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    June 8, 2023

    What is CNC Turning: How it Works and Why It’s Great


    In the world of manufacturing, precision, efficiency, and quality are key. CNC turning, a popular subtractive manufacturing method, is one tool in an engineer’s toolkit that checks all these boxes. 

    Whether you’re new to the concept or just need a quick refresher, this guide will walk you through the ins and outs of CNC turning, its advantages, and its many applications.

    Cnc Turning 2

    What Is CNC Turning?

    CNC turning is a manufacturing process where a rod of material is held in a chuck and rotated while a cutting tool is fed into the rotating workpiece, removing material and shaping it into a desired part. CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, which means the cutting processes are controlled by a computer and software.

    How Does CNC Turning Work

    The operation begins by securing a piece of raw material, often cylindrical, into the CNC machine’s chuck. The chuck spins the material at high speeds. A cutting tool, controlled by the CNC system, then moves along the rotating workpiece, cutting away material to form the desired shape. The precision of the CNC system ensures the cuts are accurate, consistent, and can be repeated many times over.

    How does the machine know where to cut? This is part of the data fed into the CNC machine from the CAD or CAM file that your team creates and sends to us. Either our machinists will tell the turning machine what to do, or we’ll feed the CAM file directly into the turning machine. 

    5 Advantages of CNC Turning

    There are a number of benefits associated with CNC turning a part. Here are some of the bigger reasons why you might want to use a CNC turning machine for your next project.

    • Precision: CNC turning allows for highly accurate cuts, meaning your parts will match your design specifications every time. This precision is crucial when manufacturing parts that need to fit together perfectly.
    • Efficiency: Because the process is automated, CNC turning can produce parts quickly, helping you get your project completed on time.
    • Scalability: Once your design is programmed into the CNC system, it can be replicated as many times as needed, making CNC turning a great choice for large production runs.
    • Versatility: CNC turning can handle a variety of materials, from metals to plastics, allowing you to choose the best material for your design.
    • Cost-effective: The speed, efficiency, and precision of CNC turning can lead to cost savings, especially for large production runs. Less waste material and fewer labor hours mean lower costs for you.

    Typical Applications for CNC Turning

    CNC turning is a highly versatile process, used across a broad range of industries and applications. Its ability to efficiently produce round or cylindrical parts makes it an invaluable tool for various engineering projects. Here are some specific examples of when an engineer might opt for CNC turning:

    1. Shaft Couplings: These parts are typically round and require a high degree of precision, making CNC turning the ideal manufacturing process.
    2. Motorcycle Components: Many parts of a motorcycle, including axles, drive shafts, and engine parts, are cylindrical and require precise tolerances. CNC turning can produce these parts quickly and accurately.
    3. Aerospace Applications: In aerospace engineering, components such as bushings, spacers, and fasteners often need to be cylindrical or have intricate round features. These tight-tolerance parts are perfect candidates for CNC turning.
    4. Hydraulic Components: Hydraulic systems rely on a multitude of cylindrical components, such as pistons and cylinders. These parts must be manufactured with precise dimensions and smooth finishes to ensure the system’s efficient operation, making CNC turning an excellent choice.
    5. Medical Devices: CNC turning is commonly used in the medical industry due to its ability to consistently produce parts like orthopedic implants and surgical tools to exact specifications.

    Different Types of CNC Turning Operations

    There are various operations that a machinist can perform on a CNC turning machine, since it’s such a highly versatile machine. Here are some common types of CNC turning operations:



    Turning is the basic operation where the cutting tool moves parallel to the axis of rotation of the workpiece, cutting and shaping the outer surface.


    A narrow cut is made on the workpiece to create a groove. This is useful for parts that need to fit into each other.


    The cutting tool moves perpendicular to the workpiece’s axis, reducing the overall length of the part.


    The tool cuts deep into the workpiece, separating it into two pieces. This is often the last step in the turning process.

    Hard Turning

    This process is used to cut hardened materials. It can replace grinding in many cases, offering a more efficient method of shaping hard surfaces.


    A hole that has already been drilled is enlarged or improved by boring the hole.


    Knurling is when a pattern is rolled onto the surface of the part for grip, aesthetics, or other functional purposes.


    The tool cuts a helical groove on the surface of the part, creating threads for screws or bolts.


    This operation is used to slightly enlarge a pre-drilled hole to achieve a more accurate diameter or finish.


    This operation creates a round hole in the workpiece. It’s often done before operations like boring or reaming.

    Difference Between CNC Turning and CNC Milling

    While both CNC turning and milling are subtractive manufacturing processes controlled by a computer, they have their differences. CNC turning is typically used to create round or tubular shapes from larger workpieces, whereas CNC milling is generally used to create more complex shapes and features like slots, holes, and even intricate surface contours.

    In CNC milling, the workpiece is stationary, and the cutting tool moves around it, which is the opposite of CNC turning. The decision between turning and milling will depend on the specific requirements of your design.


    Understanding the basics of CNC turning can help you make informed decisions about your manufacturing needs. It’s a versatile, efficient, and cost-effective way to produce precise parts, whether you’re creating a prototype or running a large production. At Rapid Axis, our CNC turning services are designed to meet your unique needs. We bring expertise, precision, and commitment to every project, helping you bring your design to life. Get a free quote today to see how we can assist you.

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