In recent years, my projects have begun to require more robust materials and comprehensive planning. I use CAD to model just about everything that I plan to build before getting started on construction, both to keep track of dimensions and quantities and to get a solid idea in my head regarding how I want the product to look and function. That way I can make small modifications to the mock-up and solve potential problems along the way without wasting time or materials. I’ve begun to treat my material selection process somewhat the same way and started choosing materials beforehand based on their physical properties and ease of acquisition, rather than jumping right in and using whatever I could find laying around.
Starting with my lathe project, my recent project ideas have mainly required welded metal framing in contrast with the wood framing and screws that the majority of my past projects were built upon. I had never needed to purchase metal in large quantities before beginning these new projects, so my first instinct was to search online for metal stock stores. I found metal sold in these stores to be extremely expensive despite my expectation that such simple metal sections would cost very little, so I instead turned to the idea of buying metal from scrap yards, since my standards are quite a bit lower than those of professional manufacturers.
Marion Iron is a nearby metal scrap yard whose steel prices I find quite attractive that I now visit on occasion to search for potentially useful scrap steel. They sell their steel for 20 cents per pound regardless of the alloy. Because of this I was able to purchase all of the steel from which I intend to construct my lathe, and then some, for only around 200 dollars. My opinion is that any metal scrap yard is a hobby machinist’s playground; There is always something useful or at least interesting to be found and taken home.
For example, I discovered a 1-foot-diameter, 1-foot-long cylinder of solid steel that I sadly have no great use for which, I estimate, weighs around 385 pounds. If I could even pick it up and had some place to store it, I’m sure that I could have found at least one use for it eventually. Although all of the steel found at scrap yards is secondhand, and most of it is damaged, there are usually some hidden gems in great condition. For me, those were the large sections of plate steel ranging from 3/8”-thick to 1.5”-thick which will be cut down and welded together to form my lathe frame. Marion Iron made my lathe project affordable, and I intend to return for the needs of my future metalworking projects.