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Sherline 5400 versus Micro Mark Milling machines


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I have read and read about mini milling machines on the net and here at MSW and I am still at a loss as to which mill to buy.   With the price range being anywhere from about $800 to $1200 depending on where it is coming from, accessories included, freight, etc. for me it is now more a matter of what is the best choice based on input from those of you that have used one or both of these.  I am not trying to start an argument on which is best, just looking for some additional guidance to what I have read so far before spending that kind of money.   Any other brands suggestions are most welcome.  Thanks! 

Allan

 

Edited by allanyed
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Indeed Alan, I have come to the same mindset. What would be the features of a sensible buy and what are the real options for a versatile machine?

I do not need a milling machine (and cannot afford one just right now) but I sure want one!

It seems that the main issues are the travel limits of the table and the spindle speed, whether it can go low enough for wood.

 

Vaddoc

 

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Micro Mark is a dealer, so the question is which machines did you look at ? I gather they mainly import machines from China, but have some sort of quality control, which you may not have, when you buy e.g. directly.

 

When choosing your first machine it might also be important to assess your own machining skills and whether you feel capable to make your own attachments - and the will to learn it.

 

Sherline offers a fairly complete range of attachments. My concern would be that the structural material is aluminium, but it seems that many successful modellers and horologists use them without problems. Perhaps one should not work too much steel with them.

 

An old rule-of-thumb when buying a machine is that one should go for one twice the size/capacity one thinks first ... this means one should think carefully about what kind of parts/attachments/fixtures you expect to make. This determines the travel along the three axes.

 

A modeller doesn't really 'need' a (milling) machine - after all it is a hobby. However, once you have one, you will wonder, how you managed without one up to then ;)

 

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I had the MM milling machine.  Not great, but not bad.  The more could have been more powerful and bed wider (front to back) but serviceable for modeling. It did have some vibration issues as the motor assembly/chuck, etc. was set up to be tilted and I think that wasn't a good thing for stability or accuracy.   I currently have a mill from Little Machine Shop Model 4660.  It's pricier than the MM but wow... more accurate and many of the accessories I bought for the MM machine work just fine on the one I have now.  

 

I did look at the Sherline but I ended up with the Little Machine Shop one but off the top of my head, I don't remember why.

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Thank you all for your input. 

Do I need one?   I have used a small drill press to mill in the past, but as the bearings are set up for Y axis movement and not X or Z, it is not the best way to go.  It worked well enough that I know I want to have a proper machine for wood and perhaps for brass as well.  I suspect it is better to use the mill as a drill press than to use a drill press as a mill.   The hardest part of justifying the expense is getting the admiral to understand the need.  She did ask what I would like from her for our fiftieth wedding anniversary present so it is on her now :)    

Thanks again!

Allan

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I can't speak from firsthand experience, but Sherline is highly thought of for a small lightweight machine tool in their price range. MicroMark just retails Sherline products. I'd urge you to check Sherline's website. Last time I checked, they sold some pretty good packaged deals and if you run into any problems, it's likely going to be a lot easier dealing with the manufacturer directly than going through MicroMark. As you probably know, the tooling can end up running as much as a lathe or mill to equip it well. 

 

I'd also suggest you take a look at Grizzly's line of small mills. They are Asian-built, but Grizzly has good quality control and excellent customer service. https://www.grizzly.com/search?q=(mills)'

 

As said above, if you have any use for a mill at all, you'll probably soon have a use for a larger one than what you bought. The Sherline is a rather small machine with limited power. It's nice to have the ability to do more with a larger, more powerful machine.

 

Above all, look for a machine that has common tooling parameters. If you have a machine that requires proprietary or oddball tooling, prepare to take out a second mortgage. 

 

 

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2 hours ago, allanyed said:

The hardest part of justifying the expense is getting the admiral to understand the need.  She did ask what I would like from her for our fiftieth wedding anniversary present so it is on her now :)    

 

I think if you let her know you need it to build your next model which will lead to your next book which will then pay for the mill...  (kinda like the circle of life ...)

 

 

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I own the Sherline mill so I guess I'll weigh in with a few things to consider. Before I do, though, if you don't already own a metal lathe, I'd recommend making that your first purchase over a mill. You will use it FAR more often. That aside, the main thing to consider between the Sherline and a mini-mill is the size. I sometimes find the Sherline to be a bit small for some things I'd like to do. But I simply don't have room in my shop for a larger mill. The mini-mill offers more travel in all three axes than the Sherline and that could occasionally be useful. At the time I bought my mill, Sherline didn't offer larger and taller columns, but they do now, so that would be something to consider.  On the other hand, the large mini-mills are MUCH heavier. The one Micromark sells weighs 110 pounds. There's no chance I could get that up on a cabinet by myself or even get it out of the box! As for power, I have not found any limitation with the Sherline. I'm not trying to hog out 1/4" deep cuts in steel with a half-inch cutter, of course. On the other hand, if I needed some deep cut in steel, I could do it with the Sherline - it just might take a little longer.  For ship modeling, it's not likely you're going to need a lot of power and you're probably going to be cutting more brass and wood than you are steel.

 

One feature I like on the Sherline that I don't believe is available on the MM mill is the ability to rotate the headstock by 90 degrees. I'm not talking about rotating the column - just the headstock. When I make propellers, I use this feature to cut slots in the hub. There's probably a way to do that without rotating the headstock but it seems to me it would require a more difficult setup.

 

If you decide to go with Sherline, you might want to compare prices at Discount Campus - http://www.discountcampus.com/

I've bought all my Sherline equipment through them because they offer a better price. They are an authorized reseller and, in fact, the equipment winds up getting shipped directly from Sherline in any case.

 

Another thing to consider is adding the DRO option. I don't have it on my lathe and don't miss it, but I find it VERY useful on the mill. And, by all means, get it with one of the accessory packages. Also consider a rotary table. Very useful for things like steering wheels.

 

Bottom line, if I had it to do over again, I'd go with the Sherline with larger table and column.

 

Hope that helps some -

John

 

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4 hours ago, allanyed said:

The hardest part of justifying the expense is getting the admiral to understand the need. 

It's an unfair world. 

The admiral recently decided she needs a new hob, extractor fan and living room furniture. My opinion was needed and was given to me...It would not work the same with the milling machine.

 

Is it possible to covert the milling machines mentioned so far to computer guided/router with reasonable bother and expenses?

 

Vaddoc

 

 

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Two observations:

 

- I use the Sherline motors on my watchmakers mill (until it ate the commutator) and lathe (the older one that still works) and never found it lacks power (in this case the transmission with round belts is the limitation).

 

- I am using the lathe and the mill equally often probably; there are many things that can be done on a lathe, but not on a mill; many things can be done on a lathe with a vertical slide, that can be done on a mill.

 

Sherline offers CNC-ready machines and conversion kits. I gather third-party conversion kits are available for the other makes.

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I certainly agree with wefalck that a good lathe with a milling attachment, as noted above, is an excellent and far less expensive and much more versatile option for occasional routine milling jobs, albeit less convenient than a dedicated mill. I have the milling attachment for my 12" X 42" Atlas/Craftsman lathe and the milling setup option for my Unimat machine and between those two machines can do just about any milling I'd ever need for modeling and, of course, with the 12" X 42" lathe, a whole lot more. I was lucky to acquire the 12" X 42" lathe and just about all the tooling anyone could ever need at an incredibly low price from the widow of a master machinist. Those "barn finds" are hard to come by. It's an old machine and not "computerized," but it will do just about anything one could want and certainly a lot more than I will ever have the skill to do with it. The Unimat, on the other hand, while a great machine, was something of a "money pit," because, unlike the very common Atlas/Craftsman, the generic tooling for which is widely available at various quality and price points, the Unimat's tooling is practically exclusively proprietary and the Unimat SL hasn't been manufactured since the 1970's, so I had to follow eBay for months and spend far more in the end than I'd anticipated to equip it as I wished with its now-rare tooling in high demand.

 

Someone once said that the accuracy of a machine tool is directly proportional to the weight of the tool and I've never seen that observation proven to be inaccurate. Dedicated space can be a problem for many. That's understood, but there's a lot to recommend the "old 'arn" machines and used machines in good condition are often the "best bang for your buck." If you can live without the modern digital readout CNC technology, good bargains can now be found with the analog machines. 

 

For me, at least, the two most important factors to consider for machine tools are that 1) you can always do smaller work on a larger machine tool, but you can't do larger work on a smaller one and 2) the more commonly available the tooling, the better. The latter consideration is the most important because the tooling is where the real expense of the lathe or mill is incurred.

 

Don't assume that every mill can double as a drill press. Most mills lack the range of quill and table movement that drill presses do. There are some mills that are designed to serve both purposes and they are priced accordingly. If you are intending to use a mill as a drill press, make sure you have enough room between the chuck and the table and enough quill range of movement to drill holes deep enough in the size of material you will be drilling.

 

As much as I hate to have to admit it, the ubiquitous products of the Patriotic People's Revolutionary Machine Tool Collective may well offer the most for the money in today's market. The small 7" to 10" Chinese benchtop lathes with their extensive and readily available generic tooling are among the most versatile machines on the market. Their lathe milling attachments look entirely adequate for modeling milling applications.  While many have complained about their low quality, it seems you get what you pay for. For a few bucks more, the higher end retailers, like Grizzly, make sure the "clones" they sell are up to specifications, while outfits like Harbor Freight... not so much.

 

One thing's for sure:  One can easily end up spending as much or more on tooling than on the basic lathe or mill, just to fully equip it for basic work. Whatever the retailers add in their "package deals" is only enough to get you "hooked" on the hard stuff. 

 

 https://www.grizzly.com/metal-lathes

https://www.grizzly.com/cutting-tools-and-tooling?page=1

 

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Personally, I prefer these old-time machines and have a whole collection of antique watchmaking lathes and milling machines.

 

However, some people prefer the Sherline machines even in a professional context in spite of also having antique machinery. Take a certain Jerry Kieffer for example, who is mentioned on the Sherline Web-site and who is an accomplished model engineer and a professional horologist. Using aluminium alloys, these machines appear to be stiffer than you would expect from their weight.

 

Otherwise, it is certainly true that a a heavy machine reduces vibrations, which adds to the precision of the work. While it is also true that one can do delicate work on a big high-quality machine, I found that having to move large masses of cross-slides by cranking not necessarily adds to the quality of small parts. This is one reason, why watchmakers lathes are small. For the same reason I built myself a micro-milling machine from watchmakers lathe parts.

 

If one is already a reasonably accomplished meccanic, one can probably take one of these Chinese lathes and milling machines and turn it into a useful tool. It is kind of safe to consider them as kits in an advanced stage of machining ;)

 

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Just to add my observations - and possibly confuse matters.

 

When I bought my lathe and mill I first considered a combination machine. In the end I bought a separate mill and drill and ever since I have congratulated myself that I made the right decision. The problem is that in the normal course of machining a component I frequently find myself hopping between turning an milling operations - easily done when you have 2 machines but not that easy when you have to change over a combination machine from turning to milling operations and then back again. In my view the only reason to consider a combination machine is either lack of space or money.

 

One of the fundamental aspects a competent machine should have is mass. With mass comes the strength to resist the forces that are created by the cutting operation. Mass and strength combine to reduce deflections and vibrations - improving machine accuracy and surface finish. In this respect steel (or even better cast iron) have significant advantages over aluminium. Youngs Modulus for steel and cast iron is far better than that for Aluminium and this means that deflections are proportionately lower for a given load.

 

You can make small parts on a large machine but you can't make large parts on a small machine. Better to get a bigger machine than you think you need.

 

I do hear a lot of misinformation about Chinese machines, particularly ones supplied by reputable home based distributors and manufactured under their own supervisory inspection regimes. Earlier today I was reading the 3 jaw chuck spec sheet for Sherline Chuck and it said:- 

 

Due to the nature of the design of a 3-jaw chuck, it cannot be expected to run perfectly true. Even 3-jaw chucks costing five times more than the one made for this lathe will have a 0.002" to 0.003" runout. If perfect accuracy is desired in a particular operation, the use of a 4-jaw chuck or a collet is recommended. Both are available for your Sherline Lathe.https://sherline.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/1040inst.pdf

 

couldn't actually find a quoted accuracy for the Sherline Chuck but the implication is that it is somewhat more than .002" to 003". The statement about chucks costing five times more prompted me to check my lathe chuck. I found that the runout eccentricity was just under .002" while the axial error was so small I couldn't measure it, and this from a 7 year old Chinese lathe. Chinese machines can be very good value for money.

Edited by KeithAug
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Keith,

My goto reference (LittleMachineShop.com) suggests that one install the chuck on the lathe and mark the location (file scribe) and then true it. Not hard to do but patience is your biggest asset.  Sidenote:  When I did it, my little MM lathe was very close... like just touch of the cutter solved it.  I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.

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THANKS AGAIN  to everyone.  I have had a lathe for years and have lived without the milling machine for as long, so agree that the lathe is a better thing to have given I would only be able to have one or the other.    Still torn, but hope to have a mill on order in the not too distant future.

Allan

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I’d echo what Jhearl said and say if you are going to go with Sherline, think about the higher column and wider table for more flexibility.  When I was looking a while back, it was recommended that I didn’t need the top of the line 3-axis model for ship model purposes.  Also check prices on Sherline’s monthly sales and discount campus.  
 

Sherline is great with all the accessories that are available, many of which can be used with their lathe.  Honestly I haven’t used the mill yet much for model work, but in part it’s because I was less clear about it’s functionality aside from drill press operations.  I’ve used the lathe a ton for pen turning this past year and am a lot more proficient with it, which I think can carry forward to the mill.  
 

For those looking at the lathe, I would think about moving up to the 17” bed if you have space.  The 8” bed quickly gets used up if you are going to start adding drill chucks, etc.  For model work 8” is probably sufficient, but if you are planning on other turning projects, for $100 more I would jump to the larger size.  I had a very hard time turning pen blanks on my 8”, so ended up selling it and buying a 17”.    
 

Now that I’m somewhat proficient with the lathe, I am planning to do masts and spars on it.  Sherline recently introduced a live center for ship model work that has a cup at the end, rather than the typical 60 degree point.  I haven’t tried it yet but it looks promising.

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  • 1 month later...

Hello Mike,

I've been at work on the Pegasus again after a long delay. I've gotten to the masts and, as you'll remember, portions of most masts and yards are square. I've been trying to merge the two designs onto some masts where (from bottom to top) there will be a square, then round/tapered, then square of one diameter then another. How did you go about making the square portions and aligning the faces from one segment to the other? Is there a tutorial for this that you know of?

 

I'd appreciate your assistance or those of other correspondents.

 

Chris Miller

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Hi Chris,

 

I’ve only put together masts and yards for my Badger build, and haven’t yet for the Pegasus, etc.  For the Badger, the instruction manual had you prepare things in pieces.  For example, the yards were in three sections, with the round tapered ends pinned to the octagonal middle section.  That generally worked fine, but I distinctly recall having issues with a couple of them flexing at the joint particularly when rigging was applied.  That was frustrating.
 

For my next builds, to avoid that flexing issue, I’m going to try building them in a single piece on the lathe using square stock.  Turn the rounded ends then part off.  Just have to take careful measurements.

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Nobody loves the Sherline lathe more than me but for masts and spars I believe it's easier and more accurate to do them the old fashioned way. Most masts and yards on naval vessels were not round over their entire length (octagonal yard centers and square mastheads). Besides, the problem of deflection is significant especially over a long fitting like the lower mast. Starting with square stock then proceeding to octagonal then round is simple, fast and fun. The process is well described in David Antscherl's Vol. 4 of The Fully Framed Model.

Edited by dvm27
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3 hours ago, dvm27 said:

Nobody loves the Sherline lathe more than me but for masts and spars I believe it's easier and more accurate to do them the old fashioned way. Most masts and yards on naval vessels were not round over their entire length (octagonal yard centers and square mastheads). Besides, the problem of deflection is significant especially over a long fitting like the lower mast. Starting with square stock then proceeding to octagonal then round is simple, fast and fun. The process is well described in David Antscherl's Vol. 4 of The Fully Framed Model.

Have you tried using a steady or follower rest?  I think those items help with some of the flexing issues.  
 

Given that folks are building billiard cue sticks using the Sherline lathe, I would think that flex can be minimized.

Edited by Landlubber Mike
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I have used it Mike. But I found it difficult to use with a tapered round as most masts are. Just to much work to keep adjusting the holders to the different widths. In addition, the diameter of some spars was smaller than the smallest retaining diameter of the steady rest. I have had success using my gloved finger as a steady rest. It follows the opposite side of the piece, applying steady pressure during the cutting operation. Takes some practice to prevent over deflection but it's really not too difficult. But I have gone through a couple cheap pairs of work gloves!

 

My current model Speedwell has some challenging masts. The main mast starts as a tapering octagonal, proceeds to tapering round then ends up square at the mastheads. Not a shape readily amenable to the lathe.

 

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Edited by dvm27
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If you have a Byrnes saw or equivalent, a home made taper jig is easy to fabricate.  For a straight tapered mast like those fitted on rigged ships boats a square tapered stick may be quickly ripped using the jig.  A few passes on each corner with a model makers plane gives you an octagon.  The spar may then be finished with a sanding block either by hand or chucked up in a slow turning drill.

 

Roger

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Gloves on a lathe are an absolute no-no. Many fingers got ripped off, because the glove got caught in a chuck etc. Don't underestimate the power of even small hobby lathes.

 

An old engineer's trick is to use a piece of cardboard as fixed steady. If you have a fixed steady, you can attach the cardboard to this. If you don't you make one yourself e.g. with some pieces of wood. As the makeshift steadies are easy to make and cheap, you may have even several of them for very thin parts.

 

In the old days lathes also often had a steady that formed a kind of frame (as in a slide projector) into which two pieces of wood or cardboard could be slid, one below and one above the work piece. Both parts had a half-round hole of the approximate diameter of the workpiece cut in. The parts could be clamped in the frame.

 

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