Ready to start your own machine shop, or just want to use a small CNC mill in your garage? With a plethora of budget CNC mill options in today’s market, it is not only difficult to make a decision but damn near impossible.
So, we set out to make a complete guide to buying your first CNC machine.
Scratch that. Even if you’ve owned a CNC mill or operated one, this guide is still for you if you’re now looking for a small shop or desktop mill for different types of projects.
CNC Milling Machine Overview
There are three main things to consider when buying a small CNC Mill.
Size of the Machine
Of course, we’re emphasizing small or desktop-sized machines here, so we need to first look at whether they fit in your space. Also, will you be able to get it through garage doors if necessary?
This won’t be much of an issue for most small CNC machines, as they’re designed for smaller workshops. But it is ultimately one of the main factors when deciding on a machine for your shop. Just make sure the dimensions work with your workspace. Simple enough.
What Do You Plan on Making with this Machine?
Secondly, what are you going to make with your new mill? Will you be machining steel, plastic, or aluminum? How large are your workpieces? If you are planning to just cut small parts out of a vise or fixture, your options are practically endless.
And cutting just plastic or aluminum will give you even more choices.
We will cover all the small desktop CNC machines, knee mills, and best CNC machine brands as we go along.
What’s Your Budget?
The third factor to consider is, of course, cost.
Pricing a CNC machine is a big step in this process. Having a tight budget is almost always a concern when setting up any machine shop.
We will be going over the cheapest options available in the CNC market with that in mind. These milling machines are mostly in the $3,000-$10,000 range.
In this guide, we will start small and work our way up, starting with Desktop Mills, then on to small CNC Mills and VMCs.
Best Desktop CNC Mills
1. Haas Desktop Mill
Now don’t laugh just yet. Although this Desktop CNC Mill is more geared to students and those working in a lab setting, there is still a lot to love about this Haas mini mill machine.
If you are familiar with the Haas brand, you know they wouldn’t make something that isn’t a quality product. Designated as a “Training Mill,” the Haas mini milling machine is packed with a 15,000-rpm electric spindle and a fully-functional Haas Control Panel.
Built to fit on most desktops, toolboxes, tabletops, and workbenches., this Haas mini mill is compact and light enough to be easily moved and transported from a shop floor to an office.
Made with hobbyist machinists and beginner’s in mind, it is great for those looking to improve their programming skills.
Since it is a hobby-inspired small CNC mill under $10,000, you won’t find a large cutting surface area with this machine; nor will you be able to change tools automatically like on the larger machines we will cover later.
But if you are looking to cut small parts using plastic or aluminum, and are tight on space and a budget, then this particular industrial machine might be the one for you. After review, we have mostly great things to say about the Haas Desktop Mill with its purpose in mind.
Features & Specs
- Cutting Area 6” x 10” x 1.5” (152 x 254 x 38mm)
- 15,000-RPM Electric Spindle
- HAAS Control
- ER11 Collet
- Runs on single-phase 120V or 220V (As requested)
- Fully Functional Haas Control
- No need for coolant
- Doesn’t require compressed air
- Small, Compact, and lightweight
- Only a 6-Month Warranty
- Pricey for its size
2. Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine
Another portable small, and compact option is the Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine. Bantam prides itself on building the smallest and meanest aluminum cutting machine on the market. Designed and optimized to cut aluminum at high speeds, it makes question everything you know about CNC machines and how they operate.
Although compact, this machine is built with very rigid construction. Weighing in at just over 70lbs, this benchtop CNC Mill can be easily moved, with a little help, to wherever it best serves you. With a solid aluminum frame and a whopping 28,000-rpm spindle, this mill is certainly one to not take lightly.
This unit incorporates high-speed machining, making the setup quick and painless. The Bantam Milling machine makes setting tools and part geometry nearly effortless using a conductive probing system.
A t-slot bed and a built-in clamping system make securing your part and fixtures as simple as possible. In review, one of the best desktop CNC mills on the market.
Features & Specs
- Drag and Drop SVG with built-in Auto-CAM control software
- Real-time Software Feedback during Machining
- Easy Integration with Fusion 360 CAM
- Fully Enclosed with 180-Degree Window Visibility
- Optimized for Aluminum Cutting
- Bantam Tools Milling Machine Software Included
- Small and Compact
- Very Affordable
- Easily fits on a benchtop
- No Warranty for Spindle
- Premium Subscription required for some options
3. Pocket NC V2-50 Desktop 5-Axis Machine
This one is a truly unique compact 5-Axis CNC milling machine.
The Pocket NC V2-50 Desktop mill will change everything you think you know about 5-Axis machining. Being able to deliver the functionality and abilities of a 5-axis machine is no easy task. And being able to do so in such a small compact design makes this machine a real stroke of genius.
The Pocket NC machine is a great alternative to a 3D printer, built with a prototype in mind.
To create a complex 3-dimensional part, many machines require a 4th or even 5th axis to complete such an item. Ideal for cutting plastics and aluminum, this machine is still rigid enough to cut harder materials like brass and titanium.
Having a desktop CNC mill that cuts steel is a major resource to have in any home or job shop.
Used by many in a wide variety of industries, this compact CNC mill under $10,000 specializes in fields such as jewelry making, medical technology, start-ups, and R&D.
If you are interested in any of those fields or make small original complex parts, this machine is a great option.
Overall, a great benchtop CNC mill option for your home or shop.
Features & Specs
- Maximum XYZ travel 4.55” x 5.05” x 3.55” (115 x 128 x 90mm)
- A-axis Rotation -25° to 135°
- B-axis Continuous Rotation
- Up to 50,000-RPM Spindle
- Tested on G5 titanium, 6061 Aluminum
- Easily the most affordable 5-Axis machine available
- Works with standard G-Code
- Includes Vise and Hardware
- Requires Air Compressor (Not Included)
- Limited Warranty
Best Budget CNC Mills for a Small Shop
4. Tormach 1100M CNC Mill
The industry leader in affordable CNC mills, Tormach has done it again with this best-selling machine.
A true CNC metal milling machine known for its rigid construction and ability to last a lifetime makes it a great option for any machine shop. The versatility to cut materials such as titanium gives you the flexibility customers like when doing business.
Did you know Tormach also makes small CNC lathes?
Tormach is known for its quality and customer support; they will help ease worries during your buying process. Now available in 4 different base packages, from an entry-level model to a premium version. In the entry 1100M package, you’ll receive the base model mill, control, and owner’s kit.
The premium package of the 1100M CNC mill now includes an automatic tool changer, a digital probe, and an electronic tool setter.
This machine easily competes with comparable VMC CNC mills in the same price range with these options included.
This machine can easily fit in a garage in your home or workshop. Capable of easily cutting metals, woods, plastics, and composites.
The 1100M is a true swiss-army knife to have you in your machine shop.
Features & Specs
- 7,500-rpm Spindle
- XYZ Travel 18” x 11” x 16.25” (457 x 279 x 412mm)
- Machine Weight 1600lbs (726 kg)
- 80gb Program Memory
- Touch-Screen Interface
- Built-in Speed and Feeds Calculator
- 4th axis capability
- Conversational Programming
- Powerful 2-hp Spindle
- Entry Base Model lacks most Features
5. Fadal VMC 2015 HS-II
A trusted name in the CNC machining world, Fadal machines are built to last. Like most vertical machining centers in this price range, it has just enough versatility for every size machine shop.
When looking to maximize efficiency in your machine shop, the Fadal CNC mill will reduce cycle times quickly with its 1-sec tool change. Equipped with precision ball screws, the Fadal VMC obtains the accuracy and repeatability for the tightest tolerances.
Capable of high-speed machining in an enclosed capacity allows this machine to operate safely for all users. This mill is a Spindle Air Blast technology that helps cool your tools to eliminate wear.
One of the best CNC machine brands, Fadal always creates quality products that will last.
Standard with the Fadal VMC 2015 HS-II is a chip wash down system and LED work lamps.
Also, it is equipped with an automatic PDI lubrication system to keep your machine running smoothly.
The Fadal CNC mill is one of the best options for those with a larger budget and the best quality available.
Features & Specs
- XYZ Travel 20” x 15” x 16” (508 x 381 x 406mm)
- Tool Capacity of 20
- Standard 12,000-rpm Spindle
- Spindle Oil Cooler
- Linear Roller Bearing Ways
- Rigid Tapping
- 2,500 Blocks/sec Look Ahead
- 4th Axis Ready
- Backward Compatible with 88HS & MP
- Tool Probing Not Included (optional)
6. Fryer Compact Toolroom Mill CM-15
This is a terrific CNC Mill option for any toolroom, job shop, or manufacturing facility. Furnished with high precision ball screws, the Fryer CM series can handle almost any tolerance thrown at them.
The industry standard Siemens 828 Control comes standard with every machine.
With an excellent programming menu built-in, you can program and set it up right at the machine.
Making some of the most complex job shop tasks as simple as they can be to date. Having canned cycles ready at the edge of your fingertips, you’ll be able to set up small one-off jobs quickly and efficiently. A graphic verify simulator comes standard with your Fryer CM-15.
This machine truly is as compact as they say, it can easily be moved by one person with a pallet jack. A solid iron cast base will help eliminate any vibration wherever you want to locate your machine. One of the best job shop CNC milling machines we have reviewed.
Features & Specs
- XYZ Travel 15” x 10” x 15” (381 x 254 x 381mm)
- 7.5 HP Spindle Motor
- 8,000-rpm spindle
- 8 tool storage capacity
- Machine Weight 2,350 lbs
- Fanuc G-Code
- Includes Siemens High-Speed digital control system
- Manual or CNC mode
- 3D Graphic Simulation
- Rigid Tapping with Peck feature
- No Tool or Part Setting Probe
7. Tormach PCNC 440 Benchtop CNC Mill
Yes, you read that right; another Tormach CNC Mill made it on this list. Some would call this the little brother of the more popular 1100M, but this little guy is trying to make some noise.
Labeled by Tormach as a “Personal CNC,” this machine won’t take up much room and will provide the same quality you expect from this brand.
This is one of the cheapest options we’ve reviewed on our small CNC milling machines list.
The PCNC 440 is built not just for small shops or hobbyists but for any machine shop looking for a solid secondary operation. Optional 4th axis rotary attachments can be added, making this small milling machine a complex juggernaut.
Equipped with a massive 80gb program memory, the 440 makes transferring files a cakewalk when included with its built-in dropbox support.
Worried about your CAD/CAM software not connecting with this machine?
Well, the good folk at Tormach have figured that out.
The Pathpilot Control system easily integrates with most CAD/CAM software. If you’re not a fan of CAM software, it’s not a problem, as conversational programming is still an option.
Features & Specs
- XYZ Travel 10” x 6.25” x 10” (254 x 158.75 x 254mm)
- Machine Weight 600lbs
- Ability to cut aluminum, composites, steel, titanium, and more
- Optional Full Enclosure
- 10,000-rpm spindle
- Extremely affordable for most budgets
- Easily Portable
- Rigid Construction with iron cast base
- User-friendly touch screen interface
- Spindle Power
8. Syil X5 Mini CNC Mill
The Syil X5 is another personal hobby CNC mill that is compact and user-friendly.
When dealing with limited floor space, having a small milling machine like the X5 is a life-saver.
This mini-mill is a good option for those who want a machine in then start-up, job shop, or even home.
Strapped with the Siemens 808D advanced CNC controller, we can safely say that this machine will be a joy to work with. Not only will you have great control of the typical 3-axis system but also with an optional 4th axis attachment. Of course, purchase is required separately, but nonetheless, it is always nice to have that option in your tool chest.
Overall, this isn’t the best benchtop CNC mill we have reviewed for a machining center, but it is a worthy contender. We aren’t crazy happy with the spindle or overall entry-level cost of this CNC machine tool. That being said, it will definitely be a machine to keep an eye on it for years to come.
Features & Specs
- XYZ Travel 10.8” x 6.1” x 9” (275 x 155 x 230mm)
- 8 Tool Storage Capacity
- 5,000-rpm Spindle
- Affordable Cost at Entry-Level
- Iron-Cast base
- Compact Design
- Lack of Spindle Power
- Tool-to-Tool Change of 10 Seconds
9. CNC Masters MAX CNC Milling Machine
So maybe we’re going a little old school with the traditional bed mill. Any real machinist knows these Bridgeportesque machines have been the staple of machine shops for decades.
You don’t get these fancy new VMCs today without someone using one of these bed mills or even the less popular knee mills of the past.
Now on to this fully equipped MAX CNC mill. There’s a lot to like about this small benchtop CNC mill, like its large travel capacity.
Like most bed mills, there is a lot of room in the X-axis due to its lack of an enclosure. With all that being said, we wouldn’t recommend this milling machine for any parts with tight tolerances.
The base model of the Max doesn’t offer much, but there are a lot of options that can be added with your purchase. Some of those add-ons being a 4th Axis, Rigid Tapping Control, Digital Probe, Coolant control, and a quick tool changer option.
After review, we would recommend this machine to those who feel most comfortable with a benchtop bed mill.
Features & Specs
- XYZ Travel 21.5” x 10.5” x 4.5” (546 x 266 x 114mm)
- 4,500-rpm Spindle
- Made in the USA
- Precision ball screws
- Low cost
- Head tilts for horizontal milling and drilling
- Includes CNC Masters custom software
- Lacks the high precision of other compact mills
- Safety – Not enclosed
10. Kent USA BM-3 CNC Milling Machine
Another CNC Bed Mill is on our list, this time with the Kent USA BM-3.
Manufactured in California, this CNC milling machine offers the largest cutting work area out of all the machines we’ve reviewed. Boasting a massive table size of 10” x 50”, with an x-axis capable of cutting up to 34”. The BM-3 offers a rigid frame, making this one tough milling machine.
Included with this CNC Mill is the Acu-Rite® MillPwr-G2 Conversational control panel. Now it’s not just conversational; the BM-3 offers manual and g-code operational modes. This CNC machine is equipped with programmable spindle speed control and coolant.
After further review, we believe this CNC milling machine is fully capable of being a real workhorse in any machine shop or garage. We can happily say this is a cheap CNC Mill option for those on a strict budget.
Features & Specs
- XYZ Travel 34” x 16” x 24” (864 x 406 x 610mm)
- 3 HP spindle motor
- 4,500-rpm Spindle
- Machine Weight 4100lbs
- Large work area
- 12.3” LCD Screen
- 2 Year Warranty
- Limited drilling capacity
- Not easily portable
Small CNC Mill Buying Guide
Now that we’ve covered what we like and don’t like about these CNC machines, let’s cover some of the other most important factors when buying a workshop-ready CNC mill.
There are some things that we just don’t think of before buying a machine. Like the warranty, cost of tools, maintenance, customer service, and spare parts. Whether you are buying a CNC machine under $10,000 or $25,000, it doesn’t matter; you need to make the right decision for yourself or your business.
How to Buy a CNC Mill – The Smart Way
Having your CNC machine breakdown or a tool crash in the middle of an important job is enough to keep any shop owner up at night. With these thoughts in mind, it’s important to have a contingency plan just in case. Get familiar with your customer service rep, and don’t be afraid to order spare parts that regularly need to be replaced in advance.
Speaking of customer service, always talk to a representative of the manufacturer about certain circumstances or accidents that may occur while operating. Make sure to understand what to expect on their end before trusting them with your hard-earned money.
While going over the specifics with your rep, be sure to ask about the warranty and if there are any parts that it does not cover. Many manufacturers will suggest they have a great warranty but will not replace wearable parts like a spindle. Take your time and make sure everything is clear and upfront on their end.
Tools and Accessories
It’s best to find a machine that uses typical CAT40 or 50 tool holders. Avoid any odd or hard-to-find sizes or tapers to make buying extra tool holders as cheap and easy as possible. Many manufacturers will have tool reps that they work with, so be sure to ask for some recommendations.
Some CNC Manufacturers might bundle some accessories in with your purchase. Do your due diligence to add any extra purchases that you may not need with your machine. When they bundle their add-ons, there typically isn’t any discount included, so if you want to purchase anything later, it will likely be the same price.
Application and Capability
As you hunt down the best CNC mill for your small shop, you will find that not every CNC machine you come across will prove to be a good fit for your job. The best CNC machine is calibrated to your particular applications and capabilities.
With that being said, consider each job you plan to do from multiple angles. Consider accuracy, speed, safety, and maintenance. These are critical considerations, especially considering the composite materials you may be using. You need to find something that offers a consistent and high speed.
Value and Performance
Now you need to see if the value matches the performance. Make sure you find a CNC machine that does everything you need to do and stays within the budget for your small shop. Does the company oversee the entire process, or are you on your own when it comes to the setup of the mill in your shop? Quality control is key.
Downtime and Maintenance
For the highest production possible, you need to have minimal downtime and minimal maintenance when it comes to your small CNC milling machine. Does the machine you are considering require manual lubrication? Do you have the time for monthly inspections to ensure you are getting optimum output?
Return on Investment
Since you are looking for the best CNC mill for your small shop, you probably want to ensure a good return on investment or ROI when CNC machining. Will the CNC machine you are considering cut down on time and cost?
While some jobs won’t require this kind of machine, you may find that you can get tasks done faster and with much more accuracy. Find a machine that is durable, heavy-duty, and built to last. The CNC mill will certainly become a fixture in your shop.
Our CNC Mill Recommendations
First and foremost, we would just like to add that this recommendation is strictly based on our reviews and may not be your preference. Second, we will break these down into two categories. Those being Desktop CNC Mill and Small CNC Mill.
The Best Desktop CNC Mill
To be honest, this was a tough choice. Each machine had a lot to like about them, but ultimately, it came down to versatility. That CNC machine is the Pocket NC V2-50 5 Axis Mill. When we put everything out on the table, we quickly realized this machine had so much to offer compared to its counterparts.
Pocket NC V2-50 5-Axis
The Best Small CNC Mill
Not to sound like a broken clock, but this was also an incredibly tough decision. It ultimately came down to the cost of the CNC Mill as the biggest factor. The Tormach 1100M CNC Mill was hands down the most impressive milling machine in its price range.
Tormach 1100M CNC Mill
Well, in conclusion, I think we were able to cover a lot of info about this production machine and would like to update this list regularly. We also would love to hear from you. If there are any machines we missed or you have any questions or concerns regarding these machines, please feel free to message us.