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Help with Choosing a Milling Machine

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Mozbo01/05/2014 13:45:43
5 forum posts

Hi all,

I'm a qualified toolmaker and CNC machinist/programmer who's been out of the trade for over 20 years as I started a pet shop and numerous other businesses over that time for some weird reason!

I'm considering purchasing a benchtop milling machine to prototype an idea I have, so hoping to find some advice on milling machines on the forum. Probably purchase a traditional mill with DRO initially but will be looking to upgrade to CNC if the project works.

Be interested to hear if anyone has purchased/used any of the machines below as these are the ones I am considering at the moment. Or if there's any others I've missed, please let me know

I've been considering these as a start!:

http://www.amadeal.co.uk/acatalog/MT3_Spindle_w__X-axis_Powerfeed___DRO_System.html

http://www.chesterhobbystore.com/super-lux-milling-machinebr2-axis-dro-3997-p.asp

https://www.emcomachinetools.co.uk/EnterShop/tabid/268/List/1/ProductID/1328/Default.aspx?SortField=UnitCost+DESC%2cProductNumber

Bazyle01/05/2014 17:30:02
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5686 forum posts
208 photos

Interesting to note Chester have free delivery on that. Used to be extra from them. Maybe finally catching up with others.

Note the warning at the bottom of the chester page about continuous running -not. Applies to the others I expect but might be relevant for your CNC ambitions.

Did you also check Warco?

These are not in any way like for like. The chester is bigger than the amadeal which is bigger than the emco. Mostly people fix a budget or a size then ask for comparison on the finer details from suppliers.

The Warco VMC is very popular and similar budget so would be my choice over these but that is easy to say when I'm not in the market for a mill.

Mozbo01/05/2014 18:37:10
5 forum posts

Hi Bazyle, yes that Warco looks a nice machine for the money but I think it may be a bit bulky and heavy for my needs at the moment. Not sure if the DRO and power feeds are extra on the price as well though?

I've contacted a few of the manufacturers and most are out of stock for 4 - 6 weeks. They all seem to be waiting on the same shipment so I suspect many of the machines come from the same place and are just branded when they get here.

I'm tempted by the VM32 with DRO which is in stock, but why is it you can never get the item you really want for the money you really want to pay??

Russ B01/05/2014 19:15:00
597 forum posts
26 photos

Mozbo, you're suspicions about them all being from the same place may be true, but it's clear that individual vendors do put their own "stamp" on things which can be very significant in some cases, it's a case of carefully comparing specifications. (It's sometimes not just colour, bigger motors, longer tables or metal gears rather than plastic, all sorts)

You many find this page of considerable interest being that you've flagged up 3 machines from the same manufacture........ http://www.weiss.com.cn/product/&pmcId=59.html

other Chinese machine manufacturers worthy of mentioning which may help you with your research are Sieg and RealBull (who share many castings with Weiss)

you can see from the manufacturers page that the WMD45 (suspiciously similar to the Chester Super Lux, and G0761!!) is considerably higher up the ranks than the other 2 machines (WMD20 or 25, similar to G0704 which are basically both the same) -  it's also WELL over 250kg (double the others) so in terms of size and ability it simple outclasses the other 2 more portable/manageable machines, it seems to be a superb price at the moment.

I find it helps to search for Grizzly's name ie G0761 for the Chester Lux or G0704 for the other 2 as the Americans seem to do a lot more user reviews and YouTube videos here's the grizzly mills home page, they sell almost every rebranded mill from all the Chinese manufactures http://www.grizzly.com/products/category/480000%7C700002

if you might want a lathe further down the line, an MT2 or MT3 spindle might give your more cross comparability with tooling than R8 - and often the machines are available with any you like if you just ask the vendor (hence they often put a ** next to it)

Edited By Russ B on 01/05/2014 19:18:25

Mozbo01/05/2014 20:23:31
5 forum posts

Hi Russ, aah it's pretty clear from that link where the machines are coming from!

I think I need to write down my minimum requirements and then compare machines to find best spec for money. I then need to find out which of them are available to purchase in the UK as most of the suppliers seem to be out of stock and waiting on the same shipment.

Appreciate your help - I wasn't expecting so much choice, thought there'd only be 1 or 2 to choose from!

Russ B01/05/2014 22:12:46
597 forum posts
26 photos

No trouble, if your anywhere near Harrogate weekend after next it would be useful to drop in to The Harrogate Show most of the major suppliers will be the and you can get hands on and have a look at all the machines, alternately if your the other end of the country I hear Amadeal are very welcoming and helpful.

just worth mentioning..... That Super Lux, being one monster of a machine.... Is it single or three phase, it doesn't exactly like a bench top machine at 250kg, Amadeal sell one too called the AMA45A and it's 3 phase, you get a better appreciation of its size from their pictures.

I went with the WMD20LV (aka Chester Champion 20VS, ST20LV, G0704, AMA20V) - full feature set, good work envelope, heavy/rigid for its weight, very nicely finished (always room for improvement of course) popular speed controller (read, easily diagnosed/repaired/replaced) easily broken down in to 3 liftable lumps and most of all..... A good price!

The comparably priced Sieg machines just didn't have the same size/strength and the RealBull type machines on offer at the time were smaller with tilting columns (hate them....) but well priced - basically like stripped out Weiss machines. I'm not sure if the Sieg machines have a better or worse quality finish, I don't think one has ever been sat next to another for direct 1vs1 comparison as they all require quite a few hours stripping cleaning finishing and adjusting before use.

Warco's WM16 gets my vote, and I'm sure there will be a special offer or 2 (at least!) on their Harrogate show stand

Edited By Russ B on 01/05/2014 22:25:07

Nick_G01/05/2014 22:46:15
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1808 forum posts
744 photos

I don't for a second profess to know a great deal about milling machines. But I am also in the market for one myself so I am watching this thread with interest.

You mention perhaps a CNC conversion at a later date. I notice that on youtube this one has been a popular candidate for such by lots of people. Perhaps others could tell me why.?

**LINK**

You also mention a possibility of buying one with a DRO ready fitted. Make sure it has outputs that are compatible for CNC use otherwise the extra money for them 'may' have been wasted.

Regards, Nick

TSH01/05/2014 23:43:46
42 forum posts
11 photos

Hi,

I've recently bought a Chester Super Lux—I'm just a beginner but here are my initial impressions:

First, I found the folks at Chester a pleasure to deal with, always getting prompt responses to my emailed questions. The plastic chuck guard was broken on receipt and a replacement was sent immediately with no question. I opted for the x-axis power feed and this works well—I'm glad I went for this. The machine weighs about 300 kg and needed some careful thought to get it moved into position and up onto its supplied stand in a tight space in my workshop—it's about the biggest machine I could fit in. The motors (the main one and the one to raise and lower the head on its dovetail) are single phase and supplied with standard 13-amp domestic plugs.

There are, of course some negative points. The Super Lux has a 2-axis DRO (made by 'Sino' ) installed by Chester, and the x-axis scale is positioned along the back of the table. It works fine but the scale seems to rob the y-axis of about 40mm of movement compared with the catalogue specification. The quill scale and depth stop is rather crude and one of my early jobs will be to replace it with a caliper-style digital scale. The chuck guard has quite often got in the way when the head is low down and I need to think how to deal with that—up to now I have removed it when it is likely to hit something on the table. Finally the geared head is rather noisy—I'm told that this is characteristic of such drives (when compared with a belt-driven head).

Hope this helps.

Trevor

Edited By TSH on 01/05/2014 23:44:24

GaryM02/05/2014 00:12:30
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314 forum posts
44 photos
Posted by Nick_G on 01/05/2014 22:46:15:

......

You mention perhaps a CNC conversion at a later date. I notice that on youtube this one has been a popular candidate for such by lots of people. Perhaps others could tell me why.?

**LINK**

............

Regards, Nick

Hi Nick,

I don't know why it's popular for conversion but Arc also do a CNC version of the same machine.

**LINK**

Gary - a happy but inexperienced SX3 owner

Clive Foster02/05/2014 00:18:09
2526 forum posts
82 photos

Besides considering nominal size and machining capability its important to look closely at actual work envelope, accessiblity, visibility and tool change space. Especially if you have been used to industrial size machines. In my view anything much smaller than a Bridgeport is of necessity going to be compromised to a significant degree in those areas as the space and volume requirements to avoid compromise are pretty much fixed and small machines just don't have the physical room.

Dovetail colum machines at least avoid the head location problem endemic to the round column breed where you have to fit tool change room and tool length variations in the quill travel but winding the head up and down can be a pain. I used to have a Chester supplied Lux style machine and rapidly fell out of love with the head lift crank. Power rise and fall is not a luxury on these. The fashionable square, boxy, head assemblies considerably reduce visibility. Its virtually impossible to get a decently downwards look at a milling cutter in operation, indeed with a short cutter nicely snugged up and a desirably short quill extension it can be darn near imossible to see anything at all however unlikely the angle. The base plan dimensions of the Chester LUX head are considerably larger than a Bridgeport J head.

Another unpleasant surprise for the unwary is the limited amount of table area actually covered by the cutter centre. On my LUX variant only about half the Y axis dimension and a little under 2/3 rds of the X dimension could be reached. Which rather took the shine off. Although the limited area covered can be a bit of a pain when actually machining its usually possible to manage the cuts unless the job, realistically, is oversize for the machine. It really bites when it comes to setting up because you are pretty much forced to work below, or at best half to onside, of the head with all the attendant visibility and bits in the way to deal with. No Bridgeport style cranking the table over so you can see and wave your hands around without getting cutter bites. With the smaller machines I'd seriously consider whether a miniature CCD / CMOS video camera would help see WTHIGO.

These and similar issues are best dealt with by physically viewing the machine and doing some serious handle twiddling whilst waving a tape measure around. Don't overlook the vice issue unless you plan to do all your jobs on the table or tooling plates. A vice large enough to hold jobs approaching machine capacity may well be too big to sensibly fit whilst one that fits easily may be too small to do your jobs. Same applies to rotary tables. Note that space needed for job clamping is pretty much fixed so smaller 4" and 6" tables are disporportionately smaller in useful area than larger ones. Another nasty surprise for me despite buying an 8" one, a 10" or 12" seems so mch larger in practice.

I found "grid of tapped holes" plates, mine were Thor Labs aluminium breadboards, much better than Tee slots for much work holding on the LUX style machine and the smaller BCA style machine which preceeded it.

Clive

Clive Foster02/05/2014 00:53:49
2526 forum posts
82 photos

Trevor

If your LUX mill has the same silly screw up and down depth stop that mine had there is a simple and adequately effective fix. I replaced the screw with a solid rod rigidly fixed into the quill collar, drilled out the thread in the Tee nut style traveller and put a wing nut headed screw into the tapped hole that held the indicator plate to clamp onto the vertical rod. On mine the hole for the indicator plate screw went right through into the original thread so I didn't have to deepen the hole. I put a copper disk in before the screw to protect the rod from the clamp screw. I made the wing nut headed screw by simply reducing the diameter of a standard screw head sufficiently for it to screw right down into a standard wing nut. Loctite bearing fit made sure that it stayed there. I found sighting the edge of the tee nut against the scale perfectly acceptable for setting things. Theoretically the screwed system can be set more accurately than simple side but mine wabbled about so much that accuracy was not an appropriate concept and coming down pnto the stop was avery spongey affair.

I got a three axis glass scale DRO for mine. Not Sino but, so far as I'm aware, these glass scales are all of very similar size. Not knowing any better I put my X-Axis scale on the front of the table using alloy blocks maybe an inch (ish) thick. Worked fine but necessitated the replacement of the Bristol style table clamps with plain bolts. I ran a nut tight up against the heads to make it easier to slip a spanner on. Vertical axis went on the quill. Considered putting it on the column with a BW Electronics pull wire sensor on the quill, the digital caliper style scales hadn't really arrived in those days, but decided the extra readout would be guilding the lilly. My Bridgeport now wears a BW pull wire on the quill and a 3 axis Sino system with the vertical on the knee confirming that 4 scales are enough better to be worth the cost.

Clive

Russ B02/05/2014 09:22:18
597 forum posts
26 photos
Posted by Nick_G on 01/05/2014 22:46:15:

I don't for a second profess to know a great deal about milling machines. But I am also in the market for one myself so I am watching this thread with interest.

You mention perhaps a CNC conversion at a later date. I notice that on youtube this one has been a popular candidate for such by lots of people. Perhaps others could tell me why.?

**LINK**

You also mention a possibility of buying one with a DRO ready fitted. Make sure it has outputs that are compatible for CNC use otherwise the extra money for them 'may' have been wasted.

Regards, Nick

Nick, I'd say off the top of my head.....

SX3

Lots of room to fit zero backlash ballnuts under the table and saddle! (this is a big bonus if you'd prefer not to modify the machine)
convenient front handle for Z axis movement - I'm 6ft so the high rear handle isn't an issue for me.
by far the best know Chinese brand and the only one to tout their own name on products.
Its got some nifty features, and its popular so plenty of others to learn from.

WMD20

ballnuts can be fitted but do sometimes require modification to the saddle if you want to fit a nice big beefy ones.
larger work envelope than the SX3
cheaper.
well finished and square (I believe the SX3 and other high end Sieg machines are also well finished)

Mozbo02/05/2014 10:03:59
5 forum posts

Finding lots of good info here

I'm still tempted by the Toolco VM32 as it's about the right size and has DRO fitted and X axis powerfeed.

My original post may have been a bit misleading, when I mentioned upgrading to a CNC, I meant I'd probably invest in a CNC machine if the project I have in mind is successful, rather than modifying the existing machine. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to build my own CNC milling machine but haven't got the time at present so would have to fork out for a ready to go machine and probably sell the original machine.

From experience, does anyone know if there are genuine deals to be had at the Harrogate show? I'm tempted to travel up there to see the machines in the flesh and if there's deals to be had it might just swing it!

Nick_G02/05/2014 10:13:14
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1808 forum posts
744 photos
Posted by Mozbo on 02/05/2014 10:03:59:

it might just swing it!

You said you were a qualified toolmaker and CNC machinist.!

You should then know that a lathe would be best for that. winkwinkwink

Nick cheeky

Chris Parsons02/05/2014 10:56:46
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118 forum posts
37 photos

I also have an SX3 that I am very happy with - I have added a DRO I got from a company on FleaBay which I am also very happy with **LINK** and will convert this to CNC in due course. I got some plans from a US company and this looks to be achievable, you can see this at **LINK**

I liked the idea of still being able to use the mill manually - some conversions don't allow this.

I have also been talking to the chap who did the series about CNC for Beginners in MEW with a view of creating an open source software chain for driving the mill (I don't like spending money if I don't have to!)

You are welcome to get in touch if you want more details?

Regards

Chris

Mozbo02/05/2014 11:02:47
5 forum posts
Posted by Nick_G on 02/05/2014 10:13:14:
Posted by Mozbo on 02/05/2014 10:03:59:

it might just swing it!

You said you were a qualified toolmaker and CNC machinist.!

You should then know that a lathe would be best for that. winkwinkwink

Nick cheeky

Lol, said I'd been out of it for a long time - getting my machines confused!

Russ B02/05/2014 15:54:09
597 forum posts
26 photos

I agree the VM32 from Toolco does look like a great machine WMD30LV, it has a larger base than the 20V machines so the 16mm ballscrew limit doesnt apply (not that it matters by the sound of it) but the one at just over £1300 on toolco website doesn't include the pictured power feed OR a factory fitted DRO?

I think the real deals at Harrogate are more likely to be smaller stuff - tooling etc.

I've asked Warco, Chester and Amadeal (not attending) what deals they'll have on some lathes and they're not significant but they are genuine deals (although Chester are cheaper by standard that Warco's show deal but that's machine specific)

I think it would certainly be worth it just to get hands and have a chat with the vendors

TSH03/05/2014 22:03:12
42 forum posts
11 photos

Clive,

The depth stop is just as you describe it and your modification will get serious consideration when I get 'a round tuit'. Thanks for the tip. I'm also wondering whether I should bite the bullet and move the x-axis DRO scale to the front.

Trevor

Clive Foster03/05/2014 23:04:41
2526 forum posts
82 photos

Trevor

I've got some pictures of the mill which may help you visualise how to the scale was mounted on the front of the table and how the depth stop fix was done. PM me if you'd like to see them. They were taken for prospective buyers when I was trying to sell the machine so its outside only views but you can see how the scale was mounted via alloy blocks set at an angle so the vertical position relative to the read head could be adjusted by twisting the blocks. Read head was mounted on a block sharing the same mounting bolts as the centre stop.

As I recall things the read head was shimmed out to match the plane of the scales but I may have got lucky with block thicknesses. So scales define the Y position and adjustable in Z, head defines the Z position and adjustable in Y.

I changed the handwheels on mine to folding lever type as the original machine shop was very cramped. The new handles had longer bosses than the old ones so there was a bit more clearance to the scale. Can't remeber whether the extra half inch or so over the factory ones was needed or not.

Mine had a three phase motor with variable speed 240 v input inverter drive and two speed belt transmission. Worked really well and quiet. I'm surprised they still make them with the gearbox given the low prices of modern inverters.

Clive

Jon04/05/2014 20:14:31
997 forum posts
49 photos

Posted by TSH on 01/05/2014 23:43:46: The Super Lux has a 2-axis DRO (made by 'Sino' ) installed by Chester, and the x-axis scale is positioned along the back of the table. It works fine but the scale seems to rob the y-axis of about 40mm of movement compared with the catalogue specification.

The chuck guard has quite often got in the way when the head is low down and I need to think how to deal with that—up to now I have removed it when it is likely to hit something on the table. Finally the geared head is rather noisy—I'm told that this is characteristic of such drives (when compared with a belt-driven head).

You will find its the overhanging power feed that's robbed X axis of its travel. Fitted Bridgeport style to mine extended lead screw and still lost over 3".

Scales easy to fit on the rear, that's why.

Chuck guard, I never powered mine up first thing to junk was the guard and switch.

Future CNC conversion of these has been done in fact can get from a US dealer who extensively mods them. Otherwise pretty useless at 1250rpm. Now the major disadvantage will be the heavy geared head that will need gib strips nipping up before any work undertaken constantly. If you don't like with any vertical dovetailed column the tramming will constantly alter.

These are cheap machines and don't last, admittedly mines as good as scrap but paid for itself even 8 years ago. Due to the bed length on these with narrow area the bed arcs! Bed should be a lot thicker for the length. Parts are available but real pricey ie the elevatation motors transfer box £244 as at 4 years ago, geez whole machine cost £930 ex demo when you could bargain with them.

If you were to CNC one of these extensive modding is a must, like beefing up the spindle bearings to take more than 1500 rpm and doing away with geared head.

Much better machine to convert but a bit small is the 626.

Must get me a new mill this year, something robust.

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