Some Thoughts on Basic Metal Working - Part 2 (Hand Tools)

Discussion in 'Back to Basics' started by Airtime, Feb 3, 2015.

  1. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    So the discussion in the thread "Some Thoughts on Basic Metal Working" got me thinking. For someone getting into "basic metal working" we have addressed welding a good bit in the previous thread. I have hinted at machining and that might warrant a bit more discussion. But there is much more. So, how about hand tools unique and dedicated to metal working? (We can address mechanics tools and general purpose tools later.) I looked in some of my tool boxes and cabinets, found some I use a lot I'd consider reasonably basic, and we can now discuss those metal working specific hand tools one might consider.

    Others, please add to the list those metal working hand tools you think one should consider. (Note: I have lots more I'd put in the advanced metal working category and we can delve into those at some point if desired.)

    The Amazon links are to reasonably good quality examples, some of which I personally own. There will often be more expensive and most definitely cheaper options but you won't regret most of the suggestions. Further, if you can find these used, provided they were taken care of, they would generally be good choices.

    I have two I use a lot. One is a conventional Craftsman with bi-metal 12" blades in both course and fine pitches. The other is a small mini hacksaw with a rather thin 6" long blade that is very handy for smaller, delicate work or when a very narrow kerf is required. I like bi-metal blades, they cost more but are worth it. A bi-metal blades cutting teeth are a hard high speed steel (HSS) but the back (basically all but the teeth) is a softer less brittle steel. This allows the blade to flex a bit without breaking and the cutting teeth last longer and able to cutter harder materials. My small saw is over 40 years old but similar to this:
    BAHCO 268 Mini Hacksaw with 24 Teeth Per Inch - Handsaws -

    Deburring tool:
    This is another tool I use a lot and of which I have worn out several. Keep one with the drill bits and one with the hacksaws. You drill a hole and then whip the deburring tip around the hole several times and remove the burrs and even chamfer the hole a bit. You don’t have to purchase the best, cheap versions are ok. The bits and handle wear out faster but they'll work.
    Cobra PST090 Deburring Tool - Deburr Tool -

    Tap and Die:
    Another set of tools I use regularly are taps and dies. A basic set in both course and fine pitches and ideally in both metric and SAE is desirable. I urge you not to buy cheap. A good Craftsman, (at least the older stuff and not the China Evol or whatever that is) Hanson, Irwin and similar is what you want, and with care it will last a life time. Cheap dies dull quickly and cheap taps can easily break and a broken tap in a hole is usually a very bad situation because it's very difficult to remove and often turns the item being tapped into scrap. Always use a cutting fluid when tapping.
    Craftsman 75 pc Inch & Metric tap and die Set - Hand Tool Sets - Forney 20857 Cutting Fluid, Industrial Pro Tap Magic, 4-Ounces: Home Improvement

    Drill bit set:
    A good quality set of drill bits is required for any metal working shop. 1/16”-1/2” by 1/64”s is the ticket. If you do any tapping, specific number size bits are needed but only the appropriate size for each tap. I have a full set of both numbered and letter size bits which you probably don't need, at least to start. Some bits will have a titanium nitrate (TiN) coating which is harder and improves bit performance and life. This is a good thing. However, beware there is a fair amount of China junk with TiN coating giving the impression of high quality but have crappy steel underneath. There are dozens of brands and while Hanson, Irwin, etc. are good names, generally price is an indicator of quality here as you generally do get what you pay for with drill bits. You need a drill to use these and you all know about those but we can talk about them under power tools if you wish. Irwin Industrial Tools 3018004 Black Oxide Metal Index Drill Bit Set with Case, 29-Piece: Home Improvement

    A medium weight ball pein and a heavy hammer in the tool box are good. A ball pein hammer has a ball head on one end which you use for peining things like rivets. Peining is mushrooming the end of a rivet so it stays in place. I seldom actually rivet anything, but it is common to need to tighten up rivets that are getting loose, pein the end of bolts to lock a nut, etc. Vaughan and EstWing are great brands but a cheap hammer can generally get the job done though handles may be less robust and the ball and hammer face less smooth which might show in your work if one looks really really close.
    TEKTON 30409 Jacketed Fiberglass Ball Pein Hammer Set, 4-Piece - -

    A reasonable set of vernier or dial calipers is handy for good measurements (dials are quicker and easier.) There are some cheap Chinese digital calipers and I have lots of those but note they are pretty good for a while, then they seem to die after a few years. Consider them disposable. By the time you go through 3 or 4 sets you could have bought a used name brand dial (Fowler, Mitutoyo, Starrett, etc.) that will last 50 years or more and are better to boot. I have two nice dial calipers that are probably 30 years old and going strong. Fowler 72-008-706 0-6" Shockproof Dial Caliper: Industrial & Scientific

    Combination square:
    This is handy for layout work or even just finding the center of a round object. You probably don't need the real expensive stuff like Starrett but many of the cheap Chinese sets are really crap and you'll spend hours with a file trying to get them "right." Fowler brand is probably a good midway point if you are serious about some metal work.
    PEC 12" 4R 4 piece combination machinist square with reversing protractor marked with 1/32", 1/64", 1/8", 1/16": Industrial & Scientific

    A scribe is simply a sharp pointed awl for scratching marks in metal. It works real well with steel blue, a dye you coat the metal with and then the scratch marks show up. With these you can measure and layout drilling locations, cut lines, etc. and do it very accurately; a skilled machinist can be within a few thousandths of a inch. Think of these as a super fine pencil for marking metal. There is a substitute for a scribe; a small size box cutter knife with fresh blade. Angle the blade to put the cutting edge adjacent to the straight edge and you can scribe the metal or blue dye.
    Starrett 70A Pocket Scriber With Hardened Steel Point, 2-3/8" Point Length, 1/4" Handle Diameter: Construction Marking Tools: Industrial & Scientific

    Center punches:
    A spring activated punch is handy but you also need one you hit with a hammer. A super cheap spring punch is generally a false economy but a cheaper center punch can be tolerated as you can sharpen it easy enough on a grinder. There is also a punch called a prick punch which is more pointed and can make a tiny indentation that a larger center punch makes big enough for drilling. You'll know when you have progressed to the point of needing one. Lisle 30280 Automatic Center Punch: Automotive

    Optical center punch:
    This is certainly beyond the realm of basic metal working, but once you get really good with the bluing, scribe, calipers, combination square and need to start center punching your drill locations within a few thousandths, then swallow hard and drop the bucks for an optical center punch. You'll quickly get spoiled and will use this with regularity.
    ON MARK Optical Center Punch - Model: OP-270: Material Handling Equipment: Industrial & Scientific

    Transfer punch set:
    Transfer punches are a set of center punches of varying diameter. So, when one part has previously drilled holes and you need matching holes on a second part in the same locations, a transfer punch comes to the rescue. Align the two parts, find the punch that just fits in the hole and give it a little tap with a hammer and the part below will have a punch mark perfectly centered on the hole. Cheap transfer punches from Harbor Freight etc. are generally not too terrible and may be prudent if you don't use these much.
    Fowler 52-482-028 Steel Transfer Punch Set supplied with Index stand, 28 Piece: Hand Tool Transfer Punches: Industrial & Scientific

    There are several I use extensively. First is a 10-12" flat single cut mill file in a smooth or second cut teeth spacing. American files generally come in three coarseness’s; bastard cut pattern is wider bigger course teeth pattern which cuts faster but the finish isn't as nice. The medium coarseness is known as second cut and the fine one is known as smooth. Rarely an extra fine coarseness called dead smooth and more course grades called course and rough might be encountered.
    Shape: there are several shapes I recommend getting. A small 6-8" triangular file is great for cleaning up buggered threads on a bolt or stud. Tapered round files are often called "rat tail" files and a couple of these in smooth and bastards cuts are handy. A half round is a much larger radius round file with the size and weight greatly reduced but eliminating 75% of the unnecessary mass. Quality files can last a long time and for decades Nicholson has been the gold standard. To keep a file working well, it needs to be kept clean. A file card is cheap and cleans the debris from between the teeth quite easily.
    Nicholson 9 Piece Hand File Set with Ergonomic Handles, American Pattern: Industrial & Scientific
    Nicholson File Card & Brush (Pack of 1): Hand Files: Industrial & Scientific

    Needle files:
    A set of very small needle files are good to have. I've used them for resurfacing ignition points, to fixing a washing machine timer, to filing a gun trigger part that had worn and I built the area buck up with a small weld. A set will have flat, small rat tail, triangle, tapered oval, half round, knife, etc.
    Nicholson 6 Piece Hobby File Set (Carded), 5-1/2" Length: Hand Files: Industrial & Scientific

    Aviation snips:
    These are handy for sheet metal, vinyl tile, screen wire, etc. There are three versions to cut left hand curves, right hand and straight. With just a bit more effort you can cut straight with the curve cutting versions so you can get by with just the left and right models. Again quality makes a difference here. I like Midwest and Irwin while Bessey, Wiss and Prosnip are good too. Quality costs not that much more than Harbor Fright or even the import stuff HomeDepot sells (HDX) and they will be far more satisfying if you use them much. Be sure to get offset jaws, it's easier making long cuts in sheet.
    Midwest Tool and Cutlery MW-P6510RLS Midwest Snips MW-P6510RLS Forged Blade Offset 3 pc. set includes items: MW-P6510S, MW-P6510L, MW-P6510R, - Nippers And Snips -

    Hand Seamer:
    If you plan to work sheet metal, there are a realm of tools just for that. But just for small projects or straightening and fixing sheet metal things I find a hand seamer handy (no pun intended.) They are not much more than pliers with 3-4 inch (or more) wide smooth face jaws. They work like a mini sheet metal brake (a device for bending sheet). Cheap will work ok and unless you find yourself using them a lot, fancy Klein, Malco, Wiss and similar brands are probably not justifiable. Here is a cheap set and a fancy set like mine:
    Boulderfly Sheet Metal Hand Seamer - Hand Tool Sets -
    Wiss WS6 6-Inch Straight Handle - HVAC Hand Seamer - Nippers And Snips -

    Center finder:
    When you start using a drill press, one of these is pretty handy for drilling a hole through the center of a round bar or tube/pipe, a common task in metal working. If you lack one, I have devised a technique for drilling a hole perpendicularly in the center of a round tube (doesn't work for a solid) within 5-10 thousandths if careful. (I'll post that separately later).
    PEC Round Bar Center Finder MODEL: #4200-100 - Construction Rulers -

    Cold chisel:
    It is simply a chisel for metal. I don't use one much, but when you need to bust something loose in a tight spot they are nice. Get a small set with several sizes plus a pair of gloves and safety googles. If you use one a lot, the end you hammer on will mushroom over. Always keep that ground away so the end looks like new. If you don't, the mushroom pieces can break loose becoming shrapnel and fly into you hand. You can get by with cheap unless you use them extensively. Primary issue with cheap is maintaining an edge (that is why you bought a bench grinder, right?) and it might not be substantially harder than the work piece most of the time.
    Stanley Proto J86BS2 Proto 7-Piece Cold Chisel Set - Hand Tool Sets -

    Bench vise:
    Everyone needs a vice. Furthermore, you need a device you bolt to a work bench that clamps onto things and holds it tight and steady for you called a vise. Wilton, Yost, Irwin, Craftsman, etc are generally all good. Can you get away with Chinese stuff from Harbor Fright, yeah. Just beware that a lot of Chinese cast iron stuff like vises have a layer of bondo covering the steel surface to make the casting look nice and smooth. This stuff WILL fall off over time and with use will look like crap. You can tell real quick if there is bondo but just scratching a smooth surface on the side and if you see a layer of something under the paint. I would not bother with anything less than a 5 inch vice, oops, vise and a 6 inch vise is a good size to have. These often have a small anvil surface that is quite handy for light to moderate pounding on things. Also get a set of copper, aluminum or nylon non-marring jaw covers. These allow you to crank down on things without the serrations in the vise jaws putting marks or indentations in the surface of your object.
    Wilton 11106 Wilton Bench Vise, Jaw Width 6-Inch, Jaw Opening 6-Inch - Bench Clamps -

    I am sure more will come to mind. In thinking about these and while wandering my shop, it was obvious there are some power tools for metal working that one should consider. I'll work up some comments on those later.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2015
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  2. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    I have nearly every one on those:) and a few more specialty pieces I will post later, when I am home for pics.
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  3. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    If you lean toward working on stuff that sometimes doesn't like marring when bashed (say a gun) on because it is uncooperative, a non marring beating tool should be in your box. Beryllium for the tough stuff and rawhide for the delicates.
  4. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    These posts are used for shaping, both as an anvil to be shaped around, and as a thumper in a hollow of a tree stump. These do things like shape helmets and breastplates. (The spool arraignment below is used in a vertical position. It is a chainmail spinner. It forms perfect springs about three feet long. Each clipped ring is woven into chainmail cloth.)


  5. melbo

    melbo Hunter Gatherer Administrator Founding Member

    Very nice. Love these posts [winkthumb]
  6. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    This thread got me to thinking about all the tools I have... and what I still want to get more of. Decided to poke around the tool cabinets and pulled out a few of my dad's old tools he used for work back when he was a machinist. He used to make dental tools out of raw stock for a company. They made everything from dental pick's all the way up to the chairs and such. Anyways, here are a just few of the many goodies I have acquired related to metal working when he retired. He sold his entire tool collection to me (could not stand for him to sell the lot to a stranger).
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  7. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    Nice. Looks like a very fine Starrett micrometer; about as good as they get. 1-2 inch range? You have a full 6" set?
    The caliper appears to be an older version of the Fowler linked to up above.

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  8. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    I do not have the full set.... I only have a couple of these which I suspect were his standard micrometer's he used for the parts he made.
    The tools were originally used by him in the late 80's and early 90's so yes, they are older versions. I am only missing maybe two of the items in your original post like the Optical center punch.

    Great metal working threads by the way!!
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  9. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    Power Tools and Accessories:

    Here are the first of a few thoughts about some power tools and accessories that are rather fundamental for basic metal working.

    Drill Press:
    This is probably at or near the top of the list. It is easy to think that a hand drill can suffice for a drill press, but when a degree of accuracy and hole perpendicularity is critical, a hand drill does not fill the bill. A drill press also has more power and rigidity allowing larger holes to be bored than are practical with a hand drill. And if precision and control is needed to not break bits or drill too deep, you can’t beat the press.

    A few considerations for a drill press. 1. Swing. This is a goofy metric and one to make things sound bigger and better than the really are. If you had a round disk and wanted to drill a hole in the middle of it, a drill’s “swing” is the largest diameter disk that this could be performed upon. In other words, the swing rating of a drill press is twice the distance from the center of the drill bit to the front surface of the vertical column in the back the work would bang against. So, it you are looking at a 10 inch drill press, that means you cannot drill a hole in the middle of a 2x12 board as the board will hit the column and the middle cannot be positioned under the drill chuck. I suggest don’t consider a swing less much than 12 inches. (don’t go there Kell).

    Another specification that is oft overlook is stroke or quill travel. The quill is the column like section that holds the rotating spindle with the chuck attached and when the down feed lever is pulled, extends the drill bit into the work. Beware that many small bench drill presses may have 2 inches or less of quill travel (stroke) and frankly that is often frustrating to use. Change a bit size and the table will have to be raised up or down all the time. If you want to drill a hole through two 2x4s stacked together, that can’t easily be done; you have to do it in multiple operations. 3 inch travel is tolerable and not uncommon and 4 inches is desirable and practical but pushes the upper limit for most of the larger bench top units. To find strokes of 5 inches or more you’ll have to look to larger floor models.

    Drill presses come in floor models and bench top models. Pretty self-explanatory there. Beware of bench top drill presses where the overall distance from the drill chuck to the table in its lowest position is 12 inches or less as this means the column is short. Look for more like 16-18 inches or more as you don’t want to run out of room for larger, longer drill bits with a drill vise mounted on the table.

    Angle drilling is accomplished one of two ways. 1. The table tilts side to side or 2. the head of the drill rotates. Often for the rotating head versions, there is another round column like member that is horizontal and the head can actually be moved in and out. These are often called radial drill presses. Personally, having used both conventional and radial presses extensively, I generally prefer a radial. It is easier to keep the work level and move it into position than to slide the work up a sloped table to position it correctly and clamp it in place to keep it there. Radials often also have much bigger swings and if you want to do some wood working with it, you’ll likely appreciate that extra room before running into the column. The one area where a non-radial may be desired is boring large holes in steel. The radials have more flex in the head and a more rigid platform can produce a smoother hole.

    There are some features that are generally desirable.
    A quill lock: this allows you to lower the quill to a position and then clamp or lock it in place. If doing things like using sanding drums, this is handy. You can also snug it a little and take out play if a large bit is chattering and not wanting to drill smoothly. Lasers are getting popular and while some seem to work ok, others are just gimmicks to help close the sale. I have tried them and don’t bother with them, but that was a few years back and maybe some are better now. Lamp: Some come with a lamp attached but those are generally easy to add including some magnetically mounted ones, so don’t let that be a deciding factor. Do beware that some lamps are mounted in a way that doesn’t illuminate the work very well so be sure it adds value.

    I have a Rockwell radial (like in the above picture) I purchased in 1976, it is still used with great regularity to this day and I love it.
    SHOP FOX W1669 1/2-Horsepower Benchtop Radial Drill Press - Power Stationary Drill Presses -
    Craftsman 12 in. Drill Press: Power Stationary Drill Presses: Industrial & Scientific

    Drill Vise:
    A good vise to hold items firmly for drilling is important for quality work and more importantly for safety. If a drill bit grabs a piece of work, it can spin/fling the piece around injurying the operator and causing damage. A broken bit and scraped work piece are pretty typical of these events. A vise can eliminate all that.

    A drill vise is a rigid vise with a lower profile and flat on the bottom so that is can be bolted or clamped to a drill press table. They come in various sizes and I have found that the bigger the better. I have a couple smaller ones I never use as there is nothing they can do that my large one can’t. Further a large vise has enough mass (mine weighs probably 30 pounds) that for small work and small holes, its mass alone is stable enough and clamping to the table is not necessary. For clamping, generally a C clamp is quite adequate. For large holes in heavy metal, two C-clamps is warranted. I have on occasion bolted the vise to the table, but that takes longer and reduces the ease of repositioning the vise, but for lots of repeated work, it can be prudent.

    Size is generally references the width of the jaws on the vise. 4 inches is pretty adequate. Opening distance can also be important and opening 4 inches or more is good. There are vise with 1.5-2 inch jaws and open maybe 2 inches. Some are very high quality and nice but I just don’t see a reason for those when a much larger one can be purchased for similar money. There are some small light weight ones with small jaws and those can be nice to clean-up, glue some felt to the bottom and make a rather cool paper weight for your desk.

    You can get by with the Chinese stuff from Harbor Freight, et al. They are just sloppy in fit, and operation and the work must be centered in the jaws and they don’t like to close well if the moving jaw is loaded on just one side. When looking at one, clamp a few pennies stacked on one side and see how well you can clamp them and how out of parallel the jaws go. If it is easy to clamp them tight and the jaws stay nice and parallel, then you likely found a nice vise. There are some variants called tiling or angle drill vises. I have a couple of these too and seldom use that feature. If the vise is not well made, the tiling base may just compromise the vise’s rigidity. If you need that feature, the money for a Wilton is probably well spent

    DELTA 20-621 4-Inch Drill Press Vise - Power Magnetic Drill Presses -
    Wilton 11753 3-Inch Cradle Style Angle Drill Press Vise - Bench Clamps -

    Drill press vise clamp
    Think of this as half of a vise-grip or clamp that attaches to the drill press table and clamps items to the table for drilling. These are quite handy for the larger things that are too big to fit in your vise. This is not high on the list of things to purchase as you can use a C-clamp instead and accomplish the same thing. However, if you are drilling a number of holes and need to reposition the same thickness stock over and over, this can speed up the operation quite a bit.
    Big Horn 19630 Drill Press Vise Clamp - Angle Clamps -
    INCRA Build-It Hold Down Clamp - Power Jig Saw Accessories -

    Cross slide table or vise.
    These look tempting, you probably don’t need one, at least not a cheap one. These are a smaller vise mounted on an x-y table that moves left or right when one crank is turned and fore and aft as another crank is turned. They can be handy for drilling holes precise distances apart as they usually have a collar with indications representing thousandths of an inch of table travel as each crank is turned. These are items where you get what you pay for. Buy cheap China garbage and the cross slide vise will have slop in its movement and would be much better than using layout dye, a scribe and steel rule or caliper.

    It is very tempting to try and make a poor-man’s milling machine with your drill press and a cross slide table or vise. You can do a small bit of milling very carefully this way on easy to machine materials but beware it may not work well for long with harder materials. Why is that? Drill chucks are generally attached to the spindle with just a press fit taper. The spindle will have a slight taper, generally a Jacobs taper. The drill chuck (the guy that has the jaws that grab the bit) has a corresponding internal tapering hole and it is just pressed onto the spindle and held with friction. When drilling, the axial loading on the spindle keeps things together and running accurate. But a milling bit cuts on the sides and will load the drill chuck sideways (laterally). This sideways force, coupled with little axial (in the long direction of the spindle) loadings and some vibration from the cutter bit sometimes tends to shake a drill chuck loose from the spindle. If you do a good job really pressing the chuck on hard and keep vibration and side cuts light, it can work. When it doesn’t, the chuck can go flying and a broken or damaged cutter is to be expected and maybe a little blood if it comes your way. If you get a cross slide, get a decent one.
    Grizzly G5757 Compound Slide Table - Multitools -

    V block drilling fixture
    If multiple holes need to be drilled in round material, setting up one of these is the ticket. Once it is properly centered under the drill chuck, holes of varying sizes and in different diameter work pieces can be done. If you have a center finder (discussed in original post), it can help tremendously. If you lack one, positioning by trial and error is pretty easy, it just takes a bit of time. Position it best you can by eyeball by measuring from the side to a drill bit. Then use a 1 ½ to 2 ½ inch diameter tubing of some sort. It must be very round. Drill roughly a 3/16”-1/4” hole through the top and on through the bottom of the tube (I keep some aluminum tube scraps for this). Retract the bit and rotate the tube 180 degrees, insert the bit back through the top hole and see how well it aligns with the bottom hole. If it is off, move the v block half the distance the drill bit was off and repeat drilling a new hole, rotating and assessing. With practice, you’ll get it positioned really well in 4-5 attempts. Center It Drill Press Hole Drilling Centering V Block Fixture: Automotive

    Other attachments

    If you decide to use a drill press for some wood working, there are a host of other toys such as fences, sanding drums, vertical wood lathe, mortising attachment (makes square holes in wood) etc. that may be desirable. I’ll just list some links and you can explore as you like.
    MLCS 2326 Drill Press Table and Fence with T-Track Hold Downs Included - Drill Press Stands -
    DELTA 17-924 Mortising Attachment with 1/4 Inch, 5/16 Inch, 3/8 Inch, and 1/2 Inch Chisel and Bit Sets - Boring Bits -

    Have fun.
  10. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    I would add a good set of toe clamps, parallels and center drills too.
    Airtime likes this.
  11. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    And thumb screws?;)
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  12. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    Those too:D

    Metalworker - Tools by Trade - IRWIN TOOLS

    To me each one of these should have a place in the metal worker/fabricator's tool box. The chain grips are made for pipe mainly, but I have used them on all kinds of odd shaped pieces. I have two pair on my truck, one standard set, and one pair with the extension chains for larger stuff.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 10, 2015
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  13. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++



    After a drill press, a small 4x6 bandsaw is probably the next “stationary” power tool for basic metal working. 4x6 means it can fit and cut a block with dimensions of 4x6 inches. If you lean towards metal fabrication and welding, this will be invaluable. If you lean towards machining and get a lathe, this will be helpful as material always needs to be cut to length.

    I have had one of these, a cheap Harbor Freight job that I have used like a rented mule. A buddy has a small metal fabrication shop and he has a small one too and same thing, he uses it all the time even though he has bigger saws as well. You can use it horizontally or lift it up and sit on the base and use it vertically as well. Truth be told, with a course blade, you can even cut wood and plastic, I've done that many times, it's just much slower than a woodworkers bandsaw with a more aggressive blade.

    These are available in a host of colors with varying names and prices to go along. Personally, I have not figured out exactly what is different about them all and exactly why a white one with Jet on the side warrants twice the price as the green one from Harbor Freight. I do know that the motors are often better with the steeper price but my HF I paid $149 for 20+ years ago is going strong. I have had to replace blade guide bearings as I wore most of those out and have gone through probably 50-60 blades during that time but the base saw still works.

    There are a host of modifications one can make to these with plenty of suggestions on the internet. Those range from fancier stands, hydraulic downfeed control, coolant/lube irrigation systems, There are even discussion groups dedicated to the little saws
    Stand for bandsaw

    Get one of these and some blades and you’ll know when you have out-grown it and want/need a bigger saw. But until then, one of these will do you wonders in the shop.

    Metal Band Saw - Horizontal/Vertical Metal Band Saw

    Have fun.
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  14. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    Bench Grinder
    When it comes to sharpening a lawn mower blade to making a knife, a bench grinder is hard to beat. There are a few considerations when looking to acquire one.

    Power: If you are just going to grind small stuff most any one will do, but if you plan to sharpen 3 blades for you lawn tractor, then you’ll get frustrated real fast with many of the smaller 1/3 hp size grinders. For those kinds of tasks, you want a minimum of 1/2 hp and 5/8 to 3/4 hp is much more desirable to remove a lot of metal reasonably quick. If you do not see a horsepower specification, look at the amperage. For electric motors, roughly an amp of current draw will yield a bit under 1/6 hp. So a 3 amp rating will be about 1/2 horsepower.

    Wheel size: while there are specially grinders with wheel diameters less than 6 inches, 6 is the general starting point and they increase in size by 2 inch increments. 6” grinders are going to generally be 1/3 to 1/2 hp in range. Personally, I rather like an 8 inch grinder in the 3/4 hp range. It seems to strike a nice balance between cost, size and usability. Watch out for grinders in which the dimensions of the motor housing is approaching or greater than the wheel diameters. When that happens, sharpening some objects such as knives etc. becomes more difficult as the motor will become an obstruction that is hard to work around when grinding longer items.

    Wheel shrouds: There should be a rest against which an item may be held while being ground. This is often critical for many precise grinding operations and can enhance safety as well. However, these rests are generally bolted to the metal shroud that covers the grind wheel. When those shrouds are made from thin stamped steel or plastic, they flex way too much and really compromise the effectiveness for precise grinding. Years ago I had to search a bit to find an 8 inch grinder with heavy stiff shrouds with a very stable rest. I found one in a Delta 8 inch grinder. I don’t know if they are still made but I love mine.

    Wheel options: The grinder will come with a course and a medium/fine grit grind wheel. These will generally be fine and you may want a couple other wheels. A wire wheel is super handy for removing rust, scale and paint from metal without removing any of the base metal. They can also de-burr sharp edges on freshly cut pieces. These do come in different coarseness’s but generally the fine to medium will get you started just fine. The other thing you might like at some point is a buffing wheel. Put a bit of compound on this fabric wheel and it will quickly polish an item to a high luster. These wheels are not expensive and greatly expand the capability of the grinder. If you find a need to grind carbide cutting tools, the standard aluminum oxide grinding wheel will not sharpen that material, a green silicon carbide wheel is needed. You may eventually discover that changing wheels is too much work and just set up 2-3 grinders with different wire wheels, grinder wheels and buffer wheels.

    Pedestal: Obviously a bench grinder can be mounted on a work bench. If you are limited for space and don’t use the grinder much, a couple C-clamps can be employed to temporarily fasten the grinder to the bench and they will generally work quite well. If bench space is a premium or you don’t want grinding dust to accumulate on the bench, then a pedestal may be desired. You can find these at Harbor Freight etc. and given it just needs to be strong to hold the grinder, sturdy Chinese import stuff is just fine. I have made the pedestals for my grinders by buying an old car wheel at a garage sale and then getting a roughly 30 inch length of 1 1/2 or 2 inch diameter pipe and two mounting flanges to thread on each end. These flanges can then be bolted to the middle of the wheel and to a chunk of wood at the top to which the grinder is bolted. Mine work very well, are easy to move around the shop and are quite stable, generally more so than the commercial pedestals as the base is much wider and heavier. The wheel can also be filled with some concrete if more mass is desired though I have not encountered the need often enough to do it myself. DEWALT DW758 8-Inch Bench Grinder: Home Improvement

    Wheel dresser
    Grinding wheels wear unevenly and can also become loaded (the space between grit in the wheel gets packed with metal bits) compromising the effectiveness and quality of grinding. To restore the face of the grinding wheel, a thin layer needs to be removed (decreasing the wheel diameter a bit). There are several methods of doing this. 1. A wheel dresser which has hardened spur wheels that spin at high speed with the wheel turning and they break off small particles of the wheel. This tool is fast, not real precise but its reasonably cheap and plenty adequate for most home shops. 2. A diamond dresser has a small industrial diamond imbedded in the tip of a dressing tool and it is just moved back and forth across the face of the wheel. The single point style is slower but more precise and is the method used for precision grinding machines. There are some that are a block of metal with diamond chips impregnated in the surface that can just be held against the wheel and are faster. Note that if the grinder has green silicon carbide wheels, a diamond dresser is required to clean those up. 3. A silicon carbide stick can also be used. These are generally slower than the spinning cutter dresser but are cheap and easy to use. They come in different grits but generally a course stick moved slowed across the wheel face will still yield a dress comparable to a smaller grit stick. I have used/have all these and don’t have any strong favorites. They all wear down/out over time. For the typical home grinder probably just get the spur type dresser or carbide stick.
    Desmond Stephan 11210-0 Emery Wheel Dresser - Power Grinder Accessories -
    Uxcell a13021800ux0083 Nonslip Handle Head Surface Diamond Grinding Wheel Dresser - Power Grinder Accessories -
    Grinding Wheel Dressing Stick - Power Bench Grinders -

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2015
  15. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    Adinfo for grinding wheels and sharpening mower blades: Keep the blades cool to avoid drawing the temper or alter the heat treatment. Keep a coffee can of water to hand and dunk the blade before it starts showing color. If you let it get red before dunking, it will be hardened and tend to break should it hit anything that might be hiding in the grass. Much better to deform (and need to resharpen) then to throw a bit of blade someplace not nice.
    chelloveck, Bear, Yard Dart and 3 others like this.
  16. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    Good points @ghrit. When sharpening anything I try to make no more than two passes across the edge that I'm sharpening before I dunk it back into the water. It seems to work for me.

    Agree 100% @Airtime about the grinders. The one you have pictured is what I have here for GP grinding. I have a 6" model set up to sharpen carbide tooling on one wheel and the other side has a wheel for tool steel. The other 6" grinder has a stone I use for drill bits and a wire wheel for rust removal. Good posts;)
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2015
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  17. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    Belt sander/grinder
    A dozen years ago I probably would not have listed this machine as a basic metal working tool, but my experiences with them over the past decade or so changes that. While often perceived as a model maker’s tool or a woodworker’s tool, it is very apropos for metal working. I probably use this more than my bench grinders these days. A nice feature about these is the sanding/grinding surface is basically flat or the part can be ground with a modest convex surface where a normal grinding wheel tends to create a concaved (often called “hollow ground”) surface. If a few thousandths of an inch needs to be precisely removed from a part to make it fit, it can be done rather easy and quickly with a belt grinder.

    The smaller machines use belts that are 1 inch wide and 30 inches long and sizes step up from there to 2 inch, 4 inch and commercial machines that are wider still. There are some micro belt sanders/grinders marketed more for model making or sharpening knives that use 1/2 wide belts but those are pretty purpose specific.

    A wide range of belts are available from very course grit to super fine grits. 1x30 inch belts as fine as 3000 and 4000 grit are available including a leather belt upon which a compound can be added for stropping knife blades. I now employ these belt sanders/grinders for all my knife sharpening using a variety of grit belts that may start with 600 or 800 and progress up to 1200 to 3000 grit with a final pass or two on a leather belt with some compound on it. I can get a razor edge in about 1-2 minutes. See previous postings on knife sharpening;

    I have several HF China sanders that aren’t terrible but aren’t very smooth either and area bit fast. I have a little Delta belt grinder that is quite nice, but it seems to be out of production. Like the bandsaws, it appears there are a number or machine colors with widely varying prices and the castings look much the same but the motors seem to differ. Watch for used stuff and sales, you should not have to pay in excess of a hundred bucks and $50-60 seems it should be achievable with some time.

    Given that we are talking basic metal working and introductory tools, the 1x30 size grinders is what I’d start with given its popularity and ease of finding belts. Longer 42 inch belts and 2 inch wide belts are less common and frankly you’ll know if you grow to needing something bigger than 1x30. Given you’ll likely still want to keep the 1x30 machine if you do get a bigger unit, you aren’t buying the tool twice.

    Or how about this, use some of one’s new found metal working skills and make one. There are plans and Youtube videos for home spun machines using 1x30 belts, often in a horizontal mode for knife sharpening.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2015
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  18. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    I would suggest adding one of these as well. While they can be purchased starting around $500.00 I would suggest that a person make their own. I have made several over the years and as long as a person uses quality steel for the pins and the press plates you will be fine. IMO, its a great addition to your shop and a fun project to expand your shop skills. There are many plans on the net, or just to go your local harbor freight or norther tool store and take a few pictures with your phone. bring a tape measure to grab the required measurements and off to the salvage yard for the steel.


    Another handy press to have is an arbor press like the above. They usually start around $50.00 and up. Mounted to your work bench they make pressing bearings,seals, ect much easier. I've even used them to broach collars and spacers for keyed shafts. These presses can be used for straightening smaller shafts, lawn mower blades, all sorts of items as well.
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  19. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey


    An anvil is another tool that while basic, is an almost must have IMO. There are many different styles out there and they can be VERY expensive. Best bet is to try and find one at yard sale, flea markets, ect. Try and avoid the cast iron anvils if you can. They as a rule are not near as good. Larger anvils need to be mounted to something heavy but that will help absorb vibrations. A large"round" cut from a tree trunk fills the bill very nicely and is what mine is mounted on. A good option for a smaller anvil is to make one from a section of railroad rail. I have done this several times over the years for myself and for friends. It isn't hard, but to do it properly it does take some time with a grinder/sander. If I can find a short section I will do an article on how to make one. There are a multitude of tools that can be bought that fit into the hardie hole(that square hole in the top) that will help you shape steel as well.
    chelloveck, KAS, Bear and 4 others like this.
  20. Airtime

    Airtime Monkey+++

    It occurred to me that some training materials and DVDs might be very helpful as part of a basic metal working toolset. There are loads of videos on Youtube and other websites but sometimes a good professionally produced product can be more beneficial and more concise in the presentation of the information.

    I have seen Kent White's open seminars at the big Oshkosh air convention in Wisconsin many times. The guy is a bit nerdy but really knows his stuff. I have watched him weld aluminum with a gas torch and then bend it back and forth with the piece eventually failing far away from the weld. His focus is more on sheet metal as in auto bodies and aircraft but heavier metal is in repertoire as well. I've watched him teach how to use English wheels, planishing hammers, shot bags, gas torch, He is good, very very good as a metal worker. He sells some tools but more important he sells knowledge. His website is a good place to start if you want good materials.
    TM Technologies: Tools, Sheet Metal Shaping Machines, & Gas Welding Supplies for Better Metalworking

    If one has a leaning towards machining (lathes, mills, etc.) pick up a copy of Home Shop Machinist or the Machinist's Workshop at Barnes and Nobles or some other book store with a monster magazine rack. There are ads for lots of books or compendiums of articles that have appeared in those magazines over the years that are quite helpful. Such as books on gun-smithing, welding, forging, foundry work, lathe operations, etc. Good stuff.

    I have some more training material ideas I'll try and post. Have fun.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015
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