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Thread: Aluminum cutting and trimming...fabricating

  1. #1
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    Aluminum cutting and trimming...fabricating

    Looking for ideas here. I have had no success with cutting and trimming aluminum sheet metal and stock. A jig saw and metal shears don't really work well for me. As a result, I have avoided any fabrication. It's been a frustration for me as throughout the build there have been many instances where I would like to try out ideas. But, as I tackle them it just gets frustrating and I destroy the piece. And, using a belt sander or table grinder to clean up edges just gums up the wheel.

    I know, you're wondering, how did this guy ever build a car. Answer... by working around it.
    Mk4 Roadster 20th Anniversary #8658. 04 of 20. 3.31 IRS.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member 2FAST4U's Avatar
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    My build required fabricating every panel because of all the frame mods and using a non-FFR body. To accomplish this task, a metal shear would have been ideal but cost prohibitive. Therefore, I used a Bosh hand held jigsaw and at least 100 metal cutting blades, a straight edge clamped to the workpiece and wd40 as lubricant. To clean up the edges, I used metal files. I finished off the pieces with various grades of wet/dry sandpaper. Yes, there will be errors requiring refabrication. But you're making handmade pieces, not CNC cuts
    ______________
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  3. #3
    Senior Member CDXXVII's Avatar
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    If I were to build another roadster I would consider one of these. I have access to larger tools at work but I think this would have worked for most of my smaller projects.

    https://m.harborfreight.com/catalogs...&q=Brake+shear

  4. #4
    Well Used Member boat737's Avatar
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    Start small. Just make a bracket or small patch. Even the bigger projects (I made a shroud for the heater blower motor) starts with smaller pieces. I usually start by making cardboard or heavy paper templates and working from that. The cardboard from cereal box's is perfect. My go-to tools are a drill press, band saw, and hand files. Backup tools are jig saw, cord-less drill, hack-saw. For more substantial filing and sanding, I break out the combination 6-inch-disk/36-inch-belt sander (table top version). It does a great job, very fast and easy to use, but is the messy-est tool I have. So I use it outside the garage so aluminum dust doesn't go every where inside. Most disks and belts work fine with aluminum, but you can get special disks and belts for soft metals. For the bending, I have a small pliers/clamp tool from Harbor Freight for the really small stuff, but normally I have to rely on a couple of friends industrial brakes (or is that breaks?) for the serious bending.

    I have made many brackets, panels, nic-nac's, doo-dads for the car. Way more than I thought I would have for a car that is supposed to be "easily assembled". But the thinking, design, fabrication of special pieces has it's own satisfaction.
    Last edited by boat737; 08-08-2017 at 08:56 AM.
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  5. #5
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    I bought a 30 inch brake, and use my 4 1/2 inch angle grinder with a cutting wheel. Does okay, could probably be a little cleaner. Metal file to clean up the edges.

  6. #6
    Senior Member edwardb's Avatar
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    My experience is similar to several already listed. I use a metal cutting blade on my Craftsman bandsaw whenever I can. With aluminum, a decent blade lasts quite awhile. The .040 6061 aluminum used on these builds rarely if ever clogs the blades. Works OK for thicker aluminum as well. Like .090 and .125. For larger pieces or inside cuts I used the a fine tooth metal cutting blade in my jig saw. Also works fine and doesn't clog. Just a little harder to get a straight line. To clean up edges, I use my Delta benchtop combination disk/belt sander. 60-80 grit paper wears off but no issue with clogging. It's messy, but I use my shopvac on the dust port and it's not bad. For inside curves, I clean up with drum sanders on my drill press. Hand files are the last resort but use them occasionally. I have the cheap 30-inch HF brake.

    I've made dozens of aluminum parts with this combination of tools. The only thing I would change if I get the chance will be a better brake. Preferably the box brake variety.
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  7. #7
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    Much like others. The tool you use will depend on the stock you're trying to work. I've made brackets from the inside web of industrial cable trays. (1/8" thick) For this it was a hacksaw with file clean up. For lighter material, the jig saw if the material can be supported, again with a file as the final edge clean up. I've also used a thin cutting wheel on an handheld angle grinder - clean up with a hand file. I have a 10' carpenters break for house aluminum flashing. Bought that second hand for a home reno (changed windows/doors/soffit and facia). That stock is cut by scoring with a knife and bending it along the score line. It is a bit light for the thickness of aluminum provided in the kit. You can over board with tool purchases. But then again, that's what guys do - buy tools.

  8. #8
    Out Drivin' Gumball's Avatar
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    Jay - they're located a bit south of you, but you're always welcome to use my tools. As a result of my FFR build and my current '65 Mustang race car project, I've invested in a bunch of old metal working tools. For sheetmetal fabrication, these are indispensable.....

    Foot operated shear....



    Finger brake....

    Later,
    Chris

    "There are no more monsters to fear, and so, we have to build our own."
    Mk3.1 #7074

  9. #9
    Like 2FAST4U, my sheet metal tools consist of a Bosch hand held jigsaw with a metal cutting blade, a straight edge clamped to the workpiece, a metal file, some sandpaper, a scratch awl for marking cut/break lines, and the 30" Harbor Freight Break. I've successfully completed almost every aluminum mod you can think of. An easy starter project is the upper trunk box:

    IMG_1502 by jhsitton, on Flickr

    All the required straight lines are made with the metal break. Make corner patches (labeled 1 & 4 in the picture above) to seal the side edges and/or bottom. The best part is that all the aluminum can be covered with carpet so if any looky-loo actually sticks his head in your trunk to inspect your work, all the mistakes are hidden!


    John
    MK IV Roadster #8631
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  10. #10
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    I use a pneumatic shear to cut most my sheet aluminum up to ~ .125"; any thicker than that I use a Milwaukee circular saw with a blade specifically made for alum (or one made for steel if cutting steel). This is not a circular saw a carpenter would use -- they're way too fast and won't cut alum no matter what blade you use. Milwaukee has an 8" saw specifically made for cutting metal and runs about half the speed of a circular saw made to cut wood. They're proud of them as it cost me somewhere around $250 if I remember correctly but it's a very handy tool when you do as much fabrication work as I do.

    The softer grades of aluminum tend to gum up a saw blade -- the heat treated versions not so much. You need to use a much slower speed when cutting aluminum and a lubricant / coolant when practical (I hardly ever find it practical). A good quality jig saw with a variable speed works good -- just size the tooth count to fit your gage metal, a little bigger teeth than you would for steel. I will sometimes use a variable speed router to cut intricate shapes such as fender openings where I first make up a plywood guide to follow. Again, you need a tool that runs slow and don't rush the cut. For structural aluminum I use a portable-band saw and run the speed as slow as I can.

    I usually mill the cut edges but most of y'all will not have that capability. I also use a belt sander (no special abrasives here), a disc sander, an angle grinder with flapper wheels or Scotchbrite pads, a die grinder with flapper wheels, a long board pneumatic body sander, and files. DO NOT EVER USE A GRINDING WHEEL ON ANY SOFT METAL -- PERIOD! Yes, as a machinist I would sometimes have to grind aluminum blocks but that's on a surface grinder using a special wheel and coolant. Try this on your bench grinder and you will eventually explode a wheel and that can get bloody.

    I've been working with all kinds of metal including aluminum for a long long time and learned a lot of tricks from my elders when I worked in the trade. Don't give up, take the suggestions from this forum and try what makes sense.

  11. #11
    Have never done very heavy pieces but for the FFR sheet metal a pneumatic nibbler & 40" hand powered metal brake got me through the build.
    Kevin
    MKIV #8234
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  12. #12
    My suggestion is find someone near you with equipment and a willingness to teach you. Bring beer. Available here on the south side of ATL. Have the equipment to do pretty much anything to sheet metal but heat treat
    MKII "Little Boy". 432CI all aluminum Windsor. .699 solid roller, DA Koni shocks, aluminum IRS, Straight cut dog ring T-5, 13" four piston Brembos, Bogart wheels. BOOM!

  13. #13
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    If you can find an old Pexto stomp shear like Gumball's for a reasonable price, buy it. I was fortunate to find a 30" piece in good shape for $375 and I couldn't get the money out of my pocket fast enough. I'm not quick to tell someone how to spend their money, but that tool or the equivalent will open of a world of opportunities. The 30" Harbor Freight brake is a good tool as well, and is all I have needed for my build up to now. You would probably also appreciate an 8" or 10" hand-operated "bench top" shear. They are around $120 from Eastwood and are especially useful as they will let you cut .120 aluminum and other stuff that the stomp shear won't cut (and do the job much more safely than a cutoff wheel). Finally, if you need to cut a really long piece of .040 aluminum, such as splitting the trunk and dash on Type 65s, you can clamp a straight edge across it and score it about 100 times with a razor blade, then snap it. It's not terribly safe or fast, but it will get the job done.
    Last edited by Jacob McCrea; 08-08-2017 at 03:34 PM. Reason: Clarity

  14. #14
    Senior Member DaveS53's Avatar
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    What tool to use depends on whether you want long straight cut or curves. A shear would be nice for a really straight long cut. You might have to take the panel to a shop that makes HVAC duct to make some cuts like that.

    I made 10 panels to "upholster" the inside of my car using only a jig saw with Bosch 24-32 tpi metal cutting blades. I also made an engine cover for my LS3 engine and a top cover plate for my custom grille. I never saw a need for any lubricant.

    A disc sander should not clog if you have the right grade of abrasive wheel, in a fairly coarse grit, like 50. I used mine extensively, to shape edges. I also used small 3 inch sanding discs, either in a drill or high speed air powered hand held grinder.

    If you need cut bar stock, channels or angles, try using a 10" power miter saw, with 60T carbide blade. Just feed it slow. Home Depot sells some blades that are cheap. Don't buy a real pricey blade for fine cuts in wood. I've cut some big stuff, like 3 x 3 x 1/2" thick aluminum angle and 1-1/2" square bar stock this way. I've also used the same blade in my table saw to make some long cuts. Yes, you can use high speed wood working saws to cut aluminum. Although the surface speed is a lot higher than normally recommended, it does work.

    Hand files also work for dressing the edges, but you need a file on the coarse side, or you may clog the teeth. Coarse sandpaper on a stiff sanding block also works.

    A note about aluminum alloys and fabrication. While 6061-T6 is strong and corrosion resistant, it is too hard for many bending operations. If you stick a piece of bar stock in a vise and try to make a sharp bend it may crack or break and even if it doesn't it could be heavily stressed and doomed to an early failure. Annealing 6061 requires heating to over 700 degrees.

    A good alloy for sheet metal work is 3003-H14, which half hard. It's got good corrosion resistance and can be bent sharp without cracking. It can also be annealed at a much lower temperature, that can easily be achieved with a propane torch. I needed to bend some compound curves and found that annealing the area allowed me to shape the 4" wide piece by hand. I a pro is going to make a hood or hood sides for a early thirties car, they'll use this alloy in a .063 thickness.

    https://www.onlinemetals.com/merchan...p=2&top_cat=60
    Last edited by DaveS53; 08-10-2017 at 08:55 AM.

  15. #15
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    Yrmv

    Quote Originally Posted by NAZ View Post
    This is not a circular saw a carpenter would use -- they're way too fast and won't cut alum no matter what blade you use.

    I've been working with all kinds of metal including aluminum for a long long time and learned a lot of tricks from my elders when I worked in the trade. Don't give up, take the suggestions from this forum and try what makes sense.

    Naz
    <I was a Carpenter for 30+ years> and I learned a lot of tricks from my elders too. The biggest challenge on working AL with bits and blades
    is the expansion rate from heat when you don't have a coolant bath working. On the construction jobsites you don't have that so you learn
    to control heat in several ways including rate of feed and style of blades/teeth etc.
    My project;
    I used circular saws both corded and cordless models to cut 1/8" Aluminum for my new floor panels in the 33 coupe. No coolant, no wax
    no worries. The right carbide blade and the right feed rate along with lots of safety clothing and gear and it cuts just fine. Finding a brake
    that could fold flanges on two side of an obtuse shape sent me to an old sub-contractor with a huge pinch press, nice to still have contacts.
    DB

  16. #16
    A Beverly Shear is pricey but works great for free form parts. Not sure how well the knock offs work.
    b-2.jpg

    A powered version that I have used this up to 16ga. steel.
    e2a71fc6-81a4-4826-9ba6-622a9dff3836_1000.jpg

  17. #17
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    Wow, that's a lot of advice. Ill be rereading your responses and prepare some notes. I think I'll get some tools, materials and do some practicing. Really appreciate all of the input.

    Chris, as always, thanks is for the offer.

    Jay
    Mk4 Roadster 20th Anniversary #8658. 04 of 20. 3.31 IRS.
    Forte 427 Dart, TKO 600, Quick Fuel 780 carb. Delivered 9/2/2015, First start/Go Cart 2/18/2017.

  18. #18
    I have been using a router to cut aluminium sheets. I first make a template out of 3/4 ply then double side tape the aluminum to ply. then use the router bit with a bearing around the template. works really nice. IMG_20170723_101830.jpg

  19. #19
    I used a bench band saw for a majority of my cuts. Then used a bench disc/belt sander to finish the edges.
    My site - Non-donor - Engine Factory 351w/400hp - TKO500 - 3-Link - Cobra brakes - FFmetal - Wilwood pedals - FR500 wheels - NCPainter - FFR write-up

  20. #20
    Senior Member MPTech's Avatar
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    Like @FAST4U and phileas_fogg, I also used a "Bosh hand held jigsaw, fine-tooth metal cutting blades, a straight edge clamped to the workpiece and wd40 as lubricant. To clean up the edges, I used metal files. I finished off the pieces with various grades of wet/dry sandpaper." And a friend's Harbor Freight metal brake.

    My favorite part of the build was aluminum projects.
    I made:
    Upper Trunk Box
    Trunk Floor Extension
    Extended Passenger footbox
    DS FB (gas pedal bump)
    Under-dash Panel
    Glovebox opening
    Bulkhead box
    Foot Box Floors .125 Heavy Aluminum
    Firewall Forward 2.5”
    Heater duct work
    DS footbox top removable panel
    Brake Reservoir mount
    Header Heat Shields (Stainless Steel)
    Radiator Fan Shroud
    PS F-Panel (no hole)
    Overflow Tank mount
    Mirror mount
    Lower Radiator support brackets and horn mounts
    Air Cleaner support bracket
    License Plate Mod
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  21. #21
    For most of my cuts I use a plasma cutter. I bit of practice and you can get a nice edge using a guide. A couple of touches on the belt sander and it's good to go. Sure makes complex cuts easy.
    Mk IV Roadster, 347/516 HP, 8 stack injection, Astro Performance T5, 3-Link 3.55 gears, Purchased 08/2015, Graduated 02/2017

  22. #22
    I think with all the advice you are seeing that there is no right answer to the question. First you need to know what is the most you might want to do. Once you know that you can start picking appropriate tools. You can make a simple brake with supplies from Home Depot, but imagine the tools it takes to make just this one part. It is a bracket that holds twin 5" ram air ducts made from .063 6061T6.
    ramairbracket.JPG
    MKII "Little Boy". 432CI all aluminum Windsor. .699 solid roller, DA Koni shocks, aluminum IRS, Straight cut dog ring T-5, 13" four piston Brembos, Bogart wheels. BOOM!

  23. #23
    A lot of good advice here, and I'd like to add a few more tidbits. I like Lenox jigsaw blades, they bend, not break if you accidently stub them. Unplug the saw for safety, grab your pliers and straighten the blade, then back to work. Don't recommend using your fingers, the blade is usually still hot. I use nozzle dip, a wax product that is sold to dip the head of your mig welder in and is available at welding stores. It provides good lube, doesn't spatter all over your project and the residue cleans easily with a little brakleen on a rag. Get to know your local sheet metal shop guys, I often rummage their scrap bin for pieces that may already have a 90 degree bend or other useful shape and just need to be cut down to size. Great way to make nice looking brackets and the shop will usually sell these pieces cheap.

  24. #24
    I have nothing to add in regards to tools ... just a little about process...

    1. I used cardboard, file folders or poster board to make templates of most of the complex pieces made so far. Making a template also helps you visualize the process of fabricating the part;

    2. Work when you are fresh and full of energy ... I am an early morning person and got more good work done at that time. Most of my "redo" work came after working tired or to late;

    3. Remember that the originals were essentially hand made cars; your making a hand made car ... they inherently will not be perfect (and in my humble opinion should not be). Yes you want safe and functional but remember that sometimes "perfect is the enemy of good enough"; and,

    4. Have fun and post your questions ... lots of help on these forums have saved me countless hours of work.

    The Olde Goat Herder in NoVA.

    Carl
    Mk 4 Roadster
    October 25, 2012 - Kit Arrives
    April 8, 2013 - Build Starts
    August 23, 2015 - Rolling Chassis/Engine & Transmission Installed
    March 26, 2016 - Go Cart

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by MPTech View Post
    Like @FAST4U and phileas_fogg, I also used a "Bosh hand held jigsaw, fine-tooth metal cutting blades, a straight edge clamped to the workpiece and wd40 as lubricant. To clean up the edges, I used metal files. I finished off the pieces with various grades of wet/dry sandpaper." And a friend's Harbor Freight metal brake.

    My favorite part of the build was aluminum projects.
    I made:
    Upper Trunk Box
    Trunk Floor Extension
    Extended Passenger footbox
    DS FB (gas pedal bump)
    Under-dash Panel
    Glovebox opening
    Bulkhead box
    Foot Box Floors .125 Heavy Aluminum
    Firewall Forward 2.5”
    Heater duct work
    DS footbox top removable panel
    Brake Reservoir mount
    Header Heat Shields (Stainless Steel)
    Radiator Fan Shroud
    PS F-Panel (no hole)
    Overflow Tank mount
    Mirror mount
    Lower Radiator support brackets and horn mounts
    Air Cleaner support bracket
    License Plate Mod
    MPTech, that is a lot of fabrication. I wish I had your skills.
    Mk4 Roadster 20th Anniversary #8658. 04 of 20. 3.31 IRS.
    Forte 427 Dart, TKO 600, Quick Fuel 780 carb. Delivered 9/2/2015, First start/Go Cart 2/18/2017.

  26. #26
    Senior Member CraigS's Avatar
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    Check these out. Kind of the low end of the quality scale but...scroll down to the 'frequently bought together'
    http://www.homedepot.com/p/WEN-3-5-A...3962/206587103
    Once you have the bandsaw get the blade size and go to mcmaster carr for replacement blades as they will have several types and teeth counts.
    This would be a great step up in band saws
    http://www.grizzly.com/products/The-...-Bandsaw/G0555
    Last edited by CraigS; 08-10-2017 at 06:51 AM.
    FFR MkII, 408W, Tremec TKO 500, 2015 IRS, DA QA1s, Forte front bar, APE hardtop.

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by CraigS View Post
    Check these out. Kind of the low end of the quality scale but...scroll down to the 'frequently bought together'
    http://www.homedepot.com/p/WEN-3-5-A...3962/206587103
    Once you have the bandsaw get the blade size and go to mcmaster carr for replacement blades as they will have several types and teeth counts.
    This would be a great step up in band saws
    http://www.grizzly.com/products/The-...-Bandsaw/G0555
    I am familiar with Grizzly products. That looks like a great bandsaw. I had a Dewalt that was just ok and gave to my woodworking son. This Grizzly model looks to be more substantial. Thanks.

    And, thanks everyone for your input. I sense many others on this forum benefit from the group's generous ideas.

    Jay
    Mk4 Roadster 20th Anniversary #8658. 04 of 20. 3.31 IRS.
    Forte 427 Dart, TKO 600, Quick Fuel 780 carb. Delivered 9/2/2015, First start/Go Cart 2/18/2017.

  28. #28
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    LED Bulbs

    I decided to replace the std 1157 bulbs, front parking/directional and rear parking/brake/directional bulbs with 1157A comparable LED Bulbs by Sylvania purchased at my local auto parts store. I replaced one bulb at a time and tested functionality. When they worked they were definitely slightly brighter and didn't heat up...a bonus. However, the system would not accept all 6 bulbs and still work. I also purchased 2 new heavy duty flashers by Novita, EL12, 552 Upgrade.

    So, since it will accept only 4 bulbs, with everything working properly including emergency flashers, I chose to keep the front amber bulbs as original. The battery is a fully charged Optima yellow top. I'm uncertain how to proceed to detect the problem.
    Mk4 Roadster 20th Anniversary #8658. 04 of 20. 3.31 IRS.
    Forte 427 Dart, TKO 600, Quick Fuel 780 carb. Delivered 9/2/2015, First start/Go Cart 2/18/2017.

  29. #29
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    I should have posted the LED thread as a new one. Is there anyway to move it as a new thread??
    Mk4 Roadster 20th Anniversary #8658. 04 of 20. 3.31 IRS.
    Forte 427 Dart, TKO 600, Quick Fuel 780 carb. Delivered 9/2/2015, First start/Go Cart 2/18/2017.

  30. #30
    Senior Member flynntuna's Avatar
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    This thread got me searching the web, I found these attachments and you tube videos on how to make the Milwaukee portable saw into a chop saw and band saw...

    http://www.trick-tools.com/EZ-CUT-Ji...ezcut-jig-9360

    https://www.google.com/search?q=yout...&client=safari

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by flynntuna View Post
    This thread got me searching the web, I found these attachments and you tube videos on how to make the Milwaukee portable saw into a chop saw and band saw...

    http://www.trick-tools.com/EZ-CUT-Ji...ezcut-jig-9360

    https://www.google.com/search?q=yout...&client=safari
    Awesome videos. I'll have to look into that swag portable band saw table. Much appreciated.
    Mk4 Roadster 20th Anniversary #8658. 04 of 20. 3.31 IRS.
    Forte 427 Dart, TKO 600, Quick Fuel 780 carb. Delivered 9/2/2015, First start/Go Cart 2/18/2017.

  32. #32
    If you try the razor scoring approach, check your 'line of fire' before every stroke. I was 99% of the way finished with one and turned the razor around to get a small portion that remained, but didn't move my other hand. Razor jumped into my wrist and took out my thumb extensor tendon and the artery underneath. The quantity and pressure of blood from an artery is truly impressive. Don't do this.

  33. #33
    A few more items and what you need to make.
    For this, you would need a brake and a slip roll.
    complete (1).JPG

    For this, you would need an English wheel.
    DSC00429sm.jpg

    For this type of work you will need a box brake.
    DSC00012 (800x600).jpg
    MKII "Little Boy". 432CI all aluminum Windsor. .699 solid roller, DA Koni shocks, aluminum IRS, Straight cut dog ring T-5, 13" four piston Brembos, Bogart wheels. BOOM!

  34. #34
    Making it up as I go. JJ in Cbus's Avatar
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    I built this stand for my Milwaukee Portaband a few years ago. This has been the handiest damn thing in my shop. This along with a bench top belt/disk sander, I have been able to fab all kind of parts.

    Last edited by JJ in Cbus; 08-11-2017 at 04:10 PM.

  35. #35
    Back when I was in college, they taught us shop safety as well as how to use tools like metal cutting laths and milling machines in the first year. In my junior year the head of the engineering program tried to impress us by demonstrating how to make a spring. In doing this, he violated at least 6 safety rules. Do not be like him and believe that just because you know how to do something you can ignore safety.

    Perhaps a safety thread would be a good idea?

  36. #36
    Senior Member CraigS's Avatar
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    Great idea. I will start one.
    FFR MkII, 408W, Tremec TKO 500, 2015 IRS, DA QA1s, Forte front bar, APE hardtop.

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