CNCCookbook: Be a Better CNC'er

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Commonly Used and Handy Tools

The Tool Popularity Contest

I recently came across a thread asking for the top 10 must have machinist's tools. These are tools with general applicability, rather than tooling for a specific machine. Of course putting everyone's list of 10 together resulted in a list of 63. Here is that list, sorted by popularity, and with my comments.

Top 10

1. Micrometer set in 0-6" range. 0-1" and 1-2" are the most used. I agree this is a must-have tool, but I use my calipers more often!

2. 6" caliper, digital or dial, your choice. I constantly use these. They all seem similar in accuracy, but my Mitutoyos have better feel, so I reach for them first.

3. Dial Test Indicator w/ Magnetic Base. Another constant use tool. Noga makes the best bases, and I like Interapid Indicators. B&S Best Test were also highly favored.

4. Allen wrenches. T-handles in metric and imperial are constantly needed. I also have a set to fit my 3/8" ratchet, a folding set, and a set of loose keys. Wiha looks like a nice brand I may try when I buy a new set of T-handles.

5. Edge finder. An essential tool, but I don't use my Starret all that often. I guess I don't do enough precision mill work.

6. 6" Scale with fractional and 1/100" divisions. Many swear by their scales. I don't own one and haven't missed it. I use a tape measure or digital calipers. I did read a fascinating account of how one fellow uses his with CNC to good effect.

7.Calculator. Amen! And I will add to that a notepad and a pen. I bought a box of steno pads and a box of Sharpies. I use them constantly.

8. 0-6" Depth micrometer. This is another popular pick that I don't use much.

9. Combination square. Another I don't use.

10. 12" Crescent wrench. Yep, they are handy.

The Whole List

I bold faced my favorites from the list.

0-6" Micrometers, 0-1" and 1-2" are used most
Must have tool, but I use my calipers more often!
6" Caliper:  Dial or digital, your choice
Constant use.  They all seem similar in accuracy, but my Mitutoyos have better "feel"
DTI w/ Mag Base
Constant use, by a good one!  Noga base is supposed to be best.  I like Interapid indicators
Allen Wrenches
Constant use, by a good set!
Edge Finder
Must be accurate: by a good one.  Mine's a Starret
6" Scale, Fractional and 1/100" divisions
Don't own and never missed one.  
Indispensible!  I use an HP.
0-6" Depth Micrometer
I have one, but seldom use it.
Combination Square
I have one, but seldom use it.
12" crescent wrench
Constant use…
50 millionths DTI
Love my Interapid.  I baby it.
Ball Peen Hammer: 10 ounce
You can never own too many different hammers
Carbide Scriber
I use mine sometimes for layout, but I prefer the scribe on my height gage to get it right.
Height Gage w/ DTI and Scribe attachments
I use my height gage and surface plate constantly when marking out a part
India Stone
I keep a variety of stones handy
Indicol w/ DTI
Indispensible!  I have a real Indicol with a good Interapid DTI
Constant use
Safety glasses
Find something comfortable.  I have both glasses and a face shield if the chips are really flying
Telescoping (Snap) Gage Set
Takes practice and technique, but they work
Tool Box
You can't have too many tool boxes: they will get filled
Torx Wrench Set
Haven't needed them often, but I do have a set for my socket wrenches
Vee Blocks
Constant use…
10-12" Mill Bastard File
I prefer scrapers and sanders for deburring
123 Blocks
Constant use…
2"-12" Tubular Inside Micrometers
Don't own and never missed one.  
25' Tape Measure
Much prefer to the 6" scale.  I have 4 floating around the shop so one is always handy
5lb Lead Hammer
You can never own too many different hammers
6 inch needle nose pliers
Yep, though mine are not that long
8" Coolant Proof Digital Calipers
I have 6", but 8" would be handier
8-10" Mill File for deburring
I prefer scrapers and sanders for deburring
90 Degree False Center:  Shopmade
Made one, but don't use it often
Brass Rod 3/8 inch x 8" long for use with hammer
Sounds handy
Chip Brushes, 1" and 2"
Constant use, bought a case of each
CNC Code Reference (Tulip or MasterCam off the web)
Computer w/ CAD/CAM Program
Constant use, find one you like
Decimal Fractional Chart with tap drill reference
I use the ones taped inside my drill indexes constantly
Don't have a complete DRO setup on machines, so sometimes
Gage Block Set
Seldom use
Hearing Protection
Inside Micrometer
Knipex pump pliers
A particular kind of channel lock.  Not fond of the breed.
Layout Blue
Lixie Deadblow
Nice hammer!
Machine Lube
Machinery Handbook
Have 2 versions.  Invaluable when needed, seldom needed.
Machinist's Square, 6"
Use mine fairly often
Metric Wrenches
Noga triangular scraper
Never used one
optima center punch
Never used one
Optvisor Magnifier
Invaluable for small work
I keep a box of sharpies handy as well as a bunch of steno pads for quick notes and lists.
Pocket Level
pocket ref chart
Yep.  Tempted to put a paper towel dispenser by each machine.
Screwdriver Set
Single cut file (aka "Lathe" file)
Very handy for deburring on a lathe
Speeds and Feeds Chart
Nope, I use software from Mrainey
Starret Auto Centerpunch
Constant use!
starrett E center punch (the big one!)
Surface Gage/Indicator Holder
Seldom use: prefer height gage
Surface Plate
Constant use!
Thread TPI Gauge
Seldom use


Tools I Love That They Missed

Pad and paper As mentioned above, I bought a box of steno pads and a box of Sharpies. I use them constantly.
Screw Machine Bit Set Infinitely better than regular drill bits. They're more rigid, and because they're less common, you wind up buying a better made set. Wait for them to be on sale.
Nice Drill Chucks Don't scrimp. Buy nice chucks. I use Javobs for small bits and an Asian-made Albrecht clone for bigger bits. I got the Albrecht-clone from Lathemaster, who sell a nice one.
Kant Twist Clamps A million and one uses. C-Clamps are prehistoric technology by comparison. Their only drawback is they aren't cheap.
Magnetic base halogen work light None of my machines have a work light. Halogen is bright and the flexible neck puts the light right where it does the most good.
DeWalt 14" Multicutter OK, that's cheating, this is a machine, BUT, boy is it handy, and it isn't that expensive. I have not used my bandsaw since buying it. It is faster, takes less shop space, and leaves a cleaner cut.
Air Tool w/ Cut-off Wheel When nothing else works, I grab this. Think of it as a rotary cutting "bigger hammer".
Bessey Clamps When you need more range than a Kant-Twist offers, I go for my Bessey clamps. C-clamps, you lose again!
1/8" Air-Powered Mini-Belt Sander We don't need no steeking files no more!
Scraper-style Deburring Tool Chapter 2: We don't need no steeking files no more!
Angle block set An Asian-made angle block set is not too expensive ( gave $40 for mine) and I've found them to be extremely handy.
"Arrow" Welding Magnets I find these to be pretty handle way beyond welding. Magnets in general are handy around a shop.
File Brush If you use files, get a file brush. Mine came from Brownell's.
Piloted Tap Wrenches You need a big one and a small one. The pilot goes in any drill chuck.
Z-Axis Presetter Cheap eBay purchase has been my most accurate way to set Z heights.
5C Collet Blocks Holding round stock couldn't be easier.
Big Blocks: 2-4-6, Angle Blocks, etc. Because its hard enough to get big pieces clamped down.
Huot Dispensers for End Mills Extremely worthwhile organizer. I have them for taps and drills (got the works for cheap on eBay), but don't use the latter.


Tools I Thought I'd Use and Mostly Don't

Maybe you won't need them either!

Old School Calipers and Dividers Rarely, I use these to transfer a measurement or for some other chore. In an age of digital calipers, they don't seem that useful to me anymore.
Wobblers The wobbler is billed as a quick way to center things in a 4-jaw lathe chuck or even on the mill. I played with one I bought, but I much prefer a DTI with appropriate holder. This is another one of those "old school" things.
Protractors and Angle Gages I have several different kinds including a nifty digital model and have never used one yet. I like my angle block set for setting up angles. Failing that, a sine bar.
Radius gages B&S radius gages sit in a corner, never used. At least they were cheap on eBay.
Adjustable parallels I've had these for a long time. I've seen some wonderful uses for them. I am convinced I will be greatly relieved I have them some day. So far I've never used them.
Lathe dogs I use a constant face driver instead.
Toolmaker's Vise, 3" You know those cool looking little vises. They're intended for grinding. I've yet to use one.
Wohlhaupter Boring and Facing Head It's too pretty to put it in the machine and screw it up!
Drill bit sharpener One reads a lot about sharpening. Someday I need to do it. So far my bits are new and I keep buying more newer ones.

Machine Specific Tools that Need Honorable Mention

I use these so much and am so happy with them, I just had to bring them up!

Phase 2 QCTP I can't imagine a lathe without a QCTP and as many holders as I can afford for tooling.
Buck Adjust Tru 6-Jaw Lathe Chuck I use either this chuck or my 4-jaw. I have 2 3-jaws that are only used for larger capacity or when the work is so groady I won't risk the 6-jaw.
Boring Bars Because life is too short for crappy boring bars. Buy solid carbide bars. I like indexable inserts. Circle boring is one company as is Micro100 that make good bars. James Harvey says you can't have too many boring bars in "Machine Shop Trade Secrets." He's right!
Lathe Tool Height Gage A little gizmo with a v-block for the workpiece, a step for the tool, and a bubble level. I got mine from Brownell's. Beats jamming a ruler between the tool and work.
No.71 Holder Axa Cut-off & Grooving Holder My favorite cutt-off tool for the lathe.
MT3 CONSTANT FACE DRIVER SET, =BRAND NEW= If you can find an affordable constant face driver, you'll never touch your lathe dogs!
Kurt Vise Even a used Kurt is a great piece of tooling to have around. Forget other vises.
Powered Drawbar I made one for my mill and boy is it great!
Power Feed for the Mill
Aluminum Soft Jaws for Kurt Vise A variety of possibilities here, all of them useful.
Royal Products Live Center Bought used on eBay. Stunningly accurate. All my other live centers sit around unused as does the dead center.

Tips & Techniques Pages

Commonly Used Tools

Deburring and Polishing

Design & Manufacturing

Drilling, Boring & Reaming

Lathe Cutting & Finish

Lathe Parting & Cutoff

Lathe Workholding

Machine Restoration

Mach3 and GRex

Mill Cutting & Finish

Mill Tips & Techniques

Rhino Tips

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CNC Machine Hourly Rate Calculator

Special Purpose CNC Calculators

Feeds and Speeds Guide

CNC Cutter Guide

Feeds and Speeds By Material

G-Code Tutorial

  Feed Rate Calculator

Sales, and Special Deals


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Do you want to be a better CNC'er in 37 Seconds?

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It's that easy. You can install and get results now.


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