A benchtop milling machine can help you bring better output for your projects in terms of precision and strength similar to bigger milling machines. These are mini versions of milling machines used in large factories.
Benchtop machines are preferred by DIY enthusiasts and newbie woodworkers for purposes of milling, flattening of irregular surface, drilling and even cutting. A benchtop mill can serve multiple purposes and it’s great to have one as there are multiple things that can be done with such a machine.
When it comes to choosing the best benchtop mill for your workshop, you need to be clear about the end goal. Knowing what you want in the end can massively help you choose a the best compact mill. Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before buying since it’s an expensive purchase. You should do your due diligence before buying and only then proceed.
What is a Mini Mill Machine?
A milling machine is comprised of a stationary cutting tool and a movable table that is controlled by either manual or computer directions. A workpiece is secured to the table which moves around a rotating blade to make the cuts for the desired outcome.
Like the full-size milling machines, a mini mill machine is a smaller engineering mill that can sit on a workbench or table, and create or modify wooden, metal, or modern-composite material components. Although full-size mill machines can be horizontal or vertical, mini mill machines usually have a vertical orientation with the axis of the rotating shaft also being vertical.
Features to Consider Before Buying
Before choosing the best milling machine for a garage or workshop, keep in mind several important product features, including the type of milling machine, size, cutting capacity, spindle depth, table travel, and the stability of the worktable.
When shopping for a milling machine, you need to find something that does it all for the multitude of jobs you may need it for, not just for the product at hand. After all, the best benchtop milling machine is a machine that can do a little bit of everything. If it doesn’t offer that versatility, it’s simply not the product for you.
Spindle Motor Horsepower
Naturally, this goes without saying. Any decent milling machine out there is only as good as its horsepower. The more the horsepower the spindle motor possesses, the more powerful the milling machine is going to be. So, if you’re working with heavy materials such as steel, having a machine with more horsepower is definitely essential.
Here’s a handy little tool to calculate your milling horsepower. With this, you’ll be able to predict the horsepower you need from your machine as well as calculate a machine you may already have.
The power of the motor is one of the essential things to consider when buying a milling machine. If you work with heavy materials and commercial projects, you will need a powerful motor. Look at the horsepower of the motor. It should be not only powerful but reliable as well, which will ensure a prolonged lifespan of the machine.
Size can have a direct impact on the results as well as capabilities of the machine. Large milling machines have the ability to generate more force and can handle even the toughest materials. On the other hand, small machines can only produce limited power and cannot take on commercial projects.
In a milling machine, stability is very important. If the material isn’t stable during the cutting process, machining gears and threads or resurfacing likely will be clumsy and inaccurate. Look for a milling machine with a broad, heavy base, like cast iron, that won’t shift or vibrate while the machine is in use.
For additional stability, consider a milling machine with built-in T-slots, which enable the user to secure the material to the table. A computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine is a good idea for those who plan to complete many projects. Instead of manual adjustments, the machine moves automatically via commands from a computer.
On a milling machine, cutting capacity refers to the overall table size and cutting dimensions. Capacity depends on several factors, including table travel, quill travel, and spindle gap.
- The table size determines the amount of material that safely can be worked. If the material extends off the edges of the table, the material can flex with the cantilevered weight, causing the machine to create unintended angled cuts. Always ensure the table is sized so the entire piece of material is supported. Table sizes range from as small as 3 by 6 inches to 1 by 4 feet.
- Table travel refers to the distance the table can move left, right, backward, or forward with the handwheel controls. When the table has a small travel distance, some parts of the material may not be placed under the milling cutter. A large table travel ability makes it easier to accurately position the material and move it through the milling cutter.
- Quill travel is the distance the quill, a part of the spindle used to machine difficult-to-reach areas on the W-axis, must extend from the machine.
- Spindle travel is used to measure the depth of the cut for milling machines. With a short spindle travel, the cutting tool will experience difficulties in cutting completely through thick materials. This distance also is referred to as the “Z-axis travel.”
Our Top Picks
These top picks were chosen based on quality, price, customer satisfaction, and the considerations mentioned above. Read this list to learn about some of the best milling machines for your metalworking projects.
The JET JMD-18 is the most powerful milling machine out of our recommendations, featuring a 2 HP motor. This powerful machine will allow you to cut through just about anything, making it an ideal choice for professionals.
This milling machine features an innovative and user-friendly design that allows you to fine-tune it to perfection. To begin with, the JET JMD-18 comes with an integrated work lamp that will always provide you with a clear overview of your work.
Additionally, it has a hinged belt cover for fast speed changes, easy-read dials, as well as an easy-to-read internal depth gauge.
The internal depth gauge paired with the quick-stop knob allows for consistency in milling. In addition, it comes with a 360-degree swiveling head, which will give you the optimal flexibility to achieve precision in your work.
In addition, the cast iron column provides additional durability to the unit. It is also great for heavy-duty work because it comes with an extra-large worktable so that it can be used for large projects.
The Shop Fox M1110 is rightfully our top pick as it is a powerful machine that both drills and mills.
Better to say, it does everything you can expect from a benchtop milling machine.
What is even better, it does not leave users space to complain.
The users are very satisfied with what the machine can do as everything worked great and with the excellent precision.
The only complaints they had was that they had to tinker with it a little right out of the box to get the measurements accurate and that it is quite an expensive tool.
It comes with all the great features that are usually found in a professional machine, namely a variable speed motor, aR-8 spindle, tapered gibs, dovetail column and an extra-large 7-1/16 in. x 26-5/8 in. work table. The spindle is engaged by the 1 HP, 110V, 12A, single-phase motor and spins with variable speed within 50 and 2250 RPM, ensuring the perfect conditions for wood and metal shaping. Furthermore, it is equipped with a forward/reverse switch that will help you change direction and ease milling operations.
Other important specifications are the longitudinal travel which is 18-7/8 inches and the cross travel with a value of 6-1/2 inches. The R-8 spindle comes with a digital readout and DRO. In addition to that, you will receive a 2-speed gearbox and fine feed head control. Not to mention that the huge table comes with its own stand, so you won’t have to trouble yourself with finding one that can sustain such a heavy machine. Backed by a 1-year warranty and less expensive than a professional miller, this machine will help you build the projects of your dreams.
All in all, this machine will help you with some serious metal shaping projects. The large table is supported by its own robust support, while the strong motor engages the spindle, generating up to 2,250 rotations per minute. Furthermore, a shut off switch is at your disposal for safety purposes.
4. Klutch 49657
ETL listed, this machine comes with the guarantee of safety and performance, so you can purchase with the utmost confidence. Equipped with a performant 1/2 HP, 110V motor that can produce a spindle’s variable speed within 100 and 2,500 RPM, it will help you mill large thick pieces of metal, wood or ceramics. Moreover, for increased performance, it comes with a collet and a drawbar, being suitable for variate R8 collets with the following sizes: 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/16, 3/8, 5/16, 5/8 and 9/16 inches. Plus, you will be able to drill holes thanks to the drilling option that features a capacity of 1/2 inches.
The work table measures 3 5/8in. x 15 3/8in, being generous enough for medium-sized projects, with a longitudinal travel of 8 5/8 inches and a cross travel of 4 inches. The headstock travel is 7 inches. Furthermore, the column and the milling head tilt to 45 degrees right or left, thus increasing versatility and ease of use. Worthy to mention is the 1-year warranty, which will provide great cover for parts and labor, so you can put your mind at ease and concentrate on your project.
Powerful and adaptable, this tool will help you shape all the materials for your project at a great speed and with wonderful results. Easy to operate, it can be used even by beginners. Not to mention that it is backed by an excellent 1-year warranty, so you will be able to enjoy it without worrying that a mishap or a manufacturing flaw will put you through extra expenses.
This mill’s smaller design works best for smaller projects, like electronic work, jewelry, and even shaping optician’s glass. This design is just a little less durable than the other alternatives we’ve talked about because it uses die-cast aluminum instead of a cast iron headstock. That means that the headstock isn’t as heavy, but it also means that you lose the strength and some of the vibration absorption that makes cast iron such a good base material for milling machines.
However, while the headstock is aluminum, this milling machine still features a cast iron base that does a lot of the work of handling vibration and keeping this machine steady while you’re working.
Still, if you’re looking for a smaller design for smaller projects and more detailed work, this mill is a great performer. It’s also a good complement to the other mills on this list if you need something that can handle large and small work. Having a smaller mill to handle the most detailed parts of your project, or to give you a wider range of working specialties makes your whole workshop more effective and efficient.
Safety features are also incredibly important when it comes to working with a benchtop mill. The power of these machines means that things can quickly go wrong, and having some basic safety mechanisms in place is critical to help prevent the worst accidents and problems with the machine.
The most basic safety features are also generally the most important. Before working with your milling machine make sure the on-off switch/button is within easy reach of the mill operator. It’s also critical to make sure your milling machine has an emergency off button that will bring the machine to a stop faster than the traditional off button.
The emergency off button should also be within easy reach of the operator, clearly labeled, and accessible for others to press in case the operator is unable to reach it.
Your benchtop milling machine should also have easy points to lock your material in place, either with built-in clamps, or where the materials can be easily attached with a vise.
Now that you know more about milling machines, you may have additional questions. Keep reading to find the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about milling machines and how they work.
How does a milling machine work?
A milling machine works to cut through hard metals with a milling cutter that can be raised or lowered with the Z-axis hand wheel. The machine also uses a moveable platform to hold the material in place. This platform can typically move left or right and backward or forward using the Y-axis hand wheel and the X-axis hand wheel for control. With three axes of control, the machine can move the material through the milling cutter for precise, stable cuts.
Do I need cutting fluid when I’m milling?
Cutting fluid is usually not necessary for milling, though it should be used to lubricate, cool, and flush away dust when working with cast iron, finishing stainless steel or aluminum, or milling other heat-resistant alloys at low cutting speeds.
What is a vertical milling machine?
It is a precision tool which is highly used for fabrication and shaping with the removal of stock from workpieces. They make a flat surface or spot-on workpieces made of different materials.
We’ve come to the end of this benchtop milling machines review and you’ve seen all the interesting offers out there, including entry-level and powerful premium models.
We are all different and have different jobs and hobbies, so this last decision is all yours to make because it’s only you that knows which milling machine will best fit your shop.