Last Updated on March 1, 2023 by Charles Wilson
Are you looking to take your gun matters into your own hands?
Handle your gun maintenance, repairs, and modifications like a pro with these best small milling machines. They’ll allow you to not only rebuild your firearms but also create parts and custom parts for them.
Explore other machines you may have overlooked and know everything about milling machines here.
Last update on 2023-02-17 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
7 Best Mini Milling Machines for Gunsmithing for Beginners
This is the best mix of mini CNC machines and mini mill drill machines you never knew you needed. I’ve tested and reviewed each one to help you decide on which you can get for yourself.
1) JET JMD-15 350017 Milling & Drilling Machine – Best Overall
Are you working on large projects? You might want a milling machine that’s built to last, one that won’t be worn out after a few heavy projects. If I got that right, check out the JET JMD-15, my best overall pick.
This 440-pounder is made of a one-piece cast iron column and large hand-wheel knobs that are sure to not fall apart while you’re working on large projects.
Its 1 HP powerful motor is complemented by its quick slide latch so that you’re able to change your spindle speed quickly. The expedited performance of this product gave me the ability to finish large projects within the period my clients gave me.
If you ask me what’s my favorite feature of this product, it’s its tapered base. Working on large products with this milling machine was easy but clean-up was even easier with this feature.
- Weight: 440 lbs.
- Motor: 1 HP, 115 V
- RPM: 110 to 2,580
- Worktable: 7.5 x 23 inches
- Dimensions: 36.5 L x 37.5 W x 35.5 H inches
- Showcases an extra-large worktable
- Has a 360-degree head swivel
- Comes with a work lamp
- May be delivered with missing parts
2) FoxAlien 4040-XE CNC Router Machine – Best Value
Of course, I can’t talk about gunsmithing without talking about CNC machines to make custom parts. The best one for me is my best value pick, the FoxAlien 4040-XE Router Machine.
To help you understand why let me start with its efficiency features. It has a spindle speed of 0 to 10,000 and a wide engravable area, which can hold materials of any size. This means that you’re not limited to making only small parts.
This CNC machine can work both online and offline. It is compatible with the GRBL software that enables control over CNC machines for higher performance. On the other hand, its offline operation is supported by its LED touchscreen controller.
Another value-adding feature that I like about this product is its warranty and customer service. It comes with a one-year warranty and lifetime customer service.
My only issue with this product is that it requires assembly. Thankfully though, the components were well-organized and properly identified in the package.
- Weight: 66 lbs.
- Spindle: 300 W
- RPM: 0 to 10,000
- Worktable: 15.75 x 15.75 inches
- Dimensions: 29.92 L x 24.4 W x 14.17 H inches
- Easy to upgrade
- Features a 3.5 LED touchscreen
- Comes with an offline controller
- Requires assembly
3) SHOP FOX M1036 Micro Milling Machine – Budget Pick
For those who are just starting with gunsmithing, I recommend you the M1036 micro milling machine that’s light to hold and light on your budget. It allows you to practice your gunsmithing skills with its beginner-friendly features that won’t hurt your wallet.
For example, the combination of its digital depth readout and graduate dials helped me practice precise positioning while making the entire process less complicated for me.
In addition to the variable speed control of this micro mill is its dual speed control. This allowed me to practice with other materials aside from metal. I used the higher speeds for softer materials and smaller bits while the low speeds for harder materials and larger bits.
- Weight: 30 lbs.
- Motor: 1/5 HP, 110 V
- RPM: 0 to 5,000
- Worktable: 3.5 x 8 inches
- Dimensions: 22 L x 18.5 W x 15 H inches
- Slim design
- Features a dual speed control
- Has a digital depth readout
- Not a heavy-duty machine
4) Klutch Mini Milling Machine – Best for Hobbyists
The small size of this best mini milling machine shouldn’t indicate weakness. The Klutch Mini Milling Machine proves that. It showcases the perfect combination of lightweight and power. It can fit your small workshop as well as deliver consistency and efficiency.
Allow me to discuss my favorite highlights of this mini milling machine. First is its powerful motor. This machine is run by a 1/2 HP, 110V variable-speed motor with a 2-speed gearbox that delivers not only 350 W of power but also a vibration-less operation.
It has an X-axis of 220mm, a Y-axis of 100mm, and a Z-axis of 180mm. This means that the machine can not only move forward and backward but also up and down.
To add to that, it also has a milling head and column that tilt 45 degrees left and right. This definitely made me more flexible with the projects I’ve worked on.
- Weight: 143 lbs.
- Motor: 1/2 HP, 110 V variable-speed
- RPM: 100 to 2,500
- Worktable: 3.625 x 15.375 inches
- Dimensions: 20.5 L x 20.06 W x 29.93 H inches
- Features a variable-speed gearbox
- Strong and durable build
- Has the capability of milling head and column to tilt to both left and right
- Requires proper setup
5) Erie Tools Variable Speed Mini Milling Machine – Best for Safety Features
If I were to describe this benchtop mini mill machine from Erie Tools, I’d say it’s small but terrible. It delivers not only high performance but also safety features to back it all up.
This 112-pound machine is capable of deep milling and other heavy-duty work like drilling and face milling with variable-speed control. It has a drilling and end mill capacity of 3/8″ and a face mill capacity of 5/8″.
Aside from heavy work, this milling machine can also handle details with its adjustable depth stop. To give you an idea, this helps a lot with fine-tuning positioning.
Last but not least, the safety and security features of this machine. In addition to its forward and reverse switch is its safety shut-off switch.
For my personal favorite, I like how its spindle came with a locking pin and a clear guard to make sure that the part I’m working on stays in place. Of course, without risking accidental cuts.
- Weight: 112 lbs.
- Motor: 3/4 HP, 110 V
- RPM: 0 to 2,000
- Worktable: 9.45 x 5.7 inches
- Dimensions: 26.5 L x 21.5 W x 18 H inches
- Great safety features
- Comes with spindle locking pin, drawbar, spanner wrench, 4 T-slot nuts, etc
- Customer service may take a while to respond
6) JET JMD-18 350018 Milling & Drilling Machine – Best for Commercial Use
If you’re gunsmithing for a living, I’m sure you have different priorities in contrast to hobbyists. This is why I’m recommending the JET JMD-18 for readers who run a home shop. It offers speed, precision, and efficiency in one machine that makes it worth the investment.
Let me start with speed. This product has a 2 HP motor with 12 spindle speeds. Its high-speed performance is supported by its hinged belt cover that delivers faster speed changing.
The fast operation of this machine doesn’t compromise its precision. It has features that include an easy-to-read internal depth, a positive quick-stop knob, and a 360-degree swiveling head.
The JMD-18 can work on large projects, too. It has a larger drilling capacity, an extra large worktable, and my personal highlight, a work lamp. Thanks to this work lamp, I was able to work on projects even during late nights when I had deadlines to meet.
With this machine’s weight and price point, it may not come with a power feed, which you have to buy as an accessory. However, the results that this product can deliver still make it worth the buy for me.
- Weight: 660 lbs.
- Motor: 2 HP, 230 V
- RPM: 150 to 3,000
- Worktable: 9.5 x 31.75 inches
- Dimensions: 42.5 L x 39.75 W x 43.5 H inches
- Comes with a two-year warranty
- A high-speed machine that also offers faster speed changing
- Features a high-power motor
- Heavy and expensive
7) Genmitsu PROVerXL CNC Router Machine – Best CNC Milling Machine for Beginners
Another one of my favorite CNC machines is the Genmitsu PROVerXL.
Just like other CNC machines, it is highly compatible with GRBL software, which makes it beginner-friendly.
The machine’s size, 12,000 RPM maximum power, and large engravable area give beginners the freedom to experiment on different tasks to hone their customization skills.
Because of these features, they can easily cut, drill, and carve various materials ranging from softer materials to harder ones like metal.
- Weight: 57 lbs.
- Spindle: 300 W
- RPM: 12,000
- Worktable: 15.7 x 11.8 inches
- Dimensions: 25.23 L x 29.74 W x 22.83 H inches
- Easy to upgrade
- Has a powerful spindle
- Comes with a redesigned control box
- The offline controller is sold separately
What is Gunsmithing?
If you’re only starting to explore gunsmithing, you may be wondering what it’s all about. Let me simplify it for you.
Gunsmithing is the process of maintaining, repairing, and modifying firearms. In this case, gunsmiths can either identify worn or defective parts of guns and replace them with new ones, or replace working parts with custom parts.
Gunsmiths must know specific issues with certain types of guns or certain brands. As such, they can specialize in either particular types of firearms or focus on specific manufacturers.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Milling Machine
Consider this your buying guide for your milling machine. These are the things you should consider when you pick one that’s for you.
Size and Capacity
I’m putting size and capacity as one factor here because as I like to say, small doesn’t have to be terrible. You’re here to look for the right mini milling machine that’s for you and let me tell you that you can still have all the features that you need even in one small machine.
But of course, we can’t be too idealistic here. Your small machine has its limitations. If you’re looking for mini CNC machines for creating custom parts for a handgun, this is possible. However, you’ll need bigger industrial machines to create parts for a rifle.
It goes without saying that your milling machine should fit in your workshop with a comfortable space for you to move around in.
On top of this, you should also consider the worktable of your machine. Consider this table as the platform you’ll be working on. Your projects should fit properly to help you achieve the results that you’re aiming for.
Whether you’re buying a benchtop milling machine or a mini milling machine, more often than not it’s because you want to make your life easier when removing pieces from different materials.
To do so, you’ll need a powerful machine. But the question is, “how much power?” The answer to this question depends on the materials you’re working on and the results you want to achieve.
If you’re working on malleable materials for smaller works, you can get a mini to benchtop milling machine with a horsepower of at least 1/8. That’s enough to help you work on smaller projects.
Mild to intense jobs would require a horsepower of at least 1, while specific and complex jobs would require a horsepower of at least 2.
In contrast, you don’t have to worry much about power if you’re mainly concerned about model making. You’ll be working mostly with smaller materials here so buying a mill with a very powerful motor would be unreasonable.
With the price that you’re paying, you’d prefer a milling machine that can help you work on different projects. As such, you can get the versatility that you deserve from your machine if it offers variable speed control.
If you’ve noticed from my list of recommended milling machines, you can see that each one has a minimum and maximum RPM. This means that you can choose any speed from the certain range that each one offers.
Trust me, you’ll value variable speed adjustments especially when it comes to fine-tuning your projects.
What your benchtop milling machine is made up of and how it is designed matter. Its construction affects three things, which are stability, accuracy, and vibrations. You’d be surprised to know that these three things are correlated. Here’s why.
If the base of your milling machine is made of cast iron, it should be stable. A cast iron base is strong enough to withstand the force of milling. Because of this, it can absorb vibrations as well.
The strength and stability that cast iron offers can also affect the accuracy of your projects. Its cast iron base can hold your machine in place and prevent slight movements that can affect the positioning of your projects.
An additional design feature that supports this is the worktable. Choose a table that is made of either steel or aluminum. Also make sure that your table has T-slots, which you can use to attach clamps to keep your projects in place.
Important Things Before Using a Milling Machine for Gunsmithing
No matter what milling machine you buy and how you intend to use it, you have to know these important things first. Take it from me, you wouldn’t want to learn about these things through experience.
- Do It the Right Way – The first thing you should know is that there is a correct way of using a milling machine. Learn how to properly operate your machine through readily available resources.
There are different types of mill machines, each with different specifications and features. Never assume that you already know how to operate your machine. Read the instruction manual that comes with it.
If you want to be extra sure, you can take a class or get a tutorial through online sources. Learn the basics first before you press that start button.
- Beware and Be Aware – Beware of the potential risks of operating a milling machine. The most common one you’ll encounter is flying debris. However, the risks can escalate from this to worse, electric shocks and burns.
It pays to be aware of the possible risks that come with operating your mill. Through this, you can be more mindful of your operations.
- Do It the Safe Way – Proper operation should come with the right safety gear. This includes safety goggles, earplugs, and gloves. Make sure that your work area is well-ventilated to avoid inhaling toxic gases and risking suffocation.
Remember that a milling machine is a powerful tool and gunsmithing involves firearms. The combination of these two should be telling enough of the importance of these things.
Types of Milling Machines
I know that you’re already faced with different milling machine options to choose from. But if you know that there are types of mill machines you can consider, you’ll know which one’s a better fit for your projects. The following are the types of machines you should know about.
Column and Knee Type Milling
This is one of the usual types you’ll find. It is characterized by a vertical column attached to the bed consisting of all the gear drives responsible for the rotation of the knee and saddle.
You can find the knee on the base to give vertical movement to your workpiece while the saddle is attached to the top portion of the knee. The saddle, in contrast, moves in a transverse direction.
For this type of milling machine, you can use climbing bolts to hold your workpiece down on your table.
Vertical Milling Machine
You can distinguish this type through the vertical position of its spindle. You won’t need any arbor for this type of milling machine. Aside from these, you’ll also notice that the cutter tool is cylindrical with its cutting edges located around its cylindrical face.
Horizontal Milling Machine
As the name suggests, the spindle of this type of milling machine has horizontal positioning. As a result, the spindle movement is in the horizontal direction as well.
In contrast to a vertical milling machine, this type has an arbor. You’ll find it attached to the machine holding the cylindrical disk shape cutter.
Universal Milling Machine
Here’s where it can get tricky. It’s easy to confuse a universal milling machine for a horizontal milling machine because of their resemblance.
To differentiate the two, look for the arrangement of swing up the table of 45 degrees in either direction of a universal milling machine.
Fixed Bed Milling Machine
Of course, this type of milling machine is characterized by its bed that is fixed to the machine. Since it’s fixed, you won’t have any movement in the vertical or horizontal directions of the machine or any arrangement relating to it.
However, you’ll find its worktable located right on its fixed bed.
Simplex, Duplex, and Triplex Milling Machine
These three types of machines are distinguished by the movement of their spindles.
A simplex milling machine has a spindle that travels only in one direction, which is usually the vertical direction.
On the other hand, a duplex milling machine has a spindle that travels in both vertical and horizontal directions while a triplex milling machine can move in all three directions of the X, Y, and Z-axis.
Planner Milling Machine
You can attach different types of cutters and spindle heads to this type of milling machine. As such, it is commonly used for facing operations involving mass production.
Tracer Milling Machine
This type of milling machine can create any complex shape and perform many difficult tasks. Because of this, it is highly useful in the automobile and aerospace industries.
Special Milling Machine
As the name suggests, this type of milling machine is special because it serves the purpose of making the entire milling process easier and faster. The construction and specification of this milling machine would depend on the requirements of the projects.
CNC Milling Machine
Aside from the special milling machine, you can also work on more complex projects with the CNC milling machine. It features the best versatility because it is controlled by computer software.
It resembles a bed-type milling machine with a spindle that can move along the X, Y, and Z-axis. In addition to that, its table can also rotate 360 degrees.
Types of Mini Milling Machine Operations
To give you an idea of what your mini milling machine can do, these are its common operations:
- Slab Milling Operation – This is your plain milling operation. It is used to create a plain, flat, horizontal surface that is parallel to the axis of rotation.
- Face Milling Operation – This operation can be performed on surfaces that are perpendicular to the axis of the cutting tool.
- End Milling Operation – This process involves producing flat surfaces that can be horizontal, vertical, or at any angle relative to the worktable.
- Form Milling Operation – Form milling is a unique operation that you can do if you have convex, concave, and corner rounding milling cutters. It involves achieving a special contour through curves, straight lines, and other forms with just a single cut.
- T-Slot Milling Operation – From the name of the operation, this involves producing T-slots on the workpiece using a special milling cutter.
- Side Milling Operation – This operation produces vertical surfaces on the sides of a workpiece. This is achieved using the side milling cutter, which has teeth on both of its sides as well as its face.
- Gear Cutting Operation – The result of this operation is the creation of gear teeth on the gear blank. This uses the form-relieved cutter whose profile should match the tooth space of the gear for better results.
- Straddle Milling Operation – This operation produces a flat vertical surface on each of the sides of a workpiece and more commonly, a hexagonal or square surface. It uses the two-sided milling cutter with a spacing collar to adjust the distance between the cutters.
- Grooves Milling Operation – This process involves using a saw-milling cutter or an end-milling cutter to create irregular surfaces on a workpiece.
- Gang Milling Operation – This operation makes use of at least two milling cutters, which are mounted on the arbor to do different milling operations at one time.
Milling Machines Vs. Lathe Machine
To differentiate these two types of CNC machines, let’s discuss each one. Through this, it’ll be easier for you to understand their differences.
Milling machines are the most common types of CNC machines that are used to create a great diversity of objects.
They operate through the rotation of a cutting tool about its axis through a material while removing small parts of the workpiece along the way. Keep in mind that the workpiece doesn’t move here.
The advantage of this type of operation is that it allows the cutter to come in contact with the workpiece in many different orientations. Through this, milling machines can create complex shapes while maintaining a high degree of accuracy.
As a result, many gunsmiths turn to mill machines for their versatility. They are useful in creating customized parts of more complex shapes.
Lathe machines are also CNC machines but they have different operations and different results from milling machines.
They work through the rotation of the workpiece around its central axis while the cutting tool slowly moves along its surface. In lathe machines, the workpiece rotates while the cutter doesn’t.
Lathe machines operate using the turning process, which allows them to create symmetrical objects, such as cylinders and spheres. Other lathe machine operations also include drilling, boring, threading, parting, and ID/OD grooving.
Gunsmiths turn to lathe machines for the speed, repeatability, and symmetry of their results. These machines are useful in making cylindrical parts and components of firearms.
Milling Machines Vs. Drill Press
Let’s take a different approach here. When it comes to differentiating a milling machine from a drill press, it’s easier to do when you look into their contrasting features, such as the following:
If you quantify the two, you’ll see that milling machines cost more than drill presses. You can get a regular benchtop drill machine for around $100 while you’ll need about ten times its price to get a milling machine.
The extra cost that you need to purchase a milling machine can be justified as follows.
Both machines come in various sizes. However, when you go to the smaller end of the spectrum, you’ll see that drill presses can go smaller and more compact in contrast to milling machines.
It’s more common for a milling machine to be bulky to accommodate the features it offers.
Speaking of features, let’s first compare the accuracy of the two machines.
When you work with a drill press, you’ll have to use your hands to position your workpiece. To do so, you’ll have to tighten your workpiece down to your worktable.
When it comes to the milling machine, it often features a moving worktable. You can move this table forward and back to accurately line up your workpiece. Because of this, a milling machine can give you more accurate results than a drill press.
Axes Of Motion
A drill press can only operate through a vertical motion. This means that it cannot drill along the surface of a certain workpiece.
In contrast, a milling machine can cut along the surface of a workpiece. This is an easy operation to do for a milling machine to the point that it can create faces of material flat, which is commonly called facing-off.
With that being said, a milling machine can cut slots in a workpiece and to a specific overall dimension while a drill press can’t.
Milling Machine Safety Tips to Remember
On top of dealing with firearms, let me remind you that you’re also dealing with power tools here. These tools come with certain risks when it comes to their operation.
To ensure proper handling and avoid unwanted accidents, keep in mind these safety precautions when handling your gunsmithing tools:
- Security isn’t an inconvenience but a necessity. Keep your benchtop milling machine secured and stable at all times. Take the extra step of bolting your machine down.
Not only will this stabilize your machine, but it can also give you the bonus of improving the accuracy of your operations. An unbolted milling machine can easily move and affect the result of your project.
- Safety is in your hands. Wear the proper safety gear, such as gloves, goggles, and masks during every operation of your milling machine.
Regardless of the size of your milling machine, you’ll most likely have small metal particles flying that can easily enter your eyes and nose.
- The sky isn’t the limit when it comes to milling machines. No matter how expensive your machine may be, it has its limits. Look into the maximum capacity and load of your milling machine.
Make sure that you don’t abuse or overwork your machine to avoid overheating or damaging your milling machine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a CNC Machine Make Guns?
Yes, CNC machines can make guns but the entire process won’t be easy.
CNC machines or computer numerical control (CNC) machines are computer-controlled machines that can create complex shapes from metal, plastic, or other materials.
To make guns using CNC machines, you’ll need to design the guns first using computer-aided design (CAD) software. This software is used to make designs of more complex shapes to convert into codes that CNC machines understand.
With the pairing of CNC machines and CAD software, the only limit is the user’s imagination. The CAD software generates the codes for the CNC machines to cut the guns’ components out of metal. You’ll then have to assemble the guns manually.
What is the Difference Between Up-Milling and Down-Milling?
These are the key differences when it comes to these milling processes:
- The Direction of Cutter Rotation – The cutter rotates against the direction of the feed table in up-milling while the cutter rotates along the direction of the feed table in down-milling.
- Burr Formation – On the unfinished surface ahead of the tool feed for up-milling, while it’s at the finished surface on the opposite side of the tool feed for down-milling.
- Teeth Rubbing – This happens at the beginning of the engagement for up-milling while it doesn’t happen at all for down-milling.
- Backlash Eliminator – Up-milling requires this while down-milling doesn’t.
- Brittle Workpiece – Up-milling is preferred for this. Down-milling isn’t a good choice.
What is the Difference Between Turning and Milling?
Turning and milling are common machining processes that are used for the removal of material from a workpiece but they differ in terms of doing so. To clarify, turning rotates the workpiece itself while it’s the cutting tool that rotates in milling.
Recap of Winner Picks
Here’s a quick recap of my top picks to give you a benchmark for your milling machine purchase.
Budget Pick: SHOP FOX M1036
For under $1,000, you can already get yourself a fully-functional micro milling machine. If you’re sticking to a certain budget, I’m guessing you’re either a hobbyist or a beginner. If that’s the case, you won’t need any of the heavy-duty machines for gunsmithing just yet.
I suggest that you practice with the Shop Fox M1036 first before you go all out on the bigger machines. I can vouch that this product has the features that you need to refine your gunsmithing skills.
Best Value: FoxAlien 4040-XE CNC Router Machine
What better way to get value for your money than to get a machine that offers versatility? The FoxAlien 4040-XE is highly upgradeable to not only work as a milling machine.
Aside from this, it can work both online and offline without any added cost. For its price, you also get an offline controller with its package.
However, the biggest selling point for me when it comes to this product is its warranty and customer service. I was sold by this because as a buyer, this makes me more confident with buying the product as the manufacturers are willing to extend aftersales support.
I’m sure most buyers wouldn’t want to purchase a product whose manufacturers you can’t contact anymore after buying their product.
Best Overall: JET JMD-15 350017
My best overall pick is the JET JMD-15 because although it is priced relatively higher than the other milling machines, it sure is worth its price. It’s everything you need and more when it comes to a milling machine.
It showcases many added features that ensure consistent and reliable results even when you’re working on large projects. It’s definitely worth the investment especially if you’re looking to pursue gunsmithing for a long time.
When you choose your mini milling machine for gunsmithing ask yourself the questions, “how do I intend to use my machine?” and “what results do I want to achieve?”. By doing this, you’ll be able to narrow down your choices.
Regardless of your choice of machine, always keep in mind that you’re dealing with a power tool here. Be mindful of the proper operation and the right safety protocols at all times when you use your milling machine.