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How hard is it to live without handwheels on a CNC mill?

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  • How hard is it to live without handwheels on a CNC mill?

    I have been hoping to find a cnc mill for my home shop and I have a lead on a functioning good condition BP Boss with the original controller for what sounds like a good deal. I plan to eventually replace the old controller. My dilemma is I only have the space and funds for one mill, and was hoping for one I could run both manually and cnc. Any opinions or experience from others on living without handwheels? Granted, I am planning that 95% of the mills use will be cnc, but do you think the work-arounds for the occasional manual use will be intolerable?

    Thanks for any advice you might be able to offer.

  • #2
    I have been looking at an Emco F1 milling machine with much the same thought in mind, only I expect to use it about half the time with manual control. The F1 looks like this would work out ok. With the bp Boss, I don't know. I had one offered to me recently at a very good price, but I don't know enough about them to give you a good answer.


    • #3
      Bport BOSS mills

      I have some experience with the BOSS 8 mill. When our was working (the electronics have died) I soon got used to using the rapid traverse selection for large movements. There is a jog know which will move the table in three different modes, rapid, .010 per rev of the knob (as I recall) and a .0001 model for fine adjustment.

      I am trying to weasel the BP to my house with the plan of replacing the control with a PC running the Mach 3 software but I don't know if that will come through. The iron is in great shape but the electronics are completly shot.
      Errol Groff

      New England Model Engineering Society

      YouTube channel:


      • #4
        I've got a manual pulse generator (MPG) on my Tree. This lets you pick one of 4 or 5 different axes and then .0001, .001, or .010 increments of motion.

        The pendent also has continuous and incremental jog buttons for each axis along with different increment settings.

        The MPG mostly gets used for bringing a tool or probe close to a feature, and then setting part zeros or starting the probe. There's no sense manually facing a part using the MPG when I can use the facing canned cycle and not have to sit there spinning the dial on the MPG.

        I might drill a single hole once in a while using the MPG. There isn't a lot of sense to me in trying to control cuts manually when the machine is happy to make a much smoother cut to a greater length/depth accuracy than I can do by hand.



        • #5

          I personally find it to be a pain in backside if all you want to do is blow a cutter once across a single part.

          But the moment you can start to combine operations and/or do multiple parts, then it's ok. If you've got 95% of real CNC need, then perhaps the other 5% of the time won't be so bad for you.

          If you think you understand what is going on, you haven't been paying attention.


          • #6
            All of my machines at work (link below) are CNC or retrofit to be. All with handwheels that YOU can (when in DRO mode) control.


            They can all be run manually to some extent, based upon the machine by use of handwheels or power feed in "DRO" mode. I like having the handwheels for controlling table / carriage movement without positioning being done by drivers, particularly when setting up. I would rather have and not need or use, than not have any handwheels at all.

            I do not know what you have for a budget, but, if I could afford to put SWI equipment in my home shop I would do it in a flash. Wife, kids, and other bills prohibit it at this time and probably for good (unless I hit lotto for big bucks). The machines are not "that" expensive compared to some others, but they may not have all of the bells and whistles the others may have or that you would want or need. The milling machines are limited to three axis milling. If you want or need four or five axis milling capabilities, these won't do.
            Last edited by ERBenoit; 11-15-2007, 07:00 PM.
            Paying Attention Is Not That Expensive.


            • #7
              I have two cnc mills without hand wheels and I really do not miss them. You are forced to learn the control a little faster, but it is well worth it in terms of quality of finish and productivity. I still use my manual mill with a dro but not nearly as much as I used to. Between jog wheels and mdi mode you can do a lot without breaking out the cam software. That BOSS 6 control is getting awfully old so you should try to budget in a retrofit in the near future. Mach3 and gecko drives are reliable and affordable.


              • #8
                I don't use the handwheels on either of my CNC Taigs, it's easier to just use the jog keys if I want to do a quick facing job. That said, I also have a manual Taig, and if I didn't there are probably times when I'd miss them on the CNC.

                Largest resource on the web for Taig lathes and milling machines,


                • #9
                  I kept hand wheels on my first cnc mill a little x2 sieg as at first I was a holdout for manual control like many new to cnc, thinking it would be better for fast jobs. On my x3 I have no hand wheels as I have become more experienced with cnc. I do not miss them and can work the mill very quickly in manual mode. It's becoming almost second nature now. I use a gamepad, mdi input and jog commands for manual duty. It takes some practice and learning but there is really no need to turn a wheel anymore on a cnc mill. And I'm sure somebody will come up with a reason to have them. But 99% of whatever you can do turning a hand wheel you can do as well or better and faster with cnc manual controls. But it does take time to learn how to do it. On my cnc lathe I have no hand wheels either and can see no reason to ever add them.
                  Just my .02


                  • #10
                    Handwheels vs keyboard vs MPG is a user interface issue. Some people like keyboard shortcuts, other people like to mouse through menus, same difference as long as your method gets you where you want to go.

                    If you've got CNC I don't see much need to be able to turn controls for two different axes simultaneously. If you aren't just going in a straight x, y, or z line, the control can do a superior job of it than a human can.



                    • #11
                      Xarcade keyboard emulator tied into a arcade type digital joystick.. to hell with the hand wheels.. Just joystick it.

                      I am running mach3 currently. Using Larken Cobra drives, a Pentium 4 computer, opto22 isolators on the parallel port, a Toshiba 2hp inverter drive on my mill head. single phase in, three phase out.

                      Build is on If you wire it right, you can switch from dos/turbocnc to Linux/EMC to XP/mach3 without changing a thing.

                      Mach3 has the wizards, hole circles, etc.. I stick with it.
                      USE a main control relay to remove power from the inverter infeed.. the reset button brings it up.. OKAY, I wired mine the first time and when the computer would reboot the mill head would turn on.. not good to be in a tool change.. THE brake is seperate from the pc controls.. it stips it.
                      Excuse me, I farted.


                      • #12
                        Thanks for all the great input. It sounds like once I learn the control well enough, the occasional manual manuevering will not be any cause for grief. I'm excited to get started with cnc, and hoping everything else checks out with this machine when I go to check it out next weekend. Hopefully I'll have some pictures of a first project soon.


                        • #13
                          Kinda like learning to ride a bicycle without the training wheels. You really don’t want to cause you have a certain comfort level with the extra wheels. But once you are forced to do it without the wheels you would never want to put those extra wheels back on the bike.

                          I have a couple mills, one of them being a Boss and I would just see the hand wheels as a hindrance. Even with my manual mill I almost always use the power feeds so with CNC its just a power feed.. JRouche
                          My old yahoo group. Bridgeport Mill Group



                          • #14
                            For the past 2-1/2 years, I've been running a CNC knee mill. In that time, I've used the handwheels exactly once. You don't get much feel with ball screws and it's just as easy to jog it around.
                            Jon Bohlander
                            My PM Blog