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Home workshop - How do I get started?

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  • Home workshop - How do I get started?

    Hello everyone. I want to convert one side of my two car garage to a home workshop. I am interested mostly in metal work. My currrent tools are: an air compressor, an old Craftsman portable grinder, an old Craftsman circular saw, a 24"x50" sturdy workbench, a Makita sander, an old Craftman router, some wood clamps and a couple C clamps. My budget is about $1,500/year. I know it's not much but with 3 kids in college at the same time, I am in the poor house for a long time to come. How do you suggest I start?

  • #2
    Alot depends on what type of metal work you are interested in doing.

    Welding/Fab-Welder, Torch (heating, cutting,brazing/welding), Bandsaw, miscellaneous hand tools.

    Sheet metal-Shear, brake, torch

    Machine Shop-Lathe with tooling (very versatile)

    This is just a start, but a very enjoyable hobby to persue. Good Luck!
    Arbo & Thor (The Junkyard Dog)


    • #3
      If I had to start over again the first thing that I would get is a lathe. Whether you are repairing old machinery or building things from scratch it is the most important of the metal working tools.
      To invent, you need a good imagination - and a pile of junk. Thomas A. Edison


      • #4
        Starting from zero can be pretty overwhelming, but it is do-able. Perhaps the first thing to do is to develop a long-term outloook, measured in years, for getting a fully-equipped shop and getting enough knowledge to be reasonably competent.

        That being said...I'd start with some books. There have been lists of recommended books in past notes, so go back in the archive and investigate. As Arbo said, a lot depends onf exactly what you mean by "metalworking."
        Try to make a living, not a killing. -- Utah Phillips
        Don't believe everything you know. -- Bumper sticker
        Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
        There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
        Law of Logical Argument - Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.
        Don't own anything you have to feed or paint. - Hood River Blackie


        • #5
          If you want to get to making some things out of metal pretty quickly, a welder, your portable grinder,and your belt sander would get you going pretty cheaply. You could put some things together like a wood stove that could save you a little money in the winter(if installed well so as not to burn the house down!) and you'd be able to repair some things. If you get one, avoid the 110 volt stick welders - a little more money for a 220 AC-DC machine would get you something MUCH more useful.
          You could probably use something to cut metal with as well. Metal chop saws work, but one of the small horizontal-vertical band saws is easier, more versatile, and safer to use. You need to make sure you're using the right blade for the material you're cutting - the blade store should be able to advise you.
          If there are machining classes in your area, you would learn a lot in the class and be able to network with others and maybe get a lead on a metal lathe or mill.
          If you run across a machine, posting a question here will get you (biased) advice whether you found a decent deal or not. We could help keep you from making a mistake - like passing on a Deckel mill or Hardinge lathe for $500, or buying a Harbor Freight "special" for the same amount.
          Possibly the best thing for you to do is to find a local machinist buddy who you could talk shop with and get leads on machinery.
          Good luck.


          • #6
            I have seen real stubborn people start out with a vise and a file..

            A lathe, with milling attachment will do miracles.



            • #7
              Find some like hearted spirits and a mentor close to you. You can't very well get into metalwork without some kind of support and network. A mentor and a group of fellow travelers will increase your learning about 6 to 10 time the rate of going it alone.

              Take some night school courses. Cultivate an association with a few small metalworking shops, the local auto racers, EAA airplane builders, heavy equipment and farm machinery buffs, blacksmiths, neanderthal woodworkers (they're always needing metalwork done and some are very good at it), the boating industry.

              Gain currency in the local metalworking culture and some opportunity is sure to jump out and sieze your interest.


              • #8
                If I were to do it again, my first machine would be a 9" South Bend lathe with a quick change gearbox, milling attachment, steady rest, grinder, and a few good books like How to Run a Lathe by South Bend, and Atlas Lathe handbook. You would also do well to subscribe to the Home Shop Machinest, and Machinest's workshop. I am completely self taught using books, HSM publications, and anything else I can get my hands on. Build some engines, make tooling, repair stuff, do some gunsmithing, make some mistakes and have some successes! Your second machine might be something like a small mill or small shaper. Even if you go to a larger lathe, you will never sell your 9" South Bend. Have fun!

                Perk in Cincinnati

                Perk in Cincinnati


                • #9
                  I'm also largely self taught (one excellent machine shop course at Tektronix 20 years ago). The way I got started was to buy the Sherline lathe and mill. They are small, but of high quality. The long bed Sherline lathe and tooling will fit comfortably into your budget.

                  You might be able to find old American iron for $1500 that's in decent shape, but then again you might not. If you can't evaluate a tool for wear and fitness for use, and can't find someone who can for you, then getting a used machine can be a problem.

                  You can also go the 7x10 minilathe route. These are guite inexpensive (about $450) leaving plenty of your budget for tooling.
                  See the Yahoo groups 7x10miniltahe group to get information on the many improvements one can make to this lathe. I used to have one;
                  it is a usable machine, just not great quality. Also go to and download their 7x10 manual; it's a very informative document.

         will show you the Sherline products. I've been very happy with them; they will do well for you if you can live with the size limitations. The route I took was to learn machining on the Sherline equipment, and also learn whether my interest in maching was a passing whimsy. It wasn't!

                  Hope this helps,



                  • #10
                    my first machine shop (in my colledge dorm) was a vise and a file and a drill and a dremmel a propane torch and a full craftsman top box.

                    from there the sickness quickly spread. it now occupies nearly 1800 square feet. yippee-

                    oh, IMHO a mill is a more versatile first machine. I spent 1400 on a 9x42 vertical mill, my first real machine tool.

                    welcome, Dan


                    • #11
                      The longest journey begins with a single step. Most of us here have been where you are now, I know I was. After many years of slowly accumulating the tools to accomplish my immediate goals, I finally have a very complete shop. Of course it never really ends, as now I want to upgrade.
                      Determine what you would like to accomplish, and start buying he tools required to meet that need. I agree that a lathe is probably one of the most versatile starting points. You will rapidly acquire tooling from there, and thus increase your capabilities even more. As was stated, a 7x12 will get you going on the cheap. Depending on what you want to do, this may be all you ever need. If you later choose to upgrade, you can likely get most of your investment back. A H/V bandsaw should be high on your list, as should a drill press.
                      Before you know it, you will have a no car garage like the rest of us!
                      Location: North Central Texas


                      • #12
                        this might not help but if I had to do what little I have done all over again I would look for a good class/school. for what I spent on machining tools, failures and such in my first year I could have paid for great local classes and instruction for 5, the aggregate value of which is far greater. it would take me 5 years of casual home machining to equal a term or two at the local community college. get a support group pal, your in trouble now.




                        • #13
                          Joel, quoting Confusious without giving him credit? Ha..

                          My first real machine was a Leblond lathe, I dearly love it. I have made numerous things with it.

                          A mill can be had later if you build or buy a milling attachment for your lathe.

                          YOU must have a plan, don't just start purchasing machines. I got several that seemed like a good ideal when I bought them. They are dusty.

                          My leblond, my bridgeport are clean, powered up and ready. I also have a strap bender I use a lot, a english wheel frame I put tools into a 2x2 socket, a 12" brake, a rollaround welding table that is invaluable. With my tiny 24x24 building I can do anything I want to.

                          None of mine are for sale, except that rusty 24" cinncinnati lathe, Id just about give it away, it weighs about ten tons thou.

                          Direction, what do you like? RC planes? harleys? hondas? old cars? buy your tools to use in your hobby. If you just work with models, well a sherline mill-lathe is perfect..


                          • #14
                            I lived out of a suit case for years. Did some pretty fair metal work with poor tools.
                            My advice is to hold onto your money, decide what you wish to do and get started with- Hacksaw, file, drill motor, vise, sanders what ever you need, when you need it.

                            The drill motor, clamped in a vice (or strapped to a board) and a file can make (if you have the time and desire) most any thing a lathe can make if it will fit in the chuck. Can do bigger if/when you figure out how to put a plate into the chuck to hold larger things.

                            To me, metal working (or wood or sewing or leather (MAYBE?)) involves cutting, joining and shaping to size.

                            So you need (in no particular order) (1)measuring tools capable of measuring to a higher degree of accuracy than you really need- Thats any thing from a laser interferometers to an Arkansas rule (two marks on a reasonably straight stick

                            (2) cutting tools- pocket knife, files hacksaw blade, mills, gear cutters, and it not the cutting tools that really count (in money and usefulness) it the holder!!! A 50,000 dollar lathe to hold a 5 dollar HSS tool. or a irreplaceable hand to hold the pocket knife (eyes to look at the measuring marks too)- so you buy/beg borrow or steal to get the holders and tool accessories (like eyeballs) and take care of them. A good powered saw makes it all easier, as does a Oxy/Act cutting torch

                            (3) joining- bolts through holes made with the cutting torch gets old, so you need a drill or two (buy to fit the bolts, till you need special hole sizes) to fit in the drill motor, then some welding tips to fit the torch and you can make strong joints.

                            My point is- if you have little money, hang on to it. Buy as you need. and despite my breezy presentation, making model engines can be done with cobbled up tools. Electric motors with even fewer tools.

                            So, pick a project, and ask for advice on what you need, when you get stuck. Too many "metal workers" remind of the guy who found a Rolls Royce radiator cap and worked like hell to put a car under that cap.

                            But when you DO part with the money- buy genuine quality and capability. Buy so cheap you can throw it away with no regret or shop til you find quality (and money does not alway correlate to quality, nor quality to usefulness.

                            With 1,500 dollars hanging on your hip, hunting for metal working knowledge will take you to where there are tools. Lots of good tools go for fractional price because the owner wants money NOW! Money at hand reduces the haggling considerably.

                            You will NEVER have all the tooling you want- hope to get what you need. And Even Alistair, rich as he is, has only recently started using one side of the toilet paper- I can do same job with a cigarette paper and still smell good! Gotta be resourceful


                            • #15
                              Not to argue, each has his points, but my lathe sets idle most days, with the mill being used many times what the lathe does.
                              I just enjoy my mill. I would rather set up a job on the rotary table that would be easily done in the lathe. Taking classes over at the college would tell if your a lathe man or a mill man deep down. One of these days I will get a shaper just to see if I enjoy it as much as a mill.
                              David from jax
                              A serious accident is one that money can't fix.