Turning Aluminum with a Combo Lathe

What You'll Need
Aluminum to be turned
Aluminum Drinking Can

Turning aluminum on a combo lathe is very common and quite easily if you are familiar with the lathe. A combo lathe is a lathe combined with another machine tool creation a combination of the two tools. Aluminum is a great medium for turning on a lathe and takes to the process well. Aluminum is a relatively inexpensive material that is readily available for projects. As well, aluminum polishes nicely and cuts easily.

Tips Before You Begin

Always follow proper safety guidelines when operating your lathe. It is important to remember to turn aluminum at very high speeds. When using a lathe, the harder the material the slower the speed of the lath should be. Since aluminum is a relatively soft metal, the turning speed of the lathe should be set very high. Depending on the lathe you use, you may need to even use the highest speed setting available. As well, you do not want to turn a long piece of aluminum or you might create an unsafe environment. If you attempt to turn a long piece of aluminum, you then have to worry about the end of the piece wobbling. A good rule of thumb is to never turn an item that is longer than three times its diameter. Using this simple 3:1 rule can prevent accidents and keep you safe while working. You will find that as the diameter of a piece grows, the length will shrink in comparison making it easier to turn on your lathe.

Step 1 – Insert Aluminum into Chuck

First, you need to install the aluminum into the lathe. Begin by inserting your aluminum into the chuck of your lathe. If you are worried about your check marking or scarring your aluminum, you can prevent this from happening. A suggestion for how to prevent the chuck from leaving a mark on your aluminum piece is to use an aluminum drinking can. Simply cut an empty aluminum drinking can into smaller pieces and place the pieces between the chuck and the aluminum you want to turn. The can protects your project from marking or scarring by your chuck.

Step 2 – Install the Tool Bit

Once your piece of aluminum is setup in the chuck, you should check to make sure it will not wobble. After checking the aluminum, you can select the proper tool bit. You will center the tool bit slightly lower than the center of the aluminum and lock the tool bit into place.

Step 3 – True the Piece

After setup up your tool bit, you can true your piece of aluminum. By truing a piece, you need to verify that it spins roundly and correctly on the axis of your lathe. You wan to do this before starting your process to ensure it turns correctly and evenly.

Step 4 – Starting the Turning

You should not start your lathe with the tool bit positioned where it touches your aluminum. Instead of starting with the bit touching, it is better to start the lathe and then feed the tool bit into the aluminum. You will want to move slowly only advancing the tool bit about a millimeter at a time. You should have a marking on your lathe knob to represent the millimeter amount of advancement. Once the tool bit reaches the aluminum, allow the turning process to continue until your aluminum piece has reached your desired size.