or on the outside of a tube or shaft. Cutting threads by using the lathe requires a thorough knowledge of the different principles of threads and procedures of cutting. Hand coordination, lathe mechanisms, and cutting tool angles are all interrelated during the thread cutting process. Before attempting to cut threads on the lathe a machine operator must have a thorough knowledge of the principles, terminology and uses of threads.

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_screw thread terminology

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_screw thread terminology

The common terms and definitions below are used in screw thread work and will be used in discussing threads and thread cutting.

  • External or male thread is a thread on the outside of a cylinder or cone.
  • Internal or female thread is a thread on the inside of a hollow cylinder or bore.
  • Pitch is the distance from a given point on one thread to a similar point on a thread next to it, measured parallel to the axis of the cylinder. The pitch in inches is equal to one divided by the number of threads per inch.
  • Lead is the distance a screw thread advances axially in one complete revolution. On a single-thread screw, the lead is equal to the pitch. On a double-thread screw, the lead is equal to twice the pitch, and on a triple-thread screw, the lead is equal to three times the pitch Figure 2.
  • Crest (also called “flat”) is the top or outer surface of the thread joining the two sides.
  • Root is the bottom or inner surface joining the sides of two adjacent threads.
  • Side is the surface which connects the crest and the root (also called the flank).
  • Angle of the thread is the angle formed by the intersection of the two sides of the threaded groove.
  • Depth is the distance between the crest and root of a thread, measured perpendicular to the axis.
  • Major diameter is the largest diameter of a screw thread.
  • Minor diameter is the smallest diameter of a screw thread.
  • Pitch diameter is the diameter of an imaginary cylinder formed where the width of the groove is equal to one-half of the pitch. This is the critical dimension of threading as the fit of the thread is determined by the pitch diameter (Not used for metric threads).
  • Threads per inch is the number of threads per inch may be counted by placing a rule against the threaded parts and counting the number of pitches in 1 inch. A second method is to use the screw pitch gage. This method is especially suitable for checking the finer pitches of screw threads.
  • A single thread is a thread made by cutting one single groove around a rod or inside a hole. Most hardware made, such as nuts and bolts, has single threads. Double threads have two grooves cut around the cylinder. There can be two, three, or four threads cut around the outside or inside of a cylinder. These types of special threads are sometimes called multiple threads.
  • A right-hand thread is a thread in which the bolt or nut must be turned to the right (clockwise) to tighten.
  • A left hand thread is a thread in which the bolt or nut must turn to the left (counterclockwise) to tighten.
  • Thread fit is the way a bolt and nut fit together as to being too loose or too tight.
  • Metric threads are threads that are measured in metric measurement instead of inch measurement.
Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Screw thread types

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Screw thread types

Screw Thread Forms

The most commonly used screw thread forms are detailed in the following paragraphs. One of the major problems in industry is the lack of a standard form for fastening devices. The screw thread forms that follow attempt to solve this problem; however, there is still more than one standard form being used in each industrial nation. The International Organization for Standardization (IS0) met in 1975 and drew up a standard metric measurement for screw threads, the new IS0 Metric thread Standard (previously known as the Optimum Metric Fastener System). Other thread forms are still in general use today, including the American (National) screw thread form, the square thread, the Acme thread, the Brown and Sharpe 29° worm screw thread, the British Standard Whitworth thread, the Unified thread, and different pipe threads. All of these threads can be cut by using the lathe.

  • The IS0 Metric thread standard is a simple thread system that has threaded sizes ranging in diameter from 1.6 mm to 100 mm (see Table 1). These metric threads are identified by the capital M, the nominal diameter, and the pitch. For example, a metric thread with an outside diameter of 5 mm and a pitch of 0.8 mm would be given as M 5 x 0.8. The IS0 metric thread standard simplifies thread design, provides for good strong threads, and requires a smaller inventory of screw fasteners than used by other thread forms. This IS0 Metric thread has a 60° included angle and a crest that is 1.25 times the pitch (which is similar to the National thread form). The depth of thread is 0.6134 times the pitch, and the flat on the root of the thread is wider than the crest. The root of the ISO Metric thread is 0.250 times the pitch (Table 2).
  • The American (National) screw thread form is divided into four series, the National Coarse (NC), National Fine (NF), National Special (NS), and National Pipe threads (NPT). 11 series of this thread form have the same shape and proportions. This thread has a 60° included angle. The root and crest are 0.125 times the pitch. This thread form is widely used in industrial applications for fabrication and easy assembly and construction of machine parts. Table 2 gives the different values for this thread form.
  • The British Standard Whitworth thread form thread has a 55° thread form in the V-shape. It has rounded crests and roots.
  • The Unified thread form is now used instead of the American (National) thread form. It was designed for interchangeability between manufacturing units in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. This thread is a combination of the American (National) screw thread form and the British Whitworth screw thread forms. The thread has a 60° angle with a rounded root, while the crest can be rounded or flat. (In the United States, a flat crest is preferred.) The internal thread of the unified form is like the American (National) thread form but is not cut as deep, leaving a crest of one-fourth the pitch instead of one-eighth the pitch. The coarse thread series of the unified system is designated UNC, while the fine thread series is designated UNF. (SeeTable 2 for thread form and values.
  • The American National 29° Acme was designed to replace the standard square thread, which is difficult to machine using normal taps and machine dies. This thread is a power transmitting type of thread for use in jacks, vises, and feed screws. Table 2lists the values for Acme threads.

The Brown and Sharpe 29° worm screw thread uses a 29° angle, similar to the Acme thread. The depth is greater and the widths of the crest and root are different (Table 2). This is a special thread used to mesh with worm gears and to transmit motion between two shafts at right angles to each other that are on separate planes. This thread has a self-locking feature making it useful for winches and steering mechanisms.

  • The square screw thread is a power transmitting thread that is being replaced by the Acme thread. Some vises and lead screws may still be equipped with square threads. Contact areas between the threads are small, causing screws to resist wedging, and friction between the parts is minimal (Table 2).
  • The spark plug thread (international metric thread type) is a special thread used extensively in Europe, but seen only on some spark plugs in the United States. It has an included angle of 60° with a crest and root that are 0.125 times the depth.
  • Different types of pipe thread forms are in use that have generally the same characteristics but different fits. Consult the Machinery’s Handbook or a similar reference for this type of thread.
Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_ISO Metric Pitch and Diameter Combination

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_ISO Metric Pitch and Diameter Combination

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_General Form Dimensions for Standaard Screw Threads

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_General Form Dimensions for Standaard Screw Threads

THREAD FIT AND CLASSIFICATIONS

The Unified and American (National) thread forms designate classifications for fit to ensure that mated threaded parts fit to the tolerances specified. The unified screw thread form specifies several classes of threads which are Classes 1A, 2A, and 3A for screws or external threaded parts, and 1B, 2B, and 3B for nuts or internal threaded parts. Classes 1 A and 1 B are for a loose fit where quick assembly and rapid production are important and shake or play is not objectionable. Classes 2A and 2B provide a small amount of play to prevent galling and seizure in assembly and use, and sufficient clearance for some plating. Classes 2A and 2B are recommended for standard practice in making commercial screws, bolts, and nuts. Classes 3A and 3B have no allowance and 75 percent of the tolerance of Classes 2A and 2B A screw and nut in this class may vary from a fit having no play to one with a small amount of play. Only high grade products are held to Class 3 specifications.

Four distinct classes of screw thread fits between mating threads (as between bolt and nut) have been designated for the American (National) screw thread form. Fit is defined as “the relation between two mating parts with reference to ease of assembly. ” These four fits are produced by the application of tolerances which are listed in the standards.

The four fits are described as follows:

  • Class 1 fit is recommended only for screw thread work where clearance between mating parts is essential for rapid assembly and where shake or play is not objectionable.
  • Class 2 fit represents a high quality of thread product and is recommended for the great bulk of interchangeable screw thread work.
  • Class 3 fit represents an exceptionally high quality of commercially threaded product and is recommended only in cases where the high cost of precision tools and continual checking are warranted.
  • Class 4 fit is intended to meet very unusual requirements more exacting than those for which Class 3 is intended. It is a selective fit if initial assembly by hand is required. It is not, as yet, adaptable to quantity production.

Thread Designations

In general, screw thread designations give the screw number (or diameter) first, then the thread per inch. Next is the thread series containing the initial letter of the series, NC (National Coarse), UNF (Unified Fine), NS (National Special), and so forth, followed by the class of fit. If a thread is left-hand, the letters LH follow the fit. An example of designations is as follows:

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_thread designations

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_thread designations

Two samples and explanations of thread designations are as follows:

  • No 12 (0.216) – 24 NC-3. This is a number 12 (0.216-inch diameter) thread, 24 National Coarse threads per inch, and Class 3 ways of designating the fit between parts, including tolerance grades, tolerance positions, and tolerance classes. A simpler fit.
  • 1/4-28 UNF-2A LH. This is a l/4-inch diameter thread, 28 Unified Fine threads per inch, Class 2A fit, and left-hand thread.

Metric Thread Fit and Tolerance

The older metric screw thread system has over one hundred different thread sizes and several ways of designating the fit between parts, including tolerance grades, tolerance positions, and tolerance classes. A simple system was devised with the latest ISO Metric thread standard that uses one internal fit and two external fit designations to designate the tolerance (class) of fit. The symbol 6H is used to designate the fit for an internal thread (only the one symbol is used). The two symbols 6g and 5g6g are used to designate the fit for an external thread, 6g being used for general purpose threads and Sg6g used to designate a close fit. A fit between a pair of threaded parts is indicated by the internal thread (nut) tolerance fit designation followed by the external thread (bolt) tolerance fit designation with the two separated by a stroke. An example is M 5 x 0.8-Sg6g/6H, where the nominal or major diameter is 5 mm, the pitch is 0.8 mm, and a close fit is intended for the bolt and nut. Additional information on ISO metric threads and specific fits can be found in any updated engineer’s handbook or machinist’s handbook.

THREAD CUTTING TOOL BITS

Cutting V-threads with a 60 degrees thread angle is the most common thread cutting operation done on a lathe. V-threads, with the 60 degree angle, are used for metric thread cutting and for American (National) threads and Unified threads. To properly cut V-shaped threads, the single point tool bit must be ground for the exact shape of the thread form, to include the root of the thread Figure 2

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_V shaped thread cutter

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_V shaped thread cutter

For metric and American (National) thread forms, a flat should be ground at the point of the tool bit Figure 3, perpendicular to the center line of the 600 thread angle. See the thread form table for the appropriate thread to determine the width of the Sat. For unified thread forms, the tip of the tool bit should be ground with a radius formed to fit the size of the root of the thread. Internal unified threads have a flat on the tip of the tool bit. In all threads listed above, the tool bit should be ground with enough side relief angle and enough front clearance angle Figure 3. Figure 4 illustrates the correct steps involved in grinding a thread-cutting tool bit.

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Relief angles on a thread cutting tool bit

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Relief angles on a thread cutting tool bit

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Grinding a thread cutting tool bit

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Grinding a thread cutting tool bit

For Acme and 29° worm screw threads, the cutter bit must be ground to form a point angle of 29°. Side clearances must be sufficient to prevent rubbing on threads of steep pitch. The end of the bit is then ground to a flat which agrees with the width of the root for the specific pitch being cut. Thread-cutting tool gages Figure 5 are available to simplify the procedure and make computations unnecessary.

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Common gauges for checking threading tool bits

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Common gauges for checking threading tool bits

To cut square threads, a special thread-cutter bit is required. Before the square thread-cutter bit can be ground, it is necessary to compute the helix angle of the thread to be cut Figure 6. Compute the helix angle by drawing a line equal in length to the thread circumference at its minor diameter (this is accomplished by multiplying the minor diameter by 3.1416 [pi]). Next, draw a line perpendicular to and at one end of the first line, equal in length to the lead of the thread. If the screw is to have a single thread, the lead will be equal to the pitch. Connect the ends of the angle so formed to obtain the helix angle.

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Thread toolbit for square threads

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Thread toolbit for square threads

The tool bit should be ground to the helix angle. The clearance angles for the sides should be within the helix angle. Note that the sides are also ground in toward the shank to provide additional clearance.

The end of the tool should be ground flat, the flat being equal to one-half the pitch of the thread to produce equal flats and spaces on the threaded part.

When positioning the thread-cutter bit for use, place it exactly on line horizontally with the axis of the workpiece. This is especially important for thread-cutter bits since a slight variation in the vertical position of the bit will change the thread angle being cut.

The thread-cutter bit must be positioned so that the centerline of the thread angle ground on the bit is exactly perpendicular to the axis of the workpiece. The easiest way to make this alignment is by use of a center gage. The center gage will permit checking the point angle at the same time as the alignment is being effected. The center gage is placed against the workpiece and the cutter bit is adjusted on the tool post so that its point fits snugly in the 60° angle notch of the center gage Figure 7.

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Positioning thread cutter bit

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Positioning thread cutter bit

In cutting threads on a lathe, the pitch of the thread or number of threads per inch obtained is determined by the speed ratio of the headstock spindle and the lead screw which drives the carriage. Lathes equipped for thread cutting have gear arrangements for varying the speed of the lead screw. Modern lathes have a quick-change gearbox for varying the lead screw to spindle ratio so that the operator need only follow the instructions on the direction plates of the lathe to set the proper feed to produce the desired number of threads per inch. Once set to a specific number of threads per inch, the spindle speed can be varied depending upon the material being cut and the size of the workpiece without affecting the threads per inch.

The carriage is connected to the lead screw of the lathe for threading operations by engaging the half nut on the carriage apron with the lead screw. A control is available to reverse the direction of the lead screw for left or right-hand threading as desired. Be sure the lead screw turns in the proper direction. Feed the cutter bit from right to left to produce a right-hand thread. Feed the cutter bit from left to right to produce a left-hand thread.

Direction of feed. For cutting standard 60° right-hand threads of the sharp V-type, such as the metric form, the American (National) form, and the Unified form, the tool bit should be moved in at an angle of 29° to the right Figure 8. (Set the angle at 29° to the left for left-hand threads). Cutting threads with the compound rest at this angle allows for the left side of the tool bit to do most of the cutting, thus relieving some strain and producing a free curling chip. The direction is controlled by setting the compound rest at the 29° angle before adjusting the cutter bit perpendicular to the workpiece axis. The depth of cut is then controlled by the compound rest feed handle.

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_External threading setup

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_External threading setup

For Acme and 29° worm threads, the compound rest is set at one-half of the included angle (14 1/2°) and is fed in with the compound rest. For square threads, the cutter bit is fed into the workpiece at an angle perpendicular to the workpiece axis.

THREAD CUTTING OPERATIONS

Before cutting threads, turn down the workpiece to the major diameter of the thread to be cut and chamfer the end. Engineering and machinist’s handbooks have special tables listing the recommended major and minor diameters for all thread forms. These tables list a minimum and a maximum major diameter for the external threads, and a minimum and maximum minor diameter for internal threads. The difference between the maximum and minimum major diameters varies with different sizes of threads. Coarse threads have a larger difference between the two than fine threads. It is common practice, when machining threads on the lathe, to turn the outside diameter down to the maximum major diameter instead of the minimum major diameter, thus allowing for any error.

The workpiece may be set up in a chuck, in a collet, or between centers. If a long thread is to be cut, a steady rest or other support must be used to help decrease the chance of bending the workpiece. Lathe speed is set for the recommended threading speed (Table 3).

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Cutting Speeds for straight turning and threading with HSS tool bits

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Cutting Speeds for straight turning and threading with HSS tool bits

To cut threads, move the threading tool bit into contact with the work and zero the compound rest dial. The threading tool bit must be set at the right end of the work; then, move the tool bit in the first depth of cut by using the graduated collar of the compound rest. Position the carriage half nut lever to engage the half nut to the lead screw in order to start the threading operation. The first cut should be a scratch cut of no more than 0.003 inch so the pitch can be checked. Engaging the half nut with the lead screw causes the carriage to move as the lead screw revolves. Cut the thread by making a series of cuts in which the threading tool follows the original groove for each cut. Use the thread chasing dial, Figure 9 to determine when to engage the half nut so that the threading tool will track properly. The dial is attached to the carriage and is driven by means of the lead screw. Follow the directions of the thread chasing dial, Figure 10, to determine when to engage the half nut lever.

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Thread chasing dial

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Thread chasing dial

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Thread chasing dial instructions

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_Thread chasing dial instructions

After making the first pass check for proper pitch of threads by using one of the three methods in Figure 11. After each pass of the threading tool bit, the operator must move the threading tool bit out of the threaded groove by backing out the compound rest handle, taking note of the setting. Traverse the carriage back to the start of the thread and move the compound rest dial back to the original setting plus the new depth of cut. At the end of each cut, the half nut lever is usually disengaged and the carriage returned by hand. (The cross slide dial can also be used to move the tool bit in and out, depending on the preference of the operator.)

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_checking threads per inch

Machine_Machine Tool_Lathe_checking threads per inch

After cutting the first depth of thread, check for the proper pitch of threads by using one of the three methods in Figure 11. If the thread pitch is correct as set in the quick-change gearbox, continue to cut the thread to the required depth. This is determined by measuring the pitch diameter and checking the reference table for-the proper pitch diameter limits for the desired fit.

Some lathes are equipped with a thread chasing stop bolted to the carriage which can be set to regulate the depth of cut for each traverse of the cutter bit or can be set to regulate the total depth of cut of the thread.

When the thread is cut the end must be finished in some way. The most common means of finishing the end is with a specially ground or 45 degree angle chanifer cutting bit. To produce a rounded end, a cutter bit with the desired shape should be specially ground for that purpose.

Metric Thread Cutting Operations

Metric threads, are cut one of two ways by using the lathe, designed and equipped for metric measurement or by using a standard inch lathe and converting its operation to cut metric threads. A metric measurement lathe has a quick-change gear box used to set the proper screw pitch in millimeters. An inch-designed lathe must be converted to cut metric threads by switching gears in the lathe headstock according to the directions supplied with each lathe.

Most lathes come equipped with a set of changeable gears for cutting different, or nonstandard screw threads. Follow the directions in the lathe operator manual for setting the proper metric pitch. (A metric data plate may be attached to the lathe headstock.) Most lathes have the capability of quickly attaching these change gears over the existing gears then realigning the gearing. One change gear in needed for the lead screw gear and one for the spindle, or drive gear.

The metric thread diameter and pitch can be easily measured with a metric measuring tool. If there are no metric measuring tools available, the pitch and diameter must be converted from millimeters to inch measurement, and then a inch micrometer and measuring tools can be used to determine the proper pitch and diameter. Millimeters may be converted to inch measurement either by dividing millimeters by 25.4 inches or multiplying by 0.03937 inches.

For example, a thread with a designation M20 x 2.5 6g/6h is read as follows: the M designates the thread is metric. The 20 designates the major diameter in millimeters. The 2.5 designates the linear pitch in millimeters. The 6g/6h designates that a general purpose fit between nut and bolt is intended. Therefore, to machine this metric thread on a inch designed lathe, convert the outside diameter in millimeters to a decimal fraction of an inch and machine the major diameter to the desired diameter measurement. Convert the linear pitch in millimeters, to threads per inch by dividing the linear pitch of 2.5 by 25.4 to get the threads per inch (10.16 TPI).

Now. a 8-13 TPI thread micrometer can be used to measure the pitch diameter for this metric thread.

To sum up how to convert metric threads to inch measurement:

  • Convert major diameter from millimeters to inch measure.
  • Convert pitch and pitch diameter to inch measure.
  • Set quick change gears according to instructions.

Set up the lathe for thread cutting as in the preceding paragraphs on screw thread cutting. Take a light trial cut and check that the threads are of the correct pitch using a metric screw pitch gage. At the end of this trial cut, and any cut when metric threading, turn off the lathe and back out the tool bit from the workpiece without disengaging the half-nut-lever. Never disengage the lever until the metric thread is cut to the proper pitch diameter, or the tool bit will have to be realigned and set for chasing into the thread.

After backing the tool bit out from the workpiece, traverse the tool bit back to the starting point by reversing the lathe spindle direction while leaving the half-nut lever engaged. If the correct pitch is being cut, continue to machine the thread to the desired depth.

NOTE: If the tool bit needs to be realigned and chased into the thread due to disengagement, of the half-nut lever or having to remove the piece and start again, then the lathe must be reset for threading. Start the lathe, with the tool bit clear of the workpiece engage the lever. Allow the carriage to travel until the tool bit is opposite any portion of the unfinished thread; and then turn off the lathe, leaving the engaged. Now the tool bit can be set back into a thread groove by advancing the cross slide and reference. Restart the lathe, and the tool bit should follow the groove that was previously cut, as long as the half-nut lever stays engaged.