Getting started with machining
October 29, 2008
About four years ago I came close to taking a job at Honeybee Robotics, a company that makes robots and parts for things like the Mars rovers. One of their robots, W.I.S.O.R., even had a really cheesy movie made about it. It would have been a pretty cool job, except that what they wanted was someone to machine parts for their robots, and I didn't know a single thing about machining. I ended up deciding not to pursue the job because I didn't feel qualified, but ever since then I've been really wanting to learn metalworking. It happens so often, as I'm reading some guy's robotics website, that he'll casually mention how he threw such-and-such part on the mill and made a slot so he could bolt it to his robot, or whatever. It sounded like such a useful ability to have.
A few months ago I decided to buy a milling machine, and so began a lot of research, trips to the library, renting instructional videos, etc (not to mention saving up cash). Finally I felt comfortable enough to make an informed decision about what to buy, and I ordered a "mini-mill" a week or two ago. As I waited for it to arrive, I worked on building a workbench to bolt it to. I've finally got it all set up and made my first chips, so I just thought I'd post some pictures of the process :) The full selection of bench-building and milling-machine-unpacking pics are at my website, but here's a selection.
Materials for the workbench brought home (man it's handy having a trailer)
Most of the bench frame assembled (those three 2x6's in the back will become cross-supports for the upper surface, just like the three 1x2's in the lower shelf).
Picking up the milling machine at the freight terminal (did I mention how handy it is having a trailer?)
Mill uncrated. It comes covered in red packing grease to prevent rust -- time for an hour with a rag and a gallon of kerosene.
Bench surface (two layers of 3/4" plywood) attached.
Getting the 150 lb milling machine up onto the workbench. Having an engine hoist is also very handy.
Damn, that's something I didn't think to account for in my bench design. Can't get the hoist in place to bring the mill over the bench.
Bring the mountain to Mohammed!
Mill bolted down securely, tooling and metal stock arrived.
Some of the fun toys:
A simple starter set of 4-flute end mills
Aptly-named "1-2-3 blocks", a precise 1" x 2" x 3", used for measurin, marking out, and clamping.
Dial indicator and dial test indicator, accurate to .001" and .0005" respectively
A set of 6" parallels, pairs of precisely parallel plates, also used for measuring, marking, and clamping
The UHMW plastic I ordered shows up before the aluminum, so my first milled piece isn't actually metalworking. It's... an ashtray?
The metal arrives
After milling the upper face flat, I practice drilling accurate holes
My second milled piece! It's... a spice rack?
So now that I'm more or less all set up, it's time to actually get to work and start making interesting things. Or trying to, anyway :) This has the potential to make robot building way easier, being able to fabricate my own brackets etc. But I'll have to figure out how to translate all the machining techniques I've been reading about into actual ability :)