Reply by runswithscissors

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Posted on Metalworking for woodworkers

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3124 posts in 2999 days

#1 posted 01-03-2013 11:51 PM

You read my mind. I’ve been thinking a thread like this was needed for some time. Maybe even an article in FWW. I do quite a bit with metal in my shop, for example I make my own mobile bases out of angle iron and/or square tubing. I also make jigs and tool mods. I started out brazing with a Solid Ox outfit, which was frustrating to use, and expensive to operate (with Ox at about $8 for a small bottle—and it doesn’t weigh anything!)
I have a 140 amp (220 input) wire welder, in which I mostly run fluxcore. I have done a small amount of aluminum welding as well. But I am self taught (via books and trial and error—emphasis on the error). Consequently I am not that good at it, but usually I can make a satisfactory product. The welder is from HF, and has to be at least 25 years old. I’ve been eyeing their 170 amp and 180 amp models recently. I’m also intrigued by their spot welders, which I know I could find use for.

I cut mild steel and stainless with a 1/16” cutting disk in my 4 1/2” grinder. AL that way too, sometimes, but it usually is easiest on woodworking tools—TS and BS. I find aluminum more challenging than steel in some ways, because it is sticky and gets hot very quickly, especially if over 1/4” thick. I hate cutting it on the TS or MS, though, because it throws a lot of chips. I wear a full face mask, even gloves. And I learned not to wear fleece, as aluminum sticks to it like burrs on a dog. Grinding and welding sparks also melt holes in synthetic fabrics. I did get a 10” blade from HF that is intended for AL. It has negative rake to the teeth, which helps it not load up with aluminum chips. Spraying with WD40 or Dry Lube helps also. When I cut metal with the angle grinder, the sparks make it very hard to see a cut line, so I use Press A Ply labels (available in 10X12 sheets), then draw my cut on that with pen or pencil. Do the same thing when I’m cutting curves on the BS. That’s the 14” BS that I modified (when brand new, from Grizzly), by putting in a jack shaft and a couple of step pulleys. Gets the blade speed down to about 400 fpm—maybe a little fast, but works okay. I get variable pitch bi-metal blades from a local saw shop, in 1/4” width because sometimes I have to do tight curves. They cut mild steel and even stainless quite well, though not very fast. The variable pitch is to accommodate all the way from 16 gauge up to 1/4” steels (and occasionally heavier).It surprising how long these blades last. I’ve only had to replace them 2 or 3 times in several years. I do occasionally make short cuts in wood with this saw, but of course it goes very slowly. I originally figured I’d swap blades and blade speed to cut wood, but discovered I was too lazy to fuss with it. I do have an 18” BS for serious woodwork.

Having the need to cut quite a few square holes in 1/8” aluminum, I quickly tired of drilling a pilot hole, cutting out with the saber saw, and filing the holes to clean them up. So I tried an end mill in the router, using speed reducer, template, and bushing. The end mills are available in 1/8” to 3/8” sizes, with 3/8” shanks, which I can use because Porter Cable makes (or made?) a 3/8” collet. 1/2” mills have a 1/2” shank. Though the shanks all have a flat spot on them for the milling machine chuck, at moderate speeds this doesn’t seem to create any vibration problems. One nice thing about end mills is they cut their own starting holes.

As for drilling, I use cobalt bits almost exclusively, as they are the best way to drill stainless, and work fine in everything else. But if I’m stuck without the cobalt bit I need (they do break sometimes), I resort to an old trick a hardware store salesman told me one time: lubricate HSS bits with canned milk. Sounds crazy, but it works, I think because the water cools, while the butterfat lubricates. With that hypothesis in mind, I tried mixing water with miscible oil (dormant oil for spraying your fruit trees), and it works great. Unlike canned milk, it doesn’t turn sour and stink.

As for cutting stainless with a jig saw, it’s almost impossible. Bimetal blades will cut, but they turn red hot in seconds, and are toast. I did try it using my cooling/lubing formula, which sort of worked, but it’s hard to keep the fluid flowing into the cut. The bandsaw works because the blade has plenty of time to cool in its long course around the wheels.

A few projects:
1. Several mobile bases.
2. A mod to a tenoning jig which lets me cut 4 sided tenons (faces and edges) on the router table or shaper (I’ve used both). Makes perfect tenons more quickly than any other way I know. The metal work was a slab of 1/2” aluminum with a T slot (using a T cutter on my drill press, which was barely able to resist the torquing forces), adjustable fence sawed out of a block of aluminum (next time I’d just weld it up), and a clamp, welded up with parts from a C clamp and a slotted piece of square tube. This all attaches to the leading end of the tenon jig at right angles to the normal face.
3. A sharpening jig for planer and jointer knives. Welded out of 1” angle iron and a chunk of 1/4” steel plate. Bolts onto the 6” belt sander in place of the sander’s fence, and is used with the sander in upright position. A very simple design, but it makes a beautiful, even, straight bevel, going through several grit grades. Oh, plus a blade holder for this setup out of various 1/4” aluminum scraps.
4. Motor mounts for several projects.
5. Several projects involving gardening machines and tools (sorry, not woodworking)
6. Any number of jigs and tool mods, for various purposes (pretty vague, I know, but I’m getting tired of typing)

Finally, I am blessed with great sources for tools and supplies, all within a 20 minute drive: Grizzly, Harbor Freight, a steel yard (they seem to have no problem with me prowling around through their offcut pile), probably the best hardware store in the USA (Hardware Sales in Bellingham, WA), 2 or 3 welding shops, the ReStore (non-profit recyclers of a lot of wood and some metal), and a metal recycler. The latter set aside any aluminum and stainless that looks usable, and sell it by the pound. I make periodic pilgrimages to this place.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

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