Shop-Made Tools Turn Cheap Steel Into Telescoping Tubes

Beginning metalworkers are often surprised at just how cheap steel can be. It’s a commodity made by the gigaton, and there are always plenty of extra pieces and scraps left over from big projects that are available for pennies a pound. But what you’ve got is often not what you need, especially when it’s steel tubing with welded seams that prevents one tube from fitting inside another.

[Jason Marburger] from Fireball Tool has some great tips for cleaning interior welds in steel tubing. The first part of the video below details manual methods for cleaning off seam welds, including chiseling, sanding with a narrow belt sander, and grinding them down with a die grinder. Those all work well, but only for short lengths of tubing. Longer tubes need special treatment, which is where the clever tools [Jason] designed come in handy.

By attaching a chunk of high-speed steel to a slug made from the next size tube down and driving it through the tube to be cleaned with a hefty piece of threaded rod, he basically created ain internal shaper to shave the weld down. It works like a charm, as does the tool he made for round tubing by laying a bead of hard facing welding rod around the edge of a mild steel slug. Driving this tool into the seamed round tubing with a shop press cleaned up the weld nicely too.

Hats off to [Jason] for coming up with a couple of great shop tips to keep in mind. We’ve seen similar expedient tools for metalworking lately, like this homemade die-punching tool and a linear track to keep your plasma cutter in line.

24 thoughts on “Shop-Made Tools Turn Cheap Steel Into Telescoping Tubes

  1. For mild steel, I’d be tempted to try a worn/out-of-spec carbide annular-cutter with a guided alignment-bushing on a drive axle.
    I too would avoid risking a large spiral fluted reamer on raw weld chowder

    There are also Broaching techniques around that make this kind of task less “difficult”.

  2. > Beginning metalworkers are often surprised at just how cheap steel can be.

    Yeah, I needed a steel cylinder with machined interior. Nothing fancy, tolerances of 0.5mm, 12cm dia, 20cm len. Machining of that one small 20cm piece (just inside surface) was 5x more expensive than 1m of brand new 1cm-wall pipe.

    1. Speaking of… Where do I find this cheap steel. Fab shops won’t sell stock. Most metal suppliers are actually roofing or metal building installers, or if they sell stock they only sell to businesses. Buying online is about as over priced as buying from home improvement stores. Location East Tennessee.

      1. Unfortunately you have to think beyond retail. I posted a want-ad on Craigslist for scrap steel and had really good luck there. A scrapper gave me as much as I could carry, as I was very up-front about what I wanted to do with the material. People are generally supportive. I also checked in with the local metal recycler and got some pretty good aluminum “drops” which are cut ends of stock that a machine shop can’t use. I paid scrap rate for those pieces so it was really cheap. I also got super lucky and found a local guy selling aerospace aluminum offcuts out of his garage. It machines beautifully and finishes to a high polish. I don’t think my city is particularly special, it’s just that within 100K people you’re bound to find something useful.

        1. i also got aerospace aluminium sheets (2mm thick, about 35x35cm) for free once. they seem to have been lasercut. the guy just said “take as many as you like”, but i dont wanted to be impolite. from the 5 or so i took, i still have leftovers. this stuff is great as it doesnt corrode as usual aluminium does, and its definitely sturdier ^^. you wont get this via online shop from EADS, BOEING, or some other manufacturer. ( i got it from a subcontractor of an unnamed big company )

      2. Scrapyards. My first visit at scrapyard was enlightening. There were even some BIG hydraulic actuators just tucked in one corner. For as much steel as I could lift myself I payed about $5. But it was in Poland, very far from Tennessee. Of course it’s not like you will find bar stock in mint condition, but very often it’s possible to find pieces big enough for your needs. There are even car-specialised scrapyards, where you can find cheap source of air filters, electric motors, various small and big gearboxes or aluminum ideal for melting (engine cylinders), or you know, some exp..sives (cartridges for belts or airbags), many big or heavy duty bearings.

      3. The shop i work at will sell scrap stainless pipe to anyone that asks for it. Normal people looking for a small piece of metal (to us) will readily pay 2x what the scrap collectors do and are still paying pennies on the dollar.

        Actually the scrap metal market is really down right now, I bet you could buy “drops” (leftovers from cutting) at just about any shop if you offer them around $0.40/lb for stainless or $0.15/lb for aluminium.

      4. Every decent-sized city with some kind of manufacturers is going to have at least one steel supplier, but whether they’ll sell to the general public or not is the question. I’m lucky in that my son-in-law is a salesman for one of the local suppliers, so not only do I get the heads up when they get a new shipment of scrap from the main branch, but I get his employee discount on everything. He’s got a 1-1/2″ diam chrome-steel rod that was intended to fix a hydraulic cylinder, but got dinged up in shipping and the customer refused it. Sixty cents a pound – my kingdom for a lathe!!

      5. As others have said: go to the places people (usually guys in battered pickup trucks) take appliances to get money for recycling them. (As in, not just “we buy cans”, but “we buy scrap copper” or “we buy scrap iron”.) You could also look for a metal supermarkets outlet. There are several in tennessee. Their prices aren’t great but you more than make it up on shipping, and my local one has a cutoff bin from which they sell for less than new. And, see if you can find a local makerspace and ask people there where they get stuff. I have a huge aluminum supply yard a short distance from where I live, that doesn’t advertise and is really difficult to find online (no webpage, no descriptions on other pages) that has chunks of aluminum the size of cars, and sells chunks of round aluminum cutoffs the size of pop cans for $0.40/pound. If I hadn’t met someone who fabricates stuff I never would have known it existed.

      6. “Fab shops won’t sell stock.”

        That’s true, but they’ll probably sell their remnants.

        Also, if there’s a community college around where you’re at that offers welding and/or machining courses, ask them where they get their materials from. Some of the other students may also be able to give you some leads.

        FWIW, HTH.

      7. Best place to find small quantities of everything from simple to especially exotics like titanium I’ve actually found to be Ebay.

        If it’s small pieces under a foot or two what you want to find are called drops.

        Drops are what are left over from sawing long stock in Rod or bar or plate form from a bigger job.

        Every machine shop has drops, every single one. If you are nice and find a local small machine shop, and get a hold of their shop foreman and nicely asked if you can buy any of their drops sometimes they will help you.

        Looking on eBay specifically for drops will also help you find a lot.

        Fab shops specialize in one-off fixes to odd jobs so they probably hold on to every small scrap piece of everything they have because they know they will be able to use it at some point for something. Go to an actual machine shop, ideally a small one, single owner. Those are the kind that are likely to help you.

        If you want to buy small quantities I assure you there is a metal supplier somewhere near you who sells at wholesale prices most likely to anyone who calls. Good ones will deal with individuals. We have Metal Supermarket in Pittsburgh, but major steel suppliers here will also work with individuals.

        Googled Eastern Tennessee- looks like you have several options, and even a Metal Supermarket in Knoxville. Id check them out, ours here I just dealt with yesterday- very nice people, and they have a special rack area full of cheap drops in all kinds of shapes and sizes

        Hope that helps you and others

      8. In southwest Michigan we have Schupan’s Boneyard. They’re in Ohio also and I’m sure there are others around.

        Salvage yards, ordering the full length of material that is delivered from the mill versus cut lengths (might be cheaper actually) and buying from the mill might be options that are more cost effective. Cheap steel isn’t so good, I’d order the lowest quality you need that is high quality… not cheap stuff.

    1. Yeah, that article popped up in my feed too! He’s got a great story, and I love to hear about someone who has gone through the NIC millwright program and found success. I honestly had no idea Jason was based in Spokane, only about a half-hour away from me.

      1. Looks like the Google-Borg has assimilated HAD readers in its news algorithm.

        The millwright program* would be interesting to feature – looks like a lot of the 3-year tech programs that I have contact with in the Midwest working with other industries; great careers for the right people.

        It’d be an interesting interview (hint, hint).


        1. Not a bad idea. I have two neighbors who are millwrights, one retired and one spending the rest of the year in Minnesota building grain siloes. If I had it to do over again, millwrighting sounds like a great trade. It goes so far beyond what people think when they picture a blue-collar, Mike Rowe-type dirty job.

    2. It looks like his magic square is something I came up with lately because I had similar problems and didn’t realize someone made this.

      His stuff looks well made and his story is cool, and I am probably going to buy one of those magic squares sometime soon. Most of his squares I agree with him they look like something somebody should have come up with a long time ago because I have needed something like those many times already.

      For the record I can say Millwrights are in demand where I live in Pittsburgh, but my understanding was always a Millwright was somebody who just fixed equipment. I know they are well paid above even machinists like me, but I never knew what they actually did.

  3. I moved around a lot while I was in the navy, I always found that by going to or calling the closest Miller, Lincoln or Hobart dealer (these dealers also often sell \ rent tanks of most gases needed for welding) I could always make contact with locals who knew where to buy metals ( steel, brass, etc.). In the US lot’s of scrap yards will no longer let the public buy anything… I have also found that hanging around outside the gate and talking with the folks who sell scrap to these places will help you find what you need ( having a few 6 packs of cold canned beer and a supply of cold sodas to act as social lube helps). I know this may sound strange but when you get sent to a new town and have to build a new set of contacts for local area and are a geek of the 4 th order it takes strange actions to get past the ” your not from around here are you? ” This worked for me all over the states and all the European countries I was stationed in, not so much in Japan or South Korea. If I needed something special or cheap machine work done, I found that hanging out in the parking lots of machine shops around quitting time armed with said cold drinks almost always worked by the 3rd or 4th machine shop. PS. Dress like a Blue Collar tradesman and look like it’s not the first time you have thought about working on something where you get your hands dirty…

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