May 7th, 2013

December 2014, by PNH

Baby-Steps in Welding: My First Actual Project

Every week, Chas. Colburn (3D Metal Parts) runs an open house that he calls “Maker-Tech Tuesday”. Chas. has been doing welding for at least 35 years, and it is something he is happy to teach people. I’ve been wanting to learn to weld for even longer than that, so even though I didn’t have any applications in mind I jumped at the chance. (The fact that he is a superb teacher didn’t hurt.)

I have now had three lessons, and I intend to make my first three sets of baby-steps into a sculpture at some point, but that hasn’t happened yet. What did happen is that I realized that I do have a project: I like to run my potter’s wheel as a standup wheel (to help avoid back trouble), and once I get to the point where I’m at least half-decent at welding I will be able to make a stand for it instead of just putting it up on cinderblocks again.

Something else, however, has taken precedence: the storm door at the house I’m moving to was not in great shape, and after it took additional damage from the wind a few weeks ago I removed it. My landlord, who is a friend and who is as good as they get, was kind enough to give me another storm door, which I managed to put in place by changing out the left edge of the frame and doing a bit of minor surgery so it would fit in the available space. (The tall brown stripe at the left edge of the new door is the frame piece that came attached to it; it was originally about half an inch too tall.)

Unfortunately, when I tried to close the storm door after I attached it, I discovered that there was a problem:

The handle is at just about the same height as the doorknob, and it protrudes far enough out that the storm door can’t close all the way if the house door is shut. (The dent in the doorknob, partly visible behind the handle, is a pre-existing issue.)

I thought about various ways to deal with this problem, and on Monday afternoon I ended up buying a nice matched bottle opener and drink sifter at a thrift store. My initial attempt at attaching the bottle opener to the shaft of the handle mechanism, last night, was unsuccessful, and this afternoon I took the various pieces to Maker-Tech Tuesday, figuring that I would cut some pieces of square steel bar stock and bolt them to the opener so I could attach it securely to the shaft. Chas., however, took one look and suggested that I just turn the opener around and weld the butt end of its handle to the side of the shaft. (The outer handle is held on with a setscrew and is easy to remove, so attaching the inner handle permanently would not prevent me from putting the door back together.) For a few moments I was reluctant, but it was clearly so much easier and less involved than what I’d previously had in mind that I gave in very quickly. Beside, it would constitute an actual Welding Project.

These particular bar implements are made of stainless steel, which generally has a reputation for being difficult to work with, but Chas. has some welding rods that have nickel in them and can be used with stainless, and he thought I’d be able to deal.

The original shaft from the door looked like it might possibly be aluminum, but that didn't really make sense to us, as ordinary aluminum is not all that strong or durable, and is not well suited to this type of application, so we figured it was more likely to be stainless. We were, however, giving too much credit to the manufacturers of the door: it was, indeed, aluminum, and when I attempted to weld the bottle opener to it the results were pretty silly. (I may show a photo here at some point.)

Chas. and I looked for an appropriate piece of steel bar stock so I could make a replacement shaft, but we didn’t find any, so I told him I’d go to the hardware store and try to buy some. He suggested that I try Fasteners, Inc. [4817 Lydell Rd, Hyattsville,  MD  20781], one of his regular suppliers. Sure enough, they had 5/16" steel key stock in 1-foot lengths. I bought two pieces plated with zinc and two plain ones, to be sure that Chas. would have some if anybody needed it for a project. (In general, we are expected to provide our own materials; but extra is always appreciated, the more so because some people may not always be able to bring what they need.)

The butt end of the bottle opener being somewhat funky at this point, I removed the paddle from the drink-sifter, chopped an appropriate length off one of the zinc-plated key stock pieces, and welded the butt end of the sifter to it, angling the handle slightly outward in case it might otherwise be too close to the door for easy operation. Here’s what the assembly looks like, with the outside handle loosely in place:

When I got home this evening I reinstalled it:

It now clears the knob of the front door, though it’s hard to tell from this photo:

(It originally cleared by only a millimeter or so, which is how it was when I took the photo, but my landlord found the rest of the frame that came with the new door, and brought it over yesterday morning. The new door is very slightly narrower than the old one was, and I had to shim the frame about half an inch so the latches would engage, but that was easy — I had appropriate pieces of wood on hand. The new frame seems to hold the storm door slightly farther out than the old frame did, and the new handle now clears the knob of the regular door by about a centimeter. Still not even remotely enough room for the original handle, though.)

The weld isn’t exactly pretty, but it is certainly GEFWIF:

[GEFWIF is something I got from Chas., who is more fiendish than I am: I would use it to mean “Good Enough For What It’s For”; he uses it to mean “Good Enough For Who It’s For”. Maybe not grammatically correct, but clear enough.]