It was not that long time ago that only the bigger factories had milling machines. The reason it was like this was simple. Who wants to have a machine so ridiculously heavy and hard to move?
Thanks to technology advancements, it is now possible for basically everyone to enjoy a hobby milling machine.
This has been done by introducing of models that are a lot smaller and lighter and most now weigh under 50 kilograms and in fact you can even get some as light at 5 kilos.
In this article we will help you try and find the best little machine by looking at the best available in todays market. There will be a wide variety of models that you can grind many types of materials in the comfort of your own home and get the best results possible.
Add to that, you will be able to get the best mill machine that you need without breaking your bank either.
What exactly are Milling Machines used for?
There was a time where milling machines were basically only available for the industrial and commercial areas of business and in particular the bigger factories and manufacturers and those milling machines are still being used today. They are massive machines and will cost a lot of money, not to mention weighing a ridiculous amount. However nowadays the milling machines are a lot smaller and have more compact versions made available for you to use for your own small business or even in your own personal garage.
We will now focus on the benchtop milling machines. They are generally called mini milling machines. When you look at them in comparison to the bigger industrial ones, the mini’s are a lot smaller and can be a free standing machine, they weigh significantly less and their size makes them perfect to sit on your bench or even table you have set up.
Now to the novice you might look at a milling machine that is a piece of machinery that is designed for a specific purpose and you might be thinking what you could even do with it. However, these machines are incredibly flexible, and you can do a variety of things with them and with these specific machines you can do all your work from home.
Then comes the question, what exactly do you do with a milling machine? Putting it simply, the machines can shape many solid materials and are mainly used with metal that has an indifferent shape or that are flat, and you can even use wood with them as well. You can use them like a router or drill to make slots, drill holes and even cut gears. If you feel like being imaginative with your machine, then you can make sculptures out of wood with detail and even engrave steel as well.
Along with that, there are a number professions that get great use out of a smaller milling machine. Places like a mechanic or car body shop, while that can even be used to make things like gun barrels in some circumstances.
This is the type of machine that you think you will never need or even use, until you get it that is. If you are a handyman or simply just love working with your hands than you will have many uses for a mini milling machine.
Things to look at when you are choosing a mini milling machine
Its power and its speed
Now if your machines main function will be to mill steel then you are going to need a reasonably heavy machine, much like the one that we put in our top spot. As most construction workers will know, steel is not that easy to mill so you will want to make sure that you get the right machine that can manage it if that is the main material that you will regularly be milling. Ideally you should be on the look out for a machine that has a high horsepower and one where the machines speed can be changed.
Most of these machines will be more than able to do the job with materials such as brass, wood and aluminium. Now as will most things, the more power that a machine has, then the harder it will be able to work. So, if you are into model making and want a machine for that purpose, then you really should not have to worry about power as you will be generally working with materials that are smaller.
Then there is the horsepower of the machine. If your machine is mainly going to be used for smaller work or on softer materials, then experts suggest that any machine that has 1/8 horsepower is more than enough. For the more intense jobs it is ideal to stick with a one horsepower machine and if you want something to really have a go and perform well then, a two-horsepower machine will be a good match.
Do not forget about the speed of your machine either simply because materials are all different and will need different rates of speed. As you will find many milling machines have a max RPM and a minimum RPM. Your standard milling machines can give you the ability to put in numerous pre-sets in the range. The generally good ones will give you up to eight different settings for the speed for you to choose from. Some machines give you the option of various speeds and that means that you can set which ever speed you would like from the ranges of its minimum and maximum speed range. If you find that you have enough pre-sets then you do not really need the variable speed options because usually most milling machines with have the perfect pre sets already in for the materials that you intend to use. However, having a machine that has a variable speed option is a nice feature to have simply because you can then find the exact speed you like with whichever material you use for the results.
The accuracy and vibration of the machine
As most laborers or construction workers can attest too, the one thing that can affect your tools accuracy is how stable it is an what can affect the tools stability? That is right, its foundation. Your machine must be built on a solid enough foundation so it can handle the movements and vibrations with the machine moving around. Experts say that the best material to have for a base is in fact cast iron. It is strong and can easily handle the brute force of milling and can even absorb the vibrations that are being made for the machine while it is being used. It will last a long time too and is a perfect choice for a solid milling machine.
Your table is another thing that you should consider when it comes to your machine’s accuracy. Now depending on the quality of the table it will most likely be made from metal, normally steel or aluminum and most milling machine tables with also have what are called T slots so clamps can be attached and grip your material while you are working on it.
The size and capacity
There are a few things that when it comes to the size of your machine that you need to think of. Firstly, is the actual size of your machine. Normally most of these can be placed on a workbench however some of them weigh a substantial amount and are reasonably big. So you have to think about and make sure that what ever type of surface you will be putting your machine on, is that it can easily handle the weight while at the same time, giving you space to work as well.
The distance of the spindle is important as well. It goes up and down and the distance is always measured when it is at its highest point. This will give you an idea about the how high the material that you can use on your mill machine.
Your worktable is another thing that is important too. One of the first things to think about is the distance you will be travelling. They generally go from side to side as well as front and back and this distance that they travel will give you a great idea of the working area you will have. This is important simply because the more your table moves, the less you are going to have to move your work when you are on the go.
In addition to that, have a think about your actual worktable as well. You table might be able to easily support a piece of material that hangs over the edge a little bit, if you have far to much hanging over then that is going to make it too hard to use your machine in a safe manner.
The accuracy and control
If you are going to be needing to make intricate angles, then look for a machine that has a head section that both lifts and rotates. Some only tilt it up near 45 degrees from left to right and then there are others who move it the full 360 degrees.
Adding to your base being stable, there are other things from your machine that will provide accuracy. Take the controls for example. The easier they are to move the more precise they are. Levers are normally used for bigger and abrasive movement while the gauges and scales are generally used for fine tuning. In fact, there are some scales that go down to ridiculously small increments.
Safety tips for your mill machine
Your mini mill is going to have both electric parts as well as cutting parts so there is always going to be an element of risk when using it so be careful every time you use it.
Some safety tips include that you know how to use your mini mill properly before you even turn it in or at the very least have a read of the user guide that comes with it. It is crucial for you to know all the ins and outs of your machine and in particular the emergency stop button.
One thing you must not do is change to speed of the spindle while you are using it. You will need to separate the cutter from the working piece and then proceed to change the speed before you continue to work.
Also make sure that the piece of material you are milling is held tight and safely on the worktable, normally from a vice however do not tighten the arbor nut while your mini mill is still on.
You should also do your best to keep your body as far away from the cutter as you can. You should not try and touch the turning mill or even the work piece while it is operating. Use the hand wheels to move your table as well as the head stock.
Put all relevant safety guards in their correct positions to prevent any spilling of oil and metal chips.
When you are fastening or separating the machine, use a piece of towel or rag to hold then so you do not hurt yourself.
Make sure you turn off the machine before making any adjustments or measurements for your own safety.
Comparing Vertical and Horizontal milling machine
When you are at the stage of choosing a milling machine there are numerous things that need to be thought of. Firstly, do you need a vertical cutter or a horizontal cutter? Mills that are vertical are the newest form of machines and they all use a method called die-sinking. Cutting vertical planes and they have three other categories, turret, bed, and mill drills.
Superior to bed mills are the turret mills. This is because the table can move vertically as well as parallel to the machines spindle.
Bed mills on the other hand use a spindle that stays still and come with a table that can only move in one motion(vertically) to the spindle. This does limit what they can do but are normally on the cheaper side and that can make them the ideal choice if you do not need to cut parallel.
Then there are the turret mills. These are widely considered better than the bed mills as they can move vertically as well as parallel to the machines spindle. They are ideal for smaller machines simply because the quill that is used to move the cutter up and down, it is hard to reach on any size mill and it heavy on the bigger machines.
Mill drills are usually found in someone’s hobby shop or in their home. This is because are there a lot smaller and lighter as well as being cheaper than their counterparts, however, they are not suitable for the larger volume work.
If you have a project that is going to take a long time, then the horizontal mills are the choice to go with. They use a horizontal tool to cut your material. They are great for making spirals as well as grooves and they are better suited at working on pieces that are multi-sided. For people who genuinely want a great adaptable machine that has a rotating head and is more than capable of doing both things than horizontal and vertical cutting it the best option.