Working with your hands to create living, working machines feels good. So good that builders of the past were celebrated and revered. Getting started in the world of metalworking reminds you that becoming a craftsman takes time. It also takes the right metalworker’s tools. Without a proper set of tools, you can’t bend the alloys to your will. Metal, substance of strength and honor. As the demand for custom metalworking grows, so too must the shops supplying it. Between cosmetics, restorations, and better than new repairs there’s always more being asked of metal goods. As always be aware of and follow, safe tool handling guidelines.
It doesn’t matter if you build from scratch or modify so-so parts for a retrofit, you need tools to get the job done.
Essential Metalworker’s Tools
The following list isn’t exhaustive, but it gets you started by having the basics to work the materials and produce results from the moment you open your doors.
It’s easy to overlook this simple starting point for some. Without the ability to make a clear, defined mark on materials, it doesn’t matter how many times you measure before that first cut. Invest in proper wax pencils, grease pens, and scribes to keep your marks visible.
Marking can’t be done without good measuring tools. Dial calipers give you an easy way to read your measurements without squinting or bending your head to find the notches. They provide accuracy to measurement while also being large enough that you don’t lose them easily. Make certain to zero out calipers before you start using them to keep your measurements precise.
Flux Core Welder
You can’t work with metal without some serious ability to cut and to bind. Any welder will get you to an end product, but not all welders are created equal. Gas welders take more prep and care to use safely and tend to require more finishing work for both the edges and the fire’s natural ability to leave soot about.
Start with a flux core to get cutting and melding right out of the box. The design of a flux core provides it’s own shielding, making it easier to use in a smaller space or with other people around. When working on bigger jobs, it’s ideal to have a Snap-Loc coolant hose attached and set to cool material as you go to prevent deformation.
The workhorse of any automotive and cosmetic panel shaping shop. Run your metals between the adjustable upper and lower wheels to slowly bend and compound materials. Wheels can also be angled to change the shape of the material. This is where the finesse and artistry of metalwork projects really blooms.
In the past, the onerous task of beveling and edge shaping was done slowly with a lot of effort. Today, even the metalworking hand tool has become motorized and easy to use. A die grinder smooths out the detritus of welds and makes shaping edges a breeze. For larger jobs, you’ll want to stick with a grinding wheel, but for smaller and delicate work, the die grinder can’t be beaten.
One of the larger pieces of equipment to be found in a proper metalworking shop, the press brake is intimidating to see and hear. Outside of the English Wheel, this is the most important item for crafting sheets into needed shapes. It uses a heavy blade to pinch sheets so they can be bent and shaped. The punch and die need to be kept aligned to avoid jagged edges. Always operate a press brake with gloves or vices to avoid getting cut by a sudden shift in the sheet.
With so many pieces for cutting and shaping metal, it’s easy to overlook the need to fasten and attach materials. For that, you need a center punch. At first glance, it seems like a center punch can be replaced with any pointy object or a drill. For precision, the heavy, sharp point of a center punch can’t be replaced. For even more precision, look into an optical version which lets you look directly into the interstices before you make your punch.
For thicker metal sheets and fast turnaround, a drill press armed with a vise makes metal punching a breeze. Making certain the tools are well anchored is key to providing the necessary precision. Keep your bearing sand spindle well-maintained and you won’t have any problems keeping things in-line.
Cut safely and effectively with a bandsaw over a hand saw. Of all of the options from hand tools to machinery, the band saw is your best choice. The blade oscillates for you and you move the object (after being properly marked) to get great, clean cuts. Bandsaws also avoid the major problem with hacksaws, which is getting the thin blade wedged in a corner of a cut and snapping the blade. It may not be a laser-guided water cutter used in some industrial factories, but it gets the job done.
To finish off a project you need this final item. A buffing wheel spins and polishes up finished items. Polishing doesn’t just make the metal look good, it also provides protection from corrosion. In a pinch, a grinding wheel can do some of the same work but takes a lot of extra effort not to grind down your finished products. Some people try to substitute a drill press armed with a makeshift buffing head, these don’t have the required torque to really get the job done.
The Right Tech
With these essential metalworker’s tools in place, you can begin to build out. Add some more gear for faster and more detailed work as the need presents. Remember, the most important tool is the know-how you bring to the job. Keep up to date on improvements and advancements right here.