Advice on what to start with - limited space

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Thread: Advice on what to start with - limited space

  1. #1
    No_Style's Avatar
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    Dec 2020

    Default Advice on what to start with - limited space

    Hi All,

    I'm wanting to get started in CNC metal working (as a hobby, possibly low level production as a bit of a cottage industry). Currently my main interest is in fabrication/modification for vehicles, particularly motorcycles. I would like to be able to enhance my ability to custom machine/modify generally smaller components (axle spacers, bearing seat/pockets, standoffs, bolts/studs etc. In my case, it is essential to be able to work with Aluminum, Steel, Stainless Steel and Brass, and to be able to perform quality internal and external threading operations.
    Whilst it would be nice to get a plasma table, EDM, lathe, mill, HMC, surface grinder, 3D printer, 3D surface scanner etc etc, in order to indulge this interest, I'm rather limited on space, and the space is the expensive part compared to the machines around here.

    My plan therefore is to try and slowly build a collection of smaller machines suitable for low volume work, but which are capable of decently high repeatability and precision. These will, when in use, sit on / be clamped to, my 2550x1250 BuildPro fixture table. Whilst it's not the most rigid thing on earth, it's a decent base that I already have and also can't live without in order to gain space for pedestal/stand based machines. I have a little 500kg capacity gantry crane and hoist that I can use to maneuver things around. The hope is that with these machines, I can learn as I go, but that upfront I can purchase machines that could continue to be of at least niche use for smaller work, even if somewhere along the line I move elsewhere and can afford fancier and larger machines.

    The ideal starting point from that perspective would probably be a desktop HMC, even if it has a learning curve like a cliff, that's one thing that doesn't bother me :-)

    Given that no such machine exists (that I know of), I think my starting point will be a CNC lathe, probably followed by some sort of miniature VMC or particularly angry desktop router with a reasonable amount of Z axis travel. I know lots of people buy cheap import machines and improve them, but they always seems to already have an arsenal of other machines available in order to effect the required enhancements, which I do not have. As such, I need something that is of decent quality out of the box, or which can be improved on without needing access to significant specialist tools.
    I'm not averse to converting a manual machine to CNC either, if there is a reasonable quality kit that doesn't require massive amounts of finessing in order to get things to fit.

    Can anyone make some suggestions of specific machines or brands to start looking at?
    I'm based in Australia, but will consider buying internationally and shipping if that is needed to get the right machine.

    From a lathe sizing perspective, I don't need to be able to swing large parts, 6 inch diameter and a foot long would be huge for me, but rigidity/repeatability will bother me if it can't hold reasonable tolerances (so, somewhere around 0.001" or less runout on the spindle is what I would be hoping for on a new machine, I could tolerate maybe three times that amount on a second hand machine if the price made that a sensible tradeoff).

    Thanks for helping a newbie!

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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2005

    Default Re: Advice on what to start with - limited space

    I'd say odds are the most useful first machine would be a mill, not a lathe. Also I'd say you'd want to buy a CNC machine, not a project to convert.
    You don't say what your budget is?
    I suggest looking at CNC machines from Sieg, Start at the CNC machines that uses the X3 model. The Sieg X2 has model variants that might suit your purpose, but chances are you will need to do a CNC conversion yourself. Also look at Tormach.. If you really are tight on space then you have to move down in size and the choices are limited, look at CNC version of Tiag mills but you really have to make sure the work envelope suits your needs. Since you have serious requirements in steel stay away from router style machines that are constructed from aluminum.

    Look at used machines, if you get really lucky you might find a completed project for sale.

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Advice on what to start with - limited space

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Advice on what to start with - limited space