The author's well-worn cutoff...
The author's well-worn cutoff saw, or chop saw. This saw is close to 20 years old and still going strong. The purchase price was $89 plus tax. Not a bad deal.
If you have spent any time working on race cars, you have most likely done some metal cutting. This may be something as simple as drilling a hole in sheetmetal or as complex as fitting new tubes to repair a damaged chassis.
The fact is that you need to be able to cut metal in some form to build or repair a race car, and you need the proper tools to cover the needs of metal cutting. Fortunately, to accomplish the basics, you should be able to equip your shop without breaking the bank. You merely need to exercise some care and plan accordingly.
Metal cutting equipment falls into two major categories: hand powered and machine powered. Within these groups are a variety of subgroups: drilling, milling, turning, cutting or sawing, grinding, and filing.
Common tools of the trade:...
Common tools of the trade: a hacksaw, tin snips, and measuring tools.
Metal cutting, of course, requires skill with the various tools in order to accomplish the work, and it takes practice and time to develop the required skills. Some of these skills are more complex and require a greater amount of training and time to master, but others are much simpler and require fewer special skills.
Many people consider drilling holes to be a simple task. The reality is that drilling holes requires special care, because you can't simply un-drill a hole once you drill it. You are stuck with the result. If you drill the hole in the wrong place, it is very difficult to repair and re-drill in the correct place. The trick is to measure, measure, and measure some more before drilling.
From a tool perspective, the requirements are fairly simple. Most of you probably already have the necessary tools required to accomplish this operation. You need some measuring tools, and a tape measure is more than adequate for most situations. A drill press is a great tool for this purpose. They are reasonable in price and provide a stable platform to drill and a great way to hold the work piece. A floor-mounted drill press can bepurchased for under $200.
A simple, low-cost milling...
A simple, low-cost milling machine. This type of mill is great if the majority of the work you are doing is not required to be ultraprecise. This machine is great for doing fabrication work, and its price will not break the budget. One thing to remember is the cost of the cutting tools will not be low.
For jobs that can't be done in a drill press, you will need a hand drill. The prices on hand drills range from under $20 to over $300 for some of the more powerful drills loaded with features. Power sources are traditional plug-in cords, batteries mounted on the tool, or pneumatic.
Pneumatic drills are usually very light and have a range in price very similar to their electric brothers. The problem is that you must have a fairly substantial air compressor to run air tools. This is a real drawback and gives electric drills an advantage for the racer starting to build a selection of tools for the shop.
Electric drills are usually where most people start. For most racers, a 3/8- or 1/2-inch drill motor is a good place to start. Look for features such as variable speed and possibly a keyless chuck. You can get a good drill and a good selection of drill bits for under $100. At first, a good set of drill bits made of high-speed steel will do just fine. If you look around at some of the larger tool houses, you may find a drill index with both number drills and fractional sizes for a very reasonable price. I have seen sets with 115 drill bits for $39.95 fairly regularly.
At the very minimum, you need a hacksaw in the shop. You may want to keep a good selection of blades for cutting thin metal and some blades for cutting thicker metal. Expect to pay $10 to $15 for a good hacksaw frame, and blades should run about $1 to $3 each.
The next step up on the food chain is a cutoff saw. Fire up a cutoff saw and the neighborhood kids gather around to watch the spray of sparks; it's like the 4th of July whenever you are prepping for the races. A good cutoff saw will set you back in the $150 range. If you keep an eye open for sales, you may score one for less than $100.