Although it sounds simple, this is a bit of a ticklish area to discuss and is liable to raise the hackles of some makers who might (in their case) rightly argue that metalwork has no place in a fine woodworking ‘shop. This argument doesn’t really hold water as the messiest job in the workshop is tool sharpening and I couldn’t see any real reason why an equally dirty metalwork area shouldn’t be included in the workshop, with the caveat that it’s kept well away from the main bench.
The reason, of course, is the danger that dirty, oily pieces of swarf steel filings and bits of old rag could somehow contaminate the current work at the bench. I was of this persuasion for many years, but it gradually dawned on me that there could be a place for a metalwork area if it was organised properly.
I found that in my particular ‘shop, I needed to occasionally partake in a bit of ‘tin bashing’ or similar; nothing too onerous, but sufficient to accumulate offcuts of dirty steel or brass and copious amounts of swarf in the form of tiny bits of metal that should really be kept in a more or less self contained area.
In the same way that I have a dedicated sharpening area, I decided to do the exactly the same thing and create a metalworking bench. This area isn’t very big; just over a metre long and fitted at one end with a small mechanic’s vice which is bolted close to one of the legs to give maximum support. The top is a hard board over 18mm ply which provides a smooth surface which I don’t need to be too careful about and as such I can afford to let it become oily and a bit mucky. On my vice, the soft jaws are made from oddments of 90° aluminium extrusion epoxied to the steel jaws. As it’s in a fairly dark area of the workshop, there’s a 60W spotlight to provide sufficient lighting. It’s also a useful area for silver soldering which was recently included as part of the project to make a Japanese Marking Gauge.
The type of work done on the metalwork bench isn’t serious engineering, model making or anything too precise so it’s been racked out with some fairly basic hand tools, some of which were acquired or made as an apprentice in the 60s. They consist of:
Cold chisel 100mm long
Ball pein hammer
Instrument wire cutters
Instrument long nosed pliers
Combination spanners 8, 10 & 13mm
Adjustable locking wrench
Tool maker’s clamp
Very occasionally, there’s been a need to turn a small metal component of some sort and, although there’s no room (or even requirement) for a big engineering lathe, the C1 micro which weighs 22kg would be just about the right size to lift onto the bench. The other alternative is the diminutive C0 which tips the scales at a lightweight 13kg and can almost be lifted with one hand.
The metalwork area does take up a small amount of space which could, if pushed, be used for another machine, say a spindle sander, but the usefulness of having a dedicated ‘dirty area’ far outweighs the need for another piece of machinery.
You may agree or violently disagree with the idea of a metalwork area in your workshop, but however you feel about it, we’d like to hear your views or suggestions.