I Took the Plunge

I did it. I sold my motorcycle an started my machine shop. But it wasn’t easy.

Over the last several weeks I have nearly constantly wrestled with options and dilemmas of how to spend the money from  the imminent sale of my old motorcycle.

I knew I wanted a small milling machine and a metal lathe, but choosing a specific combination of size, price, and accessories was proving to be extremely difficult.

Well, at least partially difficult. I did a significant amount of research on the internet for various small lathes, but I just couldn’t beat the price, precision, and flexibility of the Taig.

True it is small, and true it looks like toy, but this lathe has a rabid following of users that are turning out awesome little parts and machines, and I can’t really think of any project I would take on that would require a larger lathe.

So I had made up half of my mind. The other half was bouncing from one milling machine to the next, excited about the possibilities and terrified of choosing wrong.

My real fear was that I would buy a mill that was too flimsy to keep aligned, or too weak to work quickly. I didn’t want to buy something that would just leave me frustrated.

The standard mini mill is the Sieg X2, which is sold by Habor Freight, Grizzly, and others. 

It seems to be a fine machine, but it is a bit small, and many people buy them to convert to a CNC Mill, which makes sense, since the slow and repetitive work that is tedious manually is not a big problem on a CNC machine, you just spend a little more time eating a sandwich while the mill completes its task. 

I like the idea of a CNC mill, but I really want to learn about milling the manual way, I want to know how different metals behave, and how to solve problems. I don’t want to be pushed around in a wheelchair because I didn’t learn how to walk.

So I started looking at the Sieg X3.

It’s still considered a small mill, but it weights, and costs, twice as much as the X2; and it has significantly increase power, rigidity, and capacity. Aside the price, I was concerned about how heavy this mill was. At nearly 400 pounds, this would not be an easy machine to move around and get set up.  Sure enough, along with the stories of happy owners, I found tales of strained backs and broken friendships in the effort to install this mill.

Grizzly sells another mill, the G0704, which comes with a stand, has a slightly larger capacity than the X3, weighs significantly less (under 300 pounds), and is a couple hundred dollars cheaper.

I was immediately skeptical, and disqualified this mill from my search. It just seemed like a mill that was cheaply made with a big table to lure in unsuspecting buyers, who would inevitably wish they had just paid a little more for the X3.

I even found a few forum posts of people warning prospective buyers away from the G0704, based on the same red flags I had noted.

But then I made a discovery. “Hoss” of www.hossmachine.info is something of a demi-god, or at least a patron saint, to home machinists. One day, I was wandering through a forum and found the common question “what do you all think about the G0704?” followed quickly by a chorus of “the specs look nice but it’s probably junk…”. But then Hoss entered the thread: “Wow! Is that a BF20?! I didn’t know they were available in the US! I’m gonna buy one!” <paraphrased>

The god had spoken, the tide had changed, and now everybody wanted the G0704, including me.

I had made up my mind to buy the mill, suffering only one more crisis of indecision brought on by the fact that it wasn’t in stock and would take 4-6 weeks to be delivered; but I called Grizzly and they found one in their Missouri warehouse and I will have it in 3-5 business days.

But there’s a hitch: since I sold my motorcycle  for $1600 (not bad, considering I paid $1800 for it, 6 years ago), once I ordered the mill and the necessary tooling to get started (a vise, end mills, fly cutters, collets, parallels,  1-2-3 blocks, and cutting oil), I was out of money, and couldn’t buy the Taig lathe.

But that’s okay… I know which lathe I want to buy, so the hard part’s over.