Bantam Tools has just announced their new desktop CNC milling machine. I still don’t know quite what to think about it, but a reader requested a quick run-down, and so I moved this preview/news post to the top of my list.
First, let’s talk very briefly about Bantam Tools, but before that, a one-line summary:
The new Bantam Tools desktop CNC milling machine is a fully assembled $4000 ($3600 introductory) machine aimed at designers, engineers, and educators.
Bantam Tools already produces a small CNC milling machine, one that specializes in creating PCBs (printed circuit boards) for electronics prototyping. It can do more than that, but over the years it seems to have been tuned and marketed as a PCB prototyping mill.
Before there was Bantam Tools, there was the Other Machine Co, and their Ohermill machine.
Other Machine Co was acquired by Bre Petis, of Makerbot fame, back in mid-2017. Other Machine Co and the Othermill changed names a few months later.
While I had strong interest in the Othermill, that interest waned over time as the makers strengthened their focus on the machine’s PCB prototyping market.
It seems there was a hole in the market, and thus the new Bantam Tools desktop CNC milling machine was born.
An Aluminum-Cutting Machine
Bantam Tools emphasizes that their new CNC milling machine can cut metal, with repeated mention of it being capable of creating aluminum parts and prototypes.
The new machine features an ER-11 collet, and they recommend a maximum tooling shank size of 1/4″.
ER-11 collets are widely available at industrial suppliers, and in 1/16″ thru 1/4″ sizes. There’s also a 1/32″ collet available from some sources.
In other words, you can use real end mills, up to 1/4″ in size. The machine comes with an ER-11 1/4″ collet, and so you’ll need to source other collets if you want to use other sizes of end mills.
The emphasis on aluminum cutting is an important one. CNC machines are generally only as rigid as the materials used in their construction, and compromises in components, design, and pricing often makes it challenging to squeeze metal-cutting performance out of desktop-sized machines.
Softer materials, such as HDPE or other non-ferrous materials, might also be a breeze for the new machine.
Bantam says that their new CNC supports machining:
- Steel (??)
- Engineer Plastics
- Machining Wax
Although steel is referenced in Bantam Tools’ fact sheet, I would be hesitant not to assume this would be with some stringent limitations – as expected. Aluminum machining is very good for a machine this size. If it can handle some operations in steel, that would be a bonus.
The launch video clarifies that the machine is really optimized for machining aluminum.
Who is the Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Machine for?
The target audience is said to be designers, engineers, and educators.
With the new Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine, we’re offering product designers, engineers, and educators who prototype the ability to reliably machine aluminum and other materials at an entry level price point. Because this machine is perfectly suited to explore, teach, learn, and prototype, we know it’ll be a welcomed boon to both educators and product designers.
They also say that:
It’s ideal for those looking to bring prototyping in-house or master the fundamentals of CNC machining.
In other words, this is aimed at commercial and academic users, seemingly with greater towards prototypers.
What Makes the Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine Special?
The new Bantam Tools CNC machine comes with a metal T-slot table, for heavy duty hold-down capabilities.
The standard tooling package comes with a right angle alignment bracket, (2) toe clamps, collet wrenches, the aforementioned 1/4″ ER-11 collet, and a 1/4″ flat end mill.
It also comes with a 1/4″ probe, for zeroing your X, Y, and X axes.
The Bantam Tools desktop CNC milling machine is also fully enclosed. It’s not the first machine on the market to be fully enclosed, but it seems to be the first machine focused on aluminum cutting.
In my opinion, the T-slot table helps to set the “serious prototyping” tone for the Bantam Tools desktop CNC mill.
However, additional details would be welcome. Is it made from aluminum? Steel?
How will cutting fluids be accommodated? Maybe a cool air blast system could be used? Where? How?
The Bantam Tools desktop CNC milling machine is said to feature swappable build plates, but what does this look like?
Auto probing is a very nice touch, which should help simplify machine set-up every time the workpiece is refreshed and new operations are set to begin. However, the product details reference a 1/4″ probe; what happens when you swap in a smaller collet and want to use a smaller bit? The process of changing out collets to load a 1/4″ probe might encourage users to instead use a manual zeroing method, which is more time-consuming and error-prone.
Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine Fixturing
As mentioned, there’s a T-slot table, a right angle bracket, and (2) toe clamps. That’s a good start.
Consumers might be able to get away securing wood to a CNC router or milling machine using double-sided tape, but working with metal requires a beefier physical hold.
What size is the T-slot table? Are other accessories planned, such as a small milling vise?
I recently set-up a purchased desktop CNC machine, and while enclosed, chips can escape through the bottom. There is a hinged cover, but the hinge is basically flexible plastic with panel trim channels on both ends.
The new Bantam Tools desktop CNC milling machine, on the other hand, features a cover with solid-looking hinges, and what looks to be a very thick base plate.
You can also spot an E-stop (emergency stop) on the front panel.
Bantam Desktop CNC Milling Machine Tech Specs
The working volume is 7″ x 9″ x 3.5″. That might not seem like a lot compared to the huge sheets CNC routers can work with, but this is decent for a benchtop CNC machine that can work with aluminum.
- Working Volume: 7″ x 9″ x 3.5″
- Overall Dimensions: 19.8″ x 20.9″ x 19.4″
- Max Traverse: 250 in/min
- 20mm Shafts
- Spindle Speed: 10,000-28,000 RPM
- Power Requirements: 100-240 V AC 50/60Hz 1.4A
- ER-11 collet
- 1/4″ max recommended end mill shank size
Design Support and Software?
Bantam Tools says that the new desktop CNC milling machine will be supported by their new software, which supports drag-and-drop SVG files for simple 2.5D designs.
2.5D machining generally describes the capability to create through and partial-depth pocket cuts in sheet and plate materials.
The machine will also have Fushion 360 integration and toolpath templates, and designers with limited CAM experience will be bale to use an “Auto-Cam” solution.
Users will also get a free 30-day trial to their premium subscription-only software, which is priced at $199 per year.
Bantam Tools says that paid software subscribers will be able to unlock professional CNC features, such as:
- Monthly software updates
- Curated projects
- Priority support
- Advanced material probing routines
- SVG color encoding
- PCB milling
- Feed rate override
Pricing and Availability
The Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine will be priced at $3599 for an introductory period, after which it will increase to $3999.
Intro Price: $3599 thru August 21st, 2020
Price: $3999 after August 21st, 2020
The machine will start shipping in 5-6 weeks, meaning mid-August.
Bantam says that the machine is ready to use right out of the box.
I shared what I know about the new machine so far, and I also tried to be fair as I sprinkled in a few thinking points into the post.
I have more to say, but must first provide you with some context.
I have been shopping for a desktop CNC milling machine for a very long time. I bought an inexpensive CNC connection kit for my Taig benchtop mill, but haven’t yet sprung for stepper motors or a controller. There are other small milling machines that you can convert to CNC use, with most requiring an engine hoist or other heavy lifting equipment to move.
I did buy a small desktop CNC mill-like machine, for project use and editorial purposes, and this was after having Bantam Tools’ PCB milling machine on my shortlist for several years. Ultimately, I determined that Bantam Tools’ other CNC machine was too small and limiting for my intended use.
Would I have chosen this machine instead? That question begs to be explored, but in theory, as the $4000 price tag is well above what I’d be willing to pay for a machine of this size.
I use a small benchtop mill for light machining, and have started working with a light desktop CNC mill for light CNC machining, although I have not yet used it on aluminum plate.
Despite not being closely aligned with Bantam Tools’ target users, and ignoring for a moment its pricing, this new machine definitely attracts my personal interest. It strikes me as being perfectly sized and with potentially strong capabilities.
In theory, this machine would perfectly meet my small part needs, which includes a range of tasks and applications, many being professional and some more hobbyist in nature.
Being able to machine aluminum parts in a 7″ x 9″ x 3.5″ working volume would be perfect.
Let’s say I’m building a power tool testing jig and need to create a precision rail bracket of specific dimensions and mounting pattern. To machine the ideal part, I’d need a larger mill or lathe than the hobbyist tools I have now, upgraded electrical to run them, and a huge bench or stands with large footprints to support such equipment. If this machine can handle those parts, it could be indispensable. These days, if there’s something I can’t make, I generally improvise with store-bought solutions, and that tends to drive up the time, cost, and complexity compared to being able to design and fabricate the exact parts I need.
Sometimes it’s little things, such as a sensor bracket. Having to search for a close-enough commercially-available component takes time, and I often have to wait for the part to be delivered.
Being able to fabricate something out of aluminum on the spot would be a great convenience, and I’m sure it would have some non-business-related benefits as well.
Everything I see here so far tells me that this is a “sweet spot” machine. It ticks off a lot of boxes, and quite frankly I find it very compelling.
But, I also have some concerns and hesitations.
First, it’s pricey – $3600 is a lot of money, and $4000 even more.
I watched as the Othermill machine increased in price over the years. Having seen Bantam Tools’ teasers for this new machine on social media, I tried to guess what the price would be, and was exactly right with my prediction of $4000. Technically it’s $3599 right now, and increases to $3999 in a few weeks around when the machines are expected to first ship out.
That’s a lot of money.
The Carbide3D Nomad 883 benchtop milling machine, which I ended up choosing over Bantam Tools’ PCB-emphasized CNC milling machine, is regularly priced at $2499. The Nomad 883 has 8″ of X-axis travel, 8″ of Y-axis travel, and 3″ of Z-axis travel. Its spindle is also equipped with an ER-11 collet size, and it features automatic Z-axis zeroing.
With the Nomad 883, you get Carbide Motion, Carbide Create, and a license to MeshCam.
Carbide 3D has also recently announced a more advanced Pro version of Caride Create, which will be available with a $120 annual subscription or $360 perpetual license. Right now, they’re offering a free year of Carbide Create Pro, as it’s in its Beta testing stage and is not yet available for purchase.
Bantam Tools gives you basic software, with their premium subscription software priced at $199 per year. That makes me a little uneasy.
Carbide 3D’s Carbide Motion CNC controller software is free, and you can choose to use other 2D or 3D modeling software if you’re not happy with Carbide Create or Carbide Create Pro apps.
But with the new Bantam Tools desktop CNC milling machine, it seems that the control software is what you have basic or paid premium versions of. It’s not optional design software we’re talking about, but the Bantam Tools control software for the machine.
Here’s what you have to pay extra for:
- Monthly software updates
- Curated projects
- Priority support
- Advanced material probing routines
- SVG color encoding
- PCB milling
- Feed rate override
Priority support and curated projects I can understand, and even PCB milling. It makes sense that premium unlocks might require a license, although I’d feel better about premium features only being a one-time unlock.
But advance material probing routines? Monthly software updates? Feed rate override?
Nobody ever enjoys having to dig a little deeper into their wallet, but some companies upsell in a more customer-friendly manner than others. Depending on how crucial these features are, you might end up locked into paying for subscription software that controls your hardware.
A lot of brands tie feature licenses or unlocks into hardware, but I don’t think I know of any tool or related product that requires a perpetual subscription to unlock certain hardware controls or processes. This seems unusual and discouraging.
In their launch video, Bantam Tools shows off color-coded SVG support where you can set 2.5D cut-out settings for SVG graphics. Guess what – according to their list of software features, that’s only available to paid subscribers.
Can you use other CNC controller software, such as Mach 3 or Mach 4? Or maybe open source control software?
At this time, there are so many unaddressed questions. Is the machine both PC and Mac compatible? Yes, it comes with a USB cable, but what type of connection?
There’s one reference to the machine being able to work with steel. In what capacity?
With the emphasis on machining aluminum, if and how will Bantam Tools make coolant or cooling possible? Chip collection?
What’s the mechanical resolution along the 3 axes? Accuracy? Repeatability? For a brand whose motto is Professional Reliability and Precision, these details are important.
Bantam Tools needs to feature more case studies and example applications. Right now, there’s not much, and I expected a little more given how much hype they’ve been building for the streaming launch day event. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on things?
I expect for them to do a better job of showing what the new machine can do, rather than telling, but this is also why the Carbide 3D Nomad machine won me over compared to Bantam Tools’ smaller machine. Carbide 3D did a far better job of convincing me that their machine was capable enough to meet what I was looking for from a benchtop CNC mill.
The T-slot table is a nice touch, and from what I can tell from the few marketing photos, the new Bantam Tools CNC machine is sturdily built, or at least as sturdy as a machine this size could be. I saw a 70 lb machine weight spec, although I couldn’t locate it again during fact-checking. 70 pounds sounds about right, and it looks like there’s bulk where you need strength and weight-savings and lighter materials where you don’t.
What happens if you accidentally damage your T-slot plate, though? Marketing materials show it to be part of the Y-axis carriage.
Marketing materials reference swappable build plates, but don’t go into any detail about what this means.
I can envision Bantam Tools upgrading and enhancing the machine over time, perhaps with its price increasing over time.
Tormach, which makes hobbyist and entry-priced professional CNC machines, has apparently also come out with a benchtop CNC milling machine, one that’s priced at $3500, and that includes a 10.4″ touchscreen controller. Their larger machines start at $5400 for a bare-bones setup.
The aforementioned Carbide 3D Nomad 883 is $2500, plus $120 if you want an aluminum threaded table for more versatile clamping possibilities.
$3600, let alone $4000, is much more than I can justify for personal project needs, and is also more than I could justify for ToolGuyd-related needs. Continuing to ignore that for the sake of discussion, I find myself seeing a lot of appeal in the new Bantam Tools desktop CNC milling machine, but also a lot of hesitation.
Its fixturing versatility needs to be proven.
Its precision and aluminum-milling capabilities need to be proven.
The software needs to be proven, and I feel that I also need to be convinced that the free version is not too limited compared to the subscription version.
A 30-day trial of the premium software seems disappointing, given that it provides access to hardware-related features. If I were to be buying one of these machines, I’d be happier with say a 6-month trial, or maybe a free license for the first year, perhaps along with prompts or indication as to which features I’m using would typically require the paid subscription.
What makes this machine better than well-regarded machines that cost significantly less money? Is it good enough compared to machines the next class-up in size and cost?
Individuals might be better off spending less money on other brands’ machines of a similar nature. Or, they could put less money into a manual milling machine and CNC conversion. It makes sense that the turn-key aspect is more aimed at commercial, industrial, or academic users who need a solution for their needs, rather than something they have to tinker with.
This might very well be a highly polished turn-key desktop CNC machine that can crank out aluminum prototypes with ease. But, there are gaps in the information at this time, with a lot of attention being paid to aspects such as max movement rates, while I crave for more details on setup, workholding, chip-clearing, and how smoothly the overall process can be.
I don’t think this will force an industry shift, just as there weren’t companies lining up to compete with Bantams’s smaller CNC machine. But, it does look to have strong potential as a desktop fabrication machine.
If you are already paying a machine shop or other company for fast turnaround prototyping and services, this might be the tool for you, although I’m not sold on it yet.