Need advice on buying a good tap & die set for small machine work

Howdy folks,
I a software guy groping around in E.E. and M.E. in my spare time. I have limited access to a machine shop at work, but I want to be able
to do some things at home since I generally end up doing it at night and on the weekends.
I've looked around at my local hardware stores and on the Internet, but the sets that I find tend to be too large; e.g. targeted at automobile engines (SAE?).
Here's what I think I know so far:
- I shouldn't go with a cheap set; the taps will just break (does any manufacturer guarantee/replace their taps?)
- I'm thinking that if I *either* get a standard/english/imperial *or* metric set, I'll just end up needing the sizes I don't have, so I'm looking to get one set with both, or two complimentary sets.
- The work I'm doing is generally smaller stuff - the kind of thing you'd find in small electronic and electromechanical appliances. I think this means I should be looking for a set with 2-56 to 1/4-inch UNC threads.
- Then there's the question of coarse threads vs. fine. Seems like if I had to choose, coarse would be the way to go, but as with std vs. metric (above), I worry about constantly needing the one that I don't have.
- The materials I use are primarily aluminum, various plastics, and occasionally steel or brass.
Can anyone recommend a good choice in tap and die set(s), and an online vendor (or a B&M store in San Diego)?
Thanks in advance!
-Mr. INTJ San Diego, CA
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Mr. INTJ wrote:

From my experience - buy what you need , when you need it , and buy the best you can find . I have a set from Horrible Fright , they're just not up to what I need . Buying by the piece may cost a little more in the long run , but you'll have quality that is more expensive than most want to spend in a lump . Spreading it out hurts less <bg>. BTW , I'm replacing the ones I use the most with the best I can find ...
--
Snag
Didn't really wanna buy them all twice but ...
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I will second that. In spades. My purchase of a Mastercraft tap and die set proved to be a mistake. BTW I have yet to see a set that goes as low as 2-56.
--
Michael Koblic,
Campbell River, BC
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The most cost effective way would be to buy a bunch of used taps, at a factory or on ebay.
--
Due to extreme spam originating from Google Groups, and their inattention
to spammers, I and many others block all articles originating
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On Fri, 5 Sep 2008 17:09:18 -0700 (PDT), "Mr. INTJ"

================Several good replies in this thread.
Depending in which corner of the electronics area you will working, I think you will find a much smaller set of threads in actual use.
My suggestion is to buy good, not necessarily the best, taps as you need them, but as you buy, don't get just a single tap, but rather several styles such as taper, plug, bottoming, gun, etc. Also when you buy the taps get screw machine length [short] tap and body drills. 135 degree split points tend to be self-centering. The exotic coated taps are great for production, but for the home shop, offer minimal benefit.
A good place to store these are plastic ammo boxes available at most sporting goods stores and harbor freight. Remember taps are brittle and will chip if banged together or dropped if an edge is hit.
To save yourself considerable aggravation and broken taps get a good tap wrench of the appropriate size, and make or buy a tap guide block to insure that the taps start straight [#1 cause of broken taps]. Also good are the tap holders that pilot off the drill spindle or spring loaded tap guides.
Use a good quality tap lube when tapping. ["A little dab will do ya" for hand tapping]
Be sure to back the tap up frequently to break the chip and avoid binding/breakage. When the tap gets tight, back it out, [you may need to rock it back and forth] and clean off the chips to avoid breakage.
Above all take your time and don't force anything.
Good luck, and let the group know how you make out.
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wrote:

When I entered the machine shop as a full-time employee, my first tool was a tap guide. it was an old shaft key, 1.25"square by 8 long, mild steel.
I drilled a series of holes from #10 thru 1/2"
Twenty years later, I reach for it at least once a week.
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As George has said lots of good advice so far...
but I'll go one further than he and Jon have said about a tapping block,
build yourself a tapping fixture like this.
http://www.ggls.org/TappingFixture /
It's an afternoon project with hardware store parts.
I posted this here several years ago and got an incredible amount of positive feedback on it, and about 5 months ago Matt Mason published this in his "LGRR" Magizine...
Oh I'm I "buy the best" kind of guy... "Cheap tools are false economy"
--.- Dave
wrote:

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On Sun, 07 Sep 2008 15:04:55 -0700, Dave August wrote:

[...]
In the TappingFixture page you write, "I suggest that you assemble the nipple and elbow in the store and check to make sure they form a perfect right angle, many of the elbows are not tapped perfectly square. That way you can sort through the stock and find the best of the lot."
An alternative to sorting through the stock would be to use another tee rather than an elbow on that corner of the fixture.
-jiw
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I have given up using tap wrenches or handles. Drill a hole, chuck the tap, tap...
--
Michael Koblic,
Campbell River, BC
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I've got an old small bench drill - I've removed the motor and belt guard and placed a crank handle on the spindle pulley - works well for making sure holes are tapped square without breaking taps etc.
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On Sun, 7 Sep 2008 20:51:06 -0700, with neither quill nor qualm,

I used Gunner's reversible VFD and big Gorton to tap a couple holes the day I was up there. It's damned slick.
-- Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ---- --Unknown
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There are machines that are called "tappers". They look very much like power drills, but have a chuck suitable for holding square shank taps properly, and reverse when pulled. They are actually very nifty if you have money to buy one, new or used. They also help keep taps straight, etc.
Example is here:
http://www.toolbarn.com/product/bosch/1462VS /
The greatest tapping compound is sold by Doall and is called Accu-lube. It has consistency similar to vaseline, sticks well to the tap, and lubricates well.
i
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wrote:

All the above sounds good. I'm in a similar position EE dabbling in ME & SW...
I can get by on a few sizes I commonly use M2.5/3/4/6/8 etc. I have found that the sprial flute machine taps are much better - faster, cut better, break less. I often drive them in a battery drill for non critical low volume work in plastics & aluminum. The real mech guys can probably comment on the appropriate application of spriral flute taps. At $4 or $5 each they are good value - my set(s) of low quality crap taps are used for "get me out of the poo" use only.
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Mr. INTJ wrote:

Good on ya. Welcome!

Cheap is very bad, as you say. Good quality can be had for a few bucks more and is well worth it.
Taps are inexpensive consumables, like abrasive paper for example. It would be far more expensive to deal with a warranty claim than to just purchase a replacement for both seller and buyer, so don't expect that level of service, just enjoy reasonably priced, good quality tools, would be my advice.

No matter what you do, I predict that you will also end up with two or three plastic boxes with sorted and labeled wells containing the extra taps you find at garage sales, flea markets etc.
So, why not start out with the plastic boxes to contain those taps you *actually use* instead of a set assembled by someone who was totally unfamiliar with your needs? Add say three different thread pitch gauges and you will be able to determine the size of tap to order next time you are logged into:
http://www.use-enco.com http://www.smallparts.com http://www.mcmaster.com
... and many many other vendors of good quality tools.
The reason I say this is that I own three different tap and die sets. I haven't opened any of them in > three years, yet I am constantly using taps from my unofficial 'plastic boxes' assortments. It's just easier. Each well contains several taper, plug and bottoming taps of a given size.

Don't PANIC! McMaster ships very quickly. Sometimes overnight (often faster). You'll find that circumstances and your thread pitch gauges will determine which pitch is appropriate, as you will spend much time matching the size of existing fasteners.

Save your gas, would be my suggestion. Consider how efficiently you can work if you let the rapid delivery folks do the driving. You have many internet vendors anxious to sell you one tap or a thousand taps of just about any size and pitch with delivery charges that are quite reasonable. You can search for your unintialized variable while the guy in the truck brings you your tools.
----------------------------------------------------------------
I attended a machining course at my local Junior College a few years back with a pal of mine and enjoyed the heck out of it. The price was nearly nothing and classes were held on a schedule that was compatible with work. We each made a tap handle, drill sharpening gauge and we ground a 3/8" lathe toolbit.
We used calipers, micrometers, various other hand tools, grinders, drill presses, vertical mills and some very nice lathes.
Did I mention it was inexpensive and a lot of fun?
I'm just sayin....
--Winston
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