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Feature Article: Basics of Metal Working

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Many of the techniques for cutting, bending and joining metal are fairly simple and well within the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers. Welding is the exception: a good deal of skill is required to do it well. But before you can start working with metal you should know something of the metals themselves.

Metals are usually grouped as ferrous or non-ferrous according to whether or not they contain iron.

Ferrous metals such as cast iron, wrought iron and mild and alloy steels all contain iron and are often found around the home. for example, central heating boilers, old basin brackets and old gutters are made of cast iron: architectural ironwork garden gates and ornamental screens, for instance - are usually wrought iron; car body panels, metal hinges and shelf-brackets are usually mild.steel: cold chisels and leaf springs are medium carbon steel; coil springs, wood chisels, files, drills and knives are high carbon steel; and sinks, kitchen ware and cutlery, and some water pipes, are stainless steel.

You can buy most ferrous metals in plate, sheet or strip form, as round, hexagonal or square bars, threaded rod (studding) and as tubes of various shapes. Cast iron is the exception -it comes only as the finished product.

Galvanized steel is steel that has been dipped in molten zinc to give it a thin corrosion-resistant outer coating.

Non-ferrous metals such as aluminum and its alloys and brass, copper, lead and zinc do not contain iron.

Aluminum alloys are available as sheets, strips, round and square bars, tubes, and relatively complicated extrusions -often found in aluminum doors and window frames. Brass is available as sheets, wire, lubes and as solid bars round, hexagon shaped or threaded. Copper is normally available as sheets (often rolled up), as lubes and as wire. Lead is usually available only in very heavy rolled sheets. Zinc is usually available only as sheets which may be flat or rolled up.

Small quantities of all these metals are often available from builders' merchants, plumbers' merchants, hardware shops, ironmongers and small engineering works.

You would also want to learn how to make hole in metal and how to rivet metal. Do not forget to wear glasses and gloves while doing so.

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