Introduction: Steel and Glass Partition Wall

About: Learn - Make - Share --- I am a freelance Designer. If you like my designs and would like me to design or build something for you, feel free to contact me.

Our kids have grown up, are leaving the home and so we decided to reclaim their area. As we live in a loft, with no (brick) interior walls, we decided to remodel and install Steel and Glass partition walls.

Price quotations started from 15.000 euro and up... As I do have some TIG-welding experience I decided to save the money and take the challenge to do it myself.

This instructable contains all the useful advice, tips, warnings and lessons learned to get prepared for a similar project. Of course the exact measures will be different in your house, so you will have to adjust those. As I live in Belgium, Europe, all measures are in metric/mm. I assume the US (and other countries using Imperial units) has a similar offer of stock metal, and with Excel, all measures are easily converted : 1 inch = 25.4 mm

Design objectives :

  • Two pivoting doors in the center, ~800 mm wide each - Doors have door controls in the floor, so they open on both sides, and close automatically
  • Maximum size for powder coating is 4 x 2 m, so the wall needs to be assembled from several segments. Furthermore, the size of each segment will be restricted for transportation, handling etc...
  • No visible screws, bolts, etc. A minimalist design.
  • A slender design for the steel, ie. have the minimum of steel, with sufficient strength and rigidity.

Cost Overview :

  • raw steel : 700 euro
  • door controls : 4 * 120 euro = 480 euro
  • powder coating : 1000 euro
  • glass : 500 euro
  • Argon gas : 40 euro
  • cutting saw blade : 60 euro
  • all other items such as screws, silicone, etc. are cheap : 25 euro

Total cost : ~ 3000 euro

Of course these costs are roughly proportional to the width and height of the wall you are building. As my project has a total of ~20 m^2, a safe estimate is to budget 150 euro / m^2.

Techniques : In this project you'll be using several metal-working techniques :

  • cutting steel profiles, including miter cuts
  • grinding to clean the steel
  • drilling holes, including countersunk holes
  • tapping thread
  • welding

Effort Estimate :

  • measurements / design / calculations : 5 days
  • cutting steel : 3 days
  • welding & grinding : 4 days
  • testing if everything fits : 3 days
  • installing door control floor pump : 1 day each
  • final install of steel : 2 days
  • installing glass : 4 days

As you can see, this is not a project you can finish in a weekend, but the end result will be a beautiful partition which lasts for many years.. Thanks for reading and I wish you a fun and successful 'steel project'.

Step 1: Design Considerations

Overall Dimensions

The ceiling is ~2650 mm high. I needed two partitioning walls, the first one ~4100 mm wide, the second one ~3800 mm wide :

  • In order to make everything transportable and easy to handle, I decided to make 800mm wide segments.
  • Each segment can be bolted into the floor, ceiling and to its neightbours.
  • Each segment is further divided into 4 pieces of glass, creating 3 horizontal rulers.
  • The middle two segments will become doors, resulting into a 1600mm wide double door. At the far left and far right a smaller segment will adjust to the width available.

See image 1.1 to get an idea of the overall dimensions.

Tip : Walls are never 100% straight and/or vertical. So you need around 20 to 40 mm to adjust for that.

Tip : Floors and Ceilings are never 100% flat and level either, so you need some space to adjust there as well. I decided to keep the distance above the floor small (~10mm) and to have more space at the ceiling (~60mm) to accommodate room for a curtain rail.

As for aesthetics :

  • A slender design for the steel,
  • have rectangles with 'golden ratio'
  • make the doors as hidden as possible. Ideally doors and fixed panels are identical
  • narrow gaps around the doors, to improve the sound isolation
  • minimize the types of steel profiles needed. Makes the design look minimalist and simplifies the partlist

Steel Profiles

Next step is to decide which kind of steel profiles to use. Of course you want to minimize the number of different types. I decided to use 5 different profiles, see image 1.2 :

  1. an asymmetric L profile of 40 x 20 x 4 mm : this one will be used for the outsides of all segments
  2. a flat 35 x 4 mm profile : #2 and #3 will be welded into a T-profile of 35 x 25 mm.
  3. a flat 25 x 4 mm profile
  4. a flat 30 x 4 mm profile : will be used as extra reinforcement of the doors, as a spacer between segments and on the floor and ceiling.
  5. an L profile of 15 x 15 x 3 mm : this one will be used to secure the glass inside the steel frames

Framing the Glass

I've added two cross-section drawings to explain how the glass will be framed into the steel :

Image 1.3 is a vertical cross section

Image 1.4 shows a horizontal cross section.

The numbers refer to the profiles in the section above.

Each segment holds four (identical) pieces of glass. A glass thickness of 6 mm is sufficient, however I decided to use tempered security glass for the doors, as there are more forces on the doors. All fixed segments have plain float glass.

Each piece of glass fits into the frame and will be secured with a second metal profile from the back.

Initially I had planned to secure the glazing beads with small bolts, but I found that 'glueing' them with silicone was easier and works very well.

Step 2: Making the Partlist

As you probably know, a lot of time goes into planning and tweaking the dimensions. In order to be able to easily adjust all kinds of dimensions and still have a consistent partlist (numbers and sizes), I fired up Microsoft Excel. Making the spreadsheet takes some time, but it forces you to really think through how all of the dimensions play together.

Finally it results in a partlist which you can translate into a part list for ordering raw materials. In Belgium raw steel comes in lengths of 6 m, but as this is too long for easy transportation, I ordered it already cut in lengths around 3 m. Your Excel partlist will also help in how to optimally cut the parts from the raw stock with minimal loss.

Excel Partlist Instructions :

The excel has 3 'orange' areas which are the inputs :

  • overall dimensions
  • number of doors, panels, etc needed
  • properties of the metal profiles, including weight and cost

I advise to double check all formula's and results to make sure you completely understand the design.

Step 3: Equipment

Except for a TIG welder and a steel cutting saw, this project does not require any special tools. Nevertheless, as a reference I list here all the tools needed with some more tips related to them.

Cutting : From the partlist, you can see you'll be cutting hundreds of steel profiles. Doing that with a grinder and a cutting disc is really no option. You'll need a serious steel cutting saw, and preferably one that can cut at 45 degree angle for miter cuts. I did not have such a cutter myself, but a friend of mine helped me out in his shop. I decided to buy a brand new blade to get the sharpest, cleanest cuts possible.

Drilling & Tapping :

The different segments will be bolted together to the floor, ceiling and to their neighbors. In order to do so I drilled 3 mm holes in the sides of the segments, and 4 mm holes in the bottom/tops. given the number of holes, I recommend a drillpress.

Grinding : For the benefit of clean welds, which don't need any further treatment, you need to clean the steel. Grind it down to the blank steel. I did most of the welding without adding filler material, so there's also no need to cleanup the welds afterwards.

Welding :

a TIG welder. You'll be welding with currents up to ~100 Amps, so any TIG welder should be fine. No special requirements for the torch. Of course you need a pair of gloves, helmet. A few welding magnets can be helpful in mounting everything together before the welding.

Safety tips :

You probable know this, but for the sake of safety :

  • use eye and ear-protection while cutting the steel.
  • use gloves : the edges can be really sharp as a knife
  • use eye and ear-protection and gloves while grinding the steel
  • and then for welding : protect your eyes, beware of hot metal parts, and take care of the electrical safety of your setup.

Step 4: Cutting & Welding

Cutting :

as said, you are going to be cutting a large amount of steel, so you'll want a setup with an end stop so you can cut identical pieces easily without having to measure each one... On the other hand, I was worried about making a mistake and only discovering that at the assembly time. So I decided to cut all parts for one segment, to check them fitting together. (See image 4.1) Then I proceeded cutting all pieces part by part so to minimize setup effort and make sure all pieces were identical. (See Image 4.2)

Cutting through 4 mm of mild steel is tough, and when you cut at a 45 degree angle it is actually ~6 mm of steel. So you need the right saw for this. I didn't have one myself, but I have a friend with a fantastic shop who helped me out on this.

Tip : set up an end stop so all your pieces are same length.

Tip : buy a new blade for the saw (~50 euro). You will enjoy smooth and clean cuts when you do the welding later.

Tip : This kind of steel cutting typically requires cooling/greasing fluid : a mixture of water with some cutting oil.

Warning : cutting steel in 45 degree miter results in a sharp piece : it you drop it (eg) on your foot, it may go right through your shoes. So wear the appropriate safety clothes and shoes. Keep the area clean, safe and don't rush it. Wear gloves and safety glasses, and protect your ears.

Drilling :

The different segments will be bolted together to the floor, ceiling and to their neighbors. In order to do so I drilled 3 mm holes in the sides of the segments, and 4 mm holes in the bottom/tops. The 4 mm holes are further drilled with a countersink V-bit so the bolt is flush with the profile. The 3 mm holes are intended for tapping M4 thread. Use cutting oil for drilling and tapping. See Image 4.6

Welding :

Of all welding techniques, I prefer TIG-welding, also known as GTAW (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding) :

I think this is the best technique for this kind of project, as you will be doing a number of smaller welds, but they need to be quite precise. When the parts fit together well (that is, you made clean cuts) and when the parts are properly cleaned to blank steel, you can perfectly weld everything without filler material : During welding, the two parts are simply melting together.

Each welder will need to adjust the settings to his specific setup, but let me get you started with some numbers.

  • Outside corner : ~74 amps
  • Inside corner, Inside butt : ~85 amps
  • Door reinforcement : ~100 amps

Tip : take some of the left over steel from your cuts and do a few test-welds to get the settings right. Ensure that the welds have sufficient deep penetration, ie. 3.5 mm of the 4mm profiles. see Image 4.3

In order to maximize all parts being welded flush and in perfectly square angles, I decided to make a jig''. This is simply an MDF board which is a placeholder for the glass later-on. With some extra holes in the mdf-jig, you can easily put clamps to keep all profiles fixed while welding. Cut away the corners where you need access with the welding torch. See Image 4.4

Here is the order in which I welded all parts :

  1. joining all parts 5 & 6 - 7 & 8 - 9 & 10 to the T-shaped horizontal ruler. No need to completely weld the full length, 3 welds of ~5cm are sufficient. Ensure alignment and square angles. See Image 4.7
  2. build a segment from 4 outsides and 3 horizontal dividers (parts 1 & 2 - 1 & 3 - 1 & 4 and the assemblies made in welding step 1 ) See Image 4.8
  3. add the reinforcement to the doors - parts 12 & 13

I made the door handles from some leftover 40 x 20 x 4 mm profile, cut at a length of 160 mm .See image 4.5.

Make sure you weld the door handle at same height on left and right doors.

Step 5: Powder Coating

After welding, all segments had to be painted. In order to have a professional finish, I decided to have them powder-coated in a shop near by.

Tip : As after powder coating, it would no longer be possible to adjust things (with some additional welding or grinding) I decided to assemble everything for a test fit before the paint job. I requires some extra transportation, but it gives you extra peace of mind everything will fit in the end.

Tip : The parts need to hang (on a steel wire) so they can be sprayed from all sides. This is a lot easier if there is a hole in the part from which it can be hung. So I decide to drill a small 3 mm hole in each part which didn't have any holes for other purposes.

Note : this is just some picture from internet, as I don't have any pictures of the powder-coating for this project.

Step 6: Installing

As already mentioned before, floors, walls and ceilings are never 100% straight and level, so you need a little room for adjustment between floors, walls and ceilings and the steel divider wall. I decided to build this in 30 mm plywood. I glued some 18 mm and 12 mm together from leftover plywood.

A very thin ~10 mm piece is put at the floor. This means that the doors will have ~10 mm of free space to the floor, so they can swing freely.

Around 30 mm was used at the sides, as I have round concrete pillars there, and I needed to adjust to them.

I bolted another piece of 40 x 20 x 4 L-profile to the ceiling, and screwed the 30 mm plywood to it. Similarly you need some extra 10 mm above the doors so they can swing freely.

Door Controls :

As for the doors, I wanted them on door controls (we call them ' floor pumps') so they close automatically and soflty. Also this allows the doors to open towards both sides. I bought 4 pieces of Dorma BTS84, which is a very popular and good quality pump. It requires to cut a rectangle hole in the floor according to their drawings. The pumps can be adjusted ~ 10 mm, but not more, so you need to cut the whole quite accurately.

In the metal door itself you need to cut a whole as well, which fits to the axis of the pump.

At the ceiling I simply drilled a 5 mm hole and tapped M6 thread. The M6 bolt goes into the plywood mounted on the ceiling.

The axis of the rotation of the door is 80 mm from the outside. Dorma recommends 56mm or more. With 80 mm I was sure the door could rotate freely with only ~2 mm of space at the sides. This is something you want to double check with some drawings in case you modify the dimensions of the design.

Step 7: Installing the Glass

From the Excel partlist, you can also derive the dimensions of the glass. I decided to keep 4 mm of space around the glass, (so subtracting 8 mm from maximum width and height).

In order to prevent glass cracking due to whatever tension, I did the following :

  • have a line of silicone between the metal and the glass
  • have short strips of 4mm thick MDF to keep the glass centered in the frame

Mounting : cut some MDF or wood to 4mm strips.. This is to support the glass on the steel

Tip : after silicone has dried, cut away the remaining part of the MDF.

Last two images are showing a close-up of the front view and back view after installing the glass and glazing beads.

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