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What is a CNC Conversion Kit, and How Does it Work?

Machines, as we know them, have gone through a lot of changes since the industrial revolution. Over the years, machines have evolved to be more intelligent, compact, and more efficient.


Earlier forms of lathes and mills used to be huge and challenging to operate. But over time, we have finessed them into intelligible gadgets that can accurately conduct a wide variety of shaping, grinding, crushing, and cutting tasks.


But that’s not it. The unprecedented development in technology has made it possible to make further improvements in lathes, mills, and other manually operated machines.


Now, you can buy completely computer-operated machines to automate your tasks and focus on other essential aspects of your business.


But, a CNC mill or lathe is not something a hobbyist or a small-scale machinist can afford. They are expensive and require an expert to set them up and get them working.


Fortunately, there is a more affordable and equally capable alternative available.


What is this alternative?


A CNC conversion kit.


What is a CNC Conversion Kit?


Before we get into what a CNC conversion kit is, let’s first understand what CNC stands for.


CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control.


As the name suggests, it allows automated control of machining tools with the help of a computer.


Simply put, a CNC machine is a computer-operated machine that you can automate to carry out various machining tasks.


A CNC conversion kit allows you to automate your manually operated mills and lathes without burning a hole in your pocket.


A typical CNC conversion kit comes with new hardware components and motors to automate the movement of the mill or lathe along the X, Y, and Z-axis.


It also comes with a new control unit and software to help you set parameters on which you want the machine to work.


A CNC conversion kit also includes home and limit switches that restrict the limit of travel on the three-axis and a motor control unit to set the motion of the machine.


However, not all CNC conversion kits are the same. Some are designed to work with older machines, while others are designed for machines by specific manufacturers.


Some conversion kits are extensive and come with complete electronic packages along with a control unit and programming software. Others are simpler and come with only the motor and hardware components needed to make the machine CNC-capable.


The kind of CNC conversion you need depends on your requirements and the type of mill or lathe you want to convert.


You can also choose to use the CNC conversion kit to convert your mills or lathes yourself or have an expert convert your machines for you.


DIY conversion might sound intimidating but is very doable. The hardest and the only tricky part of the conversion will be dealing with the machine’s weight.


Nevertheless, if you are unsure, you can always have an expert machinist have your mill or lathe converted for you using a CNC conversion kit.


You could also ask such experts to take you through the process and specify all the essential tools so you can practice converting machines to CNC yourself.


How Do CNC Conversion Kits Work?


Before you get into converting your manual machines into CNC, you need to understand how a CNC conversion kit works.


Conversion kits act as supplementary components for automating machines. Typically, a CNC conversion kit doesn’t add new axes or movement to the machine. It computerizes the existing ones.


CNC lathe conversion kits and CNC mill conversion kits make use of the machine’s current layout to automate it.


When you buy a CNC conversion kit, you will get several hardware components along with a control unit and software. Most conversion kits come with detailed instruction manuals that can come in handy while converting the machine to CNC.


Before using a CNC conversion kit to make a machine CNC ready, you need to remove certain components from your machine. DIY conversion kits come with simple instruction manuals, allowing hobbyists and small-scale shop owners to convert the machines themselves.


If you are looking forward to converting your mill or lathe yourself, make sure to order a DIY CNC lathe conversion kit or CNC mill conversion kit as it will be available with easy-to-understand and follow instructions.


Having said that, there are a lot of factors that could go wrong while using a CNC conversion kit to convert machines into CNC. If you are not careful, you could end up ruining your current machine and wasting the conversion kit.


The process for Lathe CNC conversion and mill CNC conversion differ because of the different structures of the machines. Nevertheless, the process usually remains the same.


Similarly, harbor freight mini mill conversion might also require different hardware components but almost the same process.


Make sure to check out the backlash and the general serviceability of the machine before using the CNC conversion kit so when you finally make the conversion, it runs smoothly and efficiently.


A typical CNC system contains the following components:

  • Machine
  • Motor
  • Drive
  • Parallel Port
  • Computer
  • GCode Interpreter



The machine is the most basic part of the CNC. A machine can be anything that you use to carry out tasks. It could be a lathe, mill, gear cutter, injection mold machine, or anything with moving parts that you want to automate.



Motors help the machine automate. A CNC machine uses motors to automate manual tasks. Just as a human would use their hands to turn the wheels, a CNC machine uses motors.



A drive is a component that allows the computer to control the motor through an interface. The type of drive you should use in your CNC depends on the type of motor you have.


Parallel Port

Parallel ports are 25 pin connectors usually found at the back of a computer. It helps connect the drives to your computer so you can put in the specifications at which you want the machine to operate.



Computers are where you can access, edit, and modify the information and parameters you want the machine to operate at. You can simply feed in the data in your computer, and your CNC machine will do the rest.


G-code Interpreter

A G-code interpreter is responsible for sending signals out to drive your motors and, eventually, your machine. Notably, a G-code interpreter only involves motion and not the shape.



CAD/CAM is software that one can use to map their idea and realize it in a physical form by generating its G-code.



The question of buying a new CNC machine or converting your old ones using CNC conversion kits depends on your requirements. If you run an extensive machining business or work for a major production company, opting for a new CNC machine will be more suitable.


Nevertheless, if you are a hobbyist or new to machining, CNC conversion kits are a more practical and cost-effective alternative. Converting your old machines into CNC allows you to improve your machining capability while maintaining the serviceability of your old machine.

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