The tools to choose for learning fabrication.

In an earlier post I spoke about some of the key aspects of getting started in fabrication, in this post I want to detail some of the tools we use in our Staple Skills Section of our new subscription service. 

In no particular order lets begin with the drill. A drill is used to (you guessed it) drill a hole in something and unfortunately not all of them are created equal, there are a few key features we need for metal fabrication, the first is a metal transmission, my first drill was cheap and its construction matched it’s price tag, this had a 10mm chuck and a plastic transmission, two things I would recommend not having. Instead we want a metal transmission to prevent the premature wear associated with plastic and a 13mm chuck to hold those larger drills that we will require in motorsport fabrication. 

It might not seem like such a large upgrade but having an extra 3mm of clamping capacity can really make a difference. 

Cordless drills are king now, I feel uneasy saying it but for 90% of the jobs I do I end up grabbing my cordless drill and being impressed every time I do. Batteries have come a long way and my 12AH battery lasts weeks, days or even months depending on the amount of use. 

A corded drill will work but again be cautious of the gearbox material, a plastic gearbox in a drill won’t last long when using a holesaw (a serrated drum that makes a big hole) so make sure it’s of quality construction. 

Pneumatic drills (these are powered by air) usually have a very long life because they dont have large reduction gears inside them but are very noisy and do take a lot of air to power so they are not ideal. 

A drill of course needs some bits to be able drill anything, in our Staple Skills of Fabrication section we show you how to get the best results here but there is one drill I want to show you, the step drill. 

A step drill as its name suggests steps up in diameter and is designed for thin materials up to 3mm thick, these aren’t cheap so it’s a great idea to spin them slowly and use coolant or cutting wax to maximise the lifespan of them. 

These step drills give us the capacity to use the 13mm chuck to drill up to 25mm (and over) in an incremental manner and these are a great tool to have for brackets and automotive fabrication. 

The next tool I want to speak about is the Vice! A vice holds our parts and requires us to mount this to a bench (ill get to that soon) the size of the vice will dictate the capacity that we fit within its jaws. A 100mm vice will clamp a 100mm square block of something and it’s probably a good place to start. 

If you’re shopping for one of these then it’s a great idea to get some soft jaws with it as well, soft jaws cover the serrated hardened steel jaws and prevent bruising occurring on the things that we clamp within them. 

It’s common to see these with V’s in them to hold fittings and all types of specialised hardware used in motorsport but having the ability to clamp parts in a vice makes our job a whole lot easier. 

With a vice we also have an opportunity to cut things with two hands and that’s where the next tool comes in, an angle grinder. 

The angle grinder is very much like a drill that operates at a higher speed with a 90 degree bevel drive used to mount a disk for cutting, buffing and grinding. We have three power options, mains electrical with a cord, cordless which uses a battery and pneumatic, although these use a lot of air and are very noisy.

My choice is the battery powered option and although they are a little bulkier than the others they do offer ease of use anywhere in or out of the workshop. 

For cutting I prefer to use a 1mm 125mm disk, these slice really nicely, for grinding I like a radiused edge flapper disk, these grind and shape tube really well and then for stripping you cant go past a stainless steel wire knotted wheel for ripping paint, tar and seam sealer off vehicle panels ready for fabrication. 

A grinder brings with it a few risks, each one of my hospital visits has been the result of this tool and we need to stay safe in all processes of fabrication. This brings me to the PPE that we need to wear. 

Lets begin with eye protection, small jobs benefit from the use of safety glasses with guards on the side of them, these prevent flying objects from entering your eyes (obviously) and are easy to carry around and wear. Dust can be another huge problem and when grinding I use a set of Motocross goggles that offer 100% protection from all dust and debri, you cant go wrong with these and they are super comfortable, just make sure they have plenty of upper vents if you work in a hot environment. 

Gloves are important too, that’s why I have made up a set of ETS gloves with comfort and protection in mind, put these on for welding, grinding and handling sharp materials, they are the perfect all rounder. 

Overalls are another item we often overlook and we end up wearing out our clothes as a result, if you’re buying overalls make sure they are made from 100% cotton or else you may be creating a walking talking fire risk if you cheap out and go the polyester route. 

Ear plugs are important and you know that ringing in your ears after doing something that was loud? Well that’s irreversible hearing loss and if this happens time after time then you wont have quality hearing forever, a set of ear muffs or ear plugs can be a huge help here. 

Last but not least is boots, for me I like to wear slip on leather boots that give weld spatter nowhere to go, most fabricators who have had a bit of weld spatter go into their boots will only let this happen once and a pair of enclosed leather upper boots and well fitting overalls will eliminate this. 

Sorry back to the tools, the last thing I want to speak about is our measuring equipment. If we have a tape measure to measure our long lengths of steel, a series of steel rules, 1meter, 300mm and 150mm we will be able to get great results at a range of lengths. Marking these will be the job of a Sharpie permanent marker and if we choose a fine point then we will have a greater indication of the exact measurements we found with our tape measure of ruler. 

When things get more precise a vernier caliper and a scriber cannot be beaten. A vernier caliper allows us to measure both inside, outside and bore length of tube items. A scriber is a sharp metal instrument that’s used to scrape a mark on something. This is really handy for parts that need wiping or cleaning as we want a mark to stay there as we prep our parts.  

That will do for this post, I will continue this on and we will touch on welding and other tools in the next one. 

I want you to remember that fabrication can be done on a budget, if you begin by equipping yourself with some PPE, a drill, a grinder, some measuring tools, a vice and a simple bench you will be well on your way to making your own brackets and modifying your own parts which will lead to bigger and better things quicker than you know. 

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out our staple skills of fabrication for more information on this and many other fabrication subjects. 

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