Lathe machines are one of the most fundamental tools for every machine shop, and they are available in different configurations suitable for almost every workshop.
So, how much would you have to spend to get a lathe machine in your workshop? And what are the things you should consider when buying it?
A lathe machine can cost between $100 and $5,00,000. While small-scale lathes, suitable for DIY applications can cost you up to $10,000, a professional CNC lathe can go well over $5,00,000. Apart from that, operating a lathe also involves additional costs in the form of cutting tools and other accessories.
|Type of Lathe||Application||Cost|
|Benchtop Lathes||Small-scale and DIY applications||$100 - $1,000|
|Center or Engine Lathes||Industrial Metalworking||$7,000 - $25,000|
|Toolroom Lathes||Precision Machining||$10,000 - $50,000|
|CNC Lathes||Automation and precision working||$50,000 - $5,00,000|
|Wood Lathes||Woodworking only||$200 - $5,000|
|Used Lathes||Best features at cheap and affordable prices||Depends on type and condition of the lathe|
This article discusses the cost of lathe machines based on their configuration and type.
In the end, the article also discusses the factors to consider when buying a lathe machine.
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Cost of Benchtop Lathes
Benchtop lathes are the smallest and most basic lathes that are suitable for small-scale projects on soft materials like wood, plastics, and some soft metals.
These machines have a compact design and must be placed on a sturdy workbench.
Generally, benchtop lathes can cost from around $100 to over $1000.
Entry-level benchtop lathes are less rigid and are suitable for woodworking operations like sanding and turning small workpieces, whereas high-end benchtop lathes that cost over $500 are more suitable for business applications.
Cost of Center or Engine Lathes
Center lathes are full-size metal lathes that are suitable for large workshops where high productivity and performance are of importance, irrespective of the cost and shop floor availability.
These lathes are suitable for industrial applications where high material removal rate is preferred over the precision and accuracy of the process.
Generally, center lathes can cost around $7,000 to $25,000 and even more, depending upon the brand and configuration of the machine.
However, an entry-level center lathe is preferable for DIY and small-scale projects where low-volume projects are the main priority.
On the other hand, a high-end engine lathe provides a comparatively larger bed size and higher power output, providing the ability to machine hard metals with quick cycle time.
Cost of Toolroom Lathes
Toolroom lathes are similar to engine lathes but provide comparatively higher precision and accuracy in the movement of the cutting tool, thereby allowing the production of parts with tight tolerances.
These lathes are generally used for prototyping projects, precision machining, and manufacturing cutting tools for other lathes and machines.
Generally, toolroom lathes can cost around $10,000 and go as high as $50,000, depending on their accuracy and precision.
Apart from that, you can also find special lathes, such as Capstan and Turret lathes at around $7,000 to $10,000, and can be used for machining metal workpieces and making tools, dies, and jigs.
Cost of CNC Lathes
CNC lathes are another type of metal lathes that use a computer system to control various machining parameters, such as lathe speeds, feed rate, depth of cut, etc.
This helps to automate the process and produce products with high accuracy and surface finish.
Apart from that, these lathes can also be upgraded with accessories such as a bar feeder to further enhance their productivity.
Generally, CNC lathes cost around $50,000 and go over $5,00,000.
Furthermore, CNC lathes also require CNC lathe programming software to operate these lathes.
Depending upon the manufacturer, these lathes are available with dedicated software or you can use other free or paid software to operate the lathe.
Swiss lathes, gang tool lathes, and multi-spindle lathes are some special CNC lathes that are used for applications where extremely high precision and quick cycle time is required.
Cost of Wood Lathes
Wood lathes are also known as speed lathes. These lathes have a high speed and low-torque configuration as wood is a soft material and does not require strong cutting forces.
These lathes are generally available in mini, midi, and full-size configurations, with mini lathes costing under $200, midi lathes starting at around $500, and full-size lathes costing around $5,000.
Mini lathes are wood lathes for beginners with small bed size, suitable for DIY projects, whereas midi lathes are comparatively more powerful and can be used for small-scale business applications.
On the other hand, full-size wood lathes are professional lathes that are used for industrial applications where quick processing speed is desirable.
Apart from that, full-size lathes provide larger bed sizes, making it possible to machine larger workpieces such as bowls, vases, furniture legs, etc.
How Much Do Used Lathes Cost?
Used lathes provide the ability to own powerful and capable lathe machines at lower prices that fit your budget.
Depending upon its condition and configuration, a used center lathe can cost around $2000 to $15,000.
Similarly, you can own a used CNC lathe for under $50,000.
However, these lathes can be immensely worn out and might require extensive repair and maintenance.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that the lathe is in good condition and does not require major repairs.
Some important aspects to check when buying a used lathe include:
Spindle Motor and Belt Drive
The spindle motor, coupled with the spindle through the belt drive, is the main power source of the lathe. It provides the rotary motion to rotate the workpiece at high speed.
To check the condition of the drive system, it is important to run the lathe at maximum speed and verify that it matches the rated maximum RPM of the lathe.
If the lathe cannot achieve its maximum rated RPM, it depicts a worn-out motor that is incapable of handling the load.
Apart from that, when running the lathe at full speed, it is important to observe any abnormal vibrations or loud noise which can be caused due to worn-out bearings.
Spindle run-out or misaligned chuck
After verifying the drive system of the lathe, the next important factor to consider is the misalignment of the spindle.
A misaligned spindle (even by a few degrees) can result in skewed parts that are not symmetrical along the lathe axis.
Correcting a misaligned spindle can require extensive repair and sometimes even need spindle replacement.
Cutting tool Positioning Accuracy
The positional accuracy of the cutting tool depends upon the movements of the carriage.
In metal lathes, the carriage is moved along the X and Z axes by using handwheels marked with readings to position the tool along the surface of the workpiece precisely.
A worn-out lathe can sometimes cause slipping along the carriage rails and lead to inaccuracy in the movement of the cutting tool.
The best way to verify the positional accuracy of the cutting tool is to run the lathe and carve out a sample workpiece.
An inaccurate lathe will produce a part with poor dimensional accuracy, whereas a good lathe will produce a part with tight tolerance.
Physical Build of the Lathe
Apart from the working condition of the lathe, it is also important to verify the physical condition of the body and the chassis of the lathe.
A rusted body is prone to failure when delivering strong cutting forces, especially in metal lathes.
Metal lathes are prone to rusting due to the use of water-based lathe coolants without proper maintenance of the equipment.
Therefore, it is important to conduct a thorough inspection before buying used lathes.
Factors that Affect the Cost of a Lathe
The cost of a lathe machine is dependent upon various factors.
The bed size of the lathe determines the maximum size of the workpiece that can be turned on the lathe.
Generally, the bed size is measured in terms of the swing over the bed and distance between centers, where the former determines the maximum diameter and the latter determines the maximum length it can handle.
The bed is a cast-iron structure and one of the heaviest parts of the lathe. Increasing the bed even by a few inches can increase the cost of the lathe significantly.
Therefore, it is advised to identify your requirement and select the lathe that provides the best suitable bed size for your application.
Speed and Power
The speed and power of a lathe determine its performance and material capability.
A lathe machine with high spindle speed can machine workpieces faster, whereas a high-power lathe can be used to turn heavy workpieces.
For example, a woodworking lathe should have a high RPM to provide quick cycle time, whereas a metal lathe requires high torque to deliver strong cutting force and remove material from metal workpieces.
However, higher power and speed come at a higher cost, making it important to identify your speed and power requirements before buying the lathe.
Manual or CNC
Manual lathes are comparatively less expensive than CNC lathes.
However, CNC lathes provide the ability to automate the process and eliminate human limitations such as fatigue, inaccuracy, etc.
Generally, a CNC lathe can cost almost two to three times higher than a manual lathe.
Therefore it is important to identify your requirement before investing in CNC lathes.
If your application requires high dimensional accuracy and machining or intricate parts with quick cycle time, it is advised to go for a CNC lathe over a manual lathe.
Number of Axis
The higher the number of axes of a lathe the greater its flexibility and the higher its price.
Typical lathe machines consist of a two-axis system where the cutting tool can move along the X and Z axes.
However, modern CNC lathes can have 3, 4, and even 6-axis systems.
This provides them the ability to machine intricate patterns with extremely high accuracy and quick cycle time.
Generally, most business applications can be achieved by a 2-axis lathe, with exceptional requirements of a higher-axis system for medical and military applications where accuracy is the primary concern.
Brand or Manufacturer
The brand or manufacturer of the lathe machine also plays an important role in determining its cost,
A lathe machine from a reputed brand can cost higher than a similar lathe from a local brand.
This is because reputed manufacturers ensure the quality of the product and provide on-time customer support to provide you with a hassle-free operation.
Although buying a cheap lathe from local brands might sound like a good idea, the cost incurred in maintenance over time due to poor quality can be huge.
Apart from that, always look for manufacturers that provide a good warranty period because a manufacturer that does not provide a warranty is not confident about the quality of their product.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are the costs involved in operating a lathe?
The operational costs of a lathe include the cost of buying the cutting tools, the cost of electricity to run the machine, the cost of maintenance, the cost of cutting fluid, and its delivery system. Apart from that, a CNC lathe can also include the cost of hiring a CNC programmer or CNC machinist.
Can we use a wood lathe for machining metal?
No, a wood lathe cannot be used for machining metal. However, you can perform basic machining operations like sanding, polishing, and grinding of metal workpieces on wood lathes.
What is a bar feeder?
A bar feeder is an accessory for lathe machines that connect at the headstock of the lathe and provides the ability to feed cylindrical workpiece stocks to the lathe. It allows the machining of long metal bars without the need to cut them into small pieces, thereby minimizing wastage and enhancing productivity.