New Workshop...Tool Advice Needed

Hi Chief Delphi!

My team just finished its first rookie season. We’re a brand new high school as well (building off a school with prek-8). This school year, we’re in an intermediate high school campus and go to the main campus which has a lab where we do robotics. Next year, however, we will have a brand new campus with a wood shop, metal shop, and a dedicated space for our robotics team! Our school is super supportive of the team, and the head of the lab has asked us to do some research regarding tools for the metal shop.
We’ve been talking to our mentors, browsing CD,, and the rest of the Internet and this is what we’ve discovered so far:

Our priority for getting tools is:

Metal Bandsaw/Drill Press
We’re curious to know the pros and cons of a horizontal vs vertical bandsaws. Also, we’re wondering which brands/models of bandsaws/drill presses are in your labs, and what you recommend.

CNC Mill
The head of the lab has sort of given us a $40,000 budget for a CNC mill :yikes: , so we’re planning on going with a Haas TM-1§. We’re wondering if you think that’s the model to go with (TM-1 or TM-1P). Also, we’re wondering what accessories people have gotten. We don’t know if the chip auger, probe, 4th axis, or other features are necessary.
Also, what tooling did people get and where did they get it from? We’re looking at getting most of our tooling from, but there may be better places we’ve never heard of.
We’re hoping to get a small lathe at first (low price) and then upgrade to a larger one probably after a few years. Not super high on our list at this time.

So many questions! Any help is useful.

Arbor Press and rookie students to sweep your new shop!

Vertical bandsaws are very versatile, while horizontal bandsaws are only good for cutting stock down to size. Horizontals are nice though because you can usually put the stock in and then walk away. I don’t know about good brands, though MSC and Enco are usually good places to start. Somebody else will probably have a good recommendation too.

Definitely go manual before you even look at CNC. CNC, with tooling is definitely going to cost you more than 40k. If it was my money, I would rather look into fully outfitting a shop with manual machines first. Also, it is important to know whether you need new machines or are willing to buy used. Also, if you are going to upgrade later, you might as well buy larger now and save money.

This thread is great especially for CNC advice, but there are some decent recommendations for manual tooling too. Once you figure out what you really want we will be able to give you better advice for tooling too.

Once you answer some of these questions, we will be able to help you a lot better.

The two I can hit are:

Horizontal vs. Vertical - Horizontal is more for cutting down stock to length. If you’re trying to cut a 6’ piece of tube stock down to 4’ or something, it would be pretty unwieldy on a vertical band saw… whereas a horizontal one you just clamp the material down and drop the blade through. Similarly, if you’re trying to cut a slice off of 1/8" sheet, the vertical tends to be a good friend. We have a metal cutoff saw (which acts as our horizontal band saw) and a vertical band saw to handle both jobs. If you have the budget and space for it though, I’d recommend the horizontal band saw over a metal chop saw for potential safety reasons if the metal chop saw is used improperly.

Mini-Lathes - Most/many things I’d like to work can be done on a mini-lathe. We couldn’t work one into the budget this year, but I intend to purchase a Sherline this year. You get a large amount of functionality for ~$1K.

Welcome to CD as well! Congrats on the great start to a new team. It sounds like you’re being given some of the basics for success (space/tools/support). We look forward to seeing you guys put them to use.

Given those two options, go with the TM1-P if you can afford it. Tool changer is really nice. Don’t forget to factor in tooling costs though!

A decent lathe should probably be your first tool purchased. You’ll end up making countless shafts, spacers, and other round things on it. Probably more important than a mill.

I’ll let more experienced people go into more detail.

Grem11 welcome to Chief Delphi

There are a couple of things your team/school needs to decide before equipment is purchased. How much floor space is available? What kind of power is does the room have? What kind of robot construction does the team want to build? (Sheet metal, welded, carbon fiber, ect.)

A CNC mill is a very fine tool but remember it still only cuts one part at a time. With 40k to work with you should be able to get 4 manual machines and tool them up. That way multiple parts are being worked on at the same time.

Mr Mike

Take a look at a Scottman Cold Saw and a Bridgeport Knee mill with a DRO and a Miller SyncroWave TIG welder. With all the awesome COTS parts available that’s all we need to build a robot drive train and manipulator.

School budgets being what they are (often tight and often controversial), it’s important to get good value for money. Can you help us understand what’s good value from your team’s perspective, and from your school administration’s perspective?

For example, what’s the educational objective of the team: what does the school expect your robotics program to deliver from a skills/knowledge point of view? How well does that match the educational objectives of the school (like academics, vocations, sports, etc.)?

Is the team going to be doing FRC only, or is this a space for robotics of other sorts that might vary from time to time? Who else in the school will be using the wood and metal shops, and what do they need?

What kinds of parts do you want to learn how to make in-house, and which parts will you want to learn how to outsource? Don’t waste your money on a machine if a sponsor can provide the service (at adequate levels of cost, reliability, timeliness, educational value, etc.).

For example, if you can get CNC-milled parts elsewhere, then do you really need that very nice mill?1 Maybe you can make do with a small, cheap manual machine for odd jobs—in which case a used Bridgeport clone is a good idea. On the other hand, machining by hand is not a skill in high demand these days. It’s entirely feasible to skip over the 1930s-era Bridgeports, straight to a modern CNC vertical mill, if the ability to run one of those is more valuable to your team. And if your team wants to focus on composites or sheet metal parts, you may want to invest elsewhere—autoclaves and brake presses aren’t found in a lot of school machine shops, but they definitely have their uses.

That said, if you’re going to be like the majority of FRC teams, and will be working a lot with aluminum extrusions, skip the horizontal bandsaw (not accurate enough) and the conventional chop/mitre saw (not worth it from a safety/reliability perspective) and get a cold saw to virtually eliminate finish machining on cut ends.

If you’re going to weld aluminum, don’t waste money on a name-brand welder. Get a good imported TIG designed for about 200 A arc current, and spend money on the accessories. You’re not going to achieve high duty cycles that require a particularly robust machine, and with the price differential you can have a more capable device in the first place.

A lathe is definitely nice to have for shafts and other rotating machinery. Assess your needs realistically: if you don’t plan to turn things like wheels and large pulleys (you can buy those), you might be better off with a smaller, higher quality machine that can make custom shafts. Maybe with CNC capability.

1 Talk to team 610 about the Haas TM-1P. They have one.

I have both agreements and disagreements with this, you CAN get an amazing amount of CNC for 40k!!! I work at a robotics company and we bought a CNC router for 10k plus maybe 2k all in for wiring and tooling, it is a 4’ x 8’ table too that we have used for machining bulk plastic, up to .125 Al sheet, drilling, plywood and so much more. We bought a used Haas VF-0 1994 from a dealer for 17.5k delivered and put in about 2-3k in tooling, expect your students to break many endmills. My team bought our first knee mill this year, an old bridgeport in great shape with a DRO and variable speed for 3.5k delivered, tooling was about 1k to get it to a nice versatile level.


As mentioned, one CNC could end up as a big bottleneck, but with a used CNC mill, a CNC router and a manual or 2 you can squeeze this all in with tooling for 40k and crank out A LOT OF PARTS QUICKLY! Speed is king here, you get to use the router to crank out plywood prototypes in a day or two easy, fab sheet parts, drill square tube, and machine just about anything shy of billet aluminum. Then you have your CNC mill handle the complex, intricate, and high precision parts. Then you have the Manual mill(s) to handle the easy stuff and doubles as a drill press.

In regards to cutting up stock, I have a few opinions.
One, I have a LOT of good things to say about using a chop saw(Miter type) with a special aluminum cutting blade. They make short work of stock and cut clean, get a good chop saw with a slower speed if you can find it. Downside is you must either be VERY careful with hex/round stock, or clamp it so it can’t roll.
Two, Did you know that a table saw cuts aluminum? Even with a stock carbide wood blade, just go slowly. I personally have cut INCH THICK plate this way, it takes about twice as long to cut but have had no problems cutting aluminum this way. ($500 Table Saw > $5000 Band Saw in versatility)
Three, If you need a starter band saw, I suggest getting one of the hand portable ones with a table stand. Its a power hack saw and a bench top vertical band saw.

Using the above to cut all your stock(unless you use a lot of steel) should cover almost anything, and when you can cut out complex sheet metal parts on the router you have a lot of design flexibility.

On the subject of lathes, you can get a LOT of lathe for 2-5k. My work just purchased a Hardinge 8 tool turret lathe, it is big, it is solid, it can crank parts like a CNC! Paid $1600 with tooling, less than a dollar a pound. Craigslist and a swarm of post sifting students will be your friend.

In summary
Chop saw with a non-ferrous cutting blade
Table saw with same
Porta band saw
Bridgeport or 2
CNC mill (used) don’t need a probe, or 4th axis(just use fixtures and being the clever monkey) get at least 10 tool changer, flood cooling and chip auger.
CNC router 4’x4’ bed should be plenty
Lathe get a full to mid size one used
Buy endmills in bulk and get cheap bright finish ones first.

Feel free to email me with any questions [email protected]

There is a huge Sticky thread regarding this specific topic here:

What are your space constraints? You could get a Tormach PCNC 1100 with ATC, a few manual benchtop machines (I personally own the PM-30MV-L - great machine after teardown, clean, and re-lube), and a Bridgeport-type knee mill - all with tooling - for your single machine budget of 40k.

Keep in mind that you may need to get a service contract factored into your cost.

Aside from that, if the school has the budget for the Haas and has accounted for the tooling and training required to use it, then I don’t see the problem :slight_smile:

Also, you may want to pick up one of the Polygon Solutions rotary hex broaches and tool holder. Results here.

For the bandsaws, get both horizontal and vertical. Units with coolant are nice to have.

For the lathe, get a bigger one. The cost of a larger lathe is miniscule compared to the tooling. Something like this or this should be good for most all FRC needs.

Our team wishes we had this kind of problem with our school :frowning:

When you get a lathe get one with a emergency foot stop. Besides the safety factor it saved our shop. Another school had an accident with an old lathe and we had to show our school district that the foot stop would have prevented the injury if used.

Two, Did you know that a table saw cuts aluminum? Even with a stock carbide wood blade, just go slowly. I personally have cut INCH THICK plate this way, it takes about twice as long to cut but have had no problems cutting aluminum this way. ($500 Table Saw > $5000 Band Saw in versatility)

I really wouldn’t recommend this. The benefit of a band saw is that the cutting force is into the support, so if you twist the workpiece, it isn’t going to hurt you, just bind the blade. Yes… a table saw CAN cut aluminum. I see people do all sorts of stupid stuff with table saws though, and at the end of the day your garden variety table saw can throw a 2x4 through sheet rock if it kicks. With 1/4" aluminum, it can likely get hot, making your first instinct to pull your hands off the workpiece… and now you have a several pound projectile taking out the kid who isn’t looking. I’m sure you’re perfectly capable of completing the cuts safely, but I wouldn’t want this to be something your average high school student attempted.

To your other point though, a “table saw” like device is extremely useful for cutting down large flat thin stock (plywood, plastic, sheet aluminum) and a gantry CNC mill is an amazing tool for that. Our team’s sheet needs were met with me and my home table saw, but next year we’re building a CNC gantry mill (Kronos) for ~$6000-7000 that has a 4’x8’ bed. If you have this, a table saw isn’t required. It may be quicker for some jobs than jogging the CNC, but at least you can do everything on the CNC.

Finally, I too wish we could just “get used tools”. Most school districts have strict policies about procurement though, so you don’t have the option to grab things off Craigslist. If you had a sponsor committed to donate X dollars, they could purchase it for you and make an in kind donation, but it does get a little more complicated.

+1 on the Cold Saw > chop saw as well.

You can debate this all you want, and honestly you should make the final decision.

In general, you can get all the heavy duty machinery you want, but I generally enjoy the lighter weight work spaces that facilitate good rapid prototyping capabilities

A few things I would consult:

Also, do not be afraid to buy used if you are willing to make the investment in TLC. Lots of teams here use 1940s era Bridgeport End Mills.

If you can get the HAAS, the TM1 is an awesome machine. I love ours to pieces.

Make sure to get the ATC–it really isn’t worth CNC machining without one. Besides that, the probe can really make your life a lot easier (although it will cost you). I wish we had one, zeroing everything by hand is a real drag. I’d skip the fourth axis, you really don’t need it all that much for FRC. Besides that, make sure to get about 15 tool holders (ER-71, extended tool holders, holders designed for tools with Weldon flats, a Jacobs chuck, etc) so you can leave all your tooling set up and the important stuff in your ATC.

Also, invest in a good CAM program. We use BobCAD–don’t use it, it’s bad. HSMworks is free, and pretty good, so that might be a good place to start. MasterCAM is really the industry standard CAM package, but it’s quite expensive. If you can, get that, but I doubt your budget will cover it.

Last tip, whatever machine you get, make sure to use it, and really get to know the ins and outs of it. I know teams that build championship winning robots with a dinky little Tormach P1100, and I know teams that go 5-7 even though they have 4 HAASes. An expert user really makes the difference.

as of a few years ago you could get a seat of the educational version of MasterCAM for $1000

I would recommend (in order of importance):

2 vertical bandsaws
2 drill presses
1 horizontal bandsaw
1 metal break (preferably a finger break if you can find one)
1 sheer
1 Lathe
1 mill

I can’t stress enough how drastically getting the break and sheer changed how our team worked and what we could do. It really was rather amazing.

For the vert. bandsaw and the drill press… I would get one full sized floor model, and one desktop model. This gives you flexibility to bring them to competition if you feel the need (I know some teams do). Having two of each really helps avoid congestion as multiple students wait for a machine to be free.

I prioritize the lathe over the mill, just because working with round stock is so much harder without a lathe, and while a mill increases what you can do, I don’t think it does it quite as much as a lathe does.

As for a CNC machine… if you can get one, great! Personally though, I see that as being at the bottom of the list. Find a machine shop willing to sponsor you and run some parts every year, and you can use their CNC machine.

Instead, I would spend some of that money on a desktop 3D printer, Makerbot or equivalent (no need to go with an uber-expensive one like a Stratasys). We got one before this build season, and it’s rather amazing how much it simplified some of what we do!

Also keep in mind that the final cost is not just in the machines… there’s a lot of tooling that goes along with each machine! By at least two of each wearable item (extra saw blades, drill bits, cutting heads, etc) so you aren’t stuck waiting for an order if one wears out or breaks.

Consider investing in an initial purchase of significant stock - something you’ll then replenish each year as needed. For example, stock up on different sizes of bolts, and keep it consistent (for example, do you want to use 10-32’s or 10-24’s? Pick one thread count and stick with it! You’ll also want bigger and smaller bolts - 1/4-20’s, 8’s, 6’s, and 4’s typically). By doing so, you can limit what you purchase in drill bits (tap and clearance for each bolt size you get) and taps - this means you can buy several of each size bit you actually need, instead of a set of bits, 90% of which wouldn’t be a good size for your bolts.

90% of the heat goes out with the chips, and I will agree with you that your average student should not just start cutting Al on a table saw. Train 2-3 kids to be very comfortable working with a table saw(my team will NOT let a student use our table saw without a mentor, right there. Unless shown extreme competency) before they even try cutting Al. You should also always have someone to catch on the opposite side! You have to be very deliberate and focused when using a table saw. Knowledge is the BEST thing in the safety toolbox.

WHATEVER YOU DO: Get good CAM software, like MasterCAM, and get GWizard to do your feeds/speeds calculations. GWizard is pure freakin’ magic, I cut down a part program on my router from 16 minutes to less than 5 minutes after using GWizard.

This year we (95) have made great use of two machines in conjunction: a CNC plasma table and a CNC knee mill (a ProtoTrak).

The CNC plasma cutter can dice up anything from 1/32in sheet to 1/4in plate (and more) with minimal effort and is a very safe machine to use in the grand scheme of things. We cut out virtually all of the major components on our robot this year with our plasma cutter which resulted in an extraordinarily fast fabrication time.

We use the Prototrak’s CNC functions to add fine features into blanks cut out with the plasma cutter. We also use it as a manual mill if we’re only making a few parts. It ain’t no HAAS, but it works just fine for everything we want it to.

We’ve also started using a Prototrak CNC lathe, manual mode only for now. It is quite nice, easy to use, and we’ve had great results so far. Before next season we hope to learn how to use it’s CNC functions.

I (personally) have started to become proficient with my CNC router in almost anything from wood to aluminum. A CNC router has advantages like low cost, fantastically large work envelop, and pretty good accuracy (better than a plasma cutter, worse than a CNC mill). I could easily see a team using a CNC router to make virtually all of their robot parts.

These are what I have experience with and thus are what I’m suggesting for your consideration. Keep in mind that you’re not making a full-time fab shop, you likely don’t need every machine to be capable of running continuously for the next 10 years. I would tend to give a little more weight to ‘total shop capabilities’ over ‘ultimate machine durability’.

I also have good things to say about HSMXpress, it is a CAM software plugin for SolidWorks and is FREE! It is not full 3D, its 2.5D but being able to make your fixture plate or vise, model it in SolidWorks and then drag in the part to machine in an assembly and generate the toolpaths is nice.