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Need some help fella's: Questions about machining and milling for a complete noob.

DrawbarFlatsDrawbarFlats Posts: 788 Senior Member
edited June 2020 in Clubhouse #1
I know some of you have a lot of experience and expertise in machining and milling so my question is what course of action should a complete noob like me take to get started? I know almost nothing about the tools and equipment but I do have years of experience in model building everything from wooden model airplanes to model ships so I'm not a complete idiot on the subject - Haha! Seriously though, any suggestions and tips would be greatly appreciated. As mentioned in my other thread I'm a nut for live model steam engines and I always wanted to build my own beginners model steam engine from cast parts that are available for the steam engine enthusiast. Questions I have are: what basic equipment do I need such as good quality (but not break the bank) lathes, mills, tools etc. Should I take some classes? Are there any good quality American made lathes and mills still available? I've always been fascinated with creating something from metal. Thanks for any suggestions, Gentlemen! 


Btw, when I say steam engines, I'm not referring to trains but more inline with small stationary engines. 
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Replies

  • bhl2506bhl2506 Senior Member Posts: 1,962 Senior Member
    I'm on my way out the door right now. I will tell you how I got started out without going broke when I get back.
    Refusing to conform to the left wing mantra of political correctness by insisting on telling the truth does not make you a loud mouth.
  • DrawbarFlatsDrawbarFlats Posts: 788 Senior Member
    bhl2506 said:
    I'm on my way out the door right now. I will tell you how I got started out without going broke when I get back.
    Much appreciated bhl2506. Look forward to it. Got to head out myself so I wont be able to reply till this evening. Thanks again!
  • tennmiketennmike Senior Member Posts: 27,452 Senior Member
    Grizzly Industrial has some good lathes and milling machines for the hobbyist that are good for anything from guns to steam engines. Not much is made in the U.S. anymore for the hobbyist in that respect; most is made in China, Japan, SE Asia, and India. You can still find older American made lathes and mills for sale, but need someone to go with you that knows what to look for as to condition. 
    The lathe and mill are cheap compared to what you'll spend in tooling, too.
    If you have a Vocational/Technical school nearby that teaches lathe and mill work then that would be a good place to start for instruction. Also check for  hobbyist groups in the area. And Youtube has lots of videos on how to  do things and setups. 
    A Vocational/Tech school is an ideal place to learn how to do machining if you have one in the area. Cost isn't much when you consider that you get hands on instruction.
    Machinist's Workshop magazine and website have a lot of info on machining, and they have a lot of online things on their forum about most anything you'd want to build, including steam engines and boilers.
      I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer”
    ― Douglas Adams
  • ilove22silove22s Senior Member Posts: 1,426 Senior Member
    just some opinions/thoughts....

     > where i live, there are some cool places where they have a bunch of different toys to play with.  You can take classes if you want (not sure about now with COVID) but they had the equipment to use/rent.   its a business so you pay to play.

     > if you have any libraries where you live, you can look for some books on the basics.  Even book shops may have them too.  We have Powells in my backyard so im spoiled.  But they do offer online too.  Im a book person, so its my go to.

     > if you have any Community Colleges where you live, you may eventually be able to take some classes there.  where i live, we have them and can take classes from Astronomy to getting your motocycle cert and international travel.   Some classes are for credit and some are what they call "Community education" where anyone that has an interest can attend and no credit is issues.  There maybe some limit or pre reqs, but that can vary.  Ive been taking cooking classes, before the COVID.  

     > figure out how you learn and go with that way.  

     > also, there is no 1 way to do things.  So if you need to cherrypick or mix-n-match your way of learning, go for it.

    good luck


    The ears never lie.

    - Don Burt
  • LinefinderLinefinder Moderator Posts: 7,249 Senior Member
    Personally, I got tossed into the trade head-first, sort of a "sink or swim" situation. Late in life, if I might add. Most days I'm not sure if I'm sinking or swimming. I consider it a good day if I can simply tread water. There's a hundred ways to do any one thing, and even more opinions on which method  is the best. 

    The two best toolmakers I've ever known came from two completely different training regimes. One went through a 5 year certified apprenticeship in Detroit, which due to the auto industry, pretty much says it all. The other, fell into it because he wanted to work om motorcycles. Never a lick of formal training., but he always said that when he became good at a task, (say surface grinding), he quit that job and went somewhere else, because he knew he'd be stuck at surface grinding for the rest of his career.

    Lathe, mill, EDM....CNC programming.....same thing.

    He passed away last month, but I'm working with a 35 YO toolmaker he mentored. Kid's good. Really good. 

    Some formal training certainly can't hurt, but OJT teaches a lot a whole lot faster.

    An aside......wood machines a WHOLE lot different than metal. I've burned up every piece of wood I've tried to mill. :)

    Mike
    "Walking away seems to be a lost art form."
    N454casull
  • Big Al1Big Al1 Senior Member Posts: 7,921 Senior Member
    What Mike said!! id you can take a course at a tech school. that's a great start! I took a night class years ago!
  • tennmiketennmike Senior Member Posts: 27,452 Senior Member


    An aside......wood machines a WHOLE lot different than metal. I've burned up every piece of wood I've tried to mill. :)

    Mike
    I have two wood lathes; a small one (12 inch between centers) for fishing lures, and a 36 inch one for bigger things. One thing a wood lathe is good for is developing fast reflexes dodging a workpiece flying out of the lathe, or a cutting tool that gets hung in the workpiece and gets flung at ya at warp speed. And working on a wood lathe tends to make your vocabulary deteriorate over time. :D
    On using a milling machine on wood, I've found that using router bits is the only way to go; tool cutting geometry is different than metal cutting.  :)
      I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer”
    ― Douglas Adams
  • LinefinderLinefinder Moderator Posts: 7,249 Senior Member
    edited June 2020 #9
    I am very lucky....we do no wood products. If we did, I'd have quit long ago. I do mostly Delrin and steel.

    Admire the guys that can, though.

    Mike
    "Walking away seems to be a lost art form."
    N454casull
  • tennmiketennmike Senior Member Posts: 27,452 Senior Member
    I am very lucky....we do no wood products. If we did, I'd have quit long ago. I do mostly Delrin and steel.

    Admire the guys that can, though.

    Mike
    Plastics machining in a lathe can be 'interesting'. The material being removed doesn't want to break off and you end up with a mess of swarf wrapped around the workpiece. That can get exciting! In the mill with plastics I use mostly cutters made for aluminum due to the tool geometry removing chips from the cutting area better. Chip buildup cutting a channel in plastic can turn into a nightmare same as aluminum.
    Biggest 'pucker factor' I ever had was machining a round rod of magnesium in lathe  to turn it down to size and then milling a key slot in it. I had a 20#  CO2 fire extinguisher handy. That swarf from that job was fun to play with with a MAPP torch!
      I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer”
    ― Douglas Adams
  • LinefinderLinefinder Moderator Posts: 7,249 Senior Member
    Plastic can be interesting, because it stretches, grows, and pushes in ways you can't  always anticipate. But wood is worse....way worse.

    Mike
    "Walking away seems to be a lost art form."
    N454casull
  • JustsomedudeJustsomedude Posts: 607 Senior Member
    I was fortunate enough to learn from my dad, a tool and die maker. I also had the benefit of using his machines since he had a lathe, mill, drill press, and punch press in his shop. People laugh at the thought but it doesn't hurt to start from scratch with books and videos. Its also not bad to start out with mini machines like you can get at harbor freight. They handle metal, albeit with smaller cuts but you'll learn geometry, setups and operation with them and can always move up to larger equipment. 
  • DrawbarFlatsDrawbarFlats Posts: 788 Senior Member
    Thanks for the suggestions everyone! Definitely going to follow up on some classes once things open up. 
  • GunNutGunNut Posts: 6,287 Senior Member
    I was fortunate enough to learn from my dad, a tool and die maker. I also had the benefit of using his machines since he had a lathe, mill, drill press, and punch press in his shop. People laugh at the thought but it doesn't hurt to start from scratch with books and videos. Its also not bad to start out with mini machines like you can get at harbor freight. They handle metal, albeit with smaller cuts but you'll learn geometry, setups and operation with them and can always move up to larger equipment. 
    So that's interesting...  Will those machines handles simple tasks like cutting and crowning barrels.  I'm assuming that the precision is not good enough to do serious work but I'd love to be able do some entry level work like crowning a barrel or maybe drilling and tapping a receiver without having to send it out but I don't want to spend a fortune to gain a capability that will be used once or twice a year.  It's really more of an issue of patience in my part (having to mail out stuff and waiting for it to get done and returned) than money.
    Old West Saying: God created men, but Col. Sam Colt made them equal.

    General George Patton:  “Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.”

  • DrawbarFlatsDrawbarFlats Posts: 788 Senior Member
    GunNut said:
    I was fortunate enough to learn from my dad, a tool and die maker. I also had the benefit of using his machines since he had a lathe, mill, drill press, and punch press in his shop. People laugh at the thought but it doesn't hurt to start from scratch with books and videos. Its also not bad to start out with mini machines like you can get at harbor freight. They handle metal, albeit with smaller cuts but you'll learn geometry, setups and operation with them and can always move up to larger equipment. 
    It's really more of an issue of patience in my part (having to mail out stuff and waiting for it to get done and returned) than money.
    I go through that every time I order something online. Waiting for it to arrive and wondering why my tracking still shows my goods sitting in some post office in Timbuktu, 
  • bhl2506bhl2506 Senior Member Posts: 1,962 Senior Member
    TennMike gave some very good web sites on your steam engine thread. As I was going to tell you the same thing about getting started on a budget. Little machine shop is a good place to start. If you're going to to do small projects like steam engines and modeling projects you won't need anything bigger.
     If you want to get into other things  than that I would definitely go with something bigger. Grizzley, Jet, Precision Mathews ate pretty good machines imo.
    Refusing to conform to the left wing mantra of political correctness by insisting on telling the truth does not make you a loud mouth.
  • bhl2506bhl2506 Senior Member Posts: 1,962 Senior Member
    GunNut said:
    I was fortunate enough to learn from my dad, a tool and die maker. I also had the benefit of using his machines since he had a lathe, mill, drill press, and punch press in his shop. People laugh at the thought but it doesn't hurt to start from scratch with books and videos. Its also not bad to start out with mini machines like you can get at harbor freight. They handle metal, albeit with smaller cuts but you'll learn geometry, setups and operation with them and can always move up to larger equipment. 
    So that's interesting...  Will those machines handles simple tasks like cutting and crowning barrels.  I'm assuming that the precision is not good enough to do serious work but I'd love to be able do some entry level work like crowning a barrel or maybe drilling and tapping a receiver without having to send it out but I don't want to spend a fortune to gain a capability that will be used once or twice a year.  It's really more of an issue of patience in my part (having to mail out stuff and waiting for it to get done and returned) than money.
     Gunnut the hobby machines that are mentioned aren't big enough to do the type of work that you mentioned. Bigger machines like a 12x36 would be the absolute smallest that would work for light work. Hopefully justsomdude and Tenn Mike will give their opinion on it.
    Refusing to conform to the left wing mantra of political correctness by insisting on telling the truth does not make you a loud mouth.
  • DrawbarFlatsDrawbarFlats Posts: 788 Senior Member
    bhl2506 said:
    TennMike gave some very good web sites on your steam engine thread. As I was going to tell you the same thing about getting started on a budget. Little machine shop is a good place to start. If you're going to to do small projects like steam engines and modeling projects you won't need anything bigger.
     If you want to get into other things  than that I would definitely go with something bigger. Grizzley, Jet, Precision Mathews ate pretty good machines imo.
    He sure did. I spent all last evening checking that site out. Great stuff! I also found this guy who specializes in building steam engines. Thanks for all your help bhl. 





     
  • DrawbarFlatsDrawbarFlats Posts: 788 Senior Member
    edited June 2020 #19
    tennmike said:
    Grizzly Industrial has some good lathes and milling machines for the hobbyist that are good for anything from guns to steam engines. Not much is made in the U.S. anymore for the hobbyist in that respect; most is made in China, Japan, SE Asia, and India. You can still find older American made lathes and mills for sale, but need someone to go with you that knows what to look for as to condition. 
    The lathe and mill are cheap compared to what you'll spend in tooling, too.
    If you have a Vocational/Technical school nearby that teaches lathe and mill work then that would be a good place to start for instruction. Also check for  hobbyist groups in the area. And Youtube has lots of videos on how to  do things and setups. 
    A Vocational/Tech school is an ideal place to learn how to do machining if you have one in the area. Cost isn't much when you consider that you get hands on instruction.
    Machinist's Workshop magazine and website have a lot of info on machining, and they have a lot of online things on their forum about most anything you'd want to build, including steam engines and boilers.
    Thanks Mike!!! I've been researching some tech classes and there are several availabe in my area. I tell ya though, it's easy to get overwhelmed with all the tools and equipment. I think I'm narrowing it down to possible choices to get started After that it's just a matter of getting the correct instruction and slowly adding to the inventory as I learn..  
  • JustsomedudeJustsomedude Posts: 607 Senior Member
    GunNut said:
    I was fortunate enough to learn from my dad, a tool and die maker. I also had the benefit of using his machines since he had a lathe, mill, drill press, and punch press in his shop. People laugh at the thought but it doesn't hurt to start from scratch with books and videos. Its also not bad to start out with mini machines like you can get at harbor freight. They handle metal, albeit with smaller cuts but you'll learn geometry, setups and operation with them and can always move up to larger equipment. 
    So that's interesting...  Will those machines handles simple tasks like cutting and crowning barrels.  I'm assuming that the precision is not good enough to do serious work but I'd love to be able do some entry level work like crowning a barrel or maybe drilling and tapping a receiver without having to send it out but I don't want to spend a fortune to gain a capability that will be used once or twice a year.  It's really more of an issue of patience in my part (having to mail out stuff and waiting for it to get done and returned) than money.
    Of the mini mill and lathe, the mill is actually quite capable of 95% of firearm jobs that you can throw at it. Its the lathe that limits what you can do with guns, mostly because the spindle bore is too small to put a barrel through and then you don't have the bed length to make up for it by using a steady rest. The absolute shortest lathe you would want is 30", regardless of the spindle bore size. Of course the bigger the spindle bore the better. Lathe swing is something I've yet to ever have a problem with when it comes to gunsmithing. My advice for the mini lathe was just a recommendation as an introductory  to machining. What you learn with it applies to any size machine.
  • LinefinderLinefinder Moderator Posts: 7,249 Senior Member
    Wish I could offer more advice, but I've got zero experience with mini machines. The smallest machine I've ever had access to would, if installed in my garage, be a foot below grade within a week.

    Machining is kind of like industrial sheet-metal work. The equipment is so large, heavy, and expensive (to both feed and run), once you retire from the trade.....you're pretty much out of it. 

    Mike
    "Walking away seems to be a lost art form."
    N454casull
  • DrawbarFlatsDrawbarFlats Posts: 788 Senior Member
    Wish I could offer more advice, but I've got zero experience with mini machines. The smallest machine I've ever had access to would, if installed in my garage, be a foot below grade within a week.

    Machining is kind of like industrial sheet-metal work. The equipment is so large, heavy, and expensive (to both feed and run), once you retire from the trade.....you're pretty much out of it. 

    Mike
    No worries, Linefinder. You guys have been a great help.
  • LinefinderLinefinder Moderator Posts: 7,249 Senior Member
    IME, if you're a plumber  or electrician, you can sort of do your job on the side after you retire, kind of....light duty jobs.

    If you're a machinist or metal worker.....forget it. You're done.

    Mike 
    "Walking away seems to be a lost art form."
    N454casull
  • zorbazorba Senior Member Posts: 23,949 Senior Member
    Wish I could offer more advice, but I've got zero experience with mini machines. The smallest machine I've ever had access to would, if installed in my garage, be a foot below grade within a week.

    Machining is kind of like industrial sheet-metal work. The equipment is so large, heavy, and expensive (to both feed and run), once you retire from the trade.....you're pretty much out of it. 

    Mike
    This reminds me of the large lathe that was - and probably still is - in my H.S. metal shop. Instructor paid $500 for it in the late 1950s, and the school admin bitched about it for years. Military surplus, I once saw an entire truck differential/axle chucked into the thing - and I'm not talking about one off a Chevy Luv either!
    -Zorba, "The Veiled Male"

    "If you get it and didn't work for it, someone else worked for it and didn't get it..."
  • JustsomedudeJustsomedude Posts: 607 Senior Member
    edited June 2020 #25
    Not to discount what Linefinder said, but alot of people buy old lathes and mills from resalers or even private sellers, which are usually some of the best machines after a thorough clean and adjust. Some of the best machines I've worked with were pre WWII as a matter of fact. 

    But back to what I was saying before I sidetracked myself. Many of people have these things set up in their shop such as my old man did. I'll never understand how he was able to get a lathe, mill, drill and punch press into our basement, but he did and it was a fully operational shop. The majority of hobbyists also aren't going to spend a quarter million and buy a huge CNC anyhow. If you're on Facebook, you'll find some nice old machinery for a steal all day long on their marketplace. What ever you do, just take the dive and get started any way you can. Once I learned the world was made out of lines and circles, it changed my life forever. 
  • Diver43Diver43 Senior Member Posts: 11,133 Senior Member
    Not to discount what Linefinder said, but alot of people buy old lathes and mills from resalers or even private sellers, which are usually some of the best machines after a thorough clean and adjust. Some of the best machines I've worked with were pre WWII as a matter of fact. 

    But back to what I was saying before I sidetracked myself. Many of people have these things set up in their shop such as my old man did. I'll never understand how he was able to get a lathe, mill, drill and punch press into our basement, but he did and it was a fully operational shop. The majority of hobbyists also aren't going to spend a quarter million and buy a huge CNC anyhow. If you're on Facebook, you'll find some nice old machinery for a steal all day long on their marketplace. What ever you do, just take the dive and get started any way you can. Once I learned the world was made out of lines and circles, it changed my life forever. 
    I hear ya. BUT. some of those lines and circles make about as much sense as 1s and 0s to some
    Logistics cannot win a war, but its absence or inadequacy can cause defeat. FM100-5
  • tennmiketennmike Senior Member Posts: 27,452 Senior Member
    GunNut said:
    So that's interesting...  Will those machines handles simple tasks like cutting and crowning barrels.  I'm assuming that the precision is not good enough to do serious work but I'd love to be able do some entry level work like crowning a barrel or maybe drilling and tapping a receiver without having to send it out but I don't want to spend a fortune to gain a capability that will be used once or twice a year.  It's really more of an issue of patience in my part (having to mail out stuff and waiting for it to get done and returned) than money.
    No. The mini lathes are way past useless for firearms work. No way could you do any barrel crowning with the mini lathes; the hole through the headstock isn't even close to big enough to pass a rifle barrel through it to get it set up for barrel crowning or barrel work. I was given one of those mini lathes that had a broken drive belt. Ordered a new drive belt and tried it out on some small jobs. My language deteriorated rapidly. Motor had inadequate power for even aluminum stock unless run at high speed. To change feeds for threading the gears had to be manually removed and replaced with others to change thread pitch. Good thing I got the manual  with it, otherwise it would have been unusable for threading. And it sucked at threading with extremely sharp hand ground or carbide tool bits.
    Like already recommended, a 12" x 36" machine (that's what I  have) is the way to go for barrel work , including chambering. When chambering you need that 'back gearing' in the headstock to slow it way down; chambering needs to be a 'cut a little and clean often' job. And an air compressor to blow out chips  in the  barrel, and off the chambering reamer is necessary, IMHO. When chambering, the chips are NOT your friends. Also,  when chambering, a thick rubber floor mat is your friend; dropping a reamer on a concrete floor will make you say bad words when it snaps in half. Ask me how I know that. :D
    Miilling machines> I have one of  these 'mini milling machines' and it will offer more than enough precision to drill and tap receivers and do  other gun work. It's my go-to for working on small parts. And I've done a few plastic and aluminum 80% AR15 receivers with it, too. Just have to work within it's limitiations and make sure you've set it up 'right and tight' when you take it out of the box. I have WAY more $$$ in tooling for it than the mill cost; that's typical for both lathes and mills.
    Here's the mini mill I  bought; true inch, not metric measurements. And it has plenty of power for a machine that small.







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    ― Douglas Adams
  • GunNutGunNut Posts: 6,287 Senior Member
    Cool info.  I think I will put this on the back burner for now...
    Old West Saying: God created men, but Col. Sam Colt made them equal.

    General George Patton:  “Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.”

  • tennmiketennmike Senior Member Posts: 27,452 Senior Member
    GunNut said:
    Cool info.  I think I will put this on the back burner for now...
    Here's one place that sells quality used lathes and mills, and some are American made equipment. Gives you a feel for what to expect to pay for the good stuff.
    You could also hit up Hotrod Lincoln on that secret Facebook site. He might know of some good places to get quality used machinery, too.


      I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer”
    ― Douglas Adams
  • LinefinderLinefinder Moderator Posts: 7,249 Senior Member
    Not to discount what Linefinder said, but alot of people buy old lathes and mills from resalers or even private sellers, which are usually some of the best machines after a thorough clean and adjust. Some of the best machines I've worked with were pre WWII as a matter of fact. 

    But back to what I was saying before I sidetracked myself. Many of people have these things set up in their shop such as my old man did. I'll never understand how he was able to get a lathe, mill, drill and punch press into our basement, but he did and it was a fully operational shop. The majority of hobbyists also aren't going to spend a quarter million and buy a huge CNC anyhow. If you're on Facebook, you'll find some nice old machinery for a steal all day long on their marketplace. What ever you do, just take the dive and get started any way you can. Once I learned the world was made out of lines and circles, it changed my life forever. 
    I certainly can't disagree with a single thing you've said. My point was,  if someone is considering it as a "retirement income" or as a hobby......you better have deep pockets. Forget the fact that you need a foundation that'll take the pounding. Forget the fact that you'll need a rigging company capable of placing the machinery where it needs to be (usually under a low roof). The electrical you'll need is a pretty hefty expense, too. The transport of the equipment from its' current residence to its' new one often is higher than the cost of the equipment.

    And then you have the cost of tooling. I've not checked the cost of a set of parallels lately, but good ones aren't cheap. A B&S Test Indicator runs upward of $275. A carbide 1/2" 4 flute endmill ( I go through 2-3 a week) are $60 each. And I haven't even touched on 1% of the stuff one will need.

    Machining will be the second trade I've given up after leaving it.

    I don't understand how your Dad got it into the basement, either. I think I couldn't drag a single piece of machinery into my garage.

    "Walking away seems to be a lost art form."
    N454casull
  • JustsomedudeJustsomedude Posts: 607 Senior Member
    Just out of curiosity, how the hell are you burning up carbide end mills? I'm still on all of my originals, including HSS.
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