Mountmaking Tools and Materials

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Supply and tool lists

We’ve created a list of basic hand tools and materials that are essential to fabricating basic mounts in brass, steel and acrylic:

Tools

Mountmaking requires a selection of standard tooling for basic mount fabrication. Depending on the complexity of your mount design and the material used, having the right tooling is essential. Since there are many choices available, the mountmaker must decide what tool will suit them best. Quality counts, so don’t sell yourself short when purchasing your tools.

A full list of mountmaking tools is available for download as a PDF.

We’ve singled-out a few tools that warrant further description:

Smaller Tools

Parallel-jaw pliers

Unlike normal pliers which have jaws that open from a single pivot point in a “V” shape, these pliers have jaws that open parallel to each other- hence the name! Their jaws tend to open wider than normal pliers, allowing you work with lager stock. They grip very evenly, much like a vice, and are one of the best available for bending and holding metal stock.

The Duo-mite® bench-top metal bender

This is an amazing tool, in combination with a bench vise, will allow you to create complex bends in small to medium sized metal stock.

The Foredom® or Dremel® hand grinder

These grinders permit for fast material removal and finishing. Both tools have a wide array of sanding discs and grinding burs that are available, making them a very versatile. The Foredom® tool is the more expensive option, but has a flexible shaft that makes working in awkward positions easier. It also has a variable speed foot control that increases its versatility. The Dremel® tool is more reasonably priced and has many available options to enhance its workability.


Larger tools for fabricating basic mounts

A 10” – 14” Band saw

A general purpose woodworking saw will cut brass, aluminum and acrylic fine. Unfortunately they are not suited for steel since they run too fast and will dull your saw blade very quickly. This requires a metal cutting band saw, which tends to be on the expensive side.

A Drill Press, bench top or freestanding

There are many options here, but a lager, variable speed drill press will be the most versatile.

1” Belt x 8” Disc combination sander

This inexpensive sander has a belt sander on one side and a disc sander on the other, making it very versatile.

A Vacuum with a minimum 5micron filter or HEPA filter

A basic shop vacuum will work, but having one with a HEPA filter will be a big help in keeping dust at a minimum and maintaining a healthy work environment. One good option is from Fein. They have a few vacuums that are HEPA compatible and reasonably priced.


There are more expensive tool such as a Milling machine or Lathe which will allow further possibilities in your mount designs, but they are not necessary for basic mount fabrication.

Soldering/Welding

There are many choices for soldering and welding. The size and type of metal that you are working with will dictate the type of torch you will need. The typical method for joining smaller material in brass or steel is silver soldering. One advantage with silver soldering is that dissimilar metals can be joined, which isn’t possible with welding.

For small to medium size metal stock, an Air-Acetylene torch is a good choice. This is an inexpensive setup and it’s easy to use without any prior welding experience. The torch does not produce enough heat to weld, so it is only suited for silver soldering.

For soldering lager material or welding steel, an Oxygen/Acetylene torch on the other hand is more versatile because of the higher temperatures it can achieve. These torches come in a various sizes but tends to be more expensive that the Air-Acetylene torches. They also require some knowledge of welding to achieve the right mix of gases.

A good heat resistant surface is also necessary for silver soldering, which readily available from many jewelry supply stores. Another helpful soldering accessory is a“third-hand”. Also available from many jewelry supply stores, these small tweezers/clamps have a weighted base and a locking articulation which can hold small pieces of stock in a desired position during soldering.

For joining larger steel and joining aluminum, a welding setup is required. There are many options available such as the oxy-acetylene torch as mentioned earlier or an electric welder. There are pros and cons to each- a gas torch doesn't need a heavy duty power supply, but is more time consuming and generates more heat into your material. Whereas an electric welder such as a stick welder, MIG or TIG makes welding thicker material quick and easy, but can be prohibitive due to the equipment costs or power requirements.

With any setup, good ventilation is crucial- there are a few inexpensive fume extraction units that are available that help keep your workspace healthy.

Materials

The tooling that you have access too will dictate the materials that you will be able to use and ultimately direct your mount design. There are four standard materials that are regularly used for fabricating mounts- Brass, Steel, Aluminum and Acrylic. Each material has its own strengths and weaknesses and understanding their attributes will help guide your mount design.

A full list of mountmaking supply sources is also available to download as a PDF.

Brass

Brass is one on the most commonly used mount materials due to its straight forward workability. It doesn’t require too many special tools to work with, for example, it can be cut with a standard band saw and is easy to drill and tap. Brass is also simple to cold-work and can be easily shaped. Joining pieces is done with silver solder or mechanical connections.

There are a few disadvantages to brass- since it is fairly malleable and not well suited for structural supports for larger, heavy objects. When the material is used in larger mounts, it can add a noticeable amount weight to the mount/object assembly.

Steel

Steel is on the other hand is better suited for larger, heavier objects or structural supports since it has almost twice the rigidity of brass. This rigidity also makes it harder to work with and it requires more specific metal working tools. Joining pieces is done by welding or mechanical connections. It can also add considerable weight to the mount/object assembly. It also needs to be sealed to prevent corrosion.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is a nice alternative to brass in fabricating small to medium sized mounts. Like mild steel, it’s nearly twice as rigid as brass, so the size of the material needed to support an object can be substantially reduced, creating a less visible mount design. Also like steel, it requires more specific tooling to work with. It is also harder to shape due to its rigidity. In smaller material sizes it can be silver soldered to join sections or welded with larger pieces.

Aluminum

Aluminum, like brass is easy to cut, drill and tap with standard tooling. It’s very light weight for its strength, but like brass, it’s not as rigid as steel. It’s also not easily cold-work and bending it will usually end up fatiguing the material, causing it to break. It and can also be tricky to weld.

Acrylic

Acrylic tends to be used quite often for mount fabrication since it can be easily cut, shaped and connected with very simple tooling. The downside to the material is that it size to strength ratio is terrible when compared to steel, brass and aluminum, so it will take considerably more material to support an object, resulting in a more visible mount.

Resins

There are a number of resins available, ranging from putties to non-viscous liquids that can be easily incorporated into your design and great improve the function of your mount. Commonly referred to as an interface, the resin cast conforms to a section of an object and provides even support between the mount and an object and will help avoid point-loading. An interface can also greatly improve the stability of an object that has an uneven bottom surface. Interfaces can be easily cut, sanded,painted, drilled and tapped.

Caution should be observed when using resins, as they are adhesives, so multiple layers of a food wrap should be used as a barrier during casting. Be aware of any undercuts on the object where you will be casting, the resin, when hard will be trapped under in the undercut and lock the interface in place. You can fill the undercuts with various soft materials in between the layers of the food wrap barrier, which will prevent the resin from going into these areas.

There are occasions where interfaces can be used with an internal mount design, taking advantage of an object’s irregular surface or undercuts. The interface is cast in sections that allow it to be removed easily and then reassembled, creating a locking interface eliminating the need for external restraints.

Don’t be afraid to mix materials in your mount design. For example, steel makes an excellent structural support due to its rigidity, but you might want to switch to a lighter weight material such as aluminum or acrylic in the mount design where strength isn't as crucial. Then incorporate a resin cast interface on the areas in contact with the object for even support and use brass or stainless steel for retaining clips that are mechanically attached to mount. If any of the mount is visible once the object is installed, a sympathetic paint finish will unify the appearance of the various mount materials.


Barriers

A barrier should always be used between the artwork and the mount and there are a number of choices available from padded polyethylene felt to B-72, depending on your needs.

It is important to remember that any material that will be in close or direct contact with your artwork should be oddy tested first to make sure that the material does not contain a component that will be reactive with sensitive objects.