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What is a Precision Lathe?
What is a Precision Lathe?
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What is a Precision Lathe?

    Sometimes a shop doesn’t do enough turning work to justify the purchase of a CNC

. But when it needs to produce precision turned parts, even if for a very small lot size, the shop needs a


    Such was the case for Sturges DesignWorks, a company in Portland, Ore., that provides automation and design engineering

solutions in a variety of industries, including medical products, electronics, fixturing and tooling, and research and

development. The company was working with a client who needed a special machine built that required substantial CNC lathe

work. But Sturges didn’t have a lathe. “CNC lathes are expensive, take up much needed floor space, and have a steep

learning curve,” explains Dan Sturges, company CEO. He considered a CNC mini lathe, but found that it would not be precise,

rigid or accurate enough for the work required.

    To address the issue, the company developed what it calls the Sturges Turning Head system to bridge the gap between

traditional, full-featured CNC lathes and low-productivity, small CNC mini lathes. “I had always wondered why we couldn’t

somehow do precision CNC lathe work on a CNC milling machine,” Mr. Sturges says. “The problem is, even if you attach a

lathe tool to the mill spindle and lock it, there’s still a tiny bit of play that makes it impossible to maintain a standard

of precision. So we developed a turning bar toolholder that places the tip of the tool at the spindle’s center of rotation,

eliminating the slight play in the tool tip and providing the precision and accuracy needed for professional, high-quality

swis type automatic lathe work on a mill.

” Based on this principle, the company built the prototype for the Turning Head system, which is capable of external

turning, facing and contouring operations. An optional cross slide accessory bolts onto the table, allowing for plunge

operations such as parting and grooving.

    The Turning Head spindle—the equivalent of a lathe headstock—is made of steel and cast iron and uses premier Grade 7

pre-loaded ball bearings that are lubricated for life. The standard model has less than 50 millionths of an inch runout, and

the super-precision model has less than 20 millionths. It has a large, through-bore 5C spindle with a 4-degree taper mount


    The system comes with a set of three turning bars, each with an R8 or 3/4-inch straight. The universal design allows

left-hand, right-hand and center cutting operations simply by rotating the tool. Tool changes between different turning

operations are eliminated. The toolholders are available in three sizes (1/32 radius, 1/64 radius and 1/128 radius) and

maintain cutter concentricity to less than 0.001-inch TIR.

    Operating the system is straightforward. The operator places a piece of stock in the spindle, tightens the collet, turns

on the unit, and hits “Go” on the CNC interface. The system allows the machinist to set up a job on a mill and crank out

smooth, accurate parts in a repetitive way. Operating on the existing milling machine’s software, the CNC program provides

fast, efficient operation without the need to learn new software.


    It’s hard to justify the expense of a multi-axis precision CNC lathe when only one, ten or 100 parts are required. “Machinists, engineering departments,

automation groups, tool makers, mold makers and machine builders often don’t have the need for high-volume production,” Mr.

Sturges says. “What they need is an economical way to create precision


    The Turning Head system can fill that void. Indexing capability allows indexing the work and seamlessly transitions

between milling and turning operations on the same part in the same setup. Multi-axis capability is achieved on an existing

machine in the shop. According to Mr. Sturges, “Parts made with this system are indistinguishable from parts made on a

swiss CNC machine—same accuracy, same

repeatability, same quality.” In a sense, it’s the best of both worlds.


    A precision swis lathe is a computerized lathe used to create

detailed solid objects from a single piece of wood or metal. Using a sophisticated computer software, the precision

swis turning lathe can produce a near-finished

product with minimal waste. A lathe functions by spinning the raw materials while cutting, drilling, sanding, knurling or

deforming. The use of a lathe produces a finished product that is symmetrical along the axis of rotation.


    Earlier versions of a lathe have been traced back to the Egyptians, who developed a two person lathe using a manual

process. This design was improved by the Romans who added a turning bow to provide a more consistent turning rate. In the

Middle Ages the pedal was added to allow the craftsman to use both hands to work on the wood. This type of lathe is called a

spring pole lathe and the development was critical to expanding the types of items that could be created on a lathe. A great

lathe was the first lathe to allow the piece to turn continuously but was powered by one person turning a crank while the

other worked on the piece.


    Only during the early 19th century was a motorized lathe developed. This change significantly reduced the time needed to

complete an item and allowed the addition of metal in the process. The addition of computers in the early 1970s created

precision lathes that are used today for the mass production of high quality product. This shift has removed the need for

master craftsman and replaced these roles with computer operating technicians.


    A precision lathe, such as single

spindle automatic lathe
, is able to cut and shape a material to within 0.001 inches (0.00254 cm) of accuracy. The

cylindrical basis of the lathe means that the material is secured at each end and the product is created by the removal of

materials from the solid item. A precision lathe is used to create baseball bats, table legs, poles and a wide range of

ornamental pieces.


    In order to work with a precision lathe, you will need to be trained on the specific equipment used. The original design

of the product is completed by a product design and the actual programming is done by the lathe operator. Repeated testing is

completed before the mass production work is started. The modern lathe is a highly complex machine that can product thousands

of items an hour.


    When purchasing a precision lathe, it is important to review the detailed product specifications. Make sure it will have

the capability of creating the types of products that you require. Check the details of the warranty and service agreement to

ensure that your investment is properly covered.

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