A couple of years ago, I found a fantastic piece of scrap iron at the salvage yard -- an access grate, something like a manhole cover or storm sewer cover. It’s about 36 inches across and best of all says “DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE” on it!
The “High-Voltage” lettering struck a chord with me, as I’ve been on a bit of a journey of self-discovery these last few years, working on electric vehicle and related projects.
This post will take you step by step through making a patio or lawn furniture table entirely from scrap iron. I wanted to name this project something like HIGH VOLTAGE TABLE, but with projects I’ve worked on before, people might assume that the table was somehow battery-powered or featured an electric motor!
Nope, this is just a table, but it was made completely from scrap metal, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.
Let’s start by taking a look at the tools and materials needed for the project.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
The scrap iron patio table is a basic metalworking project. Essentially, it’s an exercise in recycling, welding and grinding.
Being able to weld is a fantastic skill. If you don’t have any experience welding, I highly recommend that you learn from a friend or through a class at a technical college.
Even if you don’t own a welder, that’s no reason not to learn. There are now “hackerspaces” and other tool-sharing groups and collaborative workspaces which provide specialty tools and training to members. For example, in my area, we have the Milwaukee Makerspace. Members who don’t own welders or shop space for them, use the welders at the Milwaukee Makerspace!
For this project, I used the following items.
3-foot diameter cast-iron grate. (This could be any material, but the unique grate is what makes it special for me.)
1 1/2-inch diameter steel pipe (about 6 feet)
1-by-3/16-inch flat iron stock, about 18 feet long total. (This is the same material I used as the corners on an anvil stand.)
2 ea. 3/8-inch bolts, nuts, and washers
Spray paint and primer
To build the project, I used primarily an angle-grinder and welder.
4 1/2-inch angle grinder
Metal-grinding, metal-cutoff and flapper discs for angle grinder
In addition, a face shield is highly recommended for metal grinding.
Step 2: Making the Legs
Because I already had a large, single piece of scrap iron that was essentially the entire top, I started the project by working on the legs.
I wanted the table to be a low height for use while seated -- what you might think of as coffee table height. What else is nice about that height is it can double as a footrest or additional seating. So, I measured my ottoman and a few chairs, and decided that 18 inches tall would be about right for the table.
I cut four pieces of 1 1/2-inch-diameter steel tubing to 18 inches long. This was all recycled scrap tubing that I have on hand for projects, purchased by the pound from a junkyard.
I measured each piece to 18 inches long, marked all the way around the tube, and then cut it with a cutoff disc in the angle-grinder. A speed-square is handy for marking all the way around and ensuring that the cut is at 90 degrees. If you have a metal-cutting chop-saw, that makes it easy to ensure your cuts are square.
Bolt-On Leg Feature:
Welding to cast iron isn’t easy. And I’m no master welder, either. I’ve also decided that any time a person can make something collapsible, foldable or easy to disassemble, one should. If nothing else, it makes it easier the next time you have to move or even carry the item through a doorway.
With this in mind, I decided to make the legs removable from the tabletop. The grate already had two points that were originally used to bolt it in place. I would reuse those as points for mounting the legs. Because of that, only two of the legs would need a bolt on them.
So, I took a piece of scrap iron, about 2 inches wide and 5 inches long, and prepared it to become the mounting points for the legs.
To start with, I drilled two 3/8-inch holes through the metal.
Next, I set a 3/8-inch nut on top, and then ran a 3/8-inch nut and bolt into it from the other side of the scrap metal plate. That would hold the nut in place, and keep it from moving.
I then welded the nut in place, and repeated with the other hole.
After that, I set one of the legs centered over the nut, so that the nut was INSIDE the leg, and welded the leg in place. Then I did the same with the second leg.
Once both legs were welded to the plate (with nuts hidden inside), I then used the angle-grinder to cut the plate in half and separate the two legs. The reason why I did this, instead of building the two legs independently of each other, is that sometimes materials are too small to handle easily. For example, on a small plate of steel, there may not be much room for the ground clamp of the welder. Other times, it’s hard to clamp a work piece in a vise. Working on both legs together and then cutting them apart at the end made it much easier to work with and weld.
Once I had two legs with end-caps and hidden nuts welded inside them, I could run the 3/8-inch bolts through washers, through the grate, and tighten them into the legs.
At that point, I could balance the table on the two bolted-on legs, and prop it up with the two unattached legs.
Next, I would need to weld all four legs to each other with some sort of cross-bracing.
Step 3: Cross-Bracing
Not only do the legs all have to be connected to each other, but they also need cross-bracing to give strength against folding and twisting. To do this, I would make an iron “X” connecting from the top to the bottom of each pair of legs.
I decided that I would like the cross-bracing to meet about 3 inches from the top and bottom of each of the legs, so I put a 3-inch mark at the top and bottom of each leg.
I then set the legs on the top of the upside-down table, and measured from the upper mark on one leg, to the lower mark on the other. That distance was roughly 27 inches.
I then cut eight pieces of my 1-inch-wide iron flat stock to that length, but with an angle on the end, instead of square to match the angle they would go.
I used the flapper disc on the angle-grinder to brush off the area on the pipe where the ends of the cross-bracing would go.
With the two bolt-on legs in place and tightened down, I tack-welded the cross-bracing to the weld-on leg, up to the next leg over. I then made sure the leg was square in both directions (using the speed square) before tack-welding the cross-bracing to the loose leg -- the one NOT bolted to the grate.
I did this on both sides, so the cross-bracing went from low on the bolt-on leg to high on the loose leg, to low on the other bolt-on leg, to high on the second loose leg, and back to low on the first bolt-on leg. In this way, the tops of both the loose legs were squared up and held vertical.
After that, I welded cross-bracing from the tops of the bolt-on legs to the bottom of the loose legs, making sure the legs were square.
After everything was together and square, I went back and made solid, full welds at all points.
I also brushed the rust off at the mid-points of the cross-bracing, and then welded there.
Not all of my welds were pretty, so I decided it would be a good idea to clean them up a bit.
Step 4: Clean up Welds
I had a bit of trouble with my welder while working on this project, and actually had to switch over to a different machine while working on this. That, and I’m not actually that good of a welder anyways. So, I put the grinding disc on the angle grinder and went to cleaning up those welds!
Mostly, I just tried grinding down anything ugly. After that, I tried smoothing out the transition between the cross-bracing and the pipe.
Once I did that, I switched back to the flapper disc and used it to polish up the welds.
All that’s really needed after that is painting!
Step 5: Painting
To paint, I simply used a couple of “rattle-cans,” that is, spray paint!
I like the Rustoleum brand, as it really does seem to work especially well with rusted metal, which seems to be what I paint most of the time.
In this case, I used two of the spray products -- rusty metal primer and matte black enamel. I followed that up with some detail work using a clear coating.
I first painted the base with a coat of the rusty metal primer, and then with a coat of the matte black. I painted the top with matte black, and also flipped it, so that I painted both sides and the interior edges of the grate as well.
While painting the top of the table, I wiped the still-wet-paint off one of the letters, and liked the result of the shiny letter on the dark background. I decided that I would like all the letters to be like that, but wanted it to stay rust free, so it would continue to be shiny.
Step 6: Finishing Steps
Once the base and the tabletop were both painted, I used the flapper disc on the grinder to take off just the surface of the paint on the top of the lettering.
Next, I masked off the area around the letters, and then sprayed them with a coat of clear protective finish.
With the top on the base, I bolted it down, and snugged the bolts.
I found that the shine of the bolts detracted a bit from shiny letters, so I painted the bolts with the matte black spray paint.
Once dry, the project is finished!
Step 7: All Done!
So that’s it!
Use it as indestructible patio furniture. It will be pretty impervious to weather, and unlike plastic lawn furniture will not blow away in a windstorm. Because it’s an open grate, rainwater won’t accumulate on top either.
The table is also a good height to act as a yard or garden bench for sitting or working.
At the moment, it’s still winter in my part of the world, but I look forward to the summer when this table will hold up picnic dinners, beers and BBQ!
For lots more photographs of this project, visit the Instructables website.