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Metalworking for woodworkers

by live4ever
posted 01-03-2013 09:05 PM

24 replies so far

View RiverWood's profile


115 posts in 3727 days

#1 posted 01-03-2013 09:26 PM

This should turn out to be a very informative topic. I enjoy making tools from old files and saw blades. There is no need to be an expert metallurgist if you go slow and don’t overheat your stock. Polishing is much like sharpening, pretty much the same end result. As for softer metals, I have made many things with everything from spent ammo to used pipe and fittings. A dremel tool or angle grinder are very useful for shaping (remember go slow) and a grinder or files to refine shapes. Hope this helps to get the topic going.

-- My favorite projects were firewood bound

View Handtooler's profile


1628 posts in 3099 days

#2 posted 01-03-2013 09:58 PM

One thing to always remember is “DON”T TOUCH HOT METAL”! Ouch, that smarts.

-- Russell Pitner Hixson, TN 37343 [email protected]

View bbasiaga's profile


1255 posts in 2962 days

#3 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.

View PurpLev's profile


8642 posts in 4615 days

#4 posted 01-03-2013 10:15 PM

I find that a hack saw, and some files are indispensable for working metal both for working softer and harder metals.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Loren's profile


10917 posts in 4615 days

#5 posted 01-03-2013 10:18 PM

I have a couple of angle grinders. I have grinding wheels, a cup
brush and a box of “Radiac” cutoff wheels. I use the cutoff
wheels a lot to cut steel and have become pretty good at
making accurate miters and things like that in steel.

A set of drills and taps comes in handy. I just have a small
set for smaller machine screws up to 1/4” and I use
them a lot. Thread cutting oil is good to have, though
in a pinch most any oil will do.

Shinto saw rasps work on aluminum.

A high quality jig saw like a Bosch or Festool is real nice
to have if you want to cut metal. The better jig saws
don’t vibrate as much.

I use a piece of railroad track as an anvil. If I want to
make a sharp bend in a piece of steel I heat it up
red hot with a propane torch and work it with hammers
on the anvil. A small (cheap) metalworking vise is far
better than no vise for bending and shaping metal.
I had a blacksmith’s leg vise for awhile but sold it
when I moved several years ago. It was nice to have.

View Don W's profile

Don W

19838 posts in 3534 days

#6 posted 01-03-2013 10:27 PM

I have a horizontal bandsaw, several grinders, a welder, vice, and wire wheels set up for metal work. My last project ( had some metal work involved.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View RonInOhio's profile


721 posts in 3831 days

#7 posted 01-03-2013 10:37 PM

Working metal into shop tools is an intriguing subject and one that I hope to pursue eventually. What better enjoyment can there be than to fabricate your own wood plane,or marking tool, or set of chisels ?

Just reading several articles on these very things has been enlightening and given me the desire to try it out

Usually articles in ShopNotes or Fineworking give resources and how-tos. For example in one article it tells you how
to temper the metal of a home-made plane blade with a propane torch. What tool steel is the best, places to buy tool steel , etc. Often its a combination of wood working and metal fabricating.

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3977 days

#8 posted 01-03-2013 10:47 PM

Great stuff so far guys, keep it coming…

On Dremel tools: Those of you who like to use a Dremel for light metal work, what do you find to be its limits? For instance, can it grind metal off at a reasonable rate? Can it cut steel rod or bar to size? Would you be able to grind a flat in round steel rod?

One woodworking jig involving “pseudo-metalworking” I’d like to make is Derek Cohen’s carousel shooting board. He outlines how to do a lot of the metalwork pretty nicely in his how-to (hope you don’t mind me linking, Derek):

What’s a good vise for holding metal parts while you grind/shape them?

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2974 days

#9 posted 01-03-2013 11:12 PM

”What do you find to be useful shop tools for working with metal?”

A hand-held torch and several different hammers.

I have a 110v wire welder which comes in handy occasionally.

I also have a home made anvil (you can see it behind and to the right of my RAS)

And this 5” mechanics vise is quite handy as well

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View runswithscissors's profile


3124 posts in 2992 days

#10 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

View runswithscissors's profile


3124 posts in 2992 days

#11 posted 01-04-2013 12:02 AM

Sorry to get so long winded about this. Started and couldn’t stop.

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

View Don W's profile

Don W

19838 posts in 3534 days

#12 posted 01-04-2013 12:04 AM

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View MNgary's profile


318 posts in 3384 days

#13 posted 01-04-2013 12:22 AM

I had a coworker who worked metal and he felt metalworking to be additive while woodworking is subtractive in concept. Of course, his experience was with welding while mine designing furniture so he only heard me discussing shaping pieces of wood and he joined pieces of metal. But I thought it an interesting insight considering our past discussions.

His approach was to build up a project from pieces of flat or round bars and sheets while I approached projects thinking of ways to cut down and shape boards.

-- I dream of a world where a duck can cross the road and no one asks why.

View FeralVermonter's profile


100 posts in 2938 days

#14 posted 01-04-2013 12:34 AM

Love the topic!

OK, first off, you want to get the old Army manuals. It’s an absolutely AMAZING resource, these manuals—tons of them out there, and they belong to you, citizen, so you should avail yourself. (Here’s a sort of double-link: to a short list of army manuals, free to download, and to the Multimachine project, which is a neat example of DIY machining in and of itself: Dig deeper and you find all sorts of stuff: masonry manuals, carpentry manuals, navigation manuals… amazing. A truly amazing resource. (I should add that the guys in the multimachine forum have a lot of great advice re: metalworking with commonly available tools.)

I’ve noticed, researching various topics for crazy design/build schemes over the years, that there’s a sort of balkanization of knowledge–metalworkers think in metal, woodworkers in wood, and electronics guys can make a CNC plasma cutter, but don’t seem to know which end of the handsaw to grab. Which is a shame, because I think a lot of projects could benefit from a hybrid of materials and approaches.

Sometimes, not knowing that something can’t be done is the best way to do it. I popped a normal drill bit in my drill press, not even thinking about rpm, and easily drilled a bunch of 1/4” holes in 1/8” angle iron. When I went up to 1/2”, though… I blunted my bits, and never did make it through. So not knowing will only get you so far…

So far as metalworking on common tools goes… obviously a bench grinder can be useful, sanders (belt, orbital). I managed to take a metal shaft down from 1/2” to 31/64” by loading it into my drill press and (ever so slowly) grinding it down with a file and sandpaper (though I’m told that drill presses really aren’t designed to take sideways pressure like that–think the technical term is “radial loading”). I have this dirt-cheap “chop-saw” (just a saw mounted on big plastic circle that rides in a plastic base) that I loaded with a $8 metal cutoff blade. It cuts angle iron just fine, and it’s not a bad way to clean up those cut ends either. I’ve read that you can cut aluminum just fine with a steel chisel (yet to try it, though).

I’ve read a bit about the “build your own metalworking shop from scrap” series by david gingery, borrowed them from a friend for a bit… pretty interesting stuff in there. More than I’d want to take on, right now, but certainly helped me understand some basic principles of metal, metal working…

Then there’s elbow-greased solutions. Tap and die is pretty useful, and a basic set doesn’t cost that much. Files… have actually turned out to be some of my most-used tools. A hacksaw is a slow way to get exactly the cut you want. And on hiking trips, I’ve sharpened my knives on rocks found along the way–there’s more than one way to work with metal.

View Stephenw's profile


273 posts in 3352 days

#15 posted 01-04-2013 12:53 AM

I have a horizontal/vertical metal cutting band saw. I also have a plasma cutter.

A metal and wood project I made…

Here is my garage/shop…

View runswithscissors's profile


3124 posts in 2992 days

#16 posted 01-04-2013 02:01 AM

StephenW: nice table! Do you mind if is steal your design?

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

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 3039 days

#17 posted 01-04-2013 02:07 AM

I am excited about this thread, but away from my resources.(pics) What I plan to contribute. I modified my 10 fch Hitachi chop saw for steel, before I finally broke down and bought a real one. Two projects, floating curved desk, and largest cantilevered kitchen Island we ever done (7’ x 4’ overhang on 7’ by 12’ island). And the kicker.. stainless steel kicks are becoming very popular, and we have done a whole kitchen now with steel inlay and inserts throughout.

-- Who is John Galt?

View MrRon's profile


5975 posts in 4210 days

#18 posted 01-04-2013 08:04 PM

Metalworking requires more precision to make things fit together. Small items can be worked with hacksaws and files, but precision requires precision tools. I have a metal lathe and milling machine, but before I had them, I made small turnings on the drill press using files. It took a lot of time, but where no other option was available, that had to do. Metalworking using metal working machines, can cost a lot of money. If you have a wood lathe, it can be used to turn metal. You will need a chuck and a compound rest. Delta used to have a wood lathe and among their accessories, were chucks and a compound rest. Harbor Freight has an inexpensive compound that could be used on a wood lathe. I have one that I use on my hollow chisel mortiser. Metal cutting band saw blades can be used on wood band saws. Speed will be OK as long as you are cutting aluminum and nothing harder.

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2866 posts in 3889 days

#19 posted 01-04-2013 09:18 PM

I am a retired sheet metal worker but much of my experience is with metal 3/16” thick or thinner. I do not have a welder now but did enjoy TIG welding when I was still working. I have worked with stainless steel a lot and when drilling it, the rule is slow speed, high pressure and lots of cutting oil. It work hardens and is hard to cut with a saw. I have tin snips that will cut stainless up to about 1/16”. We used to polish out stainless projects with a flap wheel. Gives a nice satin finish, enough to make a outside corner weld disappear. Mild steel is much easier to work and I am installing a 6” round, 24 gauge, galvanized steel, dust collection duct system.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Lubbock Texas

View Tootles's profile


808 posts in 3469 days

#20 posted 01-05-2013 02:08 AM

This always puts my teeth on edge every time I see my Dad do this, but he actually planes aluminium with a standard smoothing plane! I’ve seen him get some really neat chamfers on some fairly thick aluminium plate this way.

It does work and it does not seem to damage either the blade or the sole of the plane – but I think it would be better to have a dedicated plane, or at least a dedicated blade, for doing this.

-- I may have lost my marbles, but I still have my love of woodworking

View runswithscissors's profile


3124 posts in 2992 days

#21 posted 01-05-2013 07:52 AM

I’m thinking the dichotomy between additive and subtractive is a false one. Metal working is purely additive only if you weld whatever metal you have without cutting it in any way. Woodworking is purely subtractive only if you carve a table, say, out of a solid block (including legs and everything). Both realms add and subtract materials in their processes.

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

View MrRon's profile


5975 posts in 4210 days

#22 posted 01-05-2013 07:17 PM

Machining (not welding) is a subtractive process. Woodworking is also subtractive, as we are talking about shaping a piece of wood which always means removing material. Actually, they are both always subtractive.

View runswithscissors's profile


3124 posts in 2992 days

#23 posted 01-05-2013 09:55 PM

If you laminate, or fasten wood pieces together, isn’t that additive?

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

View RonInOhio's profile


721 posts in 3831 days

#24 posted 01-05-2013 11:33 PM

Putting veneer on would seem to be additive also.

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