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Little-Known But Really Useful Tools

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  • Little-Known But Really Useful Tools

    Actually, if you've hung around machine shops the following are very common, well-known tools. But they're not something you commonly see on a pegboard in the tools department at home centers. So I thought I'd mention them here in the hope they'll be of interest to Joe Slotter.

    Deburring Scraper -- So handy. This is a hand-held tool that is used to scrape burrs off the edges of a machined part. Although they come in different varieties for different materials and applications, a basic, generic deburring scraper can be used most of the time. This tool not only removes burrs, but will leave an edge with a slight radius, so the edge is no longer slice-my-finger-open sharp. Only takes seconds to use, and well worth the effort. The actual cutter blade is typically cheap and easily replaced, so you should never need to use a dull one.

    Prick Punch -- Hey, I didn't name it! This guy is the smallest and sharpest member of the center-punch family. Very handy when laying out holes precisely. Often I will use my prick punch to make a divot as close as I can to my centerline markings, then follow up with its big brother to make said divot large enough to easily find with a drill.

    Transfer Punch -- 'Nother member of the punch family. These guys typically come in sets. What they do is make it easy to transfer a hole pattern from an existing part onto material that will, when finished, bolt up precisely with that existing part. What you do is clamp the part and the material together, then find the transfer punch that fits the holes you want to transfer. That punch has a smooth, straight outside diameter to fit in the existing hole, and a sharp conical end to mark the center of the hole you want to drill in the clamped-up material. All you have to do is rap the blunt end of the transfer punch with a hammer. If everything is fit up precisely, you can transfer the existing hole pattern to the material exactly. Especially useful if the original hole pattern isn't particularly accurate. The offsets get transferred too, so the holes will still match up nicely.

    Center Finder -- There are two kinds of center finders. One is used to locate the center on the end of a round rod. The other is used to find the center on the outer diameter of a round rod. Both are useful for locating holes in rods and other round materials.

    Reamers* -- For precision work a machine shop will typically drill holes a couple of thousandths in diameter undersize, then use reamers to enlarge those holes to the final finished diameter. A reamed hole is typically more smooth and round than what a drill produces, and more accurate in diameter -- usually within a few ten-thousandths of an inch. Standard reamers are designed to produce one specific diameter hole. Those reamers typically come in sets, although you can buy individual reamers if you only need one particular size. You can buy reamers that are slightly oversize or slightly undersize for close-fit applications. You can also buy adjustable reamers, which are more versatile, but not as precise. You can spend a lot of money on reamers, but a modeller may find having just a few specific sizes to be useful.

    All of these tools are available from suppliers such as McMacster-Carr, Grainger and MSC Direct. If you want to expand your machine shop consciousness their web sites are wonderful places to get educated.

    Graybeards and gurus -- please chime in with your own nominees for little-known but really useful tools. Thanks in advance!

    Ed Bianchi

    * I'm not talking about the tapered hand-tool reamers that are designed to manually hog out an existing hole to a larger size. Those can be handy too, but there is nothing precision about them.

  • #2
    Have all of them and have used them for years. Can we get fancy and add in lathes, mills, bending brakes, nibblers, arbor presses, and all other sorts of goodness?


    • #3
      Gerry, I was gonna say nibbler!!! Never knew they existed until about a month ago. Makes sheets of brass into floor sweepings...lickity split!


      • #4
        I used a hand nibbler for years when forming electronics chassis (anyone else use a Greelee punch?) and added an electric powered nibbler about 20 years ago. About 10 years ago I added a pneumatic nibble. Feed that sucker with 120 psi from my big compressor and it will nibble through anything. Certainly faster than I can go through a bucket of popcorn at a movie theatre.


        • #5
          Originally posted by gmcullan View Post
          I used a hand nibbler for years when forming electronics chassis (anyone else use a Greelee punch?) and added an electric powered nibbler about 20 years ago. About 10 years ago I added a pneumatic nibble. Feed that sucker with 120 psi from my big compressor and it will nibble through anything. Certainly faster than I can go through a bucket of popcorn at a movie theatre.
          I have a whole set of Greenlee punches - round, square and "D" shaped - hangovers from my days of building vacuum tube electronics.


          • #6
            Not actually tools per se, but the following are machine shop must-haves, and very useful for a modeller to have on hand:

            Cutting Oil -- Tap Magic is the most widely known brand. This is a lubricating oil that helps cutting tools cut, and stay sharp. The two common flavors are specifically for steel and for aluminum. You just dribble a bit onto the material you are cutting and go at it. Use it for taps and dies and for drills and mills. With power tools it helps cool the bit and the work. It will smoke if it gets hot enough. That's okay, just don't huff it. It is common practice to add some more cutting oil as the work progresses to make up for the oil that gets absorbed by the chips and otherwise lost. Yes, it will make a mess, but you'll save wear on your tools -- a worthwhile trade-off.

            Layout Fluid -- Dykem is the most widely known brand. You typically apply layout fluid to flat material you are going to drill or machine. It dries like a uniform blue ink covering the entire surface. Then you can use your layout tools to scratch lines, circles and centerline marks where you want them. The scratches look white-ish against the blue background -- easy to see.

            Machinist's Tape -- At least that's what I call it. It is very thin -- thin as packing tape -- with adhesive on both sides. It can be used to hold down thin material for machining that would otherwise be hard to fixture. It holds things much better than you might imagine.

            And let me add to the list something I recently discovered -- Krylon Easy-Tack. It's made by the same folks who make Krylon spray paints. It is a spray adhesive that will turn any piece of paper or plastic film into a Post-It Note. That is, something that can be stuck to a surface, peeled up and repositioned, and easily removed and discarded when done. I am using it now to temporarily glue computer-generated layouts that I have printed onto paper or clear film to place on flat material. On my latest project I used it on 1/8" thick Lexan to mark where I needed to saw-cut all the features. In fact I needed to reposition the layout, to make it possible to reach all of those features with my benchtop band saw. When I was done, I peeled it off and threw it away -- no issues.

            Like Gerry and HObro, I have used a manual nibbling tool for -- heck -- for decades! A couple of years ago I bought a small power nibbler. When I tested it out it made fast, clean cuts through thin brass stock. I haven't actually fired it in anger yet, but I've got it for the day I really do need it.

            Ed Bianchi


            • #7
              Center drills for deburring plastic crown gears. Allows you to push axle through gear without pushing out some plastic, usually on the bearing side of the gear. Makes setting gear mesh with spacers so much easier.


              • #8
                Center drills.... Thanks... never knew. I was de burring crown gears with an Xacto...cripes, I'm a cave man!!