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Advice on buying a milling machine

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SillyOldDuffer28/08/2020 13:38:24
6653 forum posts
1495 photos
Posted by Paul Mallen on 28/08/2020 12:33:51:


I'm very much a 'messer' and will have a go at anything ...


In that case beware of wasting time (as I did) trying to find the perfect milling machine!

Any milling machine is much better than no milling machine.

Size matters. Generally, big is better. Otherwise mills are similar, and bells and whistles don't matter much.

If you want to do fine work, clocks or OO models etc, then any small machine will do a reasonable job. Easily moved and quiet but beware. Very small mills may not be up to steel, and none are designed for persistent hard work. The cheapest models probably won't hold precision - if that's important.

For mid-range hobby work this design comes in a range of sizes. Picture is of a Warco WM18, weighs 220kg with a brushed 1100W DC motor, perhaps the largest of the type. It will fit in an ordinary garage, which is why I bought one! In comparison, the WM14 - identical layout but smaller - weighs 60kg and has a 500W motor.

Both machines cut metal, the difference is the WM18 has a bigger table with more travel and headroom. That plus the more powerful motor means it can take on bigger jobs and remove metal faster. About 80% of what I do could be done on a WM14, and 90% on a WM16 (113kg/750W). Other vendors sell similar, ArcEuro might appeal because their range (made in a different factory) have brushless motors, definitely a 'good thing' but not one to lose sleep over!

What I really want is an even bigger mill, ideally a good condition Bridgeport. My workshop isn't big enough.

New vs second-hand I suggest is down entirely to condition. The advantage of buying new is the seller will sort you out if you happen to get a lemon. The advantage of older Western made mills is better finish and sturdy build standards, but how much has survived on a 50 year old machine needs looking at! A Rolls Royce driven into a tree at 90mph is a write-off, not a quality car!

I wasted too much time dithering about lathes. In the end I bought a mini-lathe and cut metal with it. Not the best lathe in the world, but it taught me all the basics and I had a lot of fun. They are capable of good work. Owning a mini-lathe soon revealed I needed a band-saw and milling machine. This time I just went for it. The band-saw was rough rubbish but it works well after minor fettling. My WM18 needed no fettling at all - good to go straight out of the box.

Lesson learned: if not sure about what's needed, it probably doesn't matter - yet! Once a machine has been put to work, it's shortcomings soon become apparent. By then the owner is educated and can decide what to do about it. Buying Far Eastern I half expected to become dissatisfied as I learned and want to replace the equipment with something better. Turned out it does everything I want, game on!

On a mill the first really valuable accessory is a DRO. Fitting mine with the cheapest possible DRO transformed it. After that, rotary table.


not done it yet28/08/2020 15:28:28
5349 forum posts
20 photos

I’m an old-iron person and most of my output is ‘12” to the foot’ scale.

Comparing machines can be difficult. As one person said, delivery is not always the same. Likewise motor power - some are motor input and some are motor output. There will be other subtle differences, particularly if one wishes to purchase extras for the machine later, so one needs to look ahead a little. Tread carefully if buying on price.

And do remember that some apparently second hand machines may possibly be refurbished former ‘lemons’, so careful selection may be required.

I’m glad you have discarded the machinemart possibles, btw.🙂

Mick B128/08/2020 16:00:31
1799 forum posts
91 photos

Climb milling is not a "don't you nivver do it", it's a "be very careful if you do". It's fine for very light finishing cuts, or spring cuts at the same setting as the final metal-removal cut. It usually will produce a smoother finish on surfaces cut with the flutes.

The danger comes with attempts to take a serious cut on a machine with enough backlash to cause a very sudden and deep increase of depth of cut.

Paul Mallen28/08/2020 18:58:01
44 forum posts
16 photos

Howard - yes i see what you mean, i don't think i will be making deep cuts to start with, and the only slots i will be making have to be a maximum 4mm wide & 10mm deep in a piece of bar - stainless, brass or ally for the tuning post on the machine head - so i'll be looking at investing in a slot drill, or at least hoping i can come across a machine with some tooling!

Dave - Brilliant thanks for that mate - and its good to know i'm looking at the right kind of machine - albeit the WM12, and i am concerned that i'm doing too much faffing & not enough buying as well! I'm also looking at the Seig machines but Warco are winning out on the free delivery thing, unless i can find the proverbial bargain... i think its the way i'm going to go -as you and NDIY point out, buying a lemons very easy to do these days, so If i'm looking to buy something on ebay around the 500 quid mark, it has to be at least half of the RRP for me to even consider it, because i would much rather save a couple hundred quid more, buy new & get the after sales service & warranty. The tooling i can get as i'm going & learning & I've seen too many people buy lemons on there & i don't want it to happen to me, plus i don't get an itchy bidding finger so theres little chance of me chucking my cash up the wall on something because its shiny...

Same kind of thing here but i started on woodwork - making a bass guitar over 10 years ago & its just been one whole long journey of 'oooo i need one of these now', of which i am still walking & probably will for a while yet laugh

Mick - Thanks for that last sentence, now i understand what exactly happened when i tried to mill on my lathe, when i "did something" (which i now think was attempt climb milling) and the thing almost took off the bench & scared the living **** out of me, the neighbours & everyone else in the street that just heard a bang followed by some extremely loud expletives!

I've not tried it again since......

Edited By Paul Mallen on 28/08/2020 18:58:46

Edited By Paul Mallen on 28/08/2020 18:59:08

Edited By Paul Mallen on 28/08/2020 19:00:16

Paul Mallen28/08/2020 19:27:56
44 forum posts
16 photos

Sorry Clive, i missed a point from your previous post which also fits in with one of Dave's points above - At the moment i'm only looking to reproduce what i've shown in my pics on the start of the post, I've been racking my brains to think of what else i can make but thats it for now (i said the same thing about my 3D printer but have since found endless things to make....). If i get commissioned to make a 4 string bass i only need to make one bridge & 4 tuners, so its not going to have a load of heavy, consistent work through it, and i want to improve on the designs i've done & mess around prototyping when i've not got any builds on. this is the reason i think the WM12 will suit what i need for now, i want precision but anything will be better than what i have now - an old ML4 that sounds like its going to kill something every time i start it up & a clarke drill press with a compound slide vice that weighs more than the actual press! To start with it will only be used for face milling, accurate drilling & the odd small slot, something bigger would be good but it may well be overkill & there doesn't seem to be many decent used machines at a fair price at the mo.

So it will be used for production but not heavy production - i just know i will spend more time messing around with it than actually making stuff as well, so i'm hoping i'm looking at the right power range.

Terry Kirkup03/12/2020 10:48:00
78 forum posts
57 photos

Hi again folks. I hope you are all well and staying safe.

Does anyone know roughly what time(s) of the year our handful of regular UK machine suppliers have stock arriving from China, or is it completely random? I was hoping to bag a milling machine before Christmas but my two favoured suppliers are out of stock.

old mart03/12/2020 17:17:54
2462 forum posts
169 photos

Whether climb milling is safe or not depends on the measured backlash in the movements and the experiance of the operator. Another factor is the stiffness of the movements. I climb mill using smaller depths of cut than conventional. The drill mill has a very stiff X movement but plenty of backlash, and the Tom Senior has a very free moving X axis, but the backlash is well controlled. The diameter of the cutter also matters, climb milling with a 6mm is subject to very much lower forces than if a 16mm cutter is used. Shell mills being larger diameter are to be treated with respect, I would not try more than 0.001", 0.025mm climb finishing with one.

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