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Thread: Advice on getting a small mill

  1. #1
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    Advice on getting a small mill

    I'm thinking of getting a small mill for the garage.
    I make a lot of gym equipment and slowly expanding into furniture and art type stuff. I use a magnetic drill for most of the work. I have a small space to work in, and have no machining experience (my son does however). I have been told once you get a mill the applications are endless.
    I don't want a table top style. New or used is fine.
    Advice and thoughts please.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I have and use a Bridgeport.. the collets are not outrageously expensive. R8 tooling is what I use. I got mine used from work and could cheat and load it with a forklift at work, and my neighbor had a bobcat with forks to get it into the shop.

    3 phase has a work around so don't let that slow you down.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I think a couple of questions or more info might help to provide more accurate info.
    What type of power do you have or are you looking at getting a VFD or RPC?
    How much room do you have?
    How much are you budgeting for tooling?
    What are you actually doing that requires a mill? If it is mostly just making a slot for fasteners, an X-Y table might be better.

    I have a Bridgeport in my shop that I received for virtually free. I ended up buying a VFD thinking I was going to learn how to use all the functions. That hasn't happened. I ended up buying an RPC off Craigslist a couple of years later for another tool and should have just bought one of those.

    I have probably spent at least $3,000 on tooling over the last five years since the mill did not come with anything.

    The Bridgeport capabilities far exceed my abilities. I have had to teach machinist and welding classes to a few people at work. They have one of the Jet JF-15 Mill/Drills. That is a whole other type of capability and class of tool. But look at what Farmer Samm is able to do with his. It is a function of his knowledge and patience far exceeding mine.

    Brooklyn Bravest made a thread about a gear head drill and he put an X-Y table on his drill to give him limited milling capabilities.

    I am kind of a tool junkie and like having the ability to just walk over to something and use it. If it is something I can use for the business, I don't mind spending a bit more for something and writing it off.

    Zapster and member "forhire" have some good threads or posts about the machining they do. They might have a higher class of tooling than you need though. Look at the various threads from farmersamm and you can see more budget friendly options.
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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I'll add to what others have said... you'll spend at least what you pay for a mill on tooling.... and that's just for basic generic stuff Tooling is everything!!!

    Of course once you have the basic tooling to make your own tooling the only limiting factor is time and you inclination/imagination to make it

    Also I went with R8 for most of my tooling as it's affordable and can handle *most* of the stuff I do.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I bought my first vertical mill probably 15 years ago. I had never even seen a vertical mill in real life before that, except maybe in catalog pictures. This was before I had access to the internet. It is an old Enco mill. I say old. It was made in 1995. I knew nothing, or next to nothing about a mill, and thought it was the most fantastic piece of equipment ever made. It came with a fair amount of tooling. I think I paid around $1700 for the setup. It has the 9x49 table. And a dro and power feed. After I got the machine set up in the shop and started learning about it, I began to realize that the former owner, who was getting out of the metalworking trade, probably would be much more at home in a butcher shop. At least judging from some things I saw of the mill and tooling. My view on buying a cheaper machine, though, was that I at least wouldn't wreck a high dollar unit while I learned to use the thing. And I'm glad I went that route.
    So, in closing, what I'm trying to say is don't let using a mill scare you. I would probably recommend something on the cheap side. Don't get too wrapped up in getting the best, or the most accurate. Unless, of course, money is not an issue. Buy tooling as you need it. It's true that after a few years you may have more in tooling than the mill cost, but remember that the mill involves a sum of money that is spent all at once. Some of the tooling costs can be spread out over time.
    I certainly wish you well in your endeavors.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I found my Bridgeport for $500.
    My vise, was 500. Lol


    I hit flea markets and craigslist/facebook marketplace for things I might need (like a set of brown and sharpe v blocks for $4 lol)

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    PSA
    All great questions. I will measure the area tonight. Small is my answer for now. I will look at some threads from the people you mentioned. I'm too ignorant to answer some of the questions. As far as wants and needs this is a want. A large part of it is to spend time working with my son.

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    Advice on getting a small mill

    I have a Bridgeport clone that I traded an electric bike for.

    I have three phase power on the farm. (And forklifts )














    It came with no tooling but fortunately i got a few things with the used mill drill I purchased used 20 years ago.



    If you do decide to go bench top, get a model with dovetail column for rigidity.




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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Terry brings up a good point about the dovetail column. They will be better than the round post style.
    Another question would be what is your required or expected accuracy?
    There a bunch of YouTube videos on the various mills. Maybe start with a few of those to familiarize yourself with some of operations and the good and bad points.
    Joe Pieczynksi has some really good videos on machning.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    A small mill you can move.
    I had mills that weigh 10,000 pounds.
    Today my mill weights 300 pounds.
    Today I can move the mill around the garage

    Dave

    Quote Originally Posted by Reebz View Post
    I'm thinking of getting a small mill for the garage.
    I make a lot of gym equipment and slowly expanding into furniture and art type stuff. I use a magnetic drill for most of the work. I have a small space to work in, and have no machining experience (my son does however). I have been told once you get a mill the applications are endless.
    I don't want a table top style. New or used is fine.
    Advice and thoughts please.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Quote Originally Posted by Reebz View Post
    I don't want a table top style. New or used is fine.
    Advice and thoughts please.
    When you say you donít want a bench mill it sounds like you are ruling out the mill drills mentioned in some of the earlier posts. If you are going to get a knee style mill and can move it get a full size Bridgeport or Bridgeport clone over the Clausing 8520/30 and clones that also fall in that category (like the grizzly and HF version). They really donít save that much space unless you are height limited, like in a basement.

    If you are not in a hurry wait for a used one for sure. Clean Bridgeportís can be hard to find but are available, the clapped out ones are hanging from trees. The biggest advantage an actual Bridgeport brand will have is parts availability, you can get anything. With the clones replacement parts may or may not work.

    If you can, get one with a dro already installed or leave some space in your budget to add one. Game changer on a mill, makes it way more usable. A lot of folks crap on R8 spindles, but for a 3hp and below when used properly they are fine. Biggest advantage is the tooling is considerably cheaper than other standards. I would skip a B&S spindle but would eat the cost of tooling if I found a kwik switch 30 or iso 30/40 taper due to increased rigidity and lack of draw bar (ks or qc). Personally I would not pay a lot extra for power feeds, dro is way more important.

    Itís funny you mention wanting a mill for building exercise equipment. My most recent manual mill is an Ex-Cell-O from the prototype room at the Nautilus factory in Virginia that closed a few months ago. I even got a pile of chrome 1Ē bar used for equipment glides with it.


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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Avoid: small, lightweight and cheap.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Quote Originally Posted by ezduzit View Post
    Avoid: small, lightweight and cheap.
    Unless.... it fits your budget in which case it will be:

    Too small for most of the things you want to do with it.

    Not very precise for the projects need accuracy on.

    Broken most of the time you want to use it.




    Just kidding.... sort of

    As always you get what you pay for... unless you can find a killer deal on an older used good shape, good sized mill.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Sounds like you want a full size Bridgeport style machine. Which is great. I wish I had one. I hate the limited spindle to table clearance on mine.

    Buy a new one if you can. Otherwise take someone who knows how to check a used one out. They should be dragging an indicator, and a mag base, along if they know what they're doing. You can't eyeball an old machine, or wiggle it, to check it. You need to indicate it. And, you need to indicate it on the right surfaces. If the seller gets hot under the collar, go somewhere else.

    I went down the used path years ago when I bought that old lathe. I knew absolutely nothing about checking machines at the time,, and I paid the price. It sits out in the yard where I can see it every day I walk out the door.............................just to remind me that I didn't know crap when I bought it.

    The Chinese clones are affordable, depending on what you consider affordable. Wholesale Tool's website is down, or I'd direct you there. Grizzly is overpriced.

    I'd like a DRO, but maybe you don't need one. It all depends on the work you do. Unless you get upset if something is off by about .003ish, the leadscrew will give you decent results.

    120v vs. 240v is up to you, and your shop wiring. Most of the motors can be wired either way

    I think you'll be happy owning a mill. It opens up a lot of horizons.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    What ballpark budget are you thinking? It's not terribly hard to buy a really, really nice Bridgeport in the Midwest for $4-5K and even a completely overhauled unit is only in the $8-9K range with digital readouts and power feeds. Since you're not far away I'd expect your local supply is similar to mine. Because of that, I'd stay away from all of the clones, unless you find one that's literally like new, simply because it's easier to get parts for a Bridgeport. In other parts of the country they really just have to take what comes up....just the way things are.

    Assuming you stick with Bridgeport, you'll want to look at J-head Series I machines. They come in three basic versions: 1hp machines with step pulleys to change speeds, 1.5hp with a variable speed head and 2hp with variable speed heads. The later two adjust with a hand dial on the head. The variable speed heads have more parts and things that can go wrong, but even then it's not a big deal....a complete head overhaul isn't terribly expensive or difficult unless you really run into issues. The step pulley setups are very robust and some folks like to go with them and then just run a variable frequency drive to have infinitely variable speeds. Ideally I think the 2J 2hp setup is the best of the bunch, but I'd take a nice 2J 1hp over a beater 2J 2hp if that's what it came down to.

    Look up YouTube videos that cover what to look for when inspecting a mill...they do a really good job of covering the important stuff. Generally speaking, if it's reasonably clean, doesn't have holes and chunks in the table, and everything seems to move, you're probably off to a good start. If you can hear it run through the speeds and it seems smooth, that's a bonus. The variable speed heads make some noise even when new, but it should be a consistent sort of noise, not a scraping, banging, clanking racket. The pulleys that move to vary the speed ride on plastic bushings that wear out, and when they do they cause a lot of noise...the good thing is if you catch it before the shafts are damaged it's a cheap, easy fix (other than lifting the motor!)...figure $100 or something along those lines for a kit that gives you everything you need.

    If you're not in a hurry there are deals out there. I have a 2J 2Hp with Accurite DRO that I bought for $1500 and then partially rebuilt the head...well under $2K with everything and it runs beautifully. The table has a bit of lash in the lead screws (.020 and .012 when I checked the other day), but that should only take a new set of nuts (under $100) and doesn't really cause any problems. I can't count how many decent examples I've seen sell at auction recently in the local area....many under $2K.

    Having a DRO is handy, but can easily be added later. Power feeds are also handy and are easy to add later as well. Vises get expensive quickly, so having one mounted is a plus. Obviously, the more stuff you get, the better, but if you want to keep your hassle down to a minimum, buy the nicest machine you can afford, even if it doesn't have some of the extras. There's an entire industry out there supporting Bridgeport mills and the people tend to be really helpful.
    Check out my bench vise website:
    http://mivise.com


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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    New horizons with a small mill include mods to make it operate like a larger machine and work-arounds to make it work for your large projects. Then joining a forum dedicated that machine to share how you accomplished a project that you took you a while, because you needed to first fabricate the tooling to make the project.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I have a M-head Bridgeport that is about 3/4 size of a regular one. I am swapping out the turret assembly and above to a Millport. I do like the smaller size footprint for my needs.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Quote Originally Posted by farmersammm View Post

    Buy a new one if you can.
    No need for that.. There are quality used full size mills that will hold it's tolerances for about three life times.. Just depends how they were used, and by who..
    Wiring can be a good opportunity to build a rotary convertor/etc.. 3 phase motors run so much smoother in those type of applications..I run my plasma cutter (3 phase works better)AC/DC tig outputs more when using 3 phase, on,and on.. Sam, lathes are a bit different then mills when it comes to buy used.. Lot of lathes are crapped out, but mills you can get in great shape.
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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Quote Originally Posted by Brand X View Post
    No need for that.. There are quality used full size mills that will hold it's tolerances for about three life times.. Just depends how they were used, and by who..
    Wiring can be a good opportunity to build a rotary convertor/etc.. 3 phase motors run so much smoother in those type of applications..I run my plasma cutter (3 phase works better)AC/DC tig outputs more when using 3 phase, on,and on.. Sam, lathes are a bit different then mills when it comes to buy used.. Lot of lathes are crapped out, but mills you can get in great shape.
    Can all 3 phase plasma cutters operate with a phase converter?

    I have mine for sale (Miller 1251 Spectrum) and the question has arisen. I always leave it up to the potential buyer to determine, but it would be nice to have insight.


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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I've been looking at the Precision Matthews mills a lot lately.

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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Quote Originally Posted by Lis2323 View Post
    Can all 3 phase plasma cutters operate with a phase converter?

    I have mine for sale (Miller 1251 Spectrum) and the question has arisen. I always leave it up to the potential buyer to determine, but it would be nice to have insight.


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    My Thermal dynamics 60i is 3 phase only. It works perfect on my 15 hp Rotary. The motor is a super quality unit, and might punch a bit above most 15 hp stuff.. Running my mill with the spindle /2 hp table feed off, it adds another 5hp to the rotary, if I need more.. The Esab/lorch AC/DC tig outputs 20 more amps on three phase than on single phase. That machine is really picky on not having good quality power to it.. No issues with it.. Thermal LM -200 runs on the 3 phase perfect too. I ran another 3 phase 60i on it too All go.. I have had VFD (fine), and always thought rotary was kind of crude. Stupid for not building one 30 plus years ago..Traded a single phase 60i for the mill.

    If you have a quality converter, and enough size on input, and output, most 3 phase stuff will work.. The issues mostly comes from using the generated leg /wild for motor controls/etc



    One thing about a larger mill. you can use tiny little drill bits on thin metal with the power feed,and have zero issues. Also can swing a 50 taper tooling on some huge cuts without any chatter.
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  34. #22
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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    I see in video he has weight set.
    I use weights for parts Just steel in my work shop is weight lifting.

    Dave

    Quote Originally Posted by Oscar View Post
    I've been looking at the Precision Matthews mills a lot lately.


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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    God I'm Ignorant.
    I work on a glacial time scale, I'm going to educate myself first. As for budget I have a daughter going to college next year so I'm going to see what that does to my finances. The dream is a pole barn and a real shop. My son knows about this stuff so he will be a big help. A big part of this is so he and I can work together.

    Farmersamm
    What I see you and others do with lathes and mills is what has gotten me thinking, Funny you said horizons, I too use that term.
    I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one that has screwed up a purchase. My list is long.

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    Could you take a picture of the glides? I just made a leg press for a guy and that was my only problem area. Is there a part number?

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  37. #24
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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Quote Originally Posted by Reebz View Post
    My son knows about this stuff so he will be a big help. A big part of this is so he and I can work together.

    I really like that part of your journey!


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    Re: Advice on getting a small mill

    Quote Originally Posted by Lis2323 View Post
    I really like that part of your journey!
    Kind of like my son. I started collecting welders, then a couple lathes and a mill when my boy was studying welding and machining. Never got some on line and he moved 100 miles away after he got his Associate of Science degree. But now he's had 5 solid years of diverse machining experience and is the lead man in his department. Runs parts, makes fixtures, purchases tooling and materials, does most of the programming and teaches the newer hires. He now has a recent Okuma mill and three brand new Haas CNC mills (two of them are 5-axis) to tend to in his satellite shop and others in the main shop.

    Management loves him. The other day a newer guy asked one of the owner/managers what he'd do if someone tried to hire my son away. "Kill them." was the reply. It's been a great journey! Though phone conversations about feeds, speeds, rapids, peak spindle horsepower and such challenge me. But I'm an old salesman, so I can grunt knowingly and get away with it most of the time.
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