Choosing a CNC lathe machine can be daunting considering the options available on the market.
The best CNC lathe for your application will depend upon the maximum size of your workpiece, the material you plan to work on, the kind of machining you intend to perform, and how fast you need it done.
I wrote this guide after considering the best CNC lathe options on the market today.
After analyzing each CNC lathe on factors such as size, materials it can work on, cycle time, number of axes, power, and RPM, and price, I came up with the best lathes in each price category.
For some hobbyists, small CNC lathes (under $5,000) might be ideal while for some intending to more precision work, the machines in the entry-level industrial category might be a better fit.
I've talked about each of the recommended lathes in detail so that you can get to know what each lathe is capable of. And also what it cannot do.
Lastly, after my recommendations in each category, I've talked about every important factor you should consider before choosing your CNC lathe.
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Here are the best CNC lathes available today :
|1||Sherline 17″ CNC Lathe||Small CNC lathe|
|2||TAIG 4029 DSLS CNC Lathe||Small CNC lathe|
|3||Proxxon PD 400/CNC Lathe||Small CNC lathe|
|4||Tormach 8L CNC Lathe||Entry-Level Industrial|
|5||Grizzly Industrial G0884 CNC Lathe||Entry-Level Industrial|
|6||Haas CNC Lathes||Industrial-grade|
|7||Okuma CNC Lathes||Industrial-grade|
|8||Doosan CNC Lathes||Industrial-grade|
|9||DMG Mori CNC Lathes||Industrial-grade|
|10||Hardinge CNC Lathes||Industrial-grade|
Best CNC Lathes 
Best Small CNC Lathes
These CNC lathes fit well on a desktop or bench and are intended purely for hobbyists intending to do machining in their garage or home shop.
Most of them have a price below $5,000 or around that.
The Sherline 17" CNC lathe is a good entry-level lathe that is ideal for hobbyists who don't need very high speeds of operation.
Although pricier than the 8” Sherline lathe, I have chosen Sherline 17” CNC lathe for the extra length it provides. You may not need the length usually, but when you do, it helps.
The Sherline CNC lathe systems are known for their customizability. They make CNC-ready lathes, which allow you to select stepper motors and drivers as per your requirements.
If you are a DIY enthusiast, you can get CNC-ready lathes from Sherline and custom-build the CNC part yourself.
The tailstock is non-adjustable. A workaround is to purchase a live center for the tailstock.
A 60 Watt motor with a variable RPM range of 70 - 2800 RPM provides enough torque for all the turning operations within this lathe’s capacity.
The lathe is a perfect balance between sturdiness, rigidity and mobility. Rigid enough to tolerate the vibrations of the work it undertakes, and weighs around 70 lbs, light enough to be pick up and put on the shelf.
Sherline provides you four options to choose from. The A, B and C packages offer requirement-specific tool options. The basic Sherline 17” CNC Lathe System retails for $2415 on Sherline’s website.
The claimed tolerance is 0.003", but I believe it can be improved if you were to use the right tools and slow cutting speeds.
The Sherline CNC system comes with a Linux-based Ubuntu OS computer with the required CNC software and LinuxCNC preinstalled. Linux is open-source software and can save you from spending on software.
The driver for the stepper motors is installed inside the computer, meaning it receives good protection from dust and debris. However, You will need to supply a monitor since the package doesn’t provide you with one.
The Sherline CNC lathe can churn out parts with acceptable precision if you are patient with it.
If you need a reliable entry-level CNC lathe running on Mach3 software, then the TAIG 4029 CNC lathe is a great choice.
Although expensive at $3,895.00, I chose TAIG 4029 over TAIG 4019 for the 5C headstock it offers. The 5C headstock has a larger diameter and grips the part all around.
In the traditional jaw chuck, as the ER16 used on TAIG 4019, the workpiece is gripped only at 3 or 4 points, affecting accuracy, especially in tapping operations.
The chip guard and an emergency stop switch mean you get a machine that is safer to work.
Mach3 is easy-to-use software. With the free LazyCam add-on, file types like JPG, BMP, HPGL, and DXF can be used. Which I believe is simpler than learning CAM/CAD software programs.
The use of ball screws instead of lead screws improves accuracy and can provide you with an accuracy of 0.0005.
The TAIG lacks a tailstock, but for short workpieces, a tailstock is seldom necessary. You can achieve a maximum workpiece diameter of 4.5” which can be extended to 6.5” with risers on the headstock.
The lack of tailstock means the stress and instability due to the length of the workpiece is what limits the workpiece's length.
The double tool post allows you to use multiple tools simultaneously and saves tool-changing time during the production run.
If you work with expensive workpieces, the Digital Sync Lock Servo(DSLS) system is an excellent feature. It detects any missing steps from the motor and corrects them accordingly, saving your workpiece from damage.
The TAIG 4029 has an upper-speed limit of 1800 RPM, which increases the cycle time and limits the materials you can process. Moreover, the speed cannot be varied continuously but instead has predefined speeds you can use.
Desktop lathes cannot be pushed for higher speeds because small machines are light, so vibration occurs at high speeds.
Proxxon is a Germany based company focusing on highly accurate small-sized tools for different applications.
Their most popular CNC lathe is the Precision lathe PD 400/CNC marketed in the USA by Proxxon Inc, NC.
With a weight of roughly 100 lbs, this mini CNC lathe has a 35.4” x 15.8” x 11.8” footprint, which allows you to place it on your desk.
The heavy-duty construction of the PD 400/CNC allows it to suppress vibrations and allows you to process hard metals.
A six-speed drive system allows speeds of 80 RPM, 160 RPM, 330 RPM, 660 RPM, 1400 RPM, and 2800 RPM, making it suitable for a wide range of applications.
Although I think a variable speed drive would have been better.
The powerful 550W motor provides enough torque for turning, milling, and thread cutting.
It lets you work on workpieces that are 15.75 inches long with a maximum diameter of 4.56”. The rotating tailstock improves the smoothness of operation.
The machine works on NCCAD software, and sadly it only works with Windows operating system. The UI lacks out in the looks department, but the software is quite powerful and does the job quite well.
The communication with computers is through RS-232 cable, a 9-pin adapter that is not supported by laptops. But you can use an RS-232 to USB converter and plug it into one of the USB ports.
Proxxon is a customer-friendly brand known for its quick delivery on warranty and value to the customer.
The product is German-made, meaning it has to be imported and can cost you around $6,000. But the quality of output you receive might just be worth the price.
Sherline and TAIG sell highly popular benchtop CNC mills as well. I have talked about them here-Best Benchtop CNC Mills in 2021 for Machining Metal.
Best Entry-Level Industrial CNC Lathes
These are CNC lathes intended for hobbyists intending to do high-precision prototyping work. These are also used as the first lathes by small machining shops.
The Tormach 8L CNC Lathe is a made in the US, compact machine with a 50” x 26” footprint. You can perform facing, boring, grooving, and turning operations with a good amount of precision.
It is best suited for small production requirements and for producing prototypes of high quality.
A 1.5 hp spindle with a variable spindle speed of 100-5000 RPM and sturdy construction that weighs 838 lbs enables cutting soft materials and hard materials like titanium.
If you looking to choose a spindle for your CNC, then check out this guide- Best CNC Spindles in 2021 for a Smooth Cutting Experience
You can use workpieces with a maximum length of 16 inches and a maximum diameter of 8 inches on this CNC lathe.
However, if your operation needs the undercarriage to pass below the workpiece, the maximum diameter of the workpiece becomes limited to 4 inches.
It works on a single-phase 115 V AC supply, so you can hook it up to the wall socket in your house, making it perfect for a non-industrial setup.
The enclosure that comes as standard on all packages enhances safety during operations, and the quick change tool post saves you valuable time.
The controller runs Tormach’s PathPilot software which has an intuitive UI and is easy to learn. In addition, it has Dropbox support which allows you to seamlessly transfer files from your computer.
The CNC lathe and controller in the Entry Package without tooling, monitor, keyboard and mouse will cost you $6,595 plus shipping. If you want all the bells and whistles, the price goes up to $9,995 plus shipping.
The Tormach 15L Slant Pro is also a worthy consideration if you need larger workpiece size (15" diameter), but will cost you roughly $17,000.
If you need a CNC lathe that can create quality prototypes with precision and is affordable, the Tormach 8L CNC lathe is a good choice.
If you need an affordable CNC lathe that can operate multiple tools in quick succession then this would do the job well.
At $22,500, the Grizzly Industrial G0884 CNC lathe is for industrial-grade quality and production speeds while also being affordable to small shops.
The CNC lathe has a 67” x 75” footprint and can accommodate workpieces that are 27 inches long and with a maximum diameter of 13 inches.
A 4 hp motor drives the spindle and can run at speeds from 30 RPM up to 4,000 RPM making it suitable for a wide range of machining operations.
The G0884 has a sturdy build and weighs around 3,100 lbs allowing it to tolerate high levels of vibrations.
A feed rate of 300 inches per minute means you can cut faster and reduce the cycle time.
The automatic tool changer is an asset. With a 6-position turret, you can save the time lost in tool changes. In addition, you can complete the products in a single pass.
It has a 14-gallon coolant tank providing you long hours of operation. The enclosed work area provides a clean workspace and enhanced safety.
The controller that drives the G0884 is the Sinumerk CNC controller from Siemens, which is reliable and easy to use.
You’ll need a 3-phase power supply to run the G0884, which is a major consideration for small shops.
This CNC lathe is manufactured in the United States and has a US-based technical support team.
If you are looking for high-quality products with reduced production time, the Grizzly Industrial G0884 is a good option.
Best Industrial-Grade CNC Lathes
For heavy production work, there are a host of companies offering good CNC lathes. In fact, each brand has several models which have very different prices.
My intention is to give a general overview of the most popular brands you should consider while choosing a CNC lathe in this category.
Haas is an American Machine Tool Builder, and the brand holds a very high reputation for the quality of its products and after-sales service.
Haas is known to be the most affordable brand among industrial-grade CNC machine brands.
They offer several customization options on their lathes, including chuck size, spindle type, spindle RPM, turret type, Wi-Fi camera monitoring, and storage memory among many others.
The CNC lathes from Haas provide incredible precision and repeatability. In addition, features like automatic tool change give you better cycle time.
The base model of their offering is the Haas Toolroom Lathe TL-1-EDU, priced around $22,000.
It can handle workpieces with a maximum diameter of 8” and a maximum length of 30”. It can handle both soft materials and hard metals.
The coolant and chip removal system provided as standard help improve the efficiency of the machine.
The Haas CNC system is easy-to-use and doesn’t need you to know G-Code for programming, which is an advantage for beginners and start-ups.
It has several advanced features, such as the power failure detection system that detects a power failure and stops the spindle and motors smoothly, preventing an abrupt halt.
You can customize the lathe as per your requirement on their website and request a quote for your build.
Okuma is a Japanese machine tools brand that has been around for more than 120 years.
They have a well-known presence in North America with many distributors all around the US.
The machines are compact and produce aerospace-quality products with high precision and speed. The base model of the Okuma CNC lathes starts at around $90,000.
They are known for their excellent technical support and after-sales service.
The CNC Lathes can be customized as per your production requirements. Okuma lists the price of some of their CNC lathes on their website.
Doosan Machine Tools is a Korean brand that has a legacy in manufacturing machine tools since the 1970s.
They have several distributors scattered all around the US, and they promise delivery of spare parts within days.
Unlike the other brands, the level of customization is limited. However, they provide you with enough options to choose from.
They provide 24x7 customer support. You can be sure of a good customer experience as they are known for quick and reliable resolution to customer queries and complaints.
The machines are built to last and are known for their time-tested reliability.
The price for the Doosan CNC lathe is determined by various customization and setup requirements. To know the price, you will have to request a quote through their website.
DMG Mori, also known as Mori Seiki, is a brand founded in Japan and has been around since 1948. They are known for their versatile range of product offerings.
These CNCs are for ultra-high levels of precision, and their smallest CNC lathe can process workpieces of diameter 12 inches.
You can choose between either Siemens and Fanuc CNC controllers on these CNCs. In addition, they provide high levels of digitization to improve production management.
The reliability of their machines has been proven over time. DMG Mori provides a 3-year warranty on their spindles with no limit on hours of operation.
Their customer support is well-reputed, and they promise to provide spindle replacements within 24 hrs.
You can visit their website to configure a CNC lathe for your requirement and requesting quotes.
Founded in Chicago in the 1890s, Hardinge is an American machine tools manufacturing company headquartered in Pennsylvania, with a presence in 65 countries.
The CNC lathes from Hardinge are most suited where the standards of precision are extremely high.
They have tight tolerances and produce excellent results. You can customize it based on your project requirements.
You can choose from Mitsubishi or Fanuc CNC controllers on Hardinge CNC lathes. Like the other CNC lathes on this list, you can expect the Hardinge to have similar features.
You can find more about Hardinge CNC lathes and also request a quote, from their official website.
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Factors to Consider While Choosing a CNC Lathe: Buyers guide
When you consider buying a CNC lathe machine, picture the projects for which you will be using the machine and consider asking yourself these questions:
- Where is the CNC lathe machine being used and what are the space constraints?
- What are the materials that will be processed using this CNC lathe machine?
- What software and file types do the controller support?
1. The Footprint Of The Machine
The footprint of the machine is the area the machine takes up on your floor. Consider where you intend to place the machine, whether it is in your personal workshop or an industrial setup.
CNC lathe machines come in varied sizes, from small desktop CNC lathe machines to large industrial CNC machines. The larger machines have higher power requirements, so determine if you can provide the proper power supply for the equipment.
You also need to consider the size of the workpiece that will be used, choose a machine that can accommodate the length and diameter of your intended workpieces.
You need to consider the types of materials used as workpieces because the type of material will determine all the other factors for a CNC lathe machine.
Turning wood, which is a softer material compared to metals, does not require very high speed or torque, and the rigidity of the machine need not be as high as that for metals.
Turning metals requires high precision and very low levels of tolerances. For example, industrial-grade CNC lathe machines can create parts that have a tolerance of ±0.00005”.
Hence a CNC lathe machine for turning metals needs to be constructed from rigid parts, making them heavy.
Choose a CNC lathe machine with enough rigidity and weight to not produce any vibrations and provide you with the precision needed for your choice of materials. Try not to choose a CNC with welded steel construction as they are less rigid than cast iron construction.
3. Controller And Software
A programmable controller controls the movements of CNC lathe machines. It is necessary to look into the file types supported by the controller and the software provided with the machine.
The controller determines the ease of use and the software supported. Check whether the machine can accept the files from your design software or whether you will have to purchase additional software.
There are proprietary software and open-source software available for CNC lathe machines. Proprietary software has better features, is easier to set up, and has good technical support but comes at a premium.
On the other hand, open-source software is flexible, free to use, and has a large user base along with enough online resources to help you troubleshoot.
Some of the best software out there for CNC lathe machines are GRBL, Mach3, and LinuxCNC. Consider the use cases, for example, whether you need it for carving or surface engraving. You need software that can handle your requirement.
Hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts prefer open-source software, whereas, in an industrial setup, the machine comes with proprietary software.
4. Power And RPM
The power of the spindle motor and the RPM of the spindle determines the types of materials you can use. It also decides the type of work you can do, like turning or screwcutting.
Some machines work at a single speed, and some have a variable speed range but do consider the torque along with speed. Torque is the factor that keeps heavy workpieces turning and makes it possible to cut them smoothly.
In most cases turning wood typically requires 2000 RPM and has low power demands.
Whereas in the case of metals, higher RPMs are required to maintain optimal cutting speeds, but then again, if you want to cut threads on a metal workpiece, you need a machine with good torque at low RPM.
The power of your motor is a significant factor. Suppose you use a low-powered motor to handle hard projects, the motor might stall. The dimensions of the workpiece might be within the lathe’s capacity, but it might still happen depending on the material used.
CNC lathe machines are available for a wide range of RPMs, choose the one that would fit perfectly into your application’s requirements.
5. Cycle Time
The cycle time is the time taken by the CNC lathe to complete work on one product. Machines with more axes have lower cycling time and hence are more efficient.
However, they cost more, and their complexity increases, making it difficult to troubleshoot on your own.
Consider the cycle time keeping in mind your production requirements. In an industrial setup where the number of workpieces is more, it is better to have a CNC lathe with a lower cycle time.
For your personal workshop where the production frequency is low, the cycle time factor may not play a major role and can save you some dollars.
6. Number of Axis
2-Axis CNC Lathe
This is the most basic CNC lathe setup. The 2 linear axes can be used to perform various turning operations. However, a traditional 2-axis lathe only cuts the diameter of the workpiece, and hence they are not suitable for milling operations.
3-Axis CNC Lathe
The added axis allows it to perform operations in 3 planes and allows it to perform tapping, boring and milling operations. It can also perform helical milling operations and is suitable for producing mechanical components.
4-Axis CNC Lathe
A 4-axis CNC lathe processes the workpiece in the same way as a 3-axis lathe, but the additional axis allows it to make cuts or holes on the sides of the workpiece. You can use a 4-axis CNC lathe for engraving on curved surfaces and intermittent turning operations.
5-Axis CNC Lathe
A 5-axis CNC lathe can manipulate the workpiece from 5 different directions. It is best suited for producing complex and intricate components. 5-axis CNC lathes can produce products with very high precision and within a short time.
Of course, there exist machines with more than 5 axes, but those are highly complex and sophisticated lathes that aren’t usually required for typical manufacturing needs.
When I say investment, it not only refers to the money that you invest but, most importantly, your time. You will need to shell out more for a machine that saves you time without compromising on the quality of the product.
Consider the time saved or delayed by a machine while comparing the costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a CNC lathe?
CNC lathes are computer numerically controlled machines that perform various operations such as turning, cutting, and drilling on materials like wood and metals. The workpiece is held in place and rotated by a spindle while the cutting tool performs various operations on the workpiece. The price of a CNC lathe can vary between $2,000 (hobby CNC lathes) to $250,000 (Turning Centres).