Small Benchtop Machining
I see a slow growing trend of the hobby light duty machine shop in the United States. There is a definite niche for the smaller size high quality high speed machines that are fairly common in the European hobby market. This includes such brands as the Proxxon, Prazi and Emco and others. The English Myford is on the small list. Also included are the US brands of Sherline and Taig. I am talking about small machine tools that are ready to work right out of the shipping box.
Massive slow machines ARE NOT necessary to build accurate, light weight hobby machined projects. Yes, mass is good but it also depends on the size and weight of the parts being machined. Bench top machining is an equal bang for the buck, space and pound than the more resource demanding (mostly space and power) full house heavy floor model machine tools. Using today’s high quality indexed carbide tooling when making small size parts, demands much more SFM than old machines were designed to hold or to run (at the high end). A large chuck and the part it is holding spinning at 2500 RPM is scarry! I have always stated that very small parts are easier/better made on small high speed machine tools. It is an exchange of speed for mass.
Some “old iron” pundits point to the low end rpm (no back gear) and the very high top end rpm of small machine tools as faults. I say they are not faults. They are required features. Small threads are better made with dies even when low speed is available. The pros prefer dies. Single point cutting does not inherently make a “better” thread. However, I would still like a low speed gear for large diameter threads where single point is commonly used.
This is not a strike against larger machines. They are very much in need when the material and job are right. If my interest was 1.5 inch live steam, I would be wearing a different hat and telling a different story. A large chunk of cast iron turning slowly is a more likely event in that size/scale.
I sense a small machine tool frustration in the U.S. hobby market. I may have helped lead others to thinking one must rebuild low cost Asian imports or rebuild “old iron” to own suitable small bench top machine tools. This isn’t true if you are able to make a first investment in high quality tools. I wasn’t ready when I first started. I have always stated my opinion as, “best value for the money invested.” That is still very true in every machine tool I own and use.
First cost is important. The internet has provided forums and wonderfully informative sites for all the folks converting low cost imports into suitable work tools. To me it really has become a cult — like owning a VW beetle. Rebuilding machines is a rewarding past time in its own right. But it is not the only way to enjoy the hobby of small machining.
I am currently testing and offering for purchase a real “sleeper” machine tool in the form of the Proxxon PD400 lathe. It is not a machine for everyone because of its price, 220 volt motor and metric dials. But I also know from experience those items except price are not problems, just considerations. Is it worth the investment? Yes, if you enjoy, really enjoy first class products.
I also represent Taig Tools. In my opinion a great U.S. made small machine tool company and product. The mill properly set up is not inexpensive. The micro lathe is the only true bargain at its base price, and is a very light basic machine while being very accurate.
I started my new business because in my opinion most dealers offering higher end small machine tools in the US do a pitiful job of presenting products on the Internet. One or two stock pictures and a “canned” factory write up are about it. Many such sites are seldom updated and end up out of date. Some of those suppliers may have never opened the box, let alone used the product.
The risk I take when I do a detailed presentation is the shopper can easily search for the product elsewhere at a lower price. So why would I bother? Good question. What I offer as a dealer is a competitive price and my attention to detail. I am small enough to do that. If I spend that much time, my goal is to earn a little bit of the profit I would be giving to others. You can help me!