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Author Topic: milling/router or laser?  (Read 1463 times)
Banned user
Bahamas Bahamas

« on: December 11, 2019, 09:02:53 am »

Hi there , I’m DORN.
Imagine you have US$3000 but that must include shipping to Australia and a few consumables.  
You are not experienced with CAD but understand graphic design programs using vectors.  You want to etch/carve/cut wood(5mm), acrylic and very thin metals (no more than 1mm (gauge?). Which one would you choose - milling/router or laser?

Thank you in advance.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2020, 01:22:42 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
Zeppelin Admiral
United Kingdom United Kingdom

« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2019, 07:46:44 pm »



Milling and routing are essentially the same thing, you put metal in a mill and wood into a router.

A full on Bridgeport (or similar) mill will pack the biggest punch - being able to handle a wider variety of materials (plastics all the way to titanium) with considerable accuracy and the ability to expand operations with a tool carousel.

Something like an xcarve is mainly aimed at the woodworking fraternity with less vertical travel, but, a much larger horizontal worksurface. These types of machines are not as adaptable as a mill.

A lazor is mainly used for very thin stuff but will handle quite a variety of materials with ease.

Seeing as you're used to vector stuff, go play with meshmixer or blender (you may well have done so already) - try to find some form of gcode generator (sli3er is a good basic freebie) then see if you can take your vector stuff and turn it into gcode first before you splash the cash.

There are desktop machines that will 3dprint, mill and lazor out there, but IMHO they're compromised devices (abit like a smartphone -loose one part and the whole things knacked, but a brickphone is just that a phone).

If I had 3k to splash on plant like this I'd go for the Bridgeport option - its either that or spend the dosh on a kit and building it - I did so with a 3d printer a while back - you get to learn how it goes together and just what its capable of, improvements you can add, then you can move onto bigger and better stuff!

Good luck choosing how to $pend your $ponds!

Tread softly and carry a GBFO stick!
Zeppelin Admiral
Canada Canada

Keep them off-balance and brazen it out!

« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2019, 07:12:51 am »

A vertical mill - Bridgeport or similar  - is certainly the most versatile option, I would say; but a full range of tooling and accessories will set you back almost as much as the machine itself. A set of end mills, a machine vise, a set of clamps and bolts: a rotary table is also a useful adjunct, as is a machine vise that can be set at an angle. A vertical mill will also take Dremel and similar bits, depending on the scale of your operations, and also router bits, ordinary drill bits, and grinding and diamond bits, so you'll have the ability to work virtually any material from wood and plastics to cobalt and tungsten steel.

Good luck with your endeavours, and welcome to the Worshipful Company of Metalcrafters,


Vero vobis dico, qui quaerit, inveniet eius. Et saepius, parum volet.

"Truly I say to you, he who seeks, shall find. And quite often, he shall wish he hadn't."

              - Elias Ashmole Crackbone.
Snr. Officer
United States United States

« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2019, 09:07:57 pm »


I have a few thoughts on this, which is funny. My thought usually dies of loneliness and for me to have more than one at a time is rare.

So, 3000 dollars (US, Australian, other)?  Thin wood, plastic <5 mm, and metal <1 mm  Type of metal aluminum copper brass stainless steel neutronium? .  From the mentioning of the software, I am assuming that this is to be PC controlled?

OK. I agree with my other BGer's here that a Bridgeport would be the best of all worlds. BUT they are big, heavy (really heavy), and would probably bust the budget on just shipping alone.
However, a CNC Vertical mill is ONE way to go.  As this is going to Australia, I suggest looking up SHERLINE TOOLS that not only happen to be in Australia, evidently it is where Sherline started before moving to the U.S.  The good news thay are already in Australia, the bad news is they start outside of your range BUT they may know of a used one around.

My only other thought is one of those CNC ROUTER MILL machines. They can cut and carve wood, cut and carve/engrave plastics like acrylic, and can certainly engrave most metals, I do not know about how thick and what metals they can mill through. They use various powered electric motors, some water cooled, that should be able to work on most softer, thinner metals. These are maybe around the 2K$ (US) range, plus your shipping, and though some claim they come from the US or Switzerland, they are mostly all from China. Please do your research homework on these systems.

Laser units are starting to intrigue me now and they do have some in lower hobby-priced ranges, but again, Made in China.  If I also remember, and this may have changed, they have difficulty cutting copper, brass, and some other metals because of being too reflective in certain laser light wavelengths, or maybe being too melt-able and they slag, splatter damaging the laser, or something. Sorry, can't remember.

Just my 3 cents worth. There are other workarounds too, like hot foils instead of metals, and knowing wood routing speed is different than metal milling speed etc.

Keep us updated, and explain more of what you kind of want to do without telling us the secrets LOL

Cheers!  gNorrie

Could somebody Pleeease explain to my mother that it is steam PUNK not steam PIMP!?!
Zeppelin Admiral
Canada Canada

Keep them off-balance and brazen it out!

« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2019, 06:22:59 pm »

My own mill is, I suspect, a Made-in-Korea or somewhere knockoff of the Bridgeport. It cost me, as I recall, $1200 Canadian (this is a few years ago, and it was on special offer from a tool supplier in Victoria, B.C.), plus another $900 or so for accessories. It is well made, unlike some other Oriental copies I've had dealings with, and as I said, amazingly versatile. The only downside is, it weighs over 900lbs (or the equivalent in kilopascals), so shipping might be a problem.

There are smaller, lighter and cheaper alternatives, such as the Sherline or Unimat, but I've had no experience of these so I couldn't offer an opinion as to their capabilities. It all depends on the scale of your proposed operations; a bigger machine will handle a bigger range of applications.

You might also check out the secondhand market. Quite often commercial machine shops dispose of perfectly usable machines that can easily be refurbished, at near scrap prices. Apparently it's considered by production engineers to be "more economical" to buy a new machine rather than refurbish an old one. Or if an amateur machinist is upgrading his equipment, he might be willing to sell his old one cheap . . .

I hope this is helpful,

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