Jay’s Must-Have Machining Tools

Recently Jay obtained a different position at work. This new position will involve robot programming, robot troubleshooting, prototyping, and machining. Essentially, they are now going to pay Jay to do what he usually does in our basement. It would be similar to my employer paying me to sew and crochet all day. What could be better??

Since this is a new position in the company Jay has taken stock of what they have in the machining area and made a list of things he would like to have on hand. This made me wonder about what kinds of things would be on that list. Obviously, they have a much larger budget than we do, but I decided to ask Jay what machining tools he would consider to be absolutely necessary if he had to start all over again.



I told him that he couldn’t list the kegerator since he’s not allowed to have it at work. He claims it should be part of everybody’s basic tool kit regardless of what hobby you enjoy. I told him I would take that into consideration.

The following list consists of things Jay feels he must have in his machining shop. These are not the luxury items; those will be coming in a future post.

Drill Press

Drill Press

You should get one that is large enough to cover 15% more than your largest anticipated jobs. You don’t need the largest one that money can buy. Jay bought this one about 20 years ago and it’s still going strong. He said the only problem he’s had with it is that the quill is currently acting up because he was using it in a way that it wasn’t meant to be used. He can easily fix that by taking it apart and de-burring something. He told me what it was, but I’ve already forgotten.

Drill Bits

Drill Bits

Obviously, this is to go along with your drill press. Jay says that the 29 pc drill index is the bare minimum and that the 115pc set is ideal. Steer away from the gimmicky “5x longer lasting” propaganda. That’s just a good way to throw your money away. Plain carbon steel is fine for 95% of all work.

Tap and Die

Tap & Die set

When purchasing taps and dies you should get both metric and SAE. Get the largest set that you can afford in your budget. You don’t need anything fancy, but stay away from the bargain bin sets. Jay usually finds the Hanson or Irwin brands for a decent price. The biggest tip he can give for using taps and dies is to practice and use oil.



If you’re doing any kind of machining work you will need a file for various reasons. You use these for shaping, de-burring, chamfering, and other material-removal reasons. Get a good selection of teeth, shapes and sizes for your anticipated work. If you are going to be making smaller items then you won’t need a honking-big file. A nice turning/carving exercise is making file handles for your new collection.

DS Miter Gauge 12

Disc Sander

This might not have popped into your head when thinking about machining. Yet, Jay uses his all the time for wood, plastic, metal and composites. At minimum you would want a 10-12″, which is a good size for a home-based shop without being obtrusive. When I questioned him about this item on his list he said that if you just have a smidgen of material to remove in order to get down to your mark it’s much better to hog it off with this than to put the wear and tear on your precision tools (ie mill). He keeps a 60 grit disc on it, unless he’s making something with balsa wood. He likes to get his sanding discs at Harbor Freight because they are very reasonably priced.

Digital Calipers


Calipers come in both analog and digital. Depending on what type you were originally taught to use will usually determine as to which camp you fall into. A lot of your “pros” will only use analog. Jay prefers his digital calipers because when he’s machining a part he can re-zero the calipers, then as he measures it tells him how much more material he has to remove without having to do math. If you put your decimal in the wrong place it could be a very bad day for you. You definitely want to get a decent set, so figure out what you can afford on your budget and go from there. This isn’t the time to get a bargain set, but you also don’t have to mortgage your house for decent ones, either. Jay says that 6″ is plenty for most work (that’s NOT what she said…).



A small set of various-sized punches/drifts is great to have. An Auto Center Punch is a must.

Metal Rulers

Metal Rulers

These are in constant use on Jay’s bench. In fact, I was a bit surprised that they were all hanging in their spots. At the very least the 6″ is usually on the bench. Jay uses the 6″ and 18″ rulers the most. He says that these stainless steel rulers are not that expensive so get a couple.

Scribe and Marker

Metal Scribers & Sharpie Marker

At some point you will need to make a mark on your metal piece. A lot of people think you have to use the blue layout fluid, but you don’t. A blue sharpie marker works just as well and it dries quicker. Also, they are more widely available. As for the scribe, Jay says it needs to have extremely hard and sharp points. Unlike a pencil, you can’t sharpen it easily when it gets dull.

Combination Squares

Combination Squares

These are typically used in woodworking. You definitely don’t want to use these for squareness because they are not the right tolerances for machining. However, if you need to draw a straight line they are great. You probably could use your metal ruler (see above), but these you can square up on your piece of metal and draw a quick line.

Center Drills

Center Drills

I can’t remember exactly why Jay said to put these on this list. He said that they are multi-use (wood, plastic, metal, etc) and you can use them in the drill press. You should have a set of 4 or 5 to cover the most-used sizes.

That concludes the basics list that Jay put together. I hope it was interesting and that maybe you found something on the list that you wouldn’t have normally thought of using. Did we forget something? Remember, these are just the bare basics that Jay felt he would want in his shop. We will definitely be posting about some of the more luxury-types of items that are nice to have down the road.

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