7x12 benchtop lathe conversion kit

Do I Convert My Mill Or Buy a VMC?

Converting your manual mill to CNC mill is an inexpensive way to get into doing production runs. Although manual mills can still be used once in a while in shops today, they’re virtually obsolete for production runs if you want to make a profit. If you’re a hobbyist on a budget or starting up a small CNC shop, a CNC conversion kit is your best bet. Here we summarize what it’ll take to convert to a CNC, how much it will cost, and how it compares to a vertical milling center (VMC).

To Convert or Not to Convert?

You can purchase a mill that’s already been converted or purchase a CNC conversion kit and build it yourself. Indeed, purchasing one that’s all set up and ready to go would be perfect. However, you may not have so much cash on hand to spend all at once. This is why a lot of machinists end up purchasing the parts based on the funds they have.

If you’re willing to convert your manual mill to a CNC, we suggest you do a complete 3-axis conversion. While it’s more expensive, if you’re going to convert, you might as well go all the way. Being able to program the Z-axis moves besides the X- and Y-axis will promise shorter machining times. If interested, CNC Conversion Plus has the Grizzly G0704 CNC Conversion Kit, the Precision Matthews PM-25MV, Sieg X2 and X2D and others on offer.

So what would be the estimated total cost? A mill converted to a CNC one will cost anywhere between $2,000 to $5000. The nicer and newer set-up will be more expensive. Waiting for deals and shopping around may help lower the cost. However, you should still expect to end up within this margin for a mill that’s ready to go.

Purchasing a VMC

While purchasing a VMC is more expensive in the majority of cases, these machines have better capabilities. Automatic tool changes, coolant, more horsepower, a lot sturdier, more rapid moves, and the list goes on. It really depends on how much you want to spend and how big of a machine you’re going for. While you can get a used CNC mill for $20,000, it will probably be more than 15 years old and will require substantial maintenance sooner rather than later. For another $10,000-$20,000 you can get a nicer and newer machine that will last longer based on how you use it and what sort of deal you get.

Our Recommendation

CNC or VMC? It depends. VMC is a better choice if (and that’s a big if) you have sufficient funds. Yes, many of us who’re part of the lower or middle-class just can’t throw $30,000+ at a machine whenever needed. This would a long-term goal. However, VMC capabilities are greater than that of a converted mill.

You should build/buy a converted mill if:

  • You’re on a budget
  • You have time to convert it as time or funds allow
  • You’re just a home hobbyist
  • You want to DIY to save some bucks

You should buy a VMC if:

  • You want a sturdier, faster, more capable and powerful machine
  • You want to make it a business
  • You have a bigger budget
  • You have the patience to save up for one (if your funds currently don’t allow it)

There are benefits to purchasing either type of machine. While answering which one is better for your specific needs is difficult, we’ve laid out the reasons why you would or wouldn’t want to go a specific route. Feel free to call CNC Conversion Plus if you have any questions or if you’re looking for ball nut repair, or ball screw machining.

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