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Considering a round-column mill, advice requested.

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dtsh

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#1
For years I have wanted a mill for hobby use, my needs are very minimal, typically making a small part for one of my obsolete pieces of equipment and the occasional part here or there to support my other hobbies. For the past several decades I've usually just gone at a piece with a file until it met the need, which has worked for all these years, though admittedly it's been a limitation. I'm not trying to justify the expense of the mill, I'm fully aware that I'm probably not going to recover the expense of the mill and tooling and am happy enough to consider it sunken costs of my hobbies. In all the years, I can't recall needing to precision file/mill anything larger than perhaps 4"x6"x6" and even that is likely twice the size of the largest part I've actually made by hand filing. I'm very used to taking a long time to manufacture parts, so speed is of little concern as it's nearly impossible to be slower than my hand filing/grinding.

I live out in the boonies in an old house, so I don't have access to the finest power. My workspace is powered for 120v, but I could have an electrician drag 240v in from the house, which I've previously considered for other purposes (bigger air compressor, welder, etc). My workspace isn't large, basically an unused bay in the garage, so space is available but at a bit of a premium. Between my space, power, and need, I don't think a larger mill is feasible.

I see the mini-mills based on the Sieg X2 line and I'm pretty sure one of these would handle the physical dimensions of 99% of the parts I'll ever make. My usual materials are wood, plastic, aluminium, and mild steel and the most challenging action would be something along the lines of milling a keyway into a 2" shaft or fixing teeth on broken gears. I realize that once I have such a tool, I'll find more uses for it so I'm looking at the larger round column mills due to their greater size (specifically from HF because I'm cheap). I can't really justify anything larger, as it'd be more cost effective to let someone else machine the bits I can't make....that's likely true today as well, but I'm OK with dumping a bit of money into a hobby, especially over time. I'm aware of the issue of having to carefully recenter/zero the head should I make any height adjustments, but I don't think that will be a huge issue for me as the time spent isn't a commodity I'm very concerned about and most of my needs are pretty utilitarian. I've searched and read a lot on both the X2 mills as well as RF-30/31 and clones, but there's always things that don't get considered until inflicted with the tool and it's limitations.

I'm budgeting upto about $1500-1750 for the mill and tooling now. The mill will cost around $1100 leaving around $500 for initial tooling. I can spend more if there's significant gain compared to the expense, but I've not seen anything else that had features I just couldn't live without; DRO would be nice, but I've been using dial calipers all along so I don't see any loss in still not having having something else.

For tooling, I'm considering ordering one of the R8 mill packages from LMS, but I'd be interested in hearing about alternatives from the economy brigade; I'm not above making tools to make tools if I can find plans/examples to work from. I have a 10x48 lathe with some basic tooling, it's an older 1903 Seneca Falls in reasonably good condition for a machine of such vintage.

For anyone not familiar with the machine, this is what I'm considering:
HF #33686 1.5HP Milling/Drilling Machine

So what say you, wise denizens of hobby-machinist.com, does it seem like I've considered my options or am I overlooking something? Anything else I can say to make it clearer on what I'm expecting? Am I setting myself up for failure or disappointment? What have I failed to consider? Would I be better served with an X2?

Your input is kindly appreciated, thanks.
 

jmarkwolf

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#2
I bought this exact same HF mill and happily used it for 15 years. I then sold it for the same price that I paid for it, after transplanting the nice DRO to my new-to-me used Bridgeport.

I don't know if I got an uncharacteristically good one, or if they are all decent, or what, but I have nothing bad to say about it.

A lot of people will tell you the round column is no good, but for the work I did (drilling and milling aluminum and steel) it gave me no trouble, and I was always able to achieve suitable accuracy.

My 2 cents.
 

Alittlerusty

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#3
I've never used one but the biggest drawback I can see is the need to retram the head which u are aware of and the inherit flex of round column mills both issues u can overcome with patience and reasonable depth of cut. Other than that and if space is to tight for a larger machine I would think it would be a fine edition and major upgrade over hand shaping parts. The work envelope is abit limited on it but certainly covers the size parts u described and since u have a lathe to I think you will be happy with it.
 

mikey

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#4
These machines have a large following because they're cheap and a lot of them were sold. As you already know, the main limitation is the round column but that is simple to work around most of the time. It is a pretty hefty machine for its size and is simple to work on/maintain. It can also be made to run pretty accurately. If it meets your needs, I say go for it because its hard to beat the price on a machine this size.

I own an RF-31 so I know what this machine can do - it's a capable machine for hobby use.
 

Hawkeye

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#5
I got an X2 for my first mill. I still have it, converted to CNC. My second mill was an RF 25, which was a lot more capable than the X2. It got severely rusted in my house fire, so I took it to the scrappers and got an RF 30. I was surprised at how much more rigid it is than the RF 25.

You will often hear the advice to get the biggest (read "most rigid") you can afford. I totally agree with this advice. You can do light work on a heavy machine, but it is hard to do heavy work on a light machine.
 

dtsh

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#6
Thanks for the feedback folks, this is exactly what I'm looking for.

I presume a 4" vise, end mills, a few collets, parallels, a couple 123 blocks, and a clamping kit is common tooling, but any particular bits and pieces of tooling you feel is especially useful which might not be immediately obvious?
 

mikey

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#7
To start, I would suggest:
  • a dial test indicator to tram your vise.
  • A dial indicator is better for tramming the mill so get one of those, too.
  • I recommend you buy a fly cutter; just about every project that starts from rough sawn stock will need to be squared up and a fly cutter is the fastest way to do that.
  • Buy a decent drill chuck, a spotting drill and some decent drills. I suggest wire sized drills first (most smaller screws use wire size drills before tapping), then fractional, then letter sized drills. Eventually you will use them all.
The above, plus the stuff you listed, will get you cutting. Below are some things to get in the future:
  • An ER-25 or ER-32 chuck. This is a more accurate way to hold milling cutters. Buy decent collets. I suggest you look at the Tormach TTS system. Their collet chuck is just a little over $30.00 and is pretty accurate. It also allows you to buy boring head adapters, drill chuck adapters, slitting saw arbors, etc. and they will all fit the TTS R8 arbor. This makes tooling changes quick and easy.
  • Boring head - you will need this when you need a precise hole with straight sides and a decent finish.
  • An angle block set. A tilting angle table or sine table is better but an angle block set is cheap, quick and pretty accurate.
  • If you buy an ER-32 chuck, consider buying the ER-32 collet block set from ArcEuro Trade. It allows you to mill flats on round stuff in a square or hex pattern and this comes in handy at times. Much faster than an indexing head for simple jobs.
  • Thin parallel set. This set really comes in handy when you need to drill close to an edge. They also go up in height in 1/16" increments, which helps to position thinner work pieces.
  • I would include a clamp set in the "buy it when you need it" category; the vast majority of your work will be held in a vise and that is where I would spend the money - a decent vise. Also in this category would be a rotary table or an indexing/dividing head.
I could go on for some time but if I was starting out today, I would put my money on a good vise, a good collet chuck and collets, decent end mills and a good dial test indicator. You can go cheap on other things but not these things.
 

jmarkwolf

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#8
This machine comes with some tools, at least it used to. A cheesy angle vise and fly cutter and maybe some others. These are good enough to make "practice cuts" while you tool up for better stuff.

To add to the list above, you'll need an edge finder.

A 4in vise is appropriate for this machine. Look at Glacern. They make quality products and have sales this time of year. Get on the Shars and MCS mailing list.

Also, don't overlook tool auctions, Craigs List, used tool stores and pawn shops for tools.
 

C-Bag

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#9
I see so many parallels in my situation and yours dtsh. Especially the researching before you jump. I got my old RF30 well used for $400 after a long search. There are a lot of these out there and patience paid off. That's not to say it didn't have problems but as my skills improved I knew what needed to be fixed and most of what it needed was TLC/elbow grease.

I'm always amazed how many on the different forums have this machine. I'm glad here it's not like a dirty little secret and it's seen for what it is. A capable tool in the right hands who understand its limitations.

Because I knew about the tram I decided early on to buy two sets of machine length drills and a complete set of collets. That way I never have change height because a drill chuck was always the reason it wouldn't clear. Yeah, it's a bit more work swapping out collets for drills but I figure it's still easier than doing it by hand with a grinder, files and a square. For me it was $$ well spent. Just like with the mill I watched CL and eBay for my tooling. I've been pretty lucky but I'm very patient.
 

Bill W.

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#10
I have the same machine you are looking at from HF. It has served me well. As most always with machine tools from HF, there is some (a lot) of cleaning, tweeking and adjusting to bring it up to "specs." Once that is done, you will have a nice machine that will more than likely do everything you want it to do keeping in mind its limits due to its size.

+1 on what mikey posted above... that will go a long way on the list of tools needed to get you started. Along with the clamp set mikey mentioned, I would include a small pair of machinist jacks. I have a 4" vise with mine and have on occasion needed the extra support not provided by the 4" vise.

Good luck with whatever you choose and have fun. Bill W.
 

Aaron_W

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#11
To start, I would suggest:
  • Buy a decent drill chuck, a spotting drill and some decent drills. I suggest wire sized drills first (most smaller screws use wire size drills before tapping), then fractional, then letter sized drills. Eventually you will use them all.

I know these are probably pushing the description of decent, but Harbor Freight has a 115 piece black oxide drill bit set for $35, wire gauge 1-60, A-Z and fractional bits 1/64-1/2" by 1/64s. That is cheaper for all three types than any one of those sets from a name brand.

I recently picked up a set of 3, 120 degree cobalt spotting drills (1/8", 3/16", 1/4") from an ebay vender for $16 including shipping.
 

Robert LaLonde

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#12
For your budget you could get a middle to small square column mill and have a couple dollars left over for a vise and some collets. Maybe even a few end mills. I know lots of folks get hunf up on one thing or another, but having owned two round column machines (one of which I still own) I have to say they are better than not having a mill, but the only benegot is being able to work on longer stock without shifting it on the table. Everything else seems to be "sub" inclduing the very feature I mentioned being also a detriment at times. The Grizzly G0704 is probably the best stater mill for many people. Fair work envelope. R8 toolings. Square column, and price. It would be better if it weighed more, but you can always fill the stand THAT COMES WITH IT full of concrete. Its not the same as if the machine weighed more, but it helps. , and the machine isn't any lighter than those round columns you are looking at. Don't care for Grizzly or their QC? Precision Mathews has a similar machine for a few dollars more.

If a round column in decent shape fell in my lap for half of retail I might buy it, but if I bought another benchtop size machine at retail it would be square column.

For anyone not familiar with the machine, this is what I'm considering:
HF #33686 1.5HP Milling/Drilling Machine
That is functionally an RF-31. I had an RF-30. I really didn't see any difference in the machines except the model number and slightly more modern materials.
 

dtsh

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#13
Thank you all for the great advice, keep it coming!

There's some tooling I didn't mention, because I already had it and of course all of you should know this already, right? :p

For the lathe, I have dial indicators, drill bits (minus the ones I've broken), center drills, and a set of ER40 collets, machinist level, plus an odd assortment of gear cutters, and a few odd arbors here and there.

Between some R8 collets and the ER40, I think should cover me for most things.

I'll add fly cutters to the list. I think there's one or two that came in a box of "treasure" that came with the lathe, but I'm not sure what condition they're in.

I also have two mostly complete tap and die sets, standard and metric, which were gifted to me a couple years ago; as well as the usual assortment of hand and power tools one acquires.

Machinist jacks I have, they're some crapola I churned out a while ago, not pretty but they do work.

I admit the X2 line (Grizzly and others) have tempted me, but I'm afraid that a year down the road I'll want something bigger, ergo thinking one of the round column mill/drills is the way to go as I don't think I can reasonably get anything bigger than that within my constraints.
 

Robert LaLonde

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#14
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dtsh

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#15
A G0704 is more comparable to an X3 for size and envelope.
I'll have to look at it in more detail, thanks for pointing this out as I'd missed it.
 

kvt

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I just got a used Enco 30 Otherwise known as a RF-30, It was used and I have been cleaning it up and now started to set it up. It is what I could afford and came with a bunch of tooling. They are not biggest but should do for a while. It looks like it should handle a bit of work. One of the other things to do is keep looking at the Vids on youTube and such. People have mad all kinds of mods for them. I think some basic tooling such as endmils, Flycutter, vice etc will get you started, You already have stuff to measure with etc. Then purchase what you need or watch Ebay for deals on the stuff you would like to have. that is just my 2 cents worth. Good luck on your Mill.
 

dtsh

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#17
Thanks for the feedback everyone. I decided to quit stalling and placed the order for the mill and some tooling. Here's to hoping for satisfactory results!
 

Paul Thompson

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#18
I have had 3 of them (all converted to CNC) and they are strong and accurate. The head swings left or right so you can extend your travel considerably. You can almost eliminate the need to raise or lower the head if you get a set of ER collets and regular collets. Long stuff goes in the regular collets and the shorter stuff in the extended ER collets.

I use a 6-inch vise without a swivel base on mine and I highly recommend it over a 4-inch. It is flush with the table in the back and hangs over a lot in the front. It cost me $140 and I'm glad I went with the bigger one. If you want to convert to CNC I have everything you would need.
 

dtsh

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I use a 6-inch vise without a swivel base on mine and I highly recommend it over a 4-inch. It is flush with the table in the back and hangs over a lot in the front. It cost me $140 and I'm glad I went with the bigger one. If you want to convert to CNC I have everything you would need.
I can't imagine a 6" on these, a 4" is no slouch size-wise.
I'm mildly interested in CNC and may eventually explore in that direction once the newness wears off and I tire of manual operation.

I'm just down to waiting until it arrives, expected delivery is mid-January; the tooling is building up in the garage ahead of it.
 

Silverbullet

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#20
I bought the HF round column mill and only wish I had got there red mill with the table lift . Not much more then the round column with the 25% off coupon. It's in the range you want to spend and the size is almost the same . There are advantages to the table lift for drilling and reaming even boring . Another plus you can add an extra spacer to get more room . Ck the HF red mill I wish I had.
 
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dtsh

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#21
I bought the HF round column mill and only wish I had got there red mill with the table lift . Not much more then the round column with the 25% off coupon. It's in the range you want to spend and the size is almost the same . There are advantages to the table lift for drilling and reaming even boring . Another plus you can add an extra spacer to get more room . Ck the HF red mill I wish I had.
Assuming you're referring to their "9 speed veritcal milling machine", I had considered that one, but for me it would cost significantly more as I'd have to upgrade the electric service to my work area as well as paying about $500 more. It looks to be better in many areas, but outside of my criteria, after all, for just a little more I could get .... and for just a little more than that I could get..... :p

Honestly, I think one of the X2 or similar line would have been more than sufficient and I've probably already bought more machine than I really needed. Either way, the money has been spent and it's on it's way. :)
 

Bill W.

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Thanks for the feedback everyone. I decided to quit stalling and placed the order for the mill and some tooling. Here's to hoping for satisfactory results!
Which one did you order?
 

dtsh

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#23
Which one did you order?
I ordered the round column I linked to at first, it seemed to be the best fit for what I intend to do and fits within the limitations I have to work with. I'm still pretty sure an X2 would have done everything I expect to work on, but I wanted something a little bigger as I was worried I would outgrow an X2 too soon. I suspect anything bigger will require major electrical renovation as I have only 120v circuits, of which I already trip breakers more often than I'd like when I use the welder.

Edit: This one
HF #33686 1.5HP Milling/Drilling Machine
 

Silverbullet

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#24
Glad you figured out what you wanted. Good luck with your choice , in a few years ill bet it'll be to small . But it's the machinist it's not the machine. Enjoy and MERRY CHRISTMAS
 

Techee

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#25
I have the exact mill you are considering.

I suggest adding DRO's to the X-Y-Z axes. I purchased 3 Igaging battery operated units. Inexpensive, fairly accurate. These resulted is a VERY big step-up in my capabilities.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Digital-Re...107663?hash=item21113ca44f:g:ucUAAOSwzJ5XVi4o

Here are the pics of my install. Cast iron is very easy to drill & tap. I made the Z mounts from 6061 T aluminum. I made the attachment links & covers for the X & Y axes from sheet aluminum.

It does require some critical thinking to get these parts sized & mounted correctly.

If you go this route, let me know, I may be able to save you some time & effort!
 

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gonzo

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#26
I have the exact mill you are considering.

I suggest adding DRO's to the X-Y-Z axes. I purchased 3 Igaging battery operated units. Inexpensive, fairly accurate. These resulted is a VERY big step-up in my capabilities.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Digital-Re...107663?hash=item21113ca44f:g:ucUAAOSwzJ5XVi4o

Here are the pics of my install. Cast iron is very easy to drill & tap. I made the Z mounts from 6061 T aluminum. I made the attachment links & covers for the X & Y axes from sheet aluminum.

It does require some critical thinking to get these parts sized & mounted correctly.

If you go this route, let me know, I may be able to save you some time & effort!
I also have this mill and, beside from the round column problem which I can live with, I am quite pleased with it. I have also added the 3 axis dros quite like Techee's. These work flawlessly even though I didn't put any covers over them. The lack of covers has surprisingly not presented any problems.
 

kvt

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#27
My used Enco version of the RF30 does not have any DRO yet, but I am also looking at them for it. Gonzo and Techee How did you hook up the one on the quill. Ken
 

gonzo

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#28
My used Enco version of the RF30 does not have any DRO yet, but I am also looking at them for it. Gonzo and Techee How did you hook up the one on the quill. Ken
I am still in my bath robe. I will get back with you with photos later.
 

Techee

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#29
I just went down & took these pics.

Since the front face scale for the quill is not vertical, I made two different sized mounts to get the DRO vertical. I was careful to shim as close as possible.

I used the Igaging brackets (supplied in the DRO kit) to connect to the mechanical scale on the mill....I removed the pointer.

My wire routing is a little sloppy & I need to clean that up!
 

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kvt

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#30
For some reason I though mine had some extra play in it. I will have to check that out. I figure that the x and y should be not be that bad. Just made a part that would have been handy on.
 
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