Making a Steel Work Table Workshop Projects
I do a fair amount of metal work and have wanted to build a dedicated table for this activity for some time now. Working with metal is best done on a steel table, which is quite a bit more durable than a wooden one. It has other benefits as well: it can be extremely flat, and parts can be temporarily welded right onto the surface of the table to hold them in place while they are being welded together. My main use for this will be to cut, shape and machine metal parts, and it will be equipped with a bench vise and a small anvil to assist in these operations.
I made four videos of the build, showing all of the details:
Much of this table was made from material I already had, and cost me nothing. The only items purchased were some common hardware and a piece of 1/4″; thick steel for the top:
Even so, this was not a major expense for a table of this kind. The top is 24″; x 36″;, and I believe this the right size for the typical projects I do.
For best appearance, I made the frame that supports the top with mitered corners. The problem with this type of corner is the relatively high level of precision needed to make the cuts accurately. A large metal cutting chop saw would make quick work of this, but I don’t have one. Unlike wood, which is easily trimmed if cut a bit too long, you’ll really only want to cut steel once, so making it right the first time is very important. Granted, there is some margin for error, but it’s best to take care to get the parts as close to the correct dimensions as possible.
I used a mini grinder with a thin cutting blade to make the cuts, which can produce some very accurate results. To lay out the miters on the tubing, I made this marking gauge:
Just two pieces of plywood glued and nailed together, cut at 45 degrees. This makes laying out the miters easy on the radiused cornered rectangular tubing, since the miter and adjacent side can be marked at the same time. This could be done with a combination square, for instance, but you’d need another square to accurately transfer the line to the adjacent side – a bit cumbersome.
For many, just “;eyeballing”; it would be good enough, but making a jig like this takes very little time and ensures true miters.
After the parts are cut and the initial fit-up is done (joints tacked), the inside corners were fully welded. What my welds lack in beauty, they make up for in strength. I’m using .035″; flux core wire to do the welding and this produces a lot of spatter.
Outside corners are welded and ground smooth for appearance:
The centre cross member is fitted and welded in place. The weld on the top of the frame is ground smooth to allow the top to sit flat on the frame.
Using steel for the top and frame was a given, but I chose to use wood for the rest of the table. The legs, bottom stretchers and bottom shelf are all made from wood: the legs are 3-1/2″; x 3-1/2″; cedar posts, the stretchers are 1/2″; plywood and 3/4″; pine and the bottom shelf is 3/4″; plywood.
There was one principle reasons for using wood: I didn’t have enough free steel left to finish it. Also, there is some vibration damping – the wood can reduce the tendency for the table to ring like a bell when struck.
At any rate, there is no compromise using wood for these parts, as they will be more than adequately strong enough for the purpose.
The posts for the legs in their raw state:
Each were sent through the thickness planer to clean them up and the edges were chamfered on the router table.
To attach the legs to the frame, I made and welded on flat steel brackets:
At first glance, this may look rather flimsy. Any experience with woodworking doesn’t give a hint as to just how strong a steel-to-steel weld is – there isn’t any joinery for wood that compares, which is unfortunate. The ability to achieve such phenomenal strength in a joint is one of the qualities that make working with metal, steel in particular, so rewarding.
Four large lag screws bolt the legs in place. On its own, this is a very strong connection – the lag bolts would either have to break or be pulled from the wood, or the wood split completely apart for this arrangement to fail. Add to this the bracing from the lower stretchers, and this will be a very rigid table indeed.
To attach the top to the frame, I decided to use screws. I could have welded it on, but I didn’t want to risk distorting the plate.
The screws are #12-24, used for some types of door hinges. These ones are especially good, in that they are self tapping – all that is needed is the right size hole and these can be driven in:
I used thirty one screws in total to attach the top. Very solid.
If I ever have any issues with this method of fastening, I can always weld the top on.
To make the table sit properly on a rough floor and to level it, I made these leveling feet that go in the bottom of the legs:
At first, I was going to use regular 3/8″; t-nuts in the ends of the legs, but I thought that they would eventually loosen or sink into the soft end grain of the cedar. I came up with a much beefier homemade solution:
These are 2″; x 2″; x 1/8″; steel with three holes drilled, one in the centre for the 3/8″; threaded rod and two in each corner for screws to secure them to the bottom of the legs. There is a 3/8″; nut welded to the plate over the centre hole.
These levelers work well and are very easy to adjust to make the table sit evenly on the floor.
The bottom stretchers and shelf installed:
A tight fit for the shelf is nice, but not really critical.
After I stained the bottom stretchers and clear coated the legs, I masked around the frame to paint it black. This really cleans it up and is a satisfying finishing touch:
An enjoyable project, for sure. Much of the planning was on the fly, while I was building it, but I did copy all of the details into my working SketchUp model:
Pretty basic, but all of the parts are drawn to the actual dimensions of my table.
Next is to outfit it with a vise and the anvil, and put it to work. Look for this in upcoming projects.