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How Do I Choose the Best Hobby Milling Machine?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

The first step in choosing a hobby milling machine is deciding what kind of work you will be doing with the machine. This may dictate the size and power of the machine, as well as the overall purchase cost of the unit. Once you have a good idea of what kinds of projects you plan on doing with the machine, determine your purchase budget and decide whether you will be purchasing a new hobby milling machine or a used one. Used machines will require more inspection and the machine is not likely to feature any warranty, so repair costs will be out of pocket expenses.

Research the different types of hobby milling machine models before going shopping. It is important to know the difference between a vertical machine and a horizontal one, and what each type of machine is used for. Larger materials and heavy materials are usually milled using a horizontal hobby milling machine, while smaller and lighter raw materials can be milled using a vertical machine. Most hobbyists will end up buying a vertical machine for versatility, though depending on your specific project needs, you may require a horizontal machine.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

It is also a good idea to learn the difference between a turret machine and a bed machine. These two types of hobby milling machine models will essentially accomplish the same tasks, but they will do so in different manners. A turret machine features a support surface that will move vertically and horizontally to allow for accurate machining, while a bed machine will feature a support that will only move up and down. The milling bit will move in other directions instead. Most hobbyists will end up choosing a turret machine for ease of use and accuracy in cutting, though for some applications, a bed machine might be more appropriate.

Many professional milling machines feature CNC capabilities; this means the machine can be connected to a computer that can dictate the cutting path of the mill by using CNC, or computer numeric control. Most hobbyists will not require such functions, but if you will be using the machine on a daily basis and require extremely accurate cuts, you may want to consider buying a machine with CNC capabilities. Be prepared to pay a fair amount more for such models, and also be ready to dedicate more of your workspace to the machine. The CNC machine will also require more power, so check available power outlets in your shop before purchasing.

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Discussion Comments


@Mor - I would also seriously consider getting a 3D printer, particularly if you aren't planning on doing much with wood. The modern hobby miller seems to do much more with plastic anyway, and I would argue that a 3D printer is more versatile in what it is able to create.

There is also a greater community growing around the 3D printing, so there are more models available.

Admittedly, there are pros and cons on each side. And a lot of people do intend to get a home milling machine in order to create wood sculptural objects rather than working with other technology.


@bythewell - I think those are pretty common now, actually, and people use them for all kinds of things. I've seen them used to make architecture models as well.

They can carve almost any material, like polystyrene, or wood or plastic, so people use them to make parts for things like model airplanes or jewelry design. People even make things like rubber stamps using that kind of machine.

I know some people prefer it to a 3D printer, since it's more versatile in the materials it can carve.

You can get them second hand which is cheaper, or get a new one for less than $1000 which is pretty good if you are starting up a hobby business, but not so great if you are just planning on mucking around with making a few toys.

I would have a look on places like eBay if you just want something to play with, rather than something to work with.


I always thought of a milling machine as being something that you use to shape bits of wood into bed knob sorts of shapes, or maybe fancy walking sticks.

Obviously, this would be used to create wood furniture. I can remember seeing a small milling machine that was being used in a career expo I went to when I was a teenager as part of my final year of high school. It was to demonstrate what people would be doing if they chose to follow a carpentry apprenticeship I think.

Anyway, it was only recently that I saw a documentary on architecture and realized that milling has definitely come into the 21st century. In order to make their models, students were using a digital milling machine which basically made whatever they wanted it to make, just by entering a diagram into the computer.

I don't know how expensive one of those would be though.

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