Path Lights – Powder coating and final assembly

Now that the lights have all of the pieces soldered together and cleaned up, it is time to cut the stems and get everything powder coated.

You need to be sure you have calibrated your oven and are sure of the actual temperature vs what is set. Additionally the parts should be placed to the sides, and not in front of the fan. The problem is that the powder coating cures at temperatures very close to (if not exceeding) the melting point of the solder. So it is very possible to have your assembly fall apart or significantly change shape while curing the powder coat. Below is a chart I pulled from the Kester web site: As you look at the chart, the solders we have commonly used for electronics, stained glass work and plumbing in the past are referred to as the “mid temp solders”. Note that the lower end of their melting range is 361F. The more modern lead free plumbing solders that I have run across are the Sn97Ag3 , and SN96.5, Ag3, Cu0.5. These have melting points above 420F. This gives us a TINY bit of wiggle room above the curing temperatures required for the powder coat.

So far I have used powders from Eastwood and Prismatic Powders. The Eastwood powders typically recommend 460F until the powder starts to fuse and then 400 for 20 min. This does not work with solder as I demonstrated with my first test piece. The solder joint (60/40) opened up during the curing. This lead to some more research and there were a number of posts that said a powder that cures at 400F / 200C for 10 min (as the Prismatic powders I was contemplating) could also fully cure at 355F/180C for 15 min. Note that this is not from Prismatic (I should really contact their tech support for confirmation). I ordered the candidate Prismatic powders and ran some samples. Sure enough, the powder seemed to cure very nicely at the reduced temperature (nice gloss and the metallic flakes glistened). My oven was calibrated against a Thermoworks Chefalarm and an IR thermometer. It runs +5 to -20F vs the set temperature once warmed up and allowed to soak for 15 min. I also decided to avoid placing any parts directly in front of the fan but rather off to the sides. I assume that the hot air coming from the fan is likely hotter than the “overall” oven temp. I had switched to using “lead free plumbing solder” to assemble the parts. The chosen powder coat was Prismatic’s “Soft Misty Copper UMB-1352“. So now was the time for the test of a complete lamp. This was the prototype path light. Everything held together and the finish was great.

Prototype path light – powder coated.

So this proved that you CAN powder coat soldered parts. However, you MUST be careful in you choice of powder, solder, and oven calibration. There is little room for error and oven temps often swing +-20 to +-30F with greater swings during warm-up or when re-heating after opening and inserting the parts. It may be a good idea to line the bottom with fire bricks or tiles for more thermal mass, but I have not tried it. I did get all 8 lights powder coated without incident.

Prior to powder coating, the parts need to be bead (sand) blasted. I am using 80 mesh glass beads at 45-50PSI. The reason the pressure is so low is that the beads will fracture – turning to dust if the pressure is too high (increasing your materials cost) and the brass will deform under the pressure of the blast. This is most notable with the brass U which should be blasted at an oblique angle. Blasting straight on, can completely deform and close the channel. Once the parts are bead blasted they are then blown off with an air gun and hung on stainless wires from the oven rack.

The process of bead blasting and powder coating can be seen below:

Bead blasting and powder coating the lights

While my powder coating setup is a bit low tech, I am pleased with the results .

The lights get a bipin socket for the LEDs hotmelt glued into the base plate . Extension wires are soldered on. I used 5 watt LED “corncob” style lamps. These run off of standard 12 VAC low voltage wiring (and are darn bright).

The posts / standards are 21″ long 1/2″ copper pipe. This was the longest length that would fit horizontally in my oven for powder coating. They are rather tall, but this is needed as my old lights would repeatedly get buried in snowdrifts in the winter. The “anchor post” was made from 1/2″ galvanized iron pipe. I used 24″ sections, cut in half, ends split and then pounded to some semblance of a point. The same 1/2″ copper to 1/2″ threaded adapters that were used under the base of the light were also used on top of the stake. It is not necessary to solder the posts together. The friction fit with a bit of powder coat overspray is more than tight enough.

I found some new screw together vampire tap connectors that worked out very well to connect into the existing 14 gauge cable that was left from the old lights. These are far better than others I have used in the past.

I think the finished lights look great and are a definite improvement over the several previous light sets.

Finished lights and the first snowfall

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Path Lights – Making the Roof

The roof is the most complex part of the light. The roof panels are curved and flared towards the bottom. This means the curves are not a simple arc but have a changing curve radius along their length with the shorter radius towards the bottom. If this is not done, then the top won’t come to a nice point or the curvature is very flat.

Based on the paper prototypes, a master pattern was made by drawing it out as before, but then folding in half prior to cutting. The goal was to be sure that both of the sides were symmetrical. This pattern was then attached to the thin copper sheet (0.06″) with photo mount spray adhesive. The copper was then carefully cut out and the edges cleaned up a bit. Now I have the template to use to trace the patterns for the rest of the roof panels.

The copper that is used is 12oz copper roll flashing. I bought it in a 20 inch by 10 foot roll. 12 oz copper has a nominal thickness of 0.0162″ (0.411 mm). Note that when cutting the copper with shears, the sides of the cut will have a small bend and burr on them. To minimize the curving (potato chipping), adjacent cuts need to be made in opposite directions. This way there is basically only one direction of warping rather than two. The 3.5″ wide strips are cut of the end of the roll of flashing,

Roof panels traced and ready to cut out

The video below shows the detail of cutting and fitting the roof together, then soldering and clean up.

This covers the process of making the roof pieces

Next: Final Assembly and Powder Coating

Path Light Side Panels

The path light side panels are built separately from the roof. Once they are complete they are soldered to the roof. The bottom is the final piece that is added.

The side panels are built from pieces of adjustable brass came and brass U came that are soldered together. The thin brass is most easily cut with a small 2″ cutoff saw (Harbor Freight). To smiplify the setup and aid repeatability I added a small aluminum track (left over garage door bottom gasket) and an adjustable stop (expanded PVC) which has a slot to hold a small 6″ pocket rule for measuring the distance from the blade. There are no dimensions provided as this is a “make it to fit” from scrap sort of thing.

The cuts for the track were done on the table saw. Just datoes that were adjusted until the stop block fit. The 8-32 screws fit into nuts that are held in the track. The track opening had to be opened slightly (0.010″) by running it over the table saw. Setting the gap is SO very handy with the rule held in place. The slot was cut with Japanese style pull saw. It is just a friction fit for the rule in the slot

Cutting is easily 5-10x faster than having to measure , mark, set the piece and then cut. Just move it to the stop. It is also much more accurate and repeatable as well. Cutting through the adjustable U channel, it wanted to bind on the blade. Waxing the blade helps tremendously. I use Lenox blade lube (same as for my metal cutting bandsaw) but beeswax, paraffin or SnoSeal would work as well. It also helps to support the cut off piece with your fingers (although it renders photography useless) and prevents some end damage and the part being flung as it is parted off.

Adjustable U Came being cut to length

The glass is fitted in place prior to soldering as this helps greatly with keeping things square and the grooves aligned. Thin plywood pieces make up the fixturing. A scrap of the adjustable U came supports the glass at the bottom. The pieces are soldered together with dabs / tacks. There is no need to run the solder the full length of the corners.

Once side panel being assembled

Once a pair of these side panels have been assembled, the other top bars for the front and back are soldered in. Light wrap of wire helps keep everything together and upright while soldering. Alternatively a square or even the block of sal ammoniac can be used to brace the pieces.

All 4 sides, ready for soldering.

Once the sides are completed, the bottom panel and U channel is added. There are 4 corner holes and a 29/64″ hole in the center for the light socket. #8×5/8″ stainless screws fit the adjustable U channel to hold the brass base plate on. Initially I used the soldering iron to solder the u channels to the base, but found that using the microtorch to heat the base and thereby heat the U channel was much easier and neater. The downside is if the movement of the torch is paused, the glass will crack. I lost 2 out of 32 panels this way. As you will see in the video the indirect heating approach is much neater.

Base soldered on

The support for the light is a 1/2″ copper pipe to 1/2″ threaded pipe adapter. It provides enough support and is easy to solder in place. Once cleaned up and coated, it actually looks quite elegant. The wrap of solder prior to heating proved to be not needed. Just use 1/6″ plumbing solder.

Ready to solder the pipe support.

The next step is soldering the side panel assembly to the top. A small jar serves to hold the inverted roof. The side assembly is then centered in it and soldered in place. The corners are tacked on each side to the previously tinned areas of the roof.

Next step is washing off all of the excess flux and the lights are ready for bead blasting and powder coating.
Full video of the process can be found at:

Construction process for the sides, attaching them to the roof and base.

Next: Making the Roof

Ring Roller Dies for forming a curved V shape

For the Path Light project I needed to make curved corner pieces for the roof. The roof panels are roughly triangular and the corners have a roughly 1/4×1/4 angle of “12 oz” copper to cover the corner. The twist is that the roof panels are not straight but instead somewhat concave giving the roof a flare at the bottom. The corner pieces cannot be bent to shape by hand, hammering to flare them takes forever, and using a chisel as a punch to stretch the edges is both slow and prone to cutting through. So a variation on a ring roller is needed. I have a Harbor Freight Ring Roller . It is not exactly a precision instrument but will suffice for this work and save a lot of time vs. building the mechanicals to hold and turn the dies from scratch.

Ring Roller mounted to some wood blocking so it can be secured in a bench vise.

I had run across a youtube video by “Stuff Made Here” where he used 3D printed dies to bend some steel parts. Forming the copper strips would require far less stress, so I decided to give it a go. The first goal was to prove that the pieces could be formed as I desired, second would be to improve durability if needed . That could be solved by changing plastics or turning the wheels out of metal on the lathe. The first step was to pull the C-Clips that hold on the factory rollers and get some measurements .

Factory roller pulled and v-rollers fitted

Next the v-roller were designed in Sketchup and 3D printed. They were done in PLA at 50% infill with 3D honeycomb for the infill pattern. No support material was used even with the 45degree overhang (yes there are imperfections at the seam between layers because of this). It did take a few tries to get rollers sized such that they gave the relatively shallow curve that is needed and not split the V in the copper strips when inserted. If I had “properly” 3D modeled everything I could have probable avoided printing a few rejects.

V rollers – Note these had already been used to bend over 30 strips. Minimal wear, mostly from the edges of the strips which had serrations form the snips.

The V-rollers as printed did need a bit of clean up on the inner diameter and the keyway. The adjustable reamer did well for the bore. Yes, I know that you machinist purists will say this is will throw the bore off but I do not have spiral chucking reamers. If my printer had been better dialed in I might not have had as much clean up, but this is close enough. If you don’t have an adjustable reamer sandpaper and a dowel works too. You don’t want too tight a fit as the rollers do interfere with each other and all 3 have to be put on or removed all at once. You can see some faint faceting of the circumference in the wheels and the copper, due to the way Sketchup does circles, but once the part is finished they are completely invisible.

Roller in action bending the v-pieces for the corners of the roof of the lights.

For short run parts such as these the 3D printed parts provide a relatively quick and low cost / effort option to forming the parts. A nice thing was that I could design, kick off the printer and then go back to designing and building the rest of the light components while the part was printing. Also without the right tooling (broaches, which I do not have ) making keyways in aluminum or steel on the lathe is a bit of a pain. The files for the dies can be found on Thingiverse:

Bending the corners in the press brake

Running the bent angle pieces through the ring roller

I hope this gives you some food for thought on making 3d printed plastic metal forming tools.

Next: Path Light Side Panels

Path Lights Concept

We are on our 4th (or more) generation of path lights for along the front walk and driveway. We live in the country and there is no street lighting. So we need path / landscape lights to provide illumination for safety (of course nothing is level here) and it just looks nice. However the commercial lighting products are pretty cheap and flimsy unless you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars per light. We have the wiring in place and a large 12 v transformer from the initial incandescent path light installation. We had converted to LEDs a while back but want things a bit brighter. Besides the current lights are again falling apart and the glass is breaking either on its own or due to “incidents”.  Solar / battery lights are nowhere near bright enough and the rechargeable battery replacement is an ongoing expense. 

So now it is time for new lights (again). Being recently retired, I have the time to pursue this, after getting more pressing projects out of the way. I started researching looking for designs that i could use as a starting point and to show Teal as I needed her approval. The lights will be mounted on top of 18-24″ posts with some sort of spike anchor base. We started closing in on some promising ideas and then it was time to start making prototypes out of construction paper. This would allow us to see the final size in the garden setting and help inform what the construction process would entail. I had decided to use copper and brass for the shell of the light and a cear “hammered” finish stained glass for the panes. LED light would be used.   The metal would then be powder coated.  The initial  batch for the front walk will be 8  lights.   If this works  out well then 10 or 12 more will be needed for the driveway.

I wanted something of an Craftsman or “English cottage” sort of look with a peaked roof and 4 or 6 sides. So the first things to tackle were over all size and the roof design.

The first prototype looked like this.

First paper and copper foil prototype

It was a start and could be made in copper but the look was not quite right. I wanted a curved / flared roofline, reminiscent of a thatched roof. The copper foil / flashing I had on hand was also flimsier than I wanted. So purchased a roll of 12oz copper flashing to see if that would be thick enough. Then it was time to play with the roof design to see if I could get the look that I wanted and that Teal would agree with. More time was spent with paper, straight edge, compass and french curves. Now I had 3 paper roof prototypes.

Paper Roof Prototypes

We ended up choosing the middle shape. It has the flare I wanted but I was still debating which one. . Teal did not like the slightly upturned corners of the one on the left. So she had the deciding vote. As it turns out fabricating the curved roof in the middle was hard enough.

More materials were ordered. My old stained glass supplier was out of business and I had to try a new one. THis is where I got a few varieties of brass came and the class itself . More metal was ordered from SpeedyMetals for the bottom panel. I ended up using sheet brass for the bottom.

Now was time to start the fabrication and build the tooling. The Press Brake was already done but more was needed.

The prototype light looks like this.

Path light prototype

I’ll cover the construction details and tooling next.

Next: Ring Roller dies for the roof corners

Low Cost Press Brake

  • For some upcoming projects I need to neatly bend sheet metals. In the past I had done this for small “one off” items by blaming in a vise or between some pieces of angle iron or using a “tinners pliers” / metal seamer. However now I needed make dozens of bend that are crisp and repeatable. Options ranged from a full size press brake, sheet metal brake (the type you lever up to fold) or kits to build one to go in my 20 ton arbor hydraulic press. All seemed to be a bit overkill and the tool budget had been going wild lately so I needed to make something with “parts on hand” rather than purchase another tool. Besides I am pretty much out of space for another large tool that would normally get infrequent use.

After reading and watching several youtube videos on brake construction, I had a basic design in mind. The goals being ot keep it simple and use materials on hand:

  • ~12″ width / capacity
  • “Air bending” with movable die jaws. WIth Air bending there is not a lower die but the metal is pressed down into the gap between some bars / jaws . It can provide nice crisp bends
  • Hand operated or able to fit in my bench top arbor press for additional force. This avoided having to build an outer frame and the hydraulic press was too slow
  • Fixed blade / upper jaw rather than removable fingers

Digging around in my metal stock / scraps I found some:

  • 1.5×1.5×1/8″ steel tubing which would become the top rail.
  • 1/4 x 1.5″ steel flat stock for the jaws and blade
  • 1/2×5″ steel flat stock for the base
  • 1/2″x 6″ bolts that would be the columns
  • Springs and miscellaneous hardware

The first step was to shape the edge of the blade on the mill. I used a 3/4″ “corncob” or roughing end mill. The head of the Bridgeport mill was inclined to ~37 degrees. You want the blade edge to be less than 90 degrees to allow for some degree of overbending to allow for spring back . This could be done with a hand held grinder and file instead

Next the top bar was cut and the blade was welded to it. I did my best to center the blade and keep it vertical but there was undoubtedly some error. So to drill the holes for the columns the blade was clamped in the vise. I wanted a close sliding fit to minimize error in the bends and did not have stock for bushings on hand. The holes were then reamed for a decent fit on the bolts with an expandable hand reamer.

Reaming the post holes

Next the holes for the column were drilled in the base plate. The digital readout of the mill helps in setting the exact spacing

Each hole was hand tapped with a tap follower held in the drill chuck to ensure that the threads were perfectly aligned and the posts would be vertical .

Hand tapping 1/2×13 with follower.

There were also the jaws to make and the holes for them to be drilled and tapped. However for these I have so called “gun taps” that can be power tapped. This is much easier and faster.

Power tapping for the jaws
Press brake

The brake was now assembled and the initial tests show it can make nice crisp bends. Depth stops were added after this photo to allow for better repeatability of the bends.

Bending the copper corner pieces for the path light roofs

Exterior Light Refinish

Our exterior lights were looking pretty shabby. The original antique / brushed brass was tarnished and dull. 26 years of UV damage had destroyed the original clear coat. There were house paint splatters on them as well.

This is one of the smaller lights, by my shop patio.

image of light before
refurbished light

This was also the first major powder coating project after the test pieces. I figured that getting a home improvement project done before tackling the workshop powder coating projects would help win some brownie points and help justify the equipment investment.

The lights are made of thin brass stock. The knurled balls on the corners and for the removable top (for light bulb change) were about 50% frozen on due to rust. They are screwed onto about 1.5″ pieces of threaded rod which were crimped into the corners of the lights. So in the cases where they were stuck the threaded rod came out as well. This allowed fo disassembly of the class panels and removing of the top. From then on it was a matter of starting at the finials and working my way in. Each rounded section had its own nuts and / or coupling.

Some parts, notably the threaded rod pieces needed an electrolysis treatment to remove the rust or corrosion. The parts were then bead blasted to remove all of the old finish and corrosion. Bead blasting for each lamp took about an hour. The small parts were mounted to a piece of masonite so they could be held while blasting. A wire was zig-zagged on the back side to connect all of the parts for grounding while powder coating.

small hardware on board after powder coating
Back side of the small hardware board showing the grounding wire and retaining screws or nuts

This board was simply placed on the bottom of the oven for baking or on the lowest rack. The other parts were hung via stainless wire from oven racks for powder coating and backing. Please remember to wear a dust mask / respirator while powder coating and blasting. The dust is a really nasty lung irritant. I neglected this at first (like you see in many of the youtube videos), and my lungs hurt for 3 days. Now I use my Miller Eclipse P100 respirator religiously when doing the blasting and powder coating.

The many other flat and domed pieces were hung prior to coating and there are a few important tips:

  • Only load 1 or 2 parts at a time prior to spraying the powder. Having a rack full of parts limits your ability to maneuver the gun and get even coverage. Load 1 or 2, spray, load a couple more, etc. Besides the overspray will help finish build on the previous parts.
  • Add a ground clip to each part rather than relying on the hanging wire and rack for grounding. With the lamp parts the center hole is an ideal point to add a clip lead ground. It wont show later, it is easy to coat after clip removal and you can get some leverage from the insides of the domes when removing the clip. I bought a new batch of alligator clip leads for just this purpose.
  • Hang the bigger parts with 2 wires. They WILL swing as you load them into the oven and this will lead to bare spots where the powder is knocked off.
  • Don’t be greedy and overload the rack with lots of parts. They will swing and bang together leading to bare spots and other defects. 4-6 at a time seems to be the limit. 8-10 is just asking for trouble. The bake time on these thin parts with the powder I was using – Eastwood Architectural Bronze is only 23-35 min (20 min after the part hits 400F). So you can still do over 2 batches per hour and have a nice break in between.
  • It is better to transfer full racks of parts in and out of the oven rather than singles and trying to hook them on and off individually (or maybe I am just a superb klutz with limited motor skills).
  • If possible hang the parts with >3″ and preferably 4+” gap from the rack (another variant of “don’t get greedy”). You need the space and don’t want to be spraying downwards through the rack if at all possible.
  • The corollary to this is don’t push your air compressor too hard with long bead blasting sessions. My DeVilbiss “6 HP” 60 gal unit gets really hot after 30 min of continuous run time (which happens while bead blasting even at 50 PSI reduced pressure to not cause the beads to disintegrate). At that point, the air is hot going into and out of the tank. Then the moisture (and oil) make it past the moisture separators and start showing up as discoloration on the parts while blasting. That is the signal to stop and let things cool down. The blast cabinet requires 9-12 CFM @ 50PSI for glass beads continuously while blasting (far more than a spray gun). I don’t have a chiller / condenser for the air lines (another $700+ investment) which would eliminate the condensation issue but not the overheating compressor .
Oven before I switched to a special rack for the panel dividers which are laying on the non-stick foil

Lamp parts hanging after initial fusion of the powder coat
First 2 domes attached Note the spacer bracket between the pipe sections
Base attached to wall bracket
Cushioned pliers to attach nut and threaded rod. Blue tape or electrical tape work well to avoid scratching the parts.
Glass in, ready for the top

I used a variety of textured clear “stained glass” to replaced the old beveled glass panels. I like the look of the textured glass better than the clear. Plus I did damage a few of the beveled glass pieces slightly during disassembly. The glass cuts are simple straight line snaps. However the seedy glass often deviates a bit from straight if the cut is near the bubbles. So a glass grinder or coarse grit diamond stone is a big help. I had not done any stained glass work for a few years. The internet supplier I had used previously used, was out of business and Milwaukee Art Glass is currently only open by appointment (as I found out on arrival). Some of the glass came from Hobby Lobby (which I detest, but is the only other local alternative I could find). Aside from the philosophical and general quality aversions, the small sheets they sell, would only yield 3 panels (and I need 6) per light (and there were 5 lights) with a lot of waste. However, some may be usable as I do the upcoming path light project.

“Large” light completed

Overall, this was a very satisfying project while building a variety of new skills. Replacing these lights with new ones would have cost much more than the powder coating equipment investment. There were 5 lights in all. Next up will be new scratch built path lights for the front sidewalk.

Aside from new tools, material cost for the 5 lights was:

  • Glass bead blast media ~$20 for about 10 lbs consumed
  • 1 lb of Architectural bronze powder coat powder $12.95
  • Glass ~$50 – mixed sources
  • New LED lamps from Menards (FEIT 100w equivalent) $25

Powder Coating Startup

I have been interested in doing powder coating for a number of years but this does entailaddtioinal equipment and space (and spousal buy-in). I have been frustrated with conventional finishes (paint, black oxide, etc.) for my metal working projects. Paint takes a long time to dry, requires multiple coats, decent temps to spray and is not friendly for spraying indoors (and we live in Wisconsin – so this is important for half of the year).

Basic setup L-R, rack for powder coating, oven, powder coat gun in drawer, blast cabinet, dust deputy cyclone

With my recent retirement (yeah!), I was nearing hte completion of redoing my daughter’s kitchen. At this point I was looking to the next few projects (redoing house exterior lights, redoing bridgeport and SBL controls, new exterior path lighting, David’s motorcycle, etc). These would mean either lots of spray painting and future redos or we could get this done with powder coating. For example, I cleaned up and then had professionally powder coated the crash bars/ engine guards for my bike (Honda VTX-1800) which cost $120. Talking with the shop guys at HyTech Powder Coating in Waukesha they said the typical minimum is $80-120 or small projects. While they did a great job, I restarted thinking about a DIY approach and being able to do powder coating as needed.

Powder coating involves:

  • Mechanically cleaning the part to enable good finish adhesion. This typically means abrasive blasting and chemical wipe.
  • Electrostatically spraying a paint powder on the part
  • Baking the coated part to fuse and cure the powder into the final finish

This is basically similar to conventional spray painting. However there are some similarities and differences. :

  • Prep in either case is key. However Powder Coating does seem to place greater emphasis on mechanical bonding and hence the need for abrasive blasting.
  • Spraying the finish requires a special gun but this is in the same price range as a decent HVLP spray gun. Masking of areas not to be painted requires either silicone plugs or special tapes due to the high temperatures used in the curing. I picked up the Eastwood dual voltage powder coat gun.
  • Oven for curing . This can be as small as a toaster oven or a room sized monster used for powder coating car chassis. For the work I will be doing, a home oven is big enough. DO NOT think you can use your regular home food / baking oven for both purposes. Plus you will need additional ventilation for the fumes. Fortunately, used stoves / ovens (esp. wall ovens ) are dirt cheap. You do want a convection oven. Check your local Habitat for Humanity Restore or Craigs List. I got mine at Habitat Restore in Waukesha, WI . A 30″ GE Profile convection oven for $25 (~1% of the original price) . This wall oven did require a basic cabinet in which to reside (which would also get drawers and drawers eventually).
  • Rack to hold the pieces while spraying. I picked up a stand from Eastwood but it was designed for elves or dwarves and had to raise the top by 3 feet to bring it to a workable height.
  • Blast cabinet. This was the most costly item both in initial purchase price and parts for modifications. I bought the Harbor Freight 40 lb blast cabinet (with the 20% off coupon). However doing the necessary mods basically doubled the price in added parts. Check youtube for the many videos on souping it up. Must haves: caulk ALL the joints form the inside with Vulkem – it leaks powder like a sieve, metering return line off of the dump chute to feed the blast gun, lowering the grate inside, adding a separate pressure regulator for the gun, additional baffling for air intake and extraction, dust deputy cyclone ahead of the shop vac, new lighting, wheeled caster base, additional outlets for shop vac and powder coat gun, EZ open wing nuts for the window for replacement / maintenance. Yes this sounds like a lot but think of it as a “partial kit” and go from there. Besides my 4yo grandson – Sawyer had a lot of fun helping. Good thing it was all metric as I taught him to grab the 8, 10mm wrenches vs trying with imperial fractional sizes.

Entryway bench

Teal has wanted a bench by the front door to use when putting on shoes. This would be better than sitting on the stairs.

Last time we were at Kettle Moraine Hardwoods, the local lumber mill, we came across an interesting Elm slab that was about the right size. So it went in the truck with the rest of the lumber.  Our floors are Red Elm, so this complements them nicely.

The slab had cracks in it due to the knots. The largest cracks was filled with some  matching fine sawdust. All of the cracks were then flooded a few times with thin Cyanoacrylate glue.   The slab was then planned and belt sanded.

Teal wanted the front edge left as a live edge, but it still needed some clean up.   This was done with spokeshaves and sandpaper. The edges were rounded over with a block plane.

The top was finished with: two coats of Bona DTS sealer, lightly scraped between coats to get rid of the raised grain fibers, and then sanded with 220 grit. Then, two coats of General Finishes Enduovar Polyurethane Matte lustre finish were applied.  These were all brushed on as this small surface area did not justify breaking out the sprayer.

The legs were a bit of a problem as there is a heating duct coming up right were one of the legs should go.  This lead to an unconventional design idea. The legs would be curved, and support it in the front and a ledger bar screwed to the wall in the back.

The legs are made from two 1/8″ sheets of steel. The template was made fr0m 1/8″ hardboard. The curves were made with the aid of a thin batten (wood strip)  that was bent to shape and traced.  The template was cut out on the bandsaw and the edges sanded smooth.  The steel sheets were stacked and the template clamped to them and the pieces were then cut with the plasma cutter (and it was snowing again that day).

The edges of the steel were ground clean. It is very hard to weld through the plasma cut edge as is as the steel forms a nitride / oxide coating during the plasma cutting.

The bottom end of the “Y” was also spaced apart. This gives the legs a bit of a flair. 1 small scrap of 1/8″ steel was placed in for the first 3 inches or so.

The edges were then TIG welded shut and ground to a nice curve.

The top of the legs is a piece of 1/8×1″ steel  and the feet are 1/4x1x3″ steel. These had the corners rounded, holes drilled in the top pieces and then were also TIG welded onto the legs.

Given that I am new to TIG welding, through the process I stuck the tungsten tip more than once. The TIG welding process has a bit of learning curve, especially for someone that does not chew gum, as that would preclude walking for me.  Managing the torch and then adding the filler rod without getting the electrode contaminated is a bit of a trick and I also roasted my fingers a few times in the process. Once the electrode is contaminated, definitely stop and change it out, trying to make do, just makes a mess and things get way too hot.  I can safely say my tungsten grinding skills are now quite good. Welding will take more practice, but I did get a few really nice beads along the way. I think getting a really nice bead now and then helps suck  you in and makes you forget the frustrations of the learning process.

Afterwards the legs were given one more pass with an 80 grit flap disk and were ready for painting.  One coat of primer and 2 coats of satin black. I like the Rustoleum Pro spray paints for this.  They dry fast and hard and have a decent re-coat window. I have used these for most of my tool  builds & rebuilds.

Crib – Planing and Plasma

Completing the rails

Today’s tasks included completing the front and back top rails and making the bottom plates that fasten the ends to the front and back .

The top rails needed to be transformed into the sleek shapes in the drawing. This meant making the under-hanging lip, adding it to the rail and the generating the sweeping curve of the rail top.

The underhanging lip is a 1/2″ thick semicircular segment which is then glued to the rest of the top rail. To safely and accurately make a shape like this you must start out with a larger piece, shape the edge and then rip it off.  Below you can see the stock being run through on the router table with a 1/2″ radius round over bit. The fence is set flush with the front edge of the router bearing. The fence is needed as the bearing of the router bit will not be landing on un-cut stock  and it provides the needed support for the cutting depth. The feather boards  help to both guide the stock and keep my fingers clear of the spinning router bit.


After the profile is cut with the router, it is then ripped off on the table saw.

This profile was the glued on to the top rail. You can see it as the bulge in the lower left of the rail as seen below. The drawing of the rail end was the printed out square with the end and with no perspective in Sketchup. This was then printed life size (which took several tries). The print out was the cut out and placed over the ends of the rails and the outline traced with a  sharpie.

The corners and excess were then saw off on the bandsaw and table saw. At this point the goal is to have a rough approximation of the curve which is ready for hand shaping.   The bandsaw with the table tilted offers a safer alternative to the table saw when there is a small land / support area under the base of the stock and the cut has no support directly underneath it.   Be careful here, greater overhang under the cut can fling the stock or break the blade if you lose control.  In retrospect a feather board behind the blade would have been a good idea here.

Now comes the exercise part.  There was a LOT of hand planing required to get to the final profile. Remember this is Oak.   It took just over an hour to plane the rails and another 1/2 hour of sanding and touch up planing.  I started with a #6 plane set for a fairly aggressive cut.   The shavings piled up quickly and my heart rate rose as well.  I think I was excused from skipping my usual workout on the elliptical (the shirt did not stay on long after this photo).

When planing a curve like this, you start out with the facets cut on the saws approximating the curve. With the plane, you basically bisect each facet, adding new ones and incrementally going from a rough set of angular faces to an ever better approximation of the curve. The sound of the plane and touch of your fingers guides where to make each cut, angling each one differently than the prior one.  After planing, then the sanding starts with 80 grit cloth backed paper on a long stick.

Side brackets

The next step was to start cutting the brackets which hold the end pieces to the legs. I wanted to minimize the visible hardware on the final bed, sacrificing a bit on having more hardware showing on the crib. The ends are held on with 12 gauge steel plate brackets (about 0.1″ thick) . The brackets are cut out with the plasma cutter (much more fun than a saw).

The brackets are then drilled to 1/4″ for the screws and then the locations are marked with a transfer punch. The holes are drilled and brass threaded inserts are screwed into the wood.  Below you can see the frame with the bottom bakets in place and ready to start making the top end brackets.