A mini lathe CNC machine can extend industrial-grade quality to your small workshop
As a mini lathe machine owner, you might have considered a CNC upgrade. And for good reasons, since all small and medium machine shops are switching to CNC machining for high-quality workpieces.
In fact, it is none but CNC machines that provide the larger industries a competitive edge by bringing about precision and efficiency.
You might wonder if you can match the workpiece quality of such large workshops by having an industrial lathe.
But, there’s a catch.
A CNC lathe machine deployed in an industrial production unit is usually huge. So much so that it can occupy the entire length and breadth of your shop. Also, machines such as these aren’t suited for producing small parts, as their tools are designed for bigger work holdings.
Then what’s the solution, you may ask?
Well, for your smaller lathe shop to have the same capability as an industrial unit, a mini lathe CNC machine should be an ideal solution.
And to acquaint you with these small yet incredible CNC lathes, as well as their mini lathe CNC conversion kit, we have put together this comprehensive guide. So let’s dive in.
What is a mini lathe CNC machine?
As you might be aware, a CNC or computer numeric control system uses computer programming to automate the machining process. And the same goes for a CNC lathe, which uses G-codes to allow the lathe operator to deliver instructions and produce precise parts.
Now, coming to a mini lathe CNC machine, these are smaller versions of industrial lathes designed specifically for hobbyists and small businesses.
So do these mini lathes match their industrial counterparts?
They certainly do.
You see, even as a mini CNC lathe is way smaller in size compared to large industrial machines, they offer the same accuracy and power. In fact, these compact CNC lathes are an optimum machining solution for midsize shops as they help achieve high-precision on small parts.
There’s more to it
While a medium-sized lathe may sound like a delicate machine when compared to larger ones, it is actually very sturdy. That’s because top-notch mini lathes like the Grizzly G9972Z lathe are built with cast-iron columns and feature sturdy construction, just like large lathes or mills.
Also, such machines are quite heavy-duty and can easily withstand the wear and tear from long-haul machining operations.
That’s impressive for sure, isn’t it?
What are the different components of a mini CNC lathe?
Now that you’ve seen what a mini lathe CNC machine exactly is, you might be pondering over what components make these machines.
Simply put, a medium lathe has components similar to its large-sized counterparts, and these parts are the same for different manufacturers.
Nonetheless, as a lathe machinist, it is necessary that you have a good know-how of these complex machine parts. And that’s why we have here some critical lathe machine components along with important considerations that you should keep in mind. So let’s have a look at them.
#1. Headstock and spindle
The headstock of a mini lathe CNC is usually located on the left corner of the machine, and together with bearings, it holds the spindle in place. Also, with the help of a motor, the headstock provides the power needed to rotate the spindle and the workpiece.
Next up is the spindle of your lathe, which is a rotating shaft with a fixture that holds the tools or parts to be machined. Talking about its utility, the spindle acts as a positioner, support, or rotary drive for the workpieces on a lathe.
You see, the very fact that the spindle determines how large a workpiece you can machine on your lathe is enough to understand its importance. And while a one-inch spindle should be ideal for a medium-sized CNC lathe machine, you can even accommodate larger workpieces with an inch-and-a-quarter spindle.
Pro tip: go for a headstock that allows outboarding
Even as pieces are mostly over the lathe bed between the headstock and tailstock, outboarding will allow you to mount the workpiece away from the body.
As such, it will greatly increase the diameter of the workpiece so that you can turn on your lathe. In fact, some headstocks can also be rotated, which makes outboarding even simpler.
The chuck on your mini lathe is a specialized clamp that holds cylindrical workpieces.
Some modern lathe chucks also have a through-hole which allows long pieces to extend being your lathe through the chuck itself.
When it comes to deciding on the size of a lathe chuck, we suggest you consider the same factors as when choosing the headstock. And for that matter, a mini CNC lathe featuring a chuck with a through-hole should be your ideal pick.
Also, the usual size of your workpieces should be a priority, as the lathe chuck should be able to hold them.
Further, while different lathes feature different chucks, jawed chucks are a standard on most mini lathes.
But are jawed chuck lathes worthwhile?
We always recommend lathes with jawed chucks for your machine shop, as they’re movable and allow you to easily loosen or tighten them to fit your workpiece. In fact, jaw chucks are apt for pieces of any shape or size since you can either tighten them together or move them independently to hold odd-shaped workpieces.
#3. Lathe bed
The lathe bed is a horizontal structure that supports other components on your machine, like headstock and tailstock. And almost all lathes have a bed, except for the ones used in the woodworking industry.
Choosing a lathe bed for your mini CNC machine is fairly simple, as the bed type rarely makes a difference to the overall working of the lathe. That means you can go for the most preferred and cost-effective v-bed for your lathe machine and rest assured of quality machining.
There’s a single purpose that a tailstock serves on a lathe, which is to hold the far end of your workpiece.
Since a tailstock is an optional feature and not required for small-sized pieces, many lathe manufacturers don’t include them in their new mini CNC machine packages.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking to machine large pieces, it’s better to go for a lathe machine with a tailstock.
You see, a tailstock reduces the flex, so when you machine bigger workpieces without one, it can result in too much flex. Meaning, you can have undesirable curves or warps on your finished piece.
#5. Carriage, cross-slide, and turret
The trio of carriage, cross-slide, and turret is also called the ‘business parts’ of a CNC lathe and help you with the smooth functioning of your machine.
To begin with, the carriage is a set of two-three bars that runs through the length of a lathe. Also, the cross-slide rests on the carriage itself and holds the lathe turret.
Coming to the lathe turret, it stores different cutting and boring tools which you use to machine a workpiece.
In case you’re wondering why these components are so important, they’re so because:
- Whether your mini CNC lathe will be a two, three, or four-axis machine is determined by the carriage and cross-slide.
- Similarly, the turret size will decide the size of your tools, so you should choose the turret based on the size of your cutting tools.
Some important considerations before you buy a mini lathe CNC machine:
When looking to buy a lathe CNC machine or even a CNC lathe conversion kit, for that matter, you can’t rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s because the requirements for machine shops are different, and so are the many lathe machine options.
So here are some factors you should definitely consider before you finalize a mini CNC lathe for your machine shop.
#1. The size of your CNC lathe
The size of a lathe machine is denoted in inches, for instance, 10″ x 26″.
Also called the ‘swing’ of the machine, the first number, i.e., 10″ is the maximum diameter of a workpiece that you can have above the lathe bed. Similarly, the second number, i.e., 26″ reflects the distance between the headstock and tailstock, or simply the largest material size that you can machine.
But how do you exactly decide on the size of your lathe?
As a hobbyist or small machine shop owner, a mini CNC lathe size between 3″ x 15″ and 6″ x 30″ should be your go-to choice. That’s because machines in this size range can easily fit in your workshop, which isn’t the case with their large-sized counterparts.
And since you don’t need to machine huge pieces, these medium machines will be ideal for your everyday operations.
#2. Power or feed rate
It is the motor of your CNC lathe which determines the power or feed rate of your machine. And while some lathes operate at a single speed, others can have multiple speed feeds ranging even up to 5000 RPM.
Now, when choosing a machine, you should factor in the type of workpiece that you intend to machine. For instance, if your workshop handles large-sized pieces, then you should definitely go for lathes with high RPMs.
Nevertheless, it’s not just the maximum RPM of a lathe that is important, as minimum RPMs are also critical for things like screw-cutting.
On any standard lathe, at least two axes, i.e., the X and Y for movement of pieces, are a given. However, modern-day advanced CNC lathes can have as many as seven axes, ranging from the standard X and Y to multiple rotating axes.
So how many axes should your mini lathe CNC machine have?
Well, the answer to that varies and depends, among others, on the workpiece and the intended shape you’re looking to create. To put it simply, the more complex your projects are, the more additional axes you’ll need on your CNC lathe.
What machine features should you look for in a mini CNC lathe?
A mini CNC lathe can range from a basic automated machine to a versatile lathe with wide-ranging features. However, for optimum performance on these machines, certain features are a must-have.
So here are some features you should look for when buying a mid-sized CNC lathe:
- High-speed spindles
- Variable speed settings
- An extended warranty cover
- Advanced cooling systems
- Live control for tooling
- A detailed threading guide
- A large swing over the bed for an increased working area
Wrapping it up
The lathes as we see them today are advanced versions of ancient lathe machines. Surprising as it may sound, lathes have been around for centuries, and their utility only increased after the industrial revolution.
The modern-day CNC lathes owe their origin to the 1950s when servomotors brought about increased controllability in the turning process.
Talking about present-day machining, CNC conversion has changed it all. That’s because a CNC lathe conversion kit can today automate just about any manual lathe.
In fact, as a manual mini lathe machine shop owner, you’ve got your best bet in the form of a lathe CNC conversion kit.
And if you’re looking for one such CNC conversion kit or a fully-fledged mini CNC lathe, you can reach out to us. We’ve got the best lathe machines and their CNC control packages on the market at the most cost-efficient prices.