A week or two ago, a colleague that deals with a lot of wood slabs asked me about making a steel coffee table frame for him. I asked what he was looking for and the response was the dimensions of the slab going on top of the table and that was about it; I had total creative control on the frame.
I didn't have a ton of time to put into this particular frame, but I did happen to have a bunch of 1" square tube leftover from a previous build so I did what I could with what I had on hand. The wood slab (maple) itself is 73" long and 20"-21" wide (it's a live edge slab, so the width varies), and I wanted to build something that sat close to the perimeter of the slab. I also wanted to build something simple yet a little bit unique. Cover bands don't win Grammies, as the saying goes. Or maybe I just made that saying up. Either way, doing real basic shapes gets old pretty quickly, especially when it comes to welding.
The slab that's going on top is shown here, in some stage of detailed sanding:
I drew up a real quick idea, shot that over to the guy with the slab and got the OK to proceed.
The welding on this was pretty straightforward, and a lot easier to deal with than the last project, which had a bunch of super tight angles that made weld cleanup pretty tricky. I got both of the outside squares welded together using simple butt joints, and laid out and welded the cross brace, which sits at some random angles. The peak of the cross brace is skewed way over towards one end of the table; the thing needed a cross brace of some sort, and I thought a straight shot would be too boring. Granted, the maple slab should be the focal point of the table, but I wanted the frame to have a subtle little oddity to kind of keep pace with the lack of uniformity in the live edge of the slab. In short, in my book, if one part of a project is gonna have some major funk, the other parts need to have at least a little funk as well.
You might notice the little change I made from the original design; instead of 2 flat-bottomed squares as "legs", I opted to elevate the bottom horizontal pieces in each "leg" about 2 inches off the ground. I thought it would look a little better this way, and make leveling the whole table a lot easier. Grinding one leg a little bit if the thing has any wobble is a LOT easier than trying to grind down an entire horizontal stick of steel.
Once everything was welded, I had to clean up the welds. The welder I use makes decent enough looking welds on thinner material, but this 1" tube was pretty thick and the welds weren't real pretty. Plus, there were a LOT of welds....48 in total, and probably just that many, if not more, tack welds that preceded the full-blown regular welds. There wasn't any way I was going to make 48 welds and have them all look magical, so I made the call early on to grind them all flat. I think grinding the welds flat looks a whole lot cleaner anyhow, and with this style of table, clean was the way to go.
Cleaning up the welds took more time than doing the actual welding. The above picture shows what the clean-up process looks like about halfway through; I think at that point I'd ground every weld relatively smooth but still needed to hit everything with the flap disk (it's sandpaper for an angle grinder) to round over corners and reduce the marks left by the grinder's cut-off disc.
If you've ever seen steel at a steel yard, you know that it's usually black and filthy. When you hit the steel with a grinder you get through all that stuff pretty quickly and are left with shiny bare metal. Some people, in certain applications, dig the look of black steel with shiny bare metal where any work was done but for this table...that wasn't gonna happen. I decided to cover all of it with paint, using my sounds-fancier-than-it-really-is approach of a hand-rubbed finish. And the irony is that my goal is usually to make the end result look just like the steel did when it left the steel yard (uniform-ish black), minus the filth.
What I do to achieve that look, in short, is hit the everything with grey primer, let that dry, then hit everything with flat black spray paint and before the black has completely dried...wipe everything down with a dry rag. Sometimes it takes a coat or two, and sometimes I have to play around with how long to wait between spraying the paint and wiping everything down, but the end result is kind of the metal equivalent of lightly distressing wood.
Another coat or two, and maybe some clear just for good measure, and this thing'll be ready to hand off to the guy with the maple slab. I'm anxious to see what the final product looks like...but maybe a little more anxious to see the wood slab or two he's giving me in return.