Metal fabrication refers to cutting, shaping and assembling various components to construct structures, machines, and other types of equipment. The components used in metal fabrication are made from raw materials such as plate metal, welding wire, castings, fittings, hardware, and formed and expanded metals. Metal fabrication shops are called fabrication or fab shops or machine shops; blacksmiths, welders, millwrights, ironworkers, and steel erectors are all persons that engage in some form of metal fabrication, however each one uses the metal in different ways and as such the process of preparing the metal may differ from area to area.
To prepare the raw material for use in metal fabrication it has to first be cut; the most common method for cutting is shearing which is a process in which the raw material is cut without burning, melting or forming chips. Some of the tools used for metal cutting are band saws with special hardened blades for cutting metal and a feed mechanism to ensure an even cut, such as the Grizzly 4×6; abrasive cut-off saws such as those sold by Kalamazoo Industries Inc. and cutting torches such as the ones sold by Victor or Smith Equipment.
After being cut, the material has to be formed or shaped so it can be used for the task at hand; the most common method of forming the material is by using hydraulic brake presses with v-dies like the one available from Torin. However other machines such as tube bending, rolling or wheeling machines are also used depending on the form that is desired; tube benders are manufactured by Rothenberger, or Bendpak to name a few, while rolling machines are manufactured by companies such as Delta and Dewalt, and wheeling machines can be acquired from manufacturers such as Imperial Wheeling Machines.
After forming the material goes through a process called machining in which power-driven machine tools such as mills, metal lathes and drill presses along with sharp cutting tools are used to cut the material as desired. Forming machines are manufactured by companies such as Grizzly Industrial Inc., Warco, Delta, and Jet.
When the machining process is completed, the various pieces of material are assembled by welding them into place; welding is most frequently associated with working with steel, however welding requires a lot of care as too much heat will warp the steel, in which case an Oxy-acetylene torch must be used to straighten the warped steel and this requires some skill. Welding torches and Oxy-acetylene torches are manufactured by several companies including Campbell Hausfeld, Turbo Torch, Steele, and Lincoln.
Fab shops in general deal with metal preparation such as sawing or bending, and assembly, while machine shops focus more on machining; however the functions of both usually overlap and so machine shops will often do the work of fab shopsand vice versa.
Companies such as Campbell Husfeld, Delta, Dewalt and Lincoln are well-known companies when it comes to power tools, however the prices may be more than you can afford so do some research on various companies and their power tools to find the tools that are best suited to your needs and your budget.