What’s a digital lathe?

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A digital readout (DRO) lathe displays measurements along the x or y axis. Simple versions have on/off and zero function buttons, while advanced versions have programmable memory and complex functions. Kits are available to convert existing machines, and displays can be mounted on the machine or a nearby wall. Digital monitors provide accurate measurements and eliminate errors caused by manual turning.

A digital readout (DRO) lathe is a lathe that has a display that shows measurements along the x or y axis. Simple digital readouts display measurements along the axis. More advanced reads contain programmable memory and can perform complex functions. While companies make digital readout lathes, digital readout kits are also available that plug into existing machines.

A basic y-axis digital readout is a scale that runs parallel to the cross slide or machine bed. The display is autonomous and runs along the horizontal axis. These simple monitors typically have on/off and zero function buttons, and some displays allow the user to switch between English and metric units. Machines equipped with modules that provide basic readings on the x and y axes also have a scale attached to the carriage, which runs vertically.

Each scale on a digital readout lathe generally has conduit or cables that attach to the back of the monitor. Some liquid crystal diode (LCD) or light emitting diode (LED) displays can indicate the x and z axes, which are basically the same as x and y. Lathes manufactured with digital readout usually have the display mounted on the machine. The kits used to convert the machines allow users to mount the monitor on the lathe or, perhaps, a nearby wall.

An advanced dual-axis digital readout lathe has on/off, zero, and inch/millimeter selection buttons. Readouts usually have a calculator-type keyboard, and a complex digital readout lathe includes programmable memory locations, diameter and radial measurements, and zero starting points. Options may also include absolute or incremental measurements. The operator can also locate the center of the workpiece.

Digital monitors usually display numbers in four or five places. The sensitivity of the incremental measurement varies depending on the quality of the digital readout lathe. Some monitors and scales detect changes as small as 0.0005 inch (0.01 mm). Manufacturers create all kinds of lathes with digital readout capabilities, and hobbyists can find conversion kits for machines that vary in size, from mini tabletop lathes to large freestanding models.

The display monitor usually provides accurate measurements and eliminates errors caused by manually turning the wheels. The programmable versions also save the user from having to remember the number of wheel rotations required for cuts along both axes. Some monitors easily connect to the car’s engine, providing speed control.

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