Working with Aluminum


Comm Rotor Gyro, ASEL
I see some very nice workmanship on gyros on this site (e.g. the “crescendo build” thread).

What are some of the tricks people use for cutting aluminum sheet, angle, and tubing? What about filing it? Drilling it?

Thanks for any insights - and even any links to good videos, etc. that people may have found.



Fine tooth wood cutting tools work well for cutting. I have a host of files and rasp but a 12 inch bastard file and a mill file are used most. A hoof rasp for large removal. Buy the best drill bits you can from a machine supply and get the # drills for pre drill before you ream. For the best holes use a reamer. I have some holes I'll ream but most a drill will do.


Sling-Wing Pilot
No Title

I can think of a few, hack saw, porta-band, chop saw with a metal blade, lathe and mill for the more difficult stuff, always use a file to clean up your edges....for more in depth stuff a TIG welder is handy,
It all depends on what you want to build and how, many gyros are built from just aluminum tubing and simple tools like a hacksaw, file, and drill motor will get you by, a drill press is way better than a hand drill, etc.
You can also use a sabre saw for cutting sheet, just use a guide to cut straight lines and some cutting oil, a belt sander is faster than a file, but a file will work.
And paint, don't forget to paint! otherwise it will all corrode into an ugly mess.



Comm Rotor Gyro, ASEL
Thanks, guys - all excellent tips.

I’m mainly working with fairly thin sheet, to build some non-critical brackets such as for a fuel flow transducer and some GPS antennas, etc. for my Magni.

Since posting my question I picked up a small, used bandsaw. That works surprisingly well, even with the 10 year old blade the guy used to cut Pinewood Derby cars. I did see somewhere about using beeswax or even candle wax on the blade so I tried rubbing candle wax on the line to be cut and that seemed to work well.

Another tip I’d seen was to scrape a piece of chalk across files before using them. That definitely helped prevent them from loading up.

Thanks again!


Brian Jackson

Platinum Member
EdL;n1138330 said:
...Another tip I'd seen was to scrape a piece of chalk across files before using them. That definitely helped prevent them from loading up.
Thanks for the tip. Not heard of that one. For plate work I'm a fan of blue layout dye and scribes. I like using a good stainless caliper mic with sharp points for scribing where possible because the mark is automatically located per the measurement rather than involving a ruler and eyeballs. I also like using paper templates we print from CAD if edge shape is important and hard to measure. Spray-on glue works well, and Goo-Gone cleans it nicely afterward.

Other than the metal lathe I don't own any specialized machining tools. Saws and drills that work with hardwood generally are fine for aluminum, To echo JP's comment, use good quality blades and bits. Freud / Diablo 10" circular saw blades (96 tooth carbide) are favorites. Get a metal cutting blade for the band saw though, like 18-24 TPI.


Comm Rotor Gyro, ASEL
Thanks, Jeff - I think you were referring to using the kerosene for cutting and I’ve heard of that as an option. I’ve also heard of it (or cutting oil) on files to prevent them loading up too. As for using it with the saw, one thing that impressed me with the candle wax rubbed on the cutting line was that it stayed in place and wasn’t drippy or messy. It was kinda fun to watch it melt just in front of the blade as I was cutting, too. I used a basic tea light from IKEA - seemed to be the right softness and easy to manage.

Good points, Brian. I’ve seen lots of references to using carbide blades in circular saws but have been reluctant to try that, especially on one I use for wood so I’ll have to give it a shot with an older blade or something.

As for drilling, one thing I do have that is really nice is a “Whitney punch”. I grew up using my dad’s and he gave me my own several years ago. True ones by Roper Whitney are a bit expensive but there looks to be a clone on Amazon for $30 or so for the set. For holes close to an edge those are very nice to use.



Don't forget the clecos and tin snips.

I have a good drill press and a okay lathe that are indispensable. I just turned axles for my project on the lathe and previously used it with the mill attachment to shape the ends of all the 6061-T6 Angle.

I like all my tools. I have a 4' metal brake, Dewalt Cold Cut chop saw that will slice through 1/2 steel, Aircraft rivet gun, Aircraft micro countersink, never too many clamps. Oxy/Acet Torch, Mig, DC Miller but no TIG. The TIG is on the want list.

I don't have a belt sander or bandsaw but truly wish I did. A dedicated Mill and a drawer full of mills would also be nice.

I have cut a lot of aluminum sheet and plate on the table saw with a wood blades but I'm never real comfortable with the process. I like to mount the plate on a scrap piece of plywood and use it to keep the plate stable. VERY LOUD, chips everywhere. Plasma cutter leaves a nasty edge to clean up. I'm a about ready to cut side plates and I might try some other ways. A bandsaw.....

A good flat table space with a edge that has room to clamp is handy. I have a 4x8 table and a 5x6. My 3'x10' I built the Eze on is shot but I have a long narrow heavy metal table (railroad surplus) that will get a particle board top this winter. The long skinny table is probably more important for building an airplane than a gyro.

You can get by with rudimentary tools, I have, but I'm really enjoying a better equipped shop and I hope to add tools on a regular bases.

I need a bump starter to get me from the couch to the shop.