What equipment do I need to do small scale metalworking?
December 20, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

What equipment do I need to do small scale metalworking?

What I want to do is take scrap metal, be able to cut it apart, and weld it together in weird and hopefully interesting ways.

By small scale I'm basically thinking stuff that will fit on a workbench, finished size of maybe 3'x3'.

What tools do I need? What safety gear do I need? How much should I buy new for safety reasons, as opposed to finding used? How much can I expect to pay?
posted by Evilspork to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Local community colleges, techshops, hacker spaces and arts groups often have classes. Using any of these tools without basic knowledge will blind you, burn you or worse.

You need a small MIG welder, a plasma torch, and somewhere to work that doesn't mind sparks flying everywhere. You should also get a good welding helmet, apron, shoulders and gloves.

The same spaces that teach this stuff will often rent you space and equipment so you can decide how much you like this kind of work.

You can use flux core wire if you don't want to bother with welding gas, but it will be more difficult and your welds won't come out as good.

Plasma torches also require a source of compressed air.

You will also probably want a good grinder and other basic metal tools, like hammers and bandsaws. Portable bandsaws are awesome.

Do not attempt to weld anything but mild steel at first.
posted by poe at 5:35 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are doing small detailed work, a TIG welder can be more precise, but they also tend to be expensive, finicky and easy to damage.
posted by poe at 5:37 PM on December 20, 2012

Additional question, then, if anyone knows of classes in the Chicago area, that would also help.
posted by Evilspork at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2012

As a former welding instructor, I suggest you take the advice above and get yourself into a class that teaches beginning welding 101. This will give you welding shop basics including SAFETY, as well as introduction to power tools and alternative cutting methods. There are several methods of welding, each process with its own advantages and disadvantages depending what kind of metal your welding and what kind of power source you have available. Go to class and expect to enter a whole new wonderful world that is Welding! I can not stress enough. that welding is an amazing and useful skill to have in life!
posted by SteelDancin at 7:07 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

MIG welders are relatively easy to use, and relatively cheap. That said, relative is a relative term ... welding well is both a skill and an art, which few hobbyists have.

There are many ways to cut metal ... an angle grinder is one easy way. An Oxy Acetylene welding rig with a cutting torch is another. Propane can substitute for Acetylene, with a special cutting tip, and is a lot cheaper and easier to fill. Some shops (those selling acetylene) will try to dissuade you from oxy-propane cutting, for obvious reasons.

All the above tools are dangerous, do a course, wear the right gear.
posted by jannw at 3:34 AM on December 21, 2012

Or you can do what I did. Get a $100 arc welding set-up from WalMart, which includes the helmet and gloves. Get some rebar from Home Depot, watch a few youtube videos, and get to work!

Once you decide if this is really a hobby to pursue, then worry about classes and expensive equipment and such. I did, in fact, make that leap, but have stayed with arc welding. You don't need a plasma cutter to get started, nor a gas setup or bandsaw.

It can be rocket science, but it doesn't have to be.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:50 AM on December 21, 2012

I learned to weld by first getting good with a gas welder and then to MIG and then to TIG although I did some 9011 stick welding in there, too. TIG is, by far, the most useful by my reckoning and there are times where I will just weld together difficult materials such as beer cans just for the fun and challenge. I also think that gas welding and TIG welding most resemble each other except TIG is far less forgiving.

Oh and follow the mild steel advice given above. It is good advice.
posted by bz at 3:36 PM on December 21, 2012

On the scale you're talking about, it sounds like you want to take a jewelry-making class. It doesn't sound practical to do serious metalworking in that amount of bench space.

Seconding what poe said. There are lots of hackerspaces in chicagoland. Visit the nearby ones and see if you can just join the collective and use the group tools, instead of replicating a subset in inadequate space.
posted by Myself at 9:19 PM on December 22, 2012

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