Thursday , February 22 2018
Home > Tool List for the Beginner > Tool List for the Beginner Amateur Machinist

Tool List for the Beginner Amateur Machinist

micrometerFirst, let me say that this list will never be complete. Second, if you asked 10 machinists to put together a list like this, you’d get back 10 different lists. Because of this, my list will be contested by many readers, of that I’m sure. If you think I’ve omitted something, please post a comment. I’m sure this list will continue to grow long after I’ve posted this – but that’s the beauty of the internet.

Keep in mind, this list is intended for the beginner. Someone who has just purchased a shiny new lathe or mill and has no idea what tools they need to buy to go along with it.

I’ll try to list the most important items in each category first. In some cases I’ll provide links to further explanation on some items (like which brands to look for, which size, etc).

Safety Equipment:

  • Eye Protection
  • Ear Protection
  • Steel Toe (or thick leather) shoes with a hard sole (to prevent chips from poking through).
  • No Gloves, Jewelery (rings, necklaces, watches, etc), Long Hair, Long Sleeves – nothing that could get caught in moving machinery.
    • If you have long hair, get a hat to tuck it under. “Pony Tails” can still get caught.

Hand Tools:

  • Calculator (any cheap scientific that has Sin, Cos, and Tan functions)
  • Screwdrivers (#2 Phillips, 4″ Flat)
  • Pliers
    • Needle Nose
    • Diagonal Cutting Pliers
    • Channel Lock Pliers
  • Hex Keys (metric and fractional sizes)
  • Files
    • #2 Smooth Cut Mill Bastard
    • Jewelers Files
    • File Card
  • Scribe (carbide tipped)
  • Deburring Tools (Noga or Vargus brands are good)
  • “Fishtail” (for setting up threading operations)
  • Thread Pitch Gage (for measuring threads)

Measuring Equipment

  • 6″ Scale (5R or 16R with 100th’s)
  • 6″ Caliper (vernier, dial, or digital – buy a cheap Harbor Freight one, if you need better accuracy you should be using a micrometer anyway).
  • 1″ Micrometer (vernier – Etalon, Starrett, Browne and Sharp, and Mititoyu are all good brands – buy a good quality used micrometer off of ebay).
  • Magnetic (“Mag”) Base (Noga is a good brand)
  • Test Indicator (Interapid, Browne and Sharp, or Mititoyu brand)
  • Travel Dial Indicator (1″ – buy a cheap one in case you destroy it. Harbor Freight is fine).

Lathe Tool Bits:

  • High Speed Steel (HSS) blanks that can be ground to any shape (you’ll need a bench grinder if you plan on grinding your own tools).
  • Indexable Inserts
  • Carbide Tipped
  • Boring Bar

Mill Tool Bits:

  • End Mills (assorted sizes to fit your needs)
    • 2 flutes (for soft metals like aluminum)
    • 4 flutes (for harder metals like steel)

Tool Boxes:

  • Kobalt/Craftsman (this is the minimum quality tool box you could choose. You’ll soon find that the drawers on these mechanic-style tool boxes are far too large for your small tools. Avoid cheap brands like Husky or Harbor Freight).
  • Kennedy (better quality, smaller drawers which is ideal for all the small tools you’ll acquire).
  • Gerstner (best quality, but expensive. If you plan on making this a lifelong hobby or profession, consider a good quality wooden tool chest that will help protect your tools from rust).
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About Tyler

Tyler is a hobby machinist and 3D printing aficionado. He teaches computer programming and web development at Highline College near Seattle. Tyler founded Projects In Metal in 2008 because he was frustrated by the lack of free plans available for hobby machinists.

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32 comments

  1. OK, my go: I’d say an engineer’s square is essential. A rule, scriber, and a square – and you are on the way. The other measuring tools can be worked around (with some difficulty perhaps), but these are fundamental.

    Regards, John

  2. I agree, a square needs to be somewhere on the list. Thanks for your input!

  3. could someone please tell me what a “fishtail” is, Thanks

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishtail-Center_gauge

    Center gauges and fishtail gauges are gauges used in lathe work for checking the angles when grinding the profiles of single-point screw-cutting tool bits and centers.

    These gauges are most commonly used when hand-grinding threading tool bits on a bench grinder, although they may be used with tool and cutter grinders.

  5. While I am new to the metal lathe, I have 50 + yrs of workshop and tool use/abuse experience. I would say that the most overlooked, but essential 'tool' Tyler listed is the file card. Most people have never seen one let alone used it.  A side note re Gerstner's exquisite machinist's chests: get on their mailing list. If you are within driving distance of Dayton, Ohio, have vacation travel near there, or relatives in the area, each summer, Gerstner's has a 'tent sale' – some scratch-n-dents, some mismatched tops and bottoms, some other orphan chests, individual drawers, lids, etc for truly amazing discounts. Back in 2005 or 2006, before we left OH for coastal SC, I got a top and bottom chest that retailed for something like $1100 for under $300. Yeah, I had to buy a front lid blank & hardware [still unfinished :)] for the top, but the price was right!  FWIW, I also have my Grandfather's Gerstner's chest from the 1920's.  WARNING: due to their quality workmanship and utility, they ARE addictive – don't say I didn't warn ya! :). The company is “Gerstner's & Sons”, but the founding Gerstner never had any sons, just daughters… :) & that's today's trivia lesson :):)

         Don  Ross    Remember 9/11

  6. I agree, clogged files can be a real bastard (pun intended). For those of you who don't know, this is a file card:

    Image Enlarger

    Don, do you ever chalk your files to keep them from clogging? I haven't tried this approach myself, so I'm wondering if it works well with all types of metal or if it's better for softer metals like aluminum or brass.

    I'm jealous of the steal you got on a Gerstner, you lucky dog!

  7. Funny you should mention chalking files to prevent clogging, Tyler. Being the 'belt and suspenders' type, i nearly always clean my files every time they are used. The other day, I was wondering how to prevent/minimize aluminum from clogging the file teeth and was going to ask about it here! So to 'chalk' a file, do you use 'blackboard' chalk [I assume ?] or powdered 'chalk-line' chalk [VERY messy :)]?

         BTW, I'm so glad I found this home machining community – low-key, helpful, friendly, ego-free!  What more could moe ask for?

       – Don

  8. It's gotta be chalkboard chalk, I can't imagine using chalk line chalk – what a mess that would be! But I'll ask my buddy Barry just to make sure.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the community, and I know what you mean about ego-free. I'm usually pretty nervious about asking a question on CNC Zone or other larger forums because sometimes the responses are from people trying to prove how smart they are rather than people trying to help the new guy. That's never fun at all.

  9. I used chalk on my files to get a good surface finish as it would take lighter cuts – but my file would still clog up and scratch my work (i think the term is called 'pitting')

    Oh Tyler may i suggest one more item for your toolist? The Lathe section i would recommended a 'carbide parting off tool' But thenagain you could grind one out of toolsteel… haha

  10. Huh, I did forget to list a parting tool. Good catch. I'm sure I've missed several other things too – this list will continue to grow.

    I spoke to my friend Barry and he said that any chalk will do. Chalkboard chalk, sidewalk chalk, and in a pinch even drywall will work. I guess the purpose is twofold. To keep moisture out of the file and to lubricate the bottom of the gullets. I would think that chalk would attract moisture, but I guess not.

    On the other end of the spectrum Barry mentioned storing your files in oil when not in use. I've seen that before. A guy had a couple of 18″ long pieces of PVC with a cap on one end filled with oil and attached to his bench near his lathe. The PVC was just large enough in diameter to allow the file to fit inside, but not the handle. When he needed the file he simply pulled it out of the PVC oil bath and used it. Messy, but I guess an effective way to protect your file and keep it clean.

  11. Just a couple of additions to Tyler's beginning tool list that came to mind:

         –  Rags – old T-shirts, pillow cases, and bed sheets all cut up into fine rags.

         – a center punsh, even a ground down nail-set. [might have overlooked this one on Tyler's list – mea culpa ].

         – black or blue wide felt-tip marker, aka “Magic Marker” I've been using them for 40 yrs [GASP!! :)] for layout work. Now that I have an actual metal lathe, I might have to break down and buy some of the real-deal [Dykem blue, I think ??]. Naww :).

         – mini flashlight. AA Mag-lite, even the AAA one, or even a 'freebie from HF. Evey month in Readers' Digest in the HF ad, there is a coupon for a free LED flashlight as well as a 20% off coupon – have cut the 20% off coupons from several other mags, but haven't seen the freebie one elsewhere. YMMV. Anyway, you'll be surprised how often you'll use that flashlight. Even helps locate dropped hardware – for us old geezers anyway :):)

    Hope the above helps someone.

         – Don

  12. Hi, something i just found out that is hard to get by with out is a good bench vise. i was pushing in a small cylinder sleeve with the one in the shop last night and i broke it! (oops!) Be sure to get one with an anvil on it so you can wack things in to shape, or get an anvil! small tip, broken taps make great center punches, i made one out of 4-40 tap and i havent broken it yet (as a center punch that is! :-) )

  13.      WOW, Nick, thanks for reminding me about a bench vise… just another of those ABSOLUTE essentials we seem to take for granted. BTW, Nick, before converting all broken taps into punchs, you can carefully dress/taper the broken end and still use them as taps.

         Unless you've got 'godzilla' muscles like Nick, or have a vise several sizes too small for your needs and/or one made of plastic painted to look like cast iron, they are a shop tool that pretty much lasts forever. Back in the early '90's, I reconditioned my Grandpa's vise. It must now be over 60 yrs old. I disassembled, degreased it, drilled out a broken machine screw holding one of the jaw faces in place, n and made and hand-checkered a replacement jaw face for one side. OK, in the previous 20 yrs I had overworked the vise considerably as a pipe vise, etc. I also made a new cross-bar that tightenes the base swivel. , gave it many coats of fresh spray paint, and greased the main screw-shaft.. So I've now used it for approximately 40 yrs, and fully expect it to outlast me.

           Hint: Do NOT arm-wresle with Nick! :)

           – Don

  14. Good call Nick, I should ad a bench vise to the list! Stay strong my friend!Laugh

  15. 3 P's  are absolutely essential for all of us.

         – Planning

         – Patience

         – Perseverance

         Planning out the project, thinking through the necessary sequence so that you don't end up like the cartoon character painting yourself into a corner… Been there, done that – out-engineered myself that is – to date haven't literally painted myself in to a corner….yet :)

         More than once, especially when younger, however, I've started a project only to wind up doing 4 times the work trying to re-do or work around sequence mistakes.

         – Patience = safety and economy. Whether metal work or woodworking, a proper, secure set-up usually takes longer than performing the actual operation itself.  But ya don't hurt yourself with slipping tools, flying work pieces, etc. Ya also don't damage tooling or machinery. I know it's more fun and satisfying to be DOING something, but over many years, I've learned this the hard way. :) And even though I've “been there, done that” they don't give out T-shirts for stupidity, incompetence, orimpatience – at least they didn't give me one, and I've earned it! :)

         I repeat:

              IT WILL TAKE LONGER TO SET UP THAN TO DO THE OPERATION

         – Perseverance: Often when your project involves new skills, you will make mistakes and have to start over at the beginning, or do extensive re-work to salvage the project or materials….. Be patient. You will get there eventually, the sun will rise tomorrow whether you work recklessly and injure yourself or not.  Like the Wooly Mammoth, keep plodding ionward.

          'Fall six times, rise up seven.'  – Japanese proverb

              – Don

  16. Hi, a bench grinder is not essential, but it sure helps!Smile

    if you can and/or want to get one, a Oxy-acetylene set is very helpful too, be it restoring thing ( e.g. loosening nuts and bolts, cutting things off…)building things ( welding, soldering, brazing, bending, cutting…) or thawing out a turkey for Christmas dinner (just kidding, but it would workSmile!)

  17. OK Nick… 

          'If you use a welding torch to thaw out the Christmas turkey… you might be a redneck…' – Jeff Foxworthy would be proud, Nick – you'd fit right in here in South Carolina!!! :):)

         You're right about the bench grinder though… I bought a $25 one at Big Lots [a super-discount closeout type store] close tio 20 yrs ago after my Grandpa's old one died on me… still using that $25 machine… gonna have to replace the wheels soon though.

         – Don

  18. … More than once, especially when younger, however, I've started a project only to wind up doing 4 times the work trying to re-do or work around sequence mistakes …

    What do you mean “especially when younger”, I still seem to have to make things at least twice to get it right! Yell

  19. Guess I could have been clearer, Tyler – – – when younger, I made the sequence mistakes slowly because I WAS young andi nexperienced… now that I am 'older' ie 'fossilizsed ' :) I still make the mistakes, but because of my VAST exoerience, I can make them much faster!!! :):):)

           'growing old is manditory – growing up is impossible' :):)

          – Don

  20. Hi Guys,

    The topic brings me back to 1976 when I decided to forget college and attend a trade school while working in a job shop. I enrolled with the Johnson School ot Techonolgy, Scranton PA. I had an empty tool box that dad had passed down .The first tool I made was a drill gauge at 60 degrees , 120 included , I know it sounds simple but I had to file it by hand to spec and scribe some graduations for the length of the cutting edge of one side. From then on I practiced how to sharpen a drill. If my gauge was off I coulden`t hold a tolerance of a drilled hole, my instructer said If you don`t see two equal chips comming out of the drilled hole you havent split the center of the drill.

    Lesson # 1

    MC

  21. A philosophy, by machinist chest

    It`s not about tools, It`s an attitude.

    How to Become a Machinist.

    The seventeen commandments.

    1) Keep your cutting tools sharp.

    2) Look at your drawing carefully before starting your job.

    3)  Be sure your machine is set up right before starting the work

    4) Take your measurments accurately

    5) Keep your machine well oiled, clean and neat. Personal neatness will give you personality.

    6) Take an intrest in you job; don`t feel that you are forced to work.

    7) Learn the fundamentals of mechanical drawing.

    8) Keep your belts tight and freee from oil.

    9) Take as heavy as a cut as the machine and cutting tool will allow until you are near the finished size; then finish  carefully and accurately.  

    10) Try to understand the mechanism of the machine you are operating.

    11) Hold yourself responsible for the job your are working on.

    12) KEEP your eyes on the man ahead of you; you may be called on to take his replace him some day.

    13) Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place.

    14) Read one or two of the technical magazines relating to your line of work.

    15) If a boy learns his trade properly he becomes a first class – mechanic, but if he has ABILITY he need not stop at    that.

        Henry Ford, George westinghouse and others got their start because they were mechanics.

    16) If you have spoiled a job, admit your carelessness to your forman, and don`t offer any excuses.

    17) Befor starting to work on a lathe, roll up your sleves and remove your neck tie-safety pays.

    Best regards , John at machinistchest

  22. Super 'username', “Machinistchest”.  Sez it all. Sounds like you truly learned your craft from the ground up… Definitely looking forward to hearing your tips,, & seeing your projects and plans featured here for us beginners to aspire to. 

            The mechanics'/machinists' creed you posted is wonderful. Will be checking your website, Sir. Looking forward to hearing more from you here.

           – Don

  23. Hi MachinistChest, I like you're philosophy!

  24. Tyler said:

    It's gotta be chalkboard chalk, I can't imagine using chalk line chalk – what a mess that would be! But I'll ask my buddy Barry just to make sure.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the community, and I know what you mean about ego-free. I'm usually pretty nervious about asking a question on CNC Zone or other larger forums because sometimes the responses are from people trying to prove how smart they are rather than people trying to help the new guy. That's never fun at all.


    Tyler, I find that soapstone chalk works and keeps my soapstone sharp for marking lines.

    BTW, a dull file can be resharpened. Set it in a bath of hyrochloric acid to sharpen. Rinse off and try it after 15 minutes, if it needs more time throw it back in. I've heard pickling vinigar or battery acid works as well. Anything that etches steel….

  25. I didn't know that, thanks for the tip!

    Where do you get hydrochloric acid? A masonry/concrete supply store? What does the average home user need to know about safely storing it? Does it need to be stored in a glass container? Flamables cabinet?

  26. 'Muratic acid' = hydrochloric acid, which shoule be available at any Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. I suspect that household bleach [weak hydrochloric acid] isn't strong enough to clean files like this, but then again, maybe it would be just right for toolmakers' filesfwhere you have small, shallow teeth vs. big mill and flat files??   I would think that after cleaning those files with any sort of hydrochloric acid that they would be HIGHLY prone to rusting, maybe by just looking at them? YMMV.

      – Don

  27. Wooly Mammoth said:

    'Muratic acid' = hydrochloric acid, which shoule be available at any Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. I suspect that household bleach [weak hydrochloric acid] isn't strong enough to clean files like this, but then again, maybe it would be just right for toolmakers' filesfwhere you have small, shallow teeth vs. big mill and flat files??   I would think that after cleaning those files with any sort of hydrochloric acid that they would be HIGHLY prone to rusting, maybe by just looking at them? YMMV.

      – Don


    Ah, I knew that rang a bell. I actually have a jug of Muratic Acid from some concrete work I did a few years ago, but I didn't remember that it was also known by the name hydrochloric acid (my high school chemistry teacher would be saddened if he ever read this).

    I used it (in a diluted form) to clean/etch some concrete boarders that I had put around my wife's flowerbeds. That answers my own question about storage, my bottle is plastic, so I guess you don't need to worry about storing it in a glass container. Thanks Don!

  28.      Should be added to the 'basic tool list' – an up-to-date tetnus shot. The thought came to me today as I scraped a steel splinter from my hand. Yeah, I seem to have enough surgeries, etc. that I've ALWAYS got a current tetnus booster in me… :) 

         Back in prehistoric times, I worked for a major manufacturer of large appliances – end mill maching, semi-automated wire welders, circle shears, draw and punch presses. I collected enough scrap steel in me to set off metal detectors… [not really – just seemed that way ] . I had steel slivers working their way to the surface for several years after leaving there.  

          BTW, the preferred method of the industrial nurses there to remove said steel splinters was usually not tweezers, [imagine a large, clumsey mammoth attempting to use tweezers… LMAO :)],  but rather to use a scalpel to scrape across it. Usually that would draw it out.  Since this was way back before the invention of ether, malpractice insurance, or even lawyers, don't know if it is still the preferred practice.

                 – Don    ” politically incorrect since 1947″

  29. Wooly Mammoth said:

         Should be added to the 'basic tool list' – an up-to-date tetnus shot. …


    Agreed!

  30. Another addition to the 'basic tool list' – a vacuum cleaner for cleaning up machinery, swarf, etc… Doesn't have to be an actual 'shop vac' –  Wnehever SWMBO gets a new one, I rotate the old one to the shop… A couple of Grandpa's lessons were, 'always clean up after working in the shop,' and 'always wipe down any hand tools you use before putting them away, and always put them away when you are done for the day.'  As “Machinistschest” said, 'have a place for everything, and everything in its place.' That way you never A. lose a tool, B. hwaste time locating it, and C. Always begin with a clean tool.  This also revolves in the 'Pride' factor he mentioned as well. Another Pro here cautioned against using compressed air to clean up machinery, embedding chips in ground surfaces, ways, etc. Can't recall who it was right now… but as always, the Pros are right…

         Sometimes it seems like my most used 'shop tool' is that vacuum cleaner. :)  And I will clean up the debris several times during a shop session rather than have a big mess at the end.  Besides, a clean, relatively neat shop is safer, especially for half-blind Mammoths… :)

         – Don     'Only a fool will abuse a tool'  [ or a young Mammoth :) ]

  31. Well, I must add!

    If your like me, one day you`re gonna get a metal chip in the ole eye, and it ain`t no fun. I can rember my first time, did I panic.  It wasen`t so much that I had a metal in my eye but the fact that it was HOT! darn thing burned my eyeball, so being me, I started running around the shop like a chicken with its head cut off. I soon attracted the attention of the guy that owned the shop, close friend and very much admired, anyway, he asked me if I had a book of matches, hmm, well being the smoker that I was I just happen to have one. He sat me  down in a chair,then plucked out a match from the book and with the fuzzzzy end of that match he removed that chip right out of my eye.I haven`t found any thing yet that will pick up the jaged edge of a chip like the fuzzy end of a match.

    So needless to say, I keep a book of matches in the top of my box just close to the mirror in the lid just in case….MC 

  32. In reference to chalking a file I do it all the time as I have draw filed many a rifle barrel.  Soap stone does work but I have found what they call railroad chalk at the office supply that really works.  Each stick is about 1″ in diameter by 5″ long so goes a rather long way and is relatively cheap.

    Filing is a task few people know how to do as it is a lot more then dragging a file across metal.  In high school shop one required project was to file a 1″ cube from steel.  That was a semesters work to get something accurate and looking nice.  Many thanks to good ol’ Mr. Greer.  Mustang Army Lt.Col. and really neat guy.  I do feel I DO know a little about filing.