Last updated: August 11, 2021

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In woodworking, the router occupies a special place among electronic tools. Usually it is not the first purchase. But as soon as it arrives in the workshop, it becomes irreplaceable due to its wide range of applications. Whether furniture making, model making or ornamentation, the milling machine is your favourite for implementation.

With our milling machine test 2021 we want to support you in choosing your milling machine. The focus is clearly on mechanical milling machines. At present, mechanical milling machines offer DIY enthusiasts a wider range of uses than computer-controlled CNC milling machines.




The most important facts

  • The milling machine is a sensible investment for wood projects. With its numerous applications, the milling machine simplifies and expands your possibilities.
  • The speed and stability are key features. The wattage of the router is secondary for do-it-yourselfers.
  • If your main focus is woodworking and not exclusively ornamentation, the computer-controlled CNC router is not an option at this stage.

The Best Milling Machine: Our Picks

Buying and evaluation criteria for milling machines

When buying a milling machine, it is worthwhile to think about the most important influencing factors in advance. In this way, you can determine in advance where your focus lies. We have summarised the most important criteria for you here:

In the following sections we will go into detail about the central elements:

Speed

The speed measures the cutting speed of your milling machine. If the speed is too low, you may experience kickbacks.

If the speed is too high, the heat increases and the material dulls faster.

The diameter of the router also has an influence on the cutting speed. Therefore, larger cutters must never be used at maximum speed.

For smooth working with your milling machine, it is advisable that the speed can be adjusted continuously. This makes the work process easier.

Depth

The depth stop determines how far you can lower your milling machine. You thus set the maximum depth. If your focus is on detailed work, a milling machine with a fine adjustment is worthwhile.

Take a look at the maximum milling depth indicated by the milling machine of your choice. A value below 55mm may limit your projects.

Stability

When it comes to working quietly and continuously, there are a number of factors to consider.

  • Handles: Handles covered with rubber feel better in the hand. It is important that you can also guide the router well during sweaty and long work.
  • Operating switches: The more switches you can operate directly from the handles with your thumb, the easier the work will be. Check that you can reach the on/off switch and the clamping lever from the handles.
  • Lifting columns: The lifting columns, which are protected by a rubber jacket, are used to lower the router into the wood. The aim is for the lifting columns to move smoothly and easily. Over time, the mobility decreases. The care of the router is an important point here.
  • Base plate: A perfectly flat plastic base plate is a basic requirement for successful routing. If you buy a new milling machine, there should be no problems here. If you are considering buying a used milling machine, take a look at it. Base plates can be bought separately.

Stability also goes hand in hand with safety. Therefore, this is a very important criterion to protect yourself from injury.

Power

More watts, more power, more performance. This is also true for milling machines, but it is important to remember that the greater the wattage, the greater the weight of the milling machine.

Cable of the milling machine weight
710 watts approx. 1.8 kg
1400 watts approx. 3.5 kg
1600 watts approx. 5.8 kg

A heavier machine affects handling and makes work processes more complicated.

The more watts, the heavier the appliance

Milling machines with a power of 700 to 1400 watts are quite sufficient for the amateur do-it-yourselfer.

The higher wattage is also reflected in the price. It pays to consider in advance exactly for which activities and how often you will use the router.

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a milling machine

In order to be best prepared for your start with a milling machine, we address the most important questions in our guide.

What is special about a milling machine and what advantages does it offer?

Are you a motivated hobby handyman who likes to do woodwork yourself around the house? Then a router should not be missing from your equipment. The router is extremely flexible in its applications and can be used again and again for very different projects.

The repertoire of a router goes far beyond rounded edges. Grooves and ornaments can be created with a milling machine.

Fräsmaschine

The milling machine makes wood surfaces easier (Image source: Sailer / unsplash).

Some tasks could be done by other tools. However, you will soon prefer the milling machine because it is more stable in your hand and works more precisely.

What types of milling machines are there?

Roughly speaking, milling machines are divided into mechanical and numerical milling machines according to the way they are operated:

Mechanical milling machines

These are the common milling machines that are controlled by hand. The forerunner is the router, which is a classic all-round milling machine. Special machines with limited applications complete the range.

Advantages
  • Short training period
  • Good value
Disadvantages
  • Limited complexity per work step
  • Manual use
  • Time-consuming

If you allow yourself some time to get used to the machine, you will be able to successfully implement woodworking projects with your milling machine after a short time. The investment is limited.

Numerical milling machines

Numerical milling machines are those milling machines that are controlled by a computer. CNC - Computerised Numerical Control - milling machines is another technical term that describes this segment.

This type of milling machine is controlled by a computer, not by hand. The computer programme controls the milling process. Your job is to program the computer.

Advantages
  • Extremely precise processing
  • No manual effort
  • Fast working process
Disadvantages
  • Inexpensive models only in the ornament segment
  • Interest in programming required
  • More expensive

Due to the expensive purchase costs and the necessary expertise, until recently these machines were reserved for industry. Recently, CNC milling machines have emerged as kits at more affordable prices.

These milling machines offer engraving and decorating options, but not the range of traditional woodworking options.

Who are milling machines suitable for?

Due to the rich spectrum of application areas, the milling machine appeals to many customer segments. The segments do not differ in the degree of difficulty. In each field there are easier and more demanding projects.

Fräsmaschine

The milling machine is used to round off edges and create shapes. (Image source: Belitskiy / unsplash)

Below we present the most common fields of application:

  • Furniture making: If you are a dedicated do-it-yourselfer, a milling machine is a must in your workshop. If you make your own furniture, you can use the milling machine to round off the edges and groove the wood. Your work will become more even and precise.
  • Model making: A model maker likes to use his milling machine to round off small parts and make them fit together perfectly. This applies to wooden aircraft models but also to architectural models.
  • Wooden toys: As a hobby craftsman, you can use the milling machine to tackle wooden toy projects. Tracks for the marble run or a small workbench for the youngsters - there are many possibilities.
  • Engravings/decorations: The milling machine is also often used for decorations and engravings. For example, a wooden sign can be decorated or a picture frame can be enhanced with a fine structure.

Before buying, think about what you want to use your machine for. This plays an important role in the selection process.

How much does a milling machine cost?

The prices for milling machines vary greatly. The performance, the workmanship of the milling machine and the accessories are responsible for the wide range of prices. In the highest segment are milling machines that can already be used in professional carpentry businesses.

Segment price range
Entry-level milling machines up to 100 euros
Milling machines for dedicated do-it-yourselfers 100 to 300 euros
Professional milling machines from 300 euros

This price overview refers to mechanical milling machines. CNC milling machines are available from 200 euros.

What are the alternatives to a milling machine?

What makes the milling machine so popular is its diversity in possible applications. It is not possible to find a substitute at all levels. There are certainly alternatives for individual areas:

  • Planer: The good old planer is the predecessor of the milling machine. If you like to be in the cellar late at night for your favourite woodworking project and would rather not wake up the family, then the planer is a good option. With a little more work but much quieter, you can also achieve your goal.
  • Drill: If you already have a drill in your workshop, this is of course the first choice for drill holes that could also be made by a milling machine. The difference here lies in the precise implementation. Here the milling machine has the edge.
  • Laser: If your main focus is on engraving and decoration, working with the laser is worth considering.
  • Router table: When working with small wooden parts, the router reaches its limits. Small wooden parts are difficult to fix. If space is not an issue, the router table is an alternative worth considering. It is a workbench with an integrated router. This makes it easy to guide small objects around the router.

It depends on your needs whether one of these alternatives is more suitable for you than the milling machine.

What is the feed rate of a milling machine?

Feed is the direction in which you move the milling machine when you are working. There are two possibilities: Either you move the milling machine with the direction of travel (climb milling) of the milling machine or against the direction of travel of the milling machine (up-cut milling).

Counter-rotation milling is the direction of your choice. Here the centrifugal forces of the router work in such a way that the tool is pulled towards the edge of the wood. This makes the operation more stable.

Counter-rotation routing is safer.

If you are more at the beginning of your milling career, we advise against the climb milling method for your first projects. Using up-cut milling machines is considered dangerous.

It is more likely to "backfire". Experienced craftsmen use this method because they appreciate the tear-free milling.
The right speed is also crucial when advancing:

If you move the router too slowly, there may be burn marks from the heat generated.

In addition, the cutter overheats and becomes blunt more quickly. With a little practice you will soon get the hang of it.

Which accessories for a milling machine make sense for a hobby craftsman?

With the purchase of your milling machine, you are basically sufficiently equipped for the first use. However, there are a few ways to make working with the milling machine easier and more pleasant:

Cutter: Thecutter or cutter head is the core of your milling machine. Before you make a spontaneous purchase, you should consider which projects you want to tackle.

To get started, you are well equipped with a grooving cutter, a flush cutter (thrust ball bearing on top), two radius cutters (one large and one small) and a disc grooving cutter.

Generally, there are milling cutters made of two different materials: high-speed steel (HSS) and carbide (HM). HSS cutters are more suitable for softwoods because they heat up more quickly and become blunt.

On the other hand, they are cheaper to buy than carbide cutters. The advantage of carbide routers is that you can also use them for plastic projects.

Guide rail: This extra gives your work more stability and helps you to work perfectly straight. If precision is important, this purchase makes a lot of sense.

Mouthguard: Safety first. A mouthguard is a small purchase with a big effect. It prevents you from inhaling the fine wood dust.

Anti-slip mat: This accessory makes it easier for you to work with the router. If the wood lies stably and firmly on the anti-slip mat, you can start working with the router without worrying.

Image source: Andrey Armyagov / 123rf

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