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  • 3-in-1 sheet metal machines

    Hi all, long time lurker, first time poster...

    I have occasional situations where I could use some limited sheet metal fabrication capability--things like small chassis, motor covers, that sort of thing. So I have been looking at some of the small "sheet metal machines" that have both a shear and brake function:

    Harbor Freight 8-inch mini shear-brake
    Grizzly 7-1/2" shear-brake
    Grizzly 12" Sheet Metal Machine
    Wholesale Tool 12" sheet metal machine

    I realize that these are pretty limited, but I don't expect to need to use them too heavily, and I think I'm OK with the size/thickness limitations.

    Specific questions:

    1. Can any of these machines shear more than the nominal width if done in multiple cuts? That is, can I shear a 24" sheet into smaller piece by a series of bites, or are they set up such that X" is the maximum piece it can work with?

    2. Most of these state they can handle 22ga steel or 18ga aluminum; are these accurate or too optimistic?

    3. Is Grizzly worth the extra price? HF has the small machine for about $60 less and WT Tool has the larger one where I can pick up locally and save $75-$100 on shipping charges.

    4. Is there any other approach to doing basic stuff cheaply I should think more about? I think I could do 85% of the stuff I'd like inside an 8" envelope, but it'd be nice being able to buy larger sheets without having to slice them up with shears or anything. The only sheet metal tools I own now are a pair of aviation snips.

  • #2
    Over the last few years, I've setup and programmed CNC brakes for a living, got into it by accident... of everything I've done career-wise this was the "kewlest" thing by far. Figured since I have a modest understanding of sheetmetal under my belt I'd look into a 3-in-1 for home.

    Ultimatly, after trying it out extensivly I found that the estimates they gave on the box were wildly optimistic and I purchaced a lathe and mill instead.

    At a minimum if you are going to do sheetmetal get a decent brake, either a finger-brake or a press-brake if you can find one with tooling. Also invest in a simple shear that can handle the thicknesses you are going to bend. If you want to get fancy, manual turret punches can be had in the junk-dealers and on Ebay for cheap.

    As it stands now if I run into something I "must have" out of sheetmetal I bike down to the Big Sheetmetal Plant where I originally learned this stuff. The foreman who trained me lets me run stuff on the old mechanical PBon Fridays after the Office Boss leaves. (He knows, but he maintains a "if I didn't see it it didn't happen" policy.)
    This product has been determined by the state of California to cause permanent irreversible death. This statement may or may not be recognized as valid by all states.
    Heirs of an old war/that's what we've become Inheriting troubles I'm mentally numb
    Plastic Operators Dot Com

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    • #3
      I have one of the horror freight 30" 3 in 1's and it is OK but not anywhere in the same zip code as great. They are handy for light gauge covers and brackets, but are not near as thick as they claim. Watch craigslist and the want ads, they show up fairly often at a good price.

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      • #4
        Thanks for the input. My other big limitation is that my shop space is down a narrow basement stairway, so it's hard for me to deal with anything too large for one person to lift. That includes most "real" shears or brakes.

        I've been watching Craig for a couple months (Boston area + vicinity) and haven't had much luck. I've seen some big units for $500-$1000 but I don't have the space or the amount of need to justify that much machine. Really just looking for something to make the occasional widget.

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        • #5
          As long as you keep in mind the limitations of the machine you'll do ok. Try to exceed them you will damage it.

          The amount of force needed to bend is a function of width... don't try to cheat the machine by thinking you can bend a 2" thick strip 1" wide because the calculations said its the same amount of force as an 18" wide strip of thin material. You'll damage the machine right quick.

          (ok I pulled those numbers out of my backside butt it illustrates my point)
          This product has been determined by the state of California to cause permanent irreversible death. This statement may or may not be recognized as valid by all states.
          Heirs of an old war/that's what we've become Inheriting troubles I'm mentally numb
          Plastic Operators Dot Com

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          • #6
            They won't shear 1" steel but they do great on 1" butter (as long as it is warmed first).

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            • #7
              Originally posted by MickeyD
              They won't shear 1" steel but they do great on 1" butter (as long as it is warmed first).
              Wow, so you got the "deluxe" machine then?
              This product has been determined by the state of California to cause permanent irreversible death. This statement may or may not be recognized as valid by all states.
              Heirs of an old war/that's what we've become Inheriting troubles I'm mentally numb
              Plastic Operators Dot Com

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              • #8
                I have a 12" 3-in-one exactly like the Grizzly and Wholesale Tool 12". I use it for light hobby use and I am reasonably happy with it. At roughly the full 12" length I find it will shear a max of about .031" mild steel and groans at anything much more. Of course for a short cut like 3" you might be able to push that up to .062". On the whole it does a good job for me for light work.

                Planeman

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                • #9
                  We have one of the grizzly 12 3in1s in the shop just for odds and ends. I've really only used it for the rolls, had to make some 3.5" diameter rings out of .125 X .5 304. Tore the gears all to hell and some other stuff, about $60 to fix it. It is a handy little thing to have around though.

                  For cutting bigger sheets, get one of the HF throatless sheers. About $70 and probably the best money I've ever spent at HF. It paid for itself in about 10 minutes. The handle gets in the way when its not in use, I'd recommend a pin or clip instead of the bolt so its easy to remove.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Liger Zero
                    Wow, so you got the "deluxe" machine then?
                    as long as it can slice velveeta i'll be fine

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                    • #11
                      The little HF I have used (don't own it).

                      It actually is nice for one feature.... it has a "V" bender. I like that because it is a little easier for me to do accurate locations that way. otherwise you have to estimate the bend location a different way, with a finger brake.

                      Now, the finger brake will do boxes etc easier, because it has better clearances.

                      The width.... its a hard limit. The shear is barely good enough.... it is tough to adjust for thin stuff... not that nice.
                      1601

                      Keep eye on ball.
                      Hashim Khan

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                      • #12
                        I had a 30" 3-in-1 machine, traded up to a 40" unit. It isn't heavy-duty, but will do the work it's rated for. Although I don't claim to be a sheetmetal worker, it's amazing just how often I use that machine. It's so darn handy to be able to shear some .062" aluminum stock and bend it into a bracket or something. We used it to bend up a bunch of boxes to go in library card drawers so they'd be useful for storing junk. It's also neat to be able to roll a round cradle/strap/bracket and have it be actually round.

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                        • #13
                          2 in 1

                          I have the 3in1 from Grizzly. When received it was a piece of work. The shear/table would move every time you tried to cut anything. I remachined the table mounting system and adjusted the shear clearance. It now shears quite well. The next "repair" will be the brake dies. I will match the ends of the male dies, so I can use the multiple width feature. I am also going to build a single piece male die out of thicker material. The slip rolls appear to be somewhat of a piece. The rolls get improved when I have the time/need.
                          I guess they should be classified as a set of assembled parts that really are a "kit" to finish.

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                          • #14
                            The only real issue I had with my machine was the bolts, they're made out of taffy or some similar material. After snugging up the bolts that hold the stand together, then squaring things, I welded everything. Replaced a few of the adjusting bolts on the machine itself also.

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                            • #15
                              Who knows what model I have- I forget- but it's one of those. I believe the ratings are overly optimistic, but it's still useful. I cut my fingernails on it, and some light cardboard. It's pretty much useless for aluminum foil. .

                              Within its limits it's ok. Probably the best advice to give would be to make sure you set it up properly before making even one cut. Like any shearing tool, the blades have to be kept pressured together so it will shear rather than fold sheet material. There should be some pressure between the blades right at the start, and the bow adjustment must be made so the blades don't force apart as the cut is being made. Otherwise it will begin to fold, and it's so easy to ruin your shearing edges in one fatal stroke. If you get one and aren't sure how to adjust it, either get someone locally who understands it and can help you, or ask here again.

                              My 30 inch 3 in 1 was a piece of work right from the start. Everything needed to be worked on before it was ready to use. The 'manual' was a particular joy, probably written by a student of INLE (I'll never learn English). I'm sure the instructions are better these days, but suffice to say that if set up properly, the machine will work nearly to it's specs, but if not it will be a source of frustrations.
                              I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-

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