Introduction: Welding Table Cover for a Workbench
I'm far from a professional welder. In fact, I'd say I'm firmly in the left side of the bell curve when it comes to welding. But occasionally, maybe a few times a year, I break out my MIG welder and make a set of table legs for a project. Because of how infrequently I weld I didn't want to go to all the effort of building a dedicated welding station in my workshop. It would take up valuable real estate and sit unused the majority of the time. Instead, I opted to build something that was mobile and modular.
So I built this welding table slipcover for my existing workbenches. It's a steel cover that I can slide over my workbench when I want to weld something, and when I'm not using it, I slide it off and store it in a corner where it only takes up a little bit of space.
The underside has an airgap baffle that prevents the heat from the surface from transferring down to the table below. Along the back edge there's a perfectly straight clamping lip that allows me to hold things in position while I weld. The whole cover is perfectly square, so I can use the table itself as a guide for making perfect 90-degree welds, and of course, the cover has handles that helps me move it around and also gives me a convenient point to attach the ground wire.
Step 1: The YouTube Video
If you're more of a video person then you're in luck, because I also made a video documenting this build that you can find here!
If you're a more sophisticated type and prefer to read then, by all means, keep on scrolling! (Totally kidding, personally I'm more of a video person as well haha)
Step 2: Materials
For this project, the material list was fairly short.
20' of 1" x 1/4" thick cold rolled flat bar steel (the baffle on the underside)
10' of 3" x 1/4" thick cold rolled flat bar steel (the perimeter piece)
4' of 3/4 x 1/4" thick cold rolled steel (the baffle on the underside)
4' of 2x1 1/8 thick cold rolled steel (the clamping bar)
and 1 sheet 12gage cold rolled steel cut to 42" x 36" (the surface)
All of the steel I got from a local metal supplier. Along with my order I also gave them a list of cuts. Most metal suppliers are more than happy to cut metal for you when you buy it. So if you can give them an accurate list of all the cuts you'll need you won't even have to do any cutting yourself.
You might've noticed that I stipulated cold rolled steel for everything, that's because cold rolled steel is generally flatter, straighter, and more dimensionally stable than hot rolled steel. It's a bit more expensive, BUT, if you need something that's straight and flat, it's the way to go.
Step 3: Cleaning Up the Metal
I think upfront I should saw that to do this project I enlisted the help of a local metal fabrication shop, Unit 5 Design (http://www.unitfive.ca/). The owners are friends of mine and while I was consulting with them about the design of the table cover they offered to help me assemble it in their shop. I still think this project is within reach of the average hobbyist who has their own welder, but, when a professional offers to help you with a project you don't turn that down!
With that out of the way, let's talk about the build!
Unfortunately, some of the metal I got was a little rusty. So the first step of this project was just giving everything a quick clean with a sander. It wasn't strictly necessary, a little rust wouldn't have hurt the functionality of the table, but it did make it look better.
Also some of the edges were a little sharp from cutting, so we sanded those down to round them off and make it more comfortable to handle.
Step 4: Cutting and Fitting the Baffle
With the metal all cleaned up, we laid the 12 gauge plate steel sheet out on the table and began cutting the 1" x 1/4" stock to make a baffle grid on the underside of the cover. We used this really cool oil-cooled metal saw to cut all of the metal, but you could easily do it with an angle grinder or a chop saw too.
Depending on the size of your table these measurements are going to change, but our pieces were spaced out approximately 8" apart horizontally and 12" vertically.
It's a bit of a balancing act as to how dense to make the baffle. The denser you make it the stronger and flatter the top surface will be, but with the added density comes with more weight, making it harder to pickup and move around.
Step 5: Tacking the Baffle in Place
Once we had all of our piece cut and our grid laid out in a dry run it was time to start welding everything into position.
Using a MIG welder we started tacking (very small and quick welds) everything into position. By simply tacking things into position, and not fully welding them, we allowed ourselves the freedom to break pieces off in case we messed up a measurement or wanted to change something. A little welding dot can be broken by hand, or with a pair of pliers, but a fully welded seem requires some serious force to undo.
We started from one side of the grid and added to it column by column and row by row until we were done.
Step 6: Welding the Perimeter Lip
Next, it was time to weld the 3" x 1/4" steel around the perimeter. This wider steel serves a dual purpose. One, it keeps the cover secure in position on my workbench, and two, it gives me somewhere around the whole perimeter where I can easily attach a clamp.
The procedure here was the same, simply tack it in position for now, until we were sure all of our measurements were correct and everything fit nicely. We attached the 3" steel to 3 of the 4 sides of the cover, leaving it off on one side so that it could still slot over my workbench
Step 7: Supporting the Opening
Because we left one side of the cover open, to slot over the table, we thought it would be a good idea to weld a little bit of extra support onto that open side to add some rigidity to it and keep it from sagging over time.
Instead of using the same 1" x 1/4" inch materials we opted to use 3/4" x 1/4" materials instead. This kept the reinforcement layer just below the surface of the baffle. Which in turn allowed us to round the edge of the baffle to prevent it from scratching the workbench as the cover is slid on and off.
Step 8: Fully Welding All of the Seems
Like I said before, up until this point we had just been lightly tacking everything into position. Finally though, after double checking all of our measurements and alignment it was time to fully weld everything into position.
This was actually a more painstaking step than you might imagine at first blush. With so many individual pieces there were hundreds of intersecting lines and seems that needed to be welded. Making sure that nothing got missed was methodical work and took a bit of time.
Step 9: Bending and Installing Handles
I tried to lift the whole assembly after everything was welded together and it became quickly apparent that this cover was going to need some handles if I was ever going to be able to move it easily.
Thankfully Unit 5 has a big metal bender and we were able to fabricate some steel handles with out of 1" x 1/4 stock. This is a pretty specialized tool that most people won't have, but you could easily find metal handles at the hardware store that would just as well.
Instead of MIG welding the handles we opted to use the TIG welder. TIG welders are more precise and fuse metal together without adding any additional material the way a MIG welder does. As a result, you get cleaner, neater seems. To be clear, a MIG welder would've worked fine here, but it might've just looked a little messier.
Step 10: Installing the Back Bar
Despite our reinforcement of the open side of the cover we noticed a slight bow to the top. Obviously this isn't ideal, because it means anything I made on the cover would likely have a slight bow to it as well and I can't have that!
To correct it we clamped the cover to a perfectly flat table assembly table to force the bow out of the top and then welded on a 1x2 piece of tube steel. The tube steel is incredibly resistant to bending due to its thick vertical walls.
Once it was welded in place, we removed the clamps and the top of cover stayed perfectly flat, held in check by the tube steel.
While this back bar started out as a hacky solution to the bow in the top, I'm actually really happy we included it because its really handy for clamping things to.
Step 11: Test Fit Back at the Shop
Finally, there was nothing left to do but to give the cover a test fit back in my shop. The whole ride back to the shop I was very nervous that I had screwed up a measurement and that the table would be too small, and, not fit my workbench. Thankfully my fears were unfounded (I always double-check my measurements) and the cover fit like a glove.
Step 12: Stand Back and Enjoy It
I'm really happy with how this project turned out, it's a great addition to my shop that's really going to expand the range of things I can create.
I'm super excited to embark on more metalworking projects and incorporating more materials into my future builds.
The only thing I don't like about this cover is how heavy it is. It's just approaching the upward limit of what I can comfortably move around on my own. If it were any heavier and I might have to phone a friend to move it around. Hopefully, I'll get stronger with time, and truth be told, I won't be moving it every day so I think it'll be ok!
I hope you enjoyed this build, if you did you might want to check out my YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/zacbuilds) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/zacbuilds/) to see the rest of my builds.