At one end of the bed (almost always the left, as the operator faces the lathe) is a headstock.The headstock contains high-precision spinning bearings. Rotating within the bearings is a horizontal axle, with an axis parallel to the bed, called the spindle.
Woodturning and metal spinning lathes do not have cross-slides, but rather have banjos, which are flat pieces that sit crosswise on the bed.
The position of a banjo can be adjusted by hand; no gearing is involved.
Ascending vertically from the banjo is a tool-post, at the top of which is a horizontal tool-rest.
In woodturning, hand tools are braced against the tool rest and levered into the workpiece.
The counterpoint to the headstock is the tailstock, sometimes referred to as the loose head, as it can be positioned at any convenient point on the bed by sliding it to the required area.
The tail-stock contains a barrel, which does not rotate, but can slide in and out parallel to the axis of the bed and directly in line with the headstock spindle.
PNG|thumb|right|A metalworking lathe from 1911, showing component parts: a – bed b – carriage (with cross-slide and toolpost) c – headstock d – back gear (other geartrain nearby drives leadscrew) e – cone pulley for a The origin of turning dates to around 1300 BCE when the Ancient Egyptians first developed a two-person lathe.
One person would turn the wood work piece with a rope while the other used a sharp tool to cut shapes in the wood.
Beginning in the 1950s, were applied to the control of lathes and other machine tools via numerical control, which often was coupled with computers to yield computerized numerical control (CNC).
Today manually controlled and CNC lathes coexist in the manufacturing industries.
A workpiece may be bolted or screwed to a , or circular work clamped in a three- or four-jaw chuck.