I'm approaching the time to make a purchase (yaaay tax return!), and I'm trying to decide what I want, so i can go shopping (craigslist, forums, etc).
I currently have a 24x35, insulated, concrete-floor shop (4", iirc) with 220 single phase service. I believe I ran 200A wire, but the main breaker is 100A. I've got an 8' x 16' double garage door for entry, and with roof height from 9' (walls) to 12' (center).
I'm looking to pick up a machine for prototyping / hobby work, and general use. Ideally I'll produce marketable items, using my in-house machines for prototyping / proof of concept / testing, and then farm the actual production runs out to local CNC shops. I should be able to provide them with a Solidworks / Inventor file (haven't decided which way to go),
My machinist experience is limited, consisting of local technical college classes. I'm currently in the 2nd (of 4) semesters in the Machine Tool Technology program. Included in these classes is lab time on the JET knee mills, JET 14" swing engine lathes, and ProLight desktop CNC mill. In later semesters I'll be on the Lagun VMC's and Republic turning centers. We use MasterCAM, and the drafting program offers classes to teach Inventor. I'll have access to these (fully functional) programs at the school for another year or so, and possibly indefinitely (depending on how well I get along with the instructor, I guess). I also have access to the ProLight CNC and manual equipment at this time.
I've been shopping Craigslist and the for-sale areas of various forums (CNCzone, Practical Machinist, Home Machinist, etc). Ideally, eventually I'll have both manual / CNC mills / lathes in my shop, and ideally, even small production capacity. Right now, though, I'm just trying to get best bang-for-the-buck. In addition to the equipment at school, I am storing a friend's old Atlas lathe in the garage.
Though I am comfortable running the machines at this time, I would have to call my knowledge level "basic". I've been trying to keep my searches within a 500 mile radius of my location (SW Missouri), as this would allow me to inspect any machine I may purchase, as well as transport. In addition to being sight-unseen (or incurring pre-purchase travel costs), I'm afraid transport expenses from the coasts might break my bank.
So, right now I'm looking at used knee mills, vs buying a new benchtop machine. I have full intention of converting the purchased machine to CNC, though I don't know how quickly that may be (may depend on the machine pruchased). I've considered everything from an X2 through an RF45, and I think I'd prefer to go with an RF45 (or clone or equivalent). While size is always an issue, it's not particularly a limiting factor for me at this time. Price is more of a consideration.
I'm planning on focusing on the firearm / motorcycle / RC aircraft markets, which are where I have most of my knowledge / interest / hobbies. As such, I probably won't -need- a large work cube. However, we all know how that goes. I'd like to get the best bang-for-the-buck machine wise, and I'm ok with spending a little more right now.
I should mention that I live within spitting distance of Grizzly's Springfield, MO warehouse. That's handy, in that purchases can be same day, with no shipping charges. It also, unfortunately, means I have to pay sales tax on purchases. Internet purchases may require payment on shipping, but be tax free. Sometimes it's a wash, sometimes one is preferable to the other.
My current quandry is this: Used knee mill, or new RF45 (or smaller). It seems I can buy a used kneemill for <$2k or so. Of course they're larger, heavier, have more powerful engines, and are generally more capable. Unfortunately, the condition of such equipment is across the board. Of course I can check for backlash and such, but I'm not sure I'd be able to give an inspection to a used machine to make sure I'm buying a "good" one.
For similar money, I can buy a new RF45 clone, or of course anything smaller / less expensive. It won't be as capable as the knee mill, but it will be new. This may not make it a better machine (and, in fact, it may be a less precise machine), however I'll at least have some sort of customer service if I have issues.
I'm also not sure about the price jump in CNC'ing something like an X3 vs an RF45 vs a full-blown knee mill. That is always something to consider, though it may not be an immediate concern.
So...I present this information to you all, and ask for input. What other questions should be asked? What other input would you have? Yes, I KNOW a cherry condition Bridgeport Series 1 for $1500 would be ideal, but a semi-rusty, used version for $2k is much more likely. And I'm not sure I have the ability at this time to pick a "good condition" mill from a "junk" one, appearances (and gouged ways, etc) aside.