Metalworking could be a great hobby for those looking to do hands-on creative shop work.
Metalworking as a hobby requires various tools, such as metalworking saws, angle grinders, welding machines, files, etc., to perform the required cutting and joining operations. It also requires good knowledge of various heat-treatment processes and their significance. With good tools and adequate knowledge, you can be a metalworking hobbyist.
This article discusses how to get started with metalworking as a hobby by going through the different tools required, and different metalworking techniques.
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Metalworking as a Hobby: Is it Easy?
Metalworking involves cutting, engraving, and joining metal workpieces, which often require special tools.
This could trick you into believing that metalworking is not for beginners.
The truth is that with a good understanding of metal processing techniques, the know-how of machining basics, and knowledge about the right tools for operations, you can get on with your metalworking hobby.
Unlike woodworking, metalworking requires comparatively more powerful tools which demand extreme caution during operation and handling to avoid accidents.
Apart from that, if you are performing woodworking and metalworking in the same workshop, it is important to ensure that the sparks generated during metalworking do not come in contact with wood shavings, as that can cause a fire.
Tools Required For Metalworking Hobby
|Bench Vise||$25 - $200|
|Angle Grinder||$30 - $180|
|Metalworking Saw||$100 - $800|
|Drill Press||$80 - $600|
|Metal File||$5 - $25|
|Welding Machine||$80 to over $1200|
|Hammer and Anvil||$20 - $40|
|Safety Gear||Under $50|
Metalworking requires special tools for operations such as cutting, bending, and joining metal workpieces.
Although soft metals like aluminum and copper can be easily cut by using woodworking tools, it is not advised as it will lead to quick tool wear and poor surface finish of the workpieces.
Therefore, to get started with your metalworking hobby, you need to have some basic tools that are specifically used for metalworking applications.
These are the tools I found to have worked best for me and are ideal for beginners.
1. Clamps or Bench Vises
Clamps and vises are important for almost any operation that requires the use of hand-held tools such as angle grinders, files, etc.
Generally, a bench vise is best suitable for hobbyists' workshops as it does not involve extremely strong cutting forces.
When mounting the bench vise in your workshop, it is important to ensure that the bench, on which the vise is mounted, is firmly fixed to the shop floor.
This minimizes vibrations during the machining operations and ensures efficient metalworking output.
Ductile Iron Heavy-duty build for metalworking
Provides a 3.1 x 2.9 inches anvil
2. Angle Grinder
Ange grinders are multi-purpose metalworking tools that can be used for grinding and cutting metal workpieces.
When selecting an angle grinder, you must consider its disc diameter, wattage, speed, and safety features.
The larger the disc diameter, the greater the maximum depth of cuts that it can make.
However, angle grinders are not suitable for cutting very thick metals, they are generally used to make slits in thick workpieces or for cutting sheet metal.
Wattage is another factor that determines the ability of an angle grinder to cut metal workpieces. The higher the wattage, the better the ability of the grinder to work on denser metals.
Therefore, if your application demands regular cutting and grinding of hard metals like steel and titanium, it is advised to get the angle grinder with maximum wattage.
Apart from its ability to cut and grind metal, it should also provide basic safety features to ensure risk-free operation.
When buying an angle grinder for your workshop, look for an automatic cut-off feature, an adjustable grip/handle to minimize vibrations during operation, and an anti-kickback clutch to prevent accidents.
If your application involves grinding intricate shapes or internal patterns like holes, it is recommended to opt for a die grinder.
120 volts with a maximum speed of 8500 RPM
Adjustable safety guard to redirect sparks
3. Metalworking Saw
Another important tool for metalworking is metalworking saw.
Unlike angle grinders, these saws are comparatively big and are used for cutting thicker metal workpieces.
If you already own a band or chop saw for woodworking, you can replace its blade with a metalworking blade and use it for cutting metal workpieces.
Generally, a 12-inch chop saw is suitable for most DIY metalworking projects.
4hp, 1300 max RPM, and quick lock vice
Comes with a 14inch carbide cutting wheel included
4. Drill Press
Drilling operations are performed to make holes in workpieces, either for mounting or fastening purposes.
Generally, a hand-held drill will be sufficient for beginner metalworking projects that involve soft metals like aluminum and copper.
However, if you plan to expand your hobby and are not on a budget, you should opt for a drill press as it provides the ability to drill harder metals like steel and titanium.
Although you can use a hand-held drill for the same purpose, drilling dense metals is comparatively a slower process, which makes it inconvenient to hold the drill steady for a prolonged duration.
Therefore, a drill press is recommended over a hand drill for heavy-duty drilling operations.
5-speed settings to machine different metals
Max speed of 3140 RPM with an adjustable worktable
5. Metal File
A file is an important tool in metalworking that helps you remove small amounts of material from the workpiece to either smoothen its surface or to chip off sharp edges produced after cutting.
Unlike wood files, metal files have a uniform teeth design that runs parallel to each other. Using a metal file on wood can result in clogging of the teeth, which requires cleaning the file to unclog its teeth.
Although an angle grinder can perform similar operations, metal files are ideal for sharpening the blades of small cutting tools.
Contains Flat, Flat Warding, Square, Triangular, Round, and Half-Round File
Suitable for metalworking and woodworking
5. Welding Machine
Welding is the process of joining metal workpieces to get the desired part. It is a permanent fastening process, hence providing greater strength than fasteners such as screws, nuts, bolts, etc.
Generally, a basic MMA arc welder is suitable for DIY metalworking projects, but you can also opt for a MIG welder or a TIG welder if high quality and quick processing time is your main requirement.
Operating a welder requires practice and a proper understanding of current and voltage for the process. Therefore, it is advised to perform test runs to get the right current and voltage combination.
Apart from that, the arc generated during welding is bright enough to damage your retina, if looked at with the naked eye, making it mandatory to wear a welding mask to protect your eyes from bright light.
It must be noted that arc welding involves very high current and voltage. Hence it is strongly advised to follow the safety protocols and not to use it without proper training.
IGBT Inverter technology
ETL Certificate for advanced safety
6. Hammer and Anvil
Hammer and anvil are the basic metalworking tools that are used to shape metal workpieces.
Apart from that, a chipping hammer can also be used to chip off the splatter of molten metal on the surface of the workpiece due to welding operation.
Generally, anvils are made of wrought iron or cast iron and have a heavy structure to efficiently deliver the impact force to the metal workpiece during hammering.
You can also include a die punch in your inventory to produce cuts with intricate patterns.
7. Safety Gear
Metalworking involves working with sharp tools and hot metal workpieces which can also sometimes have sharp edges.
Therefore, it is important to follow proper safety procedures and wear proper safety gear at all times during metalworking.
Some basic safety gear includes workshop gloves, safety glasses, ear protection, safety shoes, and an apron to prevent sparks from burning your clothes.
Metalworking Essential Skills
Apart from basic tools, there are some essential skills that you need to learn to be good at metalworking.
Metal cutting requires tools such as an angle grinder or a chop saw to make precise cuts in thick workpieces.
However, you can also use a hand hacksaw to cut thin workpieces, followed by filing to remove the sharp edges along the cut.
Metal cutting can also be performed by using advanced tools such as a plasma cutter, lathe, or a CNC machine capable of cutting metals.
Unlike wood cutting, metal cutting requires comparatively greater force and stronger tools, making it important to wear a face shield and safety apron at all times.
After performing the cutting operation, metal workpieces often require grinding to remove sharp profiles from the cut edge.
A hand grinder or a benchtop grinder is best suited for DIY projects.
Welding is the process of joining two or more pieces to get the desired part.
An MMA arc welder is suitable for DIY metalworking projects. It applies heat to melt the metal workpieces and uses a filler material to fuse the pieces together, producing a permanent joint.
Producing a good weld requires adequate knowledge of voltage-current configuration and steady hand movement.
MMA welding works on a high current-low voltage configuration, but increasing the current beyond a certain value can lead to the over-melting of metal, producing a hole.
Therefore, it is important to practice your welding skills before working on a valuable project.
Generally, MMA welding machines are available in AC, DC, or AC/DC configurations. While AC welder is comparatively cheaper, DC welder offers better weld quality and high versatility.
Forging is the process of heating the workpiece to soften it, followed by hammering to mold it into the desired shape.
It is one of the most essential skills in metalworking as it provides you the ability to transform the shape of the metal, making it suitable for your project.
Generally, an anvil and a hammer are required for forging the metal. You can heat the metal workpiece in the fire to heat it until it's red hot and then start hammering it on the anvil.
Forging producing workpieces with high strength and durability, making them suitable for applications where high loads are applied.
For example, a forged chisel can withstand greater impact force than a cast chisel, before failing under the load.
Although you can heat workpieces on firewood, having a furnace increases your productivity by reducing the time needed to heat the workpiece.
Casting is yet another important skill for metalworking. It involves melting the metal and then pouring it into a mold to get the desired shape.
It produces porous workpieces that have comparatively less strength than forged metal.
However, casting provides the ability to mold metal into complex shapes with less effort and quick cycle time.
Unlike forging, casting requires some metal melting tools such as a ladle, crucible, tongs, furnace, dies, molding sand, etc, for melting the metal and casting it into the desired shape.
You can also use a blowtorch to melt softer metals like aluminum and copper.
Casting is prone to various defects due to the presence of impurities in the molten metal, non-uniform cooling of metal, improper mold design, etc.
Therefore, it is necessary to practice your skills before working with precious metals.
Apart from that, improper handling of hot metal can cause various accidents and fire hazards, making it important to wear safety gear and always have a fire extinguisher ready in your workshop.
Metalworking Project Ideas for Beginners
Metalworking projects are comparatively more difficult and generally, involve more cost than woodworking projects.
Therefore, it is advised to start small and work your way up with each project.
There are various metalworking projects suitable for beginners, and selecting the right ones and perfecting them can also help you make money in the long run.
1. Metal Rings and Bracelets
Basic rings and bracelets can be one of the easiest metalworking projects that require drilling a hole in a metal block and boring it to get the desired diameter.
However, you can use your skills and make creative rings and bracelets by forging metal into intricate designs with unique shapes and patterns to make your project unique.
You can use metals such as free-machining steel to make the ornaments and then gold anodizing them to enhance the quality of your project and give it a shiny golden look.
2. Fire Pit
Fire pits are one of the popular metalworking projects that are in demand during winter.
Generally, hot-rolled steel is best suited for making fire pits, and you can use your creative ideas to make your fire pits stand out.
You can also make money from your projects by providing unique and customized fire pits that fit perfectly with the users' requirements.
3. Copper Mugs
Copper mugs are one of the easiest metalworking projects due to the high ductility of copper.
You can use copper sheets of pipes to make copper mugs suitable for drinking hot and cold beverages.
Customizing the cups with unique engravings provides you the ability to stand out from the competition and earn a good profit when selling your projects.
However, copper is an excellent conductor of heat and might require a plastic or lead handle to prevent the burning of hands when handling hot beverages.
4. Customizing Grills
Making a grill from scratch is a difficult project that requires a good understanding of ait flow and excellent metalworking skills.
However, being a beginner, you can make customized grill tops as a replacement for grill owners.
These grills are generally easy to make and require welding metal rods in the desired shape and size.
Knives are one of the most popular metalworking projects that can earn you a profitable deal.
Generally, knives are made from carbon steel, stainless steel, Damascus steel, or tool steel.
Working with steel can be comparatively more challenging than working with aluminum and copper due to its less ductile nature.
However, with proper tools and good metalworking skills, you can produce unique knives that are always in demand.
If making profitable knives is your primary project idea, you can invest in a laser cutter and produce customized projects by laser engraving knives.
6. Metal Artifacts
Metal artifacts are one of the most difficult metalworking projects as they require great artistic and metalworking skills.
However, you can start by making simple artifacts such as oversized metal dice for paperweight, unique photo frames, etc.
These projects require a high surface finish, and therefore it is important to use an angle grinder to smoothen and polish the workpiece after completing the forging and forming process.
Heat-treatment Processes for Metalworking
Apart from the tools required for metalworking, it is also important to know about different heat treatment processes that are applicable during metalworking.
Although heat treatment of metal might not sound like a hobby project, learning about these treatments will help you select the right pre-treated workpiece for your application.
Annealing is a heat treatment process that involves raising the temperature of the metal workpiece beyond its recrystallization temperature to enhance its ductility.
This enhanced ductility allows metalworking even on hard metals like steel.
Furthermore, annealing is also useful to relieve internal stresses developed in metal due to cold working, which can otherwise lead to the cracking of the metal.
Annealing reorients the grains of the workpiece, relieving internal stress and enhancing ductility.
Although annealing hard metals, like steel, requires a special furnace to heat the metal workpieces, you can also use a blowtorch to anneal various metals such as aluminum and copper for DIY projects.
Normalizing is another heat treatment process that involves heating the workpiece and then cooling it.
The difference between annealing and normalizing lies in the cooling method.
The metal workpiece is heated above its critical temperature and then allowed to cool at room temperature, whereas, annealing involves controlled cooling inside the furnace.
As a result, normalizing is comparatively less effective in releasing internal stresses.
However, its quick process time and elimination of controlled cooling make it ideal for applications where quick cycle time is preferable, irrespective of the internal stress of the workpiece.
Tempering is also a heat treatment process, where the workpiece is heated below its critical temperature and then allowed to cool either in the air or in an inert atmosphere.
Unlike annealing, tempering enhances the hardness of the metal, while providing greater strength for structural applications.
Tempering also increases the ductility of the workpiece but is generally suitable for applications where high load capacity is desirable.
Surface Treatment Processes for Metalworking
Surface treatments involve altering the surface of the workpiece by depositing a layer over it which provides the desired properties for the application.
Generally, anodized aluminum is widely used for various applications due to its ability to produce anodized aluminum colors, making it suitable for aesthetically appealing projects.
Gold anodizing can also be performed. However, instead of anodizing gold workpieces, it involves coating other metals with a gold-like finish.
Galvanizing is the process of depositing a zinc layer over iron or steel workpieces to develop anti-corrosion properties.
Hot dip galvanizing involves immersing metal workpieces in a zinc bath, which develops a layer of zinc over them.
This zinc then reacts with the air and moisture present in the atmosphere, preventing the iron underneath from rusting.
Therefore, when buying raw materials for outdoor metal projects, look for galvanized iron or steel, as they ensure long life and durability.
Metalworking can be a challenging hobby that requires special tools and a good understanding of the properties of different metals.
However, you can start by working with soft metals such as aluminum and copper and slowly work your way up to make metalworking projects out of harder metals like steel and iron.
Metalworking equipment is generally too expensive for hobby enthusiasts, so it is advised to start with basic tools such as an angle grinder and a welder to cut and join workpieces, and slowly invest in other machines as you start making a profit out of your projects.
Finally, metalworking can be dangerous and involves various fire, electrical, and health hazards. Therefore, it is strictly advised to invest in safety gear first before buying other tools and equipment.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Does metalworking involve health hazards?
Yes, metalworking involves various health hazards if proper safety procedure is not followed. Grinding of metals such as stainless steel produces dust containing heavy metals, which can cause respiratory diseases if inhaled. Moreover, the cutting fluids used during metalworking can also cause various skin and respiratory issues.
Can I use woodworking tools for metalworking?
Yes, you can use woodworking tools such as a wood lathe and chop saw to machine soft metals like aluminum and copper. However, it is not advised to machine hard metals by using woodworking tools.
Can I cut metal with a handsaw?
Yes, a hand-held hacksaw can be used to cut metal workpieces. Generally, a bi-metal hacksaw is recommended for cutting various metals such as tool steel and stainless steel.