What’s in Your Toolbox?

What’s in Your Toolbox?

Welders discuss the small hand and power tools they need on the job,
not only their current favorites, but the ones they’d like to own

The Tomcat paint gunTools for a Job Shop

Fig. 1 — The Tomcat paint gun has a nice feel to it.

There’s a certain pleasure in using a good tool — one with a comfortable handle, or just the right amount of heft, or that can handle several types of jobs equally well. And just like the chef who extolls the virtues of a particular saucepan or boning knife, the gardener who favors one brand of pruning shears, or the plumber who always seems to reach for one particular wrench first, welders feel just as passionate about the hand and power tools they use.

Welders from several segments of the fabricating industry let the Welding Journal look into their toolboxes, then explained why they especially like using certain tools. Some also noted the tools they’d add if given the chance. Here’s your opportunity to see how your toolbox compares.

Deep South Welding, Homestead, Fla., is a typical job shop that can handle just about any job that comes through the door. Variety is the name of the game when owner Edward Booth lists some of the jobs his shop has handled. Fabricating basically with carbon steel and aluminum, Booth has worked on antenna towers, aircraft parts, conveyors, boats, steel beams, structural erection, government projects, as well as decorative work for a chain of drug stores.

The speed squareFig. 2 — The speed square makes layout jobs a lot easier

Since Homestead is an agricultural center, many of his jobs are repairing farm and packing house equipment. In fact, before he had his own shop, he gained a reputation with the local farmers as the man to see for repairs. A machine shop in downtown Miami was going out of business, and he bought $1500 of equipment, including a Hobart portable welding machine. He loaded the machine into the back of his pickup truck and traveled the rural roads of south Florida looking for farmers in need of his services.

He started his present company in 1985, and although he has had up to 30 employees, he likes the more comfortable group of four he has working for him now. Although he admits to a comfortable living, « This isn’t going to make you rich, » he said. « But really I don’t do it just for money. I really enjoy working with my hands, and I like to keep active. When I don’t enjoy it anymore, then I’ll get out of it. »

Below are some of the favorite tools in use at the shop.

The Leatherman WaveWhen you need that special tool, you often can find it in your pocket with the Leatherman Wave.

Bear Hutcheson has been a welder for 10 years, and he is experienced in all the arc welding processes. For an everyday tool he uses on jobs, he likes his Black & Decker 4-in. angle grinder. Compared to the 9-in. grinder, it is lighter and easier to get into tight places. The 9-in. grinder might be better if you have a lot of surface to grind, but with the 4-in. grinder, « You don’t have to muscle around and fight with it like you do with the bigger grinder, » he said. Although a little out of the realm of hand tools, what Hutcheson really would like to have is a 10-ft hydraulic power shear. They use plasma arc and oxyfuel for cutting now, but he said, « It would just be a quicker and cleaner cut, and there wouldn’t need to be as much edge prep for welding. »

Junior Falcon has been working only a short time at Deep South, but one of his favorite jobs is painting. Maybe that is why one of his favorite tools is a recently purchased paint gun. He’s had experience with airbrush painting in automobile customization, but the new Tomcat from C.A.Technologies (Fig. 1) gives him the freedom to cut loose with a nice broad spray pattern. « You still have to take care so the gun doesn’t clog, » he cautioned.

The Needle ScalerThe Needle Scaler beats a chipping hammer for speed and ease.

Ben Ustianowski started welding three years ago right out of high school. A simple tool he finds saves him time in layout is what he calls a speed square — Fig. 2. It’s quick and easy to use for setting 90- and 45-deg angles, which are used often in layout work. His wish list also includes a hydraulic shear.

James Messick doesn’t go a day without using his Leatherman Wave multitool. A knife, files, pliers, screwdrivers, scissors, and more (Fig. 3) fold into a compact tool that fits easily into a pocket. « When you’re doing a job up high or in a tight place you don’t have to crawl out or come down just to get another tool. You have it all right in your pocket, » he said. Messick has six years’ welding experience, having graduated from Robert Morgan Vo Tech.

Hilburn Branford shows off the contents of his toolboxMcFatter Technical Center student Hilburn Branford shows off the contents of his toolbox, which includes a 4 ½-in. angle grinder and a variety of measuring and alignment devices.

Owner Edward Booth likes his Needle Scaler (Fig. 3) from Chicago Pneumatic. Hook it up to a compressed air line and you have a great tool for removing rust or scale from steel, deslagging a weld, or « I’ve found it helps blend in the weld at a stop and makes it easier to restart. » It beats a chipping hammer because it’s quicker and not as tiring.

The Tools Students Need
When you ask the students in the daytime welding technology class at McFatter Technical Center, Davie, Fla., what their favorite tool is, nearly all give you the same answer: 4- or 4½-in. angle grinders. In fact, student Hilburn Branford calls the small grinders a « universal tool » because they can be used for a variety of weld prep, cleaning, and finishing jobs — Fig. 5.

Instructor H. G. RiviereFig.6 — Instructor H. G. Riviere favors the larger-sized grinders such as this one Christopher Nelson is using to prepare a weld coupon.

Instructor H. G. Riviere said most of those same jobs can be performed using the wire brush and chipping hammer the students are required to purchase when they start the program. However, if he were to use a power tool for those tasks, Riviere favors the larger 7- and 9-in. grinders the school buys because he believes they do the same jobs faster and more efficiently — Fig. 6. « The guys like the small ones because they’re so lightweight, » he said, so many buy the small grinders for themselves.

Branford purchased a 35,000 rpm model Black & Decker 4 ½-in. angle grinder « because it did what I wanted at a good price. » Student Chris Maraj also chose a Black & Decker for the same reason, but Eric Sanders selected a Makita model because it offered higher speeds than some other brands.

Student Chris MarajFig. 7 — Student Chris Maraj cuts a length of pipe with the school’s DeWalt chop saw.

The school’s campus includes both McFatter Technical Center and the William T. McFatter Technical High School. Riviere teaches both adults and high school students during the day and adults two nights a week. Another instructor handles the rest of the evening classes. Riviere cites a long list of small hand and power tools he considers essential for properly teaching his students to become welders. These include hammers, files, center punches, vises and C clamps, wrenches, levels, strikers, portable power drills, hacksaws, grinders, chipping hammers, wire brushes, fillet gauges, and screwdrivers. The welding lab also includes a Milwaukee Portaband model portable band saw and a small DeWalt chop saw (Fig. 7), among other tools. Another band saw is on Riviere’s tool wish list.

When purchasing power tools for the school, Riviere said, he sticks to brands such as Skil, DeWalt, Black & Decker, and Milwaukee because there are a lot of vendors for those products. Also, if they break down, it’s easy to find parts and get repairs made to them.

Jose Caldaron using Nicholson filesFig. 8 — Jose Caldaron of Propulson Technology Group likes to use these Nicholson files for final weld blending and deburring.

Eric Sanders graduated from the McFatter welding program a week after talking with the Welding Journal. During the year and a half he studied at the school, he collected tools to equip a truck for his own mobile welding business. A Native American, Sanders lives and works on the Seminole Reservation in Broward County, Fla. Besides his truck, the tribal council also allows him to use a small shop on the reservation. He mostly does weld repairs on farm equipment or fabricates farm-related items. For instance, he recently built a unit that fits on the back end of a tractor and holds boxes of plants. As the tractor moves down the rows, the planter continuously feeds the boxes down to the farmworkers.

Sanders would like to stock his truck with a gasoline-powered, portable cut-off saw. He used one while working in Oklahoma and liked the way it performed. « It looks something like a chainsaw, » Sanders said. « It cuts very nice and is easier to use and makes a cleaner cut than a torch does. »

Jose Lago using Dotco pneumatic band sanderFig. 9 — Propulsion Technology Group’s Jose Lago finds that this Dotco pneumatic band sander works well for weld finishing.

Hilburn Branford has been enrolled in the McFatter welding program approximately six months and hopes to eventually go to The Ohio State University to study for a metallurgical engineering degree. Prior to studying welding, Branford worked as a machinist. In keeping with his machinist training, Branford’s toolbox contains items such as a protractor, steel ruler, square, and box wrenches. « These measuring tools keep my work aligned, » he said. « I like to keep my work in as close alignment as possible. »

Phillip Blackwood using Porter-Cable cordless drillJet Engine Repair Shop

Prior to GMA welding of structures for theatrical sets, Phillip Blackwood uses his collection of Porter-Cable cordless drills to fasten holding blocks to this table.

Propulsion Technology Group, Miami, Fla., repairs jet engine and helicopter parts. Its orbital welder, Jose Caldaron, swears by Nicholson files for final weld blending and deburring — Fig. 8. « I’ve used them for over 35 years, and they seem to last longer than anything else we’ve tried. »

Another aviation welder at the company, Jose Lago, has a Dotco pneumatic band sander that he likes for finishing welds in magnesium, aluminum, and titanium — Fig. 9.


Theatrical Shop
Phillip Blackwood, technical director of the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre at the University of Miami, relies on a collection of « great » 19.2-V Porter-Cable cordless drills to fasten holding blocks to a table prior to gas metal arc welding structures for theatrical sets — Fig. 10.

Custom Bike Shop
Robert Pristau, owner of Wicked Custom Cycles, Hialeah, Fla., favors a Milwaukee Orbital Super Saw to cut metal pieces for custom choppers — Fig. 11. For jobs such as shaping up a chopper fender, Pristau uses a Northern Industrial Tools ¼-in. pneumatic die grinder — Fig. 12.

Robert Pristau using a Milwaukee Orbital Super Saw 
Robert Pristau uses a Milwaukee
Orbital Super Saw to cut metal
pieces for the custom choppers he builds.
Robert Pristau using a ¼-in. pneumatic grinder 
Here Pristau uses a ¼-in. pneumatic
grinder to shape a chopper fender.