Metal Working Hand Tools (The Complete Guide)
Everyone who wants to do metalworking needs to have the proper metalworking hand tools and depending on who you ask, it can be tough to get a complete answer about everything you need. There are just so many metalworking hand tools that you’ll want to have! Here is a comprehensive list of the hand tools that everybody needs in their workshop.
*This article is specifically about hand tools. If you’re wondering about power tools, look here.
Critical Metal Working Hand Tools — Marking Tools
Maybe you’ve thought about this, maybe you haven’t, but you need to be able to mark where on your metal sheet you want to cut. The most important marking tools that you’ll ever buy are a thick black marker or a box of soapstone and a scriber.
The marker is used to color in the general area that you want to be cutting in, and the scriber follows that up by scratching through the marker to create a tiny, high contrast line. The other tool that you’ll want for marking is a center punch. You’ll use this to mark the exact place where you want to drill your holes, and you can use the same trick for marking drilling spots as you used for making that original line.
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You can also use a fine-tipped sharpie for projects that don’t require as much precision, but whether you use it often or not, you’ll want to have a Scriber or two for those precision jobs.
This high-rated tungsten carbide scriber is only about ten dollars on Amazon and can fulfill all of your scribing needs if you’re a beginner. Eventually, you’ll want to get a scriber that has a hooked end as well as a straight one for getting around tough corners, but this one will do well for now.
Soapstone Compass And Square
You may know the compass and square as the symbol of the secretive freemasons, but you’ll also get an enormous amount of use out of them as a metalworker. These metalworking hand tools can be used to measure extremely precise angles and curves for cutting, something that is necessary especially for more technical projects.
While just about any set of squares and protractors will do, you’ll want to get a protractor that is specific to metalworking. These act a lot like scribers, scratching the metal rather than applying ink to it. Just like with the scriber, this allows for a more precise line, which can be a make-or-break factor for a lot of projects.
If you ever have technical cuts or arcs needed with a torch or other metal cutting tool this will be a tool that will save the day. A compass with soapstone. Figure out arcs and intersecting angles with ease. This premium marking tool will come in handy just when you need it and the price is very reasonable.
C-clamps are important to any toolkit since holding things still or holding them together are two of the most important parts of finishing any project with precision.
You can easily pick up quality C-clamps at any hardware store. Here’s a set from Amazon that is high enough quality and isn’t too expensive.
Welders magnets are high-powered magnets that hold two pieces of metal together during welding. It isn’t an overstatement to say that you need these if you’re going to be doing any welding at all!
This is one of those things that you’ll want to build a collection of so that you can always have the one that you need. This set from Amazon should be able to get you started just fine with 45, 90, and 135-degree magnets.
Another Critical Metal Working Hand Tool — Sheet Metal Bender
Sheet metal benders can be found in all sorts of sizes, but this metalworking hand tool version is the most relevant here. You’ll probably want a larger one as well, but this small manual sheet metal brake will help you out considerably on light to moderate metal fabrication projects.
Sheet Metal benders work by clamping down on pieces of metal and providing you the leverage necessary to bend them. These 2 manual hand versions can be used to bend pieces of sheet metal up to 18 gauge on the lighter duty hand one, while the larger more expensive one will bend up to 12 gauge.
You won’t need a level for every project, but when you do need one, you’ll really need it. As a metalworking hand tool, you’ll want smaller levels that can be applied on small surfaces so that they can be used for both smaller and larger projects. If your carpentry level is a whole yard long, it might have trouble measuring a four-inch surface.
BONUS: This electric level is magnetized and will also read and set angles which is great for keeping your projects square. Also great if you do any plate welding and work with compound angles. Excellent welder companion tool!
Tap and Die Set (English & Metric)
If you do any type of metal fabrication or welding and you don’t have a tap and die set for both English and metric it is just a matter of time before you do.
When Would You Use a Tap and Die?
Maybe you are welding a project that needs a couple of holes tapped with threads for a part that is bolted on that will eventually need replacing. On the other hand, maybe you damaged some threads on a bolt with no replacement? Pull out your handy die set and fix the bolt saving you time. In either case, this economically priced tap and die set will save you money.
Metal Cutting Shears and Snips
You can probably guess what sheers and snips are for. Sheers and snips are scissor-like devices that are used for cutting through thin pieces of metal. These metalworking hand tools won’t work on anything more than a few millimeters thick, but most metal sheets are thinner than that anyway.
What’s the difference between sheers and snips? Sheers have longer blades and sometimes come at a bit of an angle for cutting through those hard-to-reach spots. Snips are shorter blades and are usually used for making smaller, more precise cuts that would be inconvenient to make with a pair of sheers.
Basically, snips are smaller and more maneuverable while sheers are longer and better for making long straight cuts.
You’ll want to have both of them so you can switch them out as the situation requires. You might be able to get away with having only one or the other, but there will come a day when you regret the hubris that led you to think that you didn’t need snips.
This is the cutting tool that you’ll be using for anything too thick for your snips and sheers. Hacksaws come in both smaller and larger sizes, but you’re unlikely to need a small hacksaw when larger hacksaws are better for almost every possible job.
The thicker the metal you’re working with, the more teeth you’ll want on your hacksaw. If you can, you’ll want to get several different hacksaws to use with different types of metal. If you can’t, you can always just get a bunch of different blades and replace them whenever you need to change the grade of your saw.
This hacksaw set comes with several different blades, which can be super useful for working with different metals. It also comes with three sizes of saw, which you might not end up needing, but if you do, it will certainly be a lifesaver.
Cold Chisels are metalworking hand tools used for carving through thick pieces of metal that you can’t cut into with sheers or snips. These are good for making indents and for starting out rounding. They come in several different shapes and sizes, each with its own uses during the metal-working process.
As the name might suggest, cold chisels are used when the metal is at room temperature is colder. Cold chisels are useful because they can be maneuvered in all sorts of ways to make their cuts, unlike a hacksaw, which needs a significant amount of space to start cutting.
You’ll want to get a set of chisels of different widths and always use a chisel that’s slightly wider than what you’re cutting. This is a solid set to start with, but you’ll probably want to collect more over time. Chisels are one of those metalworking hand tools that you want to have a collection of so you always have the right one for the job.
Hammer — An Often Overlooked Metal Working Hand Tool
Hammers are a must-have in any metalworking shop, and this set of different hammers can be used for shaping the metal, removing old rivets, driving in securing devices, and striking steel metalworking hand tools like chisels and punches.
A subset of the hammer, the mallet, can also prove useful in many situations. Mallets tend to be smaller and have heads made from softer materials like plastic or wood. These can be used for striking more delicate tools and projects since they’re less likely to smash the thing you’re working on inadvertently.
This is a great middle-of-the-road or starter set for any metal worker or for some forging as well. For more details check out the 5 piece hammer set here on Amazon metalworking 5 piece hammer set including mallet.
Oh yeah, now we’re getting to the good stuff. Slappers are usually made of wood with a leather working face, and they are used for exactly what you think they’re used for: slapping metal into shape! Shaping and forming are the names of the game for our dear friend the slapper. You definitely need one.
Different slappers are made from different types of wood, but all of them serve similar purposes. You should try out different kinds to see which ones work the best for you since they are all handled a little differently.
The website Daggertools sells a good selection of different slappers that are fairly high quality. If a slapper is something that you want, this is a place to buy them!
English Wheel For Metal Forming
If you want to start forming and shaping metal including making your own parts then an English Wheel is a must. Actually, this heavy-duty model is not too expensive but using an English Wheel can take some practice and time to learn. As with anything if you are really interested in something you can learn anything.
What Metal Projects Can You Use It For:
- Auto body and reshaping car parts.
- Racing cars and motorcycles.
- Restoration of all types.
- Creative metal art pieces.
Files are the last metalworking hand tools that you will use on every project you work on. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and coarsenesses, and you’ll need to have a bit of a variety in your toolbox to reach your full metalworking potential.
Generally, the three main shapes of a file are flat, round, and half-round. Round files are used for enlarging and smoothing out holes after they’ve been drilled through.
Flat files are exactly what it says on the box: Files that are flat. These are used to smooth out the edges of a piece of metal, and depending on the projects you do, may end up being one of your most-used files. Their best use is for rounding out edges and corners that could potentially nick someone as they’re working with whatever you made.
Half-round files are flat on one side and curved on the other, and taper out to the end. These can be used for fixing botched holes. You’ll want to look for files that have safety edges. Safety edges are flat edges that don’t have any teeth on them, so they can safely come into contact with metal without causing it any damage.
You’ll also want a file cleaner brush. Especially when working with softer materials, files can get gunked up pretty quickly. The file cleaner will help you keep your files in working shape for as long as you need to use them.
This file set is pretty good. It contains a lot of different files in a nice case so you can keep them organized, and it also comes with brushes to help keep the tools clean. It also has smaller files for reaching hard-to-get parts of the metal, which can be useful especially for rounding out edges.
Dollies are metal shaping tools that are used in conjunction with hammers. They’re curved metal chunks that can be used either by striking the metal like a hammer or laying the dolly under the metal sheet and using it as an anvil. You can buy them in hammer and dolly sets to easily acquire all the dolly types that are commonly used.
Dollies are probably the most expensive and least useful metalworking hand tools on this list. The best option on Amazon is this ninety-dollar dolly and hammer set that also includes a couple of specialized hammers for use with the dollies.
While dollies are something you can probably live without for the most part, eventually, if you make enough stuff, you’ll want to bite the bullet and just buy a set like this.
Getting all of these tools might be a significant investment if you don’t already have most of them. However, if you want to make really good work, you need to at least have these metalworking hand tools to use in your projects.
Even if you don’t use every tool for every project, there will come a day when you need each one of them. When you’re just starting, you can probably just buy the tools that you need for your next project and then pick up the rest as they become relevant. You know best what will work in your circumstances, so just do what makes sense to you.
Learn more about metal fabrication here.
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