Drill/Mill or Lathe/Mill attachment for small shop area

Our team has a very small shop area. This is our third year in FRC. We are trying to expand our shop and tools for the team. Our shop area is very limited so I am looking to get what is best in terms of maximizing our shop space as well as benefit our team the most.

We are looking at a drill/mill or a combination lathe/mill.

Any suggestions or advice is welcome.


One question:

-What is your price range?


I would avoid combination machines. From what I’ve seen, most of them are far superior in quality to individual machines. In my opinion, you would be best with a small drill press, a small mill, and a small lathe, separately. Unless you work in a clothes closet, you should be able to fit it it. The combination machines give you the capability of each, but not anywhere near as well as the individual machines. The combo machines do everything “sort of.”

If money is tight, you’d be best with a drill press and lathe first (and even a sander and buffer), and then a mill later on. Also, you need to factor the cost of the tooling, which could easily reach half the cost of the machines (or more) depending on what you’re looking to do. As for which machine to buy, they always say to buy the largest you can afford/fit, because there will eventually be some job that will be too large for the machine had you bought the smaller one.

I would also say a good size arbor press is something many FIRST teams can benefit from.

So, how much to spend, and what size shop?

David, did you mean inferior in quality?

It would depend on your price range, but I’d go for a drill press first. It is theoretically possible to turn it into a crude lathe (though most people frown on this…). You probably won’t really need a mill for most things, though if you have the budget for it, I might do that.

Here’s a tool rundown:

Drill press: main purpose is to drill accurate holes. Doesn’t take large side loads very well, unlike its cousin, the mill.

Mill: Can be used as a drill press, but you can move the part to exactly where you want it. Also used to face parts, cut out weight in cool patterns, and make sure that you get the part exactly right. If you have the budget for one of these, and its tooling, skip the drill press entirely.

Lathe: Used to make round parts. Can be used as a drill, under the right conditions.

Of the three, I’d say start with a good drill press, unless you have the budget for a mill and its tools.

Yes, often inferior in quality, and in certainly capacity as well.

When I just need to drill a quick hole, I often find myself going for the drill press even when I have a mill in the shop. I don’t have to put a chuck in it or raise or lower the knee or head, and the table is often more convenient. I find it quite handy to have both.

As for space concerns, I fit a small lathe, mill, drill press, welder, 13 drawer cabinets, two fullsize upright cabinets, 5 feet of under-bench cabinets, and 6 feet of usable bench space in a 7x12 foot area. It can be done.

As already stated, a combination machine does many things, all poorly.

First get a decent drill press. It need not be fancy, large or new - used Craftsman bench drill presses can be had for $100. When you have the choice, go for the highest quality you can afford. A 50-year old Delta is far superior to a brand new Grizzly or Jet.

If you do not have a power sander, get a small, inexpensive one. Harbor freight has a belt/disk sander that should be fine. You’ll use this as much as the drill press, honest. Just remember, it’s not a saw.

A lathe is a luxury, but a nice one. Again, buy the best quality you can afford. Get one that can cut screw threads, and good tooling. Again, a good used South Bend or Atlas will generally be far superior to a Chinese one brand new. Of course, beware of a bad used one that’s all sloppy, it will produce poor quality work. You can do light milling with the proper attachment. You don’t need a large lathe, 6" swing and 18" bed will handle 99% of your needs. Think Atlas 618/Craftsman 101.

Even more of a luxury is a mill, but here we’re talking an item that takes up a few square feet and costs $1000 or more. We’ve managed to avoid needing a mill almost every year.

A small band saw, dedicated to Aluminum, is also a good investment.

You can get CNC versions of these, or perhaps DRO (Digital read Out), but in my opinion I want the kids to learn how to run these machines by hand, not let the computer decide the feed rate but have them learn the ‘feel’ themselves. I think they learn more that way, even if there are more “learning experiences” (mistakes).

As neat as a mill is, we seem to hardly ever use the one in the fab shop we use for the robot. This year we did not use it once. We did use the lathe a lot.

And every thing else Don said…I agree.

I have a mini-mill that does an adequate job on aluminum. Using a standard drill chuck, it does very well as a drill press. Several distributors market the same basic machine, which costs around $550. Just Google “mini mill” for links. With any mill, make sure you get a GOOD mill vise.

If you just have a drill press, I recommend getting a vise with 2 axis travel (X-Y) to hold the work piece. That way, you can actually locate holes reasonably close to where you want them. In a pinch, you can put a small mill cutter in a drill press with an X-Y vise and use it for light mill work on aluminum.

There’s some info here about the mini lathes and mills. http://www.mini-lathe.com/

For an inexpensive lathe, I prefer the 8 x 12 (or 8 x 14), rather than the 7 x 12. More info here: http://www.fignoggle.com/machines/8x12lathe/index.htm

He also has info on some of the mills - X2 & X3. For drilling and light milling, they would do nicely.

Do look around locally for used American iron. I got a Wells-Index mill recently for $950. It needs a few hundred in parts and a 3-phase converter, but is in very nice shape for a 1969 machine. However, it is large and weighs about 2,100 pounds.

I also saw a little Craftsman or Atlas lathe the other day, offered for $25. :ahh: But with three lathes already, I passed.

Same here. I have this lathe at home. HF often runs 20% off coupons to take a nice chunk off the price. For what it costs, I find it to be adequate for all my lathe work needs, and the quality to be pretty decent, given its origin. I think a majority of the lathe parts a typical FRC team makes would be do-able on this machine. Having this machine is certainly a large improvement over none at all.

I also have an X1 mill with the extended X and Y axes (more travel and larger table than the X2), and converted to CNC. The quality on this machine is not as high as on the 8x12 lathe, but it can still turn out some nice smaller parts in delrin and aluminum once dialed in. You just have to learn to work within its limitations. What’s interesting is that by CNCing a small machine (even on the cheap, DIY) you really get a lot more capability. You can drill several holes very accurately, the same every time, in 20 parts, faster than marking it out and doing it on a drill press. You can mill larger holes for bearings, at center-to-center tolerances adequate for gearboxes. You can take several passes at lighter cuts (as required on a small machine) to do a thicker part. You can do nice shaped contours, and lightening pockets. Just don’t really expect to do much cutting in any steel on a small machine.

A step up from a small tabletop/benchtop mill would be something either like this or like this. 968 has one similar to this and while it has decent size and power, moving the head on the round column is a major pain. A square column or knee mill is a much better choice.

Does your team have a good miter saw and blade? I think that’s essential to an FRC team.


I knew you had that lathe. I read your opinion before I bought one :slight_smile:

Now I just need to get a 3-phase converter and get our Clausing 12 x 24 hooked up. I picked up a little Craftsman locally for $100. and it needs some cleanup and checkout. Not sure the back gear is quite right.

If it’s the aforementioned Atlas 618, let me know your questions, I’ve gotten pretty deep into mine.

Don’t buy a round column mill/drill. They’re not a good value for your money.

Our trailer has a Rong Fu RF-45, which sells for ~$2800 and is the best quality mill/drill I’ve used/seen. It’s made in Taiwan, rather than China, which generally means higher quality. It just feels better constructed than most others. We have this machine in our NASA trailer that supports many regional events and it’s never had any problems.

On the other hand, for $2800 you may be able to find a decent quality Bridgeport Series I that may need only minor work and cleanup, which would be a vastly superior machine.

One thing I would like to point out is the following,

Teams build all sorts of different robots with a very wide variety of tooling levels. Different teams have different needs depending on the way they both design and build their robots. Some teams are very happy with a bandsaw and a drill press, while others would die without their CNC Mill. There is no problem with this and both styles of teams can build highly competitive robots. But do be noted that this year I found that the size of work you might be working on greatly depends on robot design, the game, and also even projects that are completely non-robot related. As such you should plan ahead to some of the things you might be doing on your machines that you might have never thought of when you buy them.

For setting up our shop this year, we collected the following. Our whole robot lab is in a two car garage, which we do everything in.

Large bench drill press 1/2" chuck (One of the most used tools in our shop.)

“Bridgeport” knee mill 9x32" w/DRO (During the build season this was the most used tool in the shop, but if I could buy one again I would get the larger 42" table. You can get them cheap if you look hard enough, we grabbed ours for $500. They might be big, but worth their weight in gold compared to benchtop mills.)

“Southbend” lathe 10x24" (Probably the third most used tool in our shop, its really hard to do lathe work on anything else but a lathe. I would highly recommend getting one somewhere from 9-11" swing, but once again this depends on the type of work you are planning on.)

6x4" horizontal bandsaw (Plain and simple, every job starts off on this machine. It cuts stock and makes quick work of cutting off just about anything that will fit in its somewhat low capacity, but still a perfect fit in any FRC teams build space.)

Bench grinder and sander w/disc (Could not go without either of them. Used for not only sanding but also: deburring, sharpening lathe bits, and more.)

MIG 140a Welder w/spool gun (If you want to weld a MIG welder with a spool gun and pure argon gas is a good way to go.)

3 ton arbor press (used for broaching, pushing off Fisherprice pinion gears, and other things.)

Other tools include: miter saw, table saw, small vertical bandsaw, small drill press.

That is what worked for us this year. Also remember for both the mill and the lathe there is a lot of extra tooling you will need to buy in order to make it worth your while even using them. Along with that you should properly train your team members to use these tools correctly and safely.

they make drill inserts for mills, try to find an engineering company they will eventually get rid of one. We’ve got 2 (one’s on the way) because the companies will buy newer and nicer ones and have no need for the good ones they replaced. Laths aren’t absolutely necessary, but if you need one, they make pretty good small ones. and you might be able to do the same thing with older lathes.

Which you get depends on your uses of it. We have a 35 year vetran of using the mill to help us. He has also gotten access to the big engineering firm that donated our space to us. We have only used a good sized lathe once, the rest we could handle on a mini lathe.

If you have a local community college that has a machining curriculum, you might want to get in touch. Our local college helped Team 975 with some machining a few years back. Free resources can’t be beat.

I’m assuming you are referring to a typical residential two car garage here?

Ok, I have heard similar stories from countless others over the years and I know they exist out there but I have just never been able to luck up on one of these $500 Bridgeport mill deals to save my life. I have been looking high and low for years but we just don’t live in an area with a lot of manufacturing so these deals just don’t seem to happen around here.

How does one get and move something like this to a home garage? I don’t know of many homes with a forklift so just in case I ever do luck up on one of these deals I would sure like to know how others have manhandled a Bridgeport into their garage. Seriously, where is everyone finding these $500 Bridgeports and how are they moving them to their home shops?

Yes its a typical residential 2 car garage (24x24?).

I probably should have been a little more detailed about the price of the Bridgeport. We got the machine (J-head Bridgeport 1964) without the DRO for $500 with a 6" clone Kurt mill vise. I added a $450 2 axis DRO from ebay later, and then an import powerfeed for the X axis for $200. Also, its not entirely necessary for some people, but I did swap the 1 HP 3 phase motor for a 1.5 hp 1 phase motor, since we don’t get 3 phase power where I live.

To move the machine we rented a moving truck with a power tailgate. The people we bought the machine from loaded the machine in with their fork lift. Once we got home, we moved the machine onto the power tail gate using a pry bar and steel pipes placed under the base of the machine so it could roll. Once on the ground you can just keep up the same action of using the steel pipes to roll it where ever you like. Its not easy work, but it is doable.

Finding these machines all depends on where you live. Like here in New Jersey there is another $500 BP selling on craigslist](http://newjersey.craigslist.org/tls/1364174889.html).

So in total its more like $1500 after add-ons and rental charges for us, but that is still far less than any similarly sized and equipped benchtop mill (thousands less than a new knee mill, Bridgeports (2J) new are around 12k).

Assuming there are no hills involved. I have this mental image of a Bridgeport rolling down my driveway and into my truck stuck in my head right now. :yikes:

BTW: In the same spirit of all the “How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb joke”: How many people does it take to roll a Bridgeport around on steel pipes?

And by “doable” are we talking “completely safe but a lot of work” sort of “doable” or more like “you either can now never move and will die in that house because you are NEVER moving that thing again or whoever buys the house after you gets the mill too” sort of “doable”?

Thanks for the info though. I keep checking Craigslist all around my area but no “great deals” have popped up here in years!

Here are two websites that describe what is involved in moving one of these monsters.