Reply by bbasiaga

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Posted on Metalworking for woodworkers

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1259 posts in 2969 days

#1 posted 01-03-2013 10:03 PM

For the telescope project in my profile I had to build some aluminum mirror supports, as well as a stainless steel tailgate that holds the mirror adjustment structure.

T6061 aluminum is pretty easy to work with with a lot of woodworking tools. Your drill press will have no problems, especially if it can be slowed down to just a few hundred RPM and you use a lot of cutting lubricant (commonly available in spary cans). I put a metal cutting blade on my bandsaw and cut the shapes. Drills did the rest. Your router, even on its slow speed, may turn too fast to do edge shaping (and your carbid bits aren’t the right type for aluminum either), so I bought a good file and used that to break edges, etc. It taps easily too. I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘woodworkers metal’ and I can see why. For simple shapes it works out OK.

Stainless steel is very hard to work. It gets harder to work the hotter it gets. The best way to cut it is with a plasma torch. I very carefully made my plans for the stainless part, then bought the proper pieces cut to length from a local metal shop. I used my Harbor Freight bench top drill press to drill the holes. Its slowest speed of 600rpm was too fast. Even with all the cutting fluid, it got hot and hard to drill. At that point it was close to impossible to tap as well, but luckily I got it done with a very high quality hardened tap. I then build a plywood jig to hold all the pieces in the right place, pefectly square, etc., and had a local shop weld it together.

For other metals, I’ve mainly stuck to hacksaws for cutting and files for dressing the cuts, etc. Drills and taps are easier in some metals than others, and selecting the right type of metal for the purpose avoids a lot of cussing.

Also, a dremel is a great tool for light metal work. That thing has 1001 uses.


-- Part of engineering is to know when to put your calculator down and pick up your tools.

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