Questions About Tools

Hello all,
We’re a small team going into our third competition season, and are, at the moment, working out of a garage. Soon, however, we’ll be getting a larger room, and with that, we need more tools and storage.
Our current ideas for possible items (desks, tools, etc.) is:
-A Grinder
-A Tablesaw
-A Vise
-A Vacuum
Are there any tools that you reccomend that we get this year, or over the years? Also, do you have any tips on organization? Any advice would help.

Get some Vexpro Versaframe stuff. Most of it is reusable, and you won’t need fancy tools.

Some previous threads to look through:

Disclaimer: I didn’t read through all of them so some may not apply to you.

If you have long metal extrusion you want cut down, get a horizontal bandsaw. You can put a tube in the vice, walk away*, and wait for a loud clanging sound from across the room. In addition, you’ll probably want a drill press for making holes in said tubes once you’re done with them.

I would also recommend a 3D printer for making custom parts. It’s good for various custom mounts and spacers. You can also print out items that are hard to get (a few teams printed pneumatic wheel hubs this year, no idea how that turned out) or ones you just can’t bother to wait for. (AM’s battery mount is easily printable, and the total filament cost will be a bit less than $14)

*Note: for safety reasons, you probably should watch your bandsaw while it’s cutting.

Not knowing what tools you already have, it’s hard to make sure that you have the right stuff on our list. Leaving out the electric drills/screwdrivers and the Dremel, In our small shop, the most-used power tools are:

  • Miter/Bevel saw (though a horizontal band saw would be an improvement)
  • Drill Press
  • Bench Grinder
  • Vacuum Cleaner

Fairly Regularly used:

  • Portable Band Saw
  • Circular Saw (about 5", battery powered)
  • Reciprocating Saw

Given the saws that we have, the only time we would use a table saw most years is in building field elements or pit decorations. Between the safety issues and how occasionally we use these, we usually farm this work out to a mentor’s garage, or bring in the table saw for a few days.

On the non-powered side, that’s a great start (though I had too look up Sortimos; never heard of that brand until now), but I would probably also add some shelving units. We use a combination of heavy duty 24"x48" metal shelves and some medium duty rolling wire shelves about 36" x 16" deep, but let your specific needs and room size drive this.

Another organizational thing we did which has helped greatly was to build in a “pipe rack” along one wall. It consists of three rows by four columns of steel uni-strut (we had it; angle would have sufficed) angled up away from the wall at about 45 degrees above horizontal. We can store all sorts of stock there - right now, bottom shelf is steel, middle is aluminum, and top is wood. (and we have stored a rolled-up carpet below it at times). We also have a wire shelf above this where we store relatively light-weight, rarely accessed items.

Drill press and chop saw are both high on my suggested list. The list you posted, go ahead and get all of that as they will all be very useful.

Remember you can cut aluminum sheet on a table saw as long as it has carbide teeth, only let a mentor do this and take it slow. Rub some wax on the blade if you can and be prepared for a shower of hot chips.

SawStop is a smart choice on table saw for students working with it. And aside from the safety mechanism, it’s just a really nice saw.

Only if you do not plan on cutting aluminum…you must activate a bypass mode which nullifies the safety advantage.

The Sortimos boxes look hard to scale, so I would look into simpler solutions (like generic plastic tubs) but it’s good that you’re thinking of sorting.

For FRC I would recommend a miter saw/cold saw over a horizontal bandsaw due to the smoother cut ends. I can get within 0.01" on the length of a tube with our miter saw. The disadvantage is that it is scary to use and screams when working, but I would still take it over a horizontal saw five days out of six.

I assume you already own a drill press and a vertical bandsaw. If you don’t, buy one immediately. They are both incredibly useful tools.

What do other teams use their bench grinders for? Our team doesn’t do much work with steel and only recently got one for shaping lathe tools.

We don’t use a bench grinder very often, but it’s been useful a few times. Sometimes we need a bolt just a thread or two shorter. Then there was that time in week 6 of build season in 2015 when we needed 40 pieces of 80/20 nuts TODAY and had to make them from a bunch of square nuts we had laying around. The grinder earned its keep that day.

We have a good shop to use at our school but.
Cordless bandsaw
Good 18v cordless and impact drills
We have a stop saw and like it. It can cut wood and plastic. I do believe that they are expensive.
+1 versa frame you can do a lot without the need for high priced equipment. Make sure you are getting the KOP chassis

You should get a transfer punch set. These are great for marking out anything and everything on metal. The most important thing in our shop that I could not live without is clamps. It is so worth it to get a bunch of sizes and types (machining, Irwin, etc.). Clamps are great for prototyping things before you make them permanent especially if that is all the material you have. Our bot is usually assembled all with clamps first before we bolt and drill holes. You can just never have enough clamps. I would also get all the bolts, nuts, and screws that you think you will need for the season at one time (the store might donate these to you instead of buying). Nothing is worse than having to stop a project to get more bolts. And please get Nylock nut for heaven’s sake. If you don’t know what these are you are missing out.

A grinder is great for trimming steel, but not so much for use on aluminum. The soft aluminum will attach to the wheel and clog it up.

Every time we cut aluminum it leaves a sharp edge. We use a basic belt/disk sander. (Found at Sears, HD and Lowes) to round (break) the edges. We also use a hand held deburring tool to clean up holes and interior edges.

For more control buy a variety of files: round, flat, fine, course, small and large.
Course files remove material quickly, fine files leave a smoother finish.
Round files are for smoothing holes and other interior shapes.
Large files are used for long parts and small files can get into tight spaces.

Like others have mentioned a band saw and a drill press are must haves.
You also need good lighting, a shop vac a floor vac and handheld drills. We like the battery powered handheld drills.

Yes a table saw is nice, but we are severely limited on space. Instead of a table saw we use a jig saw and a circular saw for cutting sheet material wider than our band saw.

When you do a lot of aluminum, you have to use the dressing tool after every ten minutes or so. For both aluminum and steel, a bench grinder is much faster than a hand file and is both faster and offers more control than a dremel or angle grinder for the jobs it can handle. Just remember to use vise grips for small pieces for better control and so you don’t burn your fingers!

To be fair, we do use our bench grinder more for steel than aluminum - finishing cut bolt ends, removing flashing, going past deburring to actually rounding a corner, and occasionally even sharpening a blade.

We bought a unit with two different grain size wheels; if we were buying today, we’d probably just get one stone wheel and the other would be a wire brush to use for clean-up jobs including paint or coating removal.

Please, get a deburring wheel, also called a sanding wheel. It’s basically a non-ferrous grinding wheel. You will thank me later.

Should last a couple of seasons of reasonably heavy use.

Also as a side note, aluminum on a stone grinding wheel expands at a different rate when heated by friction and will eventually risk compromising the integrity of your wheel if not frequently dressed. Nobody wants 3000 rpm of stone to explode in their face.

Everyone else has said great advice. If you are interested, here is a list of all the tools we bought over the last season:

Also, I see your location is San Francisco. I’d be happy to talk with you and your team in person about shops and tooling, whether we come to you and check out your space or you come down to our shop and see our setup. Feel free to send a PM and I’m happy to arrange something.

Replace one of the grinding wheels with an appropriately sized flap grinding wheel and you’ll be good to go. They work very well on soft metals like aluminum or brass, and I even prefer them for many steels. But honestly, with the amount of aluminum teams use, I think everyone would benefit by replacing one of their grinding wheels with a flap wheel, and a decent one costs around $20.

Cannot stress what Devin said enough. Grinding aluminum on the standard wheel a bench grinder comes with is a serious safety hazard. It can and will explode if you repeatedly do so.

Everyone saying “you should look into something else” is right, but it is far more urgent than switching to a more efficient method of removing metal. Just don’t do it with the standard wheel!

When I was first shown the basics of using the grinder, I was actually told that grinding aluminum merely shortened the life of the wheel. I didn’t learn that it was a serious safety hazard until I was working in a different shop and ground down an aluminum weld on a wheel meant for tungsten.

In your opinion, what’s the best replacement? I’ve never used the type of mesh wheel that Devin Castellucci linked to, but I’ve always met good results with flap wheels. Anyone have any good recommendations?