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Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 9:14 a.m.

As it turns out, the answer is yes! I bought a Bridgeport knee mill last night, so this will be the thread where I figure out if it's really feasible to drag a literal ton of industrial machinery home and attempt to machine stuff with it. I'm writing this before I've even finished parking it in its new spot, so updates might be slow as I make mistakes, wait on cheap tooling from far far away, and generally struggle through teaching myself to be a home machinist. Wish me luck!

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 9:20 a.m.

I'll start with the backstory: I wanted a mill.

For years I've wanted a mill, and for a while I thought that meant I wanted a generic three-in-one machine like I'd used in my dad's shop:

MSC Industrial Supply Co. Tech Essential Mill Machines

I decided against this route for a few reasons. First: I used my dad's, and wasn't real satisfied with the size of the work envelope. Second, I talked at length with friend of GRM and primary Rotary Spitfire machinist Steve Eckerich, and he was frank: "Don't buy a benchtop mill or a three-in-one at any price, for any reason. You'll be frustrated and limited, and you'll end up going out to buy a better machine anyway. Don't do it twice."

This advice was from a guy that spends all day every day in a machine shop and has built a zillion fast cars, so I figured it was worth following. "You want a Bridgeport," Steve said, "Period."

 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 9:29 a.m.

Next step: The clones.

Bridgeport is just a brand name, not a type of tool, but just like Kleenex is synonymous with tissues, Bridgeport is synonymous with vertical knee mills. This size and style of mill is extremely adaptable to do different jobs, relatively small and compact, and rigid/accurate enough to do real work. That's why you'll find a Bridgeport, or a clone, in almost every machine shop, even modern shops full of expensive CNC machines. As Steve explained, everybody needs a Bridgeport in the corner, as it's perfect to make a small part or two for your other machines, build fixtures, do a small one-off job, etc.

Since Bridgeports are so popular, a bunch of other companies copied their design and built their own vertical knee mills. There are a bunch of different brand names, and a bunch of different levels of quality. These copies range from "Pretty much just as good as the real thing." to "Expensive paperweight." And to add to the fun, the quality of the copies changed drastically over time as the market shifted. Fun!

Do you save any money by buying a clone of a Bridgeport? If you're buying new, absolutely. But if you're buying used, especially at the bottom end of the market like I was, prices are fairly similar and seem to be mostly based on condition and included tooling than on the name on the side. In exactly equal condition, I'd guesstimate a Bridgeport is worth $500-$1000 more but I'm really not enough of an expert to say.

With all this in mind, I decided I wanted to spend a bit more and buy a real Bridgeport. I figured the guaranteed quality, guaranteed availability of replacement parts, and guaranteed documentation and community support would make it worth the price premium for me. If I knew more about these machines, and could instantly tell if I was looking at a good clone or a bad clone, I would have probably been more interested in an off brand.

Brotus7
Brotus7 Dork
7/12/21 9:30 a.m.

Yes!!! This rabbit hole is deep!

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
7/12/21 9:43 a.m.

I learned machining at a vocational high school back in the late 70's.  I've told my wife I've needed a BP for 35+ years.  Best thing to have around.  

Congrats on your purchase.  

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 9:44 a.m.

The Transport

Wait, shouldn't I talk about buying a mill before I talk about transporting one? Nope: This is a top-heavy 2000 lb. object that has no wheels, which means it's very hard to transport. Pickup truck beds don't have strong enough tie-downs to secure it, my aluminum car trailer can't support that much force in a 2' square without dropping the mill through the floor, and every solution requires two forklifts: One at each end of the transaction.

It's for this reason that the asking price is important, but only one piece of the real cost of the mill. Buy at auction, and you can find yourself paying $100 to the forklift driver to load it on your trailer. Buy privately, and you may need to hire a tow truck or a forklift to place it on your trailer. Or you can pay a rollback to deliver it door to door, but that's very expensive for anything more than an across-town move. Many sellers offer to load for you, which means you'll need a plan to unload when you get home. There's also freight shipping, which was too expensive for me to really consider.

The best option, in my opinion, is a hydraulic drop deck trailer. I discussed it at length in this other thread on the forum, but these can be rented from many equipment rental places and lower down to the ground for easy loading and unloading. With one of these and a come-along, you can roll the mill on and off using 1/2" iron pipe without too much danger.

What's all this mean when shopping? Simple: Distance matters. I won't hesistate to drive three states away to buy a car, but mills are hard to transport and money will be leaving your wallet every step of the way. I simply couldn't drive from my Florida home to a place like Pennsylvania with lots of manufacturing and therefore lots of used mills for sale, which means I had fewer options and higher prices than somebody who lives near a more industrialized area.

 

NOHOME
NOHOME MegaDork
7/12/21 9:47 a.m.

I struggle daily to not buy one of these. My addictive tool buying personality begs for one. 

What stops me is the footprint. It pretty much eats up the same space as another car and I do not like cramped workspaces.

tuna55
tuna55 MegaDork
7/12/21 9:53 a.m.

This is cool.

 

I'd have one if I didn't always have access to one at work.

 

I still want one, though.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
7/12/21 9:56 a.m.

The more I learn about machining, the more I realize how much I'd have to learn to do it even badly.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 9:56 a.m.

The Shopping

I'd done my homework and sold a Foxbody to free up space and cash, so it was time to buy a mill. So I opened up the classifieds and searched and searched and searched. I shopped casually for a year or so, realizing $1500-$2000 Bridgeports were few and far between, and sold within hours when they did appear. I lost one $1500 mill when I needed 24 hours to arrange a trailer, causing the seller to tell his brother I was coming. The seller then canceled the sale, likely because his brother told him he'd underpriced it and would be stupid to sell so cheap.

A few months ago I realized prices were increasing, and decided it was now or never. I nearly won a Summit vertical knee mill at a local auction. It broke my clone rule, but was only three miles from my house, had a DRO, and seemed to be nicely kept. As they say: Location, location, location. I stopped bidding at $2100, and that was before any fees to pay for it to be loaded up.

I heard through the grapevine that a friend of a friend (actually the original owner of the Classic Motorsports Mini Cooper S) had an extra Bridgeport he'd be willing to sell, and after a few months of cajoling, negotiating, etc. etc. I bought it for $2000. It was at the top of my budget and missing a few handles, but the variable speed head (basically a snowmobile CVT) made it worth the price. I rented the fancy trailer, stuffed an envelope of Foxbody cash in my pocket, and dragged it home yesterday. Shoutout to Rennie and my dad for help loading and unloading.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 10:01 a.m.

And with that last post, we're caught up to the present. I'll order some parts and a VFD tonight and continue the story, but for now here's where I'm at. I bought a Bridgeport, got it home, and put it in my garage. Now the real fun begins!

Brotus7
Brotus7 Dork
7/12/21 10:08 a.m.

Re: VFD - I have a cheapo one from Amazon and it's been wonderful.  These things are pretty low HP, so I'd probably get the 120V one if I were to buy another.  Also - can't recommend it enough - wire it up so you can use the toggle switch on the machine.  It's so much more natural than having to reach to the VFD controller to turn off the machine. Amazon VFD .  Once i got mine up and running, I played around with the motor braking so it spools down somewhat quickly since the mill brake kept tripping an error on the VFD for me.

How are the ways?  Do you have any refurb plans for it, or gonna make chips first?

 

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy MegaDork
7/12/21 10:14 a.m.

I understand rolling pipe but how do you get the first/last piece in/out?   Watch your fingers!

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 10:17 a.m.

Oh, right: The Burke Bar! You can see it on the right side of the last photo. It's a big pry bar that's perfect to wedge under the machine and pick it up to place pipe underneath. I ordered it from Lowes for $65, and it's the best money I've ever spent. I weigh 155 lbs., and had no problem picking the machine up with it.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 10:19 a.m.

You can also see another trick on the floor: Dish soap. We needed to spin the machine 180 degrees once it was off the trailer, so we coated the floor in dish soap. That made it slippery enough to easily push around by hand. Not quite as slippery as ice, but close.

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
7/12/21 10:49 a.m.

In reply to Tom Suddard :

I bought mine for $300 from a race car shop who upgraded.  Mine was dated 1889 and originally driven by an overhead flat belt.   
 Converted sometime in the 1950's  and I bought it in the 1980's . Against your advice I brought it home in the bed of my 1977 El Camino.  Strapped down with motorcycle straps. The car was bottomed out and I drove like I had an egg on the throttle pedal. 
        A couple of rafters in the garage allowed me to like it off and rolling on pipes got it in place.  
 That served me well until I sold it around 1997-8   With anticipation of a new house. 
   Most of the work I used it for was small.   Only when I ported my V12 heads did I ever have to move the material on the table. 
     

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 12:27 p.m.

So electrical people: How do I choose a VFD? This is the motor plate on the mill; are they all more or less the same? Just grab the cheapest one? I'm planning to Amazon one tonight.

Kendall_Jones
Kendall_Jones HalfDork
7/12/21 12:45 p.m.

Motor says is 1.5 HP - VFDs are rated by power.  I'd pick a 1.5 or 2HP vfd and hook-r-up. 

 

One of the things I see now with these cheap VFDs is the ability to use them as a phase converter - single phase in and 3 phase out.  Is that the intention?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/12/21 12:51 p.m.

In reply to Kendall_Jones :

Yes, that's the goal. With the variable speed head I don't need the ability to vary the frequency as much as I need to convert phases, but I don't think there's a cheaper/easier way to phase convert these days.

Brotus7
Brotus7 Dork
7/12/21 12:52 p.m.

It's really that simple- just rated by power.  Get 1.5 hp, 1200+ watt VFD.  ~750 watts = 1 hp.

Re: Kendall - yup, the beauty of the VFD is that its a cheap, compact phase converter.  Secondary benefit of being able to vary speed infinitely.

CAinCA
CAinCA HalfDork
7/12/21 1:03 p.m.

I bought the 2hp version of this VFD last June for my CNC converted benchtop mill and I've been really happy with it:

https://www.automationdirect.com/adc/shopping/catalog/drives_-a-_soft_starters/ac_variable_frequency_drives_(vfd)/micro/cfw300a06p0s2nb20

ShawnG
ShawnG UltimaDork
7/12/21 1:07 p.m.

Get yourself a power feed for the table. Cheapos on eBay are ~$300.

You'll thank me later.

Gaunt596
Gaunt596 Reader
7/12/21 1:33 p.m.

When you get around to making chips, theres several very, very good channels on YouTube that go over all kinds of skills and projects needed to successfully machine quality parts.

Blondihacks is by far my favorite for new machinists, she presents all the basics in a very easy to understand format. Her setup is mostly around small bench top tools, but everything is exactly the same as a larger machine. 

 

This old tony, clough42, and Abom79 also have quite a bit of good information on thier respective channels, and I'm sure theres even more I haven't discovered myself yet

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
7/12/21 2:22 p.m.
Gaunt596 said:

This old tony, clough42, and Abom79 also have quite a bit of good information on their respective channels, and I'm sure there's even more I haven't discovered myself yet

It's very easy to go down the rabbit hole of machining porn videos.  smiley  You watch a few from the people listed above and they'll lead you to others on the YouTube machining community - Steve Summers, Tom Lipton /Oxtools, Chuck Bommarito / Outside Screwball, Cà Lem, and many many more.   I don't even do any machining and I still spend an inordinate amount of time watching them.

Nicole Suddard
Nicole Suddard Marketing Coordinator
7/12/21 2:32 p.m.
Tom Suddard said:

You can also see another trick on the floor: Dish soap. We needed to spin the machine 180 degrees once it was off the trailer, so we coated the floor in dish soap. That made it slippery enough to easily push around by hand. Not quite as slippery as ice, but close.

Pro tip: buy extra dish soap to use for this maneuver, otherwise an unsuspecting other person in your household might make a mess in the kitchen only to find that they can't clean it up.

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