cnc lathe

8 Things You Should Know Before Buying A Lathe Machine

Metalworking lathes are machine tools that do turning operations to create cylindrical shapes, including spheres and cones. Lathe machines are an essential part of most machine shops since lathe work is usually an integral part of their operation.

There are two basic types of lathe machines: the traditional engine lathe and the computer numerical control (CNC) variety. Although both have their place in a modern machine shop, there’s little doubt that the CNC lathe has become an indispensable machine tool because of its high-speed turning capabilities and its high precision.

The CNC lathe machine is a precision lathe that machinists use to complete various metalworking projects, usually those high-volume components that require accuracy and repeatability. But even if you are only shopping for a standard engine lathe, you’re making a substantial investment, and there are some things you should know before you purchase it.

Here are eight tips to help you make a decision you won’t regret:

Tip One: Determine the Size of Lathe Machine You Need

cnc lathe
a large cnc lathe

Lathes are measured in terms of swing and size, often given as a pair of numbers  (i.e., 12 x 20). The first number, the swing, is the distance between the center of the headstock and the lathe bed. It’s the maximum radius of a workpiece that can be mounted between centers on that lathe machine. If the radius on your workpiece is 15 inches and your lathe has a swing of 12 inches, then the workpiece is too big to fit between centers on your lathe.

The second number is the distance between the headstock and tailstock and is often referred to as bed size. In the example above, the bed size would be 20 inches.

Tip Two: Ensure Your Machine Shop Can Handle It

Even lathes with small bed sizes can be relatively large, weighing hundreds of pounds. Floor-mounted, heavy-duty lathes can be even larger, possibly weighing thousands of pounds depending on the size. Before buying one, measure the floor space you have and ensure the lathe machine’s footprint doesn’t exceed that area.

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Lathes machines come in all sizes, from small bench lathes to large, room-sized industrial CNC lathes. Consider the type of lathe operations you’re anticipating, and position your new lathe machine on your shop floor accordingly.

Make sure your company has enough power for it! Lathes require a lot of electricity. You probably already have the necessary power capacity if you’re purchasing a new metalworking lathe for your machine shop. But if you’re adding a smaller mini lathe or benchtop lathe machine to your home workshop, double-check the energy requirements.

Tip Three: Learn the Basic Parts of a Lathe Machine

Ever wondered what a CNC lathe machine is? A lathe machine is typically composed of four primary parts:

  • The lathe bed can be either fixed or pivoted. The lathe bed holds and supports the structure of the lathe. The workpiece is mounted in jaw chucks fixed onto the headstock. The workpiece can also be mounted between centers in the headstock and tailstock, allowing it to spin freely above the lathe bed.
  • The headstock holds the workpiece in place during machining.
  • The tailstock supports and provides the clamping action for long pieces of material.
  • The lead screw of a lathe machine advances the lathe’s carriage in sync with the rotation of the spindle. Its most important contribution is making threads with a specially designed turning tool.

When a workpiece is held by the headstock and tailstock, it is “between centers.” Sometimes, the lathe bed has a removable piece below the headstock to allow turning operations on a workpiece that exceeds the lathe machine’s stated swing radius.

There are several types of lathes. Engine lathes and turret lathes are your standard powered lathes. Most lathes work with various materials but are often divided into the categories of metalworking lathes or woodworking lathes. Even though they may be high-quality machine tools, wood lathes are typically not as heavy-duty as their metalworking counterparts.

Tip Four: Understand the Lathe Machine’s Capabilities

Before buying a lathe, it would be wise to figure out what type of lathe work you intend to take on and make sure the new lathe is designed for those lathe operations. For instance, if you’re buying the lathe machine for turning operations on a 48” long crankshaft, don’t buy one that maxes out at 44”.

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People have been using lathe machines for centuries. They were first used in woodworking, but in the 1800s, Henry Maudslay modified the lathe for metalworking, adapting to industrial settings during the Industrial Revolution. Engine lathes and CNC lathes have increased in size and power over the years, but they have also advanced versatility with the advent of Computer Numerical Control technology.

The workpiece rotates on a spindle with a lathe machine, while a cutting tool, mounted on a tool post and fixed on a cross slide, completes the turning operation on the workpiece. This rotating spindle is why lathe machines are ideal for anything with a cylindrical shape. They are also capable of threading, drilling, reaming, boring, sanding, and knurling.

Today’s precision lathes are vital for aerospace, automotive manufacturing, furniture making, and toolmaking. Because of their versatility, lathe machines can handle a broad range of tasks. Many have variable spindle speeds and tool holders that allow operators to change the tooling mid-operation.

Modern toolroom lathes also have high versatility, especially when equipped with CNC lathe technology. These machines can perform complex machining operations that other machine tools cannot handle. Along with milling machines, lathe machines rule the modern machine shop.

Tip Five: Choose a Belt Drive or Direct-Drive Spindle for Your Lathe Machine

belt driven lathe spindle
belt driven lathe spindle

The spindle on metalworking lathes is either belt-driven or direct-drive, but the belt-driven type is part of the classic generation of lathes. Direct-drive spindles provide variable speed much faster than the belt-driven type, resulting in shorter cycle times. With a direct-drive spindle speed lathe, you could go from 0 to 6,000 rpm in half the time of a lathe machine with a belt-driven spindle speed. That being said, the belt-driven lathes are still a fine option and provide the power and accuracy required by many machinists.

Tip Six: Look at Spindle Speed, Horsepower, and Torque

Modern CNC lathes are designed to handle a specific range of diameters. Most machine shops buy a machine for a maximum workpiece diameter. For example, if you’re cutting 2-inch-diameter bars, the lathe machine will be designed for turning operations on smaller diameters using 6,000-rpm spindle speeds and the correct amount of horsepower and torque.

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On the other hand, larger lathe machines will have higher torque because of the weight of the workpiece in the jaw chuck. Bigger workpieces require slower spindle speeds and more torque.

Tip Seven: Consider the Turning Tools You’ll Need for Your New Lathe Machine

Although your lathe machine is a big-ticket item, it’s not all you’ll need to purchase. Your lathe will probably come with a jaw chuck, but you should have a faceplate for certain types of lathe work. You’ll also need various cutting tools, including, but not limited to:

Carbide turning tools

  • Boring bar
  • Chamfering tool
  • Facing tool
  • Parting tool
  • Grooving tool
  • Thread-cutting tool
  • Knurling tool

Tip Eight: Buy a CNC Lathe That Gives You the Most Value for the Price

CNC machines are expensive but incredibly powerful machine tools that add speed and versatility to any machine shop or home workshop. CNC Masters offers two CNC lathes that meet all the speed lathe and precision lathe criteria. These CNC lathes are built in the USA and come with excellent customer support.

CNC Masters 1340 CNC Lathe

1340 cnc latheNo more outsourcing work to produce prototypes or complete large projects:

  • Powerful size 34 Z-axis micro-stepper motor within 1500 in/oz. of torque
  • Very accurate with micro-stepping motion
  • X & Z Direct Drives without timing belts to adjust
  • X & Y Zero Backlash Ball Screws with Pre-loaded ball nuts to eliminate play
  • Full 2-axis coordinated motion control on bipolar motors – true interpolation
  • Transition between CNC lathe and engine lathe modes
  • Digital readout display of the X & Z counters in English or metric
  • CNC Masters custom software is included
1440 cnc lathe
CNC Masters 1440 Lathe

CNC Masters 1440 CNC Lathe

CNC capabilities transform complex manual turning applications into an easy-to-program language to run a complicated part accurately on production runs.

  • Versatile machine that instantly converts from CNC lathe to traditional engine lathe mode
  • 40″ Distance between centers with a 14″ swing over the lathe bed
  • Full 2-axis coordinated motion control on bipolar motors – true interpolation
  • Home Reference sensors on the X & Z Axis
  • 2 HP main spindle motor
  • Digital readout display of the X & Z counters in English or metric
  • CNC Masters custom software is included
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MX Software – Easy to Use, Easy to Learn – Included with your machine purchase
The MX software is designed to work seamlessly with your CNC Masters machine. It is made to work with Windows PC – desktop, laptop, or an all in one – on standard USB. Use it on Windows 8 or 10 64-bit operating systems.
No internal conversion printer/serial port to USB software or additional conversion hardware is used with the MX.

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2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!

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3. Features Tour and Tutorials Included
The Features Tour will give you a quick run-down on all the features the MX can do for you. The Tutorials are easy to follow even for the first time CNC machinist.
Feel free to download the MX on any of your computers. We recommend downloading the MX along with your CAD and CAM software there at the comfort of your office computer to generate your tool path programs. You don’t need to be hooked up to the machine either to test your program in simulation mode.

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4. Navigate and Edit Your Program through the MX interface with Ease
With a few clicks of the mouse or using touch screen technology, you can easily navigate through the MX interface importing saved programs into the Editor from the File drop down menu. Using standard windows features to edit your program you can then lock the Editor Screen to avoid accidental editing, and if you need to insert a line in the middle of a program, just click on [ReNum] to re-number your tool path list.
You can create a program or import CAM generated G-code tool paths into the Editor
The X Y and Z W arrow jog buttons are displayed from the point of view of the cutter to avoid confusion when the table and saddle are moving. You can also adjust your spindle speed and coolant control while jogging each axis.

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5. Feed Hold – Pause in the Middle of your Program
Feed Hold lets you pause in the middle of a program. From there you can step through your program one line at time while opting to shut the spindle off and then resume your program.
You can also write PAUSE in the middle of your program and jog each axis independently while your program is in pause mode.

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6. Hot Keys
Hot Keys is an alternative method to easily control your machine using your hard or touch screen keyboard. One can press P to pause a program, press S to turn Spindle On, G to run a program, Space Bar to Stop, J to record your individual movements one line at a time to create a program in teach mode.

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7. Pick Menu – for conversational mode programming
Write FANUC style G-codes directly into the Editor or select commands off the [Pick] menu and write your tool path program in conversational mode such as what is written in the Editor box. You can even mix between conversation commands and G-codes in the same program.

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8. Pick Menu List of Options
Use commands such as MOVE, SPINDLE ON/OFF, COOLANT ON/OFF, PAUSE, DELAY, GO HOME…. to write your tool path programs in conversational mode.

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9. Draw the Tool Path to verify it before pressing Go
Hit Draw to view your tool path program drawing, check out its run time, or even simulate the tool path in 3D mode. This can be helpful to quickly verify your program before running it. You can also slow down or speed up the drawing or simulation process.
You can also hit Go within the Draw Window itself to verify the cutter’s position on the machine. The current tool path will be highlighted and simultaneously draw out the next path so you can verify what the cutter will be doing next on the program.

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10. Run each tool path independently to study its movement
1. Run the machine on Trace mode. You can run each tool path independently, one line at a time to study the tool path movement on the machine to verify the position of the application and if any fixture/vise is in the way of the cutter’s path.

2. You can also verify your program by clicking on the Trace and Draw buttons together. This will allow you to view each tool path independently one line at a time in the Draw Window.

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11. Counters display in Inches or Millimeters – Continuous Feed
1. When running a program, the counters will display a “real-time” readout while the machine is in CNC operation without counting ahead of the movement.
2. The current tool path is highlighted while the machine is in operation without causing slight interruptions/pauses as the software feeds the tool path to the machine. The MX internally interprets a program ten lines ahead to allow for “continuous machining” avoiding slight interruptions as the machine waits for its next tool path command.
3. “Run Time” tells you how long it takes to run your tool path program.

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12. Use the “Go From Line” command to start in the middle of your program
If you ever need to begin your program from somewhere in the middle of it, use [Go From Line] which you can find under Tools. The Help guide will walk you through how to position the cutter without losing its position on the machine.

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13. Exact Motion Distance without over-stepping on an axis while jogging
Use “Relative ON” to enter a specific coordinate to jog any of your axes to an exact location without having to write a program. It’s like using “power feed” but easier. You can jog an exact distance on any of the axes without needing to keep the key pressed down and mistakenly over-step the movement releasing your finger too slowly off the jog button.
Let’s say you need to drill a hole exactly 0.525” using the Z. So you enter 0.525 in the Z box. Next, adjust the JOG FEED RATE slider for the desired feed rate. Then “click once” on the +Z or -Z button to activate the travel. In this case you click once the -Z button first to drill the hole exactly 0.525”. Then click once on the +Z button to drive the axis back up 0.525”.

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14. Teach Mode – Jog Input
You can create a tool path program by storing each point-to-point movement by simply jogging an axis one at a time. Click on either of the Jog Input buttons to store each movement on the Editor Screen. You can then add Spindle ON, feed commands, and press GO to run the new program as needed. This is a great feature to help you learn to create a program by the movements you make on the machine without necessarily writing out an entire program first.

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15. Override on the fly to adjust the Jog Feed to Rapid or the Spindle Speed during the middle of a program
1. Jog Feed and Rapid with Override: You can adjust feeds using the slider from slow minimum 0.1″ per minute to a rapid of 100″ per minute of travel. You can even micro-step your jog as low as 0.01”/min. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.
2. Spindle Speed with Override: You can adjust speeds using the slider from a slow minimum RPM to the max RPM according to the machine setup. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.

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16. Adjust Counters using Pre-Set if you cannot begin the program from 0.00
In a situation where you cannot begin your cutter at it’s 0.00 location, you can “Pre-Set” directly into the counters by typing in your beginning coordinate. You can press Go from here to run your program. You can also “zero all” or “zero” your counters independently. With one click of the [Return to 0.0] button, all axes will travel back to its respective 0.0 on the machine.

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17. Set and Save your 0.00 position for future runs
Set and save your 0.00 position on the machine. These coordinates will be recorded as the first line of the program in the Editor Screen. Should you desire to return to this program at a later date, you only have to click on the Set Zero Return button. This will command the machine to automatically jog each axis to its saved “set” 0.00 position according to the recorded coordinates at the first line of the program.

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18. Create a “Home” position to clear your application and run multiple times
Let’s say you need to machine one application times 100 pieces. This usually requires a jig to retain that physical 0.00 position. But in this case, you want the program to end with a clearance of the axes to easily switch out the next piece of stock and start again. With Save Home, you have the ability to save this offset (home) position while still retaining your Set Zero position where the machine will mill your part out. Pressing [Save Home] will record this new position under the Set Zero line in your program.
Pressing [Go Home] will jog your axes back to your “saved home” position where you originally pressed the Save Home command. You can also input GO_HOME from the Pick Menu as its own tool path in your program. At the completion of your program the axes will end at your Home position. Replace your part, then press [Return to 0.0] button to allow the axes to return to its zero position, and press Go to start your next run.

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19. Disable the axis motors to manually hand crank each axis into place
Easily de-energize the axis motors by clicking [Disable Motors] to crank each axis by hand, and then press [Reset Control] to re-energize the axis motors.

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20. Change up to 30 tools with compensation, and store your tool offsets for other programs
The MX supports…

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21. Use the optional ATC rack up to 8 tools for milling, drilling, and rigid tapping applications
The CNC Masters Automatic Tool Changer Rack and Tools (US Patent 9,827,640B2) can be added to any CNC Masters Milling Machine built with the rigid tapping encoder option. The tutorial will guide you through the set-up procedure using the ATC tools.

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22. Use the optional Rigid Tapping Wizard without the need for tapping head attachments
When you order your CNC Masters machine, have it built with the optional rigid tapping encoder. You can take any drill cycle program and replace the top line with a tapping code created by the wizard to tap your series of holes up to 1/2” in diameter.

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23. Use the optional Digital Probe to scan the profile and/or pockets of your fun/hobby type designs to write your tool path program and machine out a duplicate of your original design To “surface” scan an object, you can program the probe along the X or Y plane. The stylus will travel over the part starting on the left side front corner of the object and work its way to the end of the part on the right side. Depending on how the stylus moves, it will record linear and interpolated movements along the X, Y, and Z planes directly on the MX Editor.
To “pocket” scan an object containing a closed pocket such as circles or squares, the scan will start from the top front, work its way inside of the pocket, and scan the entire perimeter of the pocket.
Under the Setup of the MX software you will find the Probe Tab which will allow you to calibrate and program your probe. Your “Probe Step”, “Feed”, and “Data Filter” can also be changed on the fly while the probe is in the middle of scanning your object.

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24. Use work offsets G54-G59 for nesting applications
The work offsets offer you a way to program up to six different machining locations. It’s like having multiple 0.0 locations for different parts. This is very useful especially when using sub-routines/nesting applications.

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25. Create a Rectangular Pocket / Slot with our selection of Wizards to help you build a tool path program
The Cycle Wizards for the mill or lathe makes it easy to create a simple tool path without needing to use a CAD and CAM software.
On this Wizard, the Rectangular Pocket / Slots, can be used to form a deep rectangular pocket into your material or machine a slot duplicating as many passes needed to its total depth.

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26. Create a Circular Pocket Wizard
Input the total diameter, the step down, and total depth and the code will be generated.

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27. Do Thread Milling using a single point cutter Wizard

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28. Cut a gear out using the Cut Gear Wizard with the optional Fourth Axis

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29. Create a Peck Drilling Program in Circular or Rectangular Patterns
Using the Circular or Rectangular Drilling Wizards, you can program the machine to drill an un-limited series of holes along the X and Y planes. Program it to drill straight through to your total depth, use a high-speed pecking cycle, or deep hole pecking cycle. You can program the cut-in depth and return point for a controlled peck drill application to maximize chip clearance.

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30. The MX interface can easily be interchanged from Mill Mode to Lathe Mode
Use this interface for your CNC Masters Lathe. It contains all the same user-friendly features and functions that comes in Mill Mode. Simply go to the Setup page and change the interface.

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31. Use Tool Change Compensation or the optional Auto Tool Changer Turret if your application requires more than one tool in a single program
You can offset the length and angle of each tool and record it under Tools in your Setup. The program will automatically pause the lathe’s movement and spindle allowing you to change out your tool, or allowing the optional ATC Turret to quickly turn to its next tool and continue machining.
On the MX interface, you also have four Tool Position buttons. Select your desired T position, and the auto tool post will quickly turn and lock itself to that position.

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32. Use the Lathe Wizard Threading Cycle to help you program your lathe’s internal or external threads in inches or metric

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33. Use the Lathe Wizard Turning / Boring Cycle to help you program simple turning and boring cycles without having to go through a CAM or writing a long program with multiple passes

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34. Use the Lathe Wizard Peck Drilling Cycle to help you program your drill applications or for face grooving

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35. Facing / Grooving / Part Off Cycle Wizards – with Constant Surface Speed
These cycles can be used with Constant Surface Speed allowing the spindle speed to increase automatically as the diameter of the part decreases giving your application a consistent workpiece finish. With CSS built into the wizard, there is no need to break down the cycle into multiple paths and multiple spindle speed changes.

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36. This is our list of supported G and M codes which can be found under Tools > G Code/ M Code List in the MX
If you plan to use a third-party CAM software to generate your tool path program, use a generic FANUC post processor and edit it to match our list of codes. As an option, we also sell Visual mill/turn CAM software which comes with a guaranteed post processor for our machines to easily generate your tool path programs based on your CAD drawings.

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37. Our pledge to you…

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