CNC Turning

In machine shop work, CNC turning is a machining process used to make cylindrical parts in which the cutting tool moves linearly while the workpiece rotates. The rotation is performed with a lathe and the turning process reduces the diameter of the workpiece, usually to determine the dimension, and provides a smooth finish to the part.

During the CNC turning process, materials such as metal, plastic, and wood are rotated by computer numerical control. CNC turning can be done outside the workpiece or inside (also called boring) to produce tubular components with different geometries.

Turning processes are usually performed on a lathe, considered the oldest machine tools. There are four different types of turning: straight turning, taper turning, profiling or external grooving. These processes produce various shapes of materials, such as a straight, conical, curved, or grooved workpiece.In general, turning uses simple single point cutting tools. Each group of workpieces has an optimal set of tool angles that have been developed over the years.

Numerically controlled turning (CNC) is a subtractive machining process in which a cutting tool is placed on a rotating workpiece to remove material. This is usually done with a CNC lathe or turning center that cuts material including wood, metal, and plastic. This article covers the different types of CNC lathes, their components, and the type that can be used in your next project.

Most subtractive CNC machines, such as mills, water jets, and plasma cutters, have a workpiece attached to the bed and the cut is done with a spinning tool. To cut, the tool slides over the workpiece or the tool head shoots at it. In contrast, CNC turning reverses the process by turning the workpiece and severing it (moving the static cutting blade towards the workpiece).

Due to the way they work, CNC lathes are primarily used to create complex geometries, and CNC lathes are used to create cylindrical or longitudinal shapes. A CNC lathe is usually chosen over a CNC milling machine or 3D printer because of its ability to make multiples of the same part extremely quickly from a single piece of material. Watch this mesmerizing video of a CNC lathe in action:

While there are several different types of lathes, they all have relatively similar features. Keep in mind that lathes can turn very heavy objects at amazing speeds. These machines are built to handle large projects with precision and a small error can lead to serious injury or damage.


Let’s take a closer look at each component of a lathe machine:

CNC control panels are the "brains" in which the CNC program is stored. The mechanics control the entire lathe from the buttons on this panel, including starting and stopping the project, moving the axis, and entering new programs.

The headstocks act as a holding device for other lathe components, including the sprocket, spindle, and drive wheel.

Tailstocks, although not always used, are a non-rotating center fixture used for boring and positioned opposite the headstock.

The spindles are the rotating axis of the machine, the heart of which is the shaft. Both the headstock and the tailstock can have it.

The holders are responsible for gripping the workpiece. The holders may have a different number of jaws to hold the workpiece.

The beds are the basis of the machine and are used for moving. The bed can sometimes be extended for larger items or act as a conveyor belt.

Cutting tools are tiny tips that remove material in different ways depending on the size and shape of the tool. (Regular drill bits are usually separated from this classification).

The tool turrets are the tool carrier for the machine. The shape and size of the tower depends on the number of tools that will be mounted on it.

The carriages hold the cutting tool longitudinally to the workpiece for turning or perpendicular to the planning.

Foot pedals are used to open or close the handle or the tailstock.

Although lathes are relatively simple in design, they are difficult to master. Understanding the components and how they work individually is the best way to get started with a CNC lathe.

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