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Lathe, Mill, Drill combination 3 in 1 machines

When a budding home machinist is pondering his first investments in the field of hobby mini-lathes, micro-mills, mini-mills and pillar drills, he will, sooner or later, venture across the 3-in-1 combination machine market.

Sometimes known as multi-function machines, these devices purport to combine a milling machine, lathe and drill together. What you usually get is something that looks like a mini-lathe with a combination milling and drilling gadget bolted either to the back or the side of the machine.

An example of a Typical device can be seen here.

In my opinion there are only two attractions for these machines. First of all space. If you really are being relegated to the small shed or a corner of the spare room for your home metalworking workshop, then combination 3 in 1 machines do have the advantage of a very small foot print.

3 in 1 combination machines are also cheaper than buying a mill, lathe and a drill. If you a certain that you've got a small space and a small budget, and neither show any sign of increasing in the next few years, then perhaps a combination mill, lathe and drill machine is for you.


And now for the bad news. These machines are, in my opinion to be avoided at all costs. They look like an elegant solution, but they have significant disadvantages.

The main problem is one of stiffness and rigidity. The average 3 in 1 combination machine should really be called the 3 in 1 compromise multi-frustration machine. None of the components work as well as an individual mini-lathe, micro-mill and drill press. They often have lathes with very large swings, and long the "mill" part is normally closer to a drill than a mill. USually these machines have very poor rigidity, which will only result in frustration for the beginner.

The mill-drill is likely to be useless. One of the primary functions of a drill press is a acclimate a large variety of job sizes, and have a long "throw" ie yo can drill a hole quite deeply. A bit of play in the bearings and non-concentricity of the chuck isn't really an issue.

A mill on the other hand is supposed to be an immensely stiff structure with a very short amount of vertical travel THe tools is supposed to be held very stiffly and rotate with precision accuracy.

These two sets of properties do no stike me as things which will happily marry in one device.

Another disadvantage can be the tedious time taken to swap between the different modes. And it is also only one machine! If you have a separate mini-mill, mini-lathe and drill press you are able to have one project setup on the mini-lathe and one project setup on the micro-mill and work on whatever you like and still have the drill press free! No likely with a 3 in 1 combination multi-function machine.

I can't really stress things enough. If you can possibly avoid it, get an individual mini-lathe, mini-mill and drill press machines as time and money permits. Do not buy 3 in 1 combination mult-function machine unless circumstances dictate otherwise. And think very carefully about those circumstances. You are bound to be frustrated by the multi-function machine and end up spending out on separate mini-lathe etc. Money saved? Unlikely.

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