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Hi all,


I wanted to make a post here and get a feel on people's opinions on this topic. I've been looking at the Proxxon MF70 and I'm trying to determine if such a thing would be worth purchasing given my situation. Basically, I do only kit builds at this point. At my current experience level, I don't feel that I'm quite prepared to dive into the world of scratch builds so, to keep it simple, I stay with kits. I have a couple models under my belt, the most recent being Amati's HMS Pegasus. I don't currently have anything on the bench right at this moment, but I've been following James's build log of the prototype HMS Sphinx and  am strongly considering that as my next project.


My main question is would a mill be worth buying for me? I'd really like to see some examples and pictures of things people have accomplished using a mill. I'm curious what all can be accomplished with one and how much the use of a mill can simplify and improve a final project.


I don't do a ton of other wood hobby work other than the occasional furniture item, but i do have a lathe that I've made pens and such on. 


Additionally, I have a dremel rotary tool. Based on my research, the dremel brand work station is one to stay away from, but I've also looked at the Vanda-Lay Acra mill as a possible option. It would be nice to be able to make good use of the dremel tool I currently already own. I don't have a drill press either, so a mill would probably fill that niche for me as well, for small, ship model sized applications, that is.


Anyway, if anyone has any insight that might help sway my opinion,  I'd appreciate it, as well as if anyone has any specific examples and/or pictures on how they've used a mill to improve their build, or if they've found any unique tricks or techniques to get the most out of the tool, I'd greatly appreciate the information! 



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when I started modeling it was with kits. And along about the 3rd or 4th there were parts of the kit that I could do better (blocks, gratings, etc.). Pretty soon I figured I could also do a POB hull, just with the stuff you have plus a preac saw. That was it. Haven’t had to build a kit since which opens the world to you of possible modeling subjects. Now the mill. I bought one 3-4 years ago. Huge difference only limited by your imagination. I got a Sherline with DRO. I can’t opine as to the flexibility of the Proxxon, but it’s probably a good entry tool. Heck, at least you’ll be able to drill holes in a straight line! Go for it!


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If you have the money to burn and any sort of economy in a budget is not a goal, go for a serious precision mill.  Understand, that the necessary tooling will probably be be equal to the price of the mill if not more.   There will be few jobs for it where something less expensive will not be sufficient and it will mostly be a tool looking for a task.  Think of it as primarily a tool for those doing scratch POF with a focus on replicating the usually hidden internal support structure.  The real value for a mill as well as for a precision lathe is fabricating your own tools from metal raw material. 


As for another question it would probably save you some frustration and futility if you forgo any attempt at trying to use the Dremel as anything but a hand held rotary tool.  Unless you are doing a lot of trunneling, you are probably seeing it as a paper weight with POB kits.  Unless the expenditure is on drill bits or cutting tools, money spent on accessories to turn it into another sort of tool will probably be money that is wasted.


To repeat something glib,  a serious mill and especially a precision lathe fit well under a version of the Yacht Rule: 

If you have to ask if you need one, then it is probably something that you do not need - yet.



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Tony; I can’t comment on the mill but I might consider a drill press before purchasing a mill. (I’m not saying I’d use a drill press as a mill.) I’m not sure how others feel about this...Moab

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Moab said:

Tony; I can’t comment on the mill but I might consider a drill press before purchasing a mill. (I’m not saying I’d use a drill press as a mill.) I’m not sure how others feel about this...Moab


But you could theoretically use a mill as a drill press though, right? With the mindset of being as economical as possible, I'm leaning towards the mill with the thought that it could fulfill both the purpose of a mill as well as a miniature drill press, vs a drill press that could only really be used efficiently for that specific task. Thoughts?


Granted if in the future I wanted a full sized drill press for other projects not related to ship modeling, I'd probably go with a regular, normal sized press. 

Edited by Captain T
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If you want a mill, by all means get one, but the best rules to follow with tools, and particularly expensive ones, is not to buy one until you have a job that you can't do without one and then buy the best tool you can afford. If you say you only do kit builds at this point, I really don't think the cost of even the Vanda-Lay AcraMill is justified. (And, within their understood performance parameters, the Vanda-Lay devices are quite good, although limited when coupled with a Dremel mototool. They really don't approach their full potential unless they are coupled with a Foredom flex-shaft and handpiece for reasons discussed several times over in this forum.) 


That said, with two models under your belt and no sense of taking it to the next level yet, I wouldn't recommend your spending big bucks on a lot of "heavy artillery." I'd suggest you concentrate on acquiring a good selection of top quality hand tools before anything else. Get a Dremel, if you must, but realize that its usefulness is limited. (I use mine all the time with cut-off wheels to saw through small tool steel parts and such, but for little else.) If you come to really enjoy the hobby, I expect you will soon become dissatisfied with all but the highest quality (and priced) latest generation of kits. If you stay at it for any amount of time, you will become dissatisfied with the quality of the materials in many kits and start replacing parts and wood, thereby commencing your slide into the depths of the "Dark Side," scratchbuilding. You will likely also become frustrated with the limited range of kit subjects to build and want to build something that hasn't been built in kit form many times over.


In my opinion, I think a dedicated mill becomes necessary only if you find yourself needing to do a fair amount of milling of solid metal. Depending upon the era of your interest, you may never need one or find one essential. Before you buy a mill (and its attendant tooling, which will likely cost at least as much as the mill before you get done,) there are many other very useful tools that will improve the quality of your work and save a lot of time, energy, and in some cases, money. Considering your present level of modeling, as described, and assuming you are able to invest the money in quality tools and tooling, I'd suspect the following shopping list in progressive order of priority, anticipating that your modeling skill increases apace:


1.    Foredom flex-shaft tool with a minimum of the collet and the chuck handpieces, plus a good selection of bits and other tooling.


2.    A standard-sized  bench-top drill press which, with a decent micro-chuck, will drill accurate holes of any size. (A Vanda-Lay drill press or AcraMill with the clamps to hold a Foredom handpiece will serve well, but, for the same cost, is limited in the size work it can handle.) 


3.    A decent X-Y table for the drill press. (Which will allow very limited lightweight milling of wood if judiciously done. Drill presses aren't designed to take the lateral stress imposed by milling processes. The X-Y table will ensure accurate placement of drilled holes, as well.)


4.    The Byrnes Model Machines disk sander. (And a good shop vacuum to collect the dust.)


5.    The Byrnes Model Machines table saw with sliding table attachment. (Which is essential for milling one's own strip wood, etc. Accept no substitutes!) 


6.     The Byrnes Model Machines thickness sander. (Which is essential for milling one's own sheet stock and strip wood.)


7.     A quality scroll saw.


*.     At a minimum, A decent Sieg 7X lathe with milling attachment or a Sherline lathe with the necessary attachments and tooling.


Note that there is much discussion of lathes in this forum. Keep in mind that a decent lathe will work on smaller pieces, but a small lathe will never be able to work on larger pieces. Some folks have space limitations or wish the particular features of watchmaker's lathes, which are another animal entirely. A used Atlas 12X  or Myford 7 in good condition with extensive tooling, for example, can often be had for considerably less than a new micro-lathe such as the Sherline. The Sieg 7X lathes are Chinese-made and notorious for requiring a rebuild and extensive fetteling right out of the box, but by paying a bit more from one with a quality badge (e.g. Grizzly or Little Machine Shop,) one can be reasonably certain of avoiding a lot of grief in that respect.


8.    Last, but certainly not least in expense, a quality small milling machine such as the Sherline or Sieg models. Keep in mind, however, that if you have a mid-sized bench top lathe (e.g. 12X,) and it's horizontal milling attachment, you may well find you've eliminated the need for a stand-alone milling machine entirely.


Just my two cents worth. Others' mileage may vary.


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Thanks everyone for the responses. Based on what I'm seeing, its looking like for my purposes, a mill at this stage might be overkill. With a focus primarily on kits, nine times out of ten, I can probably get the desired results with the tools that I have and a little work. It seems like most everyone is recommending that I start looking at mills and more expensive tools after a I have a few models under my belt and I start to develop more experience and realize that I'm unsatisfied with kit offerings, both in individual parts and fittings, as well as subjects.

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All add..... mills are nice and pricey.  However, much work can be down with a dremel type and few hand tools like files and sandpaper that mills and even lathes are used for.  There's several topics on using a dremel type as a lathe.  I have a lathe, not used it much except to turn some cannon and masts.  Tasks I found could be done using the Dremel tools.  The mill I have, is being patient with me as use if more than the lathe but not nearly as much as my small table or my jig  saw.  Those last two, I'd highly recommend.  


I'd say take a look at what you're building and what tools are needed to get the job done or be modified/used in a different way to get it done.

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Posted (edited)

A mill is very handy for two basic types of work.


As Tom said above, with a mill you can do precision work when drilling lines of evenly spaced holes (pin rails, etc.) or cutting straight precision grooves. It is useful for making multiple copies of things like the sides of gun carriages, gratings and such.


If you get a rotary table you can then make more complicated things like wheels and such. And a dividing head (it has stops for rotation at precise angles) allows precision machining of things like holes for spokes in a wheel hub, etc.


Once you get used to working with a mill you can do a lot of interesting things.




The big difference between a  mill and a drill press is that the bearings in a drill press are just designed for single axis up/down drilling. You can position the table below the drill and then drill a hole, but it isn't designed to work with forces perpendicular to the drill axis. You can use a Dremel in a press for milling (I have done this) but if you do this often it will wear out the bearings relatively quickly.


A mill is basically a three axis drill press.The bearings in a mill are designed to cut into material moving at right angles to the axis, such as when you use an end mill to carve a groove into a piece of material fastened to the moving table. Especially if the material is steel or brass. And you can do anything with a mill that you can do with a drill press.




Another thing a mill is useful for is making very specific tools. For example, on an upcoming project I will need about eight feet of a thin brass strip with two rows of alternately spaced rivet heads. For this I will need a special tool. It could be a tool for use in an arbor press that has a custom created punch and die and provision to increment the position of the strip with each successive stamping, or a geared roller arrangement to pull the brass strip through a rotating pair of punch/dies. Either way I will have to make the tool and a mill will be essential for this.


A similar tool will create two and three rows of rivets along the edges of hull plates.


Another specialized tool will stamp water-tight doors out of 0.003" brass. There are eight different types and sizes of these doors on the ship with different stamped rectangular "bumps" for stiffness and from four to ten dogs, plus rotary handles and levers to operate the dogs. Most of these doors are not available commercially at 1:96. So I am thinking of how to make the dies for use in an arbor press.


A similar tool will be used to stamp rivet patterns in external "backing plates" in the hull plating.




And with the right combination of tools you can even use a mill as a lathe for fairly short pieces - but I can't imagine trying to make threads on a mill!


Here are some photos of milled frames I made for a 1:96 Cleveland class light cruiser hull. This is 1/2 inch thick Plexiglas that I salvaged from the scrap bin of a plastics fabrication company next door to where I worked.














The fiberglass hull was pretty thin and flexible so I needed stiff frames to pull the hull into shape. This was especially necessary because the hull had a lot of tumblehome (wider at the waterline that at the main deck level, but the mold had to be wider at deck level so the fiberglass shell would come off.


I also had to make longitudinal pieces between frames at the deck level to get the correct hull shape. The longitudinals fit into the frames. Everything was epoxied into the fiberglass shell.


The frames also served to hold the brass alignment jigs for the propeller shafts.








The stern was also a challenge. It is roughly square at the waterline and semicircular at the deck level. The fiberglass hull would not make the correct shape at deck level without the machined Plexiglass shape fitted between the last frame and the stern of the hull.


I could have cut all of these shapes with a band saw or even a hand saw, but it would have been a lot more work. On the mill it was an easy task. These things were all cut free-form - I clamped the Plexiglass sheets to the table and used the hand wheels to drive the table so the end mill cut along printed lines on sheets of paper attached to the Plexiglass.



Keep in mind that I was using a several ton eight foot high milling machine to cut this thick material in single passes. But a small desk top mill can do the same thing with 1/4 inch Plexiglass, wood, aluminum and other "soft" material. You can cut thin (1/16 inch or less) steel with the smaller mills. You can cut thick material with the smaller machines, but you have to go slower and use multiple passes.


Here is another example.






This is an old 1950s Lionel O-27 engine that I got as a kid. Later on I got another engine like it, and I wanted to double head them. But the Lionel engines did not have a front coupler. So I replaced the front casting with the machined piece circled in red. It was carved from a block of aluminum, shown on the right. Again, I used the milling machine with an end mill to whittle away material from the aluminum block a bit at a time. I drove the X, Y and Z axes by hand. I used small files to smooth the rounded surfaces of the steam cylinders, and added brass ladders and the brass bar on the front below the coupler - using tiny brass hex head screws from the local hobby shop. The pilot truck, side steps and coupler are Lionel replacement parts for different engines.


You really are limited only by your imagination as to what you can do with a milling machine. With a small mill you don't have as much power as with the larger mills so you just have to remove smaller amounts of material with each pass. A larger and more powerful machine will let you work faster than some rig using a Dremel tool.

Edited by Dr PR
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As a model maker, it is fun to use a mill.

But a milling machine was never created to shape wood.

A milling machine is made to work with metal, a hard material to work by hand.


Is there a piece in a model ship that needs to be done  absolutely with the mill? The answer is no.

But, on the other end, it does not mean that a milling machine cannot be useful.

Here are some examples.





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I have the Proxxon MF70 and would highly recommend it. I also have a larger mill for bigger jobs, but the Proxxon is ideal for the smaller scale stuff you're likely to face when kit bashing. Even with kits, as opposed to scratch building, there are lots of ways you can improve the basic offering with a mill. The cathead in Gaetan's earlier post is one example, and as you rightly surmise, the mill doubles as an accurate drill press - with care you can get tolerances close to +/- 0.01mm which is more than sufficient for our hobby.


For examples of the MF70 check out my Speedy log. For a recent convert have a look at Glenn Barlow's Cheerful log, which contains several examples of work he has achieved with the mill not long after buying it. For examples of a real maestro at work, look at any of Marsalv's logs. I bought my mill after seeing what he achieved with the MF70 on his Royal Caroline build. He has since gone down the CNC route, but still uses his basic machine a lot.


Another good feature of the Proxxon is that you can achieve good results without spending a fortune on additional tooling. I believe the MF70 still comes with a set of cutters and clamps as standard, and the only other essential you need to get you started is a precision steel vice - I got the PM40 which is fine. The mill takes ordinary drill bits up to 3.2mm so there's no extra expense there. I left refinements like rotary tables until I'd got the hang of the basics. 


Arguably no power tools are essential, and many modellers still produce fine results without them, but I find the convenience and accuracy makes the mill well worth it. I should add that figuring out how to get the best from the mill is part of the fun, especially if you enjoy problem solving. Again, look at Marsalv's work to see the ingenious jigs he makes up from bits of MDF and bolts.


Hope this helps



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I made this today entirely from start to finish (except for the tapered rabbet which was filed by hand) on an MF70.  Is it up to the job  - damn right it is!  The thing that this tiny mill has over its much bigger counterparts is spindle speed.  You can get up to 20,000 rpm which on a small cutter virtually eliminates chip out.  This is one of my go to tools and wouldn't be without it.




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Good advice is dependent on your goals: budget, workshop space and even your age (are you just getting started outfitting a workshop that you will use for many years?)


First, IMHO upgrading a hand held rotary tool is throwing good money after bad.  I have a 45 year old Sears “Little Crafty” rotary tool.  Like most older tools made before well known brand names were slapped on outsourced products it is well made.  I seldom use it, and when I do it’s for metal working.  Like Bob says, it’s great equipped with an abrasive cutting disc.  For serious model work it’s way too aggressive.  


If I were moving from “kitchen table” model building to equipping a workshop, the first major power tool that I would buy would be a drill press.  Bench top drill presses are not expensive, take up little space, and compared with other power tools produce relatively little dust.  They work equally well drilling wood, metals, and plastic.  I use mine almost every time that I work in my shop.  For drilling, with their lever operated quill they are easier to use than a mill, where the drilling column must be advanced with a handwheel


If you decide to buy a drill press, make sure that it is equipped with ball or roller bearings.  I prefer belt driven tools to those with electronic speed controls; better long term reliability.  The Jacobs chuck on my drill press will not close on drill bits smaller than 3/32in diameter (about 2mm).  I therefore, have a set of pin vices that accept smaller drill bits and can be mounted in the chuck.  I believe that there is an old adage that says to buy machine tools by the pound; the heavier the better.  A good drill press gets its precision by rigidity.  Rigidity requires mass.  My drill press is also 45 years old and works as well as it did when brand new.




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I agree with pretty much everyone.   I bought one years ago, then promptly sold it to another MSW member as it really wasn't as useful for what I was trying to do at the time and it became an expensive paperweight.   Then I got another MF70 in the last year as a gift, and now I use it all the time.  Probably when I don't need to, and likely more often than not incorrectly.   However, it is a joy to use and can make very nice precision parts in harder woods as demonstrated above.    I can't comment on value, at one point it was too expensive for me to have laying around and now that I haven't paid for it, I love it...   

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