Aluminum Never Rusts: A Primer on Building Skills and Tools that Last

By Jay Lll

It’s often said that “The metal lathe is the only machine in the shop that can duplicate itself or any other machine in the shop.” From this first axiom, author and machinist David Gingery derived its corollary that the lathe is not only able to duplicate itself, but also from the primary parts casted in a foundry, it is able to construct and improve itself as well. And upon casting the necessary parts of a lathe one can produce the rest of the needed equipment to make a fully equipped machine shop.

In his original seven-book series, a person is linearly progressed from a humble charcoal foundry to a complete machine shop including a lathe, a metal shaper, a mill, a drill press, a dividing head, and other accessories for the previously mentioned machines, and a sheet metal brake. These manuals are meant to be an answer to the man who wants to spend his spare time in metalworking, not his money. There are no great technical obstacles to overcome and costs are surprisingly low. There is no need to go to a custom foundry or machine shop for help in this series. All pieces of equipment are constructed with simple hand tools and a ⅜” power drill.

Although each machine in the series is constructed with minimal expense and experience needed, the end results are every bit as well constructed as any product one can buy on the market but for a fraction of the price, but of more value than any piece of equipment, are the skill and knowledge gained along the way. And most importantly, you will own your tools in the most real and intimate meaning of the word.

For if cutting firewood warms you twice, then building your own tools means you own them twice. When a tool breaks, you will know how to replace it. You will know how everything operates within it and what can be improved.

In case you are hesitant to begin in a metalworking activity because you lack equipment or knowledge, remember that you will acquire skill and knowledge as you build the equipment, and neither is worth anything without the other.

The modern machine tools that are common in this age did not just appear, they evolved over centuries into the magnificent and complex devices that we know today. There is nothing new or revolutionary in the methods present in the Gingery Series. In fact, the entire approach of constructing a machine shop is to be through long-forgotten methods that were in use before the advent of space-age technology. The most skilled machinist of 40 years ago would be a lost ball in tall weeds in a modern machine shop. But it was the skill and equipment of his time that built the wonders of this age.

In our modern age, unfortunately, we are divorced from certain realities. We are surrounded by objects without knowing who built them, where they built them, nor how they built them. Any practical education in our physical world must include an education on manufacturing. And what more fulfilling way to learn is there than to engage in the activity itself?

The methods presented in Gingery’s series, while old-fashioned, are in no way unprofessional. A person can do work with these simple hand skills that will amaze them. In the current generation, society has become dependent on a technology that most people sometimes can’t afford; it keeps individuals from doing things because they can’t buy what they need to do it with. By building their own machines from scrap, there is hardly a limit to what they can do.

The truth is that you don’t need a machine shop. Increasing your ability to be self-reliant and your knowledge of how the world works isn’t about getting a raise or keeping up with the Jones. It’s about bringing into existence what the modern age promised us. A generation of engineers, tinkerers, and inventors with the tools and leisure time to interact with the world around them.

Unfortunately, we’re increasingly becoming a society dependent on science and engineering where almost all of its inhabitants neither know science nor engineering. Our modern age was supposed to give people leisure and a chance to develop themselves, but a detailed description of an average person’s life isn’t needed to know this hasn’t come to pass. Progress hasn’t given us a generation of Edisons, Teslas, or Fords. For most people, if they have any interest in science, it’s to report to anyone who will listen to the study their teacher had mentioned in class or that they had heard mentioned on a YouTube video or podcast episode. Science has been outsourced to the modern world as a consumer good only to be touched by the credentialed hands of experts and professionals.

It is time for everyone to explore inventive and creative avenues in their own leisure.

People weren’t born to sit at a desk all day. Nobody was born to get 10,000 hours of mastery in filing TPS reports. You weren’t meant to be a brain in a jar. A fully developed human should be able to influence the world around them in as many ways as they can manage.

It’s our heritage as the rational animal to create, build, and maintain the world around us. And if we have sand, kitty litter, a five-gallon metal bucket, charcoals, tongs, and a pot then we begin this journey too. No one can stop us from succeeding in this endeavor. And if we’re diligent, we can build our machine shop within a year out of almost nothing in this true display of science, technology, engineering, and math. All without taking out a single loan.

As you progress through the Gingery series, you will learn how to use each machine as they are constructed. The skills learned, while old, are timeless. Although modern equipment has the advantage of G-code and Autocad, a lathe in your inventor’s workshop will never become outdated. And when a part wears out, you will be able to replace whatever you may need.

Most importantly, if you do this with a family member you will build memories that will last forever in this ultimate DIY project. Your child will always remember the time they spent with you while casting or cutting metal. This project is not outside of a teenager’s capacity. With some adult supervision, your teenager will be just fine in creating their own business with tools that will last. With minimal expense and prior experience required, if they work diligently they’ll have a machine shop within a year. Combine that with a supplemental apprenticeship in the local manufacturing district, or reading manuals and watching tutorials online, and they’ll earn as much or more than their parents as a journeyman after four years of experience.

I hope that one day your grandchildren will operate the lathe or drill press you build. And hopefully your house and legacy will fill with the projects you will be able to build with your family from smokers, to jib cranes, to squat racks— the world is yours.

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