Lathes and milling machines...

Discussion in 'Replica Props' started by blufive, Apr 8, 2006.

  1. blufive

    blufive Sr Member

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    I'm getting quotes on metal pieces for a Star Trek prop and I realized I could pay for either a lathe or a milling machine from MicroMark and pay about the same amount of money for one run of parts from a machine shop.

    My questions are, has anyone used these machines before? Are they any good?

    What's the difference between a milling machine and a lathe? The descriptions on the website assume you already KNOW what they do.

    I know a lathe turns things to make sabers but is that all it does?

    What if I just want to make clean cuts in stock sized brass, plexi and aluminum tubing and rods?

    I'm assuming if I want to turn acrylic or metal, I'd have to get the lathe.

    Any machining gurus want to jump in here?

  2. _Lee_

    _Lee_ Well-Known Member RPF PREMIUM MEMBER

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    I work in engineering so i may be able to help here :)

    A lathe is a machine that you can turn items on.If you think of a stair spindle,then nine times out of ten these are done on a wood lathe.Basically,the material is clamped into a collet and you are free to shape a the material into any shape/form you wish.Threads,bores etc can be done on a lathe but movement is restricted.

    A milling machine is a machine that works in many ways and allows cutting to be made easier and you have much more movement to work to.You can cut angles,threads,curves or whatever using a milling machine and most of the time you can work to any depth you need.

    I suppose a good example of describing this would be the ROTJ Luke saber.The main profile of the lightsaber would be cut on a lathe,whereas the pommel cubes would more or less need to be done as a seperate piece using a milling machine.I think that is why some prefer to make this particular saber in different bits.Drilling the small hole through the emitter would more or less be done on a milling machine as it would be easier and a lot more accurate.

    Saying that,the mills and lathes i use at work are pretty ancient(Cinncinatti's :rolleyes )so the modern day lathes ay be capable of a lot more compared to the older ones.CNC lathes and milling machines would blow the ones i use out of the water.

    After all i only set Wickman multispindle machinery :p Turn one of those on its side and its similar to a lathe.
  3. Sidewinder

    Sidewinder Sr Member

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    A lathe has the material spinning and the tools move along it, A miller has the tool spinning and the material moves around.

    It's easier to get a lathe to function as a miller than vice versa. I have a small lathe and bought a piece of ally plate and a vice and can now use it as a miller.

    Lathe set up:

    Miller set up:

  4. Poseidon11

    Poseidon11 New Member

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    You have to consider a couple of things. First, how complicated is the part. Is it something that you can make with little training? Second, what type of tooling will you need to make the part. You may have to grind your own tools for particular jobs on the lathe. You need a grinder for that. Mills use endmills, drills, taps, etc. How much will this cost for the particular job?

    Just something to think about.
  5. Darth_Pain

    Darth_Pain Well-Known Member

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    I've been looking into these also. :)

    I've found a few different brand and designs but I can't decide which to get.
    SMITHY has a Mill/Lathe combo for $1800.
    Chicago Pnuematics has one for $700
    Enco also has one for $800

    Has anybody worked with these before? Any info on these machines would be a great help to me and possibly to a lot of RPFers. :D
    I figure the SMITHY is more versitile or comes with more attatchments. Hence, the higher price for the same size machine.
  6. racprops

    racprops Sr Member

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    As a old timer I can say allot about this, but first, it is very hard to do parts on most of the machines your asking about.

    The Combo machines are jokes, forget them.

    When you really start to mill you really need a big machine.
    Problem is the hold-downs, these will double your needed table size and this is just to hold the block of metal to start cutting.

    A 5 to 6 inch table lathe is just a starting model, and you better with a 9 to 13 inch machine.

    Look at this model:

    That is a good starter machine.

    And for the mil:

    This is the smallest I would go, yes they sell smaller models, but they are only good for VERY SMALL parts.

    And figure on spending about the same amounts on tooling, like a indexer if your doing Phaser Muzzle rings, or Hon Solo muzzles, and vices, turn tables, hold downs, mills, cutting tools, etc.

    And read books on running these machines, they can and will take a finger or even kill... silly warning?? Consider you are spinning a 1 inch by say 4 inches piece of metal at 2500 RPMs, and your leaning right over it jamming another piece of metal into it, and you did a * poor job of mounting it, and it comes loose, where is it going to go??

    Not for everyone.

  7. _Lee_

    _Lee_ Well-Known Member RPF PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Very true Rich,ive seenand heard about some severe accidents where i work and from guys who worked at other places.Any engineering machinery should only be used by someone who knows what they are doing.

    And as a bit if advice,if someone is looking for an older model when you tighten up your material in the collett,remember to remove the collett locking key :rolleyes ive seen many people start one up with that stuck in the locking nut.
  8. blufive

    blufive Sr Member

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    Thanks for the info, guys. I just sent an email to my local community college. It might be a good idea to have a clue before I make a purchase.

  9. darcjedi

    darcjedi Well-Known Member RPF PREMIUM MEMBER

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    if you want some info on the mini lathes, check out this site. any of the machining operations are applicable to any size lathe.

    myself, i had considered getting a mini lathe, but having a bit of experience with a full size machine, i soon realized that i wouldnt be happy with the limits on material size and power with a mini. i ended up picking up a south bend 9" engine lathe off ebay for around $900, which is about what i would have spent on a mini and a stand for it.


    once you actually get your machine, plan on spending more than you spent on the machine for tooling and accessories.

    i dont have a milling machine yet, but once i get moved in to the new house, i plan on it. ive just got to find someplace around here that sells used machinery... i'm going to try to find an old bridgeport mill or something similar.

  10. Rodann

    Rodann Sr Member

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    I've got the Enco lathe/mill/drill combo. I've been making sabers on it for 5 or more years now, including some Cage Communicator knobs for a fellow boardmember. Aside from my hobby at home, I've been a CNC mill machinist for ten years, and that's mainly what I know. But I do like to play around with manual motor lathes.

    As someone here mentioned, a combo machine isn't all it's cracked up to be- mainly because of the fact that you have to mill using the drill chuck/arbor, which is NOT the way to mill. The vibration of a small machine can wreak havoc on your workpiece, and even cause the arbor to pop out (as it did several times while doing my lightsaber keychains). Plus, there is a LOT of tool "grab" on a manual machine to begin with, and on a small machine like a Smithy or Enco, you have to fight the urge to "climb cut" (imagine the tool rolling alongside the material). But I DID make that sweet all-aluminum custom blaster entirely on it. ;) But I was nearly driven insane, cutting slowly, trying to control the grab.

    The main difference between a lathe and a mill, is that you turn bar stock (not necessarily ROUND) on a lathe, cutting it from the side.......... and on a mill, you mount the material to the moving table, and cut it from above. On a mill, the material can be virtually any shape.

    There are, however, machines such as Citizens and Stars, that are basically multi-head lathes, with live mill tooling. They can cut a flat, hex, or tap a hole in bar stock. But they are VERY expensive.

    As far as MicroMark, I'd never buy one.
  11. Darth_Pain

    Darth_Pain Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the info guys. :thumbsup

    I know, that machines don't stop cause your hand is running through it's gears. I've seen it happen. :eek:
    For the past 6 years I've been operating machines in a Printing & mailing company so I have the mechanical skills to learn how to run it.
    Now I know were to start. :D
  12. acerocket

    acerocket Well-Known Member

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    Here is what I use.


    It is a Shoptask 3-in-1 machine. It has a fifth column on the z-axis (milling axis) that really helps with the rigidity of the machine. The lathe has 22" centers and 8" swing over crosstable. The mill has a 10" x 20" envelope with an adjustable z-axis travel of 9" and a quill travel of 3.25". The mill head has an R8 spindle taper that will hold the R8 collets or an R8 drill chuck. For what I intent to machine, I feel this a fairly decent sized machine. As others have said, expect to pay again the cost of the machine in tools. There are a handful of modifications I am going to make to further increase the stability, rigidity and accuracy of this machine. These include bolting the machine to the floor, bracing and stiffening the fifth column, replacing the mill head bearings with higher load bearings, replacing the rubber v-belts with industrial quality belts, adding a bit coolant system, and swapping out the acme lead screws to a ball-screw arrangement. I am also in the process of gathering up the necessary components to upgrade to CNC capable. Once finished, I will have a pretty nice setup.
  13. gavidoc

    gavidoc Well-Known Member

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    As RAC and Rodann said, I third. Stay away from the combo machines and the mini's.

    you can normally get used equipment on ebay for not that much more then a new modern one and chances are that the vintage is a abetter piece of equipment that just needs some fine tuning to run like new.

    Definately talk to someone if you have never done it before. As RAC said, these things can really hurt you.

    I broke 3 ribs in college when I engaged the automatic feed on a lathe and it went the wrong way (user error, I forgot to check the direction of the feed) diggin the cutter into the part (a hunk of aluminum 8" long and 2" wide) at 1700 rpm's. Add in that the dang thing wasn't clamped very well, and it flew out and hit me square in the chest and broke 3 ribs in the process.
  14. Corellianexports

    Corellianexports Sr Member RPF PREMIUM MEMBER

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    I've got both: a mill and a lathe.

    The lathe is basically for making round parts (i.e. Luke ROTJ saber, Han Hoth Blaster muzzle, etc.) The mill is for making square or rectangular parts (i.e. Luke ROTJ saber control box, Han Hoth Blaster mount, etc.).

    Whether or not you should have your ST parts professionally machined or make them yourself is purely dependent on what kind of parts you want to make.

    If you're talking about classic phaser muzzles, I'd recommend having them professionally done, because those would need to be made with a combo mill/lathe. Those machines are very expensive and making that kind of a part would take a high level of precision.

    Again, it's all dependent on what type of parts or props you want to make. You want to try posting photos of the parts you're interested in making.

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