Innovative welding project
During the holiday season, there is a longstanding tradition of hanging stockings on the fireplace mantle for small gifts. However, many newer homes do not have a fireplace, so innovation is sometimes required to attractively display these stockings.
My granddaughter recently moved into a home with no fireplace and asked if I could make a metal stocking holder stand for her — and of course I was delighted to help. I wanted to make something with a traditional character, so I started combing through catalogs of architectural accents to find what materials might be available to work with. I was surprised at the broad array of shapes that are available in metal. You can get clusters of grapes, baskets of twisted round or square rod, solid and hollow spheres, and many other complicated shapes that would be extremely time-consuming to make by hand.
After considering many alternatives, I selected shaped steel balusters for the uprights and the cross bar (designed to be used for hand railings) that have a look similar to turned wooden spindles. I also ordered some cast iron balls, 3/4-inch in diameter, to add an accent to the tapered ends of the cross bar.
Cast iron can be challenging to weld to mild steel, so I decided to TIG braze the cast iron balls to the tapered ends of the cross bar using silicon bronze filler rod, which worked great. The bronze rod flowed well on both the shaped steel balusters and the cast iron balls, leaving a consistent fillet that was easy to sand smooth.
The machine settings I used were DC electrode negative, set to 80 amps of current (which I modulate with the foot pedal as I’m welding) using 14 cubic feet per hour (cfh) of 100% argon. I used a No. 7 cup with the air-cooled torch on my Miller® Diversion™ 180 TIG welder. This delightfully portable machine has plenty of power — and more than enough features to make high-quality welds on a project like this.
First, I fit the tips of the uprights into one of the formed collars on the cross bar. Twist drills can grab onto thin wall tubing, and they don’t always make perfectly round holes, so after drilling a pilot hole for the arbor, I used an annular cutter in a cordless electric drill to make the holes in the collars. This ensured I would have a precise, tight-fitting joint.
I removed the taper at the base of the upright, using a die grinder with an abrasive cut-off wheel. After cutting, the end of the upright was trued and deburred in preparation for the next step.
I used an angle plate to hold the upright elements vertical as I tack welded them to the cross bar. After tacking, I checked everything with a tape measure and square to make sure it all was headed in the right direction. After the final adjustments, I completed the welds. I used 1/16-inch ER70S-6 filler rod for these joints, using a 3/32-inch diameter 2% Ceriated electrode, sharpened to a fine point. I kept the same machine settings I used for the TIG brazing.
I used a 3/16-inch by 1-1/2-inch hot rolled steel bar for the feet. My design called for a gentle arch along the length of the foot, and I had to devise a straightforward way to make matching curves on both feet. After looking through my pile of miscellaneous parts, I found an old car wheel that was the perfect diameter to use as a simple bending fixture. If you don’t have anything like this lying around, you can always use a slip roller — or cut a disc out from scrap material. I clamped the wheel to my workbench, slid the steel bar under it, then lifted the bar up and wrapped it around the wheel. This way I knew the curvature on both feet would be identical.
I wanted the tips of the feet to rest flat against the floor, which required a bend on both ends of the bar. I used a rosebud tip on an oxy-acetylene torch to heat the bar, which allowed me to bend the bars with ease and position the bends accurately. I used my trusty drill press vise to hold the hot tip of the bar stationary as I pushed on the cool end of the bar, stopping when the bend had reached the proper angle.
After marking a curve with soapstone, I used my Miller Spectrum® 625 X-TREME™ plasma cutter to round-off both ends of the feet. After cutting, I ground the ends smooth.
I clamped both feet to my workbench to ensure they were parallel and level, then centered the uprights on the feet, held them vertical and tack welded the joints. After another quick check to ensure everything was plumb and level, I fully welded the parts.
The final step was welding a cross bar made of 1/2-inch steel tubing to the lower portion of the risers. I took care to ensure the cross bar was centered on the uprights and level. When welding enclosed tubing sections together, it’s important to drill pilot holes to prevent gas pressure from building up inside the tube, otherwise the weld could blow-out at the termination. In cases like this, the pilot hole can be placed in an area that’s covered by the end of the tube, so it’s completely hidden.
After the fabrication was completed, I removed the scale from the hot rolled bar with a non-woven abrasive wheel and sanded everything smooth. Then I carefully cleaned the material with a degreaser and sprayed it all with satin white paint. As a finishing touch, I made some S-hooks to hold the stockings. My granddaughter and her family were delighted to have a stocking holder stand that fit well with the décor of their house.