I have a fully equipped shop, and honestly, I dont think I utilize 10% of it to its fullest capacity. I would hazzard a guess that maybe 1% of the guys with the tools use them effectively. (here comes the flame throwers...)
Here are the "must haves" for what you are doing. And doing it from the cheap seats (low $$ budget)
1.) 4" H-F grinder $9.99 on sale. BUY TWO!! Set one up for cutting, one for
grinding. (You'll graduate to flapwheels, and hit Nirvanna!)
2.) GOOD Variable speed REVERSABLE electric drill. Yeah, yeah, battery drills
are great, but they dont have the guts to keep up with you. I have a 18v
DeWalt, and it still wont keep up with a junk $20 electric drill. Air drills
are worthless, IMO.
3.) Rigid framed hacksaw. Again, from the low buck, but they work. For
$20.00, best money spent. Next best is a METAL CUTTING vertical. Jet
or even from Graingers, the Daytons.
They work awesome. Those $100 horiontals are junk IMO, and need
constant tuning to get square cuts. Most guys use it like a cut off saw.
Use a hacksaw, if thats all you use it for. Or an abrasive wheel chop
saw. Horrible Fright makes a circular saw for metal. That works
AWESOME, and goes on sale for $69. Its worth 3x what the bandsaw is.
Too bad they cant adapt that to a cutoff saw. Clean cuts.
4.) Tubing Bender: Dude, the cash you save here, you can put you through
the next semester. Make a posterboard template. Take it to your local
stock car fabricator. There are tons of them out there. If you bring the
tubing, most times the guys will do it for a case of beer. The template
assures the fit. You wont have to go any further, to find out of it works.
PLUS, the guy already blew through HIS tubing to learn the bend radius,
waste, etc., let alone keeping 2 opposing bends on the same plane. At
$3.50+/- per foot of 1.625 x .134 EWS Roll bar tubing, you dont want to
waste the extra cash. You will find that paper templates are PROBABLY
the BEST tool you can have in your shop.
5.) Old seaming pliers. If you need to do ANY tinwork, these are irreplaceable,
and you can get them for next to nothing. They come up to 24" wide,
and will turn a flange in seconds. I've seen them on EBAY with no bids
many times. The old roofers used to use them.
Dont get wrapped up in the tool you think you need. Use what you HAVE(That would be that mush under your ball cap). You will find that by using your mind, instead of your wallet, there is alot less useless "junk" sitting around doing nothing.
And being in college, buy the absolute BEST tool you can afford when buying. Its cheaper in the long run. You only will but it once.
Side note: On Metalmeet.com, there is a fellow from Pakistan, named Ersahnni(sp?). Absolutely incredible what he produces with a broken claw hammer, hacksaw BLADE. A broken file, broken drill bits, and general stuff you would find in the trash. He uses his FEET for a vice to hold his work. I'd love to see him in a decent shop.