desktop cnc lathe guide

Essential Features to Expect From a Desktop CNC Lathe

Essential Features to Expect from a CNC Desktop Lathe

Nothing beats the impressive power of a freestanding industrial lathe. Larger models can occupy an entire room and handle parts with dimensions measured in feet, not inches. But while full-sized lathes are incredibly powerful, they aren’t usually suited for small toolroom work or the DIY projects in the home workshop.

Here’s where the benchtop CNC lathe works better. Desktop or benchtop lathes are more compact versions of freestanding industrial lathes. Despite being smaller, desktop CNC lathes can perform as many functions as the larger models. They’re equipped with powerful built-in control technology, and they typically feature the same components used in the bigger machines.

Smaller doesn’t mean more delicate: high-quality benchtop CNC machine tools feature the cast-iron columns and rigid construction of large lathes or milling machines. All the components of a desktop lathe, especially a metal lathe, must be heavy-duty and stand up to wear and tear. Like its larger counterparts, a desktop CNC lathe must support and display CAM files and converted DXF files.

What is a desktop CNC machine?

CNC controls allow an operator to automate much of the machining process. Computer Numerical Control relies on computer programming in a machine language known as g-code, enabling the programmer to deliver precise instructions. CNC can be integrated with all categories of machine tools, from turning centers to CNC mills.

Desktop CNC machines are smaller versions of their industrial counterparts, and these machines are designed to offer the same power and precision in a more comprehensive package. That makes desktop or benchtop machines ideal for small machine shops or even home workshops, where CNC precision can be applied to smaller workpieces.

Common CNC machine tools

CNC technology applies equally well to several different materials. Woodworking and metalworking shops use CNC milling machines, routers, and CNC turning machines (lathes) to cut everything from steel to PVC and carbon fiber.

Most CNC machine tools share common characteristics: programmable machine controls, a bed to support the workpiece, jaw chucks to mount the workpiece, and movement along multiple axes. That includes at least the X-axis and Y-axis, although machines with a minimum of 3-axis movement (including the Z-axis) are common.

Some of the most common tools for CNC machining are lathes–woodworking and metalworking.

Basics of a CNC desktop lathe

Nearly all lathes employ the same principles. Sometimes, the workpiece is mounted between the headstock and the tailstock. Other times the workpiece is held in a chuck or collet. As the workpiece rotates rapidly, a cutting tool is brought into contact with the workpiece, removing material and shaping it into the correct pattern.

Even small CNC machines are capable of high degrees of precision. For example, a desktop CNC lathe with two axes can handle parts up to six inches in diameter and is commonly used for smaller projects like jewelry. These mini CNC lathes are also used for small parts fabrication or prototyping in R&D labs, and they’re also perfectly at home in a hobbyist’s workshop.

Lathes rely on simple mechanical processes to remove material, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of highly detailed work.

What can I make with a desktop CNC lathe?

Desktop CNC lathes are great for learning how to apply basic CNC machining principles to the world of parts manufacturing. You can learn and apply the same CNC commands used in big industrial CNC machines with a CNC desktop lathe. Operating a desktop lathe is a great way to learn the basics of g-code, CNC programming, and even Computer Assisted Design (CAD) and Computer Assisted Machining (CAM) programs.

Skilled operators can craft nearly anything on a high-quality CNC lathe. That includes custom replacement parts for a classic car, threaded screws or custom bolts, or just basic cylinders or shafts.

What are the benefits of a desktop CNC lathe?

Greater accuracy and precision on smaller parts: Smaller machines are often better suited for more delicate or detailed machining. With benchtop lathes, you can achieve precision and accuracy on smaller parts while maintaining control.

Compact but powerful package: Many machinists don’t require a full-sized industrial lathe, but they need something to provide the necessary machining precision without taking up half their workspace.

Easy to learn: Learning to use a benchtop CNC lathe is getting easier all the time. While no CNC lathe is exactly simple, enhancements like CAD/CAM and conversational language have made CNC lathes quite a bit easier to learn.

Easy to use: CNC machines don’t require a lot of human intervention once the programming code has been loaded. The operator needs to change the workpiece, check a few dimensions, replace cutting inserts, and make any other needed tooling changes.

Budget-friendly: Industrial CNC lathes can be extremely expensive, with a single machine running into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Desktop CNC lathes are available from reliable manufacturers like CNC Masters for far less.

Smaller footprint: Desktop CNC machines don’t require as much space, and they are the ideal solution for smaller companies that don’t have a lot of room but still require the features of a CNC machine.

Safer operation: CNC machines are safer than manual machines because the operator is not as close to the machining and might even be behind a guard or transparent safety door.

What are the desired features of a CNC desktop lathe?

Look for the following:

  • High-speed spindles
  • Variable spindle speed settings
  • Live tooling control
  • Collet chuck
  • Threading guides
  • Advanced coolant systems
  • Extended warranty
  • Stepper motor driver with 2-axis interpolation capability
  • Large swing over bed to offer a substantial working area
  • Quick-change tool post with multiple tool holders
  • 3-HP spindle motor

Benchtop CNC Mills from CNC Masters

CNC Masters also offers three high-precision benchtop mills, suitable for advanced hobbyists and full-function machine shops.

The CNC Jr Table Top Mill packs all the features of a mid-sized CNC milling machine in a compact package. The smallest of the CNC Masters CNC machine tools, the Jr. still weighs an impressive 700 lbs., thanks to solid cast-iron construction. That’s enough weight to provide much-needed stability and ensure accurate cuts.

CNC Masters’ Baron Table Top Millis a level up, adding another 100 lbs. to the overall weight and taking the precision up another notch. X and Y zero-backlash ball screws keep the machine on track, while micro-stepping motors ensure that the entire cutting process moves smoothly.

Top of the line is the CNC Max Table Top Mill. With the potential for 4-axis cuts, the CNC Max is an incredibly powerful machine tool at home in nearly any situation.

Each desktop CNC mill and CNC lathe from CNC Masters comes with complete technical support services

If you’ve thought about investing in a CNC machine in the past but lack the room or resources for a large freestanding unit, a desktop model is a great option to consider. At CNC Masters, we can work with you to help you find a machine that suits your unique needs.

We offer a diverse selection of CNC lathes and milling machines that can be used for various applications. Our CNC lathes are crafted in the United States, and their quality is 100% ensured. No matter your situation, if you’re in the market for an affordable CNC with high performance, our desktop machines are a great option.

Master MX Software Program is included with every desktop CNC machine

Try out the new Master MX. The MX works exclusively with the CNC Masters MX Numerical Control Units now being built with our CNC milling and lathe machines. The MX software is included with your CNC Masters Machine.

You can import FANUC-based G code and M code programs from your CAM software. We also offer Visualmill CAM as an option which comes with a guaranteed post processor made for CNC Masters machinery.

At CNC Masters, we have been providing high-quality CNC mills, milling machines, and CNC lathes for 20 years. Business owners, machinists, scientists, researchers, teachers, and even hobbyists have discovered our California-based company’s superior quality, competitive prices, and professional service.

Call us at 626-962-9300 or email us at Better yet, call us for an appointment and visit our facility in Irwindale, CA.

About Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters, a leading supplier of CNC mills, milling machines, and CNC lathes. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn.

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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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