What type of mill?

Our team is thinking of buying a new mill, hopefully with a DRO.
Our current mill is getting old and it might be time for a upgrade.
We have a separate laythe as well.
We probably do about 50/50 milling/accurate drilling.
Our price range is TBD, but on the conservative end.
I was hoping for people opinions, experiences, concerns, etc. to be shared.

-LM

It’s really hard to say what to get without a know budget. Once you know your budget look around the used market in your area on sites like craigslist, facebook marketplace, letgo etc. You can find both some really good machines and some really good deals on those sites.

As for suggestions on the machine there are a few things I would look for if I were in your situation.

  • I wouldn’t limit myself to only machines with DRO’s as those can be installed later. From experience looking around on these website the best deals are often not on the machines with DRO’s as people can use them as an excuse to hike up the price.
    -I would also look for a mill with at least 30 inches of travel and get two identical vises for it. This will allow you to in most years of FRC put an entire drive rail into the mill without having to take it out and move it and then relocate to it. Having had to do both not move and move the difference is amazing, it takes less time and yields better looking, more accurate parts.
    -WHile you’re at it don’t spend all the money you have on the mill, leave a small portion to upgrade your tooling as that will also make using the machine a much better experience for you.

There have been countless threads on the subject, and I’ve been in the same boat. After years of reading about this and going through it, I now hold the opinion that a DRO is not a luxury, it’s a must-have and these days I wouldn’t really consider many machines other than a full size 9x49 knee mill. A DRO pre-installed is nice. You can do it yourself, but you want the machine to make projects. You don’t want the machine to be the project. The full size knee mills (Bridgeport clones) are just a lot nicer to work on than other smaller machines. There are a few smaller knee mills that are decent, but I would recommend still keeping the knee type of machine as opposed to a column based machine where the head moves.

Bridgeport is the big brand name, but around here they are all worn out well used and abused machines that still command premium prices. Don’t be afraid of imports and other names like Jet, Lagun, Sharp, Acer, Acra, and others. Taiwan is better than China, but some of the china machines are not too bad these days. Supposedly the imported machines with the letter “M” cast into the column are made of better cast iron than the ones without that. Precision Matthews is kind of the go-to name for decent imported machines at reasonable prices. We have their PM1440E-LB lathe that we’re mostly happy with, especially for the price.

Check local machine tool auctions in your area. Real deals can be had at auctions. From time to time, eBay can also be a source for local used machines. That’s where we found our mill. Rigging and moving a full size knee mill is no easy task. It’s better left to the pros, and might cost you $500-$1000 to get it moved in.

I agree with Sanddrag that it is certainly a must have but not a deal breaker. We did pretty well with our Rong Fu 45 vertical mill which didn’t have all the bells and whistles. Definitely go for a machine with one but if you can’t find an immediate knee mill that has a DRO, then don’t stress.

We were exploring the thought of installing a DRO being a offseason project.

I had a Rong Fu mill with a round column and no DRO and it was extremely difficult to use. A Bridgeport-style mill with a DRO, even around here, is only around $3k. You can get the two separately for around $2600. The key is to have a trustworthy dealer and/or somebody that knows what they’re doing on the team.
If you buy a bad machine, it’s not easy to convince the team to upgrade. Do it right the first time IMO.

RF45 isn’t round column. Some teams just can’t fit a full size mill. the RF45 is a good choice in that case.

Would you recommend it over something like an 8x35 knee mill? The little 6x26 knee mills have somewhat of a following too, though I have not found any pre-installed with DRO. I have one from 1978 at home, and it’s not a bad little machine. I’d recommend it for those who are space and/or power limited. But, you can run out of Z quite pretty quick with tall things and/or long tools, but you can make a column spacer to raise the head.

Sorry, my bad. I did see that the RF45 had a square column so I thought “Rong Fu” would be enough to communicate the style/size of the machine.
Square column is fine. I’ve used a couple benchtop mills with a square column before and they worked fine. Just avoid round column mills.

Obviously a Bridgeport is best. I like the 6x26 mills, though I’ve never had a chance to use one… if I ever get another mill for home I would consider them.