Simple Plywood Jigs for Welding

Jigs are commonly used in industry to speed production of repeated assemblies, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be using them in your own shop to make your life easier too.

Plywood jig for welded T's

Plywood jig for welded T’s

Now one of the key things whenever you are undertaking a project is to assess the tolerances required – I think that’s becoming less of a factor in industry with computer controlled equipment, but if you shop is like mine – pretty manual, then tolerances are a key factor.  Keep that in mind when you produce the jigs.  In this case I’m welding up parts for an iron and oak shelf for my brother and sister in law.  It has to be square but doesn’t need to be super precise – so a quickly put together jig made from scraps of plywood is just the think to make the repeat assemblies quickly and accurately.

Plywood Welding Jig for table legs

Plywood Welding Jig for table legs

While there are six T’s those are fitted into two larger leg assemblies – while there isn’t a whole lot of repeatably required with only two assemblies quickly assembling a jig to ensure that the parts get put together and are square and in the right spots is well worth the ten minutes it took to screw the plywood pieces together.  The end result is that the leg assemblies were identical – and I ended up saving a lot of time and cursing because they made holding the elements in the correct space without having to double and triple check.

Tack welded table leg, making sure it stands square before final welding

Tack welded table leg, making sure it stands square before final welding

Now, wooden jigs for welding are not necessarily long lasting given wood deteriorates when heated to a temperature that will melt metal.  Sure, but you probably aren’t turning out hundreds of assemblies so this is a bit irrelevant, and the speed, ease and low cost offered by using wood more than offset the limited life-cycle of flammable jigs.

So, next time you have a welding job consider using jigs in your setup if it’s appropriate.


Tilting Hoop House Essential Upgrade

When I moved to my new home a few years ago I left my Harbour Freight 10×12 greenhouse and the nearly four extra months of growing season (two months on each side) that it provided – a not insignificant boost here in Ottawa given our frost free timeline is generally accepted as the end of May until towards the end of September.


Heavy duty corner brackets installed on the hoop house

So after making due with row covers and some very low tunnels last year I put in some medium hoop houses, that were hinged to open from the base.  These worked pretty well – being able to grow taller crops and hold more than the single row hoops but were still a bargain cost and time wise compared to higher walk in hoops.

Heavy duty angle bracket

Heavy duty angle bracket

The base of these was made from 2×6 lumber – which provided strength and weight to keep things anchored down… but unfortunately in the process of opening and closing them the screwed together corners began to pull apart.

I tried reinforcing with 4×4 blocks but the forces were too much for that solution to last long.  So now I’ve gone and built some extra heavy duty corner brackets from some flat steel bent up in the hydraulic press and some U steel to provide further reinforcement.  With these bolted in place the frames are rock solid and should offer a great long lasting solution – even better, the cost to fabricate these at home was a fraction of what it would have cost to buy them would have been.  That’s the advantage of having some solid tools… now it’s time to get everything into the ground!



DIY Conical Build Pt 1 The Materials

The foundation material for the conical needs to be stainless steel in order to keep the vessel from rusting.  Now for grade of stainless – something like 304 or 18/8 which is used for stainless pots and buckets should be just fine and is fairly common.  With that determined what options exist for us to get that material at reasonable cost.  Well, free is obviously best, but since I used up much of my pile of salvaged stainless steel sheets (mainly BBQs) building the wood fired pizza oven I don’t have much of that left.

Then there’s the buy option, and actually as I am going forward I find myself buying some stainless material for the legs – but now that I consider it I could have gotten away without making that purchase, but more on that once we get to that stage of the build…

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Materials with which to build the DIY Conical

Anyway back to the fundamental parts of the conical – the vertical segment and the cone.  Well since the top is basically like a pot without a base I thought I might as well go that route and build it out of stainless steel pots which are readily available and low cost.  As an added bonus the top segment is already nicely rolled and sealed.

Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since I couldn’t find one easily and at low cost I figured I would just form one up from some more stainless steel sheet (or pot bits).  It’s more welding but I kinda want the practice to improve my skills so really not all that bad.  Plus as indicated before – by brewing in the conical with the associated 90 minute boil I would be able to achieve excellent sanitation even where weld imperfections might otherwise thwart chemical cleaning.

Now for the disadvantages… well these pots are pretty thin – definitely thick enough to do the job without problem but thinner material is often more difficult to weld effectively. Still cost and availability prompted me to consider this my best option – especially since I was reasonably sure that I would be able to handle the welding of the think stainless with the Henrob OA torch based on my experience with the stainless pizza oven.

The price – well a pot set from Harbor Freight where the largest pot is 4 gallons cost me $20 and and a 5 gallon pot at the local homestore cost me another $20.  Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since

Now for the cool part right – the triclamp fittings that make the conical so versatile.  Well, these are available at low cost off ebay or amazon from manufacturers in China.  How low cost is low cost?  Well a 1.5″ weld-on tricalmp fitting runs $1.99 with free shipping!  So I purchased a bunch of 1.5″ fittings, gaskets, caps, threaded fittings, valves and the like along with a few 2″ fittings to allow me to pass the electrical heating element into the conical.

Total cost for the bits and bobs… slightly over a hundred bucks.  Not bad for a prototype.



DIY Conical Fermenter and Brewing System on the cheap

I’ve been brewing beer at home for quite some time – since before I could legally drink what I was producing.  Much of that has been from kits or from malt extract and my homegrown hops in large part because of the ease with which that can be accomplished.  When I’ve gone over to the all grain side it’s been with cobbled together motley collection of coolers, strainers, bags and the like – which all things considered has gone pretty well.

Recently I’ve wanted to increase my all grain brewing in part because it offers more control but truth be told because it also promises to be significantly cheaper since malt extract and kits are now getting to the price point they produce beer for half the price of purchased product.

DIY Conical Fermenter and Brewing system beside a 3 gallon keg

DIY Conical Fermenter and Brewing system half completed beside a 3 gallon keg

In my review of the systems that are out there I’ve been drawn to the one vessel systems – either the brew-in-a-bag systems, or the brew in a single vessel like the braumeister out of Germany or the more recently introduced grainfather – which really resembles a large commercial coffee urn.  But the one that really caught my fancy was the system that has you brewing in a single vessel that vessel being a conical – now that is efficiency!

I’ve wanted a conical for some time now, and since I’ve started to get a hang of welding stainless steel with my Henrob oxy-acetylene torch when I built the stainless steel pizza oven I wanted to give it a try – but since my welding isn’t exactly commercial grade the idea of doing a 90 minute boil in the conical – which would sterilize the nooks and crannies left in my imperfect welds that might be otherwise hard to get clean – efficient and able to accommodate my stainless welding limitations.

Because I didn’t want to invest too much money into the project I decided to start with a few cheap stainless steel pots – a four pot set from harbor freight, the largest one a 4 gallon unit, and an additional 5 gallon pot.  Both the set and the larger pot were nineteen bucks each.  Tri-clamp fittings from e-bay, direct from China added another $40 or so, toss on a pound of stainless tig rods and we’re looking at about a hundred bucks.

Now, I’m frugal, but one of the other factors here is that this is a prototype, and as such it won’t be perfect, so it doesn’t make sense to dump a lot of cash into something that inherently will be less than the optimal design.

The other thing is that this won’t handle a full five gallon batch – but it should be sized right for three gallon batches, which if this system is as easy to use as I would like to make it is about the perfect size for turning out loads of different beer variations.

Oh, and I’ve got a twist up my sleeve that I’m going to explore, but I’ll save that for later.  Stay tuned to see how it works out.


DIY Folding Clothesline – Sturdier for a fraction of the price

004I’ve always liked hanging laundry out to dry – sure it’s a bit more work than tossing them in the dryer but it’s cheaper, the clothes last longer and they smell better.

When I moved into my current home a number of years ago there was no outside clothesline.  When I started examining the options I quickly dismissed both the long line and the square lines that sit in the middle of the lawn as too intrusive.  Instead I wanted a clothesline that could be bolted to the side of my garage and folded out of the way when not needed.

Folding Clothesline stowed flat

Folding Clothesline stowed flat

Now there does exist such a creature – a few models in fact – but all of them are rather pricey and some looked downright delicate.  Delicate is a definite non-starter here, I wanted to be able to load it up with a few loads of laundry without worrying about the potential for collapse.

So, instead of buying I build and installed an alternative in an afternoon from materials I had on hand.  Over the past seven years it has served exceptionally well – especially considering its low cost and the little time needed to fabricate and install it.

The heart of the unit is a frame made from 1 1/2″ angle iron – in this case the material is actually from bedframes that folks have tossed out.  The frame is made up of two segments 7′ long and another two segments 3′ long.  The two three foot segments form the sides of the frame while one 7′ segment forms one end, and the other 7′ segment forms the other end – but is inset 4″ from the end of the 3′ sides. Welding the frame together is a quick and easy matter.


Measurement along the side of the frame for the folding clothesline

This frame is bolted at one end to the portions of the assembly that are bolted to the house.  These were made from some 3″ alumimum angle – but steel material could just as easily suffice.  If you have only narrower material that will work just fine, but you’ll want to install a wood spacer behind it to allow the clothes frame to pivot freely rather than bind against the house.

In my case I fixed 2×6 members to the wall since my studs didn’t line up with the spots for the placement of the fixed pieces.

You’ll need to loosely bolt the clothesline frame to the piece of angle that will be fixed to the house.  Another bolt or block needs to be secured at the lower end of the fixed piece of angle to hold up the free end of the arm that is bolted to the far end of the frame.

Fixed portion of the folding clothesline

Fixed portion of the folding clothesline

In my case this arm is 39 3/4″ long, but frankly this was established with all the other pieces in place and measuring the length of member needed to hold the frame level.

When everything is ready drill holes 4″ apart on the sides of the frame.  Then bolt everything in place and paint any steel pieces to protect against rust.  My preferred paint in this application is aluminum anti-rust paint.  It will last for several years and does a really effective job while also being cheap.

When the paint is dry thread your clothesline through the holes and get ready to hang your first load of laundry out.

If you don’t have a welder you can use angle iron to bolt the frame together, but if you look at the price of buying a commercial folding clothes line compared to the price of a wire feed welder from a place like Harbor Freight or Princess Auto it will become clear quickly that you can pay for the welder and needed safety kit on the basis of this project alone – and wire feed welders are exceptionally easy to use so don’t let that dissuade you. After this project I am sure you’ll start envisioning more potential projects for your new-found skills around your home or homestead.




Essential Power Tools – The Wire Feed (MIG) Welder

A visit to the local Princess Auto store (roughly the Canadian equivalent to the American Harbor Freight stores) when I was in high school netted me an arc welder that was heavily discounted because the manufacturer had mistakenly shipped the wrong model to the store.  That purchase proved to be the catalyst that saw me gradually get drawn deeper and deeper into metal working.

Wire Feed / MIG welder an important addition to the homestead shop

Wire Feed / MIG welder an important addition to the homestead shop

Since then I’ve picked up a number of different welding systems, oxy-acetylene, engine driven stick welders, plasma, MIG and finally a spot welder.

It’s the MIG / wire feed welder though that ends up being the sixth most important power tool (in my opinion) to add to your workshop – and the one that will really open up a big segment of metal working to you.

Since I have and regularly use a number of different welding systems you would be right to question why the MIG is the first one that I suggest you should get, particularly since it was one of the last to actually assume a place in my own shop.

Simply, a MIG/wire feed welder offers the best combination of capacity, learning curve and price among all of the welding systems I have.  On price – the 170 amp unit I have from Harbor Freight is on offer as I write this for $190, but I am reasonably sure that there will be some discount coupon in the next few months that knocks that price down to about $150 – which is very reasonable indeed.

Necessary accessories - auto darkening welding helmet, gloves and wire brush

Necessary accessories – auto darkening welding helmet, gloves and wire brush – along with a partially finished grain mill

While a stick arc welder could be had at a similar price point, the learning curve for this latter welding setup is more difficult.  A wire fed rig by comparison is downright simple.  It’s not quite “If you can pull a trigger you can be a welder” but it’s not that far off.  Likewise, a wire fed rig will allow you to weld a greater range of material thicknesses that are of interest to a home shop fabricator.  You can work on fairly substantial thicknesses of steel – not as heavy as can be handled by stick arc welding – but probably most of what you’ll be doing on one side.  But then unlike the arc welder you’ll be able to effectively weld sheet steel – like car and truck panels – that a stick welder would find difficult to handle.

On the Oxy-Acetylene side the learning curve isn’t significantly different from a MIG.  It is probably even easier if you get a torch like the Henrob.  But, the cost – especially if you are going to be doing run of the mill work – is going to be several times what a MIG would run you when you figure in the cost of decent sized tanks.

Now, I really appreciate having both of those systems in my shop, but I have no hesitation in recommending folks grab a MIG/wire feed as their first welder.  For some it may prove to be all the welder you’ll ever need.  Others may find it simply serves as an introduction to what is possible for them to accomplish and serve as their own catalyst to broaden their metal welding systems.


Harbor Freight Spot Welder Review

I generally really like Harbor Freight products – and I have a lot of them.  I’ve got some of the largest of their tools – the 2hp mill-drill  and their 9×20 metal lathe, some of their smaller tools including the 170A mig welder and 9″ angle grinder as well as a bunch of their hand tools. Pretty much all hands down wins in terms of bang for the buck.

So when I decided that I was going to fabricate a wood fired pizza oven from stainless steel I figured I would pick up the very reasonably priced HF “Chicago Electric” spot welder.

Harbor Freight "Chicago Electric" spot welder

Harbor Freight “Chicago Electric” spot welder

Spot welding was my first introduction to welding when in grade 7 metal shop classes at Shaftsbury High School in Winnipeg where we built wind chimes and the galvanized steel top section was joined by spot welding.  It was a real shop, and a real shop class, with a real shop teacher – who my father and I bumped into from time to time when we were out hunting upland game.  As a pretty good student (not just in shop class)  I got a bit more latitude in the class which was great.

Anyway,  my memory of using that spot welder was that it was a pretty useful piece of kit, which influenced my decision to go that route for joining the segments for the pizza oven.

Of all of the HF tools that I have, the spotwelder comes the closest to failing to deliver to my expectations, and that’s probably because I set my expectations too high.

The unit handles joining 0.0200 stainless steel pieces just great, it can’t handle 0.0400 pieces.  The other issue is that the points deform rather quickly and there is only one more set included with the welder.  Replacements are available for the miller welders but those are pretty expensive – as in $30 at my local welding shop.  If you have a lathe you can machine your own but it is a major hit that Harbor Freight doesn’t have replacements on the rack.

I guess my feelings towards the spot welder are colored by the fact that when I couldn’t weld the parts for the pizza oven I decided to try my hand at OA welding the stainless… which I had initially discounted as too hard (doooh stupid move that?).  I discovered that my Henrob torch was totally suited to welding stainless – with really no more difficulty than welding carbon steel.

Completed spot welded stainless steel English muffin rings

Completed spot welded stainless steel English muffin rings

So,  with light materials and for a couple of quick welds it’s a good bet.  I really liked it for the English muffin rings I put together.

I also think it’s a good option for teaching kids basic metal working – which is basically what it was being used for when I was first introduced to it.

So, take home message… it’s limited in capacity so it’s probably the last welder I’d get but it looks just as solid when you acknowledge its limitations as the other HF kit I’ve grown to love.


English Muffin Rings – easy welding projects

Stainless steel strips cut with angle grinder

Stainless steel strips cut with angle grinder

English muffins are great and so easy to make.  While not necessary, if you want to have all of the English muffins come out the same size you need to use rings.

Now you can buy these.  I checked and there are a bunch on Amazon for $6 for 4 tin plated steel rings.  You’ll need three sets to take care of a batch of dough, bringing the total to about $20.  That’s not crazy,  but you can make them for close to free.

I had quite a bit of stainless steel pieces left over from making the wood fired pizza oven – the materials for that build of course coming from old BBQ’s.

Spot welding the rings

Spot welding the rings

Strips 1″ wide and 12″ long were marked out and cut out with an 1/8″ thick cutting disk on the angle grinder.

The strips were cleaned up with a file to smooth the edges and then cleaned with soapy water and stainless steel pot scrubbers.

These were hand formed into rounds with approximately 1/4″ overlap and then given two spot welds.  Now that worked very well for the thinner material 0.0200″ thick, but not the heavier material.

For the heavier segments, which were 0.0400″ thick the spot welder just wouldn’t cut it… which was a repeat of the performance I experienced when building the pizza oven.  For these I switched over to using the Henrob OA torch.

So for relatively little effort and very little expense I managed to save $20 and get some more metal working practice.


Get your tools to pay rent…

So I am being slightly facetious here but I think it is underlain by a solid point.  Tools are cool, be they for your shop, kitchen or garage – but are you getting your money’s worth?

Rolling tool cabinet in the shop on its welded base

Rolling tool cabinet in the shop on its welded base

If you aren’t using your tools you aren’t just not getting the value from the kit – you aren’t getting the experience of how to use them that you should.

Now, you don’t need to necessarily do some big projects to get the tools to pay their rent.  That said, doing something like building your own grain mill for $40 worth of materials when a comparable unit is pushing close to a grand pays a lot of rent.

In my experience though, some pretty good rent payoffs can come from pretty quick and easy projects that capitalize on presented opportunities.

Case in point my $23 rolling tool cabinet. While down visiting my brother at Christmas we took a trip to Lowes to price out materials for one of his projects and a couple of employees dropped off a bunch of tool boxes in the as-is section – one was a bit dinged but the others were fine – the price $7, $7 and $9 for the upper cabinet.  Now these aren’t terribly of much use without a rolling base.

Rolling base for tool cabinet set up for tack welding

Rolling base for tool cabinet set up for tack welding

So I fabricated one from angle iron salvaged from old bed frames and a few old castors.  It was a quick job with the cutoff saw followed by some welding.  The end product wasn’t perfect but for $23 it was a pretty solid step to organizing the shop and a good payoff.

So the chop saw and welder paid their rent for at least the month… and now I’ve got to figure out how that new rolling tool chest is going to start making it’s rent payments.