Lathes and Mills

If you wanted to spend $ 2,000 on a lathe, and $ 2,000 on a mill, what are some good recommendations. Remember to stay close to the budget numbers.

Does anyone have experience with this

or this

We are also looking at buying a mill and after talking to a team down the road from us they recomended one like this one

Mind you with tooling this would easily pass the $3000 mark.

The 10K Machine Shop thread recommends a mill and a lathe around your budget. More importantly, it also shows the cost of tooling.

The 10K machine shop thread seems outdated as the price of the lathe has jumped dramatically and the mill doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

I have heard very good things about this lathe Supposed to be much higher quality than the average Chinese machine tool.

I have extensive personal experience with that JET lathe and it is trash (and overpriced) in my opinion. The fit and finish is very bad. It’s extremely difficult to use, does not easily hold tolerances well, and has almost zero power.

You can get the machine I linked, with DRO, for only $400 more than that JET. Or the base model for less than the JET, while having power feeds on both axes, infinitely variable speed (very nice), longer travel, and much heavier duty.

I would avoid the 2 in 1 machines like the plague. you end up with two poor quality/poor usability machines instead of 1.

I know you asked for a recommendation of a mill in the $2000 range, but I will throw this out there in the off chance you can afford more.

I’ve posted about this machine elsewhere. We have it in our trailer that has supported many FRC events in the last 8 years. It is much higher quality than the average benchtop mill. It can take real cuts and the fit and finish is quite good. It’s the only small mill I’ve ever used and not absolutely hated. It is more expensive than you wanted to pay, but you get what you pay for.

You will find a bunch of round column JET and other brand mills in the price range you are looking at. They will all be identical, made in the same factory in China and then rebadged/painted for each brand. They will all be relatively poor quality (though much better than the 2 in 1 you linked).

If you are locked into a budget of $2,000 then you are pretty much stuck in round column territory, unless you want to go with a smaller capacity machine like this. That’s not to say you can’t produce good parts with one of those machines, it’s just going to be more difficult and less user friendly. I think the extra cost would be well worth it, but if you can’t swing it you can’t swing it.

As previously mentioned keep tooling in mind. You will likely spend at least 50% of the cost of the machine on workholding, toolholding, cutting tools, etc

I would check out some industrial auctions, Kijiji, Craigslist or eBay for used machines first. You’ll get much better prices and many machines will come with tooling. Watch your voltages as many industrial machines run on 600V which many schools don’t have. Also watch your guarding requirements as many industrial sell-offs don’t have current or any safety guarding.

For what the G01619 costs you can do better on the used market. I’d prefer a round-column mill over that one. At home I have a machine very similar to the G3102 and it isn’t bad at all. Mine is a 1970s Taiwan-made and does not have the worm drive on the quill. I picked it up for $500 used with a vise, collets, and some studs, nuts, and clamps.

Any businesses or other schools in the area closing up shop?

Agreed on the “all in one” machines. They usually do nothing well.

The $ 2,000 isn’t locked in but a reference point, something far far away from $ 500 and $ 20,000

We’re looking for that sweet spot for FRC robotics.

It doesn’t need to be CNC, but needs to be a lot better then hacking away with a hacksaw, drill, other random stuff in the tool box.

Another vote for the used market.
I know of a few used machinery specialists, who make a living brokering used machinery. They can get better quality machines, like a South Bend, in very good condition for well within your budget, with tooling. And, if they’re a little sympathetic to your cause, often they’ll let you get a nice bargain.

Surely such folks are found in your neck of the woods?

Hi Ed,

Look around some of the used machine tool companies for a good Bridgeport. Nothing works quite as well. You can probably find one in your price range with a lot of life left in it. These usually go pretty low bid on ebay because of the costs of transporting them, but you should be able to find on in the Atlanta area. With mills, the heavier, the better, since parts don’t flex as much.

I imagine you will be doing mostly aluminum, which is easy to do on most mills of any size. My Burke MVN mill is a “junior Bridgeport” which does great on aluminum, without many bells and whistles. It doesn’t work quite as well on steel, particularly on hard steels, but I do very little steel.

Stay away from the “neither fish nor foul” combination tools. I would only try to use on in a flat-out emergency.

For Grady, we purchased a Grizzly Mill, but I don’t see it in the on-line catalog. It looks good for amedium-sized mill, but I haven’t had a chance to run it yet.

Dr. Bob

Another vote for used machinery. We recently outfitted an entire new shop almost entirely with used equipment, and have a far better and more capable shop than if we had tried to buy new and cheap. In this economy, there is a surplus of used equipment from companies and shops that have closed or downsized. A good 'ole piece of American cast iron in usable condition will serve you better than the Chinese stuff from Grizzly or elsewhere. Find an equipment dealer in your area that deals in used equipment, and let them know what you’re looking for. They will be glad for your business, and will do the legwork for you.

i can agree with jspatz1 100%. the shop in our school bought Chinese equipment for classes. the teacher in charge has had nothing positive to say about them once they break (which they do). we also have a old English lathe in that shop along with the Chinese and he said he’s never had to fix it, where as he’s constantly fixing the Chinese lathes. this is our experience. also going to auction’s is another great place to look, or talking with your engineering sponsors about donating old equipment that is replaced with newer equipment is a great place to get if from because it usually still works great, is free, and is as accurate as you want it to be.
also stay away from grizzley table top lathes… i never thought i’d see the day that a lathe had plastic gears in it… they also aren’t very tight, so you have to push your tooling into the piece with pressure, which usually breaks the piece at certain radii…

Another question, which would you purchase first.

  1. lathe

  2. mill

Personally I would go for the mill first, and with a 4th axis it can do some lathe operations when really needed.

I would say that it depends on what you need. If you’re in dire need of something to cut material with that isn’t a hacksaw, get the mill first. Don’t go for the lathe first unless you know that you’re going to be working with axles/hubs/the like.

Also, is space an issue? As others have said, you may be able to get a large Bridgeport in great condition from a company or sponsor in the area, but they’re difficult to transport and take up a lot of space in both height and footprint.

mill first, hands down, there is so much more that a mill can do when it comes to building robots. a lathe is more of a luxury item for additional customization. you cannot have a lathe without a mill, you’ll run into too many problems

Lathe first, definitely.

Assuming you have a decent drill press already.

Lathe first. Period. A lathe is THE fundamental machine tool. With a good lathe, a good machinist can build every other machine tool, including a mill. With a reasonable milling attachment, a lathe can do pretty much every operation a mill will do. The inverse is not true for a mill.



That means a lathe is just like a Dremel! I never thought about it that way.

But seriously, that’s surprisingly true when you think about it. A lathe is just a mill sideways once you add the vise to it. (Or is a mill a sideways lathe that’s missing parts?) There is such wisdom among our mentors.

On 968, they got a mill first, and I’ll tell you we really could have used a lathe too. I remember actually turning axles and the sort on the mill. It was a bit of a cobbled-together setup but it worked surprisingly well. I had the axle in a collet in the mill spindle and a lathe tool in the mill vise, and used the table axis feed to face, and the quill to turn down the diameter longitudinally. It was a vertical lathe of sorts. It seemed rather magical to those unfamiliar with such a “it’s the middle of Sunday night and I need this done” technique.

I learned to use a lathe before I learned to use a mill, and at home I bought a lathe before I bought a mill. I would say definitely go with the lathe first. You can make a lot of non-round parts by other means (sawing and drilling for example) but for round parts like hubs or axles the lathe is really the only way to go. You need one.

Now, I see a little bit of Chinese machine bashing going on in this thread. They aren’t all bad. I’ve been quite happy with my little 8x14 chinese lathe at home for the past 5 years. It’s a decent quality unit. We just picked up a 1961 Logan 11x24 for 696 and while it was all there, quite honestly it was a neglected disaster upon receipt. I had to disassemble it and completely rebuild it. It’s still not back together yet so I can’t comment on how good it will be.

Unfortunately, a lot of times schools give no regard to used equipment and are always looking to buy new.

Used is fine if it’s in good shape and not worn out or missing parts. You want to consider this: Will you use the machine to do projects or will the machine itself be the project? Right now with the old Logan I picked up, it’s the latter. But at a price of $0 I can’t complain.

In the shop we built the FRC robots in from 2006-2010, we had a mill and lathe, and used the lathe quite a bit, the mill only a few times.

At home I have an old lathe I got 15 years ago, and a not quite so old mill that I got one year ago. I bought them for reasonable prices, but did spend a fair bit of time getting them fixed up. The lathe gets more use than the mill, and the mill seems to get more use as a drill press, than as a mill.

Unfortunately, today it’s hard to find quality new machines for a reasonable price.

You might find that you design your robots around the equipment you have…