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Thread: Tools for alumin(i)um sheetmetal work

  1. #1

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    Tools for alumin(i)um sheetmetal work

    And so it begins, as i have just submitted my application to build one of these bad boys....
    I'll be heading over to sunny Florida in a couple of weeks for a brief vacation, and thought i'd start stocking up on some tools for the job. It looks like there is going to be a need for some trimming of the aluminum panels. My experience with admittedly crappy hand shears is that they tend to distort the sheet metal, so i'm wondering what you recommend for this work? I am looking for either pneumatic or manual tools.

  2. #2
    Papa's Avatar
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    Honestly, a good pair of hand shears is what you will use most of the time. I also used a nibbler for some of the custom fabrication pieces. I used a cutoff wheel on a die grinder and a small circular saw with a metal cutting disk for cutting the opening in the trunk floor for the under-floor battery box. In all cases, the pneumatic tools provided the rough cuts and the final cuts were done with hand shears and files.
    Last edited by Papa; 04-14-2019 at 11:51 AM.
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    I just used a drill to drill holes and then I used a jigsaw. I used files to smooth off the rough edges.

    There was only minimal trimming if I remember correctly - the heater opening and the under-floor battery box.
    Steve

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    Seasoned Citizen NAZ's Avatar
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    I've been fabricating aluminum, steel, and stainless sheetmetal for half a century -- made a living at it for decades and now I do it for myself and friends. The absolute best way to cut sheetmetal is with a shear. I do a lot of sheetmetal fabrication so I have a pneumatic shear and pan brake for most of my work but there are still some panels that I need to use hand held power tools to cut and form. If all you're doing is trimming some ready made panels you can get away with using power tools, but knowing which tool to use for the job is important.

    You should look at all hand held shears and nibblers as roughing tools regardless if they are manual or have a cord or air hose attached, and that also goes for a bench mounted Beverly shear. For light trimming you can use a good quality hand held jig saw with variable speed (need to run them slow in aluminum, especially O-temper) and adjustable blade feed. Use a coarser blade than you would for steel and lots of blade feed at slow speed. I've used variable speed routers on the slowest setting for cutting intricate shapes following a plywood pattern but this should be limited to heat treated alloys like 6061-T6 or 3003-H14.

    You'll also need a good assortment of files for smoothing sharp edges.
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    I highly recommend a pneumatic rivet gun. I picked up one at Harbor freight and so far it works great

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    Ditto on Air Rivet Gun..... Like the Boys at the "compound" say,,,, no more Cave Man for me.......

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    Thanks, great info! I think I'll get some new good quality shears then for the trimming. Probably get a pan brake if I need to fabricate stuff, but that won't fit in my suitcase, so i'll deal with that if the need arises. I have band saws, jig saws and routers, but I would be wary of using these on the pre-cut panels from FFR. I've used enough power tools I'm my time to realize how quickly it goes too far...

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    I do have a pneumatic rivet gun and a rivnut tool, so I'm all set in that departement.

  9. #9
    Papa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oystein View Post
    Thanks, great info! I think I'll get some new good quality shears then for the trimming. Probably get a pan brake if I need to fabricate stuff, but that won't fit in my suitcase, so i'll deal with that if the need arises. I have band saws, jig saws and routers, but I would be wary of using these on the pre-cut panels from FFR. I've used enough power tools I'm my time to realize how quickly it goes too far...
    Very little adjustment/trimming needed on the FFR pre-cut aluminum panels. They've got them pretty well engineered.
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  10. #10
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    Get yourself the accordion style rivet spacing tool from Aircraft Spruce. It made spacing rivets a breeze. Also get yourself some good drill bits. I bought some double ended drill bits and only used two bits in total so far. I also have the HF pneumatic rivet gun. What a great piece of equipment. For cutting and making panels, I just used a Metabo and the appropriate disc to make my cuts. Not much to it. Just take your time and check your lines often.

    Scott

  11. #11
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    The shears I found the most useful were Aviation Snips that were angled about 30 off straight. This puts your hand and the handle of the snips below the metal on long cuts.

    https://www.amazon.com/MIDWEST-Aviat...gateway&sr=8-4

    Hint on keeping the metal cut smooth. Don't snip all the way through the metal but take short cuts without closing the snips all the way. If you do close them the very tip of the snips will distort the metal. Experiment with them.

    I also did make use of my band saw especially on thicker aluminum. Just set it up with fine blade. I also just used a woodworking blade.

    Consider a deburring tool. They help in cleaning up the edge of your cuts especially after using the band saw.

    You probably don't need a brake. A heavy bench, a bunch of clamps and some 2 x 4's. My favorite hammer for this is usually a dead blow hammer. Sometimes I'd use a sharp edge of the bench and sometimes I'd use a rounded over edge depending on the bend I wanted. Work slowly back and forth along the bend. Again, experiment and practice.

    George

  12. #12
    Senior Member edwardb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oystein View Post
    Thanks, great info! I think I'll get some new good quality shears then for the trimming. Probably get a pan brake if I need to fabricate stuff, but that won't fit in my suitcase, so i'll deal with that if the need arises. I have band saws, jig saws and routers, but I would be wary of using these on the pre-cut panels from FFR. I've used enough power tools I'm my time to realize how quickly it goes too far...
    The metal-working pros on here will probably cringe. But I've now done four builds with a Craftsman band saw, small Craftsman drill press, a Delta combination disk/belt sander, and a $50 Harbor Freight 30-inch bending brake. Also a few hand tools like a jig saw, Dremel, and couple different air and electric cut-off tools. Most from my days of woodworking. I've used these tools not only to adjust kit supplied parts, but also to fabricate a bunch of custom parts. Some fairly complex. The majority of the parts I've fabricated were aluminum. Mainly 6061 like what comes in the kit. It's pretty easy to work with. The bandsaw I have is for woodworking. But with a metal cutting blade cuts the 6061 aluminum like butter, and the disk/belt sander cleans/straightens the edges perfectly. Probably in the long run it's not the best for the bandsaw. But I vacuum it out regularly and it's still going strong. As already stated, the aluminum panels from Factory Five are precisely (laser) cut and fit very well. Adjustments will be very minor in my experience. So I wouldn't bulk up too much until you've had some experience or unless you're planning significant custom fabrication. Like several have mentioned, I too am a fan of a pneumatic rivet gun. Many have had good luck with the Harbor Freight one. But after reading a few negative reviews, I bumped up a bit to a Campbell Hausfeld model and it's been great.
    Last edited by edwardb; 04-15-2019 at 06:16 AM.
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  13. #13

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    Those aviation snips from Midwest looks like the ones I've been using before, but they were of dubious quality, how's the quality of those? Also, what is the advantage of the accordion rivet spacer compared to the one in the kit? I won't go to crazy with the buying this time, I'll be back in Florida this fall anyway. I'll get the drill doctor 750 this time though, as i have loads of worn out drillbits laying around.

  14. #14
    Senior Member edwardb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oystein View Post
    Also, what is the advantage of the accordion rivet spacer compared to the one in the kit?
    The kit supplied 2-inch and 3-inch spacer tool IMO works fine a majority of the time, and is mainly all I use. On those occasions where you want different spacing, especially when trying to get them evenly spaced between two points, the accordion tool is a quick/easy way to do it. I like evenly spaced rivets as much as the next guy. Simple math and a ruler works for me. But I know lots of guys like the accordion tool. Personal preference like so many parts of these builds.
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    Senior Member CraigS's Avatar
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    I don't know about the quality of the Midwest snips but I strongly second a set that has that angle between blade and grip. Anything less and you have the edges of the aluminum running over your fingers and they are sharp.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member Dave Howard's Avatar
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    To the original post, the amount of trimming will be minimal. A good set of manual snips or shears (left, straight, right) should do the majority of the work. A jig saw with appropriate blade if you're fabbing a part from scratch....and a good file to clean up the edges. That won't be to hard on the tool budget.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member BEAR-AvHistory's Avatar
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    I liked the nibbler for some cuts. That a pneumatic riveter & a workbench sheet metal break are the only special tool I bought especially for the kit.
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  18. #18

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    I do think I have pretty much what I need in tools save for a new torque wrench and the aforementioned nibblers. Might get a hand tool to bend sheet metal as well, and some more cleco, but that's pretty much it. I suspect there will be lots of parts to buy next time I come over to Florida. Seems the list of available modifications and improvements is endless, it's going to be hard to show some restraint....

  19. #19
    Senior Member Avalanche325's Avatar
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    If I were building again, the very first thing that I would buy would be a combo disc / belt sander.
    The next thing would be to buy or make a jigsaw table. Basically a jigsaw sticking up through a table. My friend had a cheap one from Home Depot and it was a dream to cut AL with.

    I still wouldn't bother with a pneumatic rivet gun. Maybe I'm a tough guy!

    You will find a need for a swivel head rivet gun.
    My other stuff is:
    tin snips. Rarely used and never on finish cuts.
    HF 30 in metal brake.
    Dremel tool. Used this about a million times during the build.
    If you have a decent size compressor, die grinder, cutoff tool, body saw (HF cheapie)
    Rivnut gun (HF gun - rivnuts from McMaster - Carr)
    Various files.
    Sharpies.
    Striaght edges, rulers, squares, etc
    Safety glasses and gloves when working with metal.

    Congrats on getting things rolling.

    I always hit the edges with sandpaper whether I have cut them or not. No sharp edges anywhere is what I shoot for.

  20. #20
    Senior Member DavidW's Avatar
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    Combo belt/disc sander works great after cut with a jig saw.

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    Thanks guys, all great info, I appreciate you taking your time to answer this and numerous other questions on this forum.

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