The Case For Tools

Ok, I admit it, I’m a tool junky. I don’t buy every tool that is available but I like tools, I have a tendency to buy fairly specialist items (in addition to the standard ones most modellers have in their toolboxes) and I tend to like good ones. In my opinion there’s no point in having a tool if you’re not going to use it so I tend to spend a long while thinking about and considering a purchase. In the case of my mill, I spent something like six or seven years tossing the idea of getting one about before I actually made the purchase. If this seems like a long time, don’t ask how long it took for me to decide to get a woodworking router?

These days you can go onto YouTube and see videos of people doing all sorts of things and tools are no exception. I watched a bloke unpack his mill in one video before I got mine: I’m not exactly sure why you would post a video of unpacking a metalworking mill but I watched it right through so maybe that says something about both me and the guy who posted it! One thing I learned as I researched the purchase of a mill and other pieces of metalworking equipment is that, these days, the buyer seems to be faced with a choice between either a fairly cheap Chinese item or a top of the line German machine. There doesn’t seem to be a lot in the middle. If you’ve ever looked at the prices of Wabeco machines you’ll know that the Germans don’t just charge top dollar for their cars! 🙂

After the purchase of the mill I went about purchasing some items to allow me to use it and a milling vise was top of the list. I received a vise as a gift a couple of months ago of the same manufacture as the mill. I had assumed that a vise produced by the same company which produced my mill would be a pretty safe choice; this assumption turned out to be mistaken. It was immediately apparent, after unpacking the new vise from its box, that it was a pretty inferior item. It seemed to display all the faults I had read and heard a milling vise should not possess: the jaws lifted from the bed as they closed, the opening and closing action was sloppy and the design seemed too big for my mini-mill even though it was recommended for my particular mill. I decided I could live with this until I was using the vise and one of the retaining bolts sheered off when I was snugging it down. “That’s it”, I thought, “I’m taking this back”.

So yesterday I took a drive up to Brisbane to Carba Tec where I had bought the dud vise. What I had decided to do was use the money I would get on returning the vise and put it toward the purchase of a metal working break/roller/guillotine. I’ll post a photo of my new toy when I finish writing this post. In my opinion this piece of kit is pretty mandatory for anyone considering scratch building locomotives at home. I do have access to a metal shear at my school, but I like to have this sort of tool at home so I can potter and fiddle about with the pieces of metal I want to cut. This tends to be a bit difficult with a metalwork teacher hovering in the background worrying that his crazy deputy principal (and one he knows is an English teacher) will cut a finger off. The small guillotine I bought yesterday was purchased at a considerable discount and will be used in the first step I take in building my first steam loco.

The real irony in this story was that a month or so after getting the dud vise I went to Sydney and picked up a smaller vise from McJing (contact details appear on the right hand side of the blog page). This is a specialist tool supplier run by an Asian family and they sell a lot of tools sourced out of China. When I got home with this new 2″ vise I realised that it was quite a good quality German tool and it’s done some sterling service since I bought it. I’m so happy with it that I’m going to go back and buy a slightly bigger one to replace the dud item I returned yesterday.

The new metal guillotine will allow me to cut pieces of sheet metal with a good deal of accuracy and with none of the distortion of the sort that would be produced using hand snips or even a saw. The tool has a set of rollers and a break that allow for a range of shaping that, at this stage, I don’t really need. However you never know what will come in handy till you need it.

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One thought on “The Case For Tools

  1. Hi Trevor:
    You’re 100% right about the value of high quality tools. I’ve run through a number of poorly-executed cordless drill/screwdriver sets. Then a friend introduced me to Festool – from Germany. I picked up a Festool cordless drill/driver and it’s like a completely different tool. It’s the tool all those others should’ve been.
    Nice looking guillotine. Watch the “ingers”…

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