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joshua

Mini Milling Machine

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I've been doing most of the work on my competition guns both limited and open. In fact I built my limited gun all by myself without any trip to a real gunsmith. Now I would like to build a dedicated steel gun and of course it will require a lightened slide and maybe even a lightened frame. Can a $450 Grizzly or Homier mini mill do the job in making those mill cuts onto a quality made slide? Should I just save up for a bigger milling machine that's over 1k dollars. Are the mill/lathe combo machines any good? Looking for inputs from the guys that actually have gone this route... Thanks. josh

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You can do non-critical cosmetic work, but the Chinese mini-mills I've seen have so much backlash that they're usesless for precision work. They still would have utility for making simple stuff that only needs to be +/- .010" or so.

Be prepared to spend money on carbide cutters - especially if you're cutting stainless. You can save money on cutters by finding a shop that resharpens old carbide cutters.

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Ebay Ebay Ebay

You would be surprised at the # of mills for sale.

Find one close and go look before buying.

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I will be checking my bank account (against reloading supplies) when I come home from the Nationals. I've been wanting to get a mini-mill for some time now.

Reports are that the combos aren't worth it. The minis seems like they would do fine for the home/garage pistol smith/tinkerer.

Used to be you could get plenty of garage smithing/ mini-mill info here: http://www.roderuscustom.tzo.com/

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Get a little rotary table and you can do a lot of round stuff, too. For the most part, threading is about all you're going to be missing.

'

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I have a Chinese mini mill and it can work very well for most conceivable pistol smithing jobs as well as most rifle work other than barreling. What is optimal? A $15,000 Bridgeport of course; and the rest of the machine shop to support it. I never had a shop class in high school or access to such machinery, so I make do with a $400 Homier/Harbor Freight mini mill and another $400 or so in tooling/accessories. Backlash? Yep - but EVERY machine has some backlash & a good machinist learns to take out the backlash as a routine part of machining. Here are a couple of pictures (I hope these show up!)

site1005_t.JPG

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I learned much about how to machine my own firearms receivers from raw materials on this site: www.roderuscustom.tzo.com Yes you read that correctly, I make the receiver myself & yes it is legal & OK w/ the ATF - much like brewing your own beer at home. Yes,I know "you can buy beer at a store so why bother?" That is not the point. Take a look at Frank Roderus site or at www.cncgunsmithing.com for a look at what is possible.

site1005.JPG

site1.JPG

Edited by Erik Warren

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If you want to see something really ugly just put a $ 400 slide on a $ 400 cheepy mill and try to make a decent cut.

You can find a nice quality old used mill with a decent size head and good table throw used for what you can buy a cheepy for, expesially if you live in the North East or where lots of small machine shops have folded.

Think of the small hobby mills as just that, toys, pay a professional gunsmith or machinist when you want professional results on expensive parts.

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i would have to agree with blkbrd on this one, you get what you pay for. Now if you bought one of those cheapies, took out the lead screws and repalced them with some ball screw and then made sure the ways were scraped in nice and slick you might have something that would do some high quality work. The only problem is now you've spent as much as you could have gotten a used bridgeport for.

As a machine shop owner, i an tell you the tawain and chinese machinery is crap. About 5 years ago i bought a chevelier mill, my first and last chinese milling machine. Tried to save a grand and have always regretted it. all my other new mill purchases, both before and after, have been Laguns.

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This is exactly the feedback I'm looking for. Lots of mix info here and I really appreciate it, kind of like trying to see everyones' view point on the subject. I don't know if I can slam even 5k on a 2k lb vertical machine, but this really gives me a lot of leads to researc. Thanks, you guys are super. josh

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Somehow the photos came out 75x100 pixels & much of the text was lost. The question originally was:

"Can a $450 Grizzly or Homier mini mill do the job in making those mill cuts onto a quality made slide? Should I just save up for a bigger milling machine that's over 1k dollars. Are the mill/lathe combo machines any good? Looking for inputs from the guys that actually have gone this route..."

I have gone that route. I agree with the professional machinists that have posted that a U.S. made mill, used or new, is clearly a supperior machine. They will generally tell you to buy the biggest machine you can for ease of use, faster per-piece production time, greater number of work pieces per employee-hour, etc. These guys are professionals & I highly respect their profession - I also consider many of them to be true artists. New, one would expect to pay between $5,000 and $10,000. Buying a used mill is also a good option but one had better know how to adjust it & keep it running if buying used. Good advice, but its beyond the scope of the inquiry.

I have never had access to a full commercial machine shop & I expect that most of the members here also lack access. I also lack the workspace for a full sized Bridgeport. Even if I had the space, I am not going to pay $5,000 for a few small jobs. That leaves me paying the machinists; not a bad route if you have the money.

The other option is to do what will usually amount to about $500 worth of small project work at home on a mini mill. I own and have used a homier/harbor frieght mini-mill and they will work very very well - as well as any Bridgeport - if one is careful, skilled with one's hands, and you take your time. I know they will disagree with this, but how many of them really tried to make a mini-mill work? If I had a Bridgeport or Laguns, I would not bother with a mini mill either.

However, you have one advantage over a machinist since you are not under the same production demands that the machinist is under. They do not have time to adjust-out the play in the ways or do a practice cut in a piece of scrap to check the final dimensions. I do. I work on guns because I enjoy it. I also damand perfect results (or as close as I can get). Yes, there is a lot more backlash in a mini mill than there is on a Bridgeport. Yes, the professionals are correct about the ways - there is a fair amount of play in the mini-mill ways. However, most if not all of it can be tuned out if you take your time. A chinese mini mill is not practical for professional use. It is practical & just as good for the home gunsmith on a budget.

I guese I would ask that the professional machinist here take another look at the websites I listed; the proof is there w/ photos (much better photos than I can manage). You just have to look. Again, my point is: Bridgeport: best possible way to go given the space and money; mini-mill: do-able for the home gunsmith.

What can these mills do for the USPSA/IDPA shooter? I have done: Nowlin/Wilson bridge cutting for a ramped/supported Schuemman barrel, flat topping a slide, slide rail cutting, 1911 slide dovetail cutting, removing the "finger groove" on a Safari Arms/Oly style 1911 frame, and every operation to take a 0% complete AR-15 forging to 100% complete. A home-gunsmithing friend has used his for grip making (CZ and 1911) reverse-plug cutting, dovetail cutting, as well as all the other jobs I have done.

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Carlos,

I appreciate you taking your time to explain and give examples of what you have accomplished with your mini mill. Like I said, I'm not willing to spend 5k on a milling machine that will just sit on my bench most of the time. If you can send me pictures of some of the work you have done with your mini mill it will be much appreciated. my email "joshuatroy@go.com" josh

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Done: pictures away. Please let me know if they arrive intact. Thanks, D.

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There was a revolver guy I really admired, Kent Miller, passed away not too long ago....did up a Redhawk like you wouldn't believe! He did everything with an Emco Maximat, which was basically a 3/4 hp lathe with a milling attachment that uses the lathe carriage as the milling table. He had a .44 mag on the cover of AH many years ago....absolutely beautiful work! You would never know what he did it on.

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Carlos, you were using the thumbnail versions of your pictures and I fixed them by editing the file names. But one was waaaay to big and I made a link to it.

OK, I have some questions. Can a mini-mill do the following well?

- cut a frame for a ramped barrel

- cut a slide for sight dovetails

- make cocking serrations on a slide

- flat-top a slide

- serrate the flat-top

- cut a slide for a reverse plug

- narrow a front sight

In short, any of the standard machining operations done by someone building a gun.

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Joshua, you have been given some good advice and some fairly misguided comments as well. Let's try to put things in some perspective:

1) ALL machines have backlash...from the mini's to the masters. The amount is greater, typically, on the mini's. But, there have been many to come before you and this problem can not only be minimized, but dealt with fairly easily.

The 'pro' working on a machine with automation may not realize that the computer is compensating for the machine's backlash.

Also, DRO's (Digital Read Outs) or even well placed Dial Indicators will tell you exactly where you are on the table regardless of backlash. The readout doesn't know that the wheel has backlash...only that the table has or has not moved.

An indicator that will give you fairly accurate readings to .001" can be had for the grand sum of about $10!

2) "If you want to see something really ugly just put a $ 400 slide on a $ 400 cheepy mill and try to make a decent cut."

Well, I would have to modify that statement by adding the following: " And if you want to see a really beautiful cut on that $400 slide sitting on your $400 mill, then learn how to use that $400 mill properly and not impose $10,000/2,000 lb. techniques on the little fella".

You do get what you pay for, including the results from YOUR Time & Effort.

Anyone who thinks that these little mini's are NOT capable of accuracy to .001" or even .0005" if you put your time in, either has not really used one or did use one with a pre-disposed attitude to make it fail. Certainly they made no valid attempt to make the machine perform. Samller machines...less weight...less strength...lighter cuts....slower cuts. Are you in a big hurry? If not, don't worry about it.

3) If you don't happen to have a shop but you have a small space in your home for a mini, then why should you be discouraged or prevented from the joy of working on or creating your own stuff? Can you turn out a champion gun? Yes. But don't take my word for it...go to www.HomeGunsmith.com (formerly known as Roderus Custom) and see what has been and IS being done by others who have rejected the notion that only the best & most expensive machines can create anything worthwhile. In fact, the Internet is full of sites where you will find no less than amazing projects being built on these little mini's (mill & lathe).

Ever hear the phrase 'It's not the tool, it's the craftsman"?

If you want to 'grow your own' then don't be disuaded by egos, snobbery, and oft times ignorance. You can buy any mill you want, but if you aren't that good, the mill will NOT make up for it. And if you ARE that good, your work will show it...on any machine.

Stay away from the combos, as they have not proven themselves reliable enough.

If you do consider a mini, then swing towards the Harbor Freight model, as it uses an R8 spindle so tooling will be cheap & easy to find.

I have the Harbor Freight Mini-Mill and the MicroLux 7x14 Mini-Lathe from MicroMark. I am completely satisfied with both. Would I like bigger machines? Yes. Do I have the space for them? No. Am I satisfied with my purchases? Competely. Do I have lot's of money left over? Yes.

Dont be misled as to tooling....these little mini's will eat just as much 'tooling' money as the big boys!

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Royce, I think you hit the mark. I don't have much money to drop on a Bridgeport, I wish I did. I'm also not going to make gunsmithing a living so the less money I spend the better. I'm an enthusiast that thinks of things that I can add or build so I can improve both gun and my shooting. I thinks all of us have that in us, I just want to make it happen since getting it on paper and machined by a pro will take too much time and money. Thanks for your input. josh

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Sometimes you can find used Bridgeport J heads really cheap. Someone on another board bought one for $600. Generally they run about $1000. Problem is, it's kind of heavy and if it's on the other coast, the shipping company will charge you much more than what you paid for the mill.

With the mini-mills, you pretty much have to use dial indicators or a DRO. Worse part is the machines are set up so that one turn of the handle moves 0.0625". If you look around, there is a place where you can order lead screws that turn 0.050" per rev.

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..some fairly misguided comments as well. Let's try to put things in some perspective:

1) ALL machines have backlash...from the mini's to the masters. The amount is greater, typically, on the mini's.

The Harbor freight machine I saw had literally a full turn plus of backlash in the bed - which means no matter how tight you clamp your part, the bed is going to rattle. I couldn't find a way to tighten the thing up short of a ball-pein hammer.

Yes, Bridgeports and every other machine that operates on a screw mechanism has backlash, but nothing approaching the epic scale of the cheap, chinese mills.

That said, I may well buy one someday for non-precision work as sort of a drill press / convenient bracket maker / bolt -lightener / non-precision work machine. I still maintain that such a device is unsuited to precision work.

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For those intersted, I hought of a few more resources w/ info on the Harbor Freight and Homier mini mills:

I bought my mill vice from a company that stocks every part for these milling machines: www.littlemachineshop.com There are also some decent tutorials/FAQs on the site and links to other good metal-working sites.

I often browse Home Workshop Machinist magazine at Borders, Barnes and Nobles, etc. as its focused on the home hobbyist metal worker. Learned a lot reading the project articles.

It has been suggested that one check out the local metalworking hobby club. Most cities and many towns have such clubs. The potential downside may be a lack of interest in gunsmithing. Often the members focus on building model engines, scale steam trains, RC models, etc. The upside is that the members focus on machining as a hobby.

Finally, its a little off-topic but www.cnczone.com has a dedicated Harbor Freight mini mill section. Most of the info is on home-workshop conversion of the mill to CNC (computer-numericaly controlled machining) but there is also some decent info on conventional machine work with the mini mill.

Regards, D.

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Does anyone have any experience with any of the import mills that are slightly larger, the table top models in the 1 1/2 hp range and sell for about $1,000.

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I bought this grizzly 3103 for gunsmithing and have found it very accurate yes it has backlash but very very little. Here is a SV slide I did it started as a Bald and bare (round top no sight cuts)

svislide1.jpg

Now it is fluted, flat-topped,serrated, with bomar sight cuts. I think it turned out pretty good. ;)

Yes, I would not hesitate to recomend this machine to anyone looking to getting into gunsmithing and for the price I think it is very tough to beat. But, that is just my 2 cents worth.

Dan

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My mini has about .007"-.008" of backlash when I change direction with the wheel. So what?

All that means is that when I change directions I must consult my dial indicators as to where I am.

And If the machine had only .001"of backlash, I would STILL have to consult those indicators.

And if it had .0005" of backlash and I was doing really high precision work, I would STILL have to consult those indicators.

So what is your point?

As for the machine that had a full turn of backlash and the table moved while cutting, I again state that it was either a machine with a major defect or it was NOT PROPERLY SET-UP by the operator.

A better argument than being adjustment free is required on this one, as there is no such thing.

This thread is not about whether a big machine is better, because it is.

This is about PERSPECTIVE and ABILITY.

One without the other is quite useless. Together great things are possible.

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