View Full Version : TOTM: Fabrication tools and equipment

08-02-2012, 01:51 PM
We'd all love to have a complete shop full of tools but the wallet doesn't always think that's a good idea. What tools do you guys own that you think are a must? What budget friendly tips a tricks can you share? Favorite tools? Is Harbor Freight a decent source or should we buy pro-level equipment once that will last.

08-02-2012, 02:28 PM
I'm a little disappointed you titled the thread "fabrication tools" since the majority of mine are not. When it comes to fabrication I've got an angle grinder and a 1/2" heavy duty drill. I'm going to throw in my 2 cents anyways.

There are a handful of things I've found are pretty much mandatory for working on any vehicle.

1-A good set of sockets. They don't have to be Snap-On or Matco but at least invest in a set that has a large variety of sizes, both standard/SAE and metric. 1/2 drive is really the most versatile IMO, my 1/2" drive set ranges from 3/8"-1 3/8" SAE and 10mm-2?mm metric, both standard and deep well, all 12 pt. The smaller sizes I can cover with my 3/8" & 1/4" drive sets but they don't see nearly as much use.

2-Wrenches. You can get by with a good set of combination wrenches, but one of the better investments I've made (with tools anyway) is a set of flex head ratcheting wrenches. I didn't realize what I was missing until I bought them, now I use them for everything.

In terms of other hand tools, I've just bought what I need as I need it. As far as brand, the majority of hand tools I own are Craftsman. It's treated me well and I haven't really had any problems with them. My ratchet wrenches are Gear Wrench brand and are of excellent quality. I've got a few odds and ends stuff that is Kobalt brand from Lowes's that I've also had no issues with. I haven't spend any big bucks on Snap-On, Matco or MAC tools, I haven't found the need. I'm not a big fan of the HF tools, but I do have a 1/4" drive torque wrench from them that's done ok even though it hasn't seen much use. The only other thing I've bought from HF is a set of 6 ton jack stands, which are pretty simple, so no issues there.

If you're going to do any metal fabrication a good grinder is a must. I spent the extra few $$ the first time around and bought a 10A DeWalt and haven't been let down by it yet. I'll also add that your money is better spent buying good cut off/grinding wheels, flap discs, etc. I picked up some cheapies from the local hardware a week or so ago and 3-4 of them lasted about as long as the equivalent DeWalt cut off wheel.

A work bench is a must. Mine is ~8 feet long supported by 4x4s on each corner and topped with 3/4 MDF braced with 2x4s. The BEST thing I did to my workbench was wire it for electrical. I have 3 outlet boxes on it and a switch for the lights I have wired in. Future upgrades for the work bench are a drill press and vice. A drill press is pretty much required for any serious metal work, in my experience even a good 1/2" chuck hand drill doesn't cut it.

Air. Right now I rely on my 20lb CO2 tank for air. It works fine for running an air ratchet and impact off of but is less than ideal. I've held off on buying a compressor for a few reasons. 1-I want to buy a good compressor once and be done with it, which means it's going to set me back a bit. 2-My house & garage are not currently wired for 220V, which most of the "good" compressors require.

08-02-2012, 02:53 PM
A good angle grinder is a key staple IMO. I've got a couple of them in the garage, usually keep one with a cutoff wheel on it, and the other with a flap or grinding disc on it. My workhorse of the 2 is a Milwaukee, the other is Ryobi and isn't quite as nice. Both are close to 10 years old now. As for the abrasives, I buy mine from Heleta. HF prices, with MUCH higher quality. Having a cutoff disc explode sucks balls. I've only had one Heleta break apart, out of probably 75 that I've bought from them.

Welder is a Miller 175, dig that.

I've got a few different drills, and am borrowing/storing my father-in-law's drill press. Having an actual drill press is WAY easier than using a hand drill whenever possible. Even if it's just a small benchtop one.

08-02-2012, 03:38 PM
I have a couple that i find a must:
1. BFH
2. A pipe. yep a pipe. to put on your breaker bar
3. welder. 110 is fine for most people. i use a Hobart 140
4. Good sockets for finese stuff ie snap on. Crappy sockets like HF are great for banging on and use in press'.
5. Screw drivers. Good ones, cheap ones will round/strip out.
6. Wrenches. Same as sockets you need good ones and crap ones.
7. Tourches
8. chop saw
9. a good air source. Your 5 gallon CH aint gonna cut it.

will have to think about more....

08-02-2012, 04:39 PM
The most used tool in my garage is a sturdy, bigass vise. You have to be able to hold material to work with/ on it. Also works as a light-duty press.

Assortment of C clamps and vice grips or equivalent.

Magnetic welding holders are so much easier than trying to hold and tack a bracket in place when you can't get a clamp in there.

For working with tubing/ strap/ angle/ etc. I've found a good horizontal bandsaw to be a godsend.

Good flap disks on a decent angle grinder are a must.

Reciprocating saw with GOOD blades is irreplaceable.

A magnetic base angle finder is a necessity for a lot of fab work I do.

Assorted measuring tools and squares are obvious must haves.

As said above, a good drill press (with quality bits and hole saws) makes life easier.

A sharp center punch so drill bits don't walk out of place.

Assortment of hammers - obvious.

Lots of cardboard for templates - cheaper than wasting material.

08-02-2012, 04:56 PM
I say a good grinder,chop saw, drill press and decent bench vice make life so much easier.

If i buy tools they dont come from harbor frieght.

Get good quality cut off wheels and grinding disk. Its not worth the risk and you go thru 3 times as many to gut shit. ( I refuse to use cut wheels from HF)

08-02-2012, 05:20 PM
I like this thread because there are so many tools available to get the job done it's always interesting to see which people choose.

I've got to say my #1 tool is hands down a nice angle grinder (DeWalt 10 amp ftw). I do 80% of my fab work with an angle grinder and either a cutoff wheel or flap wheel. I NEVER use the stone grinding wheels, they are the devil. They don't take off material nearly as fast as a flap disc, you can't get smooth finishes like you can with a flap disc, and the sparks actually hurt unlike a flap disc. I also use a grinder with cutoff instead of a sawzall in 99% of scenarios, only use the sawzall when I have to go through multiple layers at the same time. Sawzalls also have a tendency to bend/damage sheetmetal around the cut from the shaking, you can get buttery smooth and precise cuts with an angle grinder. Twisted/knotted wire wheels for 4.5" angle grinders are a godsend...that's meant to kill you. These things are the most abusive to use ejecting wires in all directionsbut strip paint/silicone/body sealer/plastic/ANYTHING off metal in a heartbeat. They don't touch the surface material unless you push hard, doesn't take much to clean weld areas though.

I've been using a chop saw a lot lately because I've been working a lot of tube. It's great for cutting lengths, mitering cuts and helping with the initial cuts of notching a tube. Though this job is actually getting handed over to an angle grinder and cutoff wheel the more I do it. I get closer the first time and spend less time tinkering when I'm using an angle grinder.

I've got a benchtop drillpress that I do damn near all my drilling on, only using a hand drill when I can't bring my work to the drillpress, or bring the drillpress to the work (nice feature of having a benchtop, it's still portable).

Now here's where things vary from most people. I've only got a wood topped built in bench right now, and I get by with hardly using it for anything. I'd definately like a portable steel fab table but that just hasn't happened, and I don't have the room. The other shocker, I don't have a vice. My friends all can't believe it (and neither can I lol), but I manage doing all I do without a vice. I recently acquired a bottlejack press so that accomplishes many of the things a vice can be nice for. Having a press is GREAT for those people who do their own gearing (pressing bearings on and off), rubber control arm bushings pressed into the control arms, dimple dies if you ever get into that etc.

When it comes to measuring I'm pretty old school. A tape measure tells me just about everything I need to know in general, digital calipers for precise measuring of bearings, shims, things of that nature. I could use an angle finder, though I just don't have one.

The fancy tools for more advanced fabrication:
JD2 Model 3 with air/hydraulic conversion on a rolling cart. This thing is an absolute necessity for tube work, and it being on a rolling cart means it's stored in the corner of my garage when not in use, then just rolled outside for work. Everything on my garage is on rollers, it's the only way I've been able to cram everything in there.

Harbor Freight tubing roller w/ 1.75" SWAG Offroad dies. WJ's (and many other vehicles these days) are pretty round. The only way to make cage tube conform to the body TIGHTLY is with roll bends, plus it's all the rage these days. The bonus is when you buy the tubing roller from HF, it comes with 1", 1.5" and 2" dies so with the 1.75" you have a complete range.

2x4 Torchmate CNC plasma table. Self explanitory. As long as your competent in something like solid works drawing part files you can make your own production quality bracketry, plate bumpers, leaf shackles, logos, artistic cutting like landscapes...the list is endless. It's a huge commitment as a too, so if you're interested, you know what you're in for haha.

The torchmate is powered by a Hypertherm Powermax 30 that is currently down for the count, getting a wire replaced. It's been a CHAMP for the last few years and though being completely underrated for cutting 1/4" plate @30 amps, I am able to produce great cuts in up to 3/8" plate. Just a little slower than most. It's great as a hand torch also being a nice portable little box, though I use an angle grinder for most everything you might use a plasma for.

Finally there's my welder, Miller 175. I've had this thing for 6+ years and it has treated me right the whole time. I've never felt like I didn't have enough power to weld anything, and don't expect to in the near future!

08-02-2012, 06:55 PM
I'll throw in my opinions too.

We have covered angle grinders, and sawzalls, and I just wanted to reiterate that. Definitely a must.

Good paint pens will make life so much easier too. Silver colored pencils are ALL we use at work in the Fabrication dept. The welders use more chalk and soapstone.

A bench vise is worth its weight in gold, if it's a reputable brand. I have three Columbian vices that are awesome.

Drafters square or combination square is also very handy to have, just making life easier.

This last one is a godsend. Get two of these. Ever try lining up a control arm bushing and have it line up perfect without a struggle? Hell no. Use the Crescent "spud" wrench for much joy. I absolutely love these things.


Ken L
08-02-2012, 07:29 PM
I also belong to the "I use my angle grinder most" club. Mine is a Milwaukee, I have gone thru a couple of Ryobis and a HF cheapie before settling on this one. I've had it for at least 10 years now and it's still going strong. I agree with getting a higher quality of cutoff wheel than HF ones. I bought one pack and although none exploded they just didn't last. I also use the angle grinder with sanding wheels, mostly 80 and 120 grit for metal clean up. I've had better success with either a flap disc or the sanding discs than with the wire wheels, but I do have a couple of flat wire wheels and a couple of cone ones.

I use my cordless 3/8" DeWalt drill most often just because it's handy. It's nice to have 2 batteries for it, and at times I wish I had 3. I've burned out more drills than angle grinders, and have settled on DeWalt. My BMF drill is a DeWalt 1/2" drill that is 10 amps and makes short work out of most bigger holes. I just don't use it that often because the cordless is handier.

Chop saw--I had a HF chop saw that I used for many years until the smoke came out of it. Smoke is an important part of electrical components, but it has to stay internal to the device. Anyway, I now have a Wilton chop saw that works great.

Welder-- I have a Hobart Handler 140 120v machine that I run flux core wire. I have not had an issue with using flux, as with any welding prep is the key. I've welded my long arm sub frame and my bumpers and winch mount with this machine. Wire quality is a big deal. I only run Miller or Hobart branded wire as I have had other stuff sputter and just not perform.

Tools--I have a pretty decent set of sockets, both metric and SAE. My most used are my 3/8" drive. Most of my shop sockets are 6 point with the exception of my Craftsman 1/2" set which are 12 point. I just prefer the security of 6-point sockets. Combination wrenches in metric and SAE, and screwdrivers. I only have nut drivers in the sizes that I use, I don't have a complete set. I also seem like I'm always buying new Allen wrenches, at some point I need to make a dedicated rack for them so I can keep track of

Air compressor--After burning up an oil-less Husky compressor from Home Depot, I broke down and got a 2-cylinder oil-type Puma upright compressor. Again, 120v, but I plumbed the tank of the Husky to the Puma tank, and now I have 60 gallons of air capacity. The Puma is a much better unit, and although the Husky lasted approximately 6 years with hard use, I can imagine this Puma will last much longer.

I have duplicates in the Jeep of most of the critical tools, but my impact wrench and sockets stay in the Jeep all the time.

08-02-2012, 10:55 PM
Angle grinders.... I own 3. Makita 4" Bought at pawn shop over 10 years ago and my favorite.
HF 4.5" ok in an emergency--it gets hot quick.
7" rigid--I use it with 35 grit discs to hog metal after cutting. Quick metal removal but too big for delicate work.

08-03-2012, 12:45 AM
I agree with everyone, but I got to tell ya, a porta-band has been used in my shop on a ton since I purchased one. I did a lot of work before I bought one but these make life a whole lot easier. I have 4 4.5" angle grinders and 1-6" angle grinder. One of the grinders I did have for 7 years was a black and decker, and I'm telling you the truth when I say, I beat the living crap out of that thing and it finally died last week. I bought it for $24 seven years ago and used it for everything. I was pretty sad when it died. It was the cheapest one, but lasted my abuse. It saves a bunch of time to have grinders already set up. 1-Cut off wheel, 1-Flap disk, 1- wire cup brush, 1- heavy grinding disk. It saves a ton of time switching them back and forth.

08-03-2012, 10:02 PM
I discovered rolok 3m pads for a die grinder to remove paint. Like the wire wheel they work awesome without removing base material and are delicate and fit into tighter corners.

My air compressor is totaly innadiquate and I am surprised it has not yet failed.

A band saw probably a port-a-band is on my wish list. They cut relitavely clean and fast without heating the material.

Strategic placement of outlets is key. A couple of cords dangling from the ceiling and SHORT extention cords keeps the floor cleaner ans safer. My mechanics stool hates cords. Nothing worse than cords from 2 grinders, an air hose, welding leads and plasma leads all draped cacoon-like around the work area.

I built my welding cart a little large and when I got the plasma cutter it conveniently fit on the bottom shelf. I am eventualy going to wire a duplex 220v box on it so I will have 1 cord to the cart and both units plugged in all the time. Less clutter. Can anyone think of a reason to connect the 2 grounds to eliminate one more wire?

08-06-2012, 12:01 AM
Angle Grinder for sure, I even have a tread about mine. ;)

Wil Badger
11-28-2012, 01:30 AM
Way to spam jackass

11-30-2012, 04:15 PM
HF angle grinders are junk, not worth the money to spend hours grinding where a good grinder can get it done much faster. Same for welding rod and grinding disks. Not worth the money from HF.
I want a weld table but use 2 home made stands for now.

Air is on a spool attached to a support pole in the middle of the garage, very handy, compressor on the back wall out of the way.

I need a 120V outlet closer to the front.

I bought a used band saw for metal, works great but depth is only 6". Still very usefull when depth is acceptable. Spent money on a high end metal blade and it is worth the money.

I did get a D handle 1/2" drill from HF and use it rarely but it has the horsepower to drill big holes in metal, much easier to control too.
Also have a 3/8" corded keyed chuck drill for most drilling and a 3/8" battery keyless chuck drill but with hex drive bits for everything else.
Socket set, hammers, straight edges, screwdrivers, combo wrenches, SAE and metric, torx bits of all sizes and both internal and external.

Several special sized sockets and wrenches for the big stuff (21, 22 24 MM).

Also a big assed HF breaker bar 32" I think.

Gloves of all types, Northern tool auto dark helmet, face shield, ear muffs, and facemasks.

Cheap steel toed boots from Kmart which has saved me twice already.