Small batch lathe/mill services?
September 1, 2008 12:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a cnc lathe/mill service that would let me submit designs and have a small number of copies created. Like Ponoko, but for metal. (I'm trying to make a steel/brass chess set as a gift--I want to design it myself, but don't have the time to lathe it on my own)
posted by null terminated to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Googling only brought up lathe servicing and supplier results. I'd be happy to ask around locally, but I'm not sure how to find machine shops(?) and if they'd do something this small.)
posted by null terminated at 12:11 AM on September 1, 2008

Best answer: I think you're better off trying to find a local craftsperson.

A year ago when I research some rapid prototyping vs a short run of manufacturing it looked like it would cost $160+ per unit for small items (less than 6cc or 0.35 cubic inch) and that was for non-durable plastic. Prices for metal was much higher. A chess set would easily cost many thousands.

To find someone who can do it... Not sure. Machine shops are in the yellow pages. Alternately call your community college. If they have machining classes they might be able to recommend someone.
posted by Ookseer at 12:52 AM on September 1, 2008

There are machine shops who will do small runs of things like CNC, laser cutting, water jet cutting, anodising, etc etc - however if their normal business is manufacturing prototypes for industry, they can be on the expensive side.

Are you in NZ?
posted by Mike1024 at 1:06 AM on September 1, 2008

Response by poster: no, New Jersey
posted by null terminated at 1:14 AM on September 1, 2008

Best answer: Here you go.
posted by hortense at 1:54 AM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

You probably don't want a CNC; for a one-off (as Ookseer says) a hand-made piece is going to be a lot less expensive. What you need is a guy with a milling machine in his garage. To find one of these, stop by any gun shop and ask the owner who he (or she) knows/uses. They all know someone.
posted by three blind mice at 2:09 AM on September 1, 2008

RFQWork is a site where you can submit small jobs for bid by various machine shop operators.
posted by fake at 7:21 AM on September 1, 2008

(serious question, don't know answer) why should CNC be more expensive?
posted by NormandyJack at 10:29 AM on September 1, 2008

For CNC you have to create the model in a CAD/CAM package and then translate that into a tool path. Usually you end up paying a pretty penny for that CAD/CAM work, which is no big deal if they're making 20,000 of them for you.

There are places out there that will do custom castings of your wax masters. Depending on your design, that might be more economical.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:06 AM on September 1, 2008

The link I provided includes cad cam software so you do the design profile, the software creates the tool path for the collet chucking cnc lathe that they use.They also do casting, Most chess parts are simple profiles, the Knight however may need to be milled after the profile is cut. good luck have fun.
posted by hortense at 5:57 PM on September 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. It looks like this would be much more expensive than I anticipated. eMachineShop looks really cool if I ever have the money to afford a project like this.
posted by null terminated at 7:26 PM on September 1, 2008

Ya know you could mount lengths of brass or aluminum in a cheap wood turning lathe and use turning tools with long handles to carve them out by hand. I use my drill press and rat tail files to cut grooves in aluminum, I wouldn't try steel but brass and aluminum are easy to cut.
posted by hortense at 11:47 PM on September 1, 2008

Probably too late to get an answer on this....

But, if you did the CAD/CAM yourself and sent it of to someone is it still a truism that CNC would be more expensive?
posted by NormandyJack at 8:02 AM on September 2, 2008

Hopefully not to threadjack, but yes, its still expensive. You're renting time on a machine that costs as much as a house and is not cheap to operate. (Operator training, materials, bits, manual finishing, etc.) Creating the digital files to feed it is one of the cheaper aspects of producing the output, and they'll still need to audit the files you send them to make sure they are suitable/possible for their machine to produce.
posted by Ookseer at 12:51 PM on September 2, 2008

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