In my post about vernier calipers, I highlighted one rugged option for making highly accurate measurements. When building projects that involve things like sliding fits, interference fits, shafts and bearings, rotating parts, measuring sheet metal thickness (and the list goes on, and on), accurate and repeatable measurements in the range of 1/1000 of an inch become very important. In this Tool School, I look at another option: the micrometer. A standard micrometer is capable of the same 1/1000-inch accuracy as the vernier calipers, and micrometers that incorporate a vernier scale are capable of measurements an order of magnitude more accurate: 1/10,000 of an inch. In addition, the variety of forms micrometers take allow measurement of a far larger variety of things than would be possible with calipers. Here's how to use one.
MIG welders and plasma cutters might carry more cache, but serious metal cred comes from the mastery of a simple flame. The oxy-acetylene torch setup is one of the most affordable versatile tools in any shop. With it, a competent operator can heat, weld, braze, silver-solder, and cut. We've used it for all of the above, but it's most often used to heat steel for bending and to cut. Cutting with the torch is so incredibly simple and cost-effective compared to plasma cutting— especially for thicker materials—that it cannot be ignored. Fortunately, it's also not that hard to learn. Here's a quick primer to the tool every metal shop should have.
At some point, every builder progresses beyond the "eyeball it" method of measurement, and as you build more complex projects, the tape measure is often not precise enough. If you're assembling an engine or machining parts, for instance, you often need to be accurate to within a few thousandths of an inch or parts fail and bad things happen. Unfortunately, most of the tools that can provide this kind of precision don't survive well in a gritty, messy, all-purpose shop. Except the vernier caliper, a device that looks intimidating (especially to those who spy it in your shirt pocket) until you crack its basic code. Here's how to be as exacting as an engineer in anything you build.