Metal Workshop

I’ve been working every day on the fabrication of Miles in this workshop. I think I’m going to complete the project before I need to leave for the Black Rock Desert. Unlike other years, the tools that I’m using are difficult to transport to the desert, and so if I don’t finish the project before leaving, I won’t be completing it on site. The tools, although difficult to transport, are wonderful. Here they are:

CNC Milling Machine


I’ve had this machine for about 9 years. It’s working as well as it always has, except that I’ve noticed that the Windows XP control computer no longer remember’s its BIOS settings. (I probably need to find a battery on the motherboard and replace it.) I’m using the milling machine to make the spur gears and some jigs for the plasma cutter. BTW, the computer has no network connection. It runs only two programs: Notepad and the milling machine’s control program. I don’t update the OS. The only communication that it has with the outside world is through USB thumb drives.

MIG Welder


The MIG Welder (buried under a pile of safety equipment) is fairly easy to use. Since I’m new to welding, I now have a new appreciation of the quality of welds that I see in professional steel sculptures. My welds are functional but not pretty. (In time I hope to get better.) That said, welding has been easier than I had expected.

Plasma Cutter


The Plasma Cutter (the little box at the bottom of the photo) is incredibly useful. Need to cut a circle in 1/4″ steel plate? Easy! Need to cut 1/8″ steel sheet metal? Even easier! Off to the side there’s a high-volume air compressor. This tool is a joy to use, although moving the cutting torch consistently is very difficult. Only rarely do I make good-looking cuts. Using the plasma cutter has been more difficult than I had expected.

Belt Grinder


The Belt Grinder was a bit of an impulse buy. I hadn’t planned on getting anything like this, but I’m very happy that I did! It’s a joy to use. My go-to belt has 36-grit. It cuts through 1/8″ steel like I’m sanding wood with belt a sander. While I have a couple handheld grinders, this device is easier to use and control, and so nearly every metal cut is cleaned up on this device. Below the table is a cardboard box of other grinding belts, but I haven’t yet used them. In time!

Belt grinders like these are not really OSHA compliant. The entire 6-foot long belt is completely exposed, and the drive belt (behind the control box) has no shroud. So a future project is to at least make a cover for the drive belt.

Metal Cutoff Machine


I buy metal stock in 20-foot lengths and cut them with this: a metal cutoff machine. The wood-cutting version of this tool usually is called a chop saw, but you’ll notice that this tool incorporates a metal-holding vice! The cutting blade is an abrasive wheel, which gets smaller with use. (That reminds me. I need to order another wheel.)

The table that supports the cutoff machine is 3 inches lower than the other tables so that long pieces of stock can be supported easily.

Triple Right-Angle Thingie


Okay, I had to look this one up. It’s a Multi-Axis Welder’s Angle Clamp. Whatever it’s called, it holds three pieces of square stock at 90-degree angles, forming a perfect corner. (Well, mostly perfect. I see that the welded vertical piece is about 1/16″ off over a distance of 32 inches, but that’s better than I could do myself.) Regardless, this sort-of impulse buy paid for itself over the 16 corners that I needed to weld.

Slip Roll


This cute, little Slip Roll can bend steel metal up to 1-mm thick and steel wire up to 3/16″ in diameter. This is the only tool that hasn’t yet been used, but it’s going to get a workout in a few days.