Steel Angle to the Rescue - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Steel Angle to the Rescue

 In Shop Blog
steel angle in furniture

It’s a lot easier to insert steel angle before assembly, but sometimes that’s not possible.

Although I rarely work with metal (other than metal hardware such as hinges, pulls, z-clip tabletop fasteners and screws), every so often I have a commission for which a hefty piece of steel angle’s just the ticket. Over the years I’ve built several long bookcases and sideboards designed with a wide expanse of open space below; a length of steel angle concealed behind a judiciously designed overhang on a face frame or piece of trim will enable a piece of furniture to support formidable weight without sagging.

steel angle in furniture

This kitchen built-in has about 6′ of unsupported space at the bottom of its upper section. To prevent sagging I reinforced the upper cabinet’s floor with a length of steel angle just behind the face frame, screwing it to the floor and face frame. (The interior is divided in a 2/3:1/3 proportion, so the shelves of the wider side need only a nice piece of solid edging at the front to keep them rigid.)

If your shop is set up to work with metal, great. If, like me, you have only the most rudimentary tools for working with metal, you can cut the angle with a hacksaw (yes, I often do so; I think of it as good exercise for my arms) or a sawzall with a 12- to 16-teeth per inch blade. Alternatively, you can have the angle cut to length by a metalworking shop. You can drill holes with a regular twist bit, spacing them according to the level of support you require. I usually put them about 1′ on center, with one closer to each end.

Another application for which steel angle comes in handy is keeping solid wood tops flat. In many cases, the basic wooden structure of a cabinet or a table will offer sufficient material to hold z-clips, buttons, or other fasteners, but sometimes the structure of a base just won’t cut it.

A recent commission proved just such a case. My client wanted a dining table with a minimal base: four legs joined solely with an apron. Compounding the challenge, he wanted the slimmest-possible apron — we settled on 3″ (I would have preferred more like 5″) — and a 1-3/4″-net top with virtually no overhang. Yes, I warned him about all the dangers, among them the vulnerability of the rail-to-apron joints with such a narrow apron, not to mention that with no overhang to speak of, any cupping of the boards comprising the table top would result in a visible gap. But once I’d built the table, I realized that even with a pair of internal rails running from one side of the apron to the other across the grain, the weight of this bare-bones base would be no match for the top if it wanted to move; the top would simply lift the base, producing a wobble that would do my reputation no favors.

Time for some more steel angle. I bought two pieces of 2-1/2″ angle and had 5/8″-diameter holes drilled at carefully planned locations, then fastened it in place with 1/4″ x 1-1/4″ lag screws run through 1″-diameter fender washers, placing the lag screws at the center of the 5/8″ hole so the top could move with changes in humidity. The beauty of this plan is that the top should remain flat, independent of how it’s attached to the base. When I deliver the table to its owner’s dining room I will fasten the top to the base with wooden buttons.

– Nancy Hiller


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