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Stuff Made With The Mini-Mill - A First "Real" Project (And The Learning That Went With It)

Often times people (including folks here) ask questions like "What can this little, cheap-looking Harbor Freight Mini-Mill actually make? What's its capacity?". While digging through the archives of projects in preparation for a new prototype CNC bench-top milling machine, we found the first ever "real" project - making mounts for an electric linear actuator purchased at closeout prices from a popular speaker parts catalog.

It all started with a need to prototype a crimping machine. We trekked over to the local metal scrap warehouse which also sells disassembled machinery and other stuff - some useful and some not-so-useful - and purchased some 6061-T6 aluminum plate. One piece was a rather large plate of 3/8" x 11" x 32". The other was a chunk of the same aluminum that was 4" x 4" x 3' long. Needless to say, at $2/lb. or so it was quite a tab!

The other question frequently asked is about whether it's worth buying a bandsaw... the answer: YES! We wanted three pieces of roughly the same size for roughing and finishing in the mini-mill. The first chunk was cut, belive it or not, with a hacksaw. Shortly after that three-hour long workout (and a few blades later), we had it. Then what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, we used a drill to drill through a sequence of holes so that hacksawing would be easier. Let's say that that's not such a great idea after all, especially if you break a bit (which we did) in any of those holes. When that happened, it was impossible to hacksaw through it. Hours wasted, muscles built :)

It was that very next day that a cheap Harbor Freight bandsaw (model 37151 - the green one) was put on the list of things to buy.

Back to the original question and its answer. It should first be said that the first actual project was making the holders for the screwless machinists' vise from ENCO. It's a quite uneventful project, so we don't discuss that here.

As for this linear actuator, we needed three blocks to be machined: a piston, a bracket for the actuator housing, and an end mount. At this point, we also didn't have any layout dye - just the machine and a basic set of end mills from ENCO. And off we went!

At the end of a two-day journey, we ended up with the following blocks.

The piston where the crimp die is mounted. It's basically a block that's been hollowed out a bit:


The middle piece is one of the more interesting ones (at the time) since a radiused bit was used and we tried to get fancy with some asthetic improvements (we actually wanted to chamer it, but the bit didn't come in in time):


The final piece was the fun one to make since it required two channels to be cut out. It was different than the usual hollow-out-the-middle operations that had been used:


It should be pointed out that we really came close to maxing out the mini-mill some making these due to their size:


When final assembly was completed, we had a base with the linear actuator mounted:


As was mentioned above, we needed to cannibalize this first project to make room for a home-brewed CNC bench-top mill using linear guides/bearings and perhaps the spindle from the X2 mini-mill.

Here's a shot of the base plate with a cheap set of linear slides from THK:


So, we hope this answers some of the newbie (hey, we were all newbies at one time!) questions. Don't mind the guy in the Harbor Freight store who says that this machine is a toy. It certainly is small, but it's quite a capable machine!

Click here to find out more about these sometimes misunderstood components.

If you want to see more of what this little mini-mill is making, check out our Home-brewed CNC Vertical Mill "blog". We're using the mini-mill to make a larger work-envelope mill from the ground up. It's the evolution of one machine to the next...


Looking for mini-mill help and how-tos? How about lathe help and how-tos?

We're prototyping a benchtop CNC vertical mill using the DigiSpeed-XL interface card for Mach, Dart Controls and KB Electronics KBIC/KBMM 90VDC motor controllers, 1.5HP treadmill motor from Surplus Center and a R8-spindle head from the X2 mini-mill - not to mention Gecko servo drives and an entirely closed-loop system. Come take a look!

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