Womack Report

May 21, 2013

More welding

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 9:38 am

So, my willpower gave out, and I had to go play with my new workbench.

Also, I’m barbecuing for Memorial Day, and having a whole pack of people over, so I really wanted to finish up that charcoal shelf for my smoker.

Went well.  Clamping bench was, indeed, super-handy.  Combined with a bunch of random pieces of angle iron I have around, holding everything in position while I welded was a snap.

The actual project turned out well.  Barely.  I reduced the dimensions of the charcoal shelf by an inch each direction, just to be sure it would fit, since last time I only gave myself half an inch of clearance, and the project grew.  This time, it wedged its way in, rubbing the sides of the smoke box.  I had to do a little shoving, but I got it in.  I have no explanation for how hard it’s been to fit this thing.  I actually measured the interior of the smoke box, I swear.  Several times.  Either I have forgotten how to read a tape measure, or that smoke box’s internal dimensions vary from top to bottom, or something.

New lesson:  Welding rusty and/or dirty metal is lousy.  I had some expanded metal I’ve been using for the grate.  I figured I would just attach it to my new frame, after a little cutting.  I’m lazy, so I didn’t knock off all the surface rust and ash.  Lots of sparks, and the whole process was a lot more tempermental.  And I’m still not really confident that most of those spot welds are any good.  Doesn’t matter much, because they aren’t structural and there’s a lot of them, but it’s a good lesson in why you shouldn’t do that.

Also, I’m having buyer’s remorse over my chop saw.  I got tired of cutting angle iron with a hacksaw and a dremel, so I bought a cheap abrasive cut-off saw from Northern Tool & Equipment.  Six inch blade, which is very small for this type of saw.  This saw.  I figured that, as little metalworking as I do, having kind of a mickey mouse saw wouldn’t hurt me.  And the price jump for a larger, more powerful saw is big.  I’m on a budget, here.

To be fair, the thing worked just fine.  Cut right through the 1″ by 1″ angle iron I was working with.  It was way easier and faster than doing it by hand or with a Dremel.  Just line up the piece, and cut away.  Has a built-in vice to hold your work, which was nothing special but perfectly functional.  I don’t trust the miter gauge on it, but, when can you ever trust a miter gauge?

However, that abrasive wheel wore down fast.  I made a total of eight cuts, and on the last two cuts the wheel wouldn’t get all the way through the piece I was cutting.  And buying more wheels is apparently going to be an ordeal.  Apparently, six inch chop saws are uncommon.  I’ve only found them on Northern Tool’s website, nowhere else.  Not even in stock at the local store.  Trying to decide right now if I should try and return the thing and upgrade.  Seems like dirty pool to return a tool after I’ve used it and worn out the blade, but I’d hate to be stuck with a white elephant of a tool.

May 20, 2013

Clever workbench finished.

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 11:00 am

Last post, I mentioned having a clever idea for turning my failed charcoal grate into a workbench.

That’s finished now.  Behold in amazement:  (Who am I expecting to behold in amazement, actually?  As far as I know, I’m the only one who reads this thing, and it’s purely for my own future amusement.  Behold, future me!)

Clever Workbench complete

Not that impressive, I know.  It’s basically a small wooden table, with a small metal frame sitting on top of it.  That’s pretty much what I need, though.  The individual components fit together snugly, but there’s nothing permanently fixing the metal frame to the table.  Just four wooden blocks inside the angle of the legs.  And the wooden top drops into place on the frame, but likewise is not permanently affixed.  So, it can be taken apart:

In three parts


Which makes the whole thing semi-portable.  Notably,  all the individual pieces will easily fit in my vehicle if I want to take it somewhere.  And it’s not incredibly heavy, even though it’s very sturdy.  A horse could stand on it, assuming it was a very coordinated horse.  Also, fully assembled it’s the same height as my other workbenches.  Not by coincidence.  That’s also a convenient height for me to work on stuff in general, instead of sitting on the floor like I have been doing.

Which is all peachy, but the real benefit of the thing is that it’s got a lot of places to clamp stuff.  All those metal bars are ideal for attaching pieces at different angles and holding them rigid in relation to one another.

Clever Workbench Topless

Good clamping makes everything easier.  I’ve known that from woodworking in the past, and my recent welding practice has only reinforced the lesson. 

All the individual pieces of this setup are really durable or easily replaced.  Both, actually.  If I drop hot metal or wood glue on any part of this guy, I’m free to not care.  That’s handy, since I’m not always neat.  The top can be swapped quickly, so I’m planning to make several with different goals.  Keep a blank one for a flat workspace, but also have one with a bench vise bolted on, probably one with a chop saw for future metalworking projects, maybe bolt my drill press to one, and so forth.  Plus, built an extension that’s even with my tablesaw’s top surface, to be a sawhorse.  I’ve needed that for a while now.

May 14, 2013

Welding for fun

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 12:51 pm

I’ve been practicing my welding over the last couple weeks.

Took a short class on it with Dad and James after Christmas.  Then, I borrowed Papa’s old arc welder from the farm to practice with.

My plan was to build a little stand with a grate on it that would fit in the smoke box of my smoker and hold the hot charcoal up off the floor.  Improves air flow a lot, and lets the ash fall down out of the way.  Right now, I’ve got a metal grate propped up on bricks to do the job, which works just fine, but isn’t very elegant.  Plus, hey, I needed a project to weld on.

Seemed like a good project.  Lots of little straight short weld, lots of joints.  Nothing really long, and nothing that would be really hurt if it turned out a little bit ugly, as was entirely likely.

Took four or five nights of plugging away at it after I got home from work.  Those nights were spread out over several weeks, though.  Stuff kept coming up.  I improved rapidly at it, which is nice.  About half the work took place the last night, because I had gotten so much faster and better at welding those joints.  Didn’t have to re-do every weld three times.  Looked a lot nicer, too.  Other major factor:  I’ve improved my clamping procedures considerably.  Both by getting more clamps, and by being smarter in how I use them.  Mostly, I’ve switched to using cheap sets of vice grips and bars of scrap steel for my clamps, instead of C-clamps.  Much faster.  Also, I found cheap vice grips on sale for $2 at Northern Tool and Equipment.  So, I have eight sets to work with.  Which makes me a lot less concerned about getting them too close to my actual welding and melting them, which makes for better clamping right there. 

Only hitch in this whole project is that somehow the finished piece grew larger than my plans accounted for, and it won’t actually fit in my smoke box.  So, now, it’s about to become a workbench/clamping table instead.  I have a really clever idea for that.

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