Category Archives: Welding

The Art of Compromise and Using What You Have

There I was, minding my own business several months ago, helping my best buddy load some steel for a now forgotten project when Angela, the super cool person who works the office and keeps things running smoothly at my favorite steel supplier, pointed out a couple piles of heavy duty steel U-channel scraps and told us to take as much as we wanted so she wouldn’t have to deal with it.

Several hundred pounds of steel loaded into the back of a pickup later, my buddy and I set off and eventually offloaded the scraps in my garage. The steel was all 6 x 2 1/2 by 3/8ths thick and the bulk of the usable length of the scrap was 30 inches. I had to trim off some angled cuts the fabrication guys had made in building whatever real project they’d contracted to build but that was pretty easy thanks to my Harbor Freight band saw.

So, I have this pile of heavy duty, beefy as f*** steel in desperate need of a project and it dawned on me that as a wannabe welder, I needed a good table on which to work. If I butt welded a couple pieces together I could have a 48 x 30 table which was really perfect for my garage.

So, I butt welded a couple pieces to create the main horizontal support pieces. One thing to note is that a real professional welder would be able to assure that their weld is as strong as a continual piece, I’m an amateur at best. I’m going to use physics to help ensure my table is as strong as possible.  Notice in this photo I intentionally put the welded pieces at opposite ends so any weight on the table would be more of a sheering force, rather than a bending force that would focus on the weak spot: the weld.

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Also, in the above photo, you can see a trick to ensure everything is square. Using squares is great and gets you pretty darn close, but measuring opposite corners can get you very close to perfect. In this case, it was less than a 16th of an inch difference between one set of opposite corners and the other. I went into more depth in this post about making sure things are flat, level and square. Read it so I don’t have to copy and paste the whole thing.

Additionally, if you’re working on a normal garage floor, keep in mind that most garage floors are poured with a downhill slope to ensure any water runs out of the garage, not in. You can see in these photos that my level showed it was off, yet it was consistent with the floor.

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After I tack welded the two horizontal pieces and the two cross pieces, it was time to lay out the rest of the table. Given what I what I had to work with and mathing it, 2 3/8ths inch space between each piece of steel worked out to pretty close to even spacing.

I welded the legs on first to give myself an easier work space, then set to welding the rest of the cross pieces.

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A couple things to think about on a project like this (free) is your materials will dictate a lot of your design. If that simply won’t work, don’t be afraid to do a hybrid wherein you buy some key pieces and use your free stuff for the rest of it.

Once it was all done, this thing was heavy as hell and sturdy as f***.

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The advantage of a table like this, with gaps between the crosspieces, is that I can clamp pieces anywhere, even in the middle, to fight heat distortion.

Now I have a really strong table that cost me just a few dollars for electricity, gas, and welding wire.

 

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Doddies Zoomer

Check out the tutorials on Doddies Zoomer’s Instructables page on how to build fun and unique outdoor wood burners. They are the kind of thing that will make your neighbors jealous, win you friends, and impress your boss.

He also touches on this important safety note:

Firstly make sure your bottle is empty, remove the brass gas tap from the top and fill with water. This will displace any left over gas and make it safe to cut into.

This can not be over stated. Even if a container you are going to cut into only had a semi-volatile liquid in it, fumes from that liquid could still be combustible and combustible fumes + enclosed container + sparks = emergency room hilarity.

Use water to flood the containers then get cutting and make something cool!

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The Quest: Part The Second

So my welding table is still only in planning stages since steel is expensive and my kids insist on eating. Self centered bastards…

Anyway, I’d read of guys setting up a system wherein they could add and remove tools like chop saws, vices, etc. Here’s one of the best illustrations of that concept and how to build it I’ve seen so far.

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The Mario Bros. would approve of this table.

Here’s a pretty decent video on how to build a simple table using lumber and pipe. People are using pipe in a lot of DIY furniture products I think because it’s readily available at the big-box stores and is pretty easy to build with, yet still has the industrial look that is all the rage right now.

In my opinion the biggest downside of using threaded pipe from the stores is that you’re stuck with whatever dimensions and lengths they have on hand and if you’re trying to make something fit in a particular space, you may be out of luck if that space is an oddball dimension.

For example, what if you’re a young married couple who bought their first house that was built in the 1940’s and it had multiple additions done by someone who clearly had no idea what they were doing and not a damn thing in the house was square, level, or plumb and you spent more time trying to unf*ck what the previous owner did than you did making any actual improvements? And since nothing was square or level, what if any shelving you installed basically had to be custom fitted and some day you’re going to find the home inspector who was probably on the take and said the place was great and punch him square in the dick?

I mean “theoretically”.

Sorry.

Anyway, so what’s the solution? Use unthreaded pipe and socket weld fittings to build your project.

Here’s Jody from Welding Tips and Tricks building a chin up bar using unthreaded pipe and socket weld fittings. Though not quite as easy to use as threaded pipe, you have tons of flexibility and complete freedom to use whatever length of pipe you want. Also, these types of joints are incredibly strong. The only major downside is once it’s welded, it’s pretty much there forever so if you ever want to change it, it’s going to take some cutting.

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The Quest, Part 1

holygrail

I’m on a quest for the perfect welding table.

Since I lack the funds to go purchase one of the many high quality precision commercially produced systems out there I’ve already accepted the fact that my “perfect” welding table will be one made by my own hands and within my meager budget. But that’s what DIY is all about, right?

So obviously a key feature of what makes “perfect” for me in this context is it being financially attainable and after the usual holiday assault on my bank balance, I’m left only a few hundred dollars to spend on my “perfect” welding table. Considering you can easily spend thousands on a professional table, a few hundred is a paltry sum and would get me laughed at by most tool snobs.

Other key design features or points:

  • Big enough to build something… big. I’m thinking 4’x8′ but that isn’t written in stone.
  • Sturdy legs for stability and a sturdy surface so I can firmly clamp pieces to it to prevent heat distortion.
  • As perfectly flat and square as I can get it to make setting up projects easier and more precision.
  • Capable of being used with fixturing like clamps and stops. A precision grid system would be awesome and drastically speed up project layout.

With those features in mind I’m in the planning stages of my table and have searching the Google for ideas to rip off inspiration. I could try to mimic one of the commercial systems which would allow me to use their tooling packages but going that route requires some precise hole placement and a lot of room for costly error. I am currently waiting for a quote to do that part from a local waterjet facility. If the cost is reasonable the finished product will look something like this:

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However, waterjet machines are amazingly complex so the owner/operator may have to charge more than I can afford because he/she has a family to feed and an expensive machine to pay for which leads me to plan B:

welding table slats

By using slats or several individual flat bars of steel with a gap in between, I can clamp a piece about anywhere on the table, however the lack of a precision grid system limits the amount of easy fixturing one can do. That makes me sad.

Regardless of which design I end up going with there is a lot to be said for building your own table. What you lack in funds can often be made up for in sweat and there’s the pride of knowing you did it yourself. Though I’m not a great wood worker, I really respect how the building of one’s own woodworking bench is almost a rite of passage within that community.

Anyway, stay tuned and watch me pull my hair out with this project!

Finally, here’s a little waterjet porn to illustrate how awesome these machines are:

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“The unsteady hand betrays.” – Dutton Peabody

I have a plasma cutter and it is an awesome tool but incredibly tough to use properly. It’s not that the tool has some issue or is unreliable, the problem is it cuts through metal so well and so quickly that the slightest twitch of the hand can screw up a cut pretty badly. One thing that will help will be simply more practice with it but still, like most things, I am the weak link in that system and unless I use a straight edge or brace with the cutter, my cuts look like rubbish and I’m filled with shame.

Any time I can take the human error factor out of building something by using a straight edge or a fixture of some sort I try to because it makes my work so much better. Even if something is square and perfect when I start a cut or start drilling a hole or start tack welding, sometimes stuff creeps midway through and my final product isn’t as perfect as I wanted it. Jigs, fixtures, and similar tools really help prevent set up errors as well as that creeping inaccuracy that sometimes happens mid way through that makes me want to rip my hair out.

Here’s a video showing one of the more high end fixture systems that, to get one, I’d do shameful shameful things.

But even if you don’t have a whiz bang setup like the build pro, clamping your work piece to a sturdy base in the shape you want it to stay will really help your projects stay straight, level, and square.

Also, check out this blog post by Joy in which she shows some of the cool stuff you can do with an example of an off the shelf jig system. Also check out the other stuff on her blog, it’s good.

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Anyone can buy their significant other flowers…

…but I made my lady a cool vintage industrial style cart for the kitchen.

AND YOU CAN TOO!

MrsDIY and I love the look of vintage/antique industrial pieces and though we have a large kitchen, we have little counter space so after getting an idea of what she wanted, I set about planning to build a cart that would fit the role while looking like it was salvaged from an abandoned factory from the turn of the last century.

I used LibreCAD to make a simple plan and to help me figure out how much material I needed. The measurements are all in inches (Murican) and the plan was to use 2 inch x 1/8 inch angle iron because it looks heavy and chunky but wouldn’t weigh a ton. Our counters are 36-1/2 inches high so I designed the frame to take into account the thickness of the lumber (1-1/2 inches) as well as the height of the casters on bottom (3 inches).

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The project will need the following cuts made:

  • Six 48 inch pieces. (Mitered cut)
  • Four 32 inch pieces. (Square cut)
  • Six 20 inch pieces. (Mitered cut)

So I mathed and figured out I’d need 536 inches (roughly 45 feet) of angle iron which, through my supplier, wouldn’t be too bad cost wise. However, there’s a couple things to consider when you buy material for a project like this:

  • Mistakes happen. If you buy on the exact amount you need and you screw up a cut, you’ve got to take the time to get more material which is a huge pain.
  • Material comes in set lengths/sizes and however you cut the material from your set lengths may or may not come out in a way that evenly uses all your material. For example: you can’t get three 6 foot long pieces from two 10 foot pieces of lumber. Careful planning can help minimize this issue but I’m not always the most careful planner.

So with these factors in mind, I chose to purchase 50 feet from my supplier which gives me a little more than 10% extra (the normal waste/loss buffer added to project estimates). Also, my supplier only had 1-1/2 inch x 1/8 inch angle in stock in the amount I needed so I went with that and stuck with the same plan as it doesn’t really change any of the important dimensions.

And it was beautiful….

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I decided to miter the ends on the frame portions and used a buddy’s metal cutting horizontal bandsaw to make the cuts. You could just as easily use an abrasive chop saw, reciprocating saw with a metal blade and a guide, or even a hack saw and some elbow grease. If none of those options sound great to you, your supplier may be able to make the cuts for you for a fee.

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Cutting tips:

Any time you’re using a power saw, watch the blade for deflection or “snaking” which normally indicates you’re feeding it too fast. Band saws and abrasive saws are especially prone to this.

Once you cut the first piece of each dimension you can use it as a pattern for the others to speed things along but always use the same piece as a pattern each time so that if there is a slight length error that error doesn’t grow larger and larger with each successive piece.

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When I was all done cutting the pieces, I checked to make sure the lengths were correct then used the saw again to cut about 1/4 inch off the very end off each mitered piece because they were going to be welded on the inside of the legs and the inside of angle iron isn’t square.

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The next task was to take the 48 inch long pieces and the 20 inch long pieces and assemble 3 rectangles. I checked and rechecked the squareness before tack welding them, then squared them again if heat distortion caused any issues.

(We just won’t talk about my messy garage.)

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The next step was to lay the legs (32 inch long pieces with square cuts) on the floor and start lining up the rectangles. Again, I set the pieces square then tack welded then double checked the squareness and made any adjustments as needed… with a hammer.

I used old weights to hold stuff in place while I welded them which totally counts as working out with weights.

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Once all three rectangular frames were tacked in place on the bottom and I was happy with the dimensions, I flipped the whole thing over and repeated the same process, constantly checking for squareness.

After the frame was all done I went back through and welded the joints permanently.

In keeping with the industrial theme, I took four 3 inch long pieces and attached them to the bottom rectangular frame as outriggers for the casters. Once they were welded in place, I drilled them and welded a nut to the top side for the threaded caster. I threaded the caster through the hole then welded a nut to the top so the whole thing can be adjusted for height leveled. I also used a grinder to round off the ends and all the sharp corners.

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Once the frame was assembled, I used a flap wheel disc on my angle grinder to clean up the edges and welds. I also knocked off any sharp corners since this cart was going to go in our kitchen and I have growing kids who aren’t always the most graceful.

I had some scrap material laying around so I added braces in the middle of each frame because I was having fun welding.

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For the table and shelves, I went with cheap stud grade lumber to keep with that down and dirty, vintage industrial theme. Starting at the top, the shelves were made of:

  • Six 5 foot long 2x4s
  • Five 4 foot long 2x4s
  • Five 4 foot long 2x4s

After I cut the lumber to length, I laid them out and made sure they were all square then drilled and bolted them to the top section the frame. I drilled holes in the two lower shelves and and used screws inserted from the bottom for a clean look.

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After it was all assembled, I sanded the lumber then used a terrifyingly awesome propane weed burner I bought to char the wood slightly to give it that old and rustic look.

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The last thing left to do was cover it in clear coat to protect it and let it dry. MrsDIY absolutely loved it and it has taken a welcome place in our kitchen, adding some much needed work space.

I’d like to thank my son/work-buddy for helping me on this project too.

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[After much prodding by friends and family, I’ve decided to hang a shingle and start a blog where I sell stuff like this cart, custom BBQ grills, etc. Check out Pig Iron Industrial Vintage for info on this cart as well as other fun stuff I have for sale. If you have something specific in mind, shoot me an email and we can see if I can make it happen for you. Thanks!]

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