Introduction: The Utlimate Mini Mobile Metalshop

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Tired of dragging multiple boxes of tools and parts back and forth between destinations? Sick of making huge messes at the kitchen table? Time to build yourself a miniature metal workshop.

I had been using a cardboard box lid to store all of my "mini" tools in so I could haul them around. The lid was a pain to carry and overflowing with stuff. It was time to do something about it, so I built myself this mobile workshop. It not only carries all of my tools with ease, but it also has room for the projects and supplies! I even bolted my vice to the lid of the box, allowing me to work at the kitchen table without having to run back and forth between the garage. Having everything in one spot keeps me from spreading parts all over the place, meaning less mess!

What can you BUILD with a Mini Mobile Metalshop? Well, I built the Penny Engine-

And you can see several of my custom Hot Wheels (and other junk...) here:

If you can't tell from the awesome stickers, I use it mainly to build "custom" Hot Wheels.

This instructable won't be dealing so much with the building of the actual box- I will mainly be dwelling on how to stock it with awesome tools that every maker should have!

I've put a ton of notes in the pics too, so be sure to check them for more info!

Step 1: Building the Box.

As I mentioned, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this part. You may not have access to the tools required to build a box- not a problem. You can buy a new / used tool box and skip this step!

I was somewhat limited with the size of box I could build- the brake and shears I have access to are fairly small. This is about the biggest possible box I can build. I decided to make it shorter and deeper so that I could use the dozens of small tray's I build as demos in the box as compartments. The measurements were taken to allow the trays to sit two deep lengthwise.

The sides of this box are important- they have a special bend in them that creates both a handle on the sides AND a ledge inside for the tray to rest on. I can give more details on that if anyone is interested.

If you are going to the trouble to build your own box, protect your investment with some good paint! Bare sheet metal can rust very fast.

Step 2: You've Got a Box. What Do You Put in It?!

The most important part- THE TOOLS!

What are you going to put in the Mobile Metalshop!? Well, it really depends on what you plan on doing with it. As mentioned, I mainly use these tools to build scale models or customize Hot Wheels. However, the tools I've got in this box could be used to make just about ANYTHING (small).

Another cool part about all these tools- NONE of them require any power!

Lets break it down into a few different categories. I've got stuff for:

1. Organizing

2. Measuring

3. Cutting

4. Bending

5. Holding / Fusing / Gluing

6. Materials and Supplies

7. Other Useful Stuff.

The next steps show what I have and where you can get it from.

Step 3: Organizing.

Bit of a personal choice again depending what you want to use your mobile workshop for. There are hundreds of organizer options ranging from Tupperware to expensive purpose built fancy schmancy organizers. I'm using several simple metal trays because I build several of them a year as demo's for my students.

A few other useful items to keep in your box-

File Folders. They keep the papers and thin supplies in order- and its always a good idea to have some paper to jot ideas down on!

Contact case- GREAT for storing super teensy parts in- or oils / paints / other liquids you might have but don't want to carry around a huge container of.

Ziploc bags- easy to wad up into a hole when empty, useful for sorting parts out, and in a pinch can be used (maybe not safely / effectively) to carry liquids.

Step 4: Measuring Tools.

There is a huge variety of measuring / marking tools. Here are what I consider the absolute MUST HAVES:

Steel Rule / Ruler. You have to be able to measure! If you can't read a ruler, here's an instructable that can help:

Scratch awl. If you are working with metal, you are going to have to scratch it. Pencil doesn't stick very long, marker just isn't accurate enough. You can make an awl out of just about anything- it just needs a nice sharp point.

Dividers. Similar to the awl, but SOOOOO much more powerful. You can use these to make parallel lines, perpendicular lines, arcs, circles, and the like. I got these at Harbor Freight for about $4.00. I prefer this style with the thumb screw to the spring loaded ones- to each their own.

Center punch. A MUST if you plan on drilling holes with any type of accuracy. Keeps the drill bit from wandering when you first start to drill your hole.

Cold Chisel. Can be used for all sort of things- mainly the things you use a flat bladed screwdriver for but shouldn't...

Square. I don't know where the little multi-tool I use came from, but it does much more than just perpendicular lines, and I love it!

"Writing Utensils". Pencil, different types of sharpies, whatever floats your boat!

Digital micrometer. Very useful for tiny work! Can be had at Harbor Freight for as little as $10. Most car parts stores carry them as well for double that, and if you want a "fancy" one, bring $$$.

Step 5: Cutting!

Cutting is usually my favourite part of a project. There are LOTS of different ways to remove metal! Here are a few:

Drilling / Tapping.

I have two drills in my box- both hand powered. One is a small hand crank drill, the other is a super small "Jewelers Drill" or "Pin Vice". The hand crank drill will hold most "normal" sized small drill bits. The Pin Vice will hold microscopic drill bits- the smallest I use is a 1/64". If you drop one, it's like trying to find a 1" long chunk of hair on the floor- don't ask me how I know...

Both of these tools are available on ebay or Amazon. The bigger drill should run around $5 to $25 for a cool old vintage one like mine. The small one was quite cheap- only about $5. It's not real great quality but it works.

The drill bits and taps I use also all came from ebay. One recommendation- if you plan on drilling small holes, get extra bits! They are EXTREMELY easy to break.


Breaking things down into smaller pieces. I use your standard pair of center cutting aviation snips for cutting my sheet metal. Some other very useful tools are the hand held hole punch, the Nibbler, the coping saw, and for ultra fine work, the jewelers saw. I got both the nibbler and the hole punch on ebay, about $10 for the nibbler and $20 for the punch. The punch should be fairly self explanatory, but the nibbler is a different story. It works by nibbling teeny pieces off of a piece of sheet metal. Realy great way to cut slots in something or cut straight lines if you don't want to bend the metal, but its reallllyyyy slow. The jewelers saw does great fine work, but again- BUY EXTRA BLADES because until you have practiced a LOT, they break if you even look at them funny!

Misc. Cutting and Filing.

Wire cutters, scissors, extra blades for all the saws, a broken chunk of hacksaw blade, a razor blade, and a deburing tool. For files I have a standard set of jewelery files which you can get at Harbor Freight or dozens of online stores. I also have one larger file for removing lots of metal quickly, and then some sanding sticks for fine work. Mixed in with this container I also have some toothpicks and q-tips- just because they fit and it was an easy access spot for them.

Step 6: Bending.

Not much to this one- a good vice always comes in handy. Of course, you need a trusty hammer as well. I only have one pair of pliers in the box but I also have my Leatherman with me always, and between the two I've never needed anything else.

Now if only I could find a way to fit the box and pan brake in there...

Step 7: Holding / Fusing / Gluing.

Little bit of a combination of supplies and tools on this one. We already showed the vice in the last step, but it definitley fits here as well. As for everything else- well, you have to hold things together, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. Painters tape works great to hold things in place for a minute or two while the glue is drying.

On the subject of glue- I LOVE JB Quick Weld. Stuff works great and is very easy to work with. Keep in mind, for any epoxy you might want to stow a dedicated mixing plate and stirring stick in your box somewhere.

Tweezers. Big ones, little ones, fast ones, slow ones, sharp ones, blunt ones, you can't have enough! Hobby Lobby sells a cheap grab bag of different types, and they have worked great.

Clampy- he's a great friend. Not only does he hold things for me, he makes it easier to see what you're doing! He also came from ebay. The sheet magnifier came from a dollar store, for (you guessed it!) a buck. The jeweler loupe was given to me a long, long time ago.

Step 8: Materials and Supplies.

Stock your toolbox with the things you need! In my case, I have a ton of small aluminum, brass, etc tubing and square stock. I also have small pieces of sheet metal, random metal scraps, and things that come in handy like toothpics, q-tips, steel wool, wire, small nuts and bolts, and the like.

Step 9: Other Useful Stuff.

In this category, I have my box of paints and paint brushes. The shop towels keep in a file folder just fine until I need them. I also have a file folder with different grits of sand paper, one with paper for sketches and ideas, and one for water transfer paper and the sheet magnifier. The folders are easy to fit in the box- they just lay on top of the stuff in the bottom.

Step 10: Fitting It All In.

This really falls to personal preference, but I put all of the stuff I use often in the top tray. This includes most of the small tools and a few simple supplies. Everything else goes underneath. I have a TON of stuff in here, so its packed pretty tightly. Take your time, try a few different scenarios out, and find what works best for you. Don't be afraid to change it up as you start using your mobile workshop- part of the design process is to evaluate what you are doing and make changes if necessary!

Hopefully you've learned a new tip or trick or even seen a new tool you can make use of. Feel free to ask any questions relating to these tools- I'm not an expert but I'm getting better!

Step 11: Things That Aren't in the Workshop But SHOULD Be!

Hey, we can all dream, right? There are dozens of tools I would love to add to my workshop. Here are a few:

A full micro tap and die set.

Metal Dapping block.

Mini Anvil.

Some kind of Dremel style tool and all the attachements.

What else am I missing?

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