I’m glad things are back on track. This past month has been really busy for the Dobinson family so I haven’t had a lot of shop time. I also had a bit of a setback on the gate project, not major but it did put it farther down my list. Unfortunately Josh wasn’t able to get the aluminum I needed so I began a search for another supplier. Turns out it wasn’t that difficult once I actually got down to it. Procrastination’s a bitch! I checked the web and found a list for K&S Railings in Nanaimo. I called them up, talked with Nate down there and he said he could supply me all the pieces I needed for the first gate. Big Thumbs Up! The price was right so I told him to go ahead and I would be down to pick it up. By lunchtime I was down in Nanaimo picking it all up. It was great, Nate had gotten almost everything cut to length for me so when I got back home I just had to do some tweaking and cut a few pieces down to size to make sure everything was even and got started.
I was a little stressed. The price of the aluminum was very reasonable, but when I’m building something for someone other than myself I hate to make mistakes (If I’m going to experiment I prefer to experiment on myself and then if things go wrong I seem to accept it better). I made sure everything was set up correctly and made sure to run a few test beads on some 14 Ga. material I had on hand. The top rail was 14 Ga. and the posts were 1/8″ so I set the welder up for the thinner stock. I acetone cleaned everything and wire brushed it all and got to work.
Welding aluminum is a lot more finicky than welding steel. I’ve been doing a fair amount of practicing over the past few weeks to get comfortable. The stock needs to be clean clean clean so that was the acetone/stainless brushing. The other things about aluminum (and thank goodness there’s the internet and my friend Josh for advice) are that you need to weld hot and fast due to the thermal characteristics of the metal, you need to push the weld and you need a longer stickout for the wire. Oh, and it moves a lot more than steel when heated. So I started by tacking the posts to the cap rail and then tacking the lower channel to the posts. I must confess I was a little nervous knowing how much aluminum moves when it’s heated. The last thing I wanted to have happen was to have it get all out of alignment and have to cut it apart and start over again.
Once I got the frame square and all tacked together, I slid the stiles in and made sure they were all evenly spaced and then tacked them into place as well.
When I was satisfied that everything was fine I did the final welding and the gate was for all intents and purposes done and ready. Everything seemed sturdy and I was pretty sure it was going to do the job.
The final step (and for me turned out to be the toughest) was welding the end caps on to the railing. I did not do a very good job there, I admit it. I’m pretty sure my problem was trying to weld too long a bead. I got the metal on the edge a little hot and I had a couple of spots that blew through and needed to be patched. Next time I think I’ll do short sections. and I think I’ll practice a couple of those welds tomorrow and see what works best. I ended up having to grind those welds down which cleaned them up nicely but I would rather have not had to do that. Gate number 1 completed.
I dropped the gate off to Norm and he was happy with it, so I’m happy with it. I’m looking forward to seeing them all on the houseboat. 🙂
I’m going to talk to Nate tomorrow and see if I can get what I need to get the remaining gates done this week.
Practice practice practice, that’s the bottom line with me. Aluminum is definitely more of a challenge to weld. But I’m up for a challenge. I’m much happier and more comfortable once I’ve done something once so I’m feeling good about getting the remaining gates completed. I’m thinking I should have the rest of them done by the weekend.
Heather suggested that maybe I should track my time for future reference. This first unit took me about 3 1/2 hours to get done. Not a bad afternoon project. We’ll see how much time the next ones take. Hopefully less.