Welding: Panels, Finishing & Installing

In my last post I talked about fabricating the steel frames for my barn door and gear storage boxes. This post will be about making the infill panels, finishing and installing them.

For the barn door, I designed the frame to fit the width of the reclaimed corrugated steel panel so I just had to cut it to the right length to fit inside the frame. I measured and marked the cut line and then used tin snips since I have experienced the most clean and accurate cuts with this method. It's also much quieter and produces no sparks like a cutoff wheel or circular saw. I learned that a plasma cutter would also work but it would produce fumes due to the galvanization. After I cut the panel, I set it in place inside the frame with the rusted side down so the back side, which would face my closet and bathroom, was face up. I cut four pieces of the 3/16" x 2" flat bar I found in the scrap section of The Steel Yard to serve as horizontal backing to hold the panel in place (without having to weld galvanized material to mild steel) and to prevent the center field from bowing. I tack welded one of the backing pieces to the bottom of the frame and one to the top after cutting out notches for the bolts that would secure the rolling hardware in place. I evenly spaced the other two pieces from the center of the frame and tacked them in place.
Once I brought the door home, I attached the rolling hardware with some bolts, washers, lock washers and nuts. Since I was installing solo, I had to figure out how to level and install the custom rail I made (the one that came with the kit just wasn't quite right: holes in wrong places and not long enough to span wall to wall) at the right height so there was a small gap between the door and floor and between the top of the hardware and ceiling. I came up with a clever idea to use a 1/4" thick wood "shim" to set the door on and maintain the bottom gap. Then, I slid the rail in place under the roller grooves with the help of smaller wood shims between the top of the door frame and the rail. I used a small drill bit to make a pilot hole through the rail hole into the door trim, wall and stud. Then I drilled with a larger bit that matched the size of the lag screws which came with the kit. I held in place the spacer between the rail and wall while I hand tightened the lag screw with an adjustable wrench until it was snug. I checked the rail for level and repeated this process two more times for the other stud in that same wall and for the stud in the wall that separates the bathroom and closet. I had to make an extra spacer out of wood for both of these locations so the rail would be parallel to the loft joists and back wall. Then I moved on to the perpendicular end tabs which I secured with shorter lag screws through the wallboard into the horizontal blocking I installed back in the framing stage of construction. With the rail in place, I removed the wood shims and set the door on the track. It is really great to have the door in place! One additional thing I may do in the future is add a clear acrylic lacquer coat to preserve the rust condition and maybe coat the frame black. For now I want to enjoy the raw quality of the frame with the welds exposed and not sanded down.
Now on to the gear storage boxes! After multiple conversations and much thought, I decided to match the infill panels to the red tinted panels of my custom kitchen cabinet. I purchased a sheet of maple veneer plywood from a woodworker friend of mine who helped me rip it down to the pieces from my cut list. 
After test fitting and lightly sanding, I began the water based dye process. I bought a 2oz. bottle of red TransTint and mixed it with distilled water according to instructions on the bottle. I poured the mixture into a spray gun and applied the coat to the first side of each piece. When it was dry, I flipped them over and coated the other side. I repeated the process four more times until the color closely matched my cabinet. Then on to the clear coat. I sprayed two coats of Miller Acriclear acrylic polyurethane varnish on both sides, lightly sanded to make the surface smooth and then sprayed the final coat. Once dry, I moved on to the assembly. During this process, I also can sprayed the steel frames with primer and black Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch 2x spray paint.
One of the shop guys next door had the great idea of "gluing" the panels to the frame with some kind of adhesive caulk so I wouldn't have to use any brackets and fasteners which would otherwise take away from the clean design aesthetic. Since the frame is the primary structure and I designed the panel layout to support itself, I did not need the extra strength of hardware. So I walked over to the hardware store and they recommended Loctite for its adhesion and flexibility. I bought the clear in case some would ooze out onto the finished surface (which it inevitably always does). I wiped down the frames to ensure clean surfaces then ran a bead of caulk inside the frame along the top and bottom so I could place the frame with the back side on the table while installing both of these pieces. 
With those in place, I caulked the back frame perimeter and pressed that piece in place. I caulked and added the two side pieces last and then repeated the process with the other frame. Before installing them in my house, I added small rubber half dome "feet" to each frame corner to prevent scratches between the frames and the floor. In my house, I simply stacked them on top of each other along the wall under my loft opposite the kitchen sink and then filled them with some of my outdoor gear that is not in the back of my closet.
I also made a beefy shoe rack in the class and some yard art with scraps since I wanted to try out the bender with flat bar and rod.
More photos on my flickr album!

Welding: Frames

In my last post, I mentioned that I was starting a new welding class. This time, after a friend's suggestion, I chose to take it at PNCA, a small art college in Portland with continuing education classes. I was hoping for something that was a mix of open studio and also a guided design process which I felt was lacking at the classes I took at a different place last year. The eight week class meets weekly for three hour sessions and then we have access to the space one other weeknight and on the weekend. The class size is ten, which I feel is too big when there is just one instructor, one helper and all of us working on very different projects. I think a class size of about five would be great for faster feedback and help and then time to work independently. The instructor, Chris Gander, is a long time teacher and metal sculpture artist so he is able to help us tackle whatever projects we can think of. What I have learned is that it is best to have a project in mind when taking a welding class because while you can learn to weld with scraps, it is more rewarding to go home with something useful. Also, the actual act of welding is just a small part of working with metal which includes cleaning, measuring, marking, cutting, grinding and finishing. MIG welds don't have to look pretty since you are likely to grind them down flush in order to finish. Even beginners can make strong welds relatively easily. Welding is a somewhat difficult thing to teach because everyone is going to weld at their own speed and style (pushing or pulling, angle, etc.) and hands on doing it is the best way to learn. Ok, now on to my projects.

I had two main projects in mind when I signed up for the class: my interior sliding barn door and a couple of storage cubes. I planned to weld frames for both projects. I then planned to use an extra piece of the reclaimed corrugated steel leftover from my siding to infill the door frame and wood to infill the storage cube frames. Chris advised me to use 1 1/2" x 1/8" think angle for all of my frames since it was the best combination of rigidity and weight. I went to The Steel Yard to buy all of my steel. They were generally quite helpful and usually gave me a student discount.

Once I had all of the materials back in the studio, I started by making the cuts from my plans with the metal chop saw and bandsaw. The chop saw is loud and makes a lot of sparks but it cuts much quicker than the band saw, though the band saw can be more accurate and also takes away less material. I made all of the 90 degree cuts on the chop saw and the 45 degree cuts on the bandsaw. Once I cut all of the pieces, I used an angle grinder with 120 grit sandpaper to sand off the burrs on the ends.
To assemble the frames, I used a couple of jigs that a friend helped me make to line up the corners and clamp into place. I tack welded the face frames together and then for the cubes, I tacked the cross pieces to one face and then tacked on the other face. I used squares as guides and a tape measure to check my diagonals for square. 
It's best to tack everything together before making the full welds so you can more easily make adjustments by breaking the tack with a cutoff wheel. The metal heats up around the welds and can warp the frame out of alignment so a good strategy is to weld a line on one spot and then move to the other side of the frame and weld a line there, moving around the frame until all spots are welded. Note, most of the time a single weld on a joint is sufficient but for aesthetics it can look better to weld the entire joint because when ground down and finished, that seam disappears.
Stay tuned for my next post about the infill panels, finishing and installing!

Publicity, Solar and Welding

Well the new year is going by fast and I can't believe it's the end of January already! Much has happened this month including some internet publicity about my house, solar installs at work and I start a new welding course tonight to finish up some house projects!
Last September, my house was featured on The Shelter Blog and this past week it was featured on Tiny House Swoon! My blog pageviews jumped to 1,694 that day! It feels great to see my work published online though I feel a little self-conscious since I haven't quite finished everything yet and the photos most recently posted are already out of date. People say it looks great as it is but I am excited to work on a few projects in the upcoming months so I can take photos I am proud to show off.
One of the projects is a sliding barn door that will alternately cover my closet and bathroom. I am going to attempt to incorporate some bicycle components and a piece of corrugated steel leftover from my siding project. Another project is creating a couple of gear storage boxes that will stack along the wheel well under my loft across from the kitchen sink. I am thinking that these boxes can be unstacked and placed side by side with some cushions on top to create a more comfortable sitting area on the main floor and maybe also an occasional bed. The last project is to create some kind of shoe storage container or rack by my front door.

Other than those welding projects, I really want to get some more light in my house under the loft and in the bathroom. I was using some IKEA battery powered motion sensor lights which are kind of fun but need new batteries quite frequently (I use rechargeables) and don't provide the brightest light. My charge controller has a port for a light load so I need to look into RV lighting and see what I can find.
I recently converted a solar panel pallet into a deck and some leftover framing lumber from structural upgrades into a table underneath my solar array. It looks pretty cool and I can't wait to hang out there on the sunny dry days!
Speaking of solar, this month at work we wrapped up a 30 kW solar system at a vineyard which was a unique (and very muddy) install. One of my co-workers moved to Spokane and another is shifting toward more audits and design so now I have more leadership responsibility which I am enjoying. This past week we started a new project where I was in charge of the layout and racking while my other co-worker who is an electrician mounted the inverter and ran the wiring. It felt really good when everything came together relatively easy!

One Year Anniversary!

Halloween marked the one year anniversary of when I started the adventure of moving into my house! I invited friends over for a party the day before but due to a crazy wind and rainstorm I postponed until the following week which provided more accommodating weather for tours and sharing stories and s'mores by a fire :)
Last year, it started raining about two weeks before my move which was not an issue at my build site since I was building on asphalt and transportation was easy on the city streets. The difficult part was getting it into the yard on soft garden ground into it's place. You can read more about all of that here. After four days of moving and settling it on a sound foundation, I moved in!
Within a few weeks, I had a couple of friends in town spend the night so I put up some temporary shelving to get things off of the floor to clear a space for me to sleep while they slept up in my loft. Luckily they are also outdoors people and didn't mind the chaotic accommodations.
Since I had spent all of the money I saved to start the build, I took a little break from projects until January when I installed plumbing and finished out my bathroom. I used the compost toilet I found at the ReStore until I had an overflow issue and then needed to rebuild it. I used some inexpensive cedar fence boards to build a new box but it wasn't all that functional for various reasons so I continued to use the shop bathroom. In the last few weeks I finally rebuilt the toilet to a more functional and aesthetically pleasing design so I am excited to be able to use it now that the rainy season is back.
Speaking of rainy season, I am really grateful for the gutters and rain chain I added to help direct rain away from my house, not to mention how cool the recycled glass bottle chain funnels water to the ground. My polycarbonate awning is also welcomed in providing a more sheltered entry to my house. I needed to add some flashing above it to help prevent water from pooling up behind the siding and entering my house through capillary action via my door frame. I also built a covered bike and tool storage area with another shed roof on the trailer tongue. Moving my tools out of my house freed up a good amount of space since about half of my possessions are tools and outdoor gear!
I added rock holds to ease loft access, new "great room" shelving in the form of fruit crates, and a full size digital piano that I hope to loosen up my rusty fingers on more this winter and beyond.
In May we wired up my house for AC power but it wasn't until June that we ran power out to the yard shed where I could finally plug in and turn on my fridge and water heater. In August, I added a small battery based solar system that powers the electronics and lights in my loft and could power my great room light and outlets in the future if I want or need to be off grid. (I would need to swap out the water heater and fridge for RV/boat style propane appliances and figure out my cooking situation if I could cook outside on my RV range or grill year round.)
I learned how to weld in May and built a kitchen cabinet frame which was finished out with drawers and slides in September by a cabinet maker friend who works in the shop next door. I also built a small cabinet with one shelf for the left side of my sink (next to the bathroom wall) to fill in the gap which had been designed for a double basin sink before I found my awesome farm sink!
Outside, it's been a bountiful year in the garden (my first time as the primary gardener for a large space). I grew native wildflowers, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries,pees, green beans, beets, parsnips, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, chard, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, basil, corn and squash (so much squash...). Giant sunflower volunteers grew to over 10' tall! And of course there was much watering and weeding...the morning glory, thistles, dandelions, wild peas, wild onions, blackberries and quack grass really wanted to take over the yard but not this year...
I have changed jobs a few times from doing home performance audits, sales and project management to a summer outreach and canvassing position promoting the urban forest and now to solar installs! I continue to volunteer for my favorite non-profits: Friends of Trees, Portland Fruit Tree Project and Community Cycling CenterI also found time to play outside more this year, mainly in the form of hiking. Here's to the next year!
As always, you can check out my fickr for more photos!

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...