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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default My first project: a fence for my front yard

    I'm willing to jump into a projects that I've never even seen someone else bring to completion, much less ones that I've got the correct experience or training for. I guess it's a blessing and a curse. (And in a little bit, some of you will be able to tell me which side of that is going to come out more true with this project.)

    I got a Hobart Handler 140 (120v) MIG welder. I rented a couple of videos to figure out how to use it. From there, I started planning a wrought-iron style fence for my front yard. The fact that the fence was going to require about 3,000 individual welds didn't occur to me, right away. The fact that I was planning on putting my first project right out in front of my own yard and house occurred to my wife, but I told her there was nothing to worry about. We'd plant vines on it, which would hide the imperfections. And if it's still ugly, I could always tear it down and sell it for scrap.

    I'm posting this to show the process I went through -- it might be useful to other weekend hobbyists who are thinking about a project like this. I'm also interested in more-experienced guys' opinions on what I might have done wrong, along the way. It's too late to fix most of the problems on this project, at this point, but I'm not so self-impressed that I think I didn't get any (probably many) of the parts wrong.

    Here's the front yard. I've got a retaining wall that I used to think was 40 feet wide (more on that later), and stands out about 20 feet in front of the house.





    I had a neighbor with a wrought iron style fence on his wall, and my thinking was that I could pretty much copy his project -- but at a fraction of what he probably paid. Here's his fence.



    His fence uses 3/4" pickets and 1-1/4" supports to make 9' sections. I decided I wanted a slightly 'lighter' look, and would use 5/8" pickets and 1" supports. I decided to add a support in the middle of each of my 8' sections so that there wasn't more than a 4' span -- as insurance against sag, since I was working with 16 gauge steel.
    Last edited by Jack Olsen; 08-10-2009 at 05:14 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default

    I bought about $400 worth of steel and supplies, all told -- 20' lengths of 5/8" and 1" square tubing, cast iron finials from King Metals, some steel base plates, masonry bolts, hinges, decorative pieces and a gate top. I also got primer and paint from King -- I figured they'd have the right stuff for this kind of work.

    I needed to make the first set of (240) pickets the same length. I made them 30" each, so that I could cut eight from each length with no leftovers. With a 4" finial and a 2" gap underneath each picket, I'd have a 36" fence. To save myself from having to measure over and over, I bolted my saw to a piece of wood and screwed in an L-bracket as a stop. That way I could just keep feeding the length of steel to the stop, chop, and repeat. I had to finesse it with some spacers, but it worked.

    Both my fold-down tables come down to the same height, making this sort of cutting easier:



    My cutting jig:



    Stacks of cut pickets:



    The cold cut saw is a pleasure to use.

    Then I had to attach the finials in a way that would be consistent and easy to repeat (and repeat, and repeat). I set up a kind of goofy-looking jig to hold the two pieces in relation to each other. I just had to drop the parts in, clamp on two vise-grip style clamps, and weld the four edges.



    Simple, right?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default

    Well, a couple of things. First, I'm still a terrible welder. MIG is easy, but I don't make it look that way. I'm getting better -- 3000 welds has to be good for something -- but the first set were welding steel to cast iron, which is never going to produce great fusion. But I guess this is the way it's done.

    Here's the fledgling welder in his garage:



    I tore apart a few samples to see what kind of job I was doing. It was nice when my welds were holding up as the cast iron was tearing apart:



    The results? Fortunately, I don't have any close-ups. But let me say it again: I'm still a lousy welder. The long and the short of it was that all four sides needed some grinding on all 240 pickets.

    I set up a station where I could grind while sitting. It's pretty mind-numbing work.


    The good news is that those welds seem to be holding up just fine.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default

    Pretty soon I had lots of stacks of pickets:



    And the basic idea of the frame that the pickets would attach to was pretty simple.



    And I knew how I wanted the fence to look, pretty much:



    Then it was time to figure out how I was going to put all of this together. Not every section was going to be the same. I knew I needed a jig, but it was going to have to be flexible enough to hold the pieces for different types of panels. I ended up going with loose blocks to set the picket spacing. The frame pieces were dropped into fixed guides. I could make longer or shorter sections with the same jig.



    Maybe that's the way it's usually done? I have no idea. I couldn't find any good pictures of fence jigs when I went googling.
    Last edited by Jack Olsen; 08-10-2009 at 05:19 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default

    This is what the jig looked like. I've never seen a jig for a fence like this, so I might be close to what others do, or I might be off by a country mile.



    Then, there was a lot more welding -- and grinding -- all over again. Early on, someone had warned me that I might not understand how labor-intensive this project would be.

    They were right.

    But I worked in my spare time. Fitting. Welding. Grinding.

    And oh, bending.

    When you only weld on one side of the lateral pieces, the metal curves when it cools. I'd been warned about it. I came up with a quick and dirty system for straightening the sections, clamping the piece under a stiff piece of stock to one of my tables and then bending it in the other direction. If I did this on four different locations on the section, it seemed to straighten out pretty evenly. There was a lot of trial and error. It seemed like a good test for the structural welds.



    Again, there might be a simpler and more effective way to do this. I was figuring it out as I went along.

    Here's my first completed section, prior to grinding:



    Next up, the accident. I jump up on top of one of the steel tables to get a piece of stock down from the rafter shelving and I slip. It's a direct hit to the shin on the edge of the table. At first, it feels like I've maybe broken the bone. But no, I can put weight on it. But when I take my hand away from where it hurts, I'm surprised to see a hand-shaped blood stain on my jeans. By the time this picture was taken, the (tiny) cut was under control, but you can see from my (formerly white) sock how much blood had been there initially.



    Not a cutting accident. Not a grinding accident. A jumping up on the table accident. Go figure.
    Last edited by Jack Olsen; 09-14-2009 at 10:25 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default

    All right, so the sections are stacking up. Phase one of the fence is going to be all the sections that sit on top of the wall. If I get that done reasonably well, I'll connect the fence to the house on either side and put in some gates.

    Testing how they'll join:



    Stacking them up:



    And then, it kind of feels like you're done -- but of course you're not. Each section has to be cleaned, scuffed, primed and then painted. Everyone hates painting. Usually, I kind of like it. But hand painting a fence is very tedious work.



    And then a 50' tape measure arrives in the mail, and I get the big surprise. I measured the wall initially with a 25' tape measure, and -- I'm still not sure how -- I got the measurement wrong by exactly one foot. My wall is 39', not 40'. I've already got five eight-foot sections put together. The answer? I cut the middle one shorter by three pickets, and move the little center anti-sag leg over by six inches. I'm not thrilled to have failed such a basic thing as 'measure twice, cut once,' but there you go. Fortunately, I'm working with 4" sections and 4 goes into 12 just fine. Unfortunately, I'll always notice that one little leg that's between two pickets, not behind one. But there you go.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default

    Now the project goes from super-slow to super-fast. Putting together a fence takes lots of time. Putting it up (in the case of this one, at least) is maybe two hours' work.

    Because it's C-shaped, I'm able to weld the sections together and let them simply stand on the wall. The big question is whether they're going to be sized right. Once I've established that part of it is okay, I'll slide the thing over a little, drill the holes for the base plates, and mount those to the top of the wall before I get the fence set in position again and weld the legs to the base plates.

    The first two form one corner:


    I moved around some portable welding curtains I picked up cheap to keep from blinding the neighbors. (You can't see it here, but I also had eye protection on the lawn side. This picture was taken with everything out of position.)



    Finally getting some idea of how the finished project is going to look:



    An even clearer idea. There in the middle you can see that moved anti-sag leg:

    Last edited by Jack Olsen; 08-10-2009 at 05:25 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    234

    Default

    And that's about where I currently am. Next step is to finally secure it to the wall. Then I get started on the part that goes over uneven terrain and is going to need holes dug and concrete poured.



    The whole thing:



    And the reason it was built. The little guy immediately tried to climb it. I guess it's only a matter of time before he succeeds.



    Once it's finished, my wife can take over with the landscaping part. We're going to pull a lot of the plants out and put in more grass for the kid. I think we're going to have vines grow on the fence itself, but I'm happy with the fact that (as a first project), it's not really going to need vines to hide its flaws. They'll just be there because we want them.

    Comments? Criticisms? Things I missed that are going to bite me in the behind? After all this typing, I'll be grateful for any of the above.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Traer, IA
    Posts
    317

    Default

    Whew! I'm worn out just reading about it. Looks pretty darn good to me. Looks like you have a nice place there and the fence really adds a lot of character to it. Good looking kid too!

    Good Job!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    Kansas City Metro
    Posts
    387

    Default

    Very Nice fence Jack,

    It looks as if you thought things out very well. And if the slip of the tape was the worst issue, then all is good. May I ask how well you compared in price to the fence the neighbor had put up? I realize there is no real comparison since you built this with your own hands, and that gives you a level of pride that the neighbor does not have.

    Tom

    Miller 211 A.S. and Spoolmate 100
    Stickmate LX 235 AC / 160 DC.
    Clarke 180 EN Just in case
    Spectrum 375 X-Treme.
    O/A Medium Radnor Torch, Large Victor Torch.
    Milwaukee 14" Chop Saw.
    4 x 6 Horizontal Band Saw.
    Rockworth 80 Gallon 2 Stage 16 SCFM @ 175 PSI , 15 SCFM @ 90 PSI.
    Jackson Passive shade #5 for the plasma.
    I almost forgot the Hobart XVP AD Hood.


    Projects and Misc Albums
    http://picasaweb.google.com/keesfriend Feel Free to Have a Look ( Just keep in mind I am an amateur )

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