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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.

Metalwork area
Metalwork area

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:
Engineer’s square 
Centre Punch 
Cold chisel 100mm long
Ball pein hammer 
Die holder 
Tap wrench
Needle files 
300mm rule 
Electrician’s pliers 
Instrument wire cutters 
Instrument long nosed pliers 
Combination spanners 8, 10 & 13mm 
Adjustable wrench 
Adjustable locking wrench 
Brass brush
Tool maker’s clamp

Axminster Engineer Series C1 Micro Lathe
Axminster Model Engineer Series C1 Micro Lathe

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.

Axminster Engineer Series C0 Micro Lathe
Axminster Model Engineer Series C0 Micro Lathe

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.

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John StormesRob StoakleyAlan Pratt Recent comment authors
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Alan Pratt
Alan Pratt

I take the opposite view – should you do woodworking in a metal workshop. Wood dust gets onto the oiled surfaces of machine tools and makes a right mess! I am fortunate; I have two workshops – one for each activity. I realise this is not possible for most people but it is the perfect solution. Mind you, I was nearly 70 before I achieved this so if you have not achieved this there is still time!

Rob Stoakley
Rob Stoakley

Thanks for your comment Alan. A woodworker would say exactly the opposite…metalwork swarf and oil contaminating wooden surfaces, so I guess there’s no really right answer. That said, it is useful to have a ‘dirty corner’ in my ‘shop for odd occasion when I do a bit of tin bashing.

John Stormes
John Stormes

I often need to do metal work in my mainly woodwork shop, I make things easier by using a kitchen worktop with a 3″ metal vice on it for metalwork, the surface is easy to clean.
The plllar drill is the one tool I use for both, and I vacuum the drill table, and the floor around it after drilling metal.
Next thing to try is quick change faceplates on the vice, using rare earth magnets.

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