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Paintzapper

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#1
Howdy all!

I've been wanting to get into some metal work for some time so I can make my own paintball parts (adapters, grips, ect ect) and other random things that pop into my head. I won't need anything big or capable of retrofits/upgrades for future proofing, just something to get me learning and thinking. Primarily looking to get a mini mill and possibly a lathe as well. I want to try and keep the voltage to 110/120V and amps below 5A just for general usability in my garage. I would also prefer to buy new over used as from my experiences, learning how to use a tool in (hopefully) ideal working condition leads to better understanding.

Budget - $1500-$2500 for machine(s), bits and other various tools
Material - Plastics (Delrin and ABS) and 6061 aluminum
Project size - Fist size and smaller
Experience - Primarily hand tools and drill press, nothing with mills and lathes.
Available space - limited, looking for a tabletop/mini versions.

I wold love your guys opinions on where to look, if there are any cool "starter kits" I'm not aware of, or what I should expect. I ran across a couple mills that I figured wouldn't hurt to ask questions on. Again, I don't need anything moderately powerful. I am more than happy to cut slowly if need be.

In my initial searches, I had saved the the Grizzly Mini mill on my list. It looks like it would do the trick, think it would be adequate for a beginner to start tinkering with?

Thank you for the help!
 

dtsh

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Some may disagree with me, but honestly I think the best tools to start with are files and a good set of drill bits. Files don't get the fanfare that power tools do, they aren't the fastest, but they have been the go-to tool for shaping since the dawn of metalworking. There are few parts that come out of my shop that haven't seen at least a few strokes from a file, they probably see as much use as the lathe and mill.

That said, I doubt you want to hear about files. My lathe is an ancient machine and I have very little experience with the imports so I cannot fairly comment in that regard, but I do have an RF-30 style mill/drill from Harbor Freight which I am very happy with (~$1200 shipped to the door). It's larger than the mini-mills at around 700lbs, so may be more than your tasks require. I suspect I've thrown half as much as it cost at it in tooling (clamps, vise, endmills, collets, etc, etc) so don't forget to include the additional costs of tooling.

Things I would do differently would be to but only the tools I need for the task at hand and not buy "sets", such as endmills or collets, as I tend to use a few sizes far more than others; the extra pieces in the sets only take up valuable storage space. Your budget sounds reasonable, but expect it to be more at the high end.
 

Paintzapper

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Well I do have plenty of files and have made plenty with them, I just have some projects I want to do that require more than a file could accomplish without wearing out my hands.

I have that mill from Harbor Freight on my radar but as you mentioned, it may be a bit excessive for what I need. Plus the ideal of finding a place to put the 700+lb piece of equipment and moving it there is a little daunting at this point in time.

I expect I will be spending more towards the higher end as well. Still, I can be hopeful :)
 

wrmiller

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#4
I started with sherline lathe and mill setup. Built my first competition pistol on them. :)

There is also Taig. Little Machine Shop (LMS) carries slightly larger machines to, if interested.

Welcome to the forums! :)
 

ttabbal

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For the small stuff, Sherline gets really good reviews. If the work envelope is big enough for your needs they might be a good choice.

They are probably on the large side for your needs, but you might also check out Precision Matthews. I really like my 1127 lathe from them, but it's not a mini/tabletop machine.

One thing to keep in mind with the little machines, they list the length without tooling. So once you add a drill chuck in the tailstock and a 3 jaw in the headstock, you have taken up a fair bit of space on a 7x10 for example. This might not be an issue for your parts, you will have to decide that, but it's something that people have been surprised by when they get a lathe. Mills are similar with the Z axis being taken up with a vise and whatever tooling you need for the job. Both of my machines lose more than 6" of space to tooling and workholding. You can get around some of it by clamping to the table rather than using a vise etc., but that comes with it's own tradeoffs.
 

mikey

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#6
Fist sized - you are not looking at a mini-lathe!

I would third the suggestion to look at the Sherline tools. They are capable of making many of the small parts needed for paintball or airsoft guns or pellet guns, and they're precise enough to do really good work. You can turn up to about 1-1/4" over the cross slide and the long bed lathe will allow you to do most things needed for prototype work. The accessories will be far cheaper than for larger machines and Sherline stuff is very good quality for the money.

Best thing to do is define your work envelope. That will guide your purchasing decisions.
 

Paintzapper

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#7
Such good info! I will look more into the Sherline equipment. I keep seeing them pop up in all of my searches so I guess they must be popular.
 

SamI

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Fist sized - you are not looking at a mini-lathe!
The mini lathe is capable of machining parts of 4-5" diameter (bigger than my fist size anyway - maybe I've just got small hands!). You will likely be limited to shallow cuts and it may take a long time to complete a part but for hobby use (i.e. where time isn't an issue) then there's no reason that a mini lathe won't be up to the job.

That being said a bigger machine will not be running near its full capacity so it will be much easier to machine the same parts. If fist sized is truly the largest you would go and the vast majority of your projects will be smaller then a mini lathe could be a good choice. That being said, the vast majority of my work is 1" and under and I recently upgraded to a 13" x 30" lathe and I absolutely do not regret that decision. I use mine daily though.

You mentioned earlier that the idea of a new machine appeals to you because it should work perfectly straight out of the box. You may be disappointed with a mini lathe. They are very much built to a price and one thing that seems to suffer across the board is the assembly quality of the machines. From that point of view a used machine could be the simpler plug and play. Then again there's no knowing what a previous owner has or hasn't done to the machine.

If you do buy a new machine I'd set aside a full day to get it set up. The temptation to turn it on straight away and play about is strong (I know I couldn't resist when I started using mine!) but the machine will run better if everything is properly adjusted prior to use. Generally speaking the bigger (and more expensive the machine) the more care has been taken during assembly and adjustment. Stripping down your machine also helps you to understand it better. When I first started using my mini lathe the thought of stripping it apart seemed daunting but once you’ve got it apart they really are remarkably simple.
 

Downunder Bob

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#9
Welcome to the forum. The perennial big question. What to get? I always tend to say the biggest and best you can afford and have space for. However if you have a fairly well defined envelope of what you want to do, let that be your guide. But be warned you will suddenly find a need to make something bigger, So try to aim a little oversize, it won't be long before you'll be glad you did..

I have no personal experience with sherline, but if Mikey thinks they're ok I wouldn't hesitate. PM also appear to have a big following. Always remember cheap aint good, and good aint cheap.

Good luck and have fun.
 

bill70j

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#10
Such good info! I will look more into the Sherline equipment. I keep seeing them pop up in all of my searches so I guess they must be popular.
Paintzappeer:

Welcome to the forum!

If you are seriously considering a Sherline machine, you may want to spend $20 and get the book entitled Tabletop Machining, written by Joe Martin, who owns Sherline.

His book gives you a good idea of the capabilities of his machines, including endless examples, but also covers machining fundamentals. Table of Contents:

1. General Machining
2. Lathe Operations
3. Milling Operations
4. Other Machining Topics
5. Projects and Resources

Good luck with your purchase, and keep us informed!

Regards, Bill
 

Paintzapper

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#12
That being said, the vast majority of my work is 1" and under and I recently upgraded to a 13" x 30" lathe and I absolutely do not regret that decision. I use mine daily though.
...
You may be disappointed with a mini lathe. They are very much built to a price and one thing that seems to suffer across the board is the assembly quality of the machines.
...
If you do buy a new machine I'd set aside a full day to get it set up. The temptation to turn it on straight away and play about is strong
Completely understand the limitations on size of the machine, If you could see the available space I actually have I am more than certain most every one of you will agree a mini mill is the way to go :)
Will do on the setup time, I usually have a habit of learning as much as I can about a new hunk of equipment before I even purchase and visually verify everything looks to be in order before actually using it. Kind of a manual snob too!


I always tend to say the biggest and best you can afford and have space for. However if you have a fairly well defined envelope of what you want to do, let that be your guide. But be warned you will suddenly find a need to make something bigger, So try to aim a little oversize, it won't be long before you'll be glad you did..
Yeppers, I'm trying to balance current and perceived future needs with output capeabilites and available space for all the equipment. I don't usually like to jump into things without over thinking it, sometimes it takes me months to figure out what I actually want to do with larger purchases. Thankfully I have plenty of time to decide on one.

If you are seriously considering a Sherline machine, you may want to spend $20 and get the book entitled Tabletop Machining, written by Joe Martin, who owns Sherline.
That will most definitely end up in my hands if I choose to go that rout. Probably will get it if I don't grab it as I like physical copies of books to go through and make notes in. Thanks!

Hi Zapper- Sherline is one model, also consider Taig if you happen to see one for sale.
Added to my list of possibilities! Thanks!
 

markba633csi

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#13
Maybe consider getting something a little bigger than you had in mind- trying to keep it "small and cute" sometimes works against you.
Atlas, Jet, South Bend, Logan are all good and capable machines
 

Downunder Bob

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One thing you will need to consider is screwcutting, are you likely to be doing any screw cutting. many small lathes are quite limited in their screw cutting ability.

I know the USA is still majority imperial threads, but they are slowly being forced to change to metric, because of imported equipment, so you really need a machine capable of making both imperial and metric. Machines are generally made with an imperial leadscrew, or a metric one. Unless the vast majority of your work will be metric I would opt for the imperial leadscrew as long as you can get the special 120 x 127 tooth gear that allows you to convert from imperial to metric.

Some smaller machines do not offer this ability and of those that do, because of size limitations, they often supply a 63 x 60 gear for an approx conversion, it's ok for short threads, like nuts and bolts, but for long pieces like a lead screw small errors will creep in.. Also if you will be doing a significant amount of screw cutting you will want a lathe with a quick change gearbox, preferably a norton style QCGB. Manually changing change gears all the time soon becomes a PITA.
 
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Aaron_W

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#15
Welcome, I was in your shoes about 3 years ago. My only real metal working experience was high school shop class, and my only lathe experience was a wood lathe in 9th grade. High School was some time ago.


I've got a Sherline lathe and mill which I have been very happy with, but as Mikey points out they are small so you will really need to think about the size of the things you want to make. The long bed (a $100 option that is well worth it) provides plenty of length for a small lathe, but they only have a 3 1/2" swing (theoretical maximum working diameter) which in practice means you are looking at stuff 1 1/2" diameter and smaller. I was able to make a 2" diameter fly wheel on my lathe, but that was really pushing the limits and I had to really think about how to do things.

If you feel the Sherline can handle what you want to do, they are very nice machines with a lot of support from the company. There is a huge variety of accessories available from the company. Occasionally you can find a good deal on a used one.
I think the lathe weighs about 30lbs, and the mill 50 lbs so they can easily be moved and stored in a cabinet or on a shelf out of the way and operated on a sturdy table or bench top.

Unlike a lot of the mini-machines Sherlines are basically ready to go right out of the box. Some assembly is required but I was up and running within a couple of hours of delivery. The only thing that held me back from making chips that first night was I hadn't thought ahead to buy some metal and had to wait until Monday when the local metal supply opened so I had something to practice on.

If it matters to you both Sherline and Taig are made in the USA.


Combination machines are not generally recommended but Sherline does offer a milling column for their lathe, which allows it to be converted into a basic mill for much less than the cost of a full mill. $160 vs $700 for their cheapest milling machine. Not ideal, but depending on your needs possibly a consideration.



Nobody has commented on your budget... You can probably buy a lathe and a mill for $2500 but you will find you are lacking in basic tools and tooling. The general rule of thumb seems to be to plan on spending 50-100% the cost of the machine on the basic required tooling. You will continue to find tooling that you "need" to have, it is an addiction that the people here are all to happy to feed.








Really consider the size of your projects though. I think the Sherlines are great machines, but if you buy too small you will be very frustrated. There are some nice lathes in the 8-9" size class that are still relatively portable (under 300lbs), 110v, don't take up a great deal more space and provide much more capacity. They do cost a fair bit more, but not too hard to find used.
 

TerryH

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Over the past few months I've gone down this same road. I also had/have a limited budget so I turned to Craig's List. Found an Enco 105-1110 mill in good shape with quite a bit of tooling for $500. Have more in it now. I decided to disassemble and cosmetically restore it. I bought a new mini lathe prior to buying the mill but I wanted something bigger. Found a Grizzly G0752 lathe on CL for $1200. Used most of the tooling that I had from the mini. Did some cosmetic work, added QCTP, more tooling etc... on the lathe as well so have more than that in it as well. Just found a like new Central Machinery T-591 bandsaw this morning that I ended up getting for $165 is near mint condition. My point is given your similar work envelope and similar budget you can do it and get some pretty decent machines and stay within your budget with patience and persistence with used equipment.
 

Paintzapper

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Screw cutting won't be too much of an issue, but I will keep what you said in mind Bob.

I know I will be starting off with a mill and maybe get a lathe further down the line. I know I have access to a nice lathe from my friend on the few occasions I may need it but the mill and proper accessories I will need will come first. Added some of your guys experience and equipment suggestions/aquisitions to my ever growing list, thanks!
 

mikey

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I know I will be starting off with a mill and maybe get a lathe further down the line.
I bought a lathe and mill at the same time, along with most of the tooling I needed. I found that I used the lathe far more than the mill. Still do. Of all the tools that will teach you about metal working, the lathe is the best ... just saying.
 

wrmiller

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I bought a lathe and mill at the same time, along with most of the tooling I needed. I found that I used the lathe far more than the mill. Still do. Of all the tools that will teach you about metal working, the lathe is the best ... just saying.
Depends on what you're doing with them I guess. I'm the exact opposite in that I use my mill much more than I do the lathe. Probably 3 to 1.

My friend said the same thing about getting the lathe first, as I will use it more. I kept thinking of what I would use each machine for, and every time I came to the conclusion that I would use the mill more. So I told my friend he was full of it (politely of course) and bought the mill first.

While I really like my 1340GT, I knew it was marginally more lathe than I need, but I wanted the Norton gearbox as I hate change gears. The good news is that I won't wear it out making the small stuff that I want/need. :) So I never bought into the 'buy the largest lathe/mill you can afford' talk. My ideal lathe size-wise would be a Hardinge HLV or copy, but I could never afford one. Oh well. :)

My point is that not everyone uses these machines in the same way, nor has the same needs/wants.
 
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mikey

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True, Bill, true ... we all have different needs.

I don't buy into the buy the biggest whatever thing, either. I think you should settle on a size that suits your current and projected needs, then buy the best one you can afford. I can afford to buy any lathe I want but I chose an Emco lathe and Sherline machines; in their respective classes they are very good machines.
 

wrmiller

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True, Bill, true ... we all have different needs.

I don't buy into the buy the biggest whatever thing, either. I think you should settle on a size that suits your current and projected needs, then buy the best one you can afford. I can afford to buy any lathe I want but I chose an Emco lathe and Sherline machines; in their respective classes they are very good machines.
Well, if you're ever feel like being generous to a poor guy, you could buy me a Hardinge and I'd offer you my 1340GT as a gift. ;)

(just kidding...)

OP: sorry for getting off the rails a bit.
 

Paintzapper

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Naw, derailments provide entertainment and insights ones general questions won't normally bring up. I encourage it!

I do have access to a lathe with more tools than I will ever need and someone who is skilled in using it, but all of my projects I wish to do have zero application on the lathe. I showed my friend who owns the lathe what I had drawn up and he said a 3 axis mill/CNC will be what I need but has very little experience with said equipment.
 

C-Bag

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Welcome aboard. I commend you on your laying out parameters as that is so helpful. As you can see this is a very helpful and knowledgeable bunch. And they have laid out a very helpful path. I did a lot like you and tried to figure out the extent of my envelope and then look at what I could afford adding in the parameter x2 for tooling. Even though I wasn't starting from absolute 0 because of my background as a mechanic/welder/fabricator machining is a whole other frontier because of taking in all the branches. Like metrology. I personally couldn't make it work without buying used and that meant even more research. I wish I would have run across this site then.

I ended up with well used Enco and HF mill and lathe and with those have made each of them better over time along with some custom tools tailored to what I do. That's the beauty of the lathe and mill, the ability to make parts to repair themselves. This hobby does have a very expansive aspect in that you'll find you'll need a saw to cut up material, grinders for sharpening and shaping, benches and vises and on and on. Try as I might there is no way to confine this no matter the budget or space constraints. :)
 

wrmiller

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Naw, derailments provide entertainment and insights ones general questions won't normally bring up. I encourage it!

I do have access to a lathe with more tools than I will ever need and someone who is skilled in using it, but all of my projects I wish to do have zero application on the lathe. I showed my friend who owns the lathe what I had drawn up and he said a 3 axis mill/CNC will be what I need but has very little experience with said equipment.
Sounds like a little Taig CNC tabletop might be in order? :)

There's some cnc folks around here that can probably help getting you started.
 

Paintzapper

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Still debating on the CNC portion, It's kinda at the point of I want the capability but don't wish to have to learn yet another program/device.

Side note on CNCs, what is the primary differences/restrictions between something like a tabletop Mill with CNC upgrades and a CNC router? I think I understand that there is less z axis cutting room, looser tolerances and sometimes unable to cut metals. Am I correct in thinking this?

I personally couldn't make it work without buying used and that meant even more research. I wish I would have run across this site then.
Thank you for the welcome! I personally wouldn't have found myself over here without the direction from someone on one of my paintball forums. I love the wealth of informative stickies and all the suggestions that has been given not only on this thread but the other beginner threads as well!
 
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C-Bag

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Full disclosure, I don't work by plans so cnc isn't something I'd ever get into. It isn't just lazy or something, doing more than sketches somehow cross wires me and the whole thing stops. Weird, I know.
 

wrmiller

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Full disclosure, I don't work by plans so cnc isn't something I'd ever get into. It isn't just lazy or something, doing more than sketches somehow cross wires me and the whole thing stops. Weird, I know.
Hah! And I thought I was the only one. ;)

I keep a whiteboard on the wall between the lathe and mill for doodles and numbers. Otherwise I pretty much do everything in my head.

While I can program (spent 30 plus years designing and writing code/firmware), I don't have much use for cnc as most things I do are one-off or one piece at a time and dealing with a cnc would just slow me down. :D
 

bill70j

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While I can program (spent 30 plus years designing and writing code/firmware), I don't have much use for cnc as most things I do are one-off or one piece at a time and dealing with a cnc would just slow me down. :D
Same here. I was pretty good at Fortran in the day. Some say they are paying Fortran coders big $$ these days to program in such an "obsolete" language.
 

TerryH

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Same here. I was pretty good at Fortran in the day. Some say they are paying Fortran coders big $$ these days to program in such an "obsolete" language.
Fortran. Wow. Haven't heard that word in a good long while. I suddenly had flashbacks of shoe boxes full of punch cards. :oops:
 

C-Bag

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Wow, I'm glad I'm not alone. I wish I had room on the wall for a white board. That's a great idea instead of writing on the bench in silver pencil like I do now :)

I can only do something if I've got it all worked out in my head. When I try to just go by a simple drawing without a clear picture in my head I always seem to forget like a setback or some crucial dimension is wrong. So trying to stop and work it out on a computer I'm sure would be even worse. I'm in awe of those who can go through the steep learning curve for these cad programs not to mention the learning the machines and their software. But I also like you guys am not punching out a bunch of the same thing. Different strokes.
 
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