Fab Lab Skill Builder: How to use a Fixture Plate on a Milling Machine

Getting started with Fixture Plates

In our latest Fab Lab video, Mike C. demonstrates some basic techniques for setting up and using fixture plates on a PCNC mill.

Using Fixture Plates as Pallet System

Fixture or Tooling plates can be a big time saver if you find yourself making more than one or two of the same part.  For example, this setup uses a bunch of mini clamps to hold 4 separate sets of parts on a single fixture plate. I sometimes hear this referred to as a “part pallet” or “pallet system”.

Fixture Plate

This setup was developed by one of our staff machinists, Rory DesJardin.  The parts are housings for shifter control modules he designs for 4×4 enthusiasts.  Fixture plates  allow him to quickly and easily set up for a job whenever he needs to run a few parts; he manufactures several different models for Nissan, Jeep, and Toyota, and has separate fixture plates designed for each different  housing.  In other words, they are a great choice for flexible production.

Fixture Plates on Tormach PCNC 1100

Here’s the final RADesigns Shifter Product

RADesigns Shifter Manufactured on Tormach PCNC 1100Pre-made Fixture Plates for PCNC 1100 and PCNC 770

The plates you see in the Fab Lab video can be purchased from the Tormach e-store and are pre-cut to size to fit nicely on the PCNC 1100 or PCNC 770 mill.  The plates come mill thickness and not ground – they’re designed to be milled flat on the table with a fly cutter or shell mill.  We also carry the specialty T-nuts with locating pins and stops.

Blog Contest – Fixture Plates

Do you have an interesting fixture plate setup to share?  Share your ideas – best submission wins a shirt.  Send me a note: blog@tormach.com, or post directly to our new Google+ community.

More Tormach Fab Lab Videos:


Andrew Grevstad

With over ten years of professional experience in advanced manufacturing systems, digital design tools, and applied software, Andy Grevstad has worked in product development and technical support for Tormach since 2008. Grevstad has received engineering degrees from Michigan Technological University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a regular contributor to Digital Machinist magazine and also blogs weekly about CNC milling and related topics on the Tormach blog, Milling Around.

Andrew Grevstad

7 thoughts on “Fab Lab Skill Builder: How to use a Fixture Plate on a Milling Machine

  • Avatar
    03/26/2013 at 11:21 am

    Great job Andy & Mike. I especially liked the plate with multiple holes that was simply rotated 180 degrees. Why couldn’t I think of that?? Often times I come up against the barrier of 9.75″ of Y travel and this is a simple effective solution. How cool. Good timing on the video as coincidentally I ordered the T-slot locating pins yesterday.


  • Avatar
    04/01/2013 at 1:15 pm

    The switch cheeks look like they are begging to be milled out of polypropylene or another cheap *dielectric* . Good thing the plate should allow for that, too, right? Can it reliably clamp plastic parts that give way slightly?

    Wait, I just noticed: the switch is for 4×4 enthusiasts. Scratch my comment about making it out of anything cheap or *not metal* 🙂 . But the general question remains: do you think the plate design will work for plastic parts?



  • Andrew Grevstad
    04/01/2013 at 1:30 pm

    We’ve used the mini clamps on lots of different materials, so I don’t anticipate any issues with plastics.

  • Avatar
    08/20/2013 at 8:01 am

    I don’t use a tormach mill, but i’m curious about these mini clamps. It looks like a bar is affixed above the workpiece and four brass nuts with a bolt or screw along the bottom. Are the nuts articulated to provide pressure against the workpiece somehow?

  • Andrew Grevstad
    08/20/2013 at 9:41 am

    These clamps work on a slight eccentric that allows them to tighten against the side of the workpiece as the screw is tightened.

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