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Home Shop Milling Machine -- Used Knee Mill vs. New Benchtop

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  • Home Shop Milling Machine -- Used Knee Mill vs. New Benchtop

    I'm finally at a point where I "need" a mill for my home shop, but I'm torn between getting a decent used Bridgeport (or something similar) and a new benchtop (Precision Matthews, for example). I don't have a ton of room, but either will fit, and I mostly work with steel with a little aluminum and brass thrown in. I'm finding I can get a good, not-too-old, cleaned-up knee mill with a VFD for about the same price as a new, higher-end PM benchtop mill, both similarly equipped (3-axis DRO, vise, and x-axis power feed). I've worked with both types, and I think I understand the advantages/disadvantages of each, but I'm sitting squarely on the fence when it comes to picking one over the other. Any ideas out there to break the tie? Thanks.
    Last edited by schuylergrace; 10-14-2020, 04:59 AM.

  • #2
    IT all depends on what you want, intend, or have to make on the mill. If this is for a hobby, just making small items then go with the bench mill. If there is any likelihood of needing to mill larger parts then you would be best to go with the knee mill.
    I have both, and am currently adding a small horizontal mill ( Atlas) to my shop to do some jobs best done on a horizontal.
    The adventure( and the expenditure) need never end !
    Regards David Powell.

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    • #3
      no contest imo. Some small mills have some slight advantages for very small work, but really most of the the small mill's advantage is limited to ease of moving. Maybe less space. but I'd argue the footprints are very similar. If you can move it into place, all things being equal, the heavier the better is a general truism.
      in Toronto Ontario - where are you?

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      • #4
        If you're on the fence and think either will work for you, then it comes down to whatever you can get the best deal on. Not everybody NEEDS a "Bridgeport" for the work they do. I honestly could get away with a small benchtop machine at home for about 95% of the things I do. BUT I got a good deal on my Excello, and there's no replacement for displacement as they say. It does a much better job of holding down my floor than a benchtop machine....

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        • #5
          I have a benchtop and then got a knee and have never used the benchtop since. If you have the room get the knee.

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          • #6
            You might think you only want to work on smaller stuff but I guarantee something will come up that's bigger. Though that can happen with a large knee mill too

            If you're mostly working with steel, go for a bigger knee mill, BP, Acra or similar. Mass and rigidity make a big difference on working in harder materials. Resale should be pretty good too. I see a fair few smaller bench mills on CL for forever, someone who bought all the goodies and then can't recoup much of their cost.

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            • #7
              No contest. Get a decent, used knee mill. Not only will you have greater capability, but Bridgeports and their clones are so common that finding repair parts or information on how to repair is incredibly easy. The fit and finish on an actual Bridgeport also tends to be better than on an import, which I appreciate. I've never operated any Precision Matthews products and I know they have a really good reputation, so the fit/finish argument may be moot.

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              • #8
                yeah, I'm not 100% sure about PM mills, at least the Chinese sourced ones, are really all that much better than Grizzly or others, though they do generally provide good support. There have been several accounts about poorly machined column dovetails on the PM727, where the center is narrower than the top and bottom so the head binds at either end of the travel. Kind of like buying a pre-worn mill. They've sent out replacement parts (new gib? like that would fix it) but others say they've just learned to live with it.

                or you could get a 100% fine mill, it's a bit of a lottery I think.

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                • #9
                  The "knee mill" is much more versatile. If you have the budget and space for a Bridgeport, I would go for that over the "Precision Mathews" for sure.

                  The B-port you know was made right. The PM, frankly, maybe not...

                  And, no worries about size of work, a Bridgeport if not crazy-sloppy, will do very small work successfully, I mean work easily fitting in a 1" cube. I know of several folks who do that as a standard part of their business (medical device work).

                  Plus, you get both a quill and a knee, with most of the head options.
                  1601

                  Keep eye on ball.
                  Hashim Khan

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by schuylergrace View Post
                    I'm finally at a point where I "need" a mill for my home shop, but I'm torn between getting a decent used Bridgeport (or something similar) and a new benchtop (Precision Matthews, for example). I don't have a ton of room, but either will fit, and I mostly work with steel with a little aluminum and brass thrown in. I'm finding I can get a good, not-too-old, cleaned-up knee mill with a VFD for about the same price as a new, higher-end PM benchtop mill, both similarly equipped (3-axis DRO, vise, and x-axis power feed). I've worked with both types, and I think I understand the advantages/disadvantages of each, but I'm sitting squarely on the fence when it comes to picking one over the other. Any ideas out there to break the tie? Thanks.
                    Any machine will fantastically increase your ability to do what you want. Here the only important thing is the place where to put it and the purchase price. It will not be superfluous. The weight of the machine is not important, the space that the machine takes up in your workshop is important.
                    I wish you success in filling your master's tools.

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                    • #11
                      Having a knee as well as a quill is a great advantage. At the museum, we have a large drill mill and a slightly smaller capacity Tom Senior with a knee, which makes it nicer to use. There are plenty of knee mills which are a size smaller than a Bridgeport, so the choice is difficult, especially as the cost goes up a lot when you factor in the tooling.

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                      • #12
                        One big feature of the Bport over the benchtop is the head movement abilities. In addition to swivel, nod and tilt many of them can also run in and out by some amount to reach the spots needed. Compare that to only a tilt function on any of the bench top units that I've seen. This can be a big deal on some larger parts. You gotta be able to reach it before you can mill it.

                        So I'd say that to some extent it's a measure of the size of the parts you will want to mill. The B'port gives you a bigger overall working volume and better means to move the cutter to different places within that volume. But if 99.5% of your work will be doing smaller pieces then a bench top can do the job just fine.
                        Chilliwack BC, Canada

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                        • #13
                          Thanks all for the responses! I was leaning toward a Bridgeport-style mill for its rigidity, workspace size, and power, and I think you've convinced me that's the way to go. If all I had to choose between were new machines, I'd have to go with a heavy benchtop for price, alone. But since a good, used knee mill can be had for roughly the same price as a new benchtop, I see there's more value in the knee mill. BTW, I own a PM lathe, which is a nicely designed machine, has the features and power I need, and works for me, so I don't regret getting it instead of a nice, old Clausing or Hardinge machine. That's what led me to question whether I should choose old or new when it came to a mill. Thank you, again, for your sage advice!

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                          • #14
                            There are 2 kinds of milling machines....
                            Knee mills, that got us to the moon,
                            and round column mills, that did not.
                            Nuff said.

                            -Doozer
                            DZER

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                            • #15
                              Here's one piece of advice I would offer from the aviation industry and others - if you are buying used get a prebuy inspection by a qualified machinist or machinery expert. I see you are in Phoenix and you can easily find someone from a machine shop or sales who for say 100 bucks would give you their expert opinion. Its as always 'buyer beware' and the more qualified info you get the happier you will be with your purchase and have saved money and headaches in the future. That is unless the ad says "as is - your wheelbarrow".☺

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