I have been doing a fair amount of woodwork, and am considering doing a bit
more metalwork. Any hand tools or small machines that you love/can't live
I know this is a broad question, and should probably bring about counter
response like "Depends on what you want to make." I think I just want to be
able to do the most that I can as I learn the necessary skills. I have no
specific projects in mind, though I guess things involving bending and
shaping will be most difficult without some sort of aid.
For now, I have lots of files, a dremmel, and a bench grinder. I have been
considering either picking up a micro-mill or perhaps a cross slide vise to
use on my drill press. Any advise or suggestions are welcomed.
In my opinion the machine tool that you can make the most use of and use to
complete some interesting projects would be a lathe. Depending on what
materials you want to work and the size of these projects a suitable lathe
could range from a 7X10 import to 13X40 old American iron. In my own case I
first purchased a 9X18 import that was used, after a year or so I purchased
a 11X20 Standard Modern. The idea of a cross slide vice and drill press is
not really a viable way to mill. A micro mill will be much better as long as
the material and work piece size is suitable.
I recommend a 4x6" horizontal/vertical band saw e.g.
for the FAQ for that machine
I also recommend a 4½" angle grinder with a sanding attachment and a few
wire brush heads for it.
I also recommend a little buzzbox-type stick welder.
Personally, I did a whole lot of work with a cross-slide vise mounted to
my drill press, until I got a milling machine. I still have my old CS vise
if you want to make me a deal for it.
Some things you can buy cheap, like wrenches. Some, however, you have to get
quality, like taps and dies. Cheap taps and dies are sheer misery.
Learn about the industrial suppliers like Enco, MSC, J&L and McMaster-Carr.
Subscribe to the magazines "Home Shop Machinist" and "Machinist's Workshop".
Start looking for back issues. They normally go for current face value ($5/copy)
so be prepared to pay but when you get ready to sell them you'll be pleased
that they have kept their value.
Read this NG.
In all my searches, I see lots of lathes as well. I am not certain what I
would do with a lathe. Well, that is a bad statement. Perhaps I should
merely ask, what types of things, am I obviously overlooking that I would
fabricate with a lathe?
When I think of lathework, spindles and handles and such come to mind, as
would threading but I am thinking of it as a pretty "specific" tool
operationally, as opposed to something that could do many different things.
Maybe I am just not understanding the capabilities of a metal working lathe.
In my wood working shop, my wood lathe is the least used tool I have, (Have
been considering selling it off for space recently because of that.)
You can turn things on it, and you may mill things on it. You may
drill things on it.
A mill and a separate lathe is prefered....but
"That which does not kill you,
has made a huge tactical error"
The lathe is one of the oldest and one of the most important machine
tools ever developed. It is used for straight turning, facing,
parting-off, thread cutting, taper turning, necking, knurling, and
(turn) forming. It would be critical in fabricating parts for almost
any type of working model or mechanical contraption imaginable. It is
considered a basic tool to metal working.
For me, it's the bandsaw. I think you will find, after purchasing any
other tool, you'll be wanting the bandsaw.
The way I see it there are two paths in metal working, "fabrication"
and machining. Building model engines, clocks and mechanisms, or
gunsmithing are examples of primarily machining type projects.
Structural type projects, sheet metal and ornamental work (wich would
probably be nice if you already do wood work), are primarily what I
call "fabrication" projects (for lack of knowing any better) where you
cut, weld, bend, shape, etc...
Based on my experience of having bought them in a different order-
my personal tool choices for machining would be :
1. Measurement tools (caliper, micrometer set,square, small surface
plate and guage, v blocks, etc...),
3. Drill Press,
5. lathe ( this is going to have to be a hefty machine to be able to
do any reasonable milling on),
6. Milling machine.
The lathe and mill will keep you busy buying accessories for them for
some time :-)
I'm not much of a "fabricator" so the only personal advice I can offer
is avoid 110V welders. That said some of the tools I use are:
3. Lots of clamps
4. Angle grinder .
5. Die Grinder
and I hope to soon have a bender with scroll attachment.
I would suggest you locate a couple of projects that interest you, and
then figure out which tools you will need to complete them. There are
alot of very interesting Yahoo groups on metal projects. Magazines
would include Home Shop Machinist, Machinist Workshop, projects in
Metal (out of print), and old popular mechanics and popular science
magazines (pre 1970). For welding type projects, the Lincoln project
books are pretty good. Do browse the Yahoo groups though.
Hope this helps some.
The blade speed has to be much slower for metal. About 100 fpm. Some
saws have a way to switch to metal speeds. Some saws have been
modified to have slow speeds for metal. At your slowest wood speed,
you may be able to cut aluminum.
Metal vertical bandsaws are generally more rigid than ones made for
Do you have a propane torch and some silver solder? With that you can
braze bandsaw blades together from stock material.
Abs> Ok, the bandsaw keeps coming up. Which raises the question: I already have a
Yes, I do have a propane torch.
Looks like a no-go on the wood bandsaw :) Hmm, think it may be a time to
step back and slow down a little. Space will be at a premium, and I don't
really want to give up my woodworking capabilities.
I believe I will have to add these abilities slower, perhaps focusing on
hand tools and *small* machines at first.
You probably see by now that getting involved in metalworking is not much
like getting into woodworking. The range of processes and products in
metalworking is just too broad to chart any specific path on the way to
There is a suggestion in your post that you may be more interested in the
doing than in what you make. If that's so, there are some very satisfying
and inexpensive options. If you want to get right into making *things*, then
it depends entirely upon what you want to make. If you want to start
yourself on a specific path, the way you would in workworking, by learning
the basic handtools, joints, and finishing methods, etc., the trouble you'll
face with metalworking is that there are dozens of such "paths," which
depend on where you want the path to lead.
Most of us here like to make useful mechanical things, or to entertain
ourselves by learning to make them, and we gravitate toward machine tools.
As others have suggested, a lathe is the basic tool, for reasons unrelated
to the use of lathes in woodworking. Lathes are big investments.
At other extremes are things like making jewelry; making structures (welding
and other fabricating); making sculpture; making complete machines
(mechanical things, writ large); even repairing and restoring things, from
decorative objects to car engines.
So you really have to think about what you want out of this. There is no
single path from beginner-to-general-metalworking-expert. I suspect that
most of flailed away with many processes in the beginning, getting our hands
on whatever tools we could and just having at it. A few were more
systematic, knowing they wanted to pursue it as a career or a specific
If you have an idea of where you want to go, we can help you a lot more if
you talk about it. There is a wide range of metalworking expertise on this
Personally, I think everyone should start with chisels, hammers, files, and
a drillpress. But that's only half joking.
Be patient and keep asking.
Hmm ... there *are* good bandsaws with switchable gearing which
can do both metal cutting and wood cutting. (It is a good idea to
vacuum out wood chips before working on steel, as the chips from steel
can be quite hot.
Or -- if the metal you are cutting is mostly long rods (such as
round stock for work in the lathe or angle iron and channel for welding
projects) then a 4x6 horizontal bandsaw (once called "the $200.00
bandsaw", but now typically cheaper) may be all you need for
metalworking, and it can be wheeled under a workbench between uses. (If
you have a garage door on the shop, locating it so it can be set up with
the back side facing the door, so *long* stock can be extended outside
while you cut off the length which you need to work with will make life
easier. These are lightweight, with wheels on the back end, so when it
is lifted at the front end, it can be wheeled out of the way. The 4x6
bandsaw claims to have a vertical mode, but it is rather a kludge, and
you can't cut very far from the edge of flat stock anyway, so keeping
the woodworking bandsaw for that work, and for cutting aluminum plate
Small machines will help you to learn things with less danger to
you and to the machines. For lathes (without built-in thread cutting
capabilities), something like the Taig or the Sherline will give you
some experience which will help you later in bigger machines. Even the
little cheap (Asian) import machines can be good for this, but they will
also teach you how to take them apart and fix problems in the finishing
of the working parts.
The same applies for a small benchtop milling machine.
One of the problems with small lathes (such as the 5x12" ones)
is that while they may be set up to cut some threads, the spindle speeds
are too high to make it easy. They demand already practiced skills at
starting and stopping each cut at the right moment.
The "5x12" designation refers to:
1) The maximum diameter workpiece which may be turned over
the bed of the lathe. (Over the carriage imposes a greater
restriction, so the 5" might become a 3.5").
2) The maximum length "between centers" (one way of mounting a
workpiece which allows removal for test fitting and then
re-mounting without loss of accuracy). Mounting in a chuck
risks the inability to return it to precisely the same position
in the chuck, so it requires more careful planning.
Your measuring tools will still be good for use with the larger
machines which you get later, though you will want to augment them with
larger measuring tools.
Personally, I find a drill press to be good to have -- though
not for milling, as this puts stresses on it for which it was not
designed, and is likely to pop loose the chuck from its taper, sending a
rapidly spinning mass with a sharp tool held in it bouncing and
skittering around the room -- perhaps resulting in damage to you (or
someone else in the shop, if present).
For smaller internal threads, taps are a very good tool to have,
and cheap taps are likely to make you swear off threading. Dies for
external threads serve a need, but are not good for making a long thread
on a shaft, as they tend to walk off center unless controlled by a
machine tool designed to do this. They are good for short threads, if
started carefully. Given a choice, I will make external thread on the
lathe. (Though a die can sometimes be used to follow up lathe-turned
threads to improve the finish and the precision of the size. There,
the pre-cut threads will guide the die, so you do better than using a
die on plain rod.)
If you get into making things from sheet metal, then three tools
will be quite useful -- though good ones are *very* heavy. These are a
"stomp" shear (driven by foot pressure on a pedal). Ideally, you will
want one somewhat over 48" (perhaps 52" at a minimum) to allow cutting
down large sheets which come 4' x 8' as a standard size. After that, a
finger (or box) brake, to allow bending the workpieces, and corner
notcher. I've got a 24" finger brake, but not an appropriate size of
For welding -- I can't really tell you what you will need,
because I have not yet acquired those tools or skills.
If your interests lead you that way, there are tons of
specialized tools, but the basic starting point is measuring tools, and
simple lathe and mill.
If you get into larger used tools, you will find better prices
on those with three-phase motors, because three-phase power is quite
difficult and expensive to get in a home. However, in combination with
an objet known as a VFD (Variable Frequency Drive), you can synthesize
three phase, and a the same time vary the frequency, so you vary the
speed of the motor.
Just some of my opinions.
I gotta bite on Ed's words...
He's pretty right on....
In the old days "technical high schools" (any one remember those?) only let
you at hand tools for several years... Way to many people now days think a
file is a "hogger tool".. in the hands of some one who knows, a file is one
of the most precise tools around.... I've seen people do wonders with a
hacksaw and a file...
Metal working has many areas that you can gain expertise in... machine work
and welding are at two extreams as skills go but both very valuable .... One
of the keys is to figure out what you want to build and then slowly aquire
the skills and tools necessary...
So jeez you have a good project to start on.. figure out how to slow the
speed of your wood bandsaw down to cut metal and what tools you'll need to
do it... There are lots of ways to accomplish this, from the electrical side
a variable speed motor (think DC), to the mechanical by adding another cone
pully and belt... open your mind, use your imagination and build
something... and remember as you learn and move along you gain the tools to
make the tools.
Yer proly going to get all kinds of great advice here, but in the more
mundane aspect, you can't live, metal-wise, w/o the $199 HF/MSC/etc import
no-name horizontal cutoff/band saw. Proly the best supportive bang fer yer
buck in the whole shop.
Also a cheapie chop saw. I think sears has'em on sale for about $59. Get
two, one w/ an abrasive wheel, one w/ carbide blade--good for wood AND lite
alum. You can fixture them up perty nice, as well, for decent accurate
Sears power stuff is, however, absolute shit, altho you can get away w/
basic stuff like chop saws, but not even then if the work is important,
unless you stand on yer ear. Some good-looking stuff, but everygoddammthing
wobbles, shakes, bends, breaks, has non-standard parts (by effing design!),
And I've bought a lot of Sears--welders, radial arm saw, vert belt sanders,
etc. They all suck. Use the RAS quite a bit, but thank god for nothing
critical. If doing RAS, find an old ball-bearing DeWalt. Altho the Sears
head does let you cut everygoddamm angle in the world--just not
formerly Droll Troll
Second the good hacksaw frame; I like the style with a tension rod above
the frame. And files. The amount of metalwork you can do with files
(especially good sharp files (see boggs tool if your files are dull) is
amazing. Keep your files sharp by never letting them touch each other -
store them in a box, rack or roll that keeps them all separated. If
that's more than you can manage right now, wrap them in paper, at least.
Files that bang into other files become dull files, and dull files stink.