Metal Fabrication is a large industry and there are many divisions and practices. Most think of metal fabrication as the one type of working metal that they’ve been exposed. Maybe your friend is a ironworker or you have a relative that works on the pipe line? We decided to break down the most common types of metal fabrication below.
- Cutting Metal- The most common metal fabrication technique is to cut metal. This process is simple and can be done with something as simple as a set of Metal Snips on thin sheet metal to large rotary press shears. This process is the first step in most fabrication projects and you can never have enough metal cutting tools in your shop.
- Folding/Bending- In this process metal is bent or folded over itself to create strength in the metal or to create a shape to fit another piece of metal. Simple folding is done with a sheet metal brake and a press brake is used for heavier gauge metal. Bending metal can be done cold or hot depending on the desired results. Heat may be introduced to bend heavier gauge metal or to bend the metal further than it would cold without cracking or breaking.
- Welding- Welding is the process of melting two pieces of metal together. This is done with heat. The way you introduce the heat is dependent on the welding process. Metal can simply be heated red how and smashed together with a power hammer to “hammer weld” the metal and it is folded over many times to make multiple pieces of metal be come one. Another way is to use a flame to heat the base material and add filler rod to Gas Weld metal. Electric welding has revolutionized welding and brought it into the home hobbyists garage. This can be done with an ARC welder, MIG welder, or TIG welder to create a strong weld using a short circuit electric process.
- Machining- This is the process of removing metal in a controlled manner while spinning the part or a tool to carve the metal into the desired size or shape. Machining is a process that can be simple to do for small projects but can get very involved when making specialized parts. Expert machinists have a life time of experience to create just about anything you can think of out of metal using a metal lathe or metal mill.
- Punching- Metal Punching is a way to create opening in the metal. This opening could be a round, square, or other type of hole. Drilling can produce a round hole but is done in a slower method cutting away at the surface from one side. A punch will have a female die that sits under the metal and the top male die will push down forcing the metal into the female die. This punches the metal through the female die because both dies are very close in size and have sharp edges to cut the metal. Metal punches come in all sizes and you can have small handheld sheet metal punches all the way up to large power punchers that can punch holes in thick plate steel. Punches produce very accurate holes with little distortion and basically burr-free.
- Stamping- Much like punching metal stamping uses an upper and lower dies and incredible mechanical force to press shapes into metal. This process requires very tight tolerances in the dies. The metal is placed between the two dies and are often located with pins or stops to assure the correct orientation. The metal is then squeezed between the two dies causing it to form to the shape of the dies. This can be done in numerous methods from drawn the dies together with large threaded studs or in one press with a large power press. This is the method body panels on vehicles is made but you can do it at home with small pieces and hand sanded/filed dies.
- Casting- Casting metal is how a lot of items are made that you may not realize. Casting metal is the process of heating a raw piece of metal to a molten/liquid form and then pouring it into a mold that the metal conforms to as it cools and becomes a solid again. The process is simple as far as heating, pouring, letting it cool; but it takes a lot of skill to successfully cast metal into useable items. Casting is a dirty process and requires a number of specialized tools/supplies. For instance the engine block in your car is casted from raw materials, so there is no end to what you can cast if the tooling and skills to make accurate molds are available.
There are many more metal fabrication techniques but this covers the most common processes used today. If you want to get into metal fabrication at home you can find everything you need to outfit your shop HERE.