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  • Looking to learn more about metal working

    Hey Guys, I've recently taken an interest In metal work. I'm a carpenter by trade but have never spent much time doing any metal work, and it sure wasn't anything precise.

    Where does one go about learning about the craft and what is affordable to have for The average guy. I'm currently hardtailing a motorcycle frame with my brother in law and this has sparked my interest. This weekend I will add to my arsenault by buying a tube notcher and I might buy a horizontal band saw. Home depot offers a reasonably priced WEN for around $250 I believe.

    I would love a lathe but they seem so expensive. I don't really need a lathe, but I'm sure If I had one I'd use it Alot more than I can imagine. I played with the idea of those "mini lathes" but they seem so small that one day I would need to make something.its to small for and kick myself in the ass for buying a dinky mini lathe.

    I only have basic metal tools, angle grinder, pneumatic grinder, old delta drill press, and I bought myself a Lincoln mig180. So I guess I'm also asking in what relativity would a home fabricator/machinist want to acquire his tools.

    I mainly want to get myself something to cut with properly (not angle grinder) and it seems the horizontal bandsaw is what is most commonly used to cut metal? And a tube notcher is needed but that's fairly inexpensive.

    Anyways, any input and or videos or books of tutorials and metal working basic tools/saws would be great. I don't know any fabricators so I'm in this alone and really want to learn the art but it seems so overwhelming and expensive. I can frame up a house, but metal working has got me overwhelmed, totally different world of building.


    Sent from my SM-G950W using Tapatalk

  • #2
    Welcome! It looks like you have enough space for a decent size shop so you've got lots of options when it comes to machines. I started in a similar fashion except I had a lot of fine wood working experience and then got into metal working. I took several night classes at a local tech school (machine shop and welding) once I knew I wanted to seriously get into metal working. After the first few classes and getting basic instruction on milling and lathe operations, I immediately went out and bought myself a used Bridgeport milling machine with DRO and a large (14x48) lathe. I was going to suggest looking for a full size milling machine and lathe but not without at least some basic instruction first. If you already know the basic operation of a milling machine and lathe then I definitely suggest looking for full size machines now -- If not, look for any classes you could take or someone who can show you how to operate the machines correctly -- then obtain them. I would not suggest getting small(er) machines now with the intention of getting larger ones later. Since you have some space, look towards getting a full size knee mill (bridgeport or clone) and a lathe (12x36 or larger).

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    • #3
      Welcome aboard. You'll find the 4X6 bandsaw to be indispensable. Might look at Harbor Freight - probably the same saw with a different label, might be a bit cheaper.

      As soon as you break the POS blade you'll want to get a quality bimetal blade...

      -js
      There are no stupid questions. But there are lots of stupid answers. This is the internet.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Jim Stewart View Post
        Welcome aboard. You'll find the 4X6 bandsaw to be indispensable. Might look at Harbor Freight - probably the same saw with a different label, might be a bit cheaper.

        As soon as you break the POS blade you'll want to get a quality bimetal blade...

        -js
        And since you're into making fun stuff, get yourself a HF pipe bender too. It's great for bending thick wall pipe like SCH40 but it will kink thin wall tubing so keep that in mind.

        Last edited by 3 Phase Lightbulb; 03-03-2018, 01:01 AM. Reason: added picture

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        • #5
          Welcome to the club.

          It sounds like you want to do fabrication. That would entail making parts to fit other parts, and not so much working from drawings. Slightly different mindsets there.

          Cutting and carving and putting back together is what you need to do. You have the glue gun (MIG) and the ax (band saw) covered. You have a hole shooter (drill press) to put holes roughly where you need them at close to the size you want. The lathe and mill provide precision shapes. Lathes make exactly cylindrical parts like pistons and fork valves. Mills make irregularly shaped parts to precisely match the need.

          To make sure that parts are really the right size, a few measuring devices are needed. Calipers for rough work (1/1000 inch) and micrometers for precision fits (1/10,000 inch)

          To get you started, a small lathe is OK for learning as well as creating things. A 7x12 lathe will make a part up to 2-3/4 inch diameter and 8 inches long without special skills or tools. Think about your project and you'll find most of it falls in that envelope. An 8x20 increases the envelope to about 3-1/2 by 15.

          But you can do a lot with what you have.

          I learned a lot from the online ARMY machinists courses. You can currently find them at http://opensourcemachine.org/us-army-courses . The way I learned was to buy a benchtop (small) mill and small lathe that fit next to it on the bench. I read each lesson in those manuals and then tried to do what they taught on my equipment. If I could not do it, I re-read the manual.

          For welding I took a different tact. I read several tutorials, then bought a welder. I could tell that I was missing a few things, so I took some 6 hour courses at an industrial arts / maker place. That helped figure out what was my technique / lack of knowledge and what was machine inadequacies. Took longer to master the welders than it did to master the mill or lathe.

          Good luck

          Dan
          At the end of the project, there is a profound difference between spare parts and extra parts.

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          • #6
            I would also suggest a course or two on welding. It's one thing to weld brackets or braces up, it's another to weld something that turns you into scrap meat if it fails...

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            • #7
              One of the differences between machining and welding is the pain factor. With machining the pain is when you are making the part. With welding the pain is when you use the part and it fails! Also machining is more of an exact science and welding is more of an art form that requires serious hand eye co-ordination and control. In machining the machine controls the cutting tool in welding the human is controlling the tool directly. Machining is easy compared to welding in my book.
              How to become a millionaire: Start out with 10 million and take up machining as a hobby!

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              • #8
                Also as a carpenter you will appreciate metal working as in if you cut it too short you can weld it back to usable size! Not so with most woodworking I think.
                How to become a millionaire: Start out with 10 million and take up machining as a hobby!

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                • #9
                  Glad to have you here, I hope I can be of help. I'm a pro fabricator for a living, but I can't work wood to save my life. Gotta learn carpentry! Couldn't even tack a dog house together I'm afraid...

                  Seems like you're off to a good start with the welder, notcher, and bandsaw. The thin cutting discs on the grinder are OK for short cuts and in case you need to cope at some weird angle. I would make sure to keep plenty of consumables around for the welder and keep the drive rolls and liner clean. Lincoln is a good name.

                  Anything more that you need really depends on what you want to do eventually. You need to sit down and ask yourself some questions about that and then get a plan for the tools. Good ones aren't cheap but they will last 100 years if taken care for. I would have a decent lathe up near the top of my list with a bunch of tooling for it. The newer Taiwanese machines aren't bad.

                  Want to learn more? I read. All The Time. I'm always reading online, or buying from Amazon, or downloading 150-year old books. And I've been in the biz for 30 yrs, but I still learn something most days.

                  The best way I think is to go to a tech school or your local community college and see if they have any classes for welding and machining. That's how I got started. Find an experienced mentor, even some old guy in a garage across town. Start hanging out there.

                  After you gain some experience of your own, you will get a "feel" for the metal just the same as you do for wood, You'll know whats the best way to do it.

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                  • #10
                    Hi,

                    Welcome!

                    Won't sugar coat it, machining is an expensive hobby to get into. Far more so than woodworking. Machines are often expensive and the tooling even moreso. A used $2500 Bridgeport isn't too bad until you realize that the tooling costs will nearly double the cost of ownership. And much of that cost is in consumables. A lathe can be somewhat cheaper to own and operate. But not necessarily so. So carefully balance your disposable egg money against your dreams before you start.

                    If you wish to dip your toes into machining, you can do far worse than finding a class or two at the local collage as others have pointed out. Maybe a "maker's space" if available might be good too. Video's and books can be a good source if all else fails.

                    How to choose machines to buy is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. New vs. used, benchtop machines vs. heavy floor/commercial machines. You need to think about "work envelopes". How big are the parts I MOSTLY want to make? You will never have a machine big enough to make everything that you might possibly run into. But, contrary to what many here will tell you, too big of a machine is just as bad as too small. (Or why don't watchmakers use 20"x180" lathes). Small parts tend to work best on small machines and big parts are better made on big ones. So think long and hard about that aspect first before buying.

                    New vs. used? A lot of that depends on what's available to you. A good manual lathe and mill are a lot easier to find on the west or east coast and the rust belt than in other places. There tends to be a lot more heavier manufacturing going on in those places then say, Arizona, Montana, or Minnesota. So local markets may be difficult to find reasonable priced good machines. Next, do I want to spend my time fixing an old used machine? Or do I just want to get on with making chips? Some guys here really enjoy the process of rebuilding an old machine. And it's a fine and rewarding endeavor. But do you personally want to spend months or years searching for and then buying obsolete replacement parts? Or hours of hand scraping a bed to remove excessive wear and restore accuracy? All before you can start making chips? Be honest with yourself.

                    I'm not trying to discourage you, despite what it may appear like. I'm more interested getting you started right with the right knowledge and you being able to make good choices on the machines you do finally buy.
                    If you think you understand what is going on, you haven't been paying attention.

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                    • #11
                      From what I'm seeing in your pics, a mini lathe won't be of much use to you. You might be able to use benchtop lathe, but a full-size or bigger will probably be what you want.

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                      • #12
                        First off if you'd putt your location maybe some one locally would offer real "help". As opposed to the, sometimes inappropriate advice you get here. :-)
                        Second as a "usetobe" woodworker, once you get into machining your working tolerances become an order of magnitude tighter and it's difficult to go back and do any woodwork. :-) I had to make up a lot of interesting fixtures to be able to do wood work to the kind of measurements I'm use to now. :-)
                        ...lew...

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                        • #13
                          As you already guessed there's different areas of "metal working". Blacksmithing is one, sheet and tube fabrication that you're already doing is another and meachining is yet a third area. I'm sure there's more as well. Just can't think of them at the moment. And really each style is unique with not a whole lot of overlap.

                          A decent but not huge lathe would come in handy for making parts that you then weld into a built up frame such as a motorcycle frame. But then the lathe is a support tool for your other main interest. And as you've said a rather expensive support tool.

                          But is there any interest in projects that are done primarily on a lathe and mill? Like model size engines you'd build from scratch? Or would you and your BIL like to carry on with this idea of making frames for bikes and possibly custom rods or similar? A mid size lathe and bench top mill could come in very handy for machining up attachment points.

                          As for training on this stuff there used to be the option of night school programs. But those all seem to be getting shut down as the high schools shift away from shop courses. And that leaves you with either learning on your own or signing up for fairly expensive trade school courses.... which may or may not have much in them anymore on hand operated machines.

                          Which puts us back to YouTube. Thankfully there's a number of good options on YT for the basics on setting up and using these machine tools. And for specific questions you've already seen that there's a pool of us eager to help out new folks such as yourself. In fact we almost muscle our way through the rest to get to the front at times....

                          In fact why not start out with a few videos on YT of folks making projects with lathes and mills. It may give you the feel for the scope of such work and what can be done that either lures you in or causes you to shrug your shoulders and move on. But at least you'll KNOW then.

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                          • #14
                            Instead of starting with a horizontal bandsaw I suggest a good portaband and a table from Swag Offroad. This way you can cutoff stock up to 4-1/2” square and also use it as a vertical bandsaw. This is what I have. I have access to much larger saws but 90% of the time they aren’t needed.

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                            • #15
                              Before blowing any more money on power tools I suggest purchasing an old metal shop text book. With the mass slaying of shop classes from schools, used textbooks should be no problem to find.

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