Bending steel with only a grinder and a cutoff wheel to turn scrap into style.
If you have made it to this article, you must be interested in learning a new trade! So let me be the first to say, welcome to the mixed metal and woodworking club! I guarantee you wouldn’t be disappointed with the new adventures you can take traveling down this road. Let’s get started. With this article, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process that I took to create my metal base and hardware that goes with the Industrial-Style Bookcase seen in the December 2021 issue of Popular Woodworking.
Getting Started with Metalwork
One of the main themes of the metalwork aspect of this bookcase was to not have to buy any specialized equipment other than a MiG welder and an angle grinder to supplement the tools that the average woodworker already has. A basic welder (meaning good quality, but without all the bells and whistles) can be bought new for a few hundred dollars and a 4-1/2” angle grinder is just about the most absurdly inexpensive tools I can think of, considering how fantastically useful and versatile it really is.
Almost all of the MiG welding in this project is done in the flat or horizontal position, simply because you can move the pieces around the bench and put them whenever it’s comfortable for welding. There’s no vertical or overhead welding required, which makes things a lot more straightforward. Therefore, my settings generally remain the same for every weld in this project – around 300 feet per second (FPS) wire speed, and about 19.6 volts, with 0.030 ER70-6 wire. Your settings may be a bit different, so it’s important to figure that out on a piece of scrap (or on anyone else’s but your own), like I do before I do any serious welding.
Use Your Resources
If you are new to welding and you’re still reading this, you are probably a bit overwhelmed by the idea, don’t be. There are so many free resources nowadays for learning that it boggles the imagination. You can find world class instruction and advice online that doesn’t cost you a dime. In terms of available resources there has literally never been a better time in human history for learning.
I’m mentioning this because when I first became interested in learning how to weld, I didn’t really know where to begin. I remember looking at YouTube videos and wondering what in the world those gas canisters were for, for example. It turns out that, like so many other things, the reality is pretty straightforward, once you understand a few concepts. It’s mainly just important to know where to start, and where not to start. For example, going to a big box store and asking them for advice is definitely not the place to start. Instead, find a store that specializes in providing welding equipment and be upfront with one of their employees about how clueless you are about welding. I did this myself when I first started at a local Airgas (one of those specialty welding companies) and was upfront. On multiple occasions, he spent a lot of time talking with me about equipment and setups.
Is going into a store and talking about how clueless you are with a complete stranger not your thing? Instead, go to the world’s largest library, aka the internet, and check out two titans of the industry. I am sure that they will put you on the right path to developing great practice habits. (I’d recommend checking them out even if you go and chat it up at a local welding store.) First, check out Jody Collier’s YouTube videos. He’s high skilled and experienced, as well as a great communicator, but what really stands out about his videos is his honesty. He messes up sometimes like we all do, and he doesn’t hide it with editing. In today’s autotuned, airbrushed, Photoshopped, and overproduced world that is like a cold beer on a hundred-degree day. Likewise, check out Bob Moffatt from weld.com.
Make Two Curved A-Beams
Making the Two Bottom I-Beams
Just like the “A-beams”, begin by cutting a wooden form to the middle I-beam shape. Trace this piece twice onto your scrap pieces of metal, cut, and grind off all of the rust. Prep the other I-beam pieces as well. Now let’s work with the bottom pieces. Begin by cutting kerfs at regular intervals starting 2.5” in from each end. Once finished, flip it over and cut one kerf on each side that is 1.5” in from the edge. You may ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” This is because of the shape we’re trying to achieve: the interval kerfs on the one side help to form our desired arch, while the two edge kerfs on the other side allows the established bend to straighten and resolve back to a level plane (relative to the floor).
Onto the Arched Crosspiece
At this point you have five pieces: 2 curved A-beams, 2 arched I-Beams, and 1 arched crosspiece. Let’s put them together.
Creating the Industrial Feet
Let’s start with the industrial feet. I used bolts attached to two hexagon shapes, one metal and one wood. Using the bolts as feet gave me two advantages: they are easily adjustable, and they fit the industrial style I have been after with this project.
The decision to use bolts as feet came easily, but when it came to settling on what sort of bolts it wasn’t that easy. I eventually stopped looking for the perfect solution and settled on using simple zinc-coated grade 8 bolts, which can be found pretty much anywhere. I also agonized over how the wooden part of the feet would interact with the metal part. I definitely wanted the part of the cabinet that contacts the floor to be wooden, since, in a contest of strength between steel and whatever your living room floor is made of, steel wins every time. Then it came time to decide how to attach the metal potion to the wooden portion. I experimented with adhesive as a permanent solution but was certain that it would eventually fail! I eventually hit upon the idea of using tiny screws. This didn’t occur to me at first because for most of my woodworking life I’ve had the mindset of hiding unsightly bolts if they must be used. In this case, I thought well-placed bolts and other bolt-like objects (such as the end grain wooden plugs I included through the cabinet frame) are part of what lends the industrial charm to the cabinet.
With the design of the feet determined, it’s time to start creating them.
Last Piece – Door Pulls
To pull the metal design into the bookcase, I wanted the door handles to resemble the body of an acoustic guitar when the doors are closed, so I shape the profiles accordingly. When it came to attaching the white oak potion to the metal, I first thought I might attach it using bolts as I’d done with the feet. That would have been visually interesting, but it would be unpleasant to the touch when opening and closing the doors. I still wanted the fasteners to be visible so I decided to tap the metal portion and countersink steel screws to attach the wooden pieces.
I began by creating the metal portion of the door pulls, which is a simple angled piece of metal that is profiled using the same techniques as the footers. Start with a piece of metal that is 2-1/2” wide by 3” high. Make a kerf so that you can “fold” the metal in half – each measuring 1-1/4” wide by 3” high. On one side, drill two holes which will attach the door pulls to the doors of the bookcase. On the other side, use the same process as you did with the footer ends caps to create the guitar shape profile. Repeat this one more time but make sure the sides are reversed so that when you place them together they form the desired guitar shape.
I finished the metal in the cabinet with a technique called “blueing” and put it all together. Attach the door pulls and the base to the cabinet and place in your living room.
|4||E||I-beam end caps*||~2-1/2||3|
|2||I||Crosspiece end caps*||1-1/2||~2-1/8|
|8||K||Footer end caps||1-3/4||1-3/4|
* Size varies upon the thickness of the metal. All items listed here are based on the metal being 1/4″ thick.
|8||3/16” allen bolts, 1” long locknuts|
|4||Grade 8, zinc-coated bolts, 4” long|
|12||1/8” dia screws|
|16||Screws to attach base to bookcase|
|4||Screws to attach oak to metal door pull|
|4||Screws to attach door pull to bookcase doors|
|Blueing agent to finish the metal pieces|