Author Topic: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...  (Read 2181 times)

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sizemore

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Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« on: February 05, 2013, 08:03:53 PM »
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In setting up ACME Labs, I am looking for a bench top mill (either conventional or CNC) and pondering the purchase of a bench top laser cutter 20" x 12". I'm not looking for whiz-bang bells and whistles, more along the lines of basic job completion, affordable and availability of spare/repair parts.

I do have plans on purchasing an Silhouette SD cutter assuming I get some beans back from the loan I gave the Guv'mint last year.

Suggestions and experience are appreciated! Viable alternatives such as laser cutting services are also appreciated.

Thanks,
The S.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 08:15:10 PM by sizemore »

sizemore

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2013, 09:00:29 AM »
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*crickets...crickets*

:D
The S.

DKS

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2013, 09:39:39 AM »
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Not having a mill (although I do have a lathe with accessories to make it a mill), I don't have any good recommendations for you in this department. On the laser front, it depends on what you want to spend. Bear in mind that "you get what you pay for" applies heavily to lasers; their durability and life expectancy is directly proportional to their cost. While you can get a laser for around $5 grand, expect to pay over $10 for one that will go the distance.

I can recommend an excellent laser service, but it depends on the expected workload, since you'll essentially be competing with me for laser time.
“Everyone leaves unfinished business. That's what dying is.” —Amos, The Expanse

Philip H

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2013, 10:30:21 AM »
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Timmah,
you might try sending Bernie Kempenski an email through his ACW blog - he's had a laser for a while that he originally got for his business, but which seems to find steady work cutting bridge parts these days.
Philip H.
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Sokramiketes

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2013, 12:29:20 PM »
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If you don't have CNC experience and are looking to get up and running with minimal hassle, buy a converted Sherline from Flashcut.  Their drivers and software are pretty much bullet proof.  And the Sherline mills are pretty capable, especially to get your feet wet. 

If you like to tinker, you can do your own conversions cheaper... but expect to spend more time tinkering than cutting.

Don't forget that $4,000-5,000 on a CNC mill set up is one thing... holders, clamps, fixtures, cutting tools, measuring devices, etc. are $$$ on top of it. 
Mike

www.modutrak.com
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sizemore

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #5 on: February 07, 2013, 01:32:35 PM »
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Let me preface, this is more of a hobby-esque item. I don't want to produce a consumer product.

In relation to the laser, more along the lines of run-up some CAD drawings for walls structure. I've seen some 40W-80W "Harborfreight" equivalents on eBay under $2500, reports are varied from "doing the job" to "WTF-no parts". Anything over 5G is completely out of the equation.

What kills me with services is the same issue I've had with production run decals. I send out the artwork, get back a test product, send out corrections...*insert vicious cycle here*...finally get what I really wanted (translating to $50-$60 for a $5 product). I'd rather just have tools in house cut out the wait/cost. Again this is just exploring the option of having the tools at my disposal vice song and dance. Bernie is only right down the road from me which may be convenient if he has the time once I get around to it.

If the SD Cutter pans out how I've seen the reports, hopefully it will forgo the desire for the laser (depends on what nonsense I get into with it).

I've looked at the MicroLux (MicroMark), SIEG (Harborfreight), Sherline, Unimat.... MicroMark states their mill is out of production (WOMP WOMP). The SIEG may work, but its very basic I need more info. The Unimat looks like a kids toy. The Sherline appeals to me because its "Made in da Obama-land", parts are available and can be converted to CNC. Appreciate the feedback on the Sherline Mill its the top of the list right now.

Keep it coming, appreciate the feedback,
The S.

DKS

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2013, 02:10:44 PM »
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Re: the "vicious cycle," this is often born out of a lack of experience designing for laser cutting. Not only do you need to take all thicknesses and fitting into account, but the drawings need to be very specific in the way they're rendered in order to achieve the correct cutting/rastering. So in all likelihood there will be a few iterations for the first few projects, until you get your "laser legs." After a while, you can get it right sometimes on the first try, but more than likely the second.

And even though I don't have a mill, as I said, I do have a Sherline lathe, and I enthusiastically endorse it.
“Everyone leaves unfinished business. That's what dying is.” —Amos, The Expanse

Rasputen

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2013, 06:21:15 PM »
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I have a Sherline lathe with the milling column adapter.  Except for the small throat, I like it a lot.  You need to decide what you are going to cut and how big of a part you would ever want to mill.  In my opinion, the Sherline mills with the adjustable columns do not look like they are anywhere stiff enough to mill steel parts with and get any precision.

Regarding laser cutters, I would find out if there is a Tech Shop near you and join their program.  The one near me has four laser cutters and a Tormach CNC mill.

peteski

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2013, 06:49:14 PM »
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I've owned a Sherline lathe (since the 80s), and couple of years ago I finally got enough parts to assemble a separate mill.  I don't have to use them very often but when I do, they are extremely handy.

Nice thing about Sherline (vs. Chinese mills) is that Sherline has oodles of accessories and upgrade options.  You can start with a basic machine and just keep upgrading it. Also, Walthers carries Sherline so if you have a hobby shop which discounts special orders from their customers, you can get Sherline accessories at a discount. As you said, Sherline is in US and their customer support is in US and a pleasure to deal with.  The machines are also well made.

You can start with a manual machine and upgrade it to CNC later (or purchase a CNC machine right away).  You can deal with Sherline sales people and even customize your machine with all that you need.  There are also Sherline Yahoo groups with hundreds of experienced users who are can be very helpful when you run into problems.



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Andrew Hutchinson

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2013, 08:23:34 PM »
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Hello Sizemore,

Re:Mill

Don't know how much use this will be to you but what follows is based on my personal experience. I'm a wood worker, not a machinist. I have no idea what previous experience you have with metal working machinery so I'll assume it is limited and start with what I consider the basics. Don't know what you want to mill either in terms of envelop or complexity. I don't do CNC. Would like to at some point but I need to be more familiar with the medium before I make the jump to computers.

Don't know  how much research you've done outside of asking other model railroaders. If you haven't done much make sure to look up relevant publications at your local library. It is much cheaper to do this than to buy something you can't use.  Home shop machinist, Machinist's Workshop, Model engineer, Engineering in miniature, Model engineer's workshop should be well thumbed. Do your part to educate yourself on the basics of machining before you jump right in. Books from the Workshop practice series are very handy. I've purchased them for myself and those around me who are just starting out. Harald Hall's books (they're out on loan and I can't remember the exact title) A complete course in lathework and a complete course in milling are two of the best I've come across to get the amateur up and running. They cover plain turning , screwcutting, achieving fine finish, making comprehensive clamping sets, depth of cut , feeds and speeds and most importantly the devising of strategies to get you from point A to point B.   Another title that I really benefitted from was Tubal Cain's (the late Tom Walshaw's) Milling operations in the lathe in the same series. In it he covers cutter geometry, examples of  setups and how to make special milling cutters for pennies. One of his other  books "Hardening, tempering and heat treatment" is also well worth having even for those modellers with no interest in machine tools. If you are working in  N scale it might be worth your while looking through a book on horology, specifically watch making. If you mainly want to machine loco frames Harald Hall's books will do just fine.

Now you might wonder why so little of what I have written directly concerns millers and milling. There's a reason - without a lathe a mill is basically a hacksaw with calibrated feed.  4 axis CNC seems to be different so far as the part is concerned and at whatever resolution the machine will work to but even then you'll need to make round parts to support your set up that are much more easily and perhaps accurately formed in a lathe.   For those reasons here is what I would recommend...


To start with buy a lathe, a grinder, a hack saw, a good solid vice and some decent files. You'll need a couple of drill indexes to cover sub 80 to 3/8"-1/2" and those can be expensive. You can buy them as you need but five years in you'll wish you had just bought the proper indexes at first. I have a bunch of lathes Taig and Sherline included. In my experience most model railroaders will lose interest if they spend much time outside the perceived confines of the hobby.  If you think that might be you then go with the Sherline. As others have mentioned, their products are easily adapted to most of the scenarios  you'll come across in mrring. If you are a self starter, low on funds or perceive the need for  a machine with greater swing but similar quality the Taig could be an option. I love mine and it rarely lets me down but there are far fewer accessories. With the Sherline setup you can buy your way into heaven relatively easily. Since you want to mill I'd figure out what metal work is all about first  and, after a while, purchase a milling column or slide. With the Sherline, for most setups it is likely better to have the milling column rather than the slide. I have one but don't know much about it. I happily used a taig  milling slide on a taig lathe for several years before getting  a small imported bed mill when I needed more space.  As others have mentioned Sherline WILL sell you the parts gradually to make up one of their milling machines. This is probably a good strategy for a model railroader to employ. If you have other experience in metal work then there are other avenues to explore ie older machinery.

What I wouldn't do is buy an imported = mini-mill. They're not very good as far as I am concerned. I bought one reluctantly when funds were low and I continue to use it reluctantly. They are light and of a horrible design. The new ones being sold with solid columns and belt drives have to be better but I still don't think they are worth it. You are better off going with (or building up to) a Sherline mill like the 5400 or a Taig mill which is stouter but less easily adaptable as compared to the Sherline or buying a 270-700 pound mill/drill. The idea with the mill drill is that though they may be over kill at least they'll get the job done in a reasonable amount of time. My tilt column belt drive (Seig) grizzly X2 is difficult to use accurately and flops all over the place unless it is babied . Unfortunately there aren't new machines in your price range that offer both decent depth of cut and work accurately, so you'll have to make a choice. The Sherline or Taig will do nice N scale work but if you have to make a tool or fixture you could be there for a while. Judicious use of a hacksaw or 180 dollar harbour freight band saw shouldn't be overlooked.   



In any event let's say you do end up with a Sherline mill here are somethings you'll need...

in more or less decending order

Collets or end mill holders. Depends what you need to reach over or step around. On a light machine you'll want to use milling collets as much as possible to get the cutting face as close to the bearings as possible.

Milling cutters. Go with the best you can afford knowing that you'll blitz more than a few before you get the hang of things. Often times you can still cut with the sides of an endmill after the end is toast. The import ones I use half the time are not always that sharp. When I use decent stuff things happen quicker and withe fewer downstream issues.

A vice
I'd get the sherline one since it bolts directly to the machine without the need to make clamps for it.

Clamp set/t nuts  - you can buy these too - I made mine out of allthread and five dollars in steel including cutting the initial set of t nuts with a hack saw and filing to shape  to make the second set that are currently still in use. It is worth noting that most jobs have different clamping needs. At some point you'll need to make work holding fixtures. It is good experience.

Drill chuck - absolutely necessary

Dial test indicator - I have a couple; one full size import "tenths" .0001" indicator and one 3/4 sized .0005" Starrett. The Starrett isn't too shabby and being the best I have I use it every day. If I had better I'd use better but for most of what I do when it is used properly it works well. They have a rep for getting sticky over time but they can be sent back to the factory if they do start to go down hill. Cross that bridge when I have to. Cost me $230ish Cdn for the full set I bought.

.0001" Micrometers for what ever size range you'll be workin in ie; 0-1", 1-2", 2-3" etc.

 
Flycutter - easy to make if you have a lathe. Most of the ones for sale don't fit little machines. Sherline makes one and  so does Taig. If you were crunched for cash you could use a taig  flycutter and take a bit off the threaded portion of the  body (.145" if I recall - don't quote me on it) and screw it on the Sherline spindle nose. Same goes for all taig arbors. At $3 a pop they're really handy for holding endmills, slitting saws, etc.


A boring head for anything you can't swing on a lathe faceplate that needs a larger hole than you can drill or a more accurate hole than you can drill/ream. For .75" or wider holes or arcs you can get away with a flycutter.

WW collets and adapter- crucial for drilling small diameters / using small milling cutters. They'll also hold those 1/8" shank tools nicely and allow you to use home made cutters with an absolute minimum of runout.

bunch of stuff I've forgotten
 
Misc - arkansas stone for touching up cutter edges , siver steel/ drill rod/tool steel  for making stuff you can't buy. Boring tools are high on the list of home made tooling you'll need to make at some point. cutting fluid.


Down the road if you're doing small stuff it doesn't hurt to have a microscope. I've got one and it has been a transformative experience second only to the realization that I could make my own tooling from a $2 piec of tool steel.


Anyways, thats probably enough for now.

Cheers,

Andrew Hutchinson
Surrey BC Canada

sizemore

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Re: Recommendations on bench top mill and laser cutter...
« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2013, 09:36:16 AM »
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Andrew
Appreciate all the feedback. It's got some depth to it, which may be more than I really need. At the moment I want to just cut traction tires and mill frames, pretty simple stuff requiring basic cutting bits. I used to mill old Atlas RS frames to fit new shells so I'm not foreign to milling, but not advanced enough to mill my own frame from a chunk of zinc.

Again I appreciated all the feedback,
The S.