Saturday, June 30, 2007

What tools should I buy for a metalsmith?

This is how I organize little bits of tracing paper, sandpaper and labels. It's a business card box, I cut the dividers from a manila file folder.

I got an email today from someone asking what tools he should buy for his girlfriend. He says "Would you be willing to make a list for me of some nice equipment that would help her get started in her field as a metalworker? I want to get her a flex shaft definitely and any other items that would prove useful for her. I apologize for my lack of knowledge on metalworking, but hopefully you could steer me in the right direction."

Here is a list of tools for metalsmiths from the orchid mailing list. I have been meaning to add this to the links on my web site. It looks like a good list of basic tools. Maybe you could leave out the t.v., though. I am anti-television myself. How about a nice stereo instead?

Although Don suggests buying locally when you can, my personal experience is that you pay more for poor quality when you buy locally. This is based on one bad experience. I bought a jeweler's saw in Daly City, California years ago. It required a pair of pliers to tighten the nut that holds the blade in place. This really slowed down the working process. I still keep it around to show students what to avoid. For the same price I could have had a lovely one from Rio Grande that is a pleasure to use.

Although Rio Grande charges for their catalogs, once you place an order, you get them for free. They are huge and full of useful information. I am not affiliated with them in any way, just a happy customer. They have great customer service, too.

While you are at the Orchid site, check out the rest of the site.

And think about what you can make, instead of buying it. The file box for sandpaper, above, and the drill bit holder work as well as anything you buy. They could be prettier, but they make me smile when I see them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

MicroMark Summer Sale

Because I like to include a picture with my blog entries, this is a homemade holder for my flex shaft accessories. You can make all kinds of simple tools to fill your needs. For this one I found a drill bit slightly larger than the shafts on my tools, and made rows of holes in a scrap of wood.

One of my favorite places to shop for the tools I don't make, MicroMark, is having their summer sale. It ends on September 11. Some good things: a gauge for drill bits and screws; #10123, a ball peen hammer for riveting; #22119, or a chasing hammer; #80811. They also have drill bits and brass and copper sheet metal and tubing.

I don't buy cutting hand tools from them, like wire cutters. I find the less expensive cutters just don't cut well. But I think for the "passive" tools like hammers, lower priced things are usually okay. I haven't used their digital calipers; #83857, but have ordered a pair for myself. I'm hoping they will be middle of the road - not too expensive, not totally precise. I also ordered the metal bending brake, #82817. It will be fun to test these out.

If you are considering a tool, look closely at the gauge specifications. Their claim that the bending brake will bend metal up to 16 gauge may be too optimistic. I think 20 gauge would be fine, though. I'm not sure about their power tools, either. They sometimes claim they work on both wood and metal, but they may not be powerful enough for metal. I haven't used any of them.

These optimistic claims aren't unique to MicroMark, I don't mean to imply that they are dishonest. This is a common thing that happens with tools. They may work at their maximum occasionally, but doing it all the time would wear the tool out too fast. And I am a tool snob. I like tools that last forever. It annoys me to use a wire cutter for a couple of years and find it has little nicks in it and won't cut anymore.