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Talk me out of a used Harbor Freight knee mill

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MontanaLon

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I have been looking for a mill for 6 months and have found that anything American or European made in a size I can break down and move into the basement is out of my price range. Clausing 8520's are running about $2,000 for a bare machine and more with any tooling. And at that price they sell fast.

I recently located a used Harbor Freight knee mill with a very basic set of tooling for $1,000. It is about 3 years old and used very little. Only mark on it is on the back of the belt cover where it was lifted too high while entering a garage and caught the door frame and popped the bondo off. Guy says he bought it to machine 80% AR lowers and after all his friends had AR's he ran out of stuff to do with it. Tools include a 4" USA made swivel vise, hold down kit, half dozen collets, maybe 4 end mills, drill chuck, face mill and some indicators and calipers.

Everything on the machine operates smoothly, all handwheels are present, quill coarse and fine feed operate, quill spins smoothly under power.

So tell me why I shouldn't buy it. I believe it will do what I need it to do and other than being an import it is the size I was looking for at 1/2 the price.

I realize it will be somewhat of a project bringing it to a point where it will work well and I am OK with that. I will have to disassemble it to get it into the basement anyway and figure the current owner never broke it down and cleaned it up when he got it originally so it probably has casting sand and cosmoline in bad places so breaking it down will probably be a good thing.
 

Latinrascalrg1

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I agree, so long as you are able and willing to get it cleaned up and adjusted properly Im thinking you will be very happy with the purchase....if you're not gonna buy it im sure someone on here would be interested in they are close enough!
 

Ulma Doctor

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if you are looking to doing similar in nature to projects as the previous owner did, you'll be happy to have the HF machine
ar lowers are aluminum and easier to machine than blocks of steel
but if light cuts are taken, workable solutions can be made.
the tolerances and quality control were loose on a large number of mainland china machines
but on the positive side, you know it works, and has only had one owner= is a good deal
 

pstemari

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Yeah, if someone has been successfully machining AR lowers, that's a decent sign the machine is reasonable tight. I imagine you'll need to lock the quill when milling,

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Latinrascalrg1

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Yeah, if someone has been successfully machining AR lowers, that's a decent sign the machine is reasonable tight. I imagine you'll need to lock the quill when milling,

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I wouldnt use that as my "Benchmark" to claim anything good about any machine only simply because finishing an ar80% is not huge challange! It can be done quite easily and many times if care is taken, very nicely as well, with little more then a hand drill or router along with a few other basic tools. Plus we do not know the skill level or if there was any "abuse" due to lack of knowledge on their part.
 

Aaron_W

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If you are looking for an 8520 sized machine, those HF mills are essentially copies of the 8520, with a few improvements. R8 instead of MT2, a 1 1/2hp motor vs the Clausings 3/4hp and a slightly larger table / travel. Those are the good points, it is probably safe to assume the HF's fit and finish is lacking even compared to a well used Clausing.


$1000 isn't a bad price so long as nothing is wrong with it. New the bare machine, no vise or tooling is $2000 + delivery fees and taxes. For $1000 you are basically comparing to bench mills and mill-drills. This gives you a decent mill and if you later find a Clausing or the similar sized Rockwell you can almost certainly turn around and make your money back selling it to someone else. It also lets you know if a mill that size will make you happy, if yes keep looking, if no, you know you need to start looking for something larger. Personally if I had found that deal before the mill I have now, I would have jumped on it.

I have a Clausing 8520, and got it into my basement by myself using only an engine hoist and a garden trailer. I broke it down into 5 main parts, the head, motor, column, table and base. You should be able to do the same with that one, but the HF doesn't have the base, so one less thing. You will want to mount it on something to bring it up to a comfortable working height. Moving the column was the hardest since it is cast iron and weighs about 250lbs. I didn't have to worry about stairs so that is where the garden cart came in. The HF doesn't have a base, so you will need to find something to mount it on to bring it to a comfortable height.



Sorry, I was supposed to talk you out of buying it.



I assume this is the machine you are talking about?

Harbor Freight 6x26 mill
 
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MontanaLon

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If you are looking for an 8520 sized machine, those HF mills are essentially copies of the 8520, with a few improvements. R8 instead of MT2, a 1 1/2hp motor vs the Clausings 3/4hp and a slightly larger table / travel. Those are the good points, it is probably safe to assume the HF's fit and finish is lacking even compared to a well used Clausing.


$1000 isn't a bad price so long as nothing is wrong with it. New the bare machine, no vise or tooling is $2000 + delivery fees and taxes. For $1000 you are basically comparing to bench mills and mill-drills. This gives you a decent mill and if you later find a Clausing or the similar sized Rockwell you can almost certainly turn around and make your money back selling it to someone else. It also lets you know if a mill that size will make you happy, if yes keep looking, if no, you know you need to start looking for something larger. Personally if I had found that deal before the mill I have now, I would have jumped on it.

I have a Clausing 8520, and got it into my basement by myself using only an engine hoist and a garden trailer. I broke it down into 5 main parts, the head, motor, column, table and base. You should be able to do the same with that one, but the HF doesn't have the base, so one less thing. You will want to mount it on something to bring it up to a comfortable working height. Moving the column was the hardest since it is cast iron and weighs about 250lbs. I didn't have to worry about stairs so that is where the garden cart came in. The HF doesn't have a base, so you will need to find something to mount it on to bring it to a comfortable height.



Sorry, I was supposed to talk you out of buying it.



I assume this is the machine you are talking about?

Harbor Freight 6x26 mill
That is indeed the very one. I may have to break it down a bit more than you did as I have to contend with stairs. I worked out a pretty good system to move the lathe bed in through the window and the column is probably a touch lighter than the bed was. If I ever build my own home it will have an elevator in it. A guy I know bought one of the vehicle lifts from a Walmart when they tore it down after building the new service center in the super center next door. He put it in a bump out of the basement foundation and has easy access to take even cars down there to work on them. When it isn't in use it has a roof over it so no water gets in.
 

Aaron_W

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I'm not sure how much trouble it would be since I didn't do it, but I would think you can remove the knee without too much trouble. That would probably knock off another 50-60lbs. It would certainly make the column a bit less awkward. Other than that everything else was a load of 100lbs or less, not too bad for one person, and should be no problem with two.

If you buy this one, I'll be very curious to know how it works out. I have limited height in my shop so this size mill was an ideal size for me and I spent some time trying to find out about these HF mills. I was not able to find any comments on them good or bad which surprises me because it is a really nice size to bridge the gap between the larger mill/drills and knee mills like Millrite or the ubiquitous Bridgeports.
Even if it was a complete piece of junk, you would think people would comment to say so.

Good luck
 

markba633csi

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If I'm not mistaken the head articulates on the Clausing whereas on the HF it doesnt. Also I'm pretty sure the leadscrews are something like 8 tpi on the HF machine
 

NCjeeper

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Go grab it. Does that help.
:D
 

BGHansen

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Seems to be a decent price. Push comes to shove you can always resell it if you decide to go larger down the line. Used stuff in good condition depreciates to a certain level than holds it's value. I bought a used 1979 Jet JVM-830 mill for $1200 in around 1987. I'd expect to get close to that 32 years later.

Bruce
 

Aaron_W

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If I'm not mistaken the head articulates on the Clausing whereas on the HF it doesnt. Also I'm pretty sure the leadscrews are something like 8 tpi on the HF machine
If you mean the Clausing nods (in / out) like a Bridgeport, no it doesn't. Just rotates left / right on the column and tilts side to side. It looks like the HF does the same.

According to the manual at HF it does have an 8 tpi lead screw. The Grizzly versions also seem to be 8 tpi. What is the significance of that other than moving the table a little faster?
 

mattthemuppet2

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I got a very similar Grizzly 6x26 and like it a great deal. for that price you can't go wrong! Work envelope isn't huge, but within it the mill is very capable. I certainly wouldn't want to get rid of mine, fits perfectly in the limited space I have for it.
 

markba633csi

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8 tpi means each turn of the handwheels moves the table by 0.125" which is a little less convenient than 10 tpi would be (0.10 per turn)
Non-issue if you have a DRO installed
Looks like the head does tilt but it requires loosening 4 bolts
 
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markba633csi

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One thing I would check carefully is the fit of the quill in the head, make sure it's snug and precise and not loose and wiggly
Not an easy thing to correct
 

Janderso

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You use it, learn some things and sell it to buy a better one when it comes along. Sounds like a deal.
I learned a bunch from my wore out Bridgeport. I have since then replaced it with a better, heavier, newer machine.
 

MikeInOr

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I believe there is a 6x26 version and an 8x30 version of those smaller knee mills. I believe the 6x26 version has it's own users group somewhere (all the Chinese 6x26's are pretty much identical). I have the 8x30 version and it is an actual knee mill and a much better machine than a mill/drill IMHO.
 

Janderso

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You have a picture of that 8X30? I'd like to see it if you don't mind.
 

MontanaLon

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I'm not sure how much trouble it would be since I didn't do it, but I would think you can remove the knee without too much trouble. That would probably knock off another 50-60lbs. It would certainly make the column a bit less awkward. Other than that everything else was a load of 100lbs or less, not too bad for one person, and should be no problem with two.

If you buy this one, I'll be very curious to know how it works out. I have limited height in my shop so this size mill was an ideal size for me and I spent some time trying to find out about these HF mills. I was not able to find any comments on them good or bad which surprises me because it is a really nice size to bridge the gap between the larger mill/drills and knee mills like Millrite or the ubiquitous Bridgeports.
Even if it was a complete piece of junk, you would think people would comment to say so.

Good luck
It doesn't look too tricky and will definitely be needed. When I pick it up I will definitely keep everyone posted.
I got a very similar Grizzly 6x26 and like it a great deal. for that price you can't go wrong! Work envelope isn't huge, but within it the mill is very capable. I certainly wouldn't want to get rid of mine, fits perfectly in the limited space I have for it.
8 tpi means each turn of the handwheels moves the table by 0.125" which is a little less convenient than 10 tpi would be (0.10 per turn)
Non-issue if you have a DRO installed
Looks like the head does tilt but it requires loosening 4 bolts
A DRO would be a future thing but I can definitely see the advantages even over a 10 pitch lead screw.
Go grab it. Does that help.
:D
You sir, are a bad influence.
 

markba633csi

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We hardly ever talk anyone out of buying a machine, unless it's a real rust pile casserole :)
 

BGHansen

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You have a picture of that 8X30? I'd like to see it if you don't mind.
Hi Jeff,

Here's a photo of my Jet JVM-830. Grizzly makes a comparable one (along with others). I put a 4-axis TPAC Tools DRO on it and a X-axis power feed from a Grizzly round column Rong Fu mill/drill clone. Also put a smaller pulley on top of the motor cone pulley and the mid-shaft pulley to get the speed down to around 150 rpm. Been a pretty decent mill for a lot of years. Weighs around 900 lbs. and is pretty solid. Great size for a smaller shop. Oh, made a 5 1/2" riser block from a 8" round to get about 18" max distance from the spindle to the table.

Bruce


20180922_110819.jpg
 

MontanaLon

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For the record, you guys stink at following directions. I bought it. Had to disassemble to bring it home. Only sticky point was a machine clip in table I had to bend to remove.

Still had cosmoline full of aluminum chips only. Nota speck of steel.

Cleaning and reassembly will take a while. Then I can get the cosmoline off the mill and put it back together in basement.
 
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