Getting Started with a Milling Machine

As mentioned last week, I’ve a new benchtop vertical milling machine. Here are my initial thoughts on setting up and using it.

Unboxing

The delivery driver and I lifted the crate off the van and onto the pallet truck. It was quite manageable with the two of us. The gravel drive wasn’t an issue as the truck had large wheels and he left it just outside the workshop. After he’d gone, I opened up and slid it onto my own truck to wheel into the workshop.

When it came to opening the crate, it wasn’t quite clear where to start. So I just unscrewed the top and then sides, cutting the plastic and metal bands as I went. Once I got to the bottom, I realised that I could have just unscrewed the bottom row of screws and lifted off the top in one piece. The mill was screwed to a pallet style base.

A wooden crate from Arc Eurotrade
Crate

Base

The recommendation for this kind of machine is to bolt them to the table. However, I do like to have the option to move things about if I need a bit more space, so I decided to build a heavy base instead. The extra weight and width will give it a bit more stability and lessen vibrations. This was made from 3 large sections of fence post which I bolted together with some M10 threaded rod.

I keep the mill screwed to the pallet whilst I lifted it up onto the bench. I used some wood and my welding table which meant that it did not need to be lifted onto the bench in one go. Still, this step would have been easier with two people. From the welding table, I slid it across onto the new base.

The mill was then screwed down to the base using coach bolts and washers.

Clean down

The mill comes with a thick layer of protective grease to stop it from going rusty in transit. The manual recommended kerosene to clean it but I used a domestic degreaser and that worked just fine. I followed up with a light coat of steel polish to add back some humidity protection. As mentioned in the previous article, I also invested in some gloves and they come in handy for this step. The accessories also come with similar gunk that needs cleaning.

Setup

It took me a while to realise that the vertical feed defaulted to the fine setting and that by disengaging the dogtooth wheel the rapid feed could be used. Once that was released it was possible to move the chuck out of the way of the table.

As previously mentioned, I purchased a vice with the mill. I expect that this will be used for 95% of the things I machine. It comes with some mounting bolts and some small screwed blocks. I believe the latter is to be mounted underneath to allow the vice to be more easily aligned to the table. However, both the bolts and the blocks were too large for the blocks on my table. So I had to use the studs from the mounting kit for a temporary solution.

I used my dial gauge to ensure the vice was parallel to the table. I did this against the back edge of the vice. However, as recommended by Ben from Ben’s Workshop it is better to do this against the vice jaw or a parallel clamped in the vice.

Fitting collets and cutters

The mill came fitted with a drill chuck, so I replaced this with a suitably sized collet. The instructions in the manual for this are fairly clear but I will be doing a video on this process. My main tip for this is to have a block of wood to protect the vice/table in case the chuck or collet drops out when you are swapping them over. A soft-faced mallet would also be useful here as the drawbar needs a little hit to loosen the taper tooling.

Test Cuts

I experimented with some light cuts on some aluminium and some steel. I set the speed at approximately 500 RPM and used a 14mm endmill. Both metals machined well although there were some burrs on the side of the metal that need to be cleaned up with a file.

One of the most noticeable things was how quiet and vibration-free the whole process was. There was a little movement in the slides so I adjusted these to reduce that. It is also recommended locking the axis that you are not moving.

To lock an axis on the table there is a small caphead screw, these are pretty small and a little fiddly. The vertical axis is better and has a big leaver that locks that in place and there is also a depth stop you can use.

Drilling

I swapped the cutter with a 10mm drill. I centre punched a piece of the same steel bar I’d used for the bench vice mounting and clamped it in the vice on some parallels. When I was doing this step in the drill press I had to start with a pilot hole and then successively drill it out to larger sizes. The milling machine had no problems with drilling straight through at this larger diameter. The usual challenges I have with the drill press of the bit wandering just didn’t happen with the milling machine.

Drilling a steel bar


What next?

I have a couple of small projects to do such as making some better T-Bolts to hold the vice in place. But my first main project will be to finish the stalled knurling tool project.

I did spot in the manual that there is a connection on the back of the control unit that can be used to attach a speed indicator. There do seem to be some people who have built one of these so I may give that a go at some point.

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