View Full Version : 'Small' mill shopping, comparison.

Deus Machina
11-05-2011, 10:20 PM
Alright, trying to scrape together a budget. It's not easy, on my low-paying job and dealing with school.

I am limited to 110 power and don't have the space to convert a Bridgeport, or I would.

My plan thus far has been an RF-45 clone. (http://www.wttool.com/index/page/product/product_id/14840/product_name/Geared+Head+Mill+%26+Drill+with+Rigid+Dovetail+Col umn+%28WT%29&update_continue_shopping=true) Dovetail column, geared head. Can get that for $1800 + tax + freight (or a truck) = about $2100.

Or, I might be able to grab a different MSC mill-drill. (http://www1.mscdirect.com/CGI/NNSRIT2?PMPXNO=000000002900571) Used but in good shape (appearently), plus collets, clamping kit, and DRO. $1000 + truck.

I don't much like the round-column, or having to change a belt to change speeds, but it's only marginally smaller than the original plan and comes with a DRO, for half as much.

So... how bad would that be, with my wallet screaming at me less?

loose nut
11-05-2011, 10:35 PM
I have the exact same Wholesale Tool RF 45 mill as you have shown, about 3 years now and it has been a good mill for it size. Sturdy and accurate but as with all of these type the top speed is a bit noisy, a small price to pay for the convenience of the geared head. I made up a motorized drive to raise and lower the head which is a nice plus but not really necessary.

Stay away from the round column type mill/drills if you can. The moving head makes it a bit difficult to change out long tooling and keep positional alignment. It is frequently necessary to mill with the spindle extended which is hard on it and will lead to premature wear on the spindle housing. With the square column type of mill you can lower the head and do your milling with the spindle retracted.

Just remember, these are not full sized Bridgeport's so don't expect them to do the work of one.

11-05-2011, 10:36 PM
Out of the two..I'd rather have the R45 clone...but I have done tons of work with a round column mill.
Much of it was hard work...I ran a fab/machine shop and it was my only mill for some time.
I want to start up another shop in the near future and if I can't find a knee mill or otherwise...I'll buy another round column mill and be happy to have it.
They are easy to move around...only need an engine hoist and you get tons of storage under it with the stand.
Just me tho...lots of guys hate them.

11-05-2011, 10:47 PM
What are your plans for it. I have this one and it has done a great job. Verry pleased with it. I have used every thing from 6061 alum. to A2 tool steal.


Deus Machina
11-05-2011, 10:52 PM
As it is, I have a Harbor Freight mini-mill. The Sieg X2, for those familiar.

For what it is, I love that little thing. I have it tuned in to .002" over 10" right now, aside from the cheap vise being a little off.

I don't know what I would expect from a bridgeport. I've used a 1" ball-end in the mini, and got so used to light cuts and slow going, that any production millworker would crack me upside the head. :p

I don't like the thought of the round-column, but after starting on some minor automotive stuff (not inside the motor!) for friends, parts for my school's electric race car build team, and plenty of paintball stuff, it's time for bigger.

My mini just doesn't have the space or torque to turn a 15/16"x20 tap for a paintball marker's barrel or feed neck.

Deus Machina
11-05-2011, 10:59 PM

Glad to hear about the success one that one. I've just been iffy on that, because it doesn't look particularly rigid and I've heard doubts about the power. Then again, if it's 90% the machine, at 50% the price...

Most of my work is aluminum, occasional steel--which I hate attempting in my mini.

At most, I will do some work for firearms. Rails and accessories, but I plan for my first big project on a new mill is to buy a torched imported PPSH-41 or -43 and a big block of appropriate steel, use the guts, and make a new receiver, legal trigger group, and barrel of legal length. :D

11-05-2011, 11:22 PM

I'm kind of doing the same thing right now, looking at bench-type mills like the G0704 and the BF-20/25/30's. The RF-45 is a nice machine and gets generally good reviews from owners.

The thing to remember about a budget is planning for all those extras you will need. You can easily spend as much or more in tooling up a mill as it cost you to buy the machine. A good vise, like a Kurt, and a set of good R-8 collets, and a handful of decent end mills can easy eat up another $1000 bill.

I not a big fan of round column mills either, but if your budget is tight and you can get a tooled up round column with DRO for less than half the price of the bare RF-45. Then to me, it would be pretty hard to walk away from the round column.

There are things you can do to lessen the inherent locating problems with round columns, from lasers to building a guide system, (somebody here did one of those), to simply learning to plan work flow to avoid problems. And changing belts pulleys is a good job for you young whipper-snappers. It'll teach you to appreciate variable speed pulleys and drives in your old age. :D


11-05-2011, 11:25 PM
Check out this site for more info on the G0704


And this threed


Deus Machina
11-05-2011, 11:43 PM
Oh, I know all about the tooling costs. I got my mill for $300, and all the tooling for... I'd best not think about that. I haven't even bought a proper boring head or rotary table because they won't fit.

Don't get on my case about changing belts! My lathe has that, and I'll just get to shoot back about the old-timers not having the reaction time to turn threads when 150 RPM is your lower limit. ;)

J Tiers
11-06-2011, 12:23 AM
I have never used a round column mill....

Having a knee type mill has been so handy that I don't know what I would do with a round column one. It is nice to be able to count on the table staying in one place when raised or lowered.

That said, as much of a pain as they may or may not be, people use round column mill-drills all the time. presumably , given a reasonable quill travel, you can do OK with planning and fore-thought.

pretty much ANY mill will beat "no" mill...... And, as you may have noticed, money does not grow on trees of any type, at least not that I have access to.....

Then also, there may be the chance of a "sweat equity" mill...... one that you buy used and fix up. It is often derided here, but to get the shop I have now, buying new, I would be spending enough money to buy a car..... That makes it worth consideration to buy used and fix.

Deus Machina
11-06-2011, 12:35 AM
If the ways are true and everything non-adjustable doesn't need grinding or scraping, I have no problem fixing things up.

That's how I got my first mill for $300 shipped, and the matching 7x14 lathe for $200 or so.

11-06-2011, 10:28 AM
Oh, I know all about the tooling costs. I got my mill for $300, and all the tooling for... I'd best not think about that. I haven't even bought a proper boring head or rotary table because they won't fit.

Don't get on my case about changing belts! My lathe has that, and I'll just get to shoot back about the old-timers not having the reaction time to turn threads when 150 RPM is your lower limit. ;)


If you do have at least some tooling to get going and an understanding of other tooling costs, then RF-45 type is looking to be a better choice. The only other possible consideration you may wish to think about before pulling the trigger, is moving your machines.

And I'm not talking about the shop. As a young Gentleman, you can probably expect to make a move to a new residence 3 to 6 times in your lifetime. And most of those moves are going to happen when you are younger. This isn't a real deal breaker problem, but it does bear some malice aforethought. I'd hate to see you buy something you can't take with you.

I know I have one more move to make in my life. But at least I know where it's going to be to and what I'll have for room when I get there. So I can choose machines accordingly.

Oh, this old guy don't need no cat-like reflexes for threading, I turn my tool upside-down and reverse spindle and thread out from the shoulder. And I remember when it was up hill both ways in a blizzard during a flood, to get to the pulleys to change speeds, and we were grateful to even have different speeds to change! There, did I get everything listed? My Daughters are always very insistent I don't leave anything out.:D :D

So, get busy and order the mill. And don't forget photos of uncrating and commentary! I can use your experience in making my choice!:)


loose nut
11-06-2011, 10:57 AM
You can't worry about tooling costs, it's just a fact of life in this hobby. You don't need to get everything on the first day, buy (acquire) it as needed and accept the fact that you will never ever have everything you need.

As you go along there is always something that you need or find that makes your work easier or you just want. It takes many years to outfit a shop completely, not that it is possible to have a fully outfitted shop, there is always something else out there that you will find and need. Its a malignant disease that just keeps growing and sucking the life out of your wallet. Run away now will you still can.

I hate to think what I have spent in my shop (money well spent) for a hobby but if you bought a fishing boat or golf membership for a few years it would be a lot more then outfitting a home shop and a shop doesn't sink.

11-06-2011, 11:33 AM
1. If you think you might ever CNC it, go for the RF-45, since it has a real Z axis.

2. If you think you might upgrade to a larger mill, get the round-column and save your money.

3. All things being equal, unless I was very well tooled-up, I'd rather have the round-column and $1k to burn on a rotab, boring head, etc. than an RF-45 and a handful of endmills. Plus, most tooling scales up to larger mills just fine.

4. How much more secure/happy would you be with another grand in your savings account? The round-column machine would still be a real upgrade for you and open new doors.

loose nut
11-06-2011, 01:26 PM
Having an extra thou in the bank won't keep you from being pissed off at the RD column machine. I have had both and yes you can do good work with a RD column machine but you probably wouldn't want one if you have used the RF-45 type.

Unless you are comparing a striped down RD col. machine against a fully equipped RF45 type at the extreme ends of the market prices there isn't a $1000 difference. WT tools lists the RF45 type at $1800 and the RD column type at $1300. Your prices may vary.

The RF 45 type are much more ridge then the RD column type.

11-07-2011, 09:55 AM
I am limited to 110 power and don't have the space to convert a Bridgeport, or I would.

I understand if you don't have enough space. However, regarding the 110V power, I recently bought a Bridgeport with the 1hp 3 phase motor, and installed a Teco 1 hp inverter that operates on 115V wall power. It works great. I was wary of the 1hp inverter and 115V power based on others opinions, but at this point I wouldn't be afraid to do this again.

11-07-2011, 01:21 PM
I have an RF45 type and I've been pretty happy with it. Moving it isn't exactly easy, but breaking it down took less than an hour.

Tooling costs will be similar regardless of what you choose, so I wouldn't really factor that in... I also find a lot of very inexpensive endmills etc at estate sales, so if you've got time and patience, $100 can buy a lot of tooling.

I'd think that the RF45 might have better resale value if/when you get a larger mill.. the round column mills, while probably just fine for most home shop use, seem to have a generally bad reputation.

Deus Machina
11-07-2011, 01:51 PM
Well, I had decided on getting the round-column if it was still available when I had the time to get a truck and grab it.

My thought was that, for $1000, if i decided to upgrade, I could keep the useful bits, scavenge the DRO, and sell the mill itself for not too much less than I paid for it. Buying used machines for a good price isn't so much spending the money as just putting it on the bench.

It left too quickly for me to get. So, back to square one here. :)

Ah well. I do like the thought of the RF45 a lot better, and it seems like it would take longer for me to want to upgrade. I've been looking at the G0704, but the RF45 is big enough to do a set of heads on if I ever need to, and that's the largest thing I can see myself doing. For the moment, of course.

Just spent a little more than I expected to lately, with my best friend moving out of state. Set my savings back a paycheck. No big deal; keep saving, keep an eye on Craigslist.

As for moving, I'll be making an adjustable dolly, and I do have an engine hoist. Bought that to get my lathe up onto its bench. Next time, I'll design a bench to fit the legs of the hoist under or around. Not being able to get the lathe directly above the bench meant using the hoist was a little... precarious.

11-07-2011, 03:59 PM
What do you plan on doing to the heads on the RF45?

11-07-2011, 05:01 PM
You say that youre in school. Assuming that is not high school, I would pose the question of whether or not your school has a shop? You also mentioned an electric car team, which I would hope would mean a yes to the question. When I was in college I used the school's shop quite often for jobs I couldnt do at home for one reason or another. We had open lab nights twice each week and after the safety lecture were free to do as we wished. Quite a few automotive and firearms projects came out of there, though the later werent admitted as being such. If my school's small shop was too busy or inadequate, the local community college had quite an impressive machine trades program, and they were more than willing to allow our students into their open lab nights. I would look into exploiting these relationships if at all possible.

Regarding a mill, yes you can do quite a bit of work with small or inadequate equipment, but simply put - its frustrating. For the money youre talking about spending on a tiny mill, I could buy several full sized knee mills. If you think that may be where you end up in a few years, I would save the money now and find other ways (school? friends? etc?) to get your work done.

Deus Machina
11-08-2011, 04:55 AM
What do you plan on doing to the heads on the RF45?
Well, small ones could get planed off. Never underestimate people that are used to having to do work in a mini. ;)

I am in college, after graduating high school (despite some administrator's best attempts!) and taking some time off to figure out I didn't like how my life was going at the time.

I'm sorry to say that my community college does not have any sort of shop. The 'manufacturing lab' is a mostly unused class on hooking up pneumatics to assembly-line machines and programming them to put a part together. :( We have an expensive 3D measuring machine of some sort, hydraulics, and a couple things I have no idea about, and not a one of them gets the dust blown off until the janitor does it. :(

All the tools for the car build team are supplied by the sponsoring teachers and students--mostly me. The major work is done at other local and nearly-local high schools and whatever other colleges we can bribe. Some have decent welders, but not a one of them has a single more, and the ones with lathes can't be bothered to stop using them as shelving. :mad:

I'm the machinist of the group. Thankfully--because of my schedule--most of the parts are either off-the-shelf ones for karts or bicycles, or better made by cutting and welding pieces than through mill work.

Deus Machina
01-06-2012, 01:41 AM
Okay, hate to resurrect an old thread but it's better than making a new one. Money saved, bigger projects becoming evident in the future, close to time to pull the trigger.

I had pretty much settled on the RF45 clone (http://www.wttool.com/index/page/product/product_id/14840/product_name/Geared+Head+Mill+%26+Drill+with+Rigid+Dovetail+Col umn+%28WT%29&update_continue_shopping=true) but it is discontinued by Grizzly, 'temporarily unavailable' from Enco, and may or may not have the display ones in at Wholesale Tools, which means that--especially because Grizzly keeps parts for their machines--replacement parts may not be around until another ship hits the docks at the very earliest.

The 6x26 (http://www.wttool.com/index/page/product/product_id/14821/product_name/6%22+x+26%22+Knee+Milling+Machine+%28WT%29&update_continue_shopping=true) is currently more available, will run quieter, and will end up $400 less expensive in the long run because it comes with its own stand included, but lacks the lever-change speeds and a bit of size.

If I had $2500 and 220v power available (and more room) it would just be "get a bridgeport", but when it takes me six monthes to save up the non-essential money for something like this, including a tax return, I can't afford to jump in without something to encourage me toward one or sway me on quality or design alone. :(

EDIT: Just thought, the knee mill does have a swiveling head assembly... I could make up for some loss in the work envelope by offsetting it to the side. And riser blocks would alleviate the vertical loss...

01-06-2012, 07:24 AM

Before you buy, are you sure you can live with a work envelope of x - 14" y - 6" z - 12"? I looked at the same thing and decided a BF20 style, (x- 18" y - 7" z - 13" to 18"), mill gives me more work envelope in a bed mill.

Just be sure before you buy.


Deus Machina
01-06-2012, 07:54 AM
Well, of course larger is better. And I'm doing plenty of shopping before throwing money at it. But almost 90% of my work will actually fit on a mini-mill, at 4x7.5x7.5, and these just allow me to branch out more and will obviously be vastly more rigid than a 90-pound machine.

If I can guarantee the RF45 I will get that one (as long as it's not any noisier than my Sieg X2), but most of the benefit will be in the X axis, in my ability to mill more than .075" aluminum at a pass--or steel, at all.

Plus, one of my qualifiers is that it not be a round-column. A lot of my work has a lot of Z-axis variance, and I just don't yet trust extending the quill 4" to deal with that, when lowering the head would retain rigidity. Of course, a similar price and more capability or similar capability and vastly lower price might sway me on that.

The tilting heads are also a bonus, but I've dealt well enough with doing that on the setup portion of the mini.

Between price, power, and size, the G1006 (http://www.grizzly.com/products/2-HP-Mill-Drill/G1006) is tempting... How much more of a pain is a round-column and working with the quill than a dovetailed, especially considering I'm used to my mini-mill without a quill. And couldn't use the gear-head machines if they're incredibly loud, anyway, since I'm stuck in an apartment complex...

01-06-2012, 08:14 PM
Have you considered this:


no connection and don't own one...not sure if it meets all your needs in terms of size and features (it certainly does not have the mass of those others)

01-06-2012, 08:55 PM

I suspect the gear heads may be a bit loud for close quarters living. So your neighbor's may not care for the RF45. I have used a round column once. I didn't care for it. Even with the tool held short, the round tube was still pretty flexible and caused chatter. So I would stay away from the round ones myself.

One thing I came across during my small mill search was a couple of owners of the RF45 and the 6x20 stated that the motors while dual voltage 110/220, really didn't seem to like running on 110V. They stated their motors ran hot and didn't have good power. They claimed switching them to 220V made them run much cooler and with better power. But it could have just been their particular motors.

I do like the 1-shot oiler of the Grizzly 3102, I wish my G0704 had that. The belt drive should be about as quiet as a mill can get. The speed range is a bit disappointing, a couple of slower speeds would be nice. But there must be comprimizes.

Over all, I would choose the RF45 over the 6x12 or round column.But like me, you have some constraints that would seem to lead to a different choice. And you seem to understand what you need for a work envelope. So the 6x12 may very well be a good choice for you.


Russ, I just bought the Grizzly version, (G0704), last month. I really like it. The smaller size belays the good rigidity of the full box design of the column. Those have owned both the Seig X3 and one of the BF2x's state the BF2x's are a much better designed and built machine. I have used mine mostly on mild steels, I find a 2" fly cutter with a brazed carbide tool bit can be run at .050" deep per pass without much complaint. I was able to run a 3/4" end mill in a step cut .060" wide x.300" deep, (AISI1018 steel), with nary a problem. It does suffer from a lack of low end torque. But that's a common problem with universal variable speed DC motors. Within it's proper torque band it's fine.

Deus Machina
01-06-2012, 10:20 PM
I've seen that one, Russ, but it seems like a small machine compared to the other ones. The numbers don't make it sound much smaller than some of the ones I've been looking at, though.

I was afraid of the lack of power, but apparently the numbers lie there, too.

I did get to honestly thinking about the round-columns today. Belt drive, much larger work envelope for their price, and good power. If I could find a place to bolt on mounts, I could even install a secondary column to help the rigidity--I wouldn't trust it to take large vertical cuts riding on it, but at least I could move it up and down without losing zero.

Also, with about 8" of headstock movement on my mini, and a few inches of that taken up by the vise, the vertical stroke wouldn't be much different...

I am debating the G0704 over the ZX45, though. Belt drive, and $800 cheaper after factoring a stand into the 45. But if one of the belt-drives would do me okay, they get much larger and still cheaper... Where's that 'banging head on the wall' smilie? :p

As for the noise. the garages are on a seperate bank, and across the street from actual apartments. My X2 hasn't caused any problems yet, but if things get much louder, that garage door can only blank out so much.

Most of my work is aluminum, with some very minor gun parts thrown in. If I can reasonably cut steel, the G0704 just might be the ticket. Especially since I just read about the 'head carriage trick'. Plus, I'm reading just how tall the 45 can be, and if I end up without a garage in the next move, the G0704 is small enough that I could convert a walk-in closet to a workshop. Dunno about my G0602 lathe...

EDIT: Correction, now belt driven. But quiet, according to these videos.

01-07-2012, 12:03 AM
I have an ancient version of that WT 6x26 that you mention. They are fairly capable machines and are simple enough to be pretty bulletproof. Mine came with a 1.5 HP motor and would happily eat its way through whatever I bolt to the table. 3 inch face mill on 6061-T6 aluminum? No problem. 3/4 inch roughing mill, 1/2 inch deep? Like butter. 15/16 drill through 1/2 inch mild steel plate? Easy.

The biggest problem I have is the same as you have with the mini-mill. 5-5/8" Y axis travel on a table 6-1/4" deep means that you can not reach both sides of the table when drilling near an edge. The head is not on a ram, so the work envelope (without moving the work) is just over 5.5 inches deep.

Even so, I like it enough that I added a 3 axis DRO and a 2 HP 3PH motor. For what I work on, it is just fine. Since my other mill is a Seig X1, I REALLY appreciate the 6x26


01-07-2012, 01:31 AM

I really do like my G0704 mill so far. I was within a hair's breath of buying the RF45, but the size could be a problem for me. I have one more move I need to make in about 5-7 years and my machine shop space will shrink to a 10x12 room when we do move. I will need to get my lathe, drill press, mill, saw, compressor, workbench, tool boxes and shelving to fit. Bigger machines aren't in the cards for me.

I have done several small projects in steel and aluminum so far that have turned out very well to my satisfaction. I can't move metal with it like I can with an old K&T mill, but I don't expect to. It is accurate machine and operates smoothly. I have not had any trouble holding tolerences in the -.000 +.001 range with it.

I did have to remove the head and column to correct the forward nod of about .008" out of the box. But a simple cleaning followed by paint removal, rout-a-burring the holes, and breaking the sharp edges with a file resulted in a corrected nod of .0005" over the entire y-axis travel. No shims needed. All the mating parts of the head, z-slide, column and base are scraped, they just didn't bother to clean them before assembly. I have not yet felt the need to flip the z-slide upside down to get the additional 5" of z height from it. But I will probably do it shortly.

The one down side in my eyes is the lack of power at low speeds. But the DC universal motor is noted for that. I just make sure to operate in the proper part of the torque curve for the motor and life is good. A G0704 would be a noticable upgrade in capabilites over your X2.

Over all as a renter, you do need to be concerned about needing to move to a new home. Possibly on short notice. It's frankly far easier to move a ~280lbs mill rather than a 900lbs mill.

I think your biggest problem is you have 3 good choices that could work well for you. The 6x20, the RF45, and the G0704. I don't see a right or wrong answer here. The 6x20 doesn't quite have the work envelope of the other two but is perhaps the quietest, the RF45 has the size and power but could be too big and perhaps noisey, the G0704 has a good sized work envelope, is easy to move and is pretty quiet also, but frankly can't match the power of the 2hp motors of the other two mills.


Deus Machina
01-07-2012, 02:05 AM
Well, for ease of use and moving, and its size, I think the G0704 has sold me now that it has a couple sponsors here. :)

If I knew I wouldn't have to move it soon, I'd buy the 45. Heck once I own a garage, I'll wire in 220 and find something 3-phase. But for now, I need something I can move if I need to.

Being poor sucks. But the machines offset it now and then.

Anyway, now that I'm a few hundred dollars under budget... How are Grizzly's Kurt-style vises? :D

01-07-2012, 10:15 AM

I sure do understand the poor part too!:D It really must be hard to try and keep tools around living in an apartment. But the 704 should be light enough and still have good enough power while giving you more working room. Plus, in the future, when you do settle down and have a long term residence and get a larger machine, the G0704 could be a fun candidate for CNC'ing.

I can't speak to the quality of Grizzly vices. I bought a 6" ENCO brand CNC vice, TiteLock II I think they call it. They are often on sale for $180 or so. It's ground on all sides and has proved to be plenty accurate enough and is well made. It might be a bit big, but I like it.

Keep ruminating on your choice,


01-07-2012, 10:24 AM
I was going to start another thread but "it" just seems to fit better here, apologies if this gets the thread going too off track.

For me I think one of the things at least subtly influencing a potential purchase is the online community and how active a particular group (of owners in this case) is...there is also, I feel, a need to factor in how many various models are actually quite similar or similar enough so as some technique/warning has a useful commonality.

As example I would put forth the G0704 and that in great part to the website of that name. Lots of mods have gone on and whether or not I end up doing them, some or all, the road has been trod and for a noob it makes life easier. As well, that site even has a drop down of machines either identical or nearly so from various manufacturers as well as sellers...that too helps a great deal.

As a larger group, I would see Seig owners as a prime example.
Related, though some may knock those generic import lathes, they do have an internet presence...has anything possible not been tried with them?

Deus Machina
01-07-2012, 06:00 PM
As evidenced in this thread, the following of a particular machine does affect my choice. A tool doesn't gain a following if it's overpriced slag, for one. If you modify or repair, the other fans are great. I don't care if a machine is perfection turned out of the divine factory, eventually it will need parts and if you can't find the parts and someone that can tell you how to install them, it doesn't matter how good the machine actually is.

The Siegs are a great example, yes: sturdy, powerful, and smooth for their size and price--if you tune them up--readily available, and easy to work on.

No, I don't think anything that could be done has not been. I have seen write-ups on converting all of them to belt-drive to someone welding two 7x12 beds together (and reportedly did it well enough that it worked like it was cast that way!) and someone else likewise extended the X and Z axis on an X2.