My Tabletop Vertical Mill

2012 April 27

While ACME Metalworks will be doing the bulk of the machining work for the roaster, I have always wanted to make some of the parts myself. It is impractical for me to make large components, because the machines need to do so are large and expensive. However, there are lots of parts such as control panels and detailed parts that are small enough to be made in a home-based machine shop.

The most important and flexible machine tool is the vertical mill. It can drill, bore, cut, and shape parts in infinite variety. Today, my tabletop vertical mill arrived from Sherline in San Marcos, CA. It is small but powerful. This little mill can machine steel, aluminum, brass, plastic, wood, etc. to a tolerance of 0.0005 inches, which is just as good as big commercial mills. I ordered mine with digital readout, so that it is easier to use. The mill can also be converted to CNC (computer numerical control) in which a computer drives the mill and machines parts from a program written in G-code, the programming language for machine tools.

The Sherline 5400 is able to move the piece being machined in X, Y, and Z directions. The movement is controlled by a handwheel for each direction. The hand wheel has a digital encoder that measures how far the wheel has been turned.

This is indicated on the digital readout along with the speed of the tool in RPM. It is important to know the speed of the tool, as this affects cutting speed.

The tools are driven by a variable speed motor connected to the head by a drive belt. The black and white disk on top of the pulley is the disk from which the speed is measured.

The Sherline mills have many tools that can be used with them to be able to produce very intricate precision parts. People have made everything from integrated circuit testing machines to wristwatches using them. The photo below is of 1/8 scale Harley-Davidson cylinders machined from a solid piece using Sherline equipment!

2 Responses
  1. April 28, 2012

    Congrats on the new toy I mean tool! I’m going through the process of trying to figure out if I want to order a mill or just have some panels/parts made. My dad ended up getting himself a large mill years ago so I’ve always been interesting in getting something someday. I know I’ll probably have enough projects over the years to justify a smaller one like this long term but when you have tiny little projects it really makes you second guess yourself buying tools like that. To me it seems a no brainer for you to use one.

    Why did you decide non-CNC? It would seem to be more worthwhile to layout everything for knobs/switches/dials/displays etc and have it machine them in a more automated fashion rather than moving things manually. Of course I guess doing one off projects does make the CNC a bit overkill. The ability to “save” the layout and call it back up again to make adjustments and re-run it appeals to me if I decide that I don’t like a layout once I begin using it.

    Anyway haven’t actually said “Hi” yet since I’ve been following. (HI!) I’ve enjoyed watching your project and appreciate you sharing it publicly like you have. My roaster work someday will go towards building a (much smaller) roaster too but for now I’ve focused on the control system.


    • May 3, 2012

      Hey, Steve, thanks for the comments. I probably will go to full CNC later and the mill is able to be adapted quite easily. I wanted to do stuff by hand first to get a feel for things. There is something old school about that and I think I will do a better job with CNC if I have done things manually first.

      It is kind of similar to the fact that all of my parts drawings are hand done. I could use CAD, but it is better for my brain if I have to use spacial reasoning and do trig functions. When I bring the drawings to the machine shop, they love them because no one does them by hand any more. They convert them in their CAD to G-code to drive their CNC machines.

      I am looking forward to designing the control system for my roaster, but that will be down the road. I just need to make sure I get my sensors in place along with compressed air system to keep any optical sensors clean.


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