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I Forge Iron

Where to head next to flesh out my tools


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Hey guys,

I don't really have many tools. I grew up around them and usually know what I'm doing with them but for a big chunk of my 20s thy just weren't a priority and when we bought a house a few years ago I realize I basically had none. So I've been slowly building up a collection.

My birthday was Saturday and Dad got me a $75 Harbor Freight gift card. The next 3 big things on my wish list are a belt sander/disc sander combo, a drill press, and a welder.

The drill press appeals to me because I do not have a steady hand and I have had a number of projects become way harder than expected because I can't for the life of me drill a straight hole. I do own a few drills, including a hammer drill, so while this does appeal to me, I am not sure how much it will improve my ability to learn and progress. But Harbor Freight's $75 8 inch does have very good reviews for what it is.

I do really want a belt sander. I've done a number of projects where relying on the angle grinder and the orbital sander made them tedious and sloppy. I don't know how great Harbor freight's little $75 machine is.

I can afford to supplement a little and with the sale they have going on I could realistically get the welder but I have no other equipment, no idea what I'm dong aside from what information the internet has to provide, and it is their cheapest welder. But it seems like an awful lot of getting into blacksmithing without breaking the bank relies pretty heavily on being able to stick metal together reliably. And every review I've looked at does seem to think that it's a decent machine for the price.

If you were just getting started and had a choice between the 3, which would you go with?

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In your situation, I would probably go with the drill press. It won't be great quality, but it will get a lot done for you. My first drill press wasn't from HF, but it was the same kind of inexpensive import. I got a LOT of good work done with that machine and eventually traded it for an old Delta with a friend who didn't really have room for his full-size drill press and wanted a benchtop model. 

Neither the belt sander nor the welder is robust enough for the kind of work you're going to want to do, and you will be much better served by saving your pennies and buying quality. In the mean time, learn good filing technique and forge welding.

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Used good name equipment will often last pretty much forever.  A lot of HF stuff is "one project" quality.  Don't buy the welder!!!!!! Lots of bad stories about them places NOT managed by the folks trying to sell them.  "Online reviews by people you don't know aren't worth the paper they are written on!"

Welders: I see Lincoln tombstone welders on CL for around US$150  Stick welders are good entry level items and will handle most of what you need to do.  (Professional Welders usually say: Blue (Miller) or Red(Lincoln)!)

Are there any consumables that HF stocks that you can spend the GC on?

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I use a Lincoln wire welder (on long-term loan from the college's theater department) with HF's Vulcan flux-core wire; I also use a lot of their cutting discs in my angle grinder. For a while, they were giving away free tape measures with any purchase as part of their regular promotions, and I've got about half a dozen scattered around the place. (Still can't find one when I need one, though!)

Here's a radical thought: if your dad's okay with it, can you find someone who will give you cash value for the gift card? That will enable you to spend the money anywhere, including on used quality gear off Craigslist or the like. You might also ask people if they're willing to accept the card in trade (although folks who don't know you personally might not want to take the risk on a card that could have less or no value).

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The two power tools I use most are my drill press and cut off band saw. As above buy a used: Lincoln, Miller or Hobart. I bought my drill press from "Bob's Closeout" more than 30 years ago and really lucked out, it's actually lasted, no side lash in the quill at all. It was a rare bit of luck as it's a cheap cheap indeterminate brand.

Anyway, you can build almost anything with a drill press and cut off saw, nuts and bolts, screws, rivets, etc. joins things nicely.

A grinder would be my next buy, a decent 6" bench grinder and a small disk grinder. Okay that's two but they have their pluses and minuses. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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I bought my drill press around 1982 during the oil field crash in OK; lots of small machine shops were going out of business and having bankruptcy sales.  Having lived cheap and saved I was able to pick up *nice* stuff.  (It's a Jet with a 2 hp dayton motor, 3/4" jacobs chuck and then you can pop that out and use tapered bits for larger.  Floor standing with a crank up/down table.  I figure my grandkids will be fighting over who gets it...)

Anyway: Current situation!!!! if you have money there are probably folks trying to convert excess equipment into cash right now...

You need to be able to evaluate used equipment, several folks were upset when I would sniff the air vents on their equipment motors and check for play in shafts.  I'll bring a friend along who is a retired user of some sorts of equipment I am not familiar with to get a "professional" vetting of it.  (I've also annoyed some folks by bringing a long HD extension cord along and testing out stuff that wasn't near power...)

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