I'm a musician and composer interested in making installations (in metal, of course). I have quite a bit of experience in woodwork but only limited experience in metalwork (I did a 2-week course in welding and turning many years ago).
I realise that this is a vague question but I'm wondering about how to get started in metalworking.
What books would people recommend for a beginner?
Are there any good online sources of information?
I'm particularly interested in working with sheetmetal and wire for sculptural/artistic projects (things like mechanical musical sculptures) but I'm not that interested in jewellery making.
Would a project like making metal boxes or geometric shapes be a good place to start?
If you live in or near Seattle, start by taking Ernie Leimkuhler's welding class at South Seattle Community College. You will learn a lot - really a lot - and you will make connections. If you don't live around here, look for a similar class near you.
Sheet metal is different than heavier stuff. It requires a whole bunch of specialized gear which costs a lot of money and would displace everything else you might have had room for.
You can do really a lot of art metal with an oxyacetylene torch if you know how to use it. Better on lighter stuff, really. Learn to cut, weld, braze and solder with a torch and you will open a whole new world of possibilities.
Tools that are widely used in small home shops include a drill press (see
a little horizontal/vertical saw (see
and a 4-1/2" angle grinder equipped with a variety of grinding wheels, flap wheels, wire brushes & sanding disks. After that you might want to buy a MIG welder, or maybe a small engine lathe, or maybe a milling machine.
I personally recommend the US metalworking magazines published by Village Press, which include "Home Shop Machinist" and "Machinist's Workshop". Go by Barnes & Noble and pick up a current copy and have a look. These magazines have persisting value. In fact, the going rate for used issues is generally face value, there's quite a bit of demand for these.
I also suggest going to your local library and checking out some machining or welding books. If you live near Portland, Oregon, make sure to stop in at Powell's Technical Books. Go alone and make sure you have at least an hour free. I started in this "hobby" by reading. And reading. And reading. Probably the best book if you figure value divided by page count is "How To Run A Lathe" by the South Bend Lathe Works. But don't read it unless you already want to own a lathe, because after you read it you will really want one.
Watch your local craigslist for shop tools. Post your location here and ask if there are any local metalworking clubs.
I recommend "Machining Fundamentals" by John R. Walker as advertised in Live Steam magazine, 799 pages, color, 8 1/2 x 11. From the ad: "A comprehensive text that provides an introduction to the various machining operations, setups and procedures - published by Goodheart-Wilcox, copyright
2004. The basics, from layout work to achieving ease with the lathe, milling, and drilling machines."
I have this book and many others on machining. This is the one I always refer back to when in doubt about any basic procedure. It really is a great book. IMO, you would do well to spend the first chunk of your metalworking budget on this book and read it before purchasing any other tools. It will answer a lot of questions and perhaps steer you into (or away from) other machine tool purchases.
It is available from Village Press Pubs. for $58. 1-800-447-7367
get a cheap used sherline milling machine and/or lathe. They are very inexpensive and they are good tutors of basic machine operation. Join an online group and ask a lot of questions. Worked well for me
You have received several answers from people who think of metalworking primarily in terms of machining. As I read your stated interests, it seems you might be better served with a good set (of three, straight, left and right) metal shears (American Wiss or comparable, not the cheap Asian imports) a workbench with a metalworking bench vise and some hammer/anvil types of shaping/forming tools rather than lathes or milling machines. Then on to the drill press and H/V bandsaw mentioned by Grant. In any case, a trip to the public or university library to see what books are locally available under the general heading of 'metalworking' or 'metal sculpture' should soon help you zero in on your needs. Not intended to imply that machine tools don't have a place in creation of metal sculpture (think fasteners, bearings and other drive components); you might even have metal spinning in mind given your interest in musical instruments. Then start scouting for a good source of raw materials, possibly scrap from a sympathetic commercial metalworking enterprise.
You should contact artist blacksmiths. As an Aussie, Google: blacksmith australia You will get many hits on associations to contact "back home". If you can't wait and you are in the UK, contact BABA, the Britsh Artist Blacksmith Association, who also have a presence on the web. The North American place to go is ABANA, the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America, (ABANA.org) with over 60 affiliate "clubs". !!! You WILL find people in every one of the organizations who do just what you describe. And, almost always, these folks are happy to share knowledge and resouces. I don't think you need much in the way of machining skills to do what you describe here.
Since you're taking an artist's approach(you mentioned sculpture), you may want to start with low-tech(read cheap)tools such as hammers and a sandbag. This allows you to form free-flowing shapes out of sheetmetal. Hammers of many types are readily available and the sandbag can be made from an old denim pants leg and some sand. Go to
and read the archives. There is several months reading here and this will show you some of the techniques used with sheetmetal.
Also, in the U.K., look for "panelbeaters". A shop with panelbeaters would make a very interesting tour.