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Milling machines were once solely the purview of large factories and garages. Over time, however, technology has allowed milling machines to become much more widespread in their usage. A milling machine will machine out various materials ranging from wood to metal to create a desired design or surface texture. This tech being put into entrepreneurs hands more and more often in recent decades has created a renaissance of sorts in the milling world.
Our Top 3 Picks
This boost to overall demand has led to a variety of choices and competing companies when it comes to deciding on the right milling machine. With this in mind we have put together a list of what we feel is the best selection, and most cost efficient milling machines available today. Not all milling machines are created equal, and we have made an effort to not only breakdown the good and the bad of each device, but we have also provided the criteria for which we ranked and evaluated each choice.
The end result is a list of milling machines that are not only cost effective but are worthwhile additions to both professional and amateur workplaces. We made sure to diversify options to appeal to both pros and the DIY crowd.
Keep in mind that each item on this list has been ranked by a price to value ratio. This means that a technically superior milling machine may have rated lower if we deemed the increase in cost to be too large to justify whatever improvements it may have over the nearest competitor. Milling machines that combined both cost effectiveness and versatility ranked the highest in our evaluation.
Perfect for detail work on smaller items
Provides excellent small milling capabilities at a bargain price
Good collection of additions available
Requires a high level of expertise to operate
Good thread choices for cutting threads
The spindle can be adjusted from 50 to 2500 RPM
No speeds marked
Expect to clean, tune adjust things up front
Powerful for size
Expect to clean, tune and adjust things up front
Built around precision work
Too small for many tasks, such as milling out an 80%
Great versatility for a smaller milling machine
Good power for a bench top
Tool changes are easy
Not as durable as one would expect
Poor quality chuck
A Large array of features
Will require modifications and improvements to handle more difficult tasks
Plenty of extra features
Ideal for small to medium sized projects
Adjustment gib for the head is not as accurate as it probably should be
Solid assortment of features
A lot of slack in both the x and y axis
Long lasting and durable
No cons to speak of in operation, it is well made but outside the purview of the average consumer
In the creation of this list, we went through a significant amount of milling machines that can be practically bought by either sole proprietors or small businesses and organizations. The vast majority of these were evaluated and rejected from the list. To determine which ones stayed, and to be able to rank them, we had to create criteria from which they could be judged. Some of this criteria is obvious – such as price and capabilities – other aspects are less clear. To fully explain our decisions we have included a brief explanation of the principles that we worked from.
Another thing to consider is the personal or practical value of the milling machine to your needs. This is something we cannot rank. If you require certain functionality, it doesn’t matter how much higher we rated a machine that cannot do what you need – to you that mill will hold no value. Our ratings are simply a guidepost to helping you sort through with machines are practical and able to solve your needs.
While a small benchtop machine can be a tempting purchase, many tasks require a large area, and if you are looking to mill metal, then a free standing machine is a must. A sturdy and heavy frame is a must for large and complicated tasks. For this reason, non tabletop devices were given a ranking benefit – but since we excluded machines that were outside the purview of small workshops or home use, many of these were unable to be included in the list.
While the horsepower of a machine is a good stat to be aware of, if the construction gives under pressure it will throw off your ability to use the machine with any real precision, and renders all that horsepower useless. We looked for Mills that can apply power and handle it at the same time.
This is more or less a combination of size, power and whether or not the machine is a horizontal or vertical mill and whether or not it needs to be (and how easily) it can be retrofitted. All of these factors play into what sort of range of tasks one can expect a machine to accomplish. The greater the capabilities, the greater the rating for the most part.
Features are always brought up as one of the first things when someone is discussing power tools in general. It makes sense, they are flashier and serve to quickly differentiate similar devices. Unlike other types of tools, milling machines usually have less “gimmicky” features; rather they often work more in tandem with the overall functioning. An example would be a digital speed display.
This section gives you tips on how to get the most from your mini milling machine. We look at how to tram your mini mill and give more insights on how to use the power feed.
Tramming involves adjusting the column of the mini mill so the spindle is at a right-angle with the table. Since the Y-axis of the mini-mill is not adjustable, the procedure will be about how to tram the X-axis.
• A pair of matched 1-2-3 blocks
• A digital dial indicator
• An adjustment arm from a cheap magnetic base for the dial indicator. Hold it in a 5/8 inch drill rod fixed to a collet.
The arm from the magnetic base is used because it is the easiest and quickest method to mount a dial indicator. This way you can read it from any side of the mill. If the vise of your mill is big enough, use a dial test indicator (DTI). However, if your vise has a screw-less precision, you can use 1-2-3 blocks. Also, for better results, take the measurements farther apart.
Before you begin, swing the indicator from side to side a few times to make sure you get similar measurements repeatedly, and the set up is accurate. Also, place your table at the center under the spindle to make the measurements on the center line and at the same spots every time.
If your mill’s table was properly constructed, your vise will hold the work pieces square with the spindle after tramming the table. If it doesn’t, you can fix it, get another one or tram the vise instead.
Use a Digital Dial Indicator.
Using a digital indicator makes the whole process a walk in the park. Swing the indicator to one side and stop it at zero. Do the same to the other side. For negative measurements, push the column toward the same side, but half the distance reading on the indicator. For positive measurements, push the column from that side but half the distance you read on the indicator. Then put the indicator back to zero and swing it to the opposite side to check your work. You might not get the same distance on both sides, but don’t worry if you are off with a thousandth.
Although some indicators do not have a needle, if yours has the needle, use it to find the side with the shortest distance between the table and the indicator. Then record the measurements or set it back to zero. Swing the indicator to the other side to calculate the length difference. Then push the column to the same side half that distance.
Also, before you adjust the column, you must loosen the large nut at the back a little bit. But, if you tighten the nut again, chances are the column will move slightly, so you need to recheck the tram. Also, you can gently tap the nut with a rubber mallet to loosen it just enough so that you can move the column.
The Mini Mill Power Feed Set comes with instructions on installation. However, beyond the instructions, we provide tips on how to get the most from your power feed set.
Make sure you install the Mylar chip guard between the mill table and the drive unit. The chip guard helps in preventing small work pieces from passing through the bolt slots and falling on the circuit board. It eliminates the primary cause of failure of the power feed kit.
Adjustment of the X-axis gib is best done when the feed screw on the X-axis is detached from the machine. You can then move the table to its full range with your hands.
The power feed kit uses the torque increase occurring at the end of travel to trip off the mill’s motor controller. If the mill’s table cannot move freely, the overload sensor can fail prematurely. If this happens, you can do one of the following:
The power feed might develop insufficient torque even after adjusting the potentiometer to its full clockwise position. You change the resistor labeled R23 on the circuit board to increase the available maximum torque.
1. Change the resistor from 1.3K to 2K ohms. You can change it using a ¼ watt 2K-ohm resistor available in most electronics store house.
2. Connect the motor to a DC ammeter in series. Then adjust the potentiometer to a maximum current of 1 amp. This will increase the motor torque by approximately 30%.
A mini-mill machine is used to design or create a surface texture on wood, metal, and other materials. On the other hand, a drill press is used to cut holes through wood, metal, and other materials. A drill press is designed to drill while the mini mill machine is designed to both drill and mill materials. So, can you use a mini mill machine to carry out activities performed by a drill press machine? Yes, you can!
A mini mill offers versatility although it has some drawbacks. It is more rigid than a drill press due to the size and weight of the column. Although the weight makes it difficult to move it around, it allows you to drill multiple holes that are accurate and large.
You can use the mini mill to drill 100 holes in the same spot, unlike the drill. Also, you can drill 6000 holes in a matching radial pattern using the rotary table on the mill machine. This is because you can position your work using the saddle and table. You can also drill holes that are less than ¼ “. Besides, you can spot-drill holes that are greater than 1/4”, and then drill them in the drill press.
A mini milling machine can move the base plate in which the work piece is clamped to while the drill machine cannot. The wheel moves the XY table allowing precise movement to drill or mill. The drill press machine, on the other hand, only has one axis that moves vertically. Also, the drill cannot withstand too much sideways force from the column or tool bit. Besides, the mill’s bearings and motor are better than those in a drill press.
Although a drill press allows a woodworker to work faster, a mini milling allows you to produce different items with the highest efficiency level.
As soon as someone decides they want to start doing their own milling, whether it is gunsmithing work, item production, or simply hobbyist detailing – the first thing they need to know is “What kind of machine does what I need?”
While our list does not contain any Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, these are the first ones we will discuss. CNC machines are more or less automated machining tools that are pre-programmed to accomplish certain tasks. CNC milling machines are often called machining centers and are computer controlled vertical mills. Often times manual mills are converted into CNC mills. This is an entire topic that would require a much larger article to cover fully.
In a horizontal milling machine, the spindle axis runs horizontally. A horizontal machine has the spindle mounted parallel to the plane of the table.
The biggest asset of a horizontal milling machine is its over arm. This constrains the rotating arbor on two sides, giving it a high level of rigidity and letting you make hefty and powerful cuts. These are typically much more challenging or plain impossible with a vertical mill that can’t handle the side load. This strength and rigidity allows a machine to stack multiple cutters on the arbor. These capabilities have allowed for machines that can cut large projects in a single go.
Surfacing jobs grooves, slots, any other task where one of the axis of the part is flat are all much easier with a horizontal mill. However, if you need cuts on multiple axis of the object, a vertical mill is likely the better choice.
In a vertical milling machine, the spindle axis runs vertically. This means that a vertical machine has the table mounted perpendicular to the spindle’s zero-tilt position
A vertical milling machines greatest asset is its versatility. Most vertical milling machines can handle almost any task you can throw at it – though it can often be a more time-consuming process,
While horizontal machines are ideal for particular tasks – most of them are not what general hobbyists are looking for. A vertical mill is going to arguably be the more desirable choice for the majority of those looking to get a milling machine.
A DRO (digital readout) is an accessory that can be paired up with each axis. These come with individual machines or can be included as part of an upgrade. Many choose to retrofit older mills to include them.
A DRO will give you accurate feedback on movements made in the milling process. While most mills will have dials that can accomplish this same task – using electronic devices proves to be much easier and faster. A DRO also allows you to troubleshoot other issues, like backlash, instantaneously.
While it is not necessary, a DRO is a considerable improvement to a milling machine.
A power feed lets you use a small motor to adjust and move the table for you. This allows you to avoid cranking the handle yourself and saves you from much fatigue. It will also improve your consistency.
Again, not necessary, but a considerable improvement.
Hand cranked mills are not generally used by professionals or industrial sites, but are fairly common and suitable for hobbyist micro mills. I wouldn’t recommend them for the majority of tasks, but there are those with niche needs who wholly stand by them.
There are many other less common (or just more niche) milling machines available, and they are not so uncommon that you won’t see them when shopping around. We might as well spend a minute giving a quick rundown on a few.
A universal milling machine is a horizontal mill that has an arrangement able to swing up the table to 45 degrees in either direction.
A fixed bed milling machine is fairly self-explanatory, i that the bed is in a fixed position. The spindle of this machine is mounted on a movable spindle head and will be the part that is adjusted and worked around.
Milling machines are capable of utilizing various tool heads to satisfy various machining needs. Fluted mills, rounding mills, cutters and ball end mills are just some examples. CNC machines will often have multiple tool heads on a device capable of being rotated out.
The tool head you use will depend heavily on the material and the shape you wish to create. Using the wrong tool head for a material can often have disastrous consequences, destroying either the object, the tool head, or the entire machine.
The most basic tooling bit the cutter. The cutter is a shaped bar with ridged teeth. The cutter spins quickly cut and wear down the target material. There are many configurations and types of cutters as well. Teeth spacing and angle, as well as standardized sizes.
A cutter is attached to the Arbor.
It is our hope that this list, FAQ, and primer on characteristics have given you enough info to work with when sorting out your milling machine decision. Making large purchases like this can be a frustrating and nerve racking experience, especially if you have not made a purchase of the sort before – especially with the large amount of conflicting reviews, opinions and the multitude of options. Every device on this list, however, has something that earned it a place here, and these should all give you a sound basis from which to judge and ultimately make your choice. You may not agree with all of our opinions, that is to be expected, but hopefully, even in disagreement you were able to finalize your choice, I know disagreement often help me solidify my own opinions.
So whether you are a pro looking to buy the milling machine that will buoy your business, or a DIY enthusiast looking to for the perfect bench top garage machine – I made an effort to make sure the milling machines presented here are able to fulfill your needs. Good luck – and remember – build smart, build safe, and build big.