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15 Mini Mill Machining Projects That Are Perfect For Beginners

You’ve got a new mini milling machine. You’ve got the raw material. And you’ve even watched a few YouTube videos to get a bit more familiar with your new mill.

If you’re really an over-achiever, you might even have read part of the user’s manual. But you still might be running up against a dead-end; what should you make first?

There are literally dozens of beginner mill projects and an equally large number that can be done on either a metal lathe or a mini mill. Most are decorative – various knick-knacks and technical pieces designed to give you practice performing certain operations on your mill. There’s nothing wrong with pieces that are more fancy than functional, but most of those projects will go straight to the shelf and sit there, collecting dust.

On the other hand, spending some of your first days with your new machine creating simple tools will expand your technical abilities as well as your toolkit. And more likely than not, you’ll return to those tools time and time again throughout the years, proof of your DIY success.

So for the sake of this list, we’ve assembled ten tool-based projects, and then five more decorative ones. The decorative projects that did make the list are a bit more challenging and, in some cases, at least moderately useful.

These projects can generally be done on either a manual or CNC milling machine, although some – like the chess set further down – will be easiest on a CNC mill.

So break out your little machine and load up on supplies. It’s time to get working!

Beginning DIY Mill Projects to Grow Your Toolbox
soft parallels mini mill project

Soft Parallels

The workpiece mounts to the bed of your benchtop mill; so what happens if you need to drill through it? Without something to create some space between the two, you’ll either drill a hole in the bed of your mill or ruin your bit (and perhaps both.)

Soft parallels are the simple solution. The key is to cut pieces that are perfectly parallel and symmetrical – at that point, you can create as many through-holes as you want. And if you make them out of aluminum (the “soft” part) then you can be sure you won’t ruin your bit if you drill through them accidentally.

machinists hammer mini mill project

Machinist‘s Hammer

Simple, straightforward – and nearly indispensable. Used to power a hole punch through sheet metal, knock two parts together, and just about anything else you could imagine. Machinist’s hammers aren’t complicated to make, but in one tool you’ll deal with a number of simple but different geometries.

Round hammer heads, the cylinders of the handle and width of the head, any chamfer or contouring on the handle – this project will teach you the basics without putting too much on your plate to begin with. And in the end, you’ll have a perfectly serviceable addition to your toolbox, even if it isn’t perfect.

tap guide mini mill project

Tap Guide

Conceptually, this is one of the simpler projects on the list. But creating an accurate tap guide will force you to be precise, keeping all your measurements in order. The end result will be a go-to tool for sizing any holes and threading.

toolmakers vise mini mill projects

Toolmaker’s Vise

A good vise is a next step past the tap guide. Same basic blocky shape, but with a few simple moving parts. Machinists can never have too many blocks and vises – there are simply too many parts to hold in place all around the shop. You can make a toolmaker’s vise as large or small as you think you’ll need, making them a great choice for a mini milling machine operator.

screw jacks mini mill project

Screw Jacks

When soft parallels aren’t enough and you need a bit more clearance, screw jacks can be just the ticket. Easy-to-make and adjustable, they provide extra clearance and support for oddly-shaped workpieces.

caliper center distance attachment mini mill project

Calliper Center Distance Attachments

Another project that’s beyond simple in theory, but does require a lot of precision. They are two simple slide-on attachments for your indispensable set of calipers. They let the machinist measure the width of through-holes, bolts, and just about anything else you’ll need. This project will give you experience using a collet on a lathe, which is something every beginner needs!

micrometer stand cnc

Micrometer stand

The world of machine tools requires precision, and a good micrometer is a machinist’s best friend. Crafting your own micrometer stand removes the “shakiness” factor, allowing you to take steady and reliable readings. The stand itself isn’t difficult to make, which means it’s a great chance to practice your finishes to craft a piece that stands out.

vee blocks mini mill projects

Vee Blocks

Vee blocks consist of two parts – the block with the v-shaped wedge, and the actual vise that rests on top. Together, the two form a vee block that’s used to clamp irregular and cylindrical shapes and hold them securely. These can be made in two stages depending on the maker’s skill – first, the vise, which is simpler, and then the base, which is slightly more difficult.

123 SuperBlocks

It’s easy to imagine these as the brainchild of a frustrated but brilliant machinist. Each block is filled with counterbored threaded holes in an alternating pattern. The resulting blocks can be securely fastened in a dizzying array of configurations, even twisted and stacked on top of each other. They make the perfect clamping system for any mill or mini lathe. You can also use them as supports when you need extra clearance, or to level out asymmetrical workpieces.

c clamp mini mill project

C-clamps

Workshop standbys the world over, C-clamps let you secure just about any two objects together. The design is simple – the body of the clamp is a single curved piece of metal, fitted with an adjustable screw and fastener. C-clamps are another opportunity for budding machinists to practice making accurate cuts as well as perfecting their finishes.

Technically Challenging and Aesthetically Pleasing: Projects to Practice Your Techniques

 

cnc sheep
CNC
 Sheep

Ok, it doesn’t sound exciting – but the CNC sheep has been more than one machinist’s first project. The technical challenge comes in cutting out a series of shapes to exact dimensions, and then fitting them together.

chess set mini mill project

Chess Set (or Chesspiece)

Feeling confident? Tackle an entire chess set! Or if you’re a bit more reasonable, work on one piece at a time. The design is up to you, making this a project to challenge you on both planning and execution.

metal dice mini mill project

Metal Dice

Simple but striking. Cutting perfectly precise cubes is a great starting point, and drilling the dots and finishing the dice will challenge your artistic side.

bolt and captive nut mini mill project

Bolt and Captive Nut

More of a conversation piece than anything else, the nut-and-bolt project is a great way to learn the intricacies of threading.

Turner's Cube

Turner’s Cube

A cube inside a cube inside a cube – the Turner’s Cube is as fascinating as it is deceptively simple. By using smaller bits and machining carefully, even a beginner can create an intricate display piece.

The Best Mini Milling Machines 

Now that you know some interesting projects, let’s talk about the best machine you can use to accomplish these fun jobs.

The CNC Supra is easy to learn and operate. The Supra 9 x 49 is your classic vertical knee milling machine with CNC technology. It features heavy-duty All Cast Iron construction and full three axis interpolated movement with computer variable spindle control put it a step above many other milling machines. The Supra 9 x 49 Mill handles max travel of 34” x 11.5” on the X and Y axis, while the Z axis is quill driven for accuracy. Supra mills are capable of manual/conventional control as well as CNC control.

It is considered among the leading vertical milling machines on the market.

Conclusion

This list isn’t exhaustive by any means and can be adapted for most other machine shop cutting tools, from a drill press to a router. Some can also be modified for woodworking projects – although the focus here has been on metalworking machinists.

Regardless, whether you’re a hobbyist or professional, these mini mill projects are fantastic places to start your CNC lathe or mini mill experience.

About Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters, a leading supplier of CNC mills, milling machines, and CNC lathes. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn.

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Slide 1

MX Software – Easy to Use, Easy to Learn – Included with your machine purchase
The MX software is designed to work seamlessly with your CNC Masters machine. It is made to work with Windows PC – desktop, laptop, or an all in one – on standard USB. Use it on Windows 8 or 10 64-bit operating systems.
No internal conversion printer/serial port to USB software or additional conversion hardware is used with the MX.

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2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!

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3. Features Tour and Tutorials Included
The Features Tour will give you a quick run-down on all the features the MX can do for you. The Tutorials are easy to follow even for the first time CNC machinist.
Feel free to download the MX on any of your computers. We recommend downloading the MX along with your CAD and CAM software there at the comfort of your office computer to generate your tool path programs. You don’t need to be hooked up to the machine either to test your program in simulation mode.

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4. Navigate and Edit Your Program through the MX interface with Ease
With a few clicks of the mouse or using touch screen technology, you can easily navigate through the MX interface importing saved programs into the Editor from the File drop down menu. Using standard windows features to edit your program you can then lock the Editor Screen to avoid accidental editing, and if you need to insert a line in the middle of a program, just click on [ReNum] to re-number your tool path list.
You can create a program or import CAM generated G-code tool paths into the Editor
The X Y and Z W arrow jog buttons are displayed from the point of view of the cutter to avoid confusion when the table and saddle are moving. You can also adjust your spindle speed and coolant control while jogging each axis.

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5. Feed Hold – Pause in the Middle of your Program
Feed Hold lets you pause in the middle of a program. From there you can step through your program one line at time while opting to shut the spindle off and then resume your program.
You can also write PAUSE in the middle of your program and jog each axis independently while your program is in pause mode.

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6. Hot Keys
Hot Keys is an alternative method to easily control your machine using your hard or touch screen keyboard. One can press P to pause a program, press S to turn Spindle On, G to run a program, Space Bar to Stop, J to record your individual movements one line at a time to create a program in teach mode.

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7. Pick Menu – for conversational mode programming
Write FANUC style G-codes directly into the Editor or select commands off the [Pick] menu and write your tool path program in conversational mode such as what is written in the Editor box. You can even mix between conversation commands and G-codes in the same program.

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8. Pick Menu List of Options
Use commands such as MOVE, SPINDLE ON/OFF, COOLANT ON/OFF, PAUSE, DELAY, GO HOME…. to write your tool path programs in conversational mode.

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9. Draw the Tool Path to verify it before pressing Go
Hit Draw to view your tool path program drawing, check out its run time, or even simulate the tool path in 3D mode. This can be helpful to quickly verify your program before running it. You can also slow down or speed up the drawing or simulation process.
You can also hit Go within the Draw Window itself to verify the cutter’s position on the machine. The current tool path will be highlighted and simultaneously draw out the next path so you can verify what the cutter will be doing next on the program.

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10. Run each tool path independently to study its movement
1. Run the machine on Trace mode. You can run each tool path independently, one line at a time to study the tool path movement on the machine to verify the position of the application and if any fixture/vise is in the way of the cutter’s path.

2. You can also verify your program by clicking on the Trace and Draw buttons together. This will allow you to view each tool path independently one line at a time in the Draw Window.

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11. Counters display in Inches or Millimeters – Continuous Feed
1. When running a program, the counters will display a “real-time” readout while the machine is in CNC operation without counting ahead of the movement.
2. The current tool path is highlighted while the machine is in operation without causing slight interruptions/pauses as the software feeds the tool path to the machine. The MX internally interprets a program ten lines ahead to allow for “continuous machining” avoiding slight interruptions as the machine waits for its next tool path command.
3. “Run Time” tells you how long it takes to run your tool path program.

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12. Use the “Go From Line” command to start in the middle of your program
If you ever need to begin your program from somewhere in the middle of it, use [Go From Line] which you can find under Tools. The Help guide will walk you through how to position the cutter without losing its position on the machine.

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13. Exact Motion Distance without over-stepping on an axis while jogging
Use “Relative ON” to enter a specific coordinate to jog any of your axes to an exact location without having to write a program. It’s like using “power feed” but easier. You can jog an exact distance on any of the axes without needing to keep the key pressed down and mistakenly over-step the movement releasing your finger too slowly off the jog button.
Let’s say you need to drill a hole exactly 0.525” using the Z. So you enter 0.525 in the Z box. Next, adjust the JOG FEED RATE slider for the desired feed rate. Then “click once” on the +Z or -Z button to activate the travel. In this case you click once the -Z button first to drill the hole exactly 0.525”. Then click once on the +Z button to drive the axis back up 0.525”.

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14. Teach Mode – Jog Input
You can create a tool path program by storing each point-to-point movement by simply jogging an axis one at a time. Click on either of the Jog Input buttons to store each movement on the Editor Screen. You can then add Spindle ON, feed commands, and press GO to run the new program as needed. This is a great feature to help you learn to create a program by the movements you make on the machine without necessarily writing out an entire program first.

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15. Override on the fly to adjust the Jog Feed to Rapid or the Spindle Speed during the middle of a program
1. Jog Feed and Rapid with Override: You can adjust feeds using the slider from slow minimum 0.1″ per minute to a rapid of 100″ per minute of travel. You can even micro-step your jog as low as 0.01”/min. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.
2. Spindle Speed with Override: You can adjust speeds using the slider from a slow minimum RPM to the max RPM according to the machine setup. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.

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16. Adjust Counters using Pre-Set if you cannot begin the program from 0.00
In a situation where you cannot begin your cutter at it’s 0.00 location, you can “Pre-Set” directly into the counters by typing in your beginning coordinate. You can press Go from here to run your program. You can also “zero all” or “zero” your counters independently. With one click of the [Return to 0.0] button, all axes will travel back to its respective 0.0 on the machine.

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17. Set and Save your 0.00 position for future runs
Set and save your 0.00 position on the machine. These coordinates will be recorded as the first line of the program in the Editor Screen. Should you desire to return to this program at a later date, you only have to click on the Set Zero Return button. This will command the machine to automatically jog each axis to its saved “set” 0.00 position according to the recorded coordinates at the first line of the program.

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18. Create a “Home” position to clear your application and run multiple times
Let’s say you need to machine one application times 100 pieces. This usually requires a jig to retain that physical 0.00 position. But in this case, you want the program to end with a clearance of the axes to easily switch out the next piece of stock and start again. With Save Home, you have the ability to save this offset (home) position while still retaining your Set Zero position where the machine will mill your part out. Pressing [Save Home] will record this new position under the Set Zero line in your program.
Pressing [Go Home] will jog your axes back to your “saved home” position where you originally pressed the Save Home command. You can also input GO_HOME from the Pick Menu as its own tool path in your program. At the completion of your program the axes will end at your Home position. Replace your part, then press [Return to 0.0] button to allow the axes to return to its zero position, and press Go to start your next run.

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19. Disable the axis motors to manually hand crank each axis into place
Easily de-energize the axis motors by clicking [Disable Motors] to crank each axis by hand, and then press [Reset Control] to re-energize the axis motors.

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20. Change up to 30 tools with compensation, and store your tool offsets for other programs
The MX supports…

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21. Use the optional ATC rack up to 8 tools for milling, drilling, and rigid tapping applications
The CNC Masters Automatic Tool Changer Rack and Tools (US Patent 9,827,640B2) can be added to any CNC Masters Milling Machine built with the rigid tapping encoder option. The tutorial will guide you through the set-up procedure using the ATC tools.

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22. Use the optional Rigid Tapping Wizard without the need for tapping head attachments
When you order your CNC Masters machine, have it built with the optional rigid tapping encoder. You can take any drill cycle program and replace the top line with a tapping code created by the wizard to tap your series of holes up to 1/2” in diameter.

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23. Use the optional Digital Probe to scan the profile and/or pockets of your fun/hobby type designs to write your tool path program and machine out a duplicate of your original design To “surface” scan an object, you can program the probe along the X or Y plane. The stylus will travel over the part starting on the left side front corner of the object and work its way to the end of the part on the right side. Depending on how the stylus moves, it will record linear and interpolated movements along the X, Y, and Z planes directly on the MX Editor.
To “pocket” scan an object containing a closed pocket such as circles or squares, the scan will start from the top front, work its way inside of the pocket, and scan the entire perimeter of the pocket.
Under the Setup of the MX software you will find the Probe Tab which will allow you to calibrate and program your probe. Your “Probe Step”, “Feed”, and “Data Filter” can also be changed on the fly while the probe is in the middle of scanning your object.

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24. Use work offsets G54-G59 for nesting applications
The work offsets offer you a way to program up to six different machining locations. It’s like having multiple 0.0 locations for different parts. This is very useful especially when using sub-routines/nesting applications.

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25. Create a Rectangular Pocket / Slot with our selection of Wizards to help you build a tool path program
The Cycle Wizards for the mill or lathe makes it easy to create a simple tool path without needing to use a CAD and CAM software.
On this Wizard, the Rectangular Pocket / Slots, can be used to form a deep rectangular pocket into your material or machine a slot duplicating as many passes needed to its total depth.

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26. Create a Circular Pocket Wizard
Input the total diameter, the step down, and total depth and the code will be generated.

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27. Do Thread Milling using a single point cutter Wizard

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28. Cut a gear out using the Cut Gear Wizard with the optional Fourth Axis

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29. Create a Peck Drilling Program in Circular or Rectangular Patterns
Using the Circular or Rectangular Drilling Wizards, you can program the machine to drill an un-limited series of holes along the X and Y planes. Program it to drill straight through to your total depth, use a high-speed pecking cycle, or deep hole pecking cycle. You can program the cut-in depth and return point for a controlled peck drill application to maximize chip clearance.

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30. The MX interface can easily be interchanged from Mill Mode to Lathe Mode
Use this interface for your CNC Masters Lathe. It contains all the same user-friendly features and functions that comes in Mill Mode. Simply go to the Setup page and change the interface.

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31. Use Tool Change Compensation or the optional Auto Tool Changer Turret if your application requires more than one tool in a single program
You can offset the length and angle of each tool and record it under Tools in your Setup. The program will automatically pause the lathe’s movement and spindle allowing you to change out your tool, or allowing the optional ATC Turret to quickly turn to its next tool and continue machining.
On the MX interface, you also have four Tool Position buttons. Select your desired T position, and the auto tool post will quickly turn and lock itself to that position.

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32. Use the Lathe Wizard Threading Cycle to help you program your lathe’s internal or external threads in inches or metric

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33. Use the Lathe Wizard Turning / Boring Cycle to help you program simple turning and boring cycles without having to go through a CAM or writing a long program with multiple passes

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34. Use the Lathe Wizard Peck Drilling Cycle to help you program your drill applications or for face grooving

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35. Facing / Grooving / Part Off Cycle Wizards – with Constant Surface Speed
These cycles can be used with Constant Surface Speed allowing the spindle speed to increase automatically as the diameter of the part decreases giving your application a consistent workpiece finish. With CSS built into the wizard, there is no need to break down the cycle into multiple paths and multiple spindle speed changes.

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36. This is our list of supported G and M codes which can be found under Tools > G Code/ M Code List in the MX
If you plan to use a third-party CAM software to generate your tool path program, use a generic FANUC post processor and edit it to match our list of codes. As an option, we also sell Visual mill/turn CAM software which comes with a guaranteed post processor for our machines to easily generate your tool path programs based on your CAD drawings.

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37. Our pledge to you…

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