What is lathe cutting and why should you consider doing it?

Written by Ben W

I love vinyl since the first day I discovered an old record player at my grandparents attic. Now, I own over a dozen record players and I am always looking for gems like albums of vintage models.

What is lathe cutting and why should you consider doing it?

Lathe cutting is, basically, a technique to make or modify vinyl records. A lathe is, basically, a tool that can be used in various different ways, and it will help you to produce (or modify) music records.
Lathe cutting isn’t too hard, but the learning curve is quite steep – if you’re talented, you can master it easily, but there are quite a lot of things you’ll need to know.

First of all, record modification and production are reserved for professionals, so laymen might have a hard time grasping the jargon and terminology. We’re here so that even the beginners feel comfortable about lathe cutting.

Why should you consider it? Not only is lathe cutting profitable – it’s also a hobby that’s both rewarding and enjoyable.

The sound difference – Lathe Cut Records VS Pressed Records

If we’re to compare the sound of lathe cut records and (hard) pressed records, we could easily spot some major differences. First of all, lathe cut records are filled with more bass. The bass resonance in these records is superior to hard pressed vinyl records in all aspects.

The only downfall is that lathe cut records sound less in terms of overall volume. A professional lathe cut artist (if he did everything by the book) will cut into the record so that the distortion is minimal, but this often has less volume as the result.

Furthermore, a quality cut often means that the overall sound quality of the vinyl record is superior to a hard pressed vinyl record.

The preparation difference – Lathe Cut VS Pressed Vinyl

Lathe cutting often requires weeks while pressing vinyl records requires months. This is one of the main reasons why people prefer lathe cutting over pressing.
People who do their cutting with lathe tools and by hand are often pressed for this solution because of the lack of equipment needed for hard pressing vinyl records. Pressing records often requires the use of professional machines which are expensive and automated, which means that you have less control over the outcome.

Tools you need to lathe cut your own records

You’ll need several tools to lathe cut your records, which include:

  • Polycarbonate Discs

Polycarbonate discs are much thicker when compared to standard issue records (three millimeter thick, to be precise). These discs feature superior durability, and they’re less inclined to environmental damage, warping, and such. They’re usually cheap, so you can buy them in bulks.

  • Lathe Cutting Needles

Needles are one of the crucial elements for lathe cutting records. There are different types of lathe cutting needles, such as cone shaped needles, triangle shaped needles, crystal needles, and sapphire cutting needles. We recommend triangle shaped needles, as they are very durable, and you can lathe cut approximately three hundred records before they degrade.

  • Lubricants

Polycarbonate discs are thick, so they’re often too firm for lathe cutting. You’ll need to use a lubricant to soften the overall surface of discs. This will minimize the friction, so your cutting process will be easier. To apply the lubricant properly, only use it on the side you want to cut.

How to lathe cut your records

Lathe cutting involves the conversion of a record track format onto a polycarbonate discs using a lathe cutting needle. You’ll need your song in a certain format (usually it’s a .WAV format) for mastering, at the standard sample rate (usually, 44.1 kHz).
You’ll need a mastering machine (a simple 8-channel panel will suffice), so that you can easily adjust the soundstage at a later point.

If you’re a complete beginner, we recommend that you pay attention to how your vinyl records sound when played at your own turntable. You want the outcome to look something like that.

Tips & Tricks for beginner lathe cutters

Lathe cutting is quite hard, as we’ve previously mentioned, so there are things you should look out for. We’ve compiled a list of things that could help you during your very fist lathe cuts:

  • Before you playback your lathe cut records, clean them thoroughly using microfiber cloth & static brush. A record player pad can be very useful too;
  • The weight of your tonearm should be approximately 1.75 – 2.5 grams;
  • Always lower the record player tonearm with your hand;
  • Distortion means that the record player needle isn’t placed properly in groove. If this happens, reset the record player needle;
  • Pump up the record player volume. Lathe cut records are usually quieter;

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