Switcheroo, and Mulling over Milling

One of the minor issues with the Zimmermann PS 1/2 sanding machine was the on/off switch, which was on the verge of having its buttons fall out. I decided to take a look-see. Fortunately, a standard hydrant key, which I happened to have in my tool set, opens the electrical box:

Inside everything looked un-molested, which was good:

The switch itself was in good shape, and there was a brochure inside the box that was for the switch. It is a Siemen’s model, however not something they make these days. A little digging around and I found a NOS one in Texas, which I ordered as a back-up, for all of $22.50. Get ’em while you can.

The part which had failed was just a piece of rubber in the external push button set. I love finding stuff which is actually user-serviceable – so rare these days. The escutcheon itself is aluminum, not plastic as one might otherwise expect:

The fact that the rubber was divided into two bits, and not that cleanly cut, told me that a past repair had replaced half of the rubber, or maybe it had been repaired twice for all I know. Seems like this is a wear item.

I used a caliper to determine the thickness of the rubber sheet required and ordered some up online. When it arrived, I trimmed a piece to shape and then cut a pair of holes in the rubber using a special bit intended for that task in my milling machine:

A minute or two later, the switch was all back together and in perfect working order:

It’s nice when there are straightforward tidy solutions to things that can be knocked off the tick list, at low to moderate cost, in a short time.

Not everything works this way however…

It’s been a little over 2 years since my 1971 Zimmermann FZ-5V pattern milling machine arrived from Germany. That arrival was detailed in a couple of posts back in October of 2015 (here and here). While at least one reader at the time was unclear on why a woodworker might want a pattern milling machine, and another asked why I had gone the semi- ‘old ‘arn’ route instead of a more modern portal CNC machine – perfectly legitimate and reasonable questions – I had a lot of ideas as to how I could put this machine to good use. I also knew very little about milling machines in general, so there has certainly been a learning curve, and that is a curve I continue to ascend.

In these past 2 years, I have found myself using the machine more and more and it has become an essential tool in my shop. While a lot of what it does can be replaced by any number of scratch-built jigs out of scrap wood, MDF, etc., I have come to enjoy that the machine has allowed me to reduce my consumption and use of MDF and reduce the time and energy formerly sucked up in the making of jigs and fixtures, which then tended to get stuck in a pile in the supposition of later usability (only to find that a year or three later I can barely remember what the jig was even used for – or forget that I had even made it only to discover such was the case after having made another one).

The milling machine allows me to work with higher precision – repeatable precision – and to do so with greater safety than before. For one thing, to be able to fix the material down and run a cutter over it in full view is wonderful! To be able to fasten the work down to a table which does not flex, and hold that work with assurance it will not move while being cut is simply a revelation. This, compared with what was the norm for me previously, namely, check it and check it again, and the scene of trying to tighten a fixture clamp only to watch the entire fixture bow in the process.

I’m sold on having a milling machine, and going forward it will be an important part of my shop, right up there with the planer and jointer. In fact the milling machine makes the jointing and dimensioning of small parts a breeze. To mention a couple of other plusses, I can also work aluminum and brass, which expands capabilities into making custom hardware and fixtures. I can mill steel and cast iron, which has allowed me to repair/alter some of my other woodworking machines.

There are some negatives to this machine, and I would be remiss if I did not mention them, and indeed some of these negatives have lead to certain difficulties:

– The machine is large and bulky, and weighs 2.5 tons. I was worried it might break the floor in my space, but that did not come to pass. It’s not a machine though, like a jointer or planer, which you can just stuff a pallet truck under and move around conveniently.

– it’s an old machine, and Zimmermann provides zero parts support. Zero technical support as well. Their business these days is making and selling large portal milling machines that weigh 20 tons or more, like this one from 2000 that forms its own room:

Even that is now old, a FZ30 model. Their new machines are FZ100 series or even later.

So ‘little’ old machines like the one I have  from the distant past are simply unprofitable for them to pay attention to any longer I’m sure. Fortunately I have a parts manual and schematic diagrams for my machine, which helps somewhat.

– to repair certain things on a milling machine, you need a specialized machine. Care to guess what it is? Another milling machine. Toss in an engine lathe as well, and then a large granite inspection plate, and other inspection equipment. Do I have any of that? No.

– unique Zimmermann-made tool holders limit what I can do. I can make zero use of the high speed head on the machine, for example, because it has a weird tool holder that is not longer made by the company.

The age of the FZ-5V is starting to show in a bunch of ways:

1) It won’t hold oil in its ways, especially the rotary table, which loses oil in a matter of minutes. I gather that the seals are worn out. Fixing them is not a simple job though. Way oil is not cheap, and I’m tired of cleaning up the puddles of oil off the floor, and it has been like this since I got it.

2) the manual spindle brake has now worn out. It’s probably a simple affair similar to a drum brake on a car, however to access the brake itself requires a bunch of disassembly. Now that it is worn out, sometimes I have quite a hassle getting a tool holder out of the spindle.

3) the quill has slop which allows it to rotate a certain amount. No amount of axial rotation in the quill is in fact desirable in the least. This slop led to much frustration when using the right angle attachment on a previous job, and produced some ruined parts as a result. The quill is also sticky and does not plunge smoothly. The spindle lock works, but when clamped on it gets stuck and won’t release, requiring that it be taken apart. Fixing the cluster of quill-related issues involves disassembling the machine’s head. If that is going to happen, one may as well replace all the bearings and seals while one is at it.  It is likely a $5000 bill to deal with the quill issues.

4) the power drive of the rotary table failed last month while working on a wheelstock for a Chinese wheelbarrow. This outcome likely connects to the problem of the non-existent oil retention. Repair may involve making a new gear, however getting access to that gear will require extensive dismantling of the machine and the parts are really heavy. Plus I have no idea what I’m doing, but why should that stop me :^). At least the manual drive system for the rotary table still functions, but it is physically and mentally tiring to use if you have to employ it for any length of time.

5) when powering the table assembly up and down in ‘z’ axis, there is a groaning noise during a portion of the travel. Not sure what is causing that, but it does not sound good and like other issue with the mill, extensive disassembly is required. If I am forced to take the saddle and the knee off, then I may as well replace bearings and seals while I am at it.

6) once in a blue moon, while using power feed to raise the table up, the electrical circuit sorta ‘goes to sleep’ and the machine table keeps raising after I have let my finger off of the button. This requires a quick sprint over to the disconnect switch on the wall. Once power is back on, the problem goes away, and it happens so infrequently that it is difficult to diagnose. I’m always apprehensive when raising the table up as a result. The machine’s electrical system relies upon old ceramic fuses, and these are not so easy to source. If I were to disassemble the machine, then I would also likely be looking at going through all the electrical stuff as well.

The machine remains largely functional, but the problems described above have been coming one by one, and seemingly a little more frequent in occurrence with each passing month. It’s an old machine. I worry though about what the next thing will be, and whether it will cause a part to be ruined, or further damage to the machine, or leave me stranded in the middle of a work process.

If woodworking was my hobby only, and I felt like I could take the mill’s repair work on myself (which to a large extent I am confident that I can), and had some money to spend on it, then I might choose to take it all apart and repair and restore it over the course of several months. That’s not my situation though. I simply can’t devote the time to it, and I know that any decision to strip down the machine invites the ‘tip of the iceberg’ effect in terms of what one might find that you really have to deal with once things are apart. Thus it is difficult to ascertain how much money it might cost to put the FZ-5V right.

I recently had a fellow from a spindle rebuilding company in New Hampshire pay a visit to my shop. The company, SPS Spindle, offers a site visit to price out repair work, saving one from the alternative, which is to take the machine apart and bring the parts to the company for inspection and pricing. Obviously, in assessing my machine, there are any number of unknowns, so the pricing is somewhat of a guess, but it looked like a rebuild of the spindle and quill on my machine, along with attending to the various other issue, including the tool holding problem, was going to be in the zone of $10,000.00.

Well, I have so far spent about the same money just purchasing and getting the machine into my shop, so the prospect of shelling out the same amount was not exactly mouth-watering. It’s not a crazy amount of money though, not in the world of large machines with spindles. The FZ-5V was selling for something like 50,000 € when it was last being made in the mid 1980’s. If it were on the market today, factoring in inflation, I would be looking at a purchase price for a new machine of 123,684.43 €, according to one online calculator I tried. Would I be in the market for a machine at that price point? No. Is a $10,000 repair on a machine which would cost 123,684.43 € otherwise reasonable? Sure it is.

I don’t get hung up on how much money has already gone into the machine, or let that guide any decision about what I should do now. I’ve spent enough time in the past dwelling on such ‘sunk cost issues’ to have learned that it is not the most rational approach. When faced with the prospect that $10,000 might have to go into the FZ-5V at some point, I start thinking about whether $10,000 could be better spent perhaps. Yeah, I know, ‘wise use of money’ and ‘woodworking equipment’ is not a natural or entirely sensible combination in many people’s eyes. Maybe I should look at Bitcoin?

I asked myself if, at the end of the day, a $10,000 investment into that machine would result in all I ever wanted in that machine? Would it be my dream come true? No, in this case, it would not actually. The ergonomics of the FZ-5V are not the best, for one thing. I would like an even bigger work envelope, and have found turning hand wheels back and forth all day loses its charm rather quickly, as I find it hard on my rotator cuff muscles. A machine that uses a toggle switch, push button, or joystick to achieve the same motorized control of movement (like on my jointer or planer) would be preferable.

So, what are the options that loom large, besides repair?

1) Are there other machines with similar functionality and size? Well, yes…. Two similar sort of size pattern mills of which I’m aware are the Wadkin WS and the Oliver #102-103-104. Both machines are from the pre-WWII era. I’m not sure I want to step further back in time than what I have now, technology-wise, and I’ve been less than fully delighted with a past Oliver machine and a current Wadkin machine. The Wadkin uses a railway track on the floor for the main table, and this would not work so well with the wavy and movement-prone wooden floor in my space. The Oliver would be a challenge to get into the building, at 8′ of height, so some disassembly would be required. I doubt that either machine would be as precise as the Zimmermann, and the tooling would be of some older format, likely Morse taper #3 or #4, which is less desirable to me. The Oliver #103 does have 8 speeds, max rpm of 4100 and 6″ of quill travel, a bigger work envelope with loads more x-travel, so it has attractions, despite my wariness of the brand.

2) Going to a bigger machine, with a Bokö milling machine, say. These are in the 4~8 ton range. I would be interested in this direction, but a bigger machine simple wouldn’t even fit through the door of the shop building, and I’m sure would be too much for the floor. At least there is parts support for Bokö however, and even a distributor in the US exists.

3) Go same again. There is a 1983 FZ-5V for sale in Germany, 12 years newer than the one I have. The machine reseller wants 6000€ for it, which is actually less than they bought it for, having had it on the market for a while now. Apparently it was not heavily used and does not leak oil, and to boot it has an additional motor fitted for powered y-travel, which would be nice. It uses a remote control panel on a swivel arm which improves the ergonomics. The electrical panel is more modern, with relays and a single circuit board. Without going to Germany to inspect in person, this is a risky purchase though, just like last time.

4) Go smaller. Zimmermann made a machine about half the size of mine, the FZ-1, which would be able to tackle 80% of what the larger machine can do, albeit at a significant reduction in work envelope:

5) Go modern with CNC. There are lots of options in this direction, ranging from machines way out of my price range to little gippers intended for pen turning and jeweler’s work. There is a DIY CNC scene, people welding up their own tables and buying components with which to build their own machines. However, most of what I have seen would appear to be designed more for production in volume than the type of work I do. I am not interested in programming just for the sake of drilling a few holes, or making a series of cuts on 2~4 parts. It doesn’t make sense, though the user-friendliness of these machines is improving from what I have heard. Many CNC machines are intended for sheet goods work and take up a lot of space, which I don’t have. There is likely a configurable solution, however it will require a fair bit of research yet.

6) Go to a metal working mill. With that, there is a reduced work envelope –  at least for the size of machine which can fit in my space – no rotary table with most machines (except as a small accessory which mounts to the main table) and much slower spindle speeds generally with machines built for cutting metal. There are high speed milling heads for some machines, and some come with really cool super versatile tables which rotate and tilt, like the Maho universal mills, and some, like Deckel mills, come with both horizontal and vertical spindle drives. A good machine though, is a chunk of change and is likely coming out of Europe, so this option is a well beyond my price range.

7) Go outside of the box with some sort of DIY fabrication to change things on the machine I have. I could, for instance, consider removing the head on my machine and fabricating a mount for an electrospindle which would solve quite a few problems. Higher speed, variable step-less speed control, built in motor braking, modern tool holding, etc.

I’m not really sure what to do at this point. There are options, including doing nothing. The machine will remain serviceable for a while longer, however I really have no idea how long I can rely upon it, so planning for what to do next is occupying my thoughts. It is tick-tocking its way toward becoming a 5500lb paperweight in my shop, and I feel I need to do something sooner rather than later.

Perhaps a reader out there has useful advice – if so, I’m all ears.

27 Replies to “Switcheroo, and Mulling over Milling”

  1. Hi Chris

    It is a tough dilemma.

    Is there any possibility that you could lease a machine? I guess most lease contracts on machinery involves brand new machines, so it might not be an economical viable route to go.

    Also. could there perhaps be a votech school in your area that has got some sort of machinery repair line that would be interested in doing the repair job of your existing machine. Where you only pay the spare parts, and they use the machine as a real life example?

    I would probably mostly gravitate towards option 3)
    Here is one for 5700 Euro from a machine dealer, it is a 1985 model and the price is negotiable (VB = Verhandlungsbasis = negotiable)

    Here is the same machine at the same dealer, but now at a suggested price of 4800 Euro (and still seemingly accepting offers around that figure.

    The advantage of getting a similar machine is that:
    It should be similar in use, so you don't need to learn to operate from scratch again.
    You could most likely use all the same tools and fixtures etc. from the old machine, perhaps even cannibalize the old machine of yours for spare parts.

    You could hire some third party engineer to go test the machine for you, He should at least be able to assess whether there are unusual noise from bearings etc, and if all the functions work etc. It might be cheaper than flying to Germany to do the ame thing yourself.

    Perhaps Meus (http://www.meus.org/index.php?page=001-001-001) have got an engineer that could do the trick. It wouldn't cost much time to send them a question and get a quotation for such a job.

    I can't remember how much the shipping was for your last machine, but it is likely in the same ball park for this one.

    I think that doing the repair jobs yourself might just end up being frustrating. One thing is the iceberg effect as you call it, and the other is that you probably prefer working with wood over repairing old machines. So you end up spending valuable time doing something that you don't enjoy as much and quite often I find that there is always a need for some peculiar type of special tool that I don't have, and then I need to spend more time working around that problem etc.

    Good luck with whatever you decide.

  2. Dafydd,

    thanks for the first-time comment, and appreciate the suggestion. I checked out their website. They don't have anything of particular interest to me at this time. Interesting shop though, selling used milling machines and used Stanley-type hand plane blades, which is not a common combination.

  3. Jonas,

    your detailed comment is most valuable to receive.

    The company you link to with those sales ads is the exact same one from which I bought my current machine. That's not a strike against them or anything. The machine they list is a newer one, but it lacks the powered-y travel option, and also the swiveling control panel on an arm, so it's not a machine quite as interesting to me as the other one. You can find the other one on Machine Seeker, but you have to look in the metal working section.

    Your idea about paying someone to go and inspect the machine is a very good one. I'll look into that further.

    And you're right about the perils of doing the repair job. I actually don't mind wrenching on machines so much, but I am certainly wary about needing tools i don't have. I looked at repairing the right angle attachment, for example, and right away i was faced with buying a pair of pin wrenches, at a cost of close to $100. Kinda deters me from the get-go. There are ways around these problems in some cases, but I have learned to prefer to have the correct tool for the job at the outset. There are tools for taking the machine apart, there are tools for servicing bearings, and there are tools for inspection and repair, and I fear i lack a good portion of those. And to buy them for just one machine rebuild seems hard to justify.


  4. I checked the locations of Meus and the machine reseller, and they are nearly 8 hours apart by car, so I think it would cost too much to send someone from Meus.

  5. hmmm, I feel kind of guilty and lazy for not having checked that out before suggesting it. I hope you can forgive me for that 🙂

    Here's a search for companies that do service “repair of milling machines” in a 50 km radius from Mannheim. It looks like “your” machine is in Gorxheimetal which is approximately 20 km from Mannheim.


  6. Two thoughts I didn't see expressed in your post occur to me. Probably they've occurred to you, but here I go . . .
    1) getting another used Zimmermann (or any other machine) starts up another “pig in poke” cycle. It's like buying a used car. Your current machine has a lengthening list of “known” problems BUT a very, very, very short list of “unknowns.” Despite the diligence of your pre-purchase checks, which in your case are always exemplary, we all know they're not the same as running the machine to make money cuts in your own shop. Another used machine brings with it another long, long, long list of “unknowns,” along with the psychological issues involved in waiting for them to show themselves. Some enjoy this process! I think you do a little, but still . . .

    2) I do not know how old you are, nor how much longer you plan to continue working at the rate and scale you're working now. If you do have a plan for that, you can plot out what you'll spend on repairing and maintaining your current machine versus a different one. The younger you are . . . or the further away your retirement is . . . the more financial sense it makes to seek out your ideal machine. On the other hand, if your horizon is 10 or 15 years, it starts making more sense to have an arrangement with a regional service to come out and do $10K worth of work a couple more times, so there's enough life left in the machine to see you to the door. Good luck! (I'm in my early 50's, and starting to wonder whether some of my “compromise” equipment will finally wear out so I can get the good stuff!)

  7. Jonas,

    the link you provided was helpful, and indeed, one of the companies on that list, http://www.hw-maschinen.de, is a veritable tool porn shop of gleaming Deckel mills. I seem to recall stumbling my way onto that site in the past, and would think to contact them first in regards to doing an inspection. Hopefully the seller won't mind another tool seller doing an inspection.

  8. Jim,

    thanks for the input, which is well-considered.

    As to point (1), summarized perhaps as “better the devil you know than the one you don't”, that has certainly occurred to me. With that in mind though, one can anticipate, in light of standard operation of a machine and no out-of-the-ordinary events in the past, that the things that wear and get damaged are going to be kinda similar for a given class of machine. And these things are related to how many hours the machine has been worked, and whether it was fastidiously maintained or something short of that. One of the reasons i tend to look to machines from Europe all the time is that they were run by professionals who were well trained, and the Germans in particular seem to be culturally programmed to keep their ships spic and span and humming along. In the US, a lot of the used industrial machinery looks like it came out of a war zone, inconsistently maintained, run by hacks, people on drugs, or uncaring folk, rarely cleaned, and used well past the point when they should have been replaced. This is much the norm here, and the machines show it. So I look elsewhere….

    Milling machines, based on their design differences will exhibit different wear patterns, however this type of mill is going to wear similarly to the one i have, so i am already having a good idea what to look for in particular. I'm mostly hoping though that a machine 12 years newer is commensurately less worn. In this case I have learned that the mill of interest was owned by a conglomerate called Freudenberg, which has a prototyping shop among several other lines of business. The machine apparently saw no 8-hour/day use, was used for special jobs and not run much. So, this devil might be worth getting to know, pending a more thorough inspection of course, as suggested by another commenter.

    As to point (2), I'm 52, so I think i've got a few good years, if not my peak, ahead of me, and I would like to spend as little of that time as possible in disagreements and strife with my own equipment, if you know what I mean. I always strive to improve my equipment as I can, job by job.

  9. Chris,

    With regard to the ergonomics of manual milling machines, I think that you will find that almost all such machines have one or more controls stuck in odd places. This is a consequence of the way they are built.

    Personally I suspect that the Zimmermann machine is probably already quite heavy for the work you are doing with it. So a mill made for milling metal will be *really* overbuilt. And that will also mean less access around the spindle.

    And when milling wood you probably have more use for e.g. a hollow spindle and hollow mills, so that you can blow out chips with compressed air while milling than anything with a cooling fluid pump!

    I think a simple “hobbyist” 3-axis type CNC mill that uses a heavy router as the spindle (something like an x-carve or any of the many alternatives) could be a very good choice for you.

    You could see such a machine basically as router with the template built in software. 🙂 If you have operations that you do very often, like cutting mortises and tenons, you could make parameterized G-code programs for that. So that you only have to give the dimension of the lumber and the dimension of the mortise or tenon.

    It would be relatively simple to use such a machine as a electrically driven manual mill with a digital indicator. Machines like this can often talk to hand-held controllers that allow you to say e.g. “go to coordinates x,y,z” and such devices also come with a small hand-wheel that allows you to move one axis very fast. Look that the Youtube channel for “this old tony”. He has built such a CNC machine and has such a hand-held controller.

    The nice things with these machines is that the H-shape of the X/Y axis needs to sit on a rectangular frame, but it can be mostly independant from the table, so you can be very flexible with that. Typically the tables are made out of (ply)wood. So if for instance you want to built a feature into the table where you can clamp one of more staves vertically to mill tenons on the end, that should be relatively easy to do.

    Now such a machine would not be as stiff as the Zimmermann. So you would have to cut slower. But for one-off jobs set-up time can easily exceed milling time anyway, so I'd guess that this would not be a huge problem for you. And there is quite a lot of choice in such machines or kits for them, so if desired you could build it as big and as stiff as makes sense for you.

    Of course a CNC opens the way to 2-axis or even 3-axis simultaneous cutting. That would open up possibilities. But 2+-axis simultaneous milling almost necessitates working in CAD/CAM. You don't want to do that in raw G-code.

    For the work you do, I would not advise to go to 5-axis milling. Both the machines and necessary software are *much* more expensive.

    But maybe a pantarouter built out of metal (https://hybridpantorouter.com/) might also be very useful. At the very least for mortises and tenons. Plus, it works with small templates, not software so it doesn't require a computer.

  10. Chris,

    A CNC retrofit might be an option here, I understand that many parts are replaced in the process and the companies that perform such tasks may be able to repair and otherwise update the machine. A spindle that accepts cnc might be able to be worked in, for instance.

  11. Roland,

    I will admit the DIY CNC approach definitely has its attractions. The main things holding me back from going that direction, to build a machine suited to my needs, revolve around fabrication equipment. While I know how to weld, I lack a welder. Ditto for an abrasive cut off saw. At least i have the mill for drilling holes I suppose :^)

    I checked out 'This Old Tony' and clicked subscribe soon afterwards. I enjoy his sense of humor and the projects he tackles are of interest to me for the most part. I can see where a few afternoons are going to go over the holiday period….

    The pantarouter you link reminds me of the JDS router machine, which I have considered buying in the past.

    I guess overall I really like the heavy rigidity and reliable precision of the Zimmermann, and whatever might replace it I would prefer have comparable qualities. Hence the thought about the Boko…

  12. Brian,

    good to hear from you.

    It would be cool to have programmed movement in the axes of motion, but I think to make the machine operate on a CNC basis would require a near-complete rebuild. The motors which drive the 3 axes would need swapping out for some sort of DC drive motors, the lead screw and cross slide screw would likely need to be replaced with a more modern screw with near-zero lash, and I would need some sort of controller. I'm imagine it can be done, but at what price? If it were a Bridgeport, I'm sure I could buy an off-the-shelf kit, but for this, I'd need another milling machine just to tackle the refitting – at least that's what I tend to believe. Good suggestion though. Some of those German machinery rebuilders offer CC retrofitting, but I have no idea the sorts of costs involved with that.


  13. The one kit I’ve seen replaced the lead screw on the Bridgeport as well, the machine has about 1/2 turn of backlash which as you note must be removed to function effectively as s CNC.

    I think that perhaps CNC is overrated as a solution in custom woodworking but it seems to make sense in some cases and might allow certain operations which are otherwise super difficult. I thought it may be a solution to the rotary tables as well which may be able to be replaced by a fourth axis which can be setup to provide indexing.

    I’ve considered this for my own machine but find it to be on the expensive side having recieve estimates around 10k. If my machine required rebuilding I might think differently. A Bridgeport is also considerably smaller so the cost is not necessarily justified by comparison to individual cnc machines for various operations.

    In any case you might also reach out to a small local machine shop and bring assemblies to them for rebuilding. I would imagine the costs will be much smaller than dropping off a full piece of machinery somewhere for a rebuild. A place that works at an hourly rate may be more reasonable than one that is factoring your replacement costs into their pricing.

  14. As far as CNC, for me it has been a service I have employed on an intermittent basis in the past, using a company in upstate NY who machines stuff to drawings I provided. For example, all the MDF templates for the Jeff Koons work were subbed to them, as I would rather avoid MDF work where I can. They also milled the coffee tabletop blank seen in the 'Square Deal' series of posts. They are expensive however, so there is some point at which it becomes more cost effective to obtain or fabricate my own CNC set up, but I haven't reached that point yet.

    CNC offers the promise of lowered unit cost in volume production, however that also means that sales becomes the most important part of the business if one does start producing things in volume. I'm only interested in the prototyping and one-off capacity of course.

  15. I've seen several kits for CNC machines built out of aluminium extrusions. No welding required, just assembly. See e.g: http://www.cncrouterparts.com/pro-cnc-machine-kits-c-47_54.html The open table frame would give you a lot of freedom w.r.t to creating your own clamping system. Or e.g. the machines from http://www.veloxcnc.com/

    And then there are of course the drool-worthy semi-professional German CNC routers, like the ones from cnc-step.de. But then a 700×1200 mm machine will set you back €11600. Ouch. But you do get: a cast steel frame and 0.01 mm repeatable accuracy: https://www.cnc-step.de/en/t-rex-0712-cnc-milling-machine-700x1200mm/ They have a US distributor: http://www.cnc-step.us

    Also the much more affordable kit machine from Grünblau: http://www.grunblau.com/PlatformCNC.html Also available from cncrouterparts: http://www.cncrouterparts.com/grunblau-platform-cnc-parts-bundle-p-219.html That machine look pretty well made. And this is also an assembly kit without welding required.

    There are also several people who have built portal CNC machines out of wood. You could probably get decent performance out of that, but the moving horizontal axis would have to be a pretty big box section for sufficient stiffness.

    If you decide to have the Zimmermann repaired, it will probably last you a lifetime. W.r.t. Boko, a lot of their machines that I see are 4 or more axes. More axes generally means more maintenance and more stuff that can go wrong. And less stiffness. If you decide to buy another manual milling machine, do factor in the cost for a DRO kit. A while ago I had occasion to use our old lathe again, and while I can work with the old manual indicators, I would have appreciated a DRO!

    BTW: check out “this old tony”'s videos about his refurbishing of a Swiss milling machine. And talking about youtube channels, check out Clickspring if you don't have enough time-sinks already. 😉 Even if clockmaking and fine mechanics are not your thing, his level of craftsmanship in fine metalworking is both inspirational and humbling.

  16. Hi Roland,

    some very helpful information – thanks!

    I did watch TOTony's video on his Shaublin mill. An interesting machine and on the list of desirable Euro Mills.

    I've been a subscriber to Clickspring for quite a while. His video production work leaves me in the dust (an in awe), and I find his projects fascinating.

  17. Thanks for the link. I do like Schaublin mills, but like the Maho M700 and M800, Deckel FP1, FP2, FP3, FP4, machines the biggest drawback for me is the low rpm for cutting. Perfect for metals, but for wood, not so much. There were accessory high speed milling heads which Deckel had as an option, and I imagine Schaublin had them as well, so for me the machine would need to come with that, or there be one available to buy, for me to consider it. And the costs can climb with excellent examples – I've seen rebuilt Deckel mills in Europe going for 30,000~40,000 Euros, which is beyond my budget.

    Do you see many FZ-5V machines in your neck of the woods? Have you seen one in person? I'd be curious about your impressions on that, and on the FZ-4 if you've come across one of those as well.

  18. I have seen FZ-5V machines online, ranging from € 5000,- for non-restored examples to €11000,- for machines listed as fully restored. The restored machines look fine, not just a lick of paint. But of course you can't tell from a picture how good it is.

    But honestly, I don't see a lot of manual milling machines around anymore. Production milling is all done on CNC machines these days. You'll still find manual mills and lathes in (in-house) repair shops. We have an old Cincinatti milling machine and a Hembrug AI lathe for that purpose in the repair shop at work. The thing is that machines like these generally do not conform to modern safety standards for professional use, so they are falling out of favor. We've already had to put a guard over the chuck of the lathe and around the quill of the drill press. Opening these guards cuts the power to the machine.

    With regard to the relatively low spindle speed of manual (metal) milling machines, high-revving machines from the time before power electronics are rare. We used to have a Wadkin LS router which could run at 18000 or 24000 rpm. It could only do that because of a built-in rotary phase converter. We used that up to the early 2000's, IIRC. We then got a new corporate heath & safety guy who almost got a fit when he saw it. To be fair, he had a point. Not all tools of that time proved suitable for those speeds. I've seen that machine spit out router bits in pieces more than once. Not a nice experience when you're standing in front of it feeding a piece of material into it!

    Fitting a modern high-speed motor to an old machine is probably not a good idea. You might get it to run significantly faster, but at best the lifetime of the spindle and drivetrain would be much reduced.

    We occasionally mill wood for patterns and fixtures on our 20000 rpm CNC mill. And I must say the surface quality is excellent, even in plywood. Generally no tearout. The only downside is that at that speed you get dust rather than chips! So if you want high rotational speed and a good surface finish, a modern router-based CNC kit is probably your best bet.

  19. Hi Chris,
    just some thoughts from across the pond.By what I know of your machine shop reading your posts I would say you have an under used shaper by lack of proper tooling. Trying to work wood and metals on the same machine seems a bit auckward to me, why not invest in a good second hand overhead router, you've got alot of them on the market due to people investing on CNC and buy a good small milling machine dedicated only to metal and non ferrous. Shaper and overhead router are a good duo covering 99% of a cabinet maker need. Or else go the CNC route, buy a good wood milling 4 axis machine, no more router jigs and complex set up on the shaper. In my profession, movie set buiding, they have eaten about 50% of what I used to do in the shop, no more days on my knees pushing routers on compass through plywood for making circle or conical work, you just order them and they come cnc routed the next day, the downside is I work 50% less and the guy with the cnc router is the one making the money. Difficult to resist the cnc thing what's the use of investing in an high end saw when your wood panel dealer has the best cnc saw on the market and you just have to mail your cutting list and it comes delivered to your shop bar coded, precise to a tenth of millimeter. And in the end he's the one making the big profit. So it goes down to strategical reflexion about your futur and the futur of craftmanship in a world ruled by computers! Hope it helps!!

  20. François,

    thank you very much for the comment and suggestions.

    I do have an under-utilized shaper, and it is true that I could use more tooling for that machine. However, using the shaper more than i currently do is essentially dependent upon having work suited to running through a shaper, which I have not had a lot of in the past while.

    When a project comes along that is suited to the shaper, that project can typically pay for any required tooling. There are jobs to be sure which could be done on the shaper, like tenoning, can also be tackled via various other means, so in those cases where there is a choice in how to tackle the work, shaper tooling can be a limitation, but only in terms of making use of the shaper, so it doesn't tend to present a problem otherwise.

    Setting up the shaper for tenoning, for instance, takes a while, and if I'm only cutting 3 or 4 parts, it might not be the best way to do it. If I had to cut 100 parts, then for sure I am going to set up the tenoning table on the shaper. If I had to cut 1000 parts, then I would be better off looking at a dedicated tenoning machine.

    I've looked at overhead pin routers a fair bit, and you are quite right that they are going for very cheap given the advent of affordable CNC machinery. The pin router, however, is a machine suited to production of many multiples of a part using templates, and that is not generally the sort of work I do. I am sure the machine could be made to be more versatile, but in general it seems a bit limited to me. Thee are machines halfway between pin router and milling machines, like the Wadkin LQ Recessor, but that's too old school and likely not as precise a machine as I would like. There are also mill drills, but these are kinda suited to the hobby shop, and can't take on more heavy duty metal milling, plus they have rather small work tables.

    I do think a lot about the 'coming world ruled by computers' – though it already is ruled by computers now – and wonder if my future work will be taken away by automation. I hope I have a while yet. From what I gather, the fact that I work exclusively with solid wood and joinery makes me a bit of an oddball, and I tend to think that the drive toward automation will be to replace the vast majority of woodworking operations who by and large make use of standardized, predictable materials, like MDF and plywood, to make standardized and predictable things, like kitchen cabinets and built-ins.

    We're already seeing that now, in fact, most cabinet shops I know no longer make their own drawers as it is cheaper and quicker to buy them from a specialty manufacturer who is using automated equipment, more often than not, to make those parts. Furthermore, you can buy cabinet boxes by outsourcing, and same for cabinet doors. The economics of this lean towards the economies of scale of large factories, and CNC givens them the flexibility to vary production which was formerly a limitation on what they could do. Since working with sheet goods is heavy, boring, and unpleasant work – in my view at least – I am puzzled why more shops don't simply outsource more of the production of those components, and concentrate on developing the design side more.

  21. Schaublin 13 has only 300mm x travel and 150mm y travel, which is a bit dinky,especially for wood. The FZ-5v has 700mm x and 350mm y travel. So, the 13 is not in consideration at all.

    The Schaublin 53N is an interesting machine, on the other hand, especially if fitted with the high speed head…

  22. I guess you've seen the two Swiss companies offering Schaublin 53N's? Luthy Machines even offers one year of warranty on rebuilt machines, but they also have used ones. No prices on the website, though. Expect a stiff price for a machine rebuilt in Switzerland, since labour is really expensive there.

  23. I did see those while searching for more info on that machine. I have learned that with machines like this, similar to Deckel where there were lots of neat factory accessories, that you want to find a machine which has as many of those accessories as possible, as you are unlikely to find them later on. Neither of the machines for sale had much in the way of accessories. And yes, I imagine anything coming out of a Swiss machinery dealer's site is going to be pricey. One time I enquired with a Swiss used machinery dealer about a nice shiny 25-year old Oerlikon drill press and found they were asking $20,000… Nice stuff to look at though!

  24. Chris
    I think overhead router are underestimated tools very complementary to the shaper in their capacity to calibrate wood and no you don't always have to use templates. I've seen them used a lot in staircase making, railing and balusters, you can use them with fences to make stop cut and moulding pretty similar to shaper work but different. And yes craftmanship is dancing on the razor edge in a world ruled by cad/cam production. The most beautifull examples of woodworking were made totally by hand in the 18th/19th century, so what are we left with? going unplugged again?

  25. @Francois: What is craftsmanship? Is one who uses cad/cam automatically not a craftsman? I would strongly disagree. For me cratfsmanship is about the mastery of your craft. Whether that is making beautiful one-off furniture pieces, designing a product for mass production or building a piece of software. There is science in all of these, but also art. In designing and making there is often more than one answer to a problem. Mastery of your craft means to know which answer to pick.

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