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A mini lathe can be converted to computer numerical control (CNC) operation to obtain the benefits of using a computer to guide the lathe. Options for CNC mini-lathe conversion include using a plan or a kit that includes both the plan and the necessary parts. Good plans will allow the lathe to retain manual functionality in addition to converting the axes. They should contain clear, accurate and detailed instructions and diagrams. A complete kit will contain the major pieces and all of the bolts, spacers, dowels and other required parts. Getting advice from other machinists can also help make the process easier.
Plans for converting to a CNC lathe can come in various levels of complexity. Some will contain just basic instructions for readying a manual lathe for computer input. It also is possible to find plans for all of the lathe's major parts. This can include development of the stepper motor drives, electronic components and software design. The user also can fabricate many of the parts himself or herself rather than purchasing them.
Lathe manufactures and retailers sometimes offer conversion resources. The plans or kit used should indicate how all of the pieces come together for complete functioning, not just how to assemble different parts. One should look for plans that include color or shading in the diagrams if possible, because these will be easier to use and understand. If possible, a set that is specific to the machine that is being converted should be used. Some individuals and retailers are willing to share CNC lathe conversion plans for free, but others will charge a fee.
Before a CNC lathe conversion, it is important for one to understand how much skill, time and money will be required to complete the project. Numerous websites and message boards are available for trouble-shooting along the way. Message board users can provide advice about converting different types of lathes, such as lathe-mill combinations. They also can give tips and insights into working with specific brands. Their photographs can help clarify confusing instructions and provide motivation for completing a complicated project.
Converting to a CNC lathe can allow for more complex and precise cutting. Automating the process through CNC lathe conversion can also save a substantial amount of time when one needs to create multiple pieces with the same exact dimensions. The more work completed by the user, the less a CNC lathe conversion project will cost.