|Grizzly G0463 on the shipping pallet|
A few weeks ago, after admitting to myself that I’ve outgrown my little Harbor Freight Mini Mill I decided to sell it [on Craig’s List] and get a larger milling machine. A few hours later, after a number of back and forth text messages it was spoken for and I officially became mill-less. My whole metal shop has to fit along one wall of a two car garage, Bridgeport type milling machines are pretty much out of question. From the get go a friend categorically talked me out of a round column mill/drill, so my choices were limited to Sieg X3, Sieg SX3, a Rung Fu 45 clone or one of the smaller knee mills. After some soul searching I realized that for my projects X3 is the most practical choice. Although pretty small, as far as metal mills are concerned, it still provides somewhat larger work envelope and the design seems to address most, if not all, of my pet peeves with the Mini Mill. On the other hand it’s still light enough to be moved by a few people etc.
After the budget was approved by the accounting department (AKA my wife) I went to Grizzly.com to place an order for a brand-spanking-new G0463. The order was placed late on Sunday, March 3rd and at 8:30 AM on Tuesday (yes, in two day) FedEx called to schedule the delivery. I opted for a “customer pickup” and at noon the same day a friendly FedEx employee was loading it into my truck.
|The mill was covered in the|
red shipping lube
Unloading the machine was a bit more difficult, since unlike FedEx I don’t own a fleet of forklifts (or even a shop crane, for that matter). One of the stickers on the box stated that the shipping weight was 440 pounds and I can attest that every single ounce was there when we dragged it onto a temporary bench. Once in the garage, a pry bar made short work of the shipping crate and I was presented with a slimy brand new milling machine. No, this is not a typo; I really meant “slimy”. The whole machine was covered in the familiar red shipping grease, designed to protect exposed cast iron parts from rusting during the voyage over the Pacific Ocean. As my wife accurately noted, the machine looked like someone slaughtered a cow on it.
|Grizzly recommend a|
spindle break in procedure
Grizzly recommends a break in procedure for the spindle. Since I wasn’t sure the bearings were lubricated properly etc, I decided not to turn the mill on until it’s properly cleaned and lubricated.In order to clean this gunk, Grizzly manual states that he mill needs to be partially disassembled. That gave me a sufficient excuse to take it apart and see how it ticks, and make the next move a bit easier. I stopped short of removing the head or disassembling the spindle. The former - out of laziness; the later, well, because I chickened out...
What I’ve seen so far suggests that Sieg X3 has a good potential of being a decent machine, and is a clear step up from the tiny X2 Mini Mill. First of all, for three times the money you get three times the mass. This translates into much beefier castings, more sturdy [solid] column and a larger work envelope. In addition to the size advantage, there are some design features that make me feel much better about the machine:
|Mini Mill table on top of X3's table|
- All three axes have integrated axial ball bearings on the lead screws. Furthermore, X and Y axes use split brass nuts, as opposed to cast iron blocks on X2. Thrust bearing in conjunction with split lead nuts should provide for much tighter preloads and consequently less backlash and binding.
- Z axis uses a lead screw, so no more infamous “head drop”. Additionally the hand wheel location and size is much more convenient. Both have been a sore spot on my mini mill, so X3 should make boring or plunge milling much smoother and more controllable.
- Lead screw on the X axis is supported on both ends, so the screw will not wobble around when the table moved all the way to the left. Moreover, the hand wheel can be disengaged when power feed is on. On my X2 the vibration from spinning unbalanced handwheel precluded the use of higher feed speeds so this is a welcome feature.
- The mill comes with a dedicated master switch, in addition to the motor stop/start switch.It appears (although I haven’t tested this theory yet) that the motor can be stopped and started independent from the speed adjustment knob. I will be a happy camper if this is indeed the case and I can dial in the RPM and go back to it when the motor starts.
|Y axis axial [thrust] bearing|
So far I’ve found three things that I don’t like about the machine that I will have to address at some point:
- Grizzly has removed the gas strut from the Z axis (presumably to extend the travel) and to make raising the head easier, reduced the gear ratio on the handwheel to 2:1. On the flip side, now it takes two times the cranking to raise the column, and with the generous travel offered by the mill I can see myself adding power feed in the nearest future.
- X axis has no means of setting thrust bearing preload, since the inlay ring is attached to the screw with a dowel pin. At this point the axis has 0.013” of backlash, but I suspect the fix is as simple as inserting a few thin washers to take up the 13 thousands.
- Finally, unlike X2 that used a pin to lock the spindle, X3 uses a spanner wrench. It’s possible that I will get used to it, but inserting the pin into the hole and spinning the spindle until it engages was much easier that trying to catch two small holes with a spanner wrench.
Overall my first impressions of the mill are very favorable. Besides being a much beefier machine when compared to my Mini MIll, has much fever corners cut, and the build quality isn’t even comparable. I know that I’m comparing a machine sold by Grizzly to one sold by Harbor Freight at 1/3 the price, but it appears that the clams of Grizzly's better quality are true. When my mini mill came [more than two weeks after the order was placed] it was not usable. It took hours of lapping, scraping, filing and traming to get the Mini Mill to the point where it could make chips. Not to mention the horrible paint job and casting sand in the base and the column. In contrast Grizzly’s G0463 was pretty much good to go once it was free of red grease and properly lubricated. The few issues I’ve found should be relatively easy to address. Other than that, Sieg X3 is a fundamentally good small milling machine.