How to Build a CNC Wooden Lathe

Written by laura paquette
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How to Build a CNC Wooden Lathe
A lathe is used to create the shapely pattern in chair spindles and legs. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

A computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathe is a turning tool most commonly used to shape metal. It can also add grooves and bumps to plastic and wax. It is not generally recommended for use with wood since the dust created can severely damage the machine over time. However, many people choose to alter a metal lathe for woodworking capabilities by creating customised tool bits. There are a few options if you're interested in creating your own rudimentary CNC wooden lathe, each requiring some mechanical and technical knowledge.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Laminate trimmer
  • CNC system
  • Cross slide
  • Knives
  • Unimat wooden lathe

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  1. 1

    Mount a laminate trimmer with rotation on more than one axis. Essentially a miniature router, laminate trimmers can be used to trim, flush and shape your wood. Secure the trimmer above the vice system that holds the wood. The bits can be changed based on your needs for a specific project. Be sure the trimmer is mounted just above where the wood will lie. This solution works best with larger projects like pool cues.

  2. 2

    Mount two knives on a cross slide for a smaller CNC wood lathe. One knife should be designed for deep cuts, while the other should have a smooth profile designed for finishing jobs. Bolt these to a cutter head attached to the slide. Rotate the knives in and out of position with CNC software and a stepper.

  3. 3

    Attach a rotary tool to a unimat lathe for a simple mechanical solution. If you are simply trying to move away from manual lathes, consider using a unimat lathe. These lathes can be used on a workbench or table to support and sculpt wood through the use of a headstock, spindle, bed, tailstock, knob or tool rest. By attaching a simple rotary tool, available at most hardware stores, you can simulate the automatic function of a CNC lathe. Some woodworkers also add a stepper to the spindle to cut threads.

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