Machine Shop/Maker Space Machine Choices

We are applying for a grant to expand our space, turning what is currently a classroom into a small machine shop. The room currently houses a Jet GHB-1340A lathe, a Jet DRO Bridgeport clone mill, a 14" cold saw, a Rockwell drill press, and a bunch of MakerBots. We are considering adding:

A medium sized CNC lathe,
a CNC router table,
a Markforged 3D printer,
and a CNC conversion for the mill.

Looking for advice on brands, models, etc. Thanks all!

Personally I would skip the CNC lathe and get a CNC mill (Haas tm or vf if you have money). We have both cnc mill and lathe, the mill gets used way way more.


We are planning on making some jet engine parts for my aerospace class, thus the lathe. I get that it isn’t too useful for FIRST stuff though


I’m personally a fan of Trak machine tools CNC retrofits. If your mill is a Bridgeport clone one should probably fit.

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A CNC lathe isn’t particularly useful for FRC, unless you plan on making some very interesting parts. A CNC router is handy, but if you have enough money in the grant it may be worthwhile to go for a CNC mill instead, as it lets you be more aggressive with your material removal rates and design more complex parts. From what I’ve heard, CNC conversions tend to be a lot of headaches and are never quite as good as a CNC mill. Markforged sounds like a solid investment.

Haas is a very well-trusted CNC mill brand, and I’ve used Tormachs before with little issue. You’ll probably want something along the lines of 10x30" of travel, so you can do most tubes and plates. If you go with a CNC router instead, the Omio is the “favorite” brand in FRC.

If you don’t have one already, you may want to consider getting a belt sander and/or bench grinder, as they can be quite handy.

You might want to just get a CNC mill with a fourth or fifth axis - simultaneous 4/5a machining can pretty efficiently replace aerospace-y stuff on a lathe.


The VM-2 is my favorite machine for FRC, hands down. Nothing beats ripping 1/8" 2x1 at over 300ipm. Once set up I could make 90% of the parts on our robot in an afternoon.

Can’t go wrong with Haas in this context. The control is very widespread which is great. Students leave school with knowledge and skills that are instantly transferable to an actual job.

Lathe wise I like the ST from Haas, we have an ST-10 and it’s a workhorse. We have an ST-30SSY as well but it is pretty big for any FRC stuff. I disagree with the notion that a CNC lathe is useless for FRC. It sure beats having to stand at the lathe for 5 hours making shafts and such that have a bunch of features when you can just send it on the CNC. It’s not practical for most teams but a bar feeder is massively helpful in that context as well when you’re making a bunch of things.

I’m curious about these shafts with complex features your talking about. The most complicated stuff we’ve done are 1/2" hex turned down to 0.375" with a c-clip groove and magnet hole drilled and reamed.

We actually have a full wood shop already, but it’s inside the main school building and I no longer teach the classes. We still have access to their belt sanders etc. though, as well as a large Techno CNC router table.

Like 4x8 large, or just 4x4?

We got our first 4x8 bed tool in this year, with the primary justification being we can now run full sheets of 3/4 plywood for field elements & other large scale projects.
(150W CO2 laser from LightObject in Sacramento)

Even with a smaller bed, I’d consider a medium to high powered laser a good investment, too - the miniscule turnaround from CAD to reality in wood or plastic is hard to beat.

Hot diggity that’s freaking cool

Some considerations we have ran into (although many of these were likely solved in the past when you brought in your JET mill and other equipment):

A) Do you have 220VAC available? Or just 110VAC?
B) What current are your breakers rated at?
C) Do you have an E-Stop to the power in the room?
D) How wide are the doorways into the room?
E) If located on a floor other than the floor with the loading dock, is there a reasonable path to/from a freight elevator to your room?
F) Do you have shop air, a shop vacuum, or other distributed system for chip removal/chip clearing (and other useful tasks)?
G) Do you have external ventilation (particularly important for laser cutters and/or painting booths)?

A lot of these factors have governed the choices we’ve made regarding equipment purchases.

Perhaps something like custom shifter shafts or custom leadscrews could be applications for a CNC lathe in FRC (although shifter shafts may be better suited for a 4th axis on a CNC mill). But I’m thinking @ndp meant just using a CNC lathe as a time saving effort for any shaft with multiple features (say a hex shaft that you cut a round shoulder into and add multiple grooves for c-clips).

This was a big consideration for us. At the time, our mechanical room’s only entrance was a standard door. Most of the router options we were looking at came pre-assembled from the manufacturer, meaning there was no way to get them into the room. We ended up going with the PRO4848 from CNCRouterParts, which ships as a kit and you assemble yourself on-site. Assembly only took a few days, and we’ve been pretty happy with it since. Would recommend if this is an issue for you.

A) We have three-phase 208/120v.
B) 20 or 30. We have 11 open breakers currently, so max three three-phase machines plus some 120s.
C) Yes.
D) That’s the fun part. 42". We might be able to convince our district to enlarge the door to 54" as part of the construction phase (we could also add 220 without too much trouble).
E) It’s in an out-building, was the welding shed 40 years ago.
F) Air and vacuum were part of the original plan and are pre-wired, but they were never put in (five years ago) because our other classroom was taken away and given to speech and debate. Long story. We just needed to leave room for classroom tables. We can install both as soon as necessary.
G) Yes, but the laser cutter is going to remain in the wood shop, where there is also a painting booth.

The CNC we have is a 4x4 work space, big enough for what the team and wood shop students use it for (mostly electric guitars and robot parts). It would be nice to be able to do both at once, and without the team having to run in to the school (and bring in an extra supervisor).

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