Thursday, July 3, 2014

Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 Tabletop Mill Review

Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 Tabletop Mill Review

After a long wait and even longer decision process, I decided to spring for a table top mill. One which is much more capable with harder materials and with significantly more capacity, power, and flexibility to tackle even larger sized home fabrication and machining projects. I do have a 14” tall 20lb $400 Micro Mill from Proxxon which is a wonderful tool, but in essence a glorified precision Dremel Tool in Micro Mill format. It works great, accepts Dremel bits, but definitely has its capacity, power, and bit size limitations. Even for finishing a roughed in polymer AR15 80% lower receiver with the drill press the little Proxxon worked but was painfully slow and at its limits. I needed “more power”.

For the “semi-serious/professional” home hobbiest, a “table-top” mill offered a very nice balance between taking up a garage stall with a huge floor standing mill and still having a large enough tool to be useful in something that fits on a bench. Keep in mind that your typical Mini Mill is around 160lb, about 24" x 20" x 30" in size, maintains .001” tolerances, and generally built or milled from cast iron. These “tabletop” mills are not light or light duty by any stretch of the imagination, however they do not weigh 2-tons either. The new class of mini-mills such as this Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 Mini Mill delivers over ½” end milling and drilling capacities and nearly two square feet of table movement.

After looking around at tabletop mills from Grizzly, Harbor Freight, and MicroMark, I choose the Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 model simply because it offered more capacity, torque, and features than the competition. They were also the most helpful on the phone in determining which mill would be the right fit for me. I put the HiTorque 3960 to use immediately finishing various 80% AR15 lowers and working through a number of other little customer projects.

Like many of the available Mini-Mills on the market, you will still need some sort of startup tooling kit which includes at bare minimum a vise, a few mills and arbors. Some of the more comprehensive tooling packages include extras which most pros rarely use with a mill.  I settled on Little Machine Shop’s Essential Package which included a premium vise, mill bits, and accessories; enough to get me started without going crazy with things I didn’t need. I did add a drill chuck because it is always handy.

The company was founded by hobbiest for hobbiest. The result has been a continual drive to deliver the highest quality and the most feature rich machines. Their goal has been to deliver the features of the big expensive floor standing machines in less space and for far less money. Based on my experience, they are delivering on that customer promise with machines

My Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 and accessories arrived via common carrier. It was dropped off next to my garage and I gleefully cracked open the crate to inspect my purchase. I always say that you know you purchased something seriously cool when it arrives via common carrier on a pallet. Even though I knew the specs, the HiTorque 3960 was far bigger than mentally what I was expecting and far heavier as I was deadlifting its stout 160 lb weight onto my bench. This mill is about the maximum size weight I would want to drag into the basement or move around with just one person. The next size up to a floor standing mill model would require several burly looking men with special moving equipment. For me this is the perfect size.

Several reasons I choose the Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 over other models were a fixed and precalibrated (to 90 degree) column which the mill head rides on, it is brushless motor which delivers smoother and considerably more torque than other standard typical brush motor designs, the fit and finish was higher, and the table X and Y axis movement was more than other competing models.

The HiTorque 3960 features the most powerful motor and highest low-speed torque in its class, no gears in the spindle drive, the largest table and X-Y travel in its class and a standard R8 spindle. Many people think they want a tilting vertical column to mill various angles, however the challenge is that on any mill realigning the vertical column to a perfect 90 degrees is a painful and time consuming process. Additionally, a solid column adds exponentially more strength and stiffness to the overall mill and cannot be torqued out of alignment during milling. Unless you have a very specific need for milling angles, Little Machine Shop and the other competitors all seriously recommend steering away from an adjustable column mill.

Setup was simple. Uncrate, un-bolt from the crate and bolt down on your bench. I attached and squared the vise on the table, slide in a collet and two-flute end mill, lubed all the sliding points, and was ready to start my maiden project.

With all these features, one would ask what type of cool projects you could make with a Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 mill?  My first project was transform a few scrap pieces of Lexan into luggage tags for the kids camp bags with initials milled in them. This was a simple little project to get acclimated to the controls before I started on more complex projects.

My next project was to work through a variety of 80% AR15 lowers to make my own AR15 pistols and rifles. Some of those 80% lowers were forged 7075 aluminum, other fancier billet 7075 lowers, and some even polymer. In all cases the Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 performed perfectly and accurately without stuttering or sputtering. The 3960 ran well across a broad array of materials and delivered great looking milled finishes on all materials. Mills and collets were easily switched and the simply and easy continuously variable RPM was a huge plus as materials and cutting speeds/depths varied.

As you can see on this Matthews Carbine billet 80% lower, the final project was very good and functionally perfect.

Its one thing to be a DIY'er who paints or carpets a room, however another all together who is machining parts and items from solid chunks of material - these folks I term as fabricators. I fall into this segment where I actually use a mill more than a couple times a month for various projects. At this point the only limitation I would really like to have is a little more height on the Z-axis (up and down). This would allow a little more room for the long bit on the drill press to work on taller pieces, however as spec'ed the HiTorque 3960 is an outstanding tabletop mill which delivers very high quality product and enough features to keep me from wanting more. Excellent investment for the home fabricator.

Little Machine Shop HiTorque 3960 High Torque Mini Mill
Most powerful mill in its class
Most low-speed torque in its class
No gears in spindle drive
Largest table and X-Y travel in its class
R8 spindle (Includes R8 to 33JT drill chuck arbor, but no drill chuck)

The HiTorque Mini Mill is the best in its class. It has the most power, most torque, and a larger table than other mills in its class.
This mill has a solid column. It does not tilt from side to side. This construction is significantly stiffer than the tilting column on other mini mills.

The 500 Watt brushless spindle drive motor provides tremendous low-end torque. And you can vary the speed from 50 RPM to 2500 RPM continuously. There are no gears to shift. And, with no gears, the HiTorque Mini Mill is the quietest in its class.

The large mill table provides 50% more table area than other mini mills. It also has 30% more travel in each direction. The resettable feed dials allow you to zero them at any point.

The HiTorque Mini Mill has drill press handles for drilling and fast motion of the mill's head. It also has Z-axis fine feed with 0.001" resolution for milling operations.

MSRP $779.00
Solid Column - Non-Tilting Column
End Milling Capacity0.6" (16 mm)
Face Milling Capacity.2" (30 mm)
Drilling Capacity0.5" (13 mm)
Table Size 18.1" x 4.7" (460 mm x 120 mm)
T-slots3 slots 0.47" (12.0 mm) wide
X-Axis Travel 1.8" (300 mm)
Y-Axis Travel5.1" (130 mm)
Z-Axis Travel9.8" (250 mm)
Throat6.5" (165 mm)
X- and Y-Axis Feed Screws0.062" (1.59 mm) per rotation
Head TiltNone
Positioning Accuracy0.0004" (0.010 mm)
Spindle TaperR8
Spindle Motor0.67 hp (500 Watts)
Spindle Speed00 - 2500 RPM
Power Requirements 20 V 60 Hz 8 Amps
Machine Weight 24 lbs (56 kg)
Base Dimensions (W x D) 8.5" x 14.2" (216 mm x 362 mm)
Mounting Holes Center to Center (W x D) 7.00" x 11.88" (177.8 mm x 301.6 mm)
Overall Dimensions (W x D x H) 23.2" x 19.7" x 29.1" (590 mm x 500 mm x 740 mm)
Weight 161 lbs (73 kg)
Crate Dimensions (W x D x H) 23.6" x 24.8" x 27.0" (600 mm x 630 mm x 685 mm)

Essential Tooling Package
MSRP $464.00
Tooling Package, R8 Mini Mill Premium
All the best products to get started with your R8 mini mill right now
Workholding - 3" precision milling vise, parallels, clamping kit, 1-2-3 blocks
Toolholding - R8 collet set
Cutting tools - end mills and center drills
Blocks, 1-2-3 Ultra Precision2881 Blocks, 1-2-3 Ultra Precision
Box, for 3" Parallels2367 Box, for 3" Parallels
Center Drills, Cobalt Set of 5 (Numbers 1-5)4859 Center Drills, Cobalt Set of 5 (Numbers 1-5)
Clamping Kit, 7/16" T-Slot 144 Clamping Kit, 7/16" T-Slot
Collets, R8 Set of 13, Professional Grade4860 Collets, R8 Set of 13, Professional Grade
Edge and Center Finder, Fisher 959 Edge and Center Finder, Fisher
End Mill Set, 6 Piece 2 Flute Cobalt4888 End Mill Set, 6 Piece 2 Flute Cobalt
End Mill Set, 6 Piece 4 Flute Cobalt4887 End Mill Set, 6 Piece 4 Flute Cobalt
T-Slot Cleaner 263 T-Slot Cleaner
Vise Mounting Kit, Mini Mill3125 Vise Mounting Kit, Mini Mill
Vise, 3" Precision Milling, Heavy 699 Vise, 3" Precision Milling, Heavy
More - edge finder, vise mounting kit, T-slot cleaner

Little Machine Shop -


Ron said...

I have two 80 percent .308 lowers in my safe. I am currently mill shopping. Your review of this mill has certainly narrowed my choices down. The likleyhood of a hitorque mini mill in my future is very high!

Gerald Dietz said...

Great Review! I have the same intentions.

Fasterrock said...

I am a beginner and only want to finish a few AR 80% lowers with
my 3 sons. It sounds like I do not need most of the items in the
recommended "essentials" kit. Am I correct? Can I get by with
fewer items? I already have the drills and end mill needed.
Advise is appreciated.

Major Pandemic said...

Dear FasterRock

If you have a mil you are in great shape already. After finishing a few 80% lowers, I can tell you that all that is really need are two drills and one end mill of the correct size. Polymer 80 has a $20 kit which includes all those components.

For polymer lowers I really only recommend three option EP Armory, TN Armory, or James Madison. James Madison is by far at least 2-3 times the quality of the others noted, is easier to mill, and delivers a structurally stronger lower than the other options. Milling your own Aluminum 80% is a pain unless you have a decent sized mill.

Phil said...

I have to say, this review has to be one of the most thorough and well written of any I have read thus far; Pro job!

Hot Sam said...

I have a mini mill that I'm about to set up. I would like to mount this on a work bench. Is the vibration bad enough so that I'd want to bolt the bench to the floor or wall? How high would you recommend mounting it. Some people said up at eye level is best. How do you manage to collect and drain cooling fluid? Is there any other experience you have as a tip for new millers?

Business Man said...

Nice review! Thank you for taking to time to share your experience.

I have been thinking of buying the milling head used on this mill (they sell them separately) for a CNC mill / CNC router build. I'll mainly be using it for aluminum but it's hard to decide between this one and one of the higher speed / higher power and lower cost CNC spindles.

It's all so confusing. Intuitively, I would have thought a milling head would be better for cutting metal but a lot of people say you are better off with a higher speed spindle for aluminum.

Your one seemed to do ok with 7075 aluminum lowers. Was it slow?

Zoltan said...

You should remove the swivel base of the vise, especially since you're complaining about Z access travel. It's only needed it you're mounting the vise at an angle.

Before starting any precision projects you should first tram the head to the column and the column to the mill.

Raedle said...

Review the difference of cutting speeds for aluminum and steel, and calculate the required spindle RPM based on the diameter of your tooling. This should give you real numbers to determine which spindle is right for your work. I.e. if you work only with small end mills, let's say 1/4 inch, your spindel speed shoild be really high.