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 Post subject: HF Mini Mill Experience
PostPosted: January 1, 2013, 8:15 pm 
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Always Moore!
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I have a 25% off coupon sitting in my inbox and it expires at midnight. With it I can get this guy on my door step for $500: http://www.harborfreight.com/two-speed- ... 44991.html

Is it worth it for a guy that doesn't have much room for a larger mill and is holding out for a decent lathe deal or are these Chinese mini-mills too small, weak, crappy, and inaccurate to be worth the money?

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PostPosted: January 1, 2013, 9:22 pm 
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a.moore wrote:
I have a 25% off coupon sitting in my inbox and it expires at midnight. With it I can get this guy on my door step for $500: http://www.harborfreight.com/two-speed- ... 44991.html

Is it worth it for a guy that doesn't have much room for a larger mill and is holding out for a decent lathe deal or are these Chinese mini-mills too small, weak, crappy, and inaccurate to be worth the money?


Andrew, the short answer is, "No, they are useful." I bought one used from Craig's list. There are many excellent sources of information to help you get the most out of them. You have to manage you expectations, you can't make "big" things unless they are made from smaller assemblies and subassemblies, but they can even work on "exotic" materials assuming you have the right tooling and skills. Here are some useful links to help you answer the question for yourself:

User's manual from the Little Machine Shop site, a major supplier of parts and info (PDF = 1.62 MB) ==> http://www.littlemachineshop.com/Info/M ... sGuide.pdf

Tips, tricks, homemade tooling, projects ==> http://www.frets.com/HomeShopTech/hstpages.html

Good micro-machining site ==> http://www.micro-machine-shop.com/

General site for home, small machine setups ==> http://www.projectsinmetal.com/

Cheers,

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Damn! That front slip angle is way too large and the Ackerman is just a muddle.

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PostPosted: January 2, 2013, 12:34 am 
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Always Moore!
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Those sites are good - thanks.

Having used other HF tools, I'm just not sure what to expect in terms of quality. Apparently they stopped carrying the mini mill in stores so I couldn't even go and play with it before buying. I'm afraid of buying it, using it a few times, and finding that it doesn't have the stiffness to do stuff that would be useful on a Locost such as milling brackets from aluminum, pocketing parts, etc.

I know it won't be as big or as rugged as the Bridgeport I've used in the past but for what I did over 90% of the time on that mill it was way overkill. I just wouldn't want to go in the other direction and buy a $500 tool that is completely out of its league.

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PostPosted: January 2, 2013, 5:58 am 
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a.moore wrote:
Chinese mini-mills too small, weak, crappy, and inaccurate to be worth the money?


If you have to lead with this then don't buy it.

And it's not a Chinese machine, it's a Western designed, catering for Western demand machine for Western cheapskates that's made in China, Chinese people do not buy or use such rubbish. Smaller workshops here, including me, buy 20 year old ex-State factory machines, I suggest you follow that route.

Also FWIW, our factory uses English gantry mills with German CNC systems but Chinese can make perfection when required - hell, we do!


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PostPosted: January 2, 2013, 10:12 am 
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cheapracer wrote:
If you have to lead with this then don't buy it. And it's not a Chinese machine, it's a Western designed, catering for Western demand machine for Western cheapskates that's made in China, Chinese people do not buy or use such rubbish. Smaller workshops here, including me, buy 20 year old ex-State factory machines, I suggest you follow that route. Also FWIW, our factory uses English gantry mills with German CNC systems but Chinese can make perfection when required - hell, we do!


I have memories of working for an employer who got suckered into such a cheapskate machine, sold at our local manufacturing supply house. We indeed resumed buying good used stuff, retrofitting electronics as necessary.

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PostPosted: January 2, 2013, 10:39 am 
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cheapracer wrote:
And it's not a Chinese machine, it's a Western designed, catering for Western demand machine for Western cheapskates that's made in China, Chinese people do not buy or use such rubbish.


That is why I was asking and hoping someone has tried it for car related stuff. I have plenty of tools from HF that are useful but hardly precise. The two way vise for my drill press is a fine example; they tout it as enabling you to "mill" on lighter materials (IE wood). I could "mill" more accurately free handing my Dremel after pounding 5 or 6 beers.

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PostPosted: January 2, 2013, 12:05 pm 
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a.moore wrote:
Those sites are good - thanks.

Having used other HF tools, I'm just not sure what to expect in terms of quality. Apparently they stopped carrying the mini mill in stores so I couldn't even go and play with it before buying. I'm afraid of buying it, using it a few times, and finding that it doesn't have the stiffness to do stuff that would be useful on a Locost such as milling brackets from aluminum, pocketing parts, etc.

I know it won't be as big or as rugged as the Bridgeport I've used in the past but for what I did over 90% of the time on that mill it was way overkill. I just wouldn't want to go in the other direction and buy a $500 tool that is completely out of its league.


On those sites I mentioned, you will find it is easy to increase the accuracy of the mill provided you are willing to spend some time learning how to adjust it. The quality control on these mills has increased substantially over the years. They are capable of accuracy within a few thousands of an inch over useful distances. They are certainly accurate enough for work on small parts on a Locost. If you look for a used one, you may be able to get it for $200. There are several variations on these mills sold by different companies.

Here is a handy comparison chart ==> http://littlemachineshop.com/Info/minimill_compare.php

The next step up is the drill/mill class of machine, which are larger, but still small compared to a Bridgeport. They are too heavy to lift by hand unless disassembled or if unless you have a shop crane. The best known brand is Rong Fu. You can find these used too, but you're looking at maybe $1500 used if you're lucky. They can be had with 110V power.

Rong Fu ==> http://www.rongfu.com/en/milling-drilling-machine.html

After that, there are some small machine tool companies with products (made in various places), but the price goes way up. Here is one company ==> http://www.smithy.com/

If you go to a full size mill, even a used one, you're looking at big bucks to buy it, expensive tooling, a lot of space for the machine, need for a good slab to put it on, machinery movers to get it there plus a substantial 220V circuit. Most guys don't have all that.

Going back to the mini-mill, there is an accurate, American-made alternative in the mini mill area, but it is more expensive than the imports. It works and can cut a number of exotic materials and even hardened steel. I think they have some videos on their website ==> http://www.sherline.com/

Cheers,

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Damn! That front slip angle is way too large and the Ackerman is just a muddle.

Build Log: viewtopic.php?f=35&t=5886


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PostPosted: January 2, 2013, 12:59 pm 
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I have an unlabeled version of the Grizzly 3102. Mine runs 3-phase, running off a Variable Frequency Drive and 220V single phase.

http://www.grizzly.com/products/Vertical-Mill/G3102

It is a decent machine, but I would echo finding some older domestic machine that could be put back into service.

There is a Yahoo Group for my 6x26 Mill, where I've been able to find answers to my questions about it. I'm sure there is something similar for the HF Mini Mill - chances are you could find someone on that group who is close to you, so you could see one in person and play with it before you decide.

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PostPosted: January 2, 2013, 7:40 pm 
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Going back to the mini-mill, there is an accurate, American-made alternative in the mini mill area, but it is more expensive than the imports. It works and can cut a number of exotic materials and even hardened steel. I think they have some videos on their website ==> http://www.sherline.com/



I've used the Sherline, it's fine for models, forget it for anything of any size at all. My old boss insisted that being American made it had to be good so he made us by it instad of an import. Well it's mostly Aluminum, very flexible. And while it can cut a number of materials, the abuse it puts on the tool will quickly render it useless. Don't waste your money if you are planning to make car parts on it. Great for plastic, okay for aluminum, beyond that, it won't hold up. The Harbor Freight one costs the same as the Sherline and looks to be a much more solid unit.

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PostPosted: January 3, 2013, 4:28 am 
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cheapracer wrote:
a.moore wrote:
Chinese mini-mills too small, weak, crappy, and inaccurate to be worth the money?


If you have to lead with this then don't buy it.
Oh come on, cheapracer, he didn't lead with that. He lead with a legitimate question: will that HF mill serve his needs...
a.moore wrote:
...or are these Chinese mini-mills too small, weak, crappy, and inaccurate to be worth the money?
Those of us who shop at HF ask our peers about specific items. HF has some tools that will last a lifetime (at least at my age) and some which won't last through a single use--surely you'll concede that some Chinese-made tools are not worth buying, and the easiest way to find out which are and which aren't is to ask other users.

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PostPosted: January 3, 2013, 5:44 am 
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JackMcCornack wrote:
surely you'll concede that some Chinese-made tools are not worth buying


Most of the cheaper China/Western imports I wouldn't poke with a stick - that would probably be enough to damage them but they keep right on selling everyday and it annoys the hell out of me that the cheapskates then blame China, Mexico, India (pick your country) and not themselves - no one forced them to be a cheapskate, take your chances and keep your mouth shut if it goes pear shaped.

I once needed to make a single cut at home in Oz and chose to buy a 4" grinder from a chain store around the corner here named Supercheap for $19.99, it did the one cut, maybe 2 minutes work total and the drive pinion stripped off. I didn't complain, I got exactly what I paid for.

I do buy good Chinese brand hand tools here, last 2 x 4" grinders combined lasted 3 years using a couple of sets of carbon brushes, daily used at a cost of $60 for the pair. In November I bought a Bosch 4" grinder at $45, notably smoother than the Chinese brands even though the Bosch is of course made here as well, be interesting to see how it lasts. The tool shops here generally have 3 quality levels but, as I mentioned, no one actually buys the bottom shelf stuff.

One thing the Chinese (or Indians etc) don't do very well is make a tool with good 'feel', especially hammers, tradesmen out there know what I mean.


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PostPosted: January 3, 2013, 9:37 pm 
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Echoing...

HF can be hit and miss, and sometimes even from one instance of the same tool to another.

My now-deceased $15 hand grinder worked great until the brushes burned out, and it was replaced by 2, $19 units from HF. Although as you say the feel is different, and one will not "lock" power switch 'cause of a defect.

My $19 HF sawz-all clone is still working great after, what, almost 10 years, but if I had to use it every day I scarcely would think it would live long. But for a few minutes a year, it's perfect.

My HF drill press is, uh, well... I bought the second-smallest, and it has some issues. The spindle is a tapered insert design, and once in a while the entire spindle drops out of the holder. And for some reason the hole in the "table" doesn't line up with the spindle.

The HF engine stand does what it is supposed to do. However, I really should put in some roller bearings into that neck if I want to roll the motor in some sort of dignified manner. Maybe if I could find a small rear axle or something, cut off one end, bolt the axle hub to the mounting plate... hmmm...

There are other "cheap" tools that can be found in mainstream stores, ie, the Skil line over at Lowes. My Skil band saw was a total waste of $150. And quite frankly, having done more research, I'm not sure that any band saw under $500 can do metal work -- the best bet here, agreeing with Cheapracer, is to simply buy a good used unit that was built for metal work.

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PostPosted: January 4, 2013, 12:05 am 
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My then $12 (now $15...thanks inflation) angle grinder is still kicking strong after 5 years. :mrgreen:

Thanks for the pointers on the Grizzly mill. I'll add that to the list of things I search for on Craigslist. Its bigger than what I want but if the price is right its still a manageable size that could be easily moved. I'll have to ask around the local car and building circles and see if anyone has either the Grizzly or the HF that I could play with - great idea.

I really respect the opinions of the people on here since they tend to be doing stuff similar to what I'm doing so I was really hoping someone would have one sitting in their garage and they would be able to say that it has happily served them for years. It also helps that most of us are not sitting on mountains of cash so we tend not to discount less expensive foreign things just because. For some reason it seems like people that have access to big machines tend to automatically hate the smaller ones since they cannot handle a 12" diameter piece of steel and turn it to nothing without breaking a sweat and the people who have the mini machines think they are the best thing since sliced bread; the two groups seem to not like providing unbiased opinions about the other group's machine.

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PostPosted: January 7, 2013, 9:03 am 
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Andrew, I'm the owner of "big shop tools", so am not familiar with the class of machines you are looking at. However, there seems to be two or three levels of quality (sold by different people) of the machine you are looking at. The "Sieg X3" seems to be the best. If that is the size range you are interested in, the pickings are really slim. A quality machine in that size range sells for the price of "full sized" machines and they are pretty hard to find.

The 3 in 1 machines are very attractive, but they are somewhat mislabled. At least the lower priced ones. Generally speaking, they are good lathes, decent drill presses and sorry mills. Just not ridgid enough. My brother-in-law has a Smithy Granite and claims he cannot keep the head from rotating while making a 20 thou cut in steel. I suggest paying no attention to the sales literature and try to find actual users of the machine in question.

Good luck!

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PostPosted: February 21, 2013, 4:09 pm 
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I have a HF Mini Mill (Seig X2) that I bought years ago when I was a poor high school student. The original design is sturdy enough to mill mild and stainless steel which isn't bad. In my opinion it is the smallest mill worth buying, and with the mills I always recommend going as big as you can stomach, and remember to double or triple the sticker price on the mill so you know how much it actually costs (tooling, etc.) The fact that it is fairly rigid, has decent quality control on the ground parts and surfaces, and an R8 spindle make it useful.

The Sieg X3 was not out when I bought my mill. Had it been, I wouldn't have even looked at the X2 and gone straight for that one, such a much nicer machine, saving my pennies as needed to get it. I will probably upgrade from my X2 to a RF-45 clone mill at some point.

Don't buy any round column "mill" /3-in-one machine IMO, they are more headache than they're worth. The dovetail way z-axis on these Chinese square column mills are leaps and bounds better than any quilled-head device they've ever made if you ask me. Even if the quills were ok, the limited Z travel is just not worth the price of the machine.

If you can't fit or afford a larger mill, look at the Little Machine Shop X2 version(s) with the non-tilting column and the larger X-Y table on the X2 mini mill. I upgraded my X2 to the larger table and it was a nice upgrade, I think it takes to working envelope up to something like 5.1" x 12.5" or so and the table surface is much larger for bolting things to. The non-tilting column is much more rigid, which keeps tool vibration down in hard materials. A common practice with the X2 is to reinforce the vertical column with steel C channel or box channel for this reason.

My X2 will be getting a CNC Fusion conversion kit here shortly, it makes into a really nice benchtop CNC mill. I would not use it in any sort of production environment personally, but there are guys who have been running low volume production on them for a couple 2-3 years at least. You can make all sorts of things quickly if you have a small CNC, great for firearms parts, etc.

Check out CNC Zone forums and also hossmachine.info for some good background on the small mills. I have a small 7x14 lathe outfit too, and you really can get a lot out of these small things if you use your head. Accuracy is really down to the setup and the operator, but better than 0.0005" shouldn't be out of reach should you ever have a project that would need it - some guys use them to make small turbine engines which are very tolerance and dimension critical little beasts.

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