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Author Topic: Metalworking- Where to start?  (Read 2734 times)
Polaris
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« on: April 30, 2010, 07:14:22 pm »

This is probably getting a little ambitious for me, but my little experiences casting a metal pendant/emblem in the foundry where I work has got me really interested in doing more. However, working with the massive, high volume, computer programed forges here at work isn't really scratching the itch for me. ((Plus they start getting pissed at you when you waste too much of the company's materials.))

I want to start casting my own charms and pendants at home. Not from bronze- but maybe pewter and eventually other soft metals. Not wanting to be an idiot with permanent scars, I plan to do a lot or research before just diving headlong into things. I figured you all would be the best people to look to for basic terminology, advice, how-to's, and tips.

So where do I start? Where do I find a forge? Do they make little 'hobby' or 'craft' forges for beginners?  Is it even called a forge if it's just a tiny little thing? Any information you guys can give me would be really appreciated.
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« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2010, 07:42:26 pm »

This is my specialist subject Smiley

You certainly seem to be approaching it in the right way, respect for the hazards of the process is always wise Smiley

Pewter is a good way to start since you only need simple equipment and the temperatures involved aren't too high so with teh right precautions the safety aspect is easily manageable.

I'd suggest the following as a starting setup

Furnace:

You can melt pewter on an ordinary domestic stove, probably the best thing is to get a camping type gas or electric  ring rather than get metal all over your kitchen. Similarly you can use an ordinary pan as a crucible, a small cast iron one would be best.

Safety gear:

Clothing should be fairly heavy natural fibres, denim is ideal, also welding gloves, a face shield and goggles plus sensible work boots.

Moulds:

There are pewter type white metals which can be cast into silicone moulds, plaster and green sand are other options. For making jeweler direct carving and lost wax are probably the most useful techniques.

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Polaris
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« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2010, 06:32:43 pm »

Awesome! It's good to know a simple stove will work because I was afraid I was going to drop hundreds of dollars on a serious furnace or kiln. ((Not that I wouldn't kill to have either)) I have a lot of the mentioned clothing because of my job... ((Steel-toed work boots, heavy denim and Dickies cotton shirts...))
 
But where could I get a lot of the other stuff? Like the pewter itself or the materials for casting? Obviously a cheap Dollar store sauce pot isn't a good idea... Is there a brand/type you'd recommend? Any books you could recommend?

I'm sorry I'm firing off questions, Narsil! X{ I'm just really interested in this topic and I've always believed in learning from someone who's actually experienced with the craft. Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2010, 07:23:40 pm »


I'm very happy to answer any of your questions, sometime it's easier to answer specific ones than reel off a whole essay on a technical subject Smiley

Probably the best source for pewter is a sculpture, jewellery or model making supplier for jewellery a high tin, lead free alloy will probably be best.

Any reasonably sturdy pot should do the trick, although I'd probably steer clear of aluminium ones, a cheap brand should be ok as long as it looks to be reasonable quality, the main problem tends to be handles held on with tiny spot welds which fall off.

A good book for general mouldmaking is The Mouldmaker's Handbook by Jean-Pierre Delpech and Marc-Andre Figures, it covers all the basics, the specific section on low-melt metals is fairly brief but the basic techniques covered in the rest of the book are applicable to what you want to do.

Alternatively you might be able to beg some materials for lost wax casting from work Wink


Also, for Jewellery in general Jewellery concepts and technology by Oppi Untracht is an excellent reference for virtually any technique you could imagine. Its a bit of a heavy tome rather then an introductory guide and a little expensive but well worth having if you start to get into the subject.

Silicone moulds may be the easiest way to start out with the process and old fashioned sculpture or jewellery supply store should sell relatively inexpensive starter kits. Having said that the beauty of low melt alloys is that a lot of different mould materials can be used successfully

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« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2010, 08:55:52 pm »

yep casting pewter is available and quite cheap , melts at a very low temperature too. And yes a stove top will do it easily. One can buy ready made moulds if you want to try something easier to cast. If you want to move on or try a little harder metals or processes that require more heat a small furnace need not to expensive at all. Look at this one made of a single insulating furnace brick and a cheap gas torch...
http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2010/04/weekend_project_30_micro_forge.html
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Polaris
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« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2010, 04:02:05 pm »

Thank you, thank you! To you both! Smiley I'll make a trip out to the local library and see if they have those titles availible. The Carnegie continually surprises me with the number of volumes and subjects availible. They had several tomes on falconry I wasn't expecting them to have either...

if it's possible to beg supplies, Narsil, I can promise artwork or jewelry in return. I'll bug you more once I feel I'm ready to start trying experiments. Smiley

Once I get the hang of pewter I'll have to look into that micro forge. Grin $30? Really? That's so surpising. I honestly thought the cheapest I'd find would be atleast $150
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Mr. Boltneck
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« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2010, 05:08:57 pm »

These folks sell a variety of pewter and babbit alloys, among other things: http://www.rotometals.com/default.asp
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MaxLibra
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2010, 05:30:20 pm »

I too am seriously considering forging my own materials out of recovered metals. Gears in particular, but other items as well. A few questions:

How do you "dye" a metal? I've got a ton of aluminum that I could melt down and use, and getting pewter from garage sales and the hobby store wouldn't be much of a problem, but if I wanted the metal to have the look of brass or copper, (such as the Diet Caffeine Free Coke Cans) how would that be accomplished without paint?

Likewise, if I want to reshape sheet-brass or copper rather than melting and forging it, what do you recommend for use as an anvil (since Anvils are extremely expensive and hard to come by)?
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« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2010, 05:53:54 pm »

At the risk of being pedantic forging involves shaping by direct force (striking or pressing) metal which is sufficiently hot to be significantly softened but not molten. Casting involves pouring molten metal into a mould.

To answer MaxLibra's question there are a few ways to colour metals, most will change colour to some degree if you heat them, steel in particular has a wide range of oxide colours from pale yellow through browns to purple and blue. This is caused by the formation of specific oxides at various temperatures, in steel the appropriate temperature range if about 180 to 350 degC depending on the alloy.

Coloured oxides can also be generated by the application of various chemical processes, AKA patination. There are thousands of different patination processes, some can be achieved with common household substances and some require some very nasty chemicals indeed.  This book http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0500015015/ref=ord_cart_shr?ie=UTF8&m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE has detailed information on a huge range of different processes, although not all will be suitable for DIY.


Aluminium can be anodised and dyed. This works because the anodising process creates microscopic tubes in the surface which can hold pigment. There are a wide range of colours achievable by this process althoug hthey all tend to be quite bright (I suspect this is what give the coke cans the bronze colour). This process is really only applicable to aluminium, titanium and zinc.

There are also various plating processes which give different colour and finishes, some can be done with DIY kits, many need to be farmed out to professional shops for good results.

So, to summarise, there isn't any simple way to change the base colour of a metal, but there are various ways of depositing a coloured layer on the surface with varying degrees of durability, depending on the metal in question. 

For cold-working brass or copper there are a lot of different tools, hardwood stakes, stumps, steel stakes, sandbags etc. Really just keep an eye out for usefully shaped bits of scrap, depending what sort of shapes you want to make. You;ll also need a propane torch or similar to anneal the metal as you go.

Serviceable anvils can also be made from things like railroad track and fork-lift forks.

For cold-forming its important that both the 'anvil' and hammer faces are smooth and polkished as any imperfactions in the surface will be transferred to your work.

« Last Edit: May 04, 2010, 07:00:29 pm by Narsil » Logged
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« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2010, 06:23:48 pm »

Thank you very much, Narsil! This has been incredibly educational for me. No need to worry about sounding pedantic either; I readily admit to being as amateur as they come. I appreciate your detailed responses and look forward to practicing a lot this summer.
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« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2010, 07:24:04 pm »


Aluminium casting is a bit of a step up from white metal, but still within the scope of DIY, albeit very much at the advanced end. The main difference is that the temperatures involved are significantly higher, upwards of 660degC, depending on the alloy.

Most aluminium casting is done in gas fired furnaces, using something like a forced air propane burner. To be reasonable efficient the furnace needs to be lined with a refractory material. Suitable crucibles are also required.

Aluminium is usually cast into bonded sand, green sand or ceramic shell moulds, at these temperatures it becomes very important that the moulds are properly prepared and free from moisture.

Aluminium castings are quite prone to porosity, although effective degassing additives are available.

It goes without saying that this is potentially quite a dangerous activity.
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Polaris
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« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2010, 08:08:17 pm »

Agreed. We have a 'small' commercial furnace here at work for aluminum. It takes 4 trained guys to pour castings and another two to set up the molds. Aluminum may seem easy because its such a lightweight material, but in reality it isn't. Narsil can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure it also has a higher propensity to become flawed during the casting process. I probably will never get good enough to work with it and am content to stick to pewter for the time being.
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« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2010, 09:15:40 pm »

I have some experience with copper and brass forming. You need a hammer,heat (that can get copper red hot, can be the kitchen stove) water (to cool the copper to make it soft to work) and something to hammer it against which can be wood, sand (wet is best for big things), a sand bag, an anvil, a bit of railway track, lead (for finer work) the earth (just bash it!) anything that wont shatter.
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« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2010, 09:31:30 pm »

Yeah, aluminium castings are particularly prone to porosity caused by trapped bubbles of gas, although this is largely manageable with appropriate additives and is less of a problem with art castings. Its also very difficult or even impossible to fix flaws in aluminium castings with welding.

Having said that it does have quite a few advantages. As you say it's light which becomes quite attractive when you start making big castings, its also relatively cheap compared to bronze or iron. It also flows pretty well and picks up good detail.

It's quite a good material for progression from low-melt and cold casting to bigger stuff if you end up wanting to go in that direction.

One downside is that it's a pain to grind since it tends to clog abrasives, although it usually machines quite well.  

« Last Edit: September 25, 2010, 01:03:47 pm by Narsil » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2010, 10:14:25 pm »

So if I wanted to actually grind/machine/cast/er.... make my own gears/cogs, what would be the easiest method to go about doing that? Or what easy to read text could you recommend.

At the risk of sounding even more noobish... how do you "bolt" metals together? For instance, if I wanted to bolt together sheets of brass in a curved formation with overlapping plates? Or a faux pressure canister. I know enough not to even attempt making a real one till I have a lot more experience, lest I blow myself up.
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« Reply #15 on: May 04, 2010, 11:05:37 pm »

So if I wanted to actually grind/machine/cast/er.... make my own gears/cogs, what would be the easiest method to go about doing that? Or what easy to read text could you recommend.

At the risk of sounding even more noobish... how do you "bolt" metals together? For instance, if I wanted to bolt together sheets of brass in a curved formation with overlapping plates? Or a faux pressure canister. I know enough not to even attempt making a real one till I have a lot more experience, lest I blow myself up.


Making fully functional, load bearing gears is a fairly specialist job, the blanks might be forged, cast or machined from solid stock and they would then be machined and ground to finish. This book should cover most of the technical detail.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gears-Gear-Cutting-Workshop-Practice/dp/0852429118/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273009081&sr=8-1

Most modern gears are cut with an involute profile, a particular curve intended to maintain as constant a pressure angle as possible, which is important for minimising wear and vibration in gear trains working at load and speed. However there are simpler designs which can have practical uses.

The 'best' method really depends what you want to achieve and what resources you have available.

If you want to attach sheet metal together the most common methods would be bolting or riveting. For fairly thin sheet pop rivets are usually the most practical method.  as it's relatively quick and you don;t need access to both sides and the rivet heads are realatively flat and low-profile compared to bolt heads. The process is to fit up the sheets with an overlap, drill a hole through both sheets  (ideally the hole should be accurately sized) place the rivet through the hole and set with a riveting tool, either hand operated or air/hydraulic.

Not strictly victorian tech but pretty close.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2010, 11:07:50 pm by Narsil » Logged
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« Reply #16 on: May 05, 2010, 02:53:11 am »

As an addendum to Narsil's comment: many people confuse different functional types of gears. The gears in your car's transmission are a very different type from the "wheels" in a clock. The tooth profiles are different, and so are the overall shapes, because their purposes are separate. The wheels in a clock are only there to transmit positional information accurately and with minimal friction, using a minimum of force. Gears in a drive train are there to transmit motive power. About the only time these basic types get conflated is if you repurpose clock parts as a clockwork motor, and there is a reason those generally get used in toys.
The details fill books, and new material is developed by researchers on a regular basis (for instance, a new method for gearing large wind turbines was developed just a few years back), but if you keep the basic difference in mind, life and research are simpler.
As for how they are made, again, there are books full of methods (check Google Books), but these range from cutting out by hand, as in early clockworks, to fly-cutting (using a rotating single-point tool), to hobbing, precision grinding, and various CNC methods. And that's just the short list. Most people I know of who home-brew gears or clock wheels use a mill or lathe, plus some form of indexing device, which is the all-important bit which allows the accurate division of a circular gear into the correct number of teeth.
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« Reply #17 on: May 18, 2010, 07:40:40 pm »

I have two questions on brazing:

One, if I want a seal to be water-tight (building a steam engine, for instance) what special considerations, if any, will I need to take into consideration?

Two, I fully intend to wear safety goggles while I do this, but do I need to buy shaded goggles (as in the sort worn for welding) and if so, what shade-level (in U.S. units if they differ) should I wear? I'll probably be using a propane torch for the brazing.
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« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2010, 08:20:34 pm »

Well i use a lot of copper and i use, copper to copper brazing rods (Self-fluxing phosphorus) i find Benzomatic brand to be good. It flows when the copper is red hot and wont fill gaps! so a tight fitting joint is needed. Its strong and easier to use than "proper" silver solder. I don't use goggles.....
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« Reply #19 on: May 18, 2010, 09:13:58 pm »

I have two questions on brazing:

One, if I want a seal to be water-tight (building a steam engine, for instance) what special considerations, if any, will I need to take into consideration?

Two, I fully intend to wear safety goggles while I do this, but do I need to buy shaded goggles (as in the sort worn for welding) and if so, what shade-level (in U.S. units if they differ) should I wear? I'll probably be using a propane torch for the brazing.

A good brazed joint should be completely sealed just by it's nature, the filler metal will be drawn into the joint by capillary action. To make sure the joint achieves this you need to bear in mind the following:

-The joint surfaces should have a decent contact area all the way round and fit closely to each other.
-They should be thoroughly cleaned and degreased with a slightly keyed surface,  not too rough or highly polished.
-Use an appropriate flux for the solder and base metal
-Heat the base metal to the appropriate temperature. It's really important  that the joint is good and hot before you apply solder or it won;t flow properly, don;t be tempted to use the solder as hot glue.

Basically if it ends up looking neat then chances are its a good joint.

In terms of eye protection then it depends to a degree what sort of torch you're using, gas flames are nothing like the hazard of electric arc welding, for brazing you'll probably want something like shade 2-4 for oxy-gas (I'm pretty certain that the same convention is used in the states). and probably nothing for just a propane venturi burner. Really whether or not it's dazzlingly bright should be a good guid, although if you're doing a lot of it its probably a good idea to make sure that your goggles provide Uv protection (not necessarily the same as how dark they are).
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« Reply #20 on: May 19, 2010, 01:51:49 am »

Thanks again, Narsil. The components, as you may have guessed, will be copper to copper, for the purposes of a boiler, which, if I understand correctly, using copper solder, I can get away with just a propane torch. But how do you tell if you've gotten it to the right temperature before applying the solder? And should I heat it up with the torch first, or in the grill? I can easily achieve up to 600-700F degrees in my grill. Lastly, do I heat them up prior to joining them together (which begs the question on how to join them together while hot), or do I heat them up after they are joined (which then begs the question about how they will still fit together as heat will expand the metals apart from one another from their "cold" position.

Also, do you have any tips for applying the solder around the joint? It looks like it should be a fairly simply matter, you hold the solder up to the pre-heated pieces and then fire it with the torch till it melts, but I'm guessing it's not that simple in reality, or if it is, then some reassurances to that would be welcome.

And also, thanks Narsil. Your metallurgical materials knowledge is beyond invaluable to me. I am, believe it or not, learning stuff that I will be using for the rest of my life as an industrial engineer. There's just stuff that books don't teach as well as hands-on practice and hard-won experience like yours.
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« Reply #21 on: May 19, 2010, 09:22:27 am »

Narsil and others have covered the major points, so I'll mainly address your questions.

The best way to begin is by making the joint as close a fit as you can. Once that's done make a supporting armature out of steel or iron wire to hold it in place during brazing. My favourite for this is stainless steel locking wire; it's easy to bend to shape and doesn't soften or sag at brazing temperatures (and I happen to have a fair bit of it lying around.  Wink ).

Once you've got your joint fitted and supported, flux it! Flux it well; flux it to within an inch of its existence. You'll learn as you proceed how much flux is appropriate, but for starting out too much is better than too little. Don't trust self-fluxing rods, they don't do the job anywhere near as well as brushed-on flux. Forgive me if you already know, but flux serves two purposes:

1. It allows the molten solder to flow into and across the joint more easily, and
2. It prevents the formation of oxides on the surface of the workpiece. This is especially important within the joint, as the filler will not stick to an oxide layer and you can end up with a joint that looks sound but has hidden faults, weaknesses and pinholes. Not good for pressurised systems.

As I guess you're still thinking of working at tin-can sizes you shouldn't need to pre-heat. A smallish plumber's propane/butane torch should be sufficient. Using a grill sounds like a particularly bad idea - when moving the work-piece to the working area you'll lose a lot of heat and risk dislodging the joint. This is without the safety concerns of moving hot metal around.

Don't put the brazing rod anywhere near the work-piece until it's up to temperature. The rod will melt long before the work-piece is hot enough to let the filler flow and you'll just end up with a blob of metal that will probably be stuck to the joint in the most inconvenient manner - meaning you'll have to disassemble everything, clean up the joint and start over.

To get a really smooth flow you'll probably need to get the joint to glow. Could be anything from a dull cherry-red to a yellowish straw colour, depending on the composition of the brazing rod. Once the joint is up to temperature gently touch the rod to the joint. You'll be amazed at how fast the filler runs along a well-prepared join. For a small joint, such as a tube feed into a cylinder, you may get away with a single touch of the rod to make a sound joint. If you're making a larger joint, such as a seam on a cylinder, you'll need to move the torch along the joint, touching the rod to the hot-spot every now and then.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that more filler makes a better joint. Too much filler adds nothing and can hide potentially disastrous defects in the joint. Ideally you're aiming at a slim fillet.

I'd suggest practising on some scrap before starting on your boiler, but I'm sure you've already planned on that.

Hope some of this helps. I'll be following this project with great interest.

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« Reply #22 on: May 19, 2010, 11:26:22 am »

I normally won't point off to websites for information, but in this case you're asking for information on subjects, which needs more detail than can be given in a few short responses here.  Not that those of us who know won't be happy to help you(as you've already seen) but I remember being at the point you were and you don't even know enough yet to be asking the right questions.  I remember that being frustrating.  Before these websites existed. 

for the casting of metals:
http://www.backyardmetalcasting.com/  Almost everything you could want to know about casting is there.  And some really nice people as well

for blacksmithing:
http://www.iforgeiron.com/  We've quite the talented group over there and several hundred lessons called "blueprints" to give you the basics of most things.  Even a live chat on tuesday nights last time I checked.  

Another popular site is http://www.anvilfire.com/ but I've always found navigation there difficult.  Most smiths frequent both boards.  
« Last Edit: May 19, 2010, 11:30:48 am by Captain Quinlin Hopkins » Logged

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« Reply #23 on: May 19, 2010, 11:35:11 am »

As the captain says judging temp does require a little experience, it's certainly very well be worth having some trial runs on bits of scrap before you start on the real thing, in fact this is good practice with most hot joining processes. I'll usually run a few beads on some scrap metal of the right thickness before I start a job just to check everything is set up as I want it. Its much easier to do that than have the first weld go wrong and have to start grinding out welds Smiley

By the same token don't be afraid to take joints apart and re-do them if you're not happy, the ability to recognise a flaw and rectify it is more important than getting it right first time 100% of the time (no-one can do that).

What you're looking for is for the braze to flow smoothly and evenly into the joint, when its working properly it looks and feels 'right'. It should spread naturally into the joint rather than you having to poke and prod it.

In terms of keeping temperature it may also help to make a little 'nest' of firebricks or soldering blanket to help keep the heat contained.
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« Reply #24 on: May 19, 2010, 02:58:17 pm »

Thank you all, very much for the advice and site recommendations. I'll be visiting them shortly to read the contents. I'm hoping I'll get some time to do some practice brazing this weekend. Indeed, I will absolutely be practicing before the real thing, but wanted to make sure I was practicing the correct habits (or as near to correct I can get without a hands-on tutor).

Thank you very much, y'all have been most patient with my persistent noob questions, but it's going towards a hands-on education that will help me the rest of my engineering life. Even if the job I land once I've got my IE degree has me doing no direct metal-work at all, understanding the process personally will help me design far more efficient and engineer-friendly processes (since I'll almost certainly end up designing or re-purposing factory lines, considering the area I live in). Plus, it's just plain fun getting my hands dirty (...and cut...and blistered...) learning new skills.

Okay, off to answer another couple of threads, then I've got some more reading to do. One more question, are there any brands of torch you recommend or advise against for the beginner? My wife will inevitably demand I buy the cheapest one, but if that cheapest one turns out to be useless (or worse, dangerous), then it's pointless. But I'm also aware that with the most expensive brands, one is often just paying for a brand-name when something half-the cost or less would do. If it helps, I'll likely be buying it from either Lowe's or Home Depot. Perhaps Ace Hardware, if they have what I need. Those are the three options I've got nearby.
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