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Old 01-28-2015, 05:58 PM
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Mills - anyone got recommendations

I've had a number of small projects (specifically fabricating stuff for my vintage bikes) that would have been a hundred times easier with a mill. Commercial grade stuff is nutty expensive and I don't need what they offer. I think. Likewise, I think Harbor Freight might be too cheap for me. What's in between that would be a good deal? Grizzly maybe?

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In the seventies I bought a new large Jet tabletop mill/drill. $1200 well spent. Has been great for small projects.. Also since the late eighties I have bought several real size vertical mills in excellant shape at auction for less than $1000.00 each. A Millport (Bridgeport copy). A Cincinnati and another Bridgeport clone, used in high school shop class, made in Milwaukee. Tho must of the equipment from the nineties and later was either scrapped or went overseas.
Watch Ebay. try Enco Enco - Guaranteed Lowest Prices on Machinery, Tools and Shop Supplies
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Old 01-28-2015, 06:57 PM
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My best friend bought an Enco vertical mill and was happy with it.
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Old 01-28-2015, 07:10 PM
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I have this and Im very happy with it. Little Machine Shop offers a tilting column too but the solid column is more ridged and can cut heavier.

HiTorque Mini Mill, Solid Column with Air Spring 3990 -

HF has the S2 for $500 with no upgrades or tooling. They work well but are kinda of a project in themselves correcting the minor manufacturing flaws.

Check out home page
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Old 01-29-2015, 08:46 AM
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I bought a use J head2 HP Bpt. with DRO for 1k. Ways are a little worn but I use it all the time and could not be without it.
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Old 01-29-2015, 11:22 AM
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Gotta be careful with the Chinese machines. They are almost "hand made" and the same part may fit one and not another. (Basically, they are "hand fitted.")

I have a ShopMaster 3-in-1 and don't trust the reliability. It works fine, but I just never know when there will be a problem, with parts made of unobtainium. I've been through it with Chinese machines and would not buy another.
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Old 01-29-2015, 04:38 PM
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Originally Posted by [email protected] View Post
Also since the late eighties I have bought several real size vertical mills in excellant shape at auction for less than $1000.00 each.
^^^This, if you have the room for it. I got mine on Ebay about ten years ago. I see Bridgeports and US-made clones (mine's a Tree brand mill) on C-list in the $1000-$1500 range.
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Old 01-30-2015, 06:52 AM
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3 phase >

A company I worked for shut down US operations and I bought a chinese table top for $ 150, It had a clothes dryer plug. when I got it home and plugged it in it just hummed, I looked at the motor plate and it was 3 phase. I bought a capacitor converter, It now only produces less than2/3 of the rated power, I cannot run it full speed. The thing has some strange collets, for metric cuters I usually use the drill chuck for sae tooling or wrap a piece of pop can aluminum around an sae cutter in a metric collet. I don't do any precision work. but it's worth what I paid for it and is a good precision drill press. and it came with a power feed.
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Old 01-30-2015, 08:54 AM
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I bought a Harbor Freight back when they carried larger mills and lathes many moons ago. Once it was set up, and I adjusted all the clearances out, it does a good job on my small projects. Mine is one of their lathe/mill combos, and I think it was under $500 on sale back then. I've owned it over 10 years, and only problem I had was the main switch failed a few years back. Got a new reversing switch from HF for $20, and she was back working again.
I use a lathe or mill infrequently, so it's worked out for my occasional needs.
Like this one, but I've never had a motor issue:
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Old 02-01-2015, 07:49 PM
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When it comes to a mill.........SHOP AROUND!!!!!!! Plain and simple. And if you can, find a brand name mill so you can still find parts. Of course the first one that everyone will say is Bridgeport. But when it comes to BP you have to be careful as most have had factory use and some have had some very hard factory use. But there are many good full size mills out there that are good mills and parts are readily available. Alliant is a good mill and is a BP clone. The company was started up by people that used to work at Bridgeport. Myself, I have a Lagun which is made in France and is another good mill.

I have spoke with some that have JET mills and are very happy with them, but they are not ran in a production type of atmosphere. I have ran into older round ram BP mills that were like new for super decent prices and were like new.

Stay away from HF because you will have nothing but trouble. You have too much slop between the gibs and the dovetails. If you know nothing about mills at all, the first place I would look is CL for a mill. And if it sounds like it is a decent mill, take someone with you that knows about mills and what to check for. You want to check for excessive wear in the gibs.. You want to check for excessive wear where the saddle runs on the knee, and you should be able to see the wear pattern. You want to run the table to one end and then see if the table has excessive slop when you shove it back and forth. Run it to the other end and do the same. You want a mill that is easy to buy collets for. Normally R8 collets.

Then you have to judge price on whether it has automatic feed for the "X" axis at least. You want to price things on whether it has a readout or not, and you want to judge price on how clean it is. Cleanliness may sound stupid, but it also tells how well a person has taken care of their mill.

A good Bridgeport, or similar mill with a readout can be had for $3000 or less. No readout, no power feed.....around $2200. A mill with a little slop but can be adjusted, fairly clean, belt drive and no variable speed, around $1500. And you want to try and talk them into some tooling, especially a halfway decent vise. A Kurt vise, all the better, but even a good Japanese or Chinese knockoff can be useable.

You want to be able to hear it run. If the head is excessively noisy, walk away because it will be due for a rebuild. A little noise is fine, but you do not want a lot of loud noise to the point you can't talk while it's running. So the best is to have someone with you that is knowledgeable of mills.

When you get into variable feeds, expect to pay a little more, maybe $500 more. Power feed on the "X" axis a few hundred more, and a good digital readout about another $500, so all in all maybe $3000 tops.

If you find a mill that has a ProtoTrak Conversion, one would run you around $8000 or a little less. You might find a conversion on almost any type of mill, but it will be a better mill as it will have ball screws in both the "X" & "Y" axis and most have been rebuilt when the conversion was done.

There is a lot to look at other is a mill and it looks decent. You have to do some homework or have someone with you. I walked away from dozens until I found my Lagun and it has a readout, no power feed, but is a tight mill with no slop. It cost me $2300 and I had to buy a vise and collets.

So don't get in a hurry, don't try to find the cheapest, set a price for yourself, and stay away from HF.
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Old 02-01-2015, 10:03 PM
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Kevin summed it up pretty well. I bought a Frejoth, a Taiwan made Bridgeport clone from the late 80's. The machine is the cheap part, the tooling is what drives up the price of your investment. I was lucky and found one on CL locally. Good luck.

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Old 03-06-2015, 09:24 AM
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First, everything that Kevin45 said, especially the part about not being in a hurry to get something.

As background to what I have to say, I am a hobby machinist and somewhat of an enthusiast/collector of old tools, in addition to fiddling with old cars and hot rods.

If I were pressed to recommend a single, good, all around mill, I would say a Bridgeport. But wait, there's more.

The more general recommendation would be to get an older American made machine. One reason is that these machines were very well built. Another is that these machines are of interest to many hobbyists, enthusiasts, collectors, and users (like me) -- and this means there is much information (manuals, user advice, setup and troubleshooting and repair, etc.) available on them and parts are available (check ebay for Bridgeport parts, for example).

The older American machines hold their value. My first milling machine was a used American made Rockwell vertical mill. I bought it back in the early 80s and I used it for many, many projects up until around 2008. At that time, I decided I needed a bigger mill, so I got my Bridgeport. I put the Rockwell up for sale on Craigslist. I sold the thing within a day for more money than I originally paid for it. (I'm not sure you can do this with a 5 or 10 year old machine made in China.)

Another piece of advice: Don't get anything too small, just because you don't think you'll need to make anything big. It's much easier to make something small on a big machine than it is to make something big on a small machine.

On the subject of big, keep in mind that most larger industrial type equipment runs off of 3 phase power. You may not have 3 phase in your shop. I think the best option here is to use a phase converter (I have 2 in my shop), rather than convert to a single phase motor on the machine. There is no rocket science or mystery using a phase converter, but there are costs that go along with it. Now, you may find a bigger machine with a single phase motor (some came from the factory that way), or it may have already been converted. So, that would probably be OK.

Also on big -- big machines are heavy, so there may be some costs associated with moving one to your place and getting it in place in your shop.

Of course, with anything old, condition is all important. Any older machine that was used in a factory or manufacturing setting may be just flat worn out. Or, it may have been used by somebody that was not too diligent with lubrication and other maintenance. The wear item that can kill a machine, or be very costly to repair, is the ways. Other things like chipped gear teeth, broken or missing handles are easier to deal with, but it's best to look until you find a machine in the best possible condition.

There are diamonds in the rough out there. My latest machine is a 60s vintage medium size Cincinnati horizontal mill -- a 6,000 pounder. The thing had not been used in 25 years, and was filthy-dirty. It was set up to run on 440 volt 3 phase, but the seller did not have that kind of power in his barn so he could not demonstrate that it ran. So, all I was willing to offer was scrap value. I eventually got it for a bit over scrap value, as it included a fair amount of tooling. Once in my shop, it took several days to clean it up -- but under all the grime I found a machine that looked nearly new. Then, I spent a bit of time figuring out how to convert from 440 volts to 220, and spent a small amount of money to do so. Now, I have an excellent running machine that's worth 5 to 10 times more than I put into it.

Now, this talk about fixing up an older machine leads to another important question you need to answer for yourself. As I mentioned, old tools is a hobby of mine and I enjoy fixing up an old relic to make it usable. But doing so may turn out to be a fairly major project before it can be put to use for making stuff. So, the question to answer -- do you want a machine that's a project in itself, or do you want a machine that you can plug in and start working on the parts you want to make?

Lastly, and very important -- do some research. As I mentioned, there is a lot of information available on machine tools. I would suggest you spend some time reading at the discussion forums on and This is where the machinery enthusiasts and users hang out, and you can find loads of information on the different machines, machinery recommendations, what to look for regarding wear and machine condition, prices, etc. You can spend hours, or even days reading all the stuff at these places, but doing so should help you make a good decision on what to look for.

Good luck, JJ
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