Converting a Manual Lathe into a CNC Lathe

When considering converting a manual lathe to a CNC lathe you need to take into account what the typical use of the lathe is and determine if the conversion to a CNC lathe will improve your process. CNC (computer numerical controlled) lathe conversions are beneficial if moving into some type of production and if you really know what you are doing. However, if you are just tinkering or a hobbyist then the conversion may not be beneficial. CNC lathes perform well with woodwork and metal, but can also drill holes, create screw threads, make intricate cuts with precision and many other various jobs. 

Before You Convert 

Computers control CNC lathes and their popularity is rising due to the ease of setting projects and their simplified operation. The CNC operator will need to know exactly what they are doing and needs to be highly skilled in the lathe process. Most lathe conversions will allow both manual and CNC functionality in the lathe so the user can chose which attribute to use at any given time. Most conversions will yield a mini or small CNC lathe that is usable at the home or work shop level, yet still produces a greater output than manual lathes. 

The Lathe Conversion 

Most conversions will benefit from upgrading to ball screws, but this is at your discretion depending on how much time and money you are willing to spend. You also need a motor to automatically drive the machine. When converting to CNC, there are 2 main motor types to choose from; Servos and Steppers. Servos motors have the capability to produce projects with high acceleration and variable speed and are the preferred option. However, for a beginner, the recommendation is for a stepper motor because Steppers can connect the motor to your lathe by utilizing an aluminum coupling. The coupling has holes at opposite ends that are cut to the size shaft are using held together with setscrews. The Steppers are far less expensive and do not require nearly much knowledge. 

The Computer Aspect 

The next few steps are more computer related, which is where the necessity of computer knowledge will come into play in the project. You will now need to get your drivers and a power supply for the drivers. After connecting the power supply, you will need to connect the powered drivers to the parallel port on your computer. Once your computer is ready to communicate with the lathe you will need to install a G-Code interpreter. 

At this point, you are ready to work. However as you become more advanced it is recommended to get a CAD/CAM software. This software will allow you access to more dynamically in depth projects.