A large floor mill is nice but not necessary for many gunsmithing projects. Here’s how I make optimum use of a bench top machine.
by Jerry Spadorcio
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I’m a certified gunsmith with 18 years of service. In that time I have found a mini bench mill, the type of machine that fits on a bench, is ideal for me and my shop – and probably for you as well.
As gunsmiths, we work on small metal gun parts. We usually don’t work on large metal machine parts or make large tools. There are large bench mills and large floor mills costing a staggering amount of money. They are great tools, however, most of the time in service you will not recuperate the money spent on such large mills or lathes.
If you are good at using a hand file and a floor drill press, then you can do a lot to shape the metal to fit and work into a firearm repair without using a mill. Of course, if you are a machinist you will need a large lathe and/or mill. Yes, you will likely learn how to work a lathe and a mill as a required course in gunsmithing school. That course shows what is needed when building guns or to make a large part or a tool. When there is a need to turn a barrel, cut a groove on the side of the barrel or cut a dovetail, or to rechamber a barrel, a large lathe or mill is needed.
However, in my nearly two decades in this field I have not needed to do this for the kind of work most common in my shop. Even if a job requiring such work does come up, it can be out sourced. Unless your shop is specifically structured that way, as a gunsmith we are not dedicated machinists. There is no good reason to go into debt to buy a large, expensive floor mill to prove you’re a “real” gunsmith. There are many large machine tools out there for sale, new and used. If you have the money and if your consistent demand for jobs shows a genuine need (as in on a profit and loss statement, not because you want one so bad you “need” it) then go for it.
When you come out of gunsmith school, money is very tight for a little while – maybe for a long while. If you need a mill, I’d recommend to start by looking into a mini bench mill instead of a large floor model. I use a mini bench mill and it works just fine for me. With the mini bench mill, the parts I make for the gun fit and work just as great as if I had made them on a more expensive machine. If the part needs case hardening, I do that also. Even if you envision a large model needs to be in your future, I truly think a mini mill is a great investment. The mini bench mill fits on my bench and is out of my way. If I want to move it to another place I can do that also. Depending on the jobs you get, you may find that it is all you need.
I have been using a mini bench mill for a number of years now. The model I use and like is the…
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