My father was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy during World War II. He worked on a Martin PBM-552 "Mariner" out of Banana River Naval Air Station in Cocoa, Florida. Part of his personal myth was that he was drafted out of his high school classroom the day after he turned 18, and he didn't finish high school until he returned from his service. I don't actually believe this because he didn't report for duty until the July after he would have graduated. That information is on his discharge papers. It's probably partially true though. The Navy rep probably showed up at school to draft him after he turned 18 but they let him finish high school. He wasn't sent to an active combat area because both his brothers were already at the front. In case you are wondering, the Air Force as a separate branch of the military wasn't established until 1947. After the war. His other story from his time as a mechanic was, the navy didn't allow the plane he worked on to fly without him riding along. This could be true. It seems like a pretty good way to insure an 18 year old mechanic learns his job fast and well. My father was a really good mechanic although he used the GI bill to go to college so he didn't have to spend his life fixing engines. Except that he did. My father only ever had one tool box. It weighed approximately 182.3 lbs. Every tool he ever owned was tossed into that tool box. In retrospect, I think the most stunning thing about my father's tools was that he didn't have a single screw driver that wasn't stripped. I don't know how he used them, but he did. His tool box was chaos and it weighed more than an average human, but if your car broke down and you called him, he would "toss" the tool box in his car, go to you, and using those useless screw drivers have your engine humming in no time. Because of my father, I spent decades with an old pair of stockings in my glove box. I don't know if that's still a thing. My father isn't around anymore so I use AAA. Anyway, even though his tools appeared to be a crazy mess to almost anyone who ever saw his tool box, he understood it. He knew exactly what he had and how to use it. It was his system and it worked for him.
|This is the plane my father worked on. Not this one but this model.|
My grandmother, on the other hand, was a musician and urban farmer. She was strictly a musician until World War II when she was asked by her country to plant a victory garden. So she did. Then she was a musician and an urban farmer. I think she dedicated herself to learning how to grow food in the same way she had dedicated herself to learning to play music. She also took care of her tools with the same care she used on her instruments. By the time I came along, well after the end of the war, my grandmother was growing food on an acre of land in the middle of Denver. She grew enough food to feed the whole family and each fall was filled with the sound of canning jars popping. I didn't really taste "store bought" vegetables until I went off to college. My grandmother had some wonderful quirks. One of them was that if she sent my father and me out to pick peas in the spring she didn't expect to get any back. We just ate them as we picked. The same went for sending me out to pick strawberries in the summer. She'd send me out with a bowl to gather strawberries to make dessert for supper, and I would return with a bowl with one strawberry in it and my hands and face covered in strawberry juice. My grandmother would eat the strawberry and then we would make chewy bread, which was my grandmother's version of brownies, for dessert instead. I now believe sending me out to pick anything was just a ploy to get me out of her hair, but if you have never tasted spring peas fresh off the vine or little jewel type strawberries ripe and warm in the sun, you should definitely put those things on your bucket list. Those are the food pleasures that no artisanal cafe can even touch. Anyway, my grandmother was fastidious with her tools and her musical instruments. Each tool had a place so that she knew exactly where it was and after it was used but before it was put away, it was cleaned. And just as my father's system worked for him, hers worked for her.
I live somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but my point is that you need to find your own relationship with your tools. Once you are comfortable with your tools you will do good work. This is probably why I keep repeating that I am not a purist. The work that I do is more important than the specifics of the tools that I do it with. So as I move forward talking about tools and setting up a shop, keep yourself focused on what you want to do. There are a lot of means to each end and you need to find the one that works for you.
If you are following along with me and building your shop, you now have a massive and sublimely beautiful work table and a stock rack. Plus a couple of metalworking tools. You also have less money than you had before and you met your steel yard supply guys. I really love all my steel guys and I told you last time not to fear them. They are the best. The last delivery I got was a week or so ago and it's been really hot here so the steel is really hot on the truck. I have some beat up work gloves so I put one on to go unload the truck. The driver just couldn't deal so he reached into the cab and gave me a new pair of work gloves. He didn't want me to hurt myself. As he was about to leave he handed me a second pair because he figured I would lose the first pair like he does. These guys are always so great.
|The work glove I put on to unload the 115 degree steel and the gloves my driver gave me.|
You've also started to think about what you need to do the kind of work you want to do and what would make it easier. At this point you can go in a number of directions. If your goal is to do primarily fabrication type work, you can slowly acquire tools that make that easier. A better way to cut steel. I use a 7x12 metal cutting band saw. A lot of people chose to use a cut off saw. The cut off saw is cheaper but I don't really love the fiber glass particles that it propels into the air. The "dust" from grinding or cutting with a fiber glass disc does two things. The metal dust falls to the floor because it's heavy, but the fiber glass particles fly around forever because they are light. You really don't want those suckers in your lungs. For me the extra expense of the band saw is worth it.
You should also get a drill press. I got mine at an auction and if that is possible, it's a great way to get tools. You need to pay attention to the chuck size on any drill press you are looking at. A 3/8" chuck will drive you insane in a pretty short period of time. Get at least a 1/2". It will be tricky on teeny holes but much better the rest of the time. Also, I prefer a floor model.
|This beauty is exactly my drill press. It's all cast iron. It's really old, but it works. I should probably replace the chuck.|
|I don't really know about the new drill presses, but this one looks pretty nice. You are going to need to do some research on this.|
The last really basic tool is a disc and/or belt grinder. I have a couple of these. If you are going to make knives, you will need to do some research to find the best grinders for that. I like the one I have. It has a quick change unit and mounts on a bench grinder so I can change the belts in a couple of seconds. This is good if you are making knives, but even if you aren't making knives work will be easier with a disc or belt grinder or both. There are so many of these and this is a really personal decision. Figure out what you are going to do with it and pick the grinder that does that.
I have a lot of other tools because I do a lot of different types of metalwork. Some I got because they were there and it seemed like a good idea. This is why I have four anvils. Nobody needs four anvils. I also have a lathe. I use it all the time. I got by before I had it, but a guy was getting rid of it and I couldn't pass it up. I'm happy I have it. I had a little milling machine for a while. It was too small so I traded it for something. I don't actually remember what now. I know it wasn't money. I have a Hossfeld bender. I used to use it more than I do now. I have a shear. I have a compressor. Most tools after the basics are purchased or made for a specific job. Then they become part of your arsenal. You can do more because you have the tool to do more.
|This is a Hossfeld bender. It is designed to bend steel cold. It has a number of dies so you can bend different steel shapes into different steel shapes. It's a pretty amazing tools actually.|
There are a lot of ways to work with metal. Each practice has its own set of tools. Of course there is overlap. As we go forward, I'm going to talk about the thing that I think most people are interested in first and then move on to some tools and techniques that I think are interesting too. Next month I will begin to go into the tools necessary for blacksmithing which includes bladesmithing tools. As I talk about tools I will also start to introduce techniques.
I hope you will practice your welding so that you are comfortable with that and are ready to use a hammer. In the meantime make a feed table for your saw. Make some horses. Make a feed stand for long pieces on your disc grinder and drill press. There are a lot of pieces of shop equipment that you will need and need to make for yourself. This is the month for that. Enjoy the learning process.
|You can buy this stand cheap at Harbor Freight. They fall over. They are too light. Design a better version for yourself and make it.|
|This is a horse. It is not the horse you need to make for your shop, but it is a pretty cool horse.|
Back to the heat...
Go have fun.