Hey Antvenom. Welcome to the modded world. I am the author of the Veinminer mod (responsible for "the shift mining thing"). You can configure it so that it is bound to a hotkey instead of the shift key. Use the menu to get to the shortcuts and choose a hotkey (just like you setup WASD stuff). Then type into chat (as a command, don't worry it's not cheating) "/veinminer mode auto" and that will only use Veinminer (to collect blocks of the same type) when you press the hotkey.
Also, you would have received a book when you started called "Materials and You" (like others have said) which is a guide to Tinkers Construct. Most notably, in order to create metal tools (e.g. iron) you need to construct a Smeltery (explained in the book)
Another thing. Look up the Quartz grindstone. It is an early game method of getting two ingots for each ore that you mine. You get the quartz crystals/dust from the quartz ore that you saw (but didn't collect). Once you have the grindstone make a handle (5 sticks in an L shape) and right click it on top.