Tormach Lathe Developments

After my last post, Mike commented he would like to see a stand-alone Tormach CNC lathe and wondered if we were going to market such a tool. I’ve also heard that there have been similar questions on Internet discussion groups. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, the lathe design is well underway, although proper engineering is always a time consuming task.

[Editors note: We actually first previewed some of these images at the Tormach Owner’s Meeting over the summer during the Digital Machinist Workshop. Click on the images to see design notes about each one -AG]

The images above are from earlier this year. There was some discussion on where the ribs should be located, how deep, wall thickness, etc. This lead to doing a finite element analysis on the lathe bed, which in turn, lead to some redesign of the bed, which lead to questions of where to put ballscrews, which lead to….. you know the drill. Everything affects everything and when you design from the ground up there’s a lot to think about. When the engineering team is obsessed about getting it right, it only takes longer.

For obvious commercial reasons I can’t talk too much about the details. I can tell you it will be slant bed, it will be a size suitable to be a companion to the PCNC 1100, and it will have a variety of tooling options. Initially we hoped to have our CNC lathe developed as a derivation of some pre-existing CNC lathe. We’d be done by now if we had gone that way, but we were just too disappointed in the available options. All the CNC lathes we saw under 5000 lbs were little more than manual lathes with motors attached, not just wrong in the details, but wrongheaded from the foundation. Our design goal is to create a lathe that will work well for both light production and for prototype work. This sort of work often involves a unique combination of manual and CNC processes. This means good access to the spindle/tool for interactive prototype turning, as well as good coolant and swarf protection for production work.

We’re moving toward pouring iron for the prototype soon but the engineering team is still discussing several alternatives for the sheet metal enclosure design. We have developed several alternative designs, but I’m hesitant to show images. As soon as people see a drawing of a complete machine they assume that the shape and look of the machine is fixed.

We are still soliciting opinions on lathe tooling. What would you like to see? Please let us know, and don’t be afraid to be specific. Sure, gang tooling is great, but should it be square shank tools, round shank tools, or something else? Should it be simple bolt down blocks, or a gang of Aloris type lathe tool holders?

Here’s a short clip that shows a typical gang tooling system in operation:

This clip shows a typical turret type tooling system:

And here’s another one with some operations in process (skip ahead to around 1:55 to see the real action):

I can’t tell you what the release date will be for the product. We have a project schedule, but realize that design and engineering is an iterative process. Proper engineering takes time. What you end up with is often nothing like what you envisioned when you started the project and the time from beginning to end is highly unpredictable. I hope our readers can appreciate the dynamic nature of original design and development and give us a little leeway in the process. Stay tuned in for more.

Greg Jackson

Greg Jackson

After nearly three decades of machine design, research, and development, Greg Jackson founded Tormach LLC, a premier manufacturer of affordable CNC mills and accessories. Since its inception in 2002, Tormach has grown from a garage business to a global operation based out of Waunakee, Wisconsin. Jackson holds both a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has been awarded 4 US patents.

24 thoughts on “Tormach Lathe Developments

  • October 13, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I am very glad to see this proceding along. I vote for a turret style tool holder, more money yes but definitely a better design coupled with a slant bed lathe. Most of the small cnc lathes seem to have way more bed length than needed. I seldom need anything more than 12″ for length and it’s usually 3″. Diameter capabilities to 6″ would be plenty for me, again I seldom need more than about 1″ diameter, actually 5C collet capacity. Being able to use a simple air style bar feed that the old Servo brand cnc lathe had would be great. We have one of these at work and it still works great after 20yrs.
    Great job Tormach.

  • October 13, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    2 cents. Would like to see 1.5″ headbore. option for aloris toolpost. coolant is a must. probably wouldn’t pop for a turret unless it was standard. 12″ swing x 24″ length would be more than I need but about what I expect as a minimum. Actual work is bar to 2″dia x 12″ length with the extra distance needed for tooling for deep drilling/boring. rpm 105 to 2000. 1.5hp motor minimum belt drive.

  • October 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Very nice update and something I am looking forward to and am saving up for. I think that 5C collet capacity that used a drawtube would be something I would like. Ed’s comments above all seem about right.

    Gang tooling seems fine and more cost effective over a turret. An easy way to dial in new tools would be important for me. I always seem to need something specific for each project.

  • October 14, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Either gang tooling or a turret although the turret is more flexible while the gang tooling is faster cut to cut. Some sort of live tooling maybe similar to
    what is used by Omniturn. As long as you are going to do it make it a heavy duty lathe. Largest hole through the spindle as possible. No threaded headstock for the chuck. Cam lock or similar.


  • October 14, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    I’m sure that when you guys are ready the lathe will be out…personal I have been looking for just such an item to add to my playroom down stairs…

  • October 14, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Sure wish I could have been to the Workshop to see that preview, but a Hawaii vacation with family took priority. I’m really excited to see how far design has progressed and the level of engineering and planning that is going into the product.

    So far as tooling goes, a turret with provision for both square and round tools might be pretty nice, though my budget might be better suited to gang tooling, in which case Aloris-type blocks seem like a good solution.

    So far as capacity goes, I’d like to see a 5C-capable spindle with at least a 10″ swing and 12″ or more of longitudinal travel, though a 3″ dia. x 6″ work envelope would work for most parts.

    Nolan brings up a good point about tool setting and hopefully some attention is being paid to that.

    Do you have any idea of the final weight? As with the PCNC-1100 mill I’d like to put the lathe in our townhome basement. Do you have any idea on how doable that might be? If it is too early to comment on that, please consider the questions as suggestions.


  • October 14, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    We’d need 5C collet capacity and a 1.25″ spindle bore. Gang tooling for short parts and making multiple parts (using a bar puller). Aloris type tool holder and tail stock for longer parts. C axis and live tooling would be a nice option. We have two small lathes from different sources to cover these needs. Mach3 lathe needs to have multiple work offsets. The machine should have an accurate homing system.

  • October 15, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Some more thoughts. Any thought being given to using servo motors rather than steppers? How about manual operation when needed using hand wheels? True C axis?

  • October 19, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Great to hear you are moving forward on the lathe. Below are the specs I would love to see on a Tormach Lathe

    Turret minimum 8 tools (gang tooling is a pain for prototype work or light production in my opinion)

    If I could wish for other specs they would be:

    G96 Constant Surface speed
    minimum 3 hp spindle
    2″ or larger bore
    Pneumatic collet capabilities
    Hydraulic chuck capabilities

    Again, glad to hear the lathe is something you all are working on. Don’t worry about giving it the ability to be a manual lathe just make a good CNC like the PCNC 1100 and it will sell.

  • October 19, 2010 at 11:33 am


    I think that you guys should go the Practical Machinist forum and look at the replies to the query “USA made Lathe-trying to get thoughts” posted in the General Archives forum. Many good thoughts showing what people are looking for in a lathe. Also see that someone is trying to do a start-up at manufacturing a lathe completely made in the USA.


  • October 21, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Gang tooling, no question. A turret is really cool, but adds a lot of cost and complexity. Also, I suspect that this lathe would get run manually a lot, and I think gang tooling would be a lot more intuitive for that. Haas seems to sell plenty of TL-series lathes and they don’t have a turret.

    As for the spindle, I don’t care so long as I can add a automatic closer and bar puller. Without that, to me it’s just a semi-manual lathe since part cycles tend to be a lot faster than on the mill. A standard 5C would be plenty, and I care a lot more about the rigidity on 10″+ lathes than I do about the swing, since most of my parts are well under that.

  • October 22, 2010 at 6:20 am

    I’ve been holding off on making a purchase because I’ve been waiting for Tormach to bring a great CNC to market.

    Here’s what I need:

    closed loop servo option
    gang tools (still using my Hardinge/B&S 00 tooling)
    1.5″+ bore
    5c with pneumatic closer
    LOTS of coolant
    constant surface speed

  • October 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Gang or turret, either one would work fine. An option for live tooling would be wonderful in a small lathe. Way more important than whether it’s on a turret or gang.

    Much of my turned work is some form of small diameter (about 3mm to 9mm) titanium screws – high spindle speeds and flood coolant are a must.

    Workholding in 5C collets with some form of automatic closer and bar puller would be preferred.

  • November 18, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I like the idea of the lathe. Wouldn’t it be possible to make a turret using something like the 4th axis on the PCNC?

    what would be really nice is a 40 or 50mm spindle hole (probably asking too much on a small machine). I almost bought a Boxford PC250, something along those lines but heavier duty would be nice!

  • December 7, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Has interest in the lathe waned or have all the features that people want in a lathe been expressed?

    I hope that you guys at Tormach ( in the words of Larry the cabls guy ) get er done.

    If the price is right I am buying one. I really like my PCNC 1100.


  • December 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Sign me up. I am interested in buying a cnc lathe. Something with capabilities similar to a Romi EZ path but in a smaller lighter machine would be fine with me. How about a four or six sided tool post with a motor drive for automatic tool changes? I used to own a Romi and the tool changes were the only thing that really slowed the machine down. It could make plenty of parts quickly until a tool change was required. Some thing like this should offer plenty of capability for my hobbyist needs.


  • January 9, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Is there any update on the lathe??

  • January 13, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Sorry about being slow, I just came across this blog.
    All I can say is it’s about time. The other lathe for the mill did not impress me.
    I would incorporate 5c spindle geometery inside a standard chuck mounting flange (D1-4). This may restrict spindle ID but will eliminate the need for additional attachment.
    I am not impressed with gang style machine as above. You have to be careful of clearance between tools (Dia and length). I would offer the turret as an add on. I would go with a tool post to hold the cost down. Or you could come up with something else that would hold quick change heads similar to the thought with the mill tooling.
    1 1/2 hp would be good, 2 hp max. Would consider belt drive setup like the mill with variable speed.
    18 inch travel max, 4 to 6 inch chuck maybe 10 inch swing. Only time you would need that much travel is for drill clearance.
    Must have full c axis capability. Also must have live tools. I am not a fan for air driven tools. If I had a lathe with full c axis I would not be considering buying the 4th axis for my mill. With full C, you would not need Y.
    Post processor would be easy to create. With some minor changes to the progaming system I’m curently using I can use my mill post for c axis lathe work.
    Coolant yes but consider a method for providing coolant through/to tool holders.
    Stepper motors are OK (the mill made me a believer). I would not go any smaller then the ones on the mill.
    And of course threading.
    I guess just keep it simple and follow the same process as you did with the mill.
    I am guessing this will be a conventional lathe style. Would it be to much to ask once this is done to start working on a swiss style. People who make small round parts with long lengths would love it.


  • Andy G.
    January 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    George, Thanks for the thoughtful notes.

  • Andy G.
    January 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful notes. We’ll have an update on the lathe project soon.

  • January 15, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Fully impressed with my recent purchase of the PCNC 1100 I will definately be looking at purchasing the Tormach CNC lathe. Hope to see it available soon!

  • March 23, 2011 at 8:15 am

    I feel that the turret is more flexible given that I feel the majority of owners would use the machine for prototyping type work.
    Constant surface speed is mandatory, and a copius amount of cooling capability, thru tool being the ultimate (and probably most expensive). A nice big bore would be very handy. Collet system, um yeh, as an option. I would be happy with a nice quality 3 jaw with hard and soft jaws. Go Guys.

  • May 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    A hand-wheel for manual operation would be really nice.

  • July 21, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    One of the common tasks of a hobby gunsmith is rifle barrel work, for this a bore diameter of one and three quarters or better yet two inches is useful.

    Rifle barrels are generally between sixteen (16) and twenty six (26) inches, and the ability to put them between the centers calls for a longer bed than most previous posters have called for.

    Anything with a reasonable price and CNC capability that allows me to do the above puts my credit card in hand.

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