Category Archives: Equipment

Bridgeport CNC Conversion – Is It Worth It?

Converting your manual mill (Bridgeport) to CNC is a cheaper way to get into running production runs. While manual mills can still be useful in shops today for certain operations on one-off part, they are virtually obsolete for production runs if you want to make money. However, if you are starting up a small CNC shop of your own or are a hobbyist on a budget, a CNC conversion kit may be your answer. However, lets take a look at what it will take to convert, how much it will cost, and how it compares to a a VMC (vertical milling center).

Conversion?

You can buy a CNC conversion kit and piece it together yourself, or you can buy a mill that has already been converted. Of course buying one that’s all set up and ready to go would be ideal, but you may not have that much cash to spend right away. This is why many machinists end up buying the parts as funds allow.

If you want to convert your Bridgeport (or similar) manual mill to CNC, I suggest doing a full 3-axis conversion. It will be more expensive, but if you are going to do the swap, you might as well go all the way. Being able to program for Z-axis moves in addition to the X and Y-axis will allow for shorter machining times.

Bridgeport CNC Conversion
Bridgeport CNC Conversion

So how much will it cost? A knee-mill (bridgeport) converted to CNC will cost anywhere from 10K-25K. The newer and nicer set-up the more expensive it will be. Shopping around and waiting for deals may help lower that cost, but you should still expect to end up in this margin for a ready-to-go mill.

Buying a VMC

While buying a vertical milling center will be more expensive in most cases, they are much more capable machines. Faster rapid moves, a lot sturdier, more horsepower, coolant, automatic tool changes, and the list can go on. It really depends on how much you want to spend and how big of a machine you want. $20k can get you a used CNC mill, but it will probably be 15+ years old and will need a lot of maintenance sooner rather than later. For another 10-20 grand you can get a newer and nicer machine that will actually last a while depending on how you use it and what kind of deal you get.

What Do I Recommend?

Without a doubt, a VMC is the better choice IF, and that’s a big if, you have enough dough. Of course, many of us that are middle or lower-class citizens cannot just throw $30,000+ at a machine at any given time. This would be a long-term goal, but the capabilities are are vastly greater than a converted knee-mill.

I Should Buy/Build A Converted Manual Mill If I:

  • Am on a budget
  • Have time to convert it as funds/time allow
  • Am just a home hobbyist
  • Want to DIY to save money

I Should Buy A VMC If I:

  • Want a faster, sturdier, more powerful and capable machine
  • Want to make a business out of it
  • Have a bigger budget
  • Have patience to save up for one (If funds don’t currently allow it)

There’s advantages to buying each kind of machine. While I haven’t said which one is better for YOU specifically, I have tried to lay out reasons why you would or wouldn’t want to go a certain route. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment.

Machinist Toolbox – What To Buy?

Are you new to the Machining industry or considering a career in this field of manufacturing? A toolbox is one of the first things that you should buy. It’s where you will keep most if not all of your tools, personal inspection equipment, and books/manuals such as the Machinery’s handbook.

Kennedy tool boxes are well known in the Machining industry because they are well built and have been around for 100 years now. If you’re looking for a tool box that is made in the U.S.A., a Kennedy is the way to go for a new Machinist, whether it’s a top box, or a bottom as well. These boxes are made specifically for Machinists, so the length, width, and depth of each drawer is designed for specific tools, allowing you to easily organize your set-up; and we all know that time is money when running CNC machines.

Kennedy Top Box
Kennedy Top Box

If you’re on a budget, a standard tool box can work just about as well. It may not be built to hold your machining tools as well, but you can find good deals on sturdy boxes that will save you money for buying even more tools!

There are also some Machinist knock-off tool boxes are on Amazon for a fraction of the cost, such as this 11 Drawer Roller Box. Due to its low price, it won’t have the same quality as say a Kennedy, but some of the same features are there with a similar layout. Like most anything these days, you generally get what you pay for. For something such as a tool box, if you’re a rookie machinist, then a cheap box may work just fine.

What To Look For?

If you are just starting your CNC Machinist classes at the local Tech school and had to buy a tool box without doing any research then it probably won’t make much difference at first. After going to school or working for some time, though you’ll realize what you want in a tool box, and even that may change after being on the job for years.

Size is the biggest factor when purchasing a new tool box. Obviously if space is unlimited and you don’t plan on transporting it often or ever, then the bigger the better. If you buy a big box right away then you won’t have to upgrade right after buying a handful of new tools. On the flip side, if you don’t have many tools then you’ll be pushing around a lot of dead weight if you move around the shop on a weekly or daily basis.

If you have a chance to look at and test out tool boxes in person, I would suggest looking at and opening the drawers to see how smooth they are. Ball-bearing drawers slide out nicely compared to the conventional slides. This feature isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it’s always nice to have things that perform better.

Castors are the wheels used on tool boxes and are another feature that should be considered when doing research. Putting a lot of heavy tools in your box will put more strain on the castors, so it’s good to have big and sturdy castors.

If you still can’t figure out which one to buy, there’s nothing wrong with having one, two, or three boxes to choose from.

A quick tip on how to prevent tools from getting nicked and scratched up after constant opening and closing of drawers; tape a sheet of felt or lay a thin rubber mat down in each drawer for padding and to help prevent everything from sliding around.