I get alot of questions about what different machines are worth, and to be honest; unless you are standing right next to a machine, it’s tough to say. About the best I can tell most guys is the most important factors are: Location, Condition and Tooling. Thats not much help to anybody that is looking to buy a new toy. The other day I got a note from a site viewer that made me aware of just how many aspects there are to the fine art of buying a machine, and how badly I missed the mark on just ONE of the considerations when I replied to his inquiry. Heres the Email:
What is a fair asking price for a 1971 Bridgeport Mill in fair condition?
Eric, Its near impossible to guess the value of any machine without knowing alot of details, and inspecting it. My friend bought the same machine a while back for $5000, but it was pristine and came with LOTS of tooling. I have another friend that had one he was giving away because it was rusty, incomplete, and basically wore out. I would say that in this area of the country (not alot of inventory around here) you would be paying between $1000-$3000. For $1000, I MIGHT take a chance that the thing ran, but for $3000 I would want to run the machine and would expect some tooling thrown in the deal. I guess the key is what are other local sellers getting for comparable machines. You can get great deals on machines in Detroit, but will pay top dollar for the same machine in Myrtle Beach. I don’t know what to tell you about value; its all about location and condition and what options are included.
Heres a snipit of his response which made me realize I had kinda shortchanged him with my “wisdom”:
“I had a hunch that was the case with this machine. Buying something
& spending valuable time hunting down parts, cost of fixing it up
& transporting a heavy tool is what I’m up against for this
particular one. It’s at $500 dollars now & that’s it for me.
I inspected the tool & from what I’m getting I’m probably a little
over for such a machine without one cutter.
At this point I thought maybe it was time to put together some points for
first time buyers of machine tools, that don’t have the advantage of having
bought a few turkeys along the way. Heres my version of
“Zen and the art of milling machine shopping”:
The part I neglected to tell him is that the machine is probably the
CHEAPEST part of the deal. I think I’ve probably spent three times my
purchase price on tooling, and I prowl the internet (most notably Ebay
and Craigslist) for oddball or cheap tooling for all my machines, and
thats on a DAILY basis. I wish I could say that I am near my goal for
tooling acquisitions, but that would be a bold faced lie.
God help him if he should happen to join a local Machinists club
(CAMS, in my case). Getting together with like minded people, who
have a surplus of whatever addiction you have WILL NOT help the
situation! It will however lessen the expenditure of disposable
income. I have been careful about NOT asking about rusting machines
in the corner of my “suppliers” shops. Thats just ASKING for trouble.
You can, however save a bunch of money, if you stop by one of your
buddies shops as he has just returned from an auction with 45 pounds
of dull end mills. Of course, then you start thinking about how much
it would cost for a tool & cutter grinder…………….
And, thats just the TOOLING issue. Then theres location,
The chances of getting a good deal on a machine that is 500 miles
from any major manufacturing hub is pretty slim. I live 30 miles
West of the nations capitol, where the only thing produced in any
abundance is Bullsh*t, so machine tools are at a premium. If I lived
near Houston, I could probably buy all the oil field lathes I
wanted for peanuts. Injection molding machines are probably cheap
near Silicon Valley. Nothing related to manufacturing is cheap
near DC, because it had to be MOVED here.
Talking “physical location” now; I will pay more for a machine that
is in a ground floor walk out location. I would spend more money
on a machine that is in a garage that I can back a truck up to, and
load with a cherry picker than a perfect machine in a basement.
Thats just my preference, but if you’ve ever totally disassembled
a machine to get it in or out of a basement, you will know what I’m
talking about. Wear and tear on my old bones counts for something
to me, and the more trouble the move is; the less its worth to me.
This is kind of self-explanitory; Good machines are pricey, and junk
is cheap. Appearance CAN be deceiving, though; I bought a small
hand mill from a friend that looked like a bad case of the crabs
that turned out to be in great shape once I took it apart. It was
one of those gambles you take when the price is right. Old machines
sometimes look “rusty”, which MAY just be old oil, that has hardened.
Obviously, this is preferable to real rust, but you may have to deal
with some of that anyway. getting the rust off a machine can be a
challenge, depending on what type of rust it is. Light rust usually
can be removed with steel wool and oil. Sometimes you will have to
use Naval Jelly, acid, Evapo-Rust or other methods to get light rust
off. This is pretty much normal with most old machines, unless you’re
looking to buy a high dollar “trailer queen”.
Electrolysis may be needed to remove heavy rust. This involves
removing the part and soaking it in a vat of electrolytic solution.
Its a fairly involved process that takes some experience, but works
well on heavily rusted parts.
Wear is present (to varying degrees) on almost every machine you will
look at. Most wear will be fairly evident on inspection, and will
indicate how the machine was used. Most mills will show wear on the
ways near the middle of the table or knee because thats where most
people work. You will find wear on the feed screws in these areas, and
less on the outer ends of the screws. This is fairly normal, but if the
feed handles make a full revolution at the center of the table before
the table moves: you will probably be replacing the screw and feed
nut. Badly worn ways are harder to fix, and most guys walk away from a
machine with worn ways. Scraping the ways is NOT a job for sissies, and
better left to professionals (probably in the range of $2000). Gauging
EXACTLY how badly ways are worn is an art form, but getting a “rough idea”
by tightening the locks, and rocking the table/saddle and moving the
table/saddle will give you a pretty good idea of how bad the wear is.
Unfortunately, this kind of experience just comes from either looking
at (or owning) alot of wore out machines. It helps if you can take
someone who knows these machines with you when you go shopping.
MOTORS AND POWER SUPPLY:
Most Bridgeport mills (and other machines)come with a 3 phase power
supply because they are industrial equipment. This is a stumbling block
for the Home Shop Machinist, because the average home does not have
3 phase power. This actually works in your favor, as it typically drives
the price of some really good machines DOWN. All that is needed to power
this tool in your shop is 220 volt power, and a phase convertor. These are
available in two types (static and rotary) and are available in a wide
price range. I won’t go into the differences; you do the homework. I have a
rotary phase convertor. Another option are VFDs, but you will need a separate
variable frequency drive for each machine. I have multiple machines running
off one rotary phase convertor.
Some guys will spend the extra money to re-motor their machines to run on a
220V motor. This kind of defeats the advantage of the smooth running 3 phase
motor, for a two pole cycle, but to each his own. this is an attractive
option to someone that is only going to have ONE machine, and doesn’t want
to go to the expense of a RPC or VFD.
PAINT AND APPEARANCE:
Heres where it gets kind of silly. Some guys will not even look at a machine
that has ugly, chipped paint. Other guys see a dirty chipped paint as a badge
of honor. Paint is only important when its important to YOU. Lots of machines
have been repainted over the years, just to freshen them up, and sometimes
they are bad jobs, but it won’t really effect the function of the machine
unless adjusting screws and oil holes are painted over. If there are twelve
coats of paint gluing a gits oiler shut; what do you think the condition of
the part that wasn’t getting oiled is in? Unless I’m going to tear a machine
down for a full overhaul, its probably NOT going to get painted, but if its
so ugly it hurts your eyes; its probably going to get painted while its apart.
Oil and grease are going to be all over alot of machines you look at. Most
machine tools are “Total Loss” type machines; meaning that every drop of oil
that you put in them will end up on the floor. I LOVE this concept; it FORCES
you to lubricate your machine every time you use it (NOT a bad habit to get
into). You will have to look past this when looking at older machines, you
want to be looking at how clean the working parts of the machine is, NOT the
parts that are hard to clean. I would opt for a machine with oil running
down the base, if the screws, spindle and table are clean than some prissy
machine that doesn’t have a drop of oil on it. Oil is good, it shows that
the machine has been maintained. You can (and SHOULD) give your new mill
a detailed cleaning when you get it home. It will show you areas that need
work (they all do), and once its clean you are likely to keep it clean.
Clean lubricated machines usually work smoothly, but don’t think all
dirty machines are junk; maybe they are just busy. Look past the grunge,
there may be a beauty under the grease.