Smithy or other Benchtop Mills/Lathes/CNC

I’m currently working on a project talked about slightly in this thread. We are looking for some good bench top equipment but more specifically on the extravagant side looking for a bench top CNC-Milling machine.

I know Smithy is famous for their all in one machines but I was wondering if anyone had any experience/knowledge about them, ie. their quality of machining, ease of use, dependability.
Smithy seems to make a few really good models, we are looking specifically at their 1240 model, but I’m not exactly sure about their quality as I’ve never used any of their equipment before.

I’m actually relatively new to the world of machining especially CNC equipment, we are just looking for something that would be friendly to the FIRST environment. Easy to learn/use, and be able to develop a full range of parts typically seen on a FIRST Robot.

I know a few other companies make machines like this such as MicroKinetics and was wondering if anyone had any experience or suggestions with the already listed or any other manufacturers.

As for the Lathe we aren’t looking for it to be CNC but just preferably pre-equipped with a DRO. I’ve heard JET makes a couple of really solid models and are looking for something probably in the range of like a 13x40 gear head.

Weight and size are both issues as they will be installed in a custom built trailer, thats why we have been looking at specifically smaller/bench top style equipment.

I’m not so sure I’d call that machine benchtop. It is pretty large. Anyhow, it looks like a nice machine, but I really know nothing about it. The Tormach has become fairly popular recently, and it is a bit cheaper, however, its travel is a bit smaller and they say to always buy the biggest machine you can afford. I’d still recommend checking it out though. Also, you will want to look at the rapid speeds on it. The Tormach’s are not very high (about 65 IPM if I recall correctly).

You should check out for lots of info and whatnot.

On the CNC Express from MicroKinetics, it is a round column mill. Not as rigid as square column mills. And while it does claim respectable rapids and feedrates of over 100 IPM, I think it is a bit overpriced for what it is, also considering Y axis travel is limited to 7 inches.

More important than rigidty, I’d say, is the fact that you lose your zero anytime you have to raise or lower a round column head. Since you’re going to pay some big money for a CNC mill, I’d avoid these at all costs. The mill they start with before conversion (a Jet JMD-18, or other various identical machines branded differently) is not a great mill to start with.

That Smithy looks pretty nice. I’ve heard good things about the Tormach as well.

Keep in mind that the smithy and tormach don’t have handwheels to allow you to use the machine manually. This may or may not be a big deal.

Is this trailer designed to be a mobile workspace for your team during build, support regional events, or both? If the latter, a CNC mill is going to cost a lot for not much return.

We have a Jet GHB 1340. It’s a pretty decent lathe once you put a DRO on it. Without it, it’s a major PITA to use (The dials are all metric conversions-ie: one rotation is not a whole number). It isn’t all that rigid though. It works well for anything small to medium size.

Maybe take a look at the turnkey CNC machines from Industrial Hobbies. I have never seen them in person them but they look interesting on the website.

Interesting you mention Smithy and Microkinetics. In Fall of 2003, I was granted an opportunity to spend $5000 in “school supplies” in about 1 day. We didn’t have any mill or lathe (nor machining experience), so I found the Smithy in the MSCDirect catalog and said, hmm… looks like the all-in-one would do the trick. Well, we still use it today, but there is something to be said about, you get what you pay for. For most of simple milling work - its great, stick the DRO on it, lock down your table axis and mill some mounting holes or slots. Cory mentioned one important aspect, as soon as you raise the “neck”, you lose your zero. A big pain when you change out a drill bit/ chuck for a collet/endmill. But you learn it’s capabilities. I’ve been the most dissappointed with the lathe function. It is extremely hard to center the chuck and tailstock. Even when we have a professional machinist (retired) do it, the best they could do it +/- 0.003" which is unacceptable for small gear work. We pretty much just use it as a Mill/Drill only.

That same year, we had another administrator say that we could spend another $5000 on “supplies” (I’ve been fortunate to have a great district administration looking out for us) so I said let’s see if we can get a small CNC to help build some small gear boxes, mounting plates and such. So we found the benchtop CNC mill by microkinetics. It may be different than the one you’re referring to, but we’ve been pleased with it, it’s just really slow, we usually only cut 0.05" at a pass through aluminum, and the Z-axis stepper motor is too weak to plunge cut most of the time, so we manually plunge the starting hole when needed, and then allow it to cut.

This year we got a CNC Jr. from CNCMasters - and so far it is worked out great, but we should have spent the extra money on the 220V Variable spindle speed option. We also found out that you must isolate your machines if you work in a tiny building like we do. We had our CNC Jr and Smithy both going at the same time and tripped the breaker and upon flipping the breaker back on, the CNC Jr. Contoller board fried. But CNC masters had it replaced within a week for $110 - critical because it was during January.

Hope this info was helpful.

I would seriously check out the Tormach. And definitely ask around over at CNC Zone. Stay away from the “all-in-one” machines. If you can’t afford a decent CNC, then get manual equipment and learn it the old-fashioned way.

Definitely consider the Tormach. We were fortunate enough to pick one up in December.

You get a lot for the price. Check out the Manufacturing website videos to see its capabilities.

The 9.5" y-axis travel listed, is quite conservative. I think its closer to 10+ inches or so (I measured it, but forgot).

If your new to CNC like we are, don’t expect to be blasting out parts. We got ours just before the season started and did not have enough time to learn to use it effectively. Every part we made on it could have been made with our manual mill. It is really convienient to drill bolt circles with.

Frankly, we really wanted another manual mill, but due to a technicality, it was easier to order this small cnc unit.

If you want to consider the Tormach, get the stand with coolant pump. Too much trouble to build your own. Does a good job containing coolant and chips.

On the down side, you cannot angle the head. Table is not hardened. We dropped a chain on it and put a few minor dings on the table. Steppers aren’t as fast as servos, but its fast enough for us.

Consider what CAM program you will be using as it isn’t included. We are using Inventor and an educational version of Edgecam.