Archive for the ‘Getting Started’ Tag

Getting started #1 – The Big 4

When I first started researching getting started in hobby machining I was overwhelmed with the amount of information and the diversity of opinions about what you need tool wise to get started.

Having gone through a year of “starting”, I’ve decided to make a list of the tools I now own, and rate them in importance based on how much I use them.

The Big 4

These are the 4 primary machines you need to get going. ┬áTheres many debates about the necessity of having all 4. You can get by without a grinder or bandsaw and many of the lathe and milling operations can be performed on the other with some different tools or setups. But in my opinion it’s just not really worth the extra effort, tooling, and elbow grease required to try and do the normal machine shop operations without all 4.

Mini Lathe

The basic machine shop tool. It excels at performing concentric operations on round stock, but by no means is limited to that. Lathes can handle square, hex, or any other shape can be mounted to the chuck, faceplate, or between centers. The lathe rotates the workpiece while the cutting tool remains in a fixed position and is moved into the workpiece via the carriage, cross slide, compound, or tailstock.

Mini Mill

On par with the lathe, the mill fills in the gaps of what the lathe can’t do. Whereas in the lathe, the workpieces is usually rotated, in the mill the workpiece remains fixed to the mill table, and the cutting tool is rotated. The cutting tool is attached to the mill spindle which remains fixed in the X-Y axis, but can be moved up/down in the Z axis. The workpiece rests on the milling table, which can be moved precisely in the X and Y axis. The mill by default makes cuts in straight lines, but with the addition of a rotary table, can provide almost any cutting path.


Some argue that a bandsaw isn’t really required ┬áto get your show going, but I honestly can’t fathom getting started without it. The ease of use and the amount of time it saves cutting stock more than makes up for the investment in it. I can’t imagine trying to hacksaw 1″ or greater brass, aluminum, or steel on any consistent basis. The same goes for parting off those pieces in the lathe.


A bench grinder allows you to grind your own lathe tools, sharpen toolbits, grind profiles in stock, and tons of other uses that you never realized. It’s really a general purpose machine that opens up many options and is also the cheapest of the big 4 to invest in.

As part of the Getting Started series of posts, I’ll soon be creating a dedicated post to each machine, which will then be added to their respective dedicated pages.