CNC lathe vs manual lathe
CNC lathe vs manual lathe

Lathe machines are ubiquitous in industrial setups for drilling, cutting, turning, etc., to shape various components. The core functionality involves clamping the required material and rotating it by a spindle. They can be manual, semi-automated, or fully CNC-automated.

A manual lathe needs a trained operator to position the workpieces and select the cutting tools. Usually, these tools use high-speed steel (HSS) that contains chromium, tungsten, vanadium, and carbon. These lathes are best for symmetrical parts that can easily get clamped in the spindle.

A CNC metal lathe produces components with brilliant dimensional accuracy. It can work with different materials, including metal, wood, and glass. These machines, first designed by the American John T. Parsons in the 1940s, use Computer Numerical Control. G-Code (Geometric code) and M-Code (miscellaneous) programs control the motion and function of a CNC machine, directing the feed rate, spindle speed, etc.

Many CNC and manual lathe cutting tools are similar, using HSS, tungsten carbide, etc. But some are unique, like face drills and polygon turning.

Both machining processes are different in point of cost, accuracy, operating team and time. CNC machining is less time consuming, easy to operate, and expensive compared to Manual machining. While on other side Manual Lathe method required highly skilled & experienced team, time consuming but cheaper comparing to CNC method.

CNC full form is Computer Numerical Control. This auto machine process can be used for shaping all metal, plastic or wood. This is controlled via computer programs. The accurate programming plays an important role for precision components and machined parts.

Compared to Manual Lathe, CNC Lathe offer tight tolerances, complex and custom shapes. For repetitive jobs and exact shapes, the CNC automate process is best. But the CNC Lathe is more expensive than Manual so for small scale it may not suitable. CNC process can handle all types of jobs from smallest to large machined parts with superior finish. CNC machining can be performed for all types of steel and non-ferrous material including nickel alloys and titanium.

Manual Lathe is a traditional and labor-oriented process to shape the material. This method is very time taking and not suitable for complex shapes. Turning, drilling and cutting through Manual Lathe can be done for low budget projects. Small workshop still prefers Manual Lathe for cheaper and affordable machined components. Also, Manual Lathe are easy to maintain and material wasting can be handled by labor which save a lot of cost.

CNC Technology includes

  • EDM
  • Laser
  • Milling
  • Press Brake
  • Fastening Solutions

Difference between vertical lathe and horizontal lathe

CNC lathes can be vertical or horizontal based on the position of the workpiece and the tools. Horizontal lathes are more common and especially suited to longer workpieces.

However, vertical lathes offer strong clamping due to the gravitational benefit. They are better for heavy components in aerospace and occupy less floor space.


  • Much cheaper than CNC counterparts
  • Don’t need much maintenance (CNC lathes may wear out if mishandled and under-lubricated.)
  • No environmental repercussion (The cutting fluids and coolants for high-speed CNC lathes generate smoke and malodor that impacts skin and respiratory health. It necessitates personnel protective equipment.)

For which application should you prefer a CNC lathe?

CNC lathes can create round components with specified diameters (outer, inner) or other designs by including X and Y axes and additional turrets or spindles. Experts recommend them for fast, consistent production with low lead times. They can perform metal spinning, wood turning, and thermal spraying.

  • Aircraft landing gear and fuel access panels
  • Automotive dashboard panels
  • Oil & gas sectors, for pistons, cylinders, etc.
  • Medical/surgical tools and implants
  • Electronics
  • Textile
  • Shipbuilding

Precision and accuracy comparison between CNC lathe and manual lathe

Accurately built components are close to the accepted dimensions. Between a manual and CNC lathe, the latter has higher accuracy (up to 0.0004”). Since identical products follow equivalent instructions and cutting paths, the precision or repeatability is high at 0.0000008”. Precision depicts the similarity between products with the same measurements. Manual lathes can deliver accuracy and precision with significant time and attention.

CNC lathe Manual lathe
Probability of error Low due to automation High due to human error
Operators Less More
Intricate parts Ideal for tight tolerance products Not recommended
Wastage Low High due to higher inaccuracy
Monitoring Less More
Woodworking Not as optimal Flexibility and feedback

CNC lathe operators should be familiar with G-code, M-code, and workflow. Usually, these lathes process one program while the subsequent one is getting ready, saving production time. Their initial cost is higher, but operational costs are lower due to efficiency, speeds, and less personnel. Even so, manual lathes get preferred for woodworking, smaller DIY projects, and specialty components.

The ultimate choice depends on your budget, production volumes and lead times, and desired accuracy and precision.

There are many of Axis comes in Milling Machine for cutting in multiple directions such as 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 12 Axis CNC Milling. Check the following table for details

CNC Milling Capability
3-Axis CNC
  • X-, Y-, and Z-axes
  • Not suitable for complex machining
4-Axis CNC
  • Useful for cutting the components’ holes
5-Axis CNC
  • Motion path includes: X, Y, Z, A, and C Axis
  • Suitable for cutting 5 or more different sides of a Machined Part
  • Can produce highly precise components
  • CAD or CAM Programming is complex so a highly skilled machine operator is required
7-Axis CNC
  • Motion path includes: X, Y, Z, A, B, C, and E Axis
  • Suitable to produce complex machined parts & components for military & aerospace industries
9-Axis CNC
  • Motion path includes: X, Y, Z, A, B, C, E, U, and W Axis
  • Combination of 4-Axis and 5-Axis CNC machine
  • Suitable for Surface & Internal machining
  • Can produce milling parts for medical, surgical, dental and aerospace
12-Axis CNC
  • This machine has two heads & both Motion path includes: X, Y, Z, A, and C Axis
  • Double accuracy and production
  • Save 50% time compared to 9-Axis CNC

Most Common materials of CNC Machined and Milling Parts

CNC operated components



  • Alodine
  • Anodizing
Stainless Steel

  • 303
  • 304L
  • 316L
  • 410
  • 416
  • 440C
  • 17-4PH
  • Nitronic 60
  • Electropolishing
  • Black Oxide
  • Nickel Plating
  • Passivation
  • Powder Coating
Alloy Steel & Carbon Steel
  • Black Oxide
  • Zinc Plating
Brass (360 Brass)
  • Media Blasting
Copper (Copper 101 and 110)
  • Media Blasting
Bronze (932 Bearing Bronze)
  • Media Blasting

Blog written by: Aditya