A sheetmetal brake will not...
A sheetmetal brake will not only allow you to cut the metal, but it will also allow you to bend and shape it. Photo by John Gibson
So what's the point of having one? Well, if there was one tool that you could answer yes to all three of the above questions, without a doubt it would be the plasma cutter. Having one on hand can save money by opening doors that allow you to do more work in your shop instead of having to pay someone to do it. Let's say the sheetmetal that makes up your firewall is in rough shape, with holes all through it and wrinkles from different accidents. Well, simply attach the ground wire and cut out the area that's damaged. The nice thing is, the cut will be much cleaner than if you were using a cutting torch.
So why doesn't everyone have one? Well, the downside is the price. You'll be hard pressed to find a plasma cutter under $1,000. The cheapest I've found is Miller's Spectrum 125C which will run you roughly $1,100.
3. Air Compressors When I say air compressor, I don't mean one of the portable units you see at the track that will hold 80-100 psi. A wise investment is an air compressor that can handle all your needs in the shop. A 60-gallon unit will provide many ways for you to save time. Just think, you can start using angle drills, air sanders/grinders, and even paint your car by simply having a quality air compressor.
Tig welding can be difficult...
Tig welding can be difficult at times but once you learn how to do it correctly, it will allow you to do a lot of work in-house, instead of paying someone else. Photo by John Gibson
On top of what you have to pay to purchase the air compressor, there will be some added expense. You will have to also plumb the inside of the shop with hoses and lines to carry the air to where it's needed. This part of it isn't really all that expensive, just tedious work to install the lines. A good air compressor will run you around $500.
4. TIG Welder Most shops have a normal MIG welder, but very few have a TIG welder that is used to weld aluminum. By not having a TIG welder, anytime you need anything repaired that is made of aluminum (e.g., a radiator) you have to go outside your own shop and pay to have it done. The TIG welder burns at a slow, controlled rate which makes it perfect for aluminum and soft metals.
Of course, welding is a true skill, but if you learn how to TIG weld, you can start saving money by doing more work in-house. For instance, let's say you run over a rock and put a small hole on the bottom of your aluminum oil pan. The oil pressure drops, you kill the engine, and there's no harm done, right? But now you either have to pull the engine or take the entire car somewhere to get the oil pan repaired, which means lots of time and some money. A TIG welder is all you need to repair the hole.
An air compressor is a very...
An air compressor is a very wise investment because it will allow you to use a variety of tools that otherwise you would never be able to use. Photo by John Gibson
The downside to having a TIG welder is you must learn to operate it. This takes time to properly learn, and even more time to master, but the more you use it, the better you will become. A TIG welder will cost somewhere between $1,100-$1,500.
5. Sheetmetal Brake If you invest in the right sheetmetal brake, it will do more for you than just cutting a piece of metal. I suggest purchasing one that allows you to bend and shape the metal. Having a brake will allow you to do more in-house than you ever dreamed.
A lot of people associate the brake with using sheetmetal only. But one of the most common uses is replacing and repairing crush panels, which are usually made out of aluminum. A sheetmetal brake will cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000, depending on size and cut length.
Times are tight right now with the economy and high gas prices, so any purchase has to be looked at as an investment. You can find yourself racing a lot longer than you ever expected if you purchase the right equipment. Ultimately, don't we all want to save time and money while making more money? With that combination, we can all have more time to race.