What Is a CNC Lathe Machine

What Is a CNC Lathe Machine? An Overview of the Machine

Updated on

Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
Get Smarter On Architecture and Design

Get the 3-minute weekly newsletter keeping 5K+ designers in the loop.

Enter your Email to Sign up


Wish to understand comprehensively what is CNC lathe machine, but unsure where to start? Well, you are in the right place! 

CNC machining is well-known for being the most high-tech manufacturing method in the industry, and you might be amazed to learn that the first steps toward modern-day CNC machining were taken way back in the 1950s. This was when manufacturers found they could reduce the time spent on manufacturing by allowing smart devices such as computers to take the lead on rapid prototyping and production.

To help you better understand what the lather tool is about and how you can use it, I have provided a guide on the basics of CNC lathe machine tools. Read on to learn more!

What Is a CNC Machine?

Image Credits: winnmachine.com

Computer numerical control (CNC) is the process of automating control of machine tools via software ingrained in a microcomputer attached to the tool. A Modern CNC system delivers a product using coded instructions from any computer without any manual operation.

Basically, programs are designed in CNC machine shops and fed to the CNC machine. Then the program enables the control of the speed and motion of the machine tool. The best part is that you don't need the best computers for architecture to operate these machines. Instead, you can use any computer to increase consistency, accuracy, and efficiency.

The primary benefit of these machines is that they come in various types and can vary in size, function, and design depending on their purpose. For example, these machine tools include shapers, plasma cutters, slotters, milling machines, laser cutters, and lathe CNC machines.

What Is a CNC Lathe Machine?

Image Credits: cnclathing.com

A computer numerical control lathe is a machine used to produce precise round shapes with an Outer Diameter and an Inner Diameter. Depending on their requirements in different industries, nearly all kinds of structures could be machined with these machines.

In the past, the lathe did not have many capabilities. However, CNC has introduced more sub-spindles and milling abilities. Today the Lathes are commonly used in industries such as automotive, oil & gas, aerospace, medical, mining, power plant, electronics, and shipbuilding.

Simple CNC lathes or CNC turning machines are operated with specific design instructions to engine parts to precise specifications. While using these tools, the material or part you are working on is held in place and rotated by the central spindle as the cutting tool that works on the material is mounted and moved on various axes. 

With that understanding, let's dive in and see how these machines work in detail.

How Does a CNC Lathe Machine Work?

Image Credits: marvo.eu

A simple CNC lathe operates by eliminating materials from a rotating workpiece with a cutting tool to create the required shape. These lathes contain different equipment, including a spindle, a chuck to hold the object, a motor to rotate the object, and servo motors to shift the cutting tool to the machining area.

The modern CNC lathe can be programmed in two main ways:

  • Directly on the CNC machine, using a modern Programming Support System
  • Offline using a CAD/ CAM system.

Image Credits: premiumparts.com

In most instances, the CNC Lathes should be able to process one CNC program while the next CNC program is being established and programmed. This helps improve the manufacturing process's efficiency and save time.

Basically, here are the processes involved in machining:

Rotating Workpiece and Elimination of Material

The operations of a CNC lathe machine start with a chuck in the main spindle holding a workpiece. The workpiece is rotated, and the cutting tool is mounted. The process eliminates the material on the inside diameter, outside diameter, and across the face.

Programming the Machine Tool

Image Credits: miro.medium.com

The modern CNC lathe machines functions using instructions from CAD or computer-aided drawing and manufacturing software that offers the G-code programming language to the machine. The programmer can program the machine tool to shift in different axes to obtain the precise shape and dimensions of the finished workpiece.

Cutting of the Workpiece and Elimination of Excess Materials

Image Credits: pioneerserviceinc.com

A simple CNC lathe machine has two axes and a stationary cutting tool. Even though most of these machines have six or more axes, the basic CNC lathe operates on two axes with a fixed cutting tool.

The first axis is the Z-axis, which eliminates the workpiece's diameter. The second axis is the X axis, which controls the cut's depth and removes the material from the workpiece's face.

However, you can find other CNC lathes with a Y-axis that integrate another turret with a second or sub-spindle. Thanks to these axes, the lathe machine can easily move over the component according to its geometry, be it spherical, conical, or square.

Main Parts of a CNC Lathe Machine

Image Credits: cnclathing.com

1. Headstock

Headstock holds the feed controllers, gear train, speed control levers, and main spindle during the machining process. It is aligned with the tailstock and is made up of cast iron. The main spindle has a spindle drive system and spindle assembly. The parts include a CNC machine's major moving sections, including chuck, gears, and motors—the C-axis drive assists in positioning the material.

Image Credits: helmancnc.com

2. Bed

Made of cast iron, it creates the base for the entire machine. The bed supports the tailstock, tool slide, spindle head, and tailstock. It further allows you to mount different components of the machine.

3. Tool-Carriage Assembly

a. Saddle

The tool holder can hold various gauge holders and turning tools. The lateral feed hand wheel found in the saddle controls the outer diameter necessary for manufacturing the required shapes.

b. Apron

The apron is clamped to the saddle. It is developed to hold levers, gears, and other devices that push the cross slide.

4. Tail Stock

It is used to install drill clamps or taper shank drills for drilling center holes, tapping, and reaming.

5. Tool turret

Tool turret offers the possibility to transform the cutting tool to the expected length. Its size is determined by the mounted tools' size and number.

Image Credits: helmancnc.com

Types of CNC lathes

1. Speed/Wood Lathe

Image Credits: chansenmachinery.com

It is a simple wood lathe that is simple to operate. The key components include bed, tool rest, tailstock, and headstock. The tool can be used for centering, polishing, metal spinning, and woodturning. 

2. Engine Lathe

Image Credits: mechanicalbooster.com

These lathes are used to cut metal. After the metal is turned, the engine lathe uses unique cutting tools to develop the desired shape. More so, the machine spins sheet metal, and the cut pieces are used in machine engines, automobile engines, and other types of engines vehicles

3. Toolroom Lathe Machine

Image Credits: mechanicalbooster.com

They are more accurate, precise, and used for reaming turning, drilling, boring, taper turning, knurling, and screw thread production. In addition, the gearbox is connected to the headstock to offer different speed ratios.

4. Capstan and Turret Lathe

Image Credits: malls-18.top

This lathe machine is used for mass production to get duplicate goods in large quantities. In addition, it is utilized for sequence operations and has a hexagonal turret on the saddle.

5. Special Purpose Lathe

Image Credits: indiamart.com

These lathes are developed for unique product making, such as heavy-duty manufacturing of identical parts not performed on standard lathes. They include production, automatic, vertical, and wheel lathes.


Ultimately, CNC machining is a perfect option for engineers in any industry looking to achieve high volumes of accurate mechanical parts for rapid prototyping or production.

Technological developments make lathe machines more widely used, achieving much better results. The amazing bit is that the CNC lathes are available for different types of work. All you need to do is choose the lathe machine that suits your needs.

Photo of author

About the author

Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
Related Articles
What is Rapid Tooling

What is Rapid Tooling, and What are Its Benefits?

For the intensive requirements of manufacturing which can sometimes be limited by time, rapid tooling has overtime been the top ...

Comprehensive Guide: What Is a Chucker Lathe?

Comprehensive Guide: What Is A Chucker Lathe?

Chucking machines are very popular in the manufacturing industry. However, they are used primarily for machining other machine parts like ...

What is a Swiss Lathe? Technique, Advantages and Disadvantages

What is a Swiss Lathe? Technique, Advantages and Disadvantages

CNC machines have spread across different industries, and their applications are getting more by the day. However, the Swiss-type lathe ...