We mentioned in another blog post that there’s an ongoing great debate about whether or not apprentices should purchase their own tools. However, no matter which side of the fence you stand on, there are a few tools of the trade that every sheet metal fabricator should own at any level of experience. Here’s a comprehensive list of the tools everyone in this business should own:
- A 4 ½-inch or 6-inch angle grinder. This handheld power tool is used for cutting, grinding, and polishing different types of metal, which fab workers do often, so make sure you purchase an angle grinder that's durable.
- A set of cleco fasteners. This nifty tool temporarily fastens multiple sheets of metal (typically aluminum) together before the pieces are permanently joined. Think of it as a stronger clothespin.
- Various angle grinder discs. This set can include grinding wheels, which can be superabrasives or conventional abrasives, depending on your projects; cutoff wheels; and flap discs, which are used for finishing; and wire wheels.
- A throat-less shear. This tool is made for achieving straight, curved, or irregular cuts on a metal project. It has three holes for simple mounting and features a tall handle that gives you the leverage necessary to easily cut stainless or mild steel and aluminum. Needless to say, this tool is an everyday staple in most fab workshops.
- Wire cutters. Every handyman should own a reliable pair of wire cutters for snipping frayed ends.
- An auto-darkening helmet. These helmets can range anywhere between $200 to $400, depending on the manufacturer, but every sheet metal fabricator should invest in a dependable auto-darkening helmet for the occasional project that requires a lot of welding.
- Angle finders. Most quality angle finders are made of stainless steel or high-grade aluminum, and most sheet metal fabricators use these frequently, so splurging on a good set is often recommended.
- Cutting glasses. In this business, safety comes first. Since sheet metal fabrication projects are typically large-scale, they can pose a greater risk for accidents. A solid pair of cutting glasses will help decrease your chance of getting hurt in case of an accident.
- Drill bits. Most fab shops will have a drill or drill press handy, but sheet metal fabricators should have their own set of drill bits. Though the choices are virtually infinite, a standard length drill bit and a shorter, machine screw drill bit are good starting points.
- A sturdy backpack. If you’re an employer or full-time employee, you most likely will keep your tools of the trade at the shop. However, if you’re an apprentice, hauling your tools back and forth can be strenuous, so invest in a sturdy backpack.
You can have the Swiss Army knife of metalworking tools, but make sure you have these few basics first. The traditional, high-quality tools from the list above will help fab workers complete a project of any size throughout their career, so it’s best to splurge on these few tools of the trade.
Now that you know the basic tools, the next step is learning how to properly care for them. Download Kaempf and Harris' Care and Maintenance Guide for Sheet Metal Tools to get started: