steel frame

A Little Bit of Everything #3

I'm starting a new job installing solar systems next week so I've been making a push to wrap up some house and yard projects before then. In the garden, we've been eating up and pulling out all of the summer veggies and preparing for the winter with cover crops to help build up the soil. I also rebuilt the fire pit because the thistles were taking over since it was usually too hot and dry this summer for fires. Now that the nights are cooling off, I am excited to relax by the fire again!
I found an awesome cantilevered polycarbonate awning with aluminum brackets for above my door so now I'm ready for the rainy season! I'm curious to see how it functions in the rain since the panel has bent up flanges on the top and bottom to help direct rain down and then sideways so you aren't walking through a waterfall to enter. This should help to protect my door hardware as well though I plan to change it out with something of a more square/rectangle design next year. I decided to purchase rather than make the awning since I haven't worked with polycarbonate before and have heard that welding aluminum is challenging, especially for a beginner. I also didn't want to spend much time on that project and was able to find a quality product at a reasonable price. The polycarbonate is also unique in that it's UV layer reflects the sun's rays to keep my house cooler inside. The original design idea was to have a single awning extending from the front of my house but due to various reasons (including the angle limitation above my door since it swings out) it didn't work out that way. I also really like the aesthetic of a colored canvas awning but it wouldn't hold up in the rain here and I would need to develop an anchor system to attach the outside points since there aren't any trees near my house.
I have been working on my "great room" wall design by adding fruit crates which also act as shelves and mirrors which are fun since they add to the perceived space and also offer snapshots of different parts of my house. One thing I just noticed is that I can see into my bathroom from my loft (the bathroom is underneath)! Don't worry, eventually I will have a sliding door there for privacy (and I still need to rework the toilet design and functionality). I'm going to add another shelf above my jackets but am hoping to design some unique bike brackets to hold it in place and/or replace the jacket hooks for a more streamlined design. Part of me wants to find a locker for them and my shoes but I decided to live with a more open aesthetic for a while and redesign as I am inspired.
The other area of my house that has transformed is my kitchen. A friend built me some panels and drawers as well as a countertop the the steel frame I welded together. I decided to go with a red stain for the side panels and most of the drawer fronts so the wood grain shows through. The drawer boxes and slides are black as is the top drawer (as an accent) which is designed to store my induction cooktop when not in use and then pulled out when in use so I don't loose any countertop space. The countertop is black laminate which isn't my favorite but it was inexpensive since I was able to use scraps from the shop next door. We thought about using a walnut butcher block top but it just didn't fit the design. I may swap it out later with some kind of composite material or stainless steel. I also changed up my wall storage with more IKEA products. My plan is to keep a visually open space above the counter for a while now that I have some of the clutter removed from the lower storage area and see how I feel about that over time but I may add some metal upper cabinets to minimize visual clutter.
That's all for now!

Learning to Weld

Learning how to weld had been on my "to do" list for some time. I had signed up for an intro class at a community college a few years ago but since I didn't have a specific project in mind or even know just the basics, I was a little bit intimidated in participating in a class which did not really have a structured learning progression, instead more like open shop time. I had my trailer custom built and worked with welders on the structural steel interior components (joists, ladder and sink brackets) during those parts of the build. I wanted to build some more interior components with steel so in May I signed up for some welding classes at ADX, a maker space in Portland.

The first class I attended was an intro to metals class where we learned all about the different tools to cut, bend, grind, sand and weld metal. It was interesting to compare and contrast them to the woodworking tools with which I am familiar. We learned about different types of metals and some of the uses for them. We also were able to get some hands on experience using scrap pieces and most of the tools available. The other two classes I took were intro to MIG and intro to TIG where we focused on welding two pieces of metal together in different ways (butt joints, overlaps, inside and outside corners, etc.). The class sizes are kept small so there is a good student to instructor ratio in order to get quicker feedback and questions answered. I would have liked to learn more about designing and building projects from these classes as well but understood the time constraints and scope of the classes. Maybe in the future, they will offer more advanced or project based classes.

Since my classes came with an unlimited month pass to use the space and tools, I wanted to be able to complete at least one project for my house. I decided that the first project would be welding a frame for my kitchen storage next to the fridge where I am currently using water heater stands as temporary storage shelves. I drew up some sketches of a basic cube frame with horizontal supports for the shelves. I thought about using angle iron to create an L shape perimeter for each shelf so that I could insert a piece of plywood and there would be a lip around the edges to keep items from falling off. I talked this idea over with a woodworker friend and he suggested using 1" tube steel due to its superior rigidity and to support drawer slides so I could have easier access to the items in back of the shelves. Since he said he would be willing to help me with the drawer part, I went ahead and picked up the tube steel from the steel yard and got to work at ADX.
First, I cleaned all of the steel with Simple Green to get rid of the oil and grime. Then, I made a cut list of all the pieces I needed and made the cuts using the horizontal bandsaw which uses a lubricant to help cut through the steel. Once I had finished cutting all of the pieces, I filed the rough edges and then laid out the pieces for one side of the frame. I decided to use the MIG welder for this project since it's faster and easier than the TIG welder even though you don't get as nice of a weld joint but I didn't really care about that for this project. 
I tack welded each seam on one side, then flipped it over and repeated on the other side since I was trying to minimize deflection. Then, I ran full beads on each seam facing up on each side. Even though I tack welded first, the metal still deflected due to the heat of the weld.
I decided to use the magnets and clamps for the opposite (mirror) side of the frame to see if I could get better results. I also used extra pieces of the tube steel underneath the parts I welded to help create a more flat plane since the shop table wasn't perfectly flat. I then repeated the welding process from the other side and did experience less deflection of the metal.
After I made the two side components, I needed to stand them up and connect the corners with four more pieces. Once again, magnets were my friend. I tacked everything together before running full beads and found that one of the four sides was out of square. Luckily, I was able to borrow a pipe clamp from a friend and use that to pull it into square. I had to keep it in place for the full weld bead since the tacks were not strong enough to hold it there. I finished welding all of the remaining joints and then took it to the grinding room where I used an angle grinder and a flap disk to grind down the welds to create a clean, seamless look.
I definitely have more to learn about welding and more time practicing weld joints but I think it turned out pretty well for my first project! More to come with the sliding drawers...