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Our always-on-the-leading-edge friend Phillip Torrone over at Make just posted this sweet Dremel-powered mill a bit ago.  It provides a firm, adjustable mount for your standard Dremel rotary tool, enabling you to take on milling, cutoff (pictured), thickness sanding, and sawing operations with surprising accuracy and ease.

Vanda-Lay — the manufacturer — claims it can produce work accurate to within .001″, but honestly I imagine this as more of an “interim” tool than a mini-mill replacement.  Rather than questioning its ability to mill to a thousandth, I’d rather look at it as a lot more accurate than what I can do with the Dremel by hand — or with any of Dremel’s mounting tools or attachments.  For example, we’ve used our Dremel in combination with a vice and other mounting tools to “machine” plastic parts on the fly.  This would just make it a lot easier.

(Thanks John, for the tip!)

The ACRA Mill Plus [Vanda-Lay]

 

21 Responses to Convert Your Dremel Into A Mini-Mill For $150

  1. Matt says:

    Might take the Pinewood Derby to a whole new level.

  2. nrChris says:

    I am with you Scott.

    “Say Vanda-Lay, say Vanda-Lay!!”

    I would worry about run-out at the collet end if you are doing anything too precise, other than that it looks good.

    • Edward says:

      just be very weary about buying anything from Vanda-Lay you can’t try until you buy and then you can not return it if it won’t work for you. You can find a cheap very small milling machine from many sources for about the same or less price all over the net. By the time you add all accessories to give you a working mill. All of the other sources on say amazon will allow you to return the product. So be ware this is not a place you should be dealing with at all. You think that you are doing the right thing by buying from an american manufacturer and you find out that no one should sell by mail without return capabilities. So WARNING do not buy anything from Vanda-Lay. Buy from another site and get better service from a Chinese machine in the end.

  3. Rob says:

    maybe kinda fun to chuck a couple of little steppers to it and
    cnc the little thing I may just have to buy one of these next payday

  4. Stuey says:

    I posted a whole big comment earlier but it didn’t post! =(

    Anyways, check out this dremel drill chuck by the same company!

    http://www.vanda-layindustries.com/assets/images/d-chuck-DT22_1_.jpg

  5. Jim D says:

    Sounds like a great tool accessory and makes the rotary tool that much more useful. As you said, it may not be as exact as they say but a LOT better than freehand.
    One thing to note though, the system as you have it in the picture incorporates several items that do not come as standard equipment. They are extra and add to the cost. I suppose for those with sufficient disposable income that’s not a big deal. For those of us on fixed income, *sigh* ah well.
    jim

  6. As I understand it, the $150 only buys you motion in the X axis. Y and Z are extra, but still reasonable.

    The bigger issue for me is that all the pictures show wood being cut. I’d need it for aluminum. I can’t remember whether Dremel (or equiv.) sell blades and bits that will cut aluminum. You wouldn’t want to use the abrasive wheels on aluminum. Any ideas?

  7. rodney says:

    I have not thought about this much, but something like this would give you the x and y axis if you could cobble something together to hold the dremel

  8. Jon says:

    @Michael Shiloh

    You can get “end-mill” ish bits that work pretty well as such. I’ve used them to cut AZ91D in a similar fashion as a Bridgeport. only hand held. with a Dremel.

    http://www.dremel.com/en-us/attachments-and-accessories/attachment-accessory-detail.htm?H=188537&G=66240&I=66303

  9. aluminumati says:

    after reading some reviews and thinking about my needs I am going to buy the ACRA mill as they are offering it now with 3 axis around 240 dollars. I will come back here and post my feelings about the mill once I put it to use. Thank you to the site operator for providing this bulletin board.

  10. aluminumati says:

    I just ordered up the ACRA mill, and the optional Z axis and of course the machinists vise for it. I can’t wait till it gets here. I spoke with a Larry at Vanda-lay and he says 3 weeks from the time of payment till delivery. That suggests all their stuff is made to order, just FYI for those who want one. I wish I ordered 3 weeks ago.

    will update once I have the mill here.

  11. aluminumati says:

    wanted to clarify- I was wrong above about the pricing/details. The Y axis table with the dial is extra. I ordered my mill before realizing that. Kinda pissed.

    Anyway so for a total of 279.98 shipped I got X, Z axis and machinists vise. As of this writing the mill has went up 25.00 on the site too, I was lucky enough to find it on sale.

  12. aluminumati says:

    It arrived today! Well packaged for shipment, and with no printed instructions, just how I like my tools. 🙂

    It took me maybe 45 minutes of careful examination and drooling over the craftsmanship to put it together and I only looked at the instructions on the website to see the illustration. My first impression is that this tool is very well built and there was a ton of thought poured into this little mill. All the materials are top notch. Once I lube the threaded rods with some white lithium grease she is ready to cook.

    I use a black and decker 3 speed RTX dremel knock off and it fits perfectly in the clamp. I may need to replace it as it is well used but I will see how it holds up.

    I just went to http://www.widgetsupply.com and spent about 70 bucks on dremel bits. Widget rocks by the way- they have great deals on dremel accessories by many makers.

    I picked up from widget:
    6 inch Stainless Steel Digital Caliper
    100pc Bit Set in Deluxe Wooden Box
    EUROTOOL BUR-180.00 Cut Lube
    1/8 inch Carbide Cutter – Compare to Dremel 9901
    1/4 x 1/2 inch Square End Carbide Cutter, 1/8 inch shank
    20pc 150 Grit TiN Diamond Burr Set
    20pc Vermont American Black Max Tap and Drill Set, USA

    If you went to home depot you could not get half as many bits for 70 dollars. Waiting a couple days for shipping is no big deal- waiting for UPS is the story of my life.

    Once the bits arrive I will play with some scraps of aluminum stock and report back my findings + some links to pics of my rig.

  13. aluminumati says:

    The ACRA mill is not suited for aluminum work as configured from the maker.

    First, I was getting some nasty jagged cuts in 6061 using a black and decker dremel copy and the 1/8″ carbide cutter. Not acceptable. The vibrations from the tool against the metal caused the depth screw to rotate and it was impossible to maintain a set depth.

    The flexibility in the B&D dremel copy was not helping either. Also, the 3 miniature thumb screws that hold the vise intact are not adequate for holding the vise for any serious milling. More on this later.

    This tool would be perfect for soft material like wood, or wax. Not at all suited to mill harder metals.

    So what did I do you ask? Well I am into the ACRA mill for 279 + some bits and accessories so far. This is the mill as configured by vanda-lay and assembled by me. Copy and paste into a browser to view pics.

    http://webshareimage.com/images/s4hq7iwpkkcpdwhhcbyj.jpg

  14. aluminumati says:

    The mill was not cutting it for me, literally. I added a piece of wood under the screw head you turn so that the cut depth would not vary. I got sick and tired of trying to cut aluminum with a crappy hand tool hooked to some machine that moved and flexed every which way, so I began to rethink my approach.

    I needed something that would hold the tool and not flex as the material was fed into it. I needed something with variable speeds. I needed something with some balls.

    What I did was a big leap of faith. I went to sears hardware and checked out their 99 dollar drill press. The chuck was easily flexed by hand- not a winner. The 350 dollar one felt much firmer of course but that’s not in hte budget.

    I reluctantly went into harbor freight and picked up an open box drill press that has a STOUT chuck, no flex at all. Adjustable depth stop and a power cord were the only “features”. There were no papers or chuck key- 40.00 out the door, plus a 5 dollar 4 way chuck key. Now I have the power and stability to cut. But no way to mill.

    I came home, took the acra toy mill apart and began tinkering. I then realized if I used just the table of the acra mill and bolted it to the drill press I could possibly make this work…

  15. aluminumati says:

    and it did work! I am using the adjustable depth stop on the drill in reverse so it is a fixed depth system now. I may use the z axis from the mill to make this more easily adjustable but it works well now.

    So now I have a milling table that works and a powerhead that is suitable. A few test cuts using a 1/2″ carbide cutter rendered some nice slots that were cleanly cut, however I could not keep them straight for the life of me.

    The little vise that is held in place with 3 thumb screws kept sliding one way or the other halfway through any slotting. Again, not acceptable. I removed the 3 thumb screws and drilled and tapped the holes out to 8-32 holes and added 3 new ones on the other side. Now 6 8-32 set screws are holding the vise place and my slots are coming out PRECISE.

    So now at this point I have a machine I can use, although the acra mill had to be extensively modified to work with aluminum I am pleased with the results.

    My final addition to the drill mill was a sears craftsman drill laser, which makes lining up cuts and squaring the table to the cutting tool so very easy. In retrospect I wish I had just bought the mini mill for 300 from harbor freight. I am happy with the machine I built for what I need it to do, however I could have gotten a better machine right out of the box for the cash I have in this setup, and had it right away. It’s been almost a month of trial and error with the acra mill and I would not recommend it to anyone looking for a metal working mill.

    ACRA mill table bolted to drill press, milling an aggressive single pass cut into 6061 aluminum. Note the laser guides. Before the tool makes contact to the metal a full “X” is easily seen on the material, making it hard to screw up. 🙂
    http://webshareimage.com/images/iwc64d2e38noows3np.jpg

    another view:
    http://webshareimage.com/images/dm13ao4ig9v6q2we01z.jpg

    whole machine:
    http://webshareimage.com/images/0ezfombuybijfvw0mht.jpg

    The acra mill is a neat little tool, but it is best considered a light duty device.

  16. jake says:

    Thanks for all the follow-up messages, alum. I looked through the sellers website and they make it look awesome, which I’m sure it is if you only use it for its intended purpose. I think I’d be better off following your advice and just getting a mini-mill from Harbor Freight for what I would be using it for.

    • Matt Whittle says:

      Thanks Aluminumati,

      I was looking around for an item to machine aluminium and thought that the Acra might be suitable. You have saved me a lot of trouble.

      Cheers from Australia

  17. Kevin Rutledge says:

    Thank you very much for your report and findings aluminumati. You are saving me a lot of time, money, and hassle as I almost went the exact same path you have taken as I too need to be able to mill metal precisely for a low cost. I am still unsure what path I might take as everything I have seen is around at least $500 USD and up. Where is that $300 mini mill you found from Harbor Freight??? I could really use both a mill and a lathe or a mill and a 4th axis attachment. Also, hopefully whatever I end up getting I hope to make it into a CNC machine later on too with possibly a kit. Thanks again for your input!

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