This is my first ible and only my third welding project... ever. Please know that I am *very* aware that my welds need to improve. I just choose to improve as I make things, rather than with a bunch of throw-away welds. Besides, knowing that I will be sharing these projects with the Maker community is incentive to get better fast! :)
I have a small garden in my yard that I water by filling large pots with water and letting it percolate through tubing to soak the ground over time. This has worked pretty well (until I broke my pot last week) but I wanted some more visual appeal to the garden. Also, we planted a grape vine and wanted a trellis. Seemed like a great way to break in my cheap-o welder ($69 from Harbor Freight), so here we are!
Step 1: Sketch It Up!
Step 1: I start almost every project with some time in Sketch-up. It serves several major functions for me and is FREE to boot! Just follow the included tutorials, they're really good.
Why Sketchup? First, it is a super-simple way to create 3-D versions of what is in my head and iterate on them in quickly and cheaply. Second, once I get the model done, I can pull pieces off of a copy of the finished model and use the dimensions tool to give me cut lengths. Within about an hour, you can try and fail several ideas and then come out of the session with a cut-list.
It is NOT good for everything. Freehand drawing in Sketchup is a nightmare... so choose your tool, but get a plan made!
Step 2: Cut!
After you have your cut list, I like to cut all of my material (more often wood, but in this case mild steel). Using my cut list from the diagram in step 1, I cut all of my pieces.
For those of you paying *super* close attention, you see that I am missing a couple of pieces... My design called for 2 more L-pieces than I had in the garage, so I had to wait for more to get delivered.
But that's no reason not to start welding!
Step 3: Clamping
But before we melt metal, we do lots and lots of clamping. And then clamp some more. Then a couple more times... This took me about 3x the time of the actual welding and grinding (which makes sense both because I am so new at welding and because it is the place where you can make the most mistakes).
I chose to screw scrap wood onto some particle board to create jigs, since every joint of the two side ladders is basically the same, then laid out and clamped the metal.
And here is where I made mistake #1... I did not sand the metal clean before starting. This resulted in some rather spotty contact with the metal and some bad welds. I did figure it out pretty soon, and the welds are strong enough to bear my body weight, but it was a rookie mistake.
It is also where I made mistake #2! I clamped side-to-side movement, but did not clamp the tubes down vertically, so they bowed slightly. VERY slightly, but enough that I had to deliberately emulate the mistake on the second ladder to have the same slight bow in each... again, this was welding project 3, so... you know... experience is what you get when you are trying for something else.
Step 4: Weld the Side Ladders
I completed one ladder (accidentally introducing the bow I mentioned) and was pretty happy with it, so I was able to make the second one in about 1/4 the the time. It was all about melting metal for a while, and it was tremendous fun.
By the end of Day 2 (Day 1 was cutting) I had these two ladders, which I tested by walking around on them like stilts... I do not claim to be smart, just willing to make things.
Notice that the gaps between rungs are not uniform. This was a conscious choice I made to accommodate a some specific pots in the final project. Sadly, the one that needed extra height broke.
Step 5: Angles and 3 Dimensions
I should have mentioned during the cut step that I also shaped the L-steel into 90-degree bends, 3' on a side.
This was pretty simple to notch out a V at the midpoint, which my saws-all did pretty quickly. In future projects like this, I will use my jigsaw instead for more control.
Bending was simple. I clamped the steel with the mouth of the vice just behind the bend point. Pulling the arms to 90-degrees was very easy.
Now the challenge was turning several basically 2D objects into something 3D and symmetrical... that was the most unnerving step, just getting over the fear of doing it wrong. It's my trellis in my garden, who cares? And once I accepted that (and some help from my wife to hold the squares and rails at the right angles while I tacked them) it was pretty painless.
I connected all 4 of the horizontal L-pieces to one ladder. I then laid out the second ladder on the table (clamped) and set the first ladder on the rails like they were table legs. I tacked them into place, too.
Voila! By using the squares on each joint and measuring diagonal corners to ensure the angles were right, the base came together nicely. I just had to go from joint to joint and reinforce the tacks with full welds. (Be careful where you rest your hand when doing this. Yes, it hurt.)
Now I had something that looked like a capital H with two cross bars and two angle-bent pieces that I needed to attach to the top. That part was strangely easy. Quick clamping and measuring to make sure the tails (the ends sticking out past the frame) were the same length got the job done.
Tack-tack-tack-tack and both angles were on top. The crown piece (a short length of angle steel for the very top) was next to hold the sides apart correctly.
I measured, sanded and tacked the remaining roof-slats in place, then welded them all down.
FInally, I attached the 2 slats on the ends of the roof runs (just to dress the edge a little).
Step 6: Sand, Grind, and Paint
I recruited my son to help me paint it after grinding the welds and sanding it. I like the dark color of the steel, but did not want the rust, so I used 2 cans of Rustoleum Hammered Dark Bronze (primer and color 2-in-1). The result looks very nice, if maybe slightly less bronze sparkly than I expected. If I do this again, I will use something brighter.
As you can see, he believes that wearing good shirts is a sure fire way to be a better painter... it turns out to not be true! Stay in school, kids.
Step 7: Put It in the Ground
The trellis is strong enough that putting it in the ground was accomplished by my son standing on one side and me standing on the other and hopping up and down, see-saw-style, to settle the legs into the heavy Texas clay.
I put some temporary slats on it so I could determine if I want to put wooden shelves in or leave it skeletal. I am going to get some rough-cut cedar planking soon and cut it in, but for now, I am quite happy with it.