Introduction: Welding Bench
A few years ago I decided I wanted to try my hand at welding, so that I can build some items for around the house, perform some car repairs and maybe build some yard art. I picked up an older used MIG from craiglist. A very nice widow was clearing out some of her husbands tools, and he had this Miller Millermatic 175 with a small tank of AR/CO2 for welding mild steel. It came with a bunch of supplies (spools of wire, welding helmet, tips) and so I brought it home.
Now, I needed somewhere to work when welding. I have a wooden workbench inside my 1-car garage, and no real space inside for doing my metalworking. I decided I would build my own welding table that would live outside all the time. But the weather here in California really isn't that bad, so I figured it wouldn't disintegrate too quickly.
I sketched out a design to build a frame on paper, and planned on a 1/2" steel plate top to have a nice flat robust surface. I showed up at one of the local steel suppliers, gave them my materials list, and they basically came back with a price of several hundred dollars, which was more than I had budgeted. That 1/2" top was kind of pricey. So... I slunk back home, and decided to think about my plans again.
I then learned about another steel supplier in San Jose, SIMS Metal Management, that is a major recycle center. But, they also have a steel yard, where in their warehouse they have new steel to purchase, and in the outside yard they have all sorts of scrap and leftovers from what I image are industrial projects. The outdoors stuff is basically 1/2 the cost per pound. So, I wandered around to find materials, and adapted my plans to what I could find. I ended up with:
- 2" square steel tubing, 0.120" wall (11ga) to build the frame for the top, and for the legs
- 8" wide, 3/8" thick flat steel to make the table-top from
- 1 1/2" angle iron, 1/8" thick, for the leg supports ( and intend to use for a lower shelf )
- 3" wide x 1/4" thick flat stock to make feet... since it's sitting in gravel on dirt.
Lastly, I had an old cheap-o vice from my grandfather's estate, and decided it could live outside in the weather. It's just super handy to have a vice when you need to cut a piece of steel with an angle grinder, or heat some round stock with a torch to hammer in a bend.
Here are the sizes of my cuts:
- 3pcs: 8" x 3/8" x 36" flat steel [ table top ]
- 2pcs: 2" sq tube x .120" thick x 30" long on longest side, 45deg mitre cuts [ top frame ]
- 2pcs: 2" sq tube x .120" thick x 23" long on longest side, 45deg mitre cuts [ top frame ]
- 4pcs: 2" sq tube x .120" thick x 32" long (squared cut) [ legs ]
- 2pcs: 1.5" angle steel 1/8" thick x 26" long [ leg supports / shelf support ]
- 2pcs: 1.5" angle steel 1/8" thick x 19" long [ leg supports / shelf support ]
- 4pcs: 3" x 1/4" x 4" flat steel [ feet ]
Step 1: Build the Top Frame
The first step was to cut the tubing into pieces to construct the top frame. You can choose to make straight cuts, which are generally easier. Or, I choose to make 45 degree mitered corners, because I haven't done that before in steel. I happened to have purchased an Evolution Rage3 sliding miter saw in the past. I bought that one because it's a lower rpm than a typical miter saw for wood, and it can cut soft metals (aluminum, brass) and mild steel up to 1/4" thick. This was my first try cutting steel with it, and it worked out just fine. I made better cuts with that than my typical angle-grinder with cut-off disc. I did learn that the little chips of steel go everywhere, and that they hurt when they hit you. Gloves, long sleeves, pants, a hat, and a face shield sure help. Oh, and I always wear safety glasses, even under the face shield & welding helmet. Safety first!
With the tubes for the top cut with 45 degree miters, and using a flap-disc on my angle grinder to clean up the cuts a bit, and put a bevel for welding, I took two of the 3/8" steel plates and set them across my wood saw horses to create a temporary welding table. I used these super handy clamps to hold the steel tight for the corner welds. These are 2 axis fixture vises, made by Strong Hand Tools. I only have two, because I purchased them with a gift card, and they're kind of expensive. Some day I'll get two more, so that I can clamp and weld together a whole frame at once.
Now, one trick I learned from the internet, is that it's best to tack all the corners first, because once you start putting more heat into the frame with longer welds, the steel will shrink, and cause the frame to change shape. I think if I had 4 corner vises, it wouldn't matter because I'd have it all clamped so securely. But, I had to tack two miter corners, move the vises to the other 2, tack those up, and now I had a complete frame tacked together. I could then finish welding all the seams.
One little gotcha was that once all 4 sides were in place, I had nowhere to clamp my ground cable to. Doh! So, I tack welded a little scrap of steel to the frame, just for my welding clamp. When done, I just smacked it with a hammer and broke the tack. You can grind the surface clean afterwards. If you have one of those slick magnetic ground clamps, this wouldn't be a problem. Maybe I'll build one in the future, since I've scavenged a bunch of super strong magnets from old hard drives.
Once I had all the welds done, I then cleaned them up with a flap disc on my trusty Makita angle grinder. If I was a better welder, I wouldn't have to be as good of a grinder.
Step 2: Add the Legs
Now that I had a completed, rectangular frame to support the top, I needed to add the legs. I had cut these already, and they are a simple straight cut, perpendicular to the tubing. I used the same fixture vises, but turned a different direction, to get the legs square. Note that it only handles 2 axis, so I used a magnetic welding square for the other axis. Strong Hands makes a 3 axis vise, but dang those are expensive. So, this was good enough. I might get one of those cool welding squares, where they have flanges you can use to clamp to the steel, that would be handy for this. Or, I think I'll more likely just build a right-angle clamping jig out of scrap.
Step 3: Add the Table Top
My table design now needs the 3 pieces of 3/8" flat plate to be spaced evenly and welded to the top frame. Maybe this would make sense to build upside down, but this table is getting heavy, and my wooden saw-horses are kind of rickety. I put the frame on the ground, and laid the steel plates across the top. I clamped them down solid for welding.
Unfortunately, welding these requires an over-head type weld from under the table. The good aspect is that nobody can see my crappy welds. I was careful to try and not overheat the metal. The goal is that the top should be pretty flat, and I didn't want to warp it with too much heat. So, between a bunch of clamps, and judicious use of welding, I ended up with a reasonably flat table.
Step 4: Add the Vice
Now that I had a complete table, I needed to add the vice. Things to consider when doing this, are that you place it close enough to the edge so that you can rotate the handle to open / close the vise. Also, place it close enough to the corner, so that you can swivel the vice and have it still work when it's rotated 45 or 90 degrees. The last thing to consider is whether any of the holes will end up above the frame, which will make it a bit harder to put a bolt through. You can opt drill all the way through the frame and use long bolts, or you could do like I did and just not bother mounting that corner. Actually, this vice didn't have a mounting ear in that corner, so it was a non-issue. If this was a large, heavy vise that I could really hammer on, then maybe one more bolt would matter. I'm pretty sure if I try that with this vise, I'd brake the jaws before these little bolts.
After laying out and marking the hole locations, I used a center-punch and hammer to dimple the steel, and then my cordless drill to drill the holes. Usually you're left with some burrs when the bit goes through, so I always clean those up with a big drill bit (like a 1/2" or something).
2 years ago
Very nice, this looks like a great setup! : )
Reply 2 years ago
Thanks! Yeah, it works out fine for me. One advantage to having those gaps between the top plates, is that I can clamp my work-piece in the middle of the table.