View Full Version : What mill will work best ?

09-05-2007, 01:08 PM
Hi, new to the site . I wanted to know what milling machine you guys would suggest that I get ? I build street rods here at my home (side business for now) and I'm looking for a mill that would be good for just milling 1/4 " aluminum , I make polished backing plates (all hand made) for around my steering columns and a/c lines ect. so I'm not really in need of a large machine. Would a bench mill be good enough for this or would it wise to get something a little bigger? The mill would have to be single phase and a reasonable price cause I don't have alot of cash to spend , but I do want something thats going to last.
Any info would be helpfull.
Thanks, Rocky

Alistair Hosie
09-05-2007, 01:21 PM
First of all a hearty welcome Rocky you should buy the best and biggest mill you can afford and accomodate in your shop.Please remember you will likely need to expand as time goes on so try to keep that in mind with size of mill.I prefer buying second hand used reliable but well made stuff but plenty here have bought Chinese and been pleased with it good luck in your adventures and let us know what you finally decide .Alistair

Frank Ford
09-05-2007, 04:17 PM
I'll second the "buy big" motion:

I bought a new Sharp (Taiwan) 9 x 42 Bridgeport clone and couldn't be happier with it, even though it at the time it was 4 times bigger than I thought I'd need. That was a only three years ago, and if I had the space, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to get a really hefty mill (and lathe, too). Once you have the tool, you'll find reason to use it. . .


Frank Ford
FRETS.COM (http://www.frets.com)
Gryphon Stringed Instruments (http://www.gryphonstrings.com)
My Home Shop Pages (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Machining/index.html)

09-05-2007, 05:24 PM
Buying used N.A., European, or British made is economical if you can tell the difference between a good serviceable machine and a thrashed pile of #$%. This is the voice of bitter experience.
Chinese machines are, in my experience OK, but finishes and accuracy can be a bit rough.
As far as mills go, I have a Chinese made mill drill that I am reasonably pleased with, but in retrospect, I think I would have preferred a square or dovetail column machine with a slightly smaller work envelope as a mill. I'm thinking of the Boxford? X3 or similar in the same price range +/- 2000$
There's even a thread hereabouts that indicates the square column machines lend themselves to home made CNC or a commercially available CNC upgrade in the future.

My $.02 cdn

09-05-2007, 05:31 PM
I agree with the advice to buy the largest machine you can fit, and afford. Once you get started (and hooked) on metalworking, you'll keep finding bigger projects to work on.

I started with a Mill/Drill, and while it was a great learning machine, I really wished I would have jumped right into a knee mill. For me, a milling machine with knee was a huge improvement over using the quill for Z. :)

Also, keep in mind that you'll spend around the same amount for tooling as you do for the machine, regardless of whether the machine is Chinese or Good Old Iron.

sid pileski
09-05-2007, 06:06 PM

Rocky- I like to build rods also. All I can say is get the largest, well maintained mill you can afford. You can't go wrong.


09-05-2007, 07:04 PM
Hey guys, thanks for the response. I was kind of leaning toward a mill/drill but think now I'll look for something bigger , now could really kick myself for passing up two nice Bridgeports , both were close to home , single phase and for under $1000 but I'll keep looking till I find another one.

Sid, that sure is a cool rod you have there , nice job !!!


09-05-2007, 07:17 PM
Having just moved my shop from a nice walk-out basement into a basement with access down bulkhead stairs....I will temper the "bigger is better" recommendation with the caveat, "be sure you can move it." I have a mid-size import mill, about 1100 pounds, and after this last move I was really glad it was no bigger. But...if you have a ground-level shop, a Bridgeport-size machine is certainly not outrageous.

I like the looks of the Jet JVM-836, but it's fairly expensive, relatively speaking, for a mid-size imported milling machine.

09-05-2007, 07:38 PM
Rocky, you might not want to discount a nice machine because it's three-phase.

A 3-phase power converter: a VFD (Variable Frequency Drives) runs around $200, and will allow you to drive a 3-phase motor from a single-phase 220V outlet.

A VFD also gives you electronic vari-speed, so you can literally dial-in the spindle speed with a knob. It's not nearly as complicated as it sounds, and many of us here have converted 3-phase machines to run on VFD's in home shops.

Just a thought...

09-05-2007, 08:57 PM
Agreed. I ran my Bridgy of a 2hp GS2 VFD from Automation Direct for a while after I first got it. Now it and my lathe run off a rotary phase converter that I have very little money in. Built it on a freebe 3hp 3ph GE motor. I very much prefer 3 phase for most anything in my shop if it's bigger than a hand grinder (and not a welder).

09-05-2007, 09:09 PM
The only reason I was staying away from 3 phase was because I heard that
the power coverters make alot of noise , is this true ?


09-05-2007, 09:22 PM

I think you might want a CNC mill for the work you describe. While you can make nice curved cuts on a manual mill with a rotary table and with some care do beautiful blends, a CNC does them many times faster and with easier setups. A CNC could also do 3D contouring.

I've used a manual mill for about 5 or 6 years and a CNC with conversational programming for about a year. There's no doubt in my mind about which one I'd want to use for the kind of work I've seen in some Hot Rods.

A rotary converter will only be as loud as the motor you use. Most aren't very loud. You could also run a 3 phase mill with a VFD, which is totally silent. I've got a rotary for my manual stuff and I forget it's on. My CNC has a VFD for the spindle and it's very nice because of the easy spindle speed changes.

09-05-2007, 10:10 PM
Rocky – buy what your budget can afford, but do not be shy about thoroughly inspecting the machine prior to laying down any money.

You will want to run the machine to check for spindle noise, smoothness of the bed ways, and especially “SQUARE”

Some of the old school machinist rave about the old Bridgeports and for good reason, they were some exceptionally well made, strong machines. You well want to check with a quill mounted indicator and surface plate if the ways are too worn to be of much use. Bring a piece of Al. and ask the owner to face it with a 2” Fly cutter. You’ll know right away the condition of the spindle.

Some folks say don’t waste your money and run out and buy a new Asian machine.

I tend to question some of the cheaper machines directed at the home shop machinist crowd. I know some are POS! Because they are made that way.

Here are some photos of a Grizzly I had to recondition. Notice the lines of the level in pic #1 and pic #2. There is .003 “TWIST” in the Cross Carriage.


First I thought perhaps it was old metal settling until I noticed the distortion of metal at the carriage clamp. That was soft metal, as you can see from the contact points of the first .0003 cut on the grinder


The twist was attributed sloppy machining plain and simple. Turned out the entire underside of the carriage was machined .0015 out. The face cut in the middle of the ways was (you guessed it) .0015 out of tram

09-05-2007, 10:17 PM
The only reason I was staying away from 3 phase was because I heard that the power coverters make alot of noise , is this true ?

VFD's are almost completely silent. Some will make a high pitched whine if the factory default carrier frequency is too low, but that's a very simple fix with a parameter that can be changed on the front panel. We can help you with that if you decide to go the VFD route.

Like Nutter said, if you go the rotary phase converter route, the noise level is dependent on the motors you use.

09-05-2007, 10:37 PM
My VFD made no sound at all. And my Rotary just has the motor sound, which is less than the noise from the machines it's driving. The worst part of a rotary, at least in my mind, is that it's always using power, even when not running a machine. And it consumes almost as much power when idling as when running the machine, or so I'm told. In any case, a VFD only uses power (well, at least significant power) when it's driving something, so that matters to some...

09-06-2007, 06:06 PM
Well now I'm on the hunt for a mill (one that I can afford) and as I find them I'll be posting questions about what I should be looking for so I don't get ripped off . I figure you guys better get ready for about a thousand questions give or take a few :D , But I will say that you have been a great help already.

Thanks, Rocky

09-06-2007, 06:18 PM
Call the power company and get a transformer on the pole to do what you want. Screw all the junk you can hook up to do that.

Do you want to machine parts or not?

get some real power, the power company is in the business of selling power, just do it right.
You will pay but the power will rock..

09-06-2007, 06:32 PM
The only trouble here is the power company charges for the poles and transformers. Just a few weeks ago I called them about putting power over to my garage across the driveway and they said I needed a pole and transformer and it would only cost $4000. They also told me in about a month they figure the price would be no less than double , I can do alot with $8 grand.


09-06-2007, 06:38 PM
Yeah, I looked into that here too. I don't recall the exact estimate (not guarantee, estimate, more like minimum from what they said) but it was something ungodly expensive. AND MY NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR ALREADY HAS 3 PHASE FROM THE SAME POLE! His was already there from back in the 70s or something, PO installed it for some reason, so he got the bene for free.

It also wasn't "real 3 phase", but some sort of pseudo-3-phase. Don't recall what they called it, but said it shouldn't be used for 3 phase electronics (like CNC).

Don't recall the details, but VFDs and Rotary converters were the only practical solution for me.

09-06-2007, 11:44 PM
Rocky – where do you live / what power company?

Some have GREAT rates for “Agricultural Power”, cheaper then what you pay in your home. Also some thing to think about is you can place a customer pole on the edge of your property (closest to the power lines) and then pipe the rest of the way to the garage yourself. Most likely save a heap of money that way.

From memory (10 years ago) it is about $6 per ft above ground and $12 per ft. below ground, 200 amps installed. Except over the course of 50 years the above ground will cost 5x more to maintain, (Utility Co. numbers – not mine)

First question is – Do they have 3 lines set on insulators on the pole outside?

09-08-2007, 01:26 PM
Joe , I live in Pa. Penelec is the power company. In the area that I live in they have what they call rural power which is cheaper but I can't get that here. We were going to put a pole at the edge of the property and then go underground but thats what the price came out to. If had known that the power company was going to start charging for the labor and transformer I would have had it done about 4 years ago , the price then was $1500. the cost of the pole everything else was free.


09-08-2007, 01:57 PM
It appears the availibility of 3 phase power varies greatly from area to area. In central New York state, if the 3 phase power was on the pole in your front yard, you probably can't get it. About 2 years ago, I tried to get 3 phase into a small one man motorcycle repair shop for my cousin, if you are not in a zoned industrial area, have a DBA certificate showing your a actual tax paying business and show that the power will not under any circumstance be available to a residential building (3 phase power into a garage connected or close to a residence) you are not going to get it. They will absolute not run 3 phase power into a house, no matter what the zoning is.


09-08-2007, 05:14 PM
Go out and find the biggest meanest most space robbing, power consuming monster you can find. Later on, when you happen to use someone else's Bridgeport you will realize that it is a drill press *not* a milling machine and you will be happy.