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DOVETAIL / SQUARE COLUMN MILLS
Rong-Fu, a Taiwanese machinery company builds quality benchtop-sized dovetail (aka square) column mills that have been copied and cloned all over China. This means two things: 1. the knock-offs are cheaper than the original and 2. the quality (you get what you pay for) is sub-standard in the form of casting quality, "fit and finish", and other factors. However, this lack of attention to detail and the use of inexpensive parts does not necessarily rule out the potential of these clones to work hard and produce quality work (assuming the operator is capable :).
Rong-Fu's nomenclature for these benchtop mills is as follows:
- RF-20 - Round column mill/drill w/step pulley drivetrain
- RF-25 - Round column mill/drill w/step pulley drivetrain
- RF-30 - Round column mill/drill w/step pulley drivetrain
- RF-31 - Round column mill/drill w/step pulley drivetrain
- RF-35 - Round column mill/drill
- RF-40 - Round column mill/drill w/gearedhead
- RF-45 - Dovetail/square column mill/drill w/geared,rotating head
There has been ongoing debate on the virtues of the dovetail column over the round column. While the round column head can rotate around the column 360 degrees, the dovetail version cannot. On the other hand, when Z-axis travel is important (beyond the usual 4" quill extension found on these mills), the dovetail column doesn't lose its X/Y plane position since the head's movement along the column is maintained.
Both versions have a hand crank positioned either to the left or right of the column. It is our experience that the Z-axis crank handle located on the right hand side of the head creates a problem with its accessibility due to the 3-spoke quill handle also located just forward of this handwheel crank. Of course, if you are right-handed, having the crank handwheel on the left hand side, while free from any obstructions, can work your left shoulder quite a bit only making if more difficult if you're not left-handed to begin with.
As for quality, these machines from mainland China exhibit varying degrees of quality. For example, on our round column mill/drill (RF40 clone), there was a piece of cast iron missing from the bottom of the table! On the other hand, the recent acquisition of the RF-45 clone from Enco, while OK, wouldn't win any awards for fit/finish. This isn't intended to discourage from you saving big bucks by buying from Enco. Since they had a sale of the dovetail mill with free shipping, to total came to just under $1800.00. This is with the stand. For nationwide freight of this sized machine, we've had quotes between $400-$450 (to ship from the east coast to the west coast for example). Had this been the case, this mill would have broken the bank at over $2000.
All of these RF-45 clones (spec comparison chart coming soon), with the exeption of the Industrial Hobbies' version are effectively the same. While some specs vary by less than in inch in some dimensions and reported travel, a hands-on verification is the only way to make sure of the sellers' claims. So what is this Industrial Hobbies' version? It's essentially a Hulkified RF-45 with larger castings, more travel and more heft. Priced at just around $2000 (not including shipping and taxes), this may suit the needs of the benchtop mill crowd better than the standard RF-45. For us, with space being limited, the standard RF-45 will suit us just fine. If we needed more travel, the Bridgeport clone will be used.
Back to the Enco.. Why Enco over Grizzly's G0519? Here lies another interesting distinction between the various models: power requirements and the associated motors used.
Some will run on standard 120V service (nice for plug and play in residential homes), but probably lack the "umph" of the motors running on 220V service. Another distinction: the Enco's version runs at 1-phase 220V and comes prewired as such while the Grizzly G0519 runs at 3-phase 220V. For those with small suburban home shops or those situated within a major metro city, getting 3-phase 220V service may be costly. Therefore, the Enco's 220V 1-phase motor seemed to be the best fit for us.
Now, the next question is that of delivery. This comes in a big crate and weighs in at around 700 lbs. The crate is too large to fit in between a standard 32" wide door, so this requires disassembly which we'll cover in the in-depth first look at this machine.
How does the RF-45 compare with the X3? Really, little to no comparison. These are different animals intended for different segments of the machinery market. You may find more of the RF clones in small machilne shops and the more "serious" hobby shops whereas the X3 is probably better suited for the smaller-sized home-shops where space is limited but an increased work envelope over the X1 and X2 mill are required.
We think the RF-45 makes the perfect homeshop cnc mill/drill candidate. Stay tuned!
Here's our first look at the RF-45 along with disassembly for transport. BTW, there are variants of the mill with monikers ZAY7045 and ZX7045. Both are essentially identical.
We installed a Meister BCM-10 DRO glass scale system on our Enco RF-45. It's quite a nice complimentary DRO for this size mill.