For those of us that either can’t afford, or don’t have space for large metal machinery, we will often find ourselves using small, cost-effective, modular tools to take their place.
One such project came up, where I needed to build several aluminum templates for a recent steel project I was working on, which required that I drill about 20 or so holes successively, and precisely. I also needed to make some notches in the same aluminum.
We didn’t have enough money (most people don’t) for an expensive milling machine, and quite frankly, we didn’t have the room for one in our shop either. While milling machines, precision grinders and lathes are the staple items for any machinist, they are simply out of financial reach for most weekend hobbyists.
Knowing this, I headed off to a few web sites to see if I could transform my large drill press into a simple mill, and came across the Bitmoore drill press milling vise, sold at Harbor Freight, so I ordered one up. Besides, at about $60, it wouldn’t be a total loss if it was a crappy tool.
Fast forward 2 weeks, Harbor Freight isn’t the fastest shipping company, and the 25 pound milling press vise showed up at the shop. Upon initial inspection, the Bitmoore drill press milling vise seemed to be worth what we paid for. Our initial inspection shows that it is made of cast steel that has been milled fairly precisely in certain areas. The threads that move the milling bases, along with the threads on the clamps, are quite large and not very precise – I would have much preferred a fine-thread adjustment on the milling bases. The gradients (measurement markings) are simple metal rulers that are riveted to the bases. The increments are measured in inches, but there are no numeric labels. The finish is done in a crinkle-coat paint. Overall, our initial inspection matched our expectation – this is clearly not a precise, metal-working mill base.
The first project we had for our Bitmoore drill press milling vise was to drill a precisely measured 1” hole through a large billet steel block. We chocked up the large steel block and started drilling a pilot hole. As soon as we started drilling, we noticed that the Bitmoore drill press milling vise did wobble pretty excessively, which required us to re-tighten all of the clamps and tighten two small screws that locked the mill bases into place. With everything tightened up, the drill press milling vise worked quite well.
The next project required that we drill multiple successive holes into a thin aluminum plate, something that would require that we adjust both the X and Y axis some 20 times. This is the one area that the Bitmoore drill press milling vise really shines. It was easy to move the mill bases forward and backward, and left and right with a good amount of precision.
The last test we performed was to make some notches in some flat ¼” steel stock. We chucked the flat stock steel into the milling vise, along with a milling bit into the drill press. We then attempted to feed the flat stock into the milling bit by moving the milling base forward. This is where things got really ugly… The milling bases wobbled excessively side to side, and up and down. If we slowed our feed, things gut a bit better, but the milling base would not allow for a precision, straight notch to be made – it worked its way at an angle – not good. We supposed that if this were wood or plastic, that it would work fine, but it does not work well with metal.
We also found that the vibrations that happened during this test, that two of the riveted rulers came apart and are now only held by one rivet each.
The Bitmoore drill press milling vise sold at Harbor Freight Tools is a mediocre tool at best. It is not very precise, the adjustment threads for the milling bases are coarse and should be fine, and the mill wobbles and vibrates when working with thick metal.
However, its one redeeming quality is that it’s awfully handy to leave setup on your drill press, in place of a standard vice, which will need to be adjusted nearly every time you want to use it. The Bitmoore drill press milling vise is quite easy to allow you to secure various size items into your drill press, then adjust left / right, and forward / backward to get the item ready to be drilled in a precise location. Just be sure to take your time – excessive drilling pressure causes it to wobble and be rather unstable.
All in all, we’ll leave the Bitmoore drill press milling vise secured to our drill press table, in place of a standard drill press vise. It works well enough for some light-duty metal work, but it’s clearly made for wood and plastic working.
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