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Milling machines - western-made s/h recommendations up to 2k

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William Ayerst28/03/2021 20:56:57
259 forum posts

Good evening gents,

The time for my house move is nigh, and as such thoughts are turning to kitting out the workshop. Thus far I've made do with an ML7 and for now I think my needs would be well served with it for the short and mid-term i.e. some smaller static engines and general learning tasks. However, I think knowing what to keep an eye out for on the used market would be useful.

I emphasise that at this point I don't NEED a mill - but I'm sure I will do, and forewarned is four-armed and so on. I foresee the main jobs for this mill would be fabricating locos (5" Gauge) / TE (1.5-2" Gauge) and static engine parts, and gear cutting.

For context - My old workshop was a detached concrete garage, the new one for now is an insulated, powered garden shed about 15' x 8' - which I think rules out a Bridgeport Series II fairly definitively. There is the possibility of a purpose-built outbuilding at the end of the garden, or the use of an integated garage space if using the shed is an awful idea.

I feel like a perfect solution would be a Harrison horizontal miller, with a vertical milling attachment add-on as well - but I don't know if that is an unreasonable expectation? I would really rather not buy whitelabelled chinese junk and I am happy to put my money where my mouth is.

My budget is up to about £2k, having bought a small-ish lathe in the ML7 I don't want to make the same mistake with a mill - but realistically something like a Bridgeport might be a bit too large...




Edited By William Ayerst on 28/03/2021 21:06:46

Hollowpoint29/03/2021 00:16:53
476 forum posts
59 photos

This would be my list:

Myford VMC

Boxford VM30

Tom Senior

Pete.29/03/2021 03:50:45
815 forum posts
245 photos

William, there's an Elliott Miller for sale at the moment on ebay Here I reckon £1200 would buy it, looks like a nice machine, I know a few people on here think it's below them to buy second hand stuff that needs tidying up a bit, but if you're not work shy, you'd end up with a nice machine.

I think you also said you don't have a drill Press? The Elliott looks like it has reasonable size quill, so could be useful for drilling, it also has horizontal milling capability.

Gary Wooding29/03/2021 07:06:03
996 forum posts
255 photos

Don't forget a Centec 2B with a FH. If it's good enough for Cherry Hill it should be fine for you.

JasonB29/03/2021 07:41:32
23076 forum posts
2771 photos
1 articles

Why rule out all Chinese as Junk? look at these all produced on a Junk Lathe and Junk mill that would fit your budget and fit through a shed door but not fall through the floor.

Noting your earlier comments about drilling and suggestions to use the mill as your drill, check that what you are looking at has a quill, if not winding the table up and down can become tedious.

not done it yet29/03/2021 08:23:40
6889 forum posts
20 photos

+1 to Gary.

My line up is Raglan 5”, Raglan mill (smaller work), Centec 2B (vertical/horizontal) with power feed and riser block and Eagle SG.

I don’t doubt the Seniors, Sharps, Omnimills etc are all possible contenders.

Nothing in particular against the better chinese machines - apart from the expensive-to-replace circuit boards and motors (reported failures with monotonous regularity). I like my ‘old iron’, but one does need to be ‘selective’ with some of the offerings, as they may have been well-made - but some have had a hard life.

Powered threading is not possible without a quill - as well as drilling being a little more laborious (no real problem with the Raglan). Head-space, for drilling, can be a challenge if it is a bit limited (finger collets and stub drills?). I’ve never had a fixed pillar drill - anything over-sized would be taken to a friend’s place, for drilling, if required.

Tony Pratt 129/03/2021 08:34:46
2033 forum posts
12 photos
Posted by Hollowpoint on 29/03/2021 00:16:53:

This would be my list:

Myford VMC

Boxford VM30

Tom Senior

I would concur the above plus offerings from Warco or Chester, btw I have a Myford VMC


SillyOldDuffer29/03/2021 10:25:03
8906 forum posts
1999 photos

Posted by William Ayerst on 28/03/2021 20:56:57:.


I emphasise that at this point I don't NEED a mill - but I'm sure I will do, ...

For context - My old workshop was a detached concrete garage, the new one for now is an insulated, powered garden shed about 15' x 8' - which I think rules out a Bridgeport Series II fairly definitively. There is the possibility of a purpose-built outbuilding at the end of the garden, or the use of an integated garage space if using the shed is an awful idea.

I feel like a perfect solution would be a Harrison horizontal miller, with a vertical milling attachment add-on as well - but I don't know if that is an unreasonable expectation?

... I am happy to put my money where my mouth is. My budget is up to about £2k, ...

Last point first, there is an immediate collision between a budget of up to £2k and ' I am happy to put my money where my mouth is'! And you do need a mill, mine is used more than my lathe.

Not too bad if £2k covers paying for the machine only, but £2k is unlikely to be enough if delivery, tooling and accessories are needed too. Worse if the shed floor needs strengthening, a VFD and/or new motor is needed, and the shed has to be insulated and wired for beefy power by an electrician. For budget reasons most of us build our workshops up step by step, perhaps taking a few years to get the basics, and never achieving perfection. I would have to move house to get a bigger workshop, so what I can do is limited by space.

An advantage of Chinese milling machines is their availability in a range of sizes, which makes it easier to buy the biggest that will fit. Finding a suitable second-hand machine is more a matter of luck, and considerable persistence may be required to find a suitable machine. If a Bridgeport is too large, many of the other ex-industrial machines will be too. Big machines tend to be cheaper because there's less demand for them, while home-workshop sizes are more likely to start a bidding war on ebay. Look carefully at the capabilities of the smaller machines. Some are designed for precision work on small parts and don't do general purpose milling well. Others may be too small for what you need - Myford VMC (Made in Taiwan), wasn't big enough for me.

My feeling is Chinese vs second-hand industrial isn't a good first decision to make first. Better to consider practicalities like the sort of work to be done, size, weight, spares availability, tooling, and power requirements etc. Repair costs may also an issue; if genuine new parts are required for ex-industrial kit, expect to pay eye-watering full price for them, and £2k won't go far in that market. Therefore your ability to judge condition and fix second-hand machine tools is important. (I was very naive starting out. Hot on theory, weak on practice!)

Horizontal Milling machines excel at what they are for, but I feel an odd choice for an ordinary home workshop. Their ability to gang-mill and hack through metal at high-speed isn't as useful to Model Engineers as the general utility of a vertical machine. Maybe if Ayerst Locomotives are going to be produced for sale in batches, but I think a vertical mill more suitable for one-offs. As always, tool usefullness depends on the job: screwdrivers are hopeless with nails.

The total budget matters; if cash is available for a purpose built outbuilding, consider spending it instead on really good machines. So far as I know, no Model Engineer has bought a modern Chinese industrial machine because our budgets limit us to hobby class and second-hand. Why not spend £20,000 on one of China's very best?

As a beginner I wasted too much time agonising about choices. Being ignorant about what tools could do and what exactly I wanted them for made setting up a workshop downright hard. In the end I bought a mini-lathe, learned a lot from it over a couple of years, and was then far better placed to move on. Having bought the largest Chinese Lathe and Mill I could accommodate, and used them in anger on a wide range of projects, I'm far more confident of assessing second-hand. But I haven't bothered because it turned out the Chinese gear does all I need, job done. Their main shortcoming is taking longer to do everything because the controls are relatively crude, which slows down setting up, but with care they cut metal as well as any other machine and - in the thou range - as accurately. In comparison, an industrial lathe might be massively rigid with a slick gearbox, camlock chucks and other goodies. My hobby lathe has a stop-to-change gearbox with a few ratios making it necessary to alter the banjo, a bolt on chuck that takes 4 or 5 minutes to swap, and heavy cutting causes the machine to flex. None of the shortcomings effect the quality of my workmanship, but they do slow me down. It doesn't matter to me.


Dave Halford29/03/2021 11:17:58
2100 forum posts
23 photos


Consider the tonnage set against your shed floor, then pick a shed carefully based on that. Otherwise stick with the garage, which will also make delivery easy. Bridgeports don't fit well into garages either, the quill can be up against the ceiling.

The beauty of light industrial stuff is it's really hard to break and it's made to work all day.

As you want to make gears the horizontal arm would be useful and any of the suggestions in the first three replies would do. Plus anything that turns up thats too small to ship to India and too large to fit on a bench.

Don't go over 3hp.

Andrew Johnston29/03/2021 11:45:41
6678 forum posts
701 photos

Good grief - I never thought it would happen, but I agree with SoD!

I have both vertical and horizontal mills, and in both cases the accessories to convert to the other mode. But I'd agree with SoD that the vertical mill is the more versatile. In particular for drilling the quill is all bar essential. While vertical heads for horizontal mills can have quills they seem to be pretty rare. I've just looked at the manual for my horizontal mill (Adcock & Shipley) and there is no option for a vertical head with quill.

Another point to note is that travels on a horizontal mill are small compared to the size of mill. For instance my vertical mill weighs about a ton, is 1.5hp, and has travels of 33" and 12" in X and Y respectively. Whereas the horizontal mill weighs nearly 2 tons, is 5hp, but only has travels of 23" and 8" in X and Y. Vertical travel is the same on both at 16".

The horizontal mill is way more rigid than the vertical mill and that is excellent when gear cutting and where lots of metal needs to be removed. Horizontal mills are pretty much obsolete commercially and so secondhand ones are cheap - mine was £175 compared to £2k for the vertical.

I wouldn't like to be without either, but if I had to give up one it would have to be the horizontal mill. sad


William Ayerst29/03/2021 11:50:49
259 forum posts

My aversion to chinese equipment is not because I think the quality would be bad, but rather because I don't want to support the export of labour to third world countries, nor the shipping process or the unscrupulous business practises of that part of the world. There (I would have thought) there are enough milling machines in the UK that can do good service without having to buy something from Shenzen.

That said, if there really is no other option - then better that than nothing.

Dave thank you for your long and thoughtful response. I only mentioned a horizontal machine as it would appear to be less in demand, thus more affordable - that is much the same justification for my thoughts around industrial-type mills rather than hobbyist mills - less demand, more bang for the buck.

I'm not in the new house yet - but I think the shed-workshop is already powered (240v, 13A) and insulated. I'm not clear on the floor. My thoughts were that if this is not tenable long-term, then I will move to the integrated garage which is significantly larger, but part of the house (and the resultant noise transfer) - only as a last resort would a purpose-built building be constructed and that is indeed some way down the line!

As you have said the speed efficiencies of production-line machines are less important to a hobbyist so I'm fine with that - but I don't want to be limited by buying something too small. I can't predict every single thing I'd want to use it for, but let's say for the sake of argument - size with clearance enough to fully machine a double inside-cylinder block for a 5" gauge loco or the smokebox saddle for a 2"-scale traction engine, without undue faffing would seem to be the minimum size.

JasonB see above re:china - but as it pertains to drilling, I think if I'm going to dump thousands into a mill I would pay a few hundred for a drill press.

Pete and everyone i haven't mentioned - thank you for the suggestions, I'll keep on looking. With regard to 3-phase, is a Clark Phase Converter (of appropriate size) going to be enough? Are there any brands I should specifically steer clear of?

William Ayerst29/03/2021 11:53:10
259 forum posts

DIdnt' see the other replies - my gut feeling is that the shed is going to last long enough as a workshop until the mill comes along, at which point I'm going to have to sell my prized '68 MGB GT and use the garage!

I see a Tom Senior listed with a horizontal milling attachment, so I think based on the aggregated advice I'll be looking for a vertical mill firstly, if it has a horizontal attachment then that's great - but if not, no harm done.

Andrew Johnston29/03/2021 12:08:44
6678 forum posts
701 photos
Posted by William Ayerst on 29/03/2021 11:53:10:

.....based on the aggregated advice I'll be looking for a vertical mill firstly, if it has a horizontal attachment then that's great - but if not, no harm done.

They are available for some ex-industrial vertical mills:


But they seem to go for silly money these days and are no where near as rigid as a proper horizontal.


JasonB29/03/2021 15:03:07
23076 forum posts
2771 photos
1 articles

William, don't know if you saw the recent thread about a drill press but like most on there I still have a drill press but 99% of my drilling is done on the mill. The main reason being it has a DRO and I can position holes far more accurately with that than I can by traditional marking out, picking up the punch marks etc. better to spend the drill press money on the DRO

So worth bearing in mind as there are 648 rivit holes in each Superba rear wheel so that's 1296 holes as there are two bits of metal to be joined for each rivit hole and marking that lot out by hand would be a pig as would winding a table up and down that many times.

I'd also add a Theil to the list of old iron that has already been suggested, though no quill


Edited By JasonB on 29/03/2021 15:15:02

William Ayerst29/03/2021 15:50:02
259 forum posts

Thank you!

Since our discussion about the size and weight of the industrial machines I'm starting to think about my new workshop. The old garage was well lit, recently painted and roofed and well powered - the new shed is wooden and insulated and in good repair, but unpowered and with a wooden floor.

I can make do with an extension lead and some portable lamps initially, but on the slightly longer term I'm trying to figure out the cost of making it work for me - presumably running electrical conduit under the patio and into the shed, and pouring a new floor. I wonder if given the cost of that it is just a simpler choice to use the garage even if it means selling my classic car...

Here's a pic of the shed, to the right of the house:

Here's a pic of the garage - the ceiling is very high, in line with the rest of the ground floor ceilings (which are up a few steps from the surface of the garage):

There was a thought to a G1 garden railway whose terminus could be in the shed, also!

Edited By William Ayerst on 29/03/2021 15:51:38

Steviegtr29/03/2021 15:54:58
2460 forum posts
341 photos

So looking at you pictures of your des res. I would be wondering on the viability of taking the shed down or moving it. Then removing the back wall of the garage or putting in a doorway. Then build a workshop on the rear of the garage.


William Ayerst29/03/2021 16:09:38
259 forum posts

The window you can see between the shed and the washing pole is a vestigial utility room next to the kitchen (double doors) which spans the full width of the garage, rather than being the garage itself. I found a plan from the estate agent which hopefully illustrates the rough layout:

The reference to building a new purpose-built outbuilding earlier on would be the nuclear option. Clearly, if I can find a way to make the shed work, then I'll use that. If I can't, then I'll use the garage - and if I can't use that, then the outbuilding would be considered.

Seems that electrics are about £700 for running the armoured cable from a consumer unit socket (assuming spare) and half a dozen sockets and some lights. I guess the thing that is worrying me the most is the stability of the floor - I could rip up the floorboards and pour concrete down between the batons I guess?

Edited By William Ayerst on 29/03/2021 16:15:32

SillyOldDuffer29/03/2021 16:37:33
8906 forum posts
1999 photos

Spoilt for choice! As a divorced man, I'd consider using the extension and the shed:


Would be possible to run the track into the machine room as well - very convenient. Andrew Johnson keeps traction engines in the living room - he's my hero!



not done it yet29/03/2021 16:39:17
6889 forum posts
20 photos

The specs for the Centecs, which are a popular hobbyist choice, are half way down THIS page. Only the earlier 2A shown in those pics. The Centec was horizontal only in its first offering. The Centec 2 was belt driven, with no g/box. The 2A was basically a Centec 2 with a gearbox and the 2B was the heftier version with more power, more travel and the bed was raised from the front of the machine. The 2B with a Mklll vertical head (with quill) obviously makes most money for a given condition. Power feed and riser blocks are definite bonuses, IMO.

Even with 12’ head space, I sometimes need the extra inches afforded by the riser block. And the bed is not always exactly oversized, either!

VFDs are generally the preferred alternative to a converter - can be programmed, amongst other benefits - but not all machines can be powered easily - particularly those that use three phase for other parts than the main spindle.

William Ayerst29/03/2021 16:48:50
259 forum posts

Ah so rather than feeding 3-phase, just replace the whole motor with something else? Makes alot of sense!

SOD there is absolutely no way I'd get away with that. I have already obliged myself rights to a garden railway, dedicated workshop and classic car storage - I think any more may be beyond the pale.

Am I right in thinking the shed should in theory already be on a concrete slab? So pouring another 3" or so to replace a boarded floor should in theory be more than stable enough for a mill?

The idea of running a ground level 5" Gauge loop around the garden appeals greatly and having 'everything' in the workshop-shed would be ideal if it could be managed.

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