TOOLS & EQUIPMENT
Basic mount fabrication uses a simple kit of tools. As your mounts become more complex or employ materials more difficult to form, you’ll likely need other, more specific tools, so select the tools that work best for you. Get the best quality tools that you can, for they usually work better and last longer.
A useful list of mountmaking tools is available for download as a PDF.
We show below some commonly used tools for mountmaking that warrant further description.
These hold material in the same way as a parallel-jawed vise, gripping more securely than angled jaw pliers. Rods tend to slip and rotate out of angled jaw pliers, while parallel pliers grip them firmly, allowing you to apply more force, more safely as you form your material. Generally found in every mountmakers pocket.
Smooth jawed wrenches , sized from 4” to 24”, allow you to apply great force to bend material held in a vise. The smooth jaws minimize marking. Search for them in flea markets or on-line markets.
When you don’t have access to a small-jawed vise in your shop, here is a nice trick
from Linda and Drew, mountmakers at the
National Gallery of Art:
Use your Coe’s Wrench
as a “vise extension”!
SMALL POWER TOOLS
1" Belt sander
Inexpensive and indispensable. Also made in combination with an 8” Disc sander, which increases its versatility.
The Foredom® or Dremel® Tools
These small-nosed grinders permit rapid material removal and can more easily access interior parts of the mount than larger grinders. The wide variety of burrs and sanding discs make them quite versatile. The Foredom, while considerably more expensive, is the more durable tool.
These use narrow (3/8”-5/8”) sanding belts and, like the Foredom and Dremel tools, can easily access all parts of the mount. While usually electric, there’s also an air powered and a battery powered version. Proxxon makes a smaller, lighter electric version
A vise with smooth-faced, tall jaws is relatively non-marring and will provide better access to the work, making it easier to fabricate your mount. Bench top versions with 2’ x 4 ¼” jaws, called sheetmetal or coachmakers vises, were made by firms such as Reed, Prentiss or Athol. A similar, lighter weight, portable version was sold under the Gyro or Versa-vise brands (be sure to get the tall-jawed models). None of these vises are in current production, but they can be regularly found in the second hand market.
The Duo-mite® bench-top metal bender
This is an amazing tool, in combination with a bench vise, will allow you to create complex bends in small to medium sized metal stock.
LARGE POWER TOOLS
10” – 14” Band saw
A general-purpose woodworking bandsaw can easily cut acrylic, brass and aluminum with woodworking blades. However, the high speed they run at makes them unsuitable for cutting steel, for which you’d need a more expensive metal cutting bandsaw.
Drill Press, bench top or freestanding
Most useful would be a variable speed drill press. The larger the drill press (measured from post to quill) the more useful it will be.
Vacuum with a minimum 5micron filter or HEPA filter
A basic shop vacuum is sufficient, but one with a HEPA filter can help maintain a better, healthier working environment. Both Festool and Fein make HEPA models from $400 to $900.
Other Machinist tools (lathe, milling machine, metal brakes and presses, etc.)
These expensive tools are not strictly necessary for basic mount fabrication. In fact, if infrequently needed, you might be better off contracting for them. However they do allow further mount possibilities and speed production if you have access to them.
There are many choices for soldering and welding. The size and type of metal that you are working with will dictate the type of torch you will need. The typical method for joining smaller material in brass or steel is silver soldering. One advantage with silver soldering is that dissimilar metals can be joined, which isn’t possible with welding.
Silver soldering brass or smaller steel material can be done with either an Air/Acetylene torch or an Oxygen/Acetylene torch, but only Oxy/Acetylene will get material hot enough to weld. The thickness and type of metal you are working with, and the joining method used, will determine which torch is required.
The Air/Acetylene torch outfit is relatively inexpensive compared to Oxy/Acetylene and simpler to learn to use. Although limited to only silver soldering, that’s sufficient for the vast majority of object mounts. Most institutions are familiar and relatively comfortable with this torch being used on their site, as it is the one commonly seen being used by plumbers.
Silver soldering should be done on a heat-resistant surface such as a ceramic or fiber pad, or on fire bricks. Different varieties of “third hand” clamps can be used to hold the pieces being soldered in position during the process. Soldering pads and clamps are commonly available at jewelry suppliers
The Oxy/Acetylene torch can attain much higher temperatures than the Air/Acetylene outfit, permitting it to be used for silver soldering or welding. Use welding to join larger steel elements together, and to join aluminum. Training is needed to achieve the correct mixture of gases. Institutions may be a bit more hesitant to permit Oxy/Acetylene welding in their buildings, since it presents some additional safety concerns over Air/acetylene.
Oxy/Acetylene is but one method of welding; electric welders like MIG and TIG are also employed. If the equipment and the heavy-duty power supply that they require is not too costly, they work faster and generate less heat in the work than Oxy/Acetylene. Fume extraction is, of course, always a good idea when soldering or welding.
With any setup, good ventilation is crucial- there are a few inexpensive fume extraction units that are available that help keep your workspace healthy.