Find the right Milling Machines for your Hobby
Everyone has a different hobby. Some prefer to unwind and relax completely – a simple movie on the couch, or a bit of sports on the TV. Others prefer something a bit more strenuous. They might take up running, or cycling, or even just long walks or rambles.
Other people prefer to do something creative. They have the urge to make something, to use their hands, and create something new. Creative hobbies run the gamut from painting to pottery and whittling to smithing. But with increased access to high-end machine tools, more and more hobbyists are discovering the joys of owning their own milling machine.
Owning a high-end CNC milling machine opens a world of possibilities for any machinist, whatever the hobby. In this article, we’ll explore the single most important question a hobbyist needs to ask when considering their own milling machine: what do you need in a hobbyist mill?
What to look for in a hobbyist milling machines
There’s nothing particularly unique about the construction of an actual hobbyist mill. The basic operation of the machine remains the same. The mill will still have a spindle, a bed, and certain axes of movement.
Hobbyist mills are simply milling machines used by hobbyists. Every hobby is different, which means that every hobby will need slightly different requirements. Hobbyist mills are a step up from a drill press or combo tools. Mills are advanced drilling machines, capable of end mill processes as well as slot cutting.
There are certain general characteristics shared by most hobbyist mills.
In theory, some hobbies might require industrial-sized machines with immensely powerful engines. But in reality, most hobbyist mills are smaller, lighter machines. Most hobby mills fall into one of two categories – benchtop or tabletop milling machines, and mini milling machines.
Benchtop milling machines are small enough to be mounted on a heavy-duty worktable, rather than standing directly on the ground. Smaller than full-sized production models, benchtop milling machines vary widely. Some larger models won’t be much smaller than a typical industrial mill, while others are small enough to fall into the mini mill category.
Mini milling machines are just what they sound like; extra-small mills that sacrifice a bit of power in exchange for versatility. These mills are smaller even than benchtop mills and tend to be made of aluminum and other lighter alloys rather than the solid cast-iron construction of heavier industrial mills.
The size of mill you need depends largely on what size workpiece you’ll be tooling. The larger the mill, the large the workpiece that can be accommodated on it. Your hobby will often dictate the size you need. Woodworking small and intricate pieces might only require a standard benchtop lathe or mill, while a jeweler might need a mini mill.
You can measure the power of a mill in two primary ways: engine horsepower and spindle speed. Most mills will have variable speed controls, allowing the operator to adjust the speed of the mill depending on the job and material being cut.
Mini mills typically have spindle speeds in the range of 0-2500 RPM, with engines around 0.5 horsepower. Larger benchtop mills might have engines in the 2-3 horsepower range, with RPMs up to 3000. A high speed is helpful, but often other considerations are more important to the end result.
When choosing between a small benchtop milling machine or an extra-small mini mill, remember that there’s a tradeoff between size and stability. Larger, heavier machines are more powerful and also more stable; that helps them make more accurate cuts. They also tend to have better durability than smaller milling machines. Of course, most hobbyists may not need the size and strength of a larger mill and might be able to get more use out of a highly versatile mini mill instead.