Creativity can find different outlets in different people. Some people draw, sketch, or even doodle randomly in notebooks. Others prefer music. Running, cycling, or time at the gym can also be an outlet for creativity.
But some people use their creativity to actually make artwork. They are the artisans, the ones who use raw materials to create something new. Painting, ceramics, scraping and blacksmithing are just a few of their many hobbies. But with the availability of high-end machine tools, more and more hobbyists are discovering the joys of owning a milling machine.
In the past, tabletop CNC milling machines were found only in high-end machine shops. Such machines were very complex multi-axis CNC machine tools that required sophisticated CNC controls.
Fortunately, in modern times, it is possible for hobbyist machinists to own high-end CNC milling machines. In this article, we will explore the single most important question a hobbyist needs to ask when considering his or her milling machine: what does a hobbyist need in a milling machine?
What to look for in a hobby mill
There is nothing special about the design of a mill for hobbyists. The basic operation of the machine remains the same. The mill still has a spindle, a bed, and certain axes of motion. The work area is usually a bit smaller than most professional mills; some hobby mills are often referred to as mini mills because of their small footprint.
Ultimately, hobby mills are simply milling machines used by hobbyists. Every hobby is different, which means that each hobby has slightly different requirements. Some hobbyists are satisfied with a simple 3-axis machine that can move in the X, Y, and Z axes. Others may need more advanced machines, such as state-of-the-art mini CNC jeweler’s routers.
In general, hobby routers are a step up from a drill press or combination tools. Routers are advanced drilling machines that can do both end milling and flute milling.
Most hobby routers have certain general characteristics.
Hobbyists may need large industrial machines and powerful engines. In reality, however, most hobby mills are smaller, lighter machines. Most hobby mills fall into two categories: benchtop or tabletop milling machines and mini-milling machines.
Tabletop milling machines are small enough to be placed on a sturdy workbench rather than standing directly on the ground. There are a variety of tabletop milling machines that are smaller than the full-size product models. Some of the larger ones are not much larger than a typical industrial mill, while others are small enough to fall into the mini-mill category.
As the name implies, mini-milling machines are ultra-compact milling machines that sacrifice a bit of power in exchange for versatility. They are even smaller than tabletop milling machines and are often made of aluminum or other light alloys, rather than cast iron like heavy industrial milling machines.
The size of the mill required depends largely on the size of the workpiece to be machined. The larger the mill, the larger the workpiece that can be placed on it. The size required may also be determined by the hobby. For woodworkers, small, intricate parts may only need a standard tabletop lathe or milling machine, while jewelers may need a mini-mill.
You can measure the power of your milling machine in two primary ways: engine horsepower and spindle speed. Most milling machines have adjustable speed controls that allow the operator to adjust the speed of the milling cutter according to the job and the material being cut.
On mini-mills, the spindle speed is usually between 0 and 2500 rpm, and the spindle motor has a power of about 0.5 horsepower. Larger table milling machines may have 2-3 horsepower motors with speeds up to 3000 rpm. High speed is an advantage, but often other factors are more important to the final result.
When choosing between a small bench grinder or a very small mini grinder, remember that there is a trade-off between size and stability. Larger and heavier machines are more efficient and also more stable. Greater stability reduces the need for extra clamping to the workpiece and helps the milling machine make more precise cuts. They are also generally more durable than smaller milling machines, with heavier and more durable parts, from larger stepper motors to heavy-duty bushings.
What can a milling machine do?
Milling machines are one of the staples of machine tools. Ideal for cutting grooves, building furniture, drilling holes, and finishing parts, CNC advanced technology allows milling machines to allow hobbyists to design and build custom parts completely from scratch.
With a milling machine, other hobbies can be enjoyed more easily. Metalworking enthusiasts will find that milling machines allow them to finish metalworking projects much faster and more accurately, and DIY jewelers can use mini-mills and small mills to design and finish very intricate and beautiful pieces. Woodworkers can also use a milling machine or its close cousin, the CNC router, to create brilliant wood carvings and custom plates.