Welding to Go

Making fixtures such as carts and tables for your metalworking activities is as natural as building items for your woodworking shop. Although plenty of manufactured fixtures are available, it's more fun (and often less expensive) to make your own.

If you don't already have a cart for your welder, you'll quickly discover that it's an essential piece of shop equipment, even for portable wire-feed and MIG welders. I designed this cart to be sturdier than many manufactured fixtures: Its welded frame makes it much stronger than a cart made of sheet metal, and its low center of gravity provides excellent stability. It will accommodate most common brands of wire-feed/MIG welders such as Lincoln, Campbell Hausfeld and Hobart, but you can customize it to hold your welder and gas cylinder as well as welding consumables.

The most expensive parts of the cart shown were the wheels and casters (about $35 including hardware, but I opted for better-than-average quality). All of the steel stock cost less than $20 at a local discount metal supplier.

Design and prep
Above all, a welder cart must function properly and be safe. Make sure that you position the gas cylinder so it's stable and secure. This cart is designed with a cylinder support and two retainers (see illustration in PDF below), and it uses a rope or chain to secure the cylinder to the support. The height of the support should be at least two-thirds the height of the cylinder.

To determine the length of the base and necessary clearances, place your welder and cylinder on a flat surface; then tilt the cylinder to 5 degrees and measure the length (shown here with a direct-read protractor).

The top part of the frame is angled at 5 degrees so you can easily see and access the welder's controls. Rather than fabricate a handle from several pieces of steel, I bent a 3/8-in.-dia. steel rod to form a hoop handle. It has no sharp edges to snag you or your equipment, and the welding gun passes through it easily. I also incorporated a keeper on the handle for storing the gun and cable. (Never use the welding gun with the cable stored or coiled.)

When using an abrasive cutoff saw, set the angle scale at 5 degrees to cut the base parts (see illustration). Cut all of the parts to size before welding.

Large, all-metal wheels are the best choice for a welder cart. They'll roll easily, even over some debris, and they'll be more durable than cheaper plastic wheels. I used ball-bearing platform casters on the front of the cart because they have a greater weight capacity than spindle casters. The casters provide a zero-turn radius for excellent maneuverability in tight spaces.

Many home centers sell steel stock that's large enough to make this cart, but it will be more expensive than buying the stock from a metal supplier. There's no need to use the exact size of stock shown in the shopping list — slightly smaller stock will be strong enough.

Cut and weld
Because you'll need to make several angled cuts, an abrasive cutoff saw will provide the best and fastest results. Other cutting tools such as a grinder cutoff wheel, a metal-cutting band saw or a hacksaw will also work. (If you use a metal-cutting blade in a miter saw, do not use the dust bag.)

Perfect cuts are not important or even desirable because the weld should fill the joint between workpieces. What's most important is that the assemblies on each side of the cart match and that they be flat. Twisted or warped assemblies will prevent the cart from sitting squarely on the ground.

Cut all of the parts before you begin welding to ensure they're consistent and fit properly. Lay out the parts on a flat metal welding bench, and clamp them so they won't move while you're welding. Weld the base triangles (parts A, B and C) together first. Once you've welded one side, use it as a template to lay out the other side.

Clamp the stock for the sides on a flat surface. Then tack each joint before making final welds. Always wear a welding mask and protective clothing.

After completing the triangles, join them with the base stretchers (D). Use a square to ensure accuracy.

You can hand-bend the hoop handle (see photo 4), although it takes some effort. Start with an 8-ft.-long piece of 3/8-in. rod to allow for adequate leverage and for waste at each end. Mark the center of each bend for reference. Make final angle adjustments after welding the handle to the cart frame.

To bend the 3/8-in.-dia. rod, first mark the center of the bends; then hold down the rod with your foot while you pull it up with your hand.

Once you've completed the sides, weld the base stretchers between them and then add the remaining parts. The welder and cylinder rests can be welded last.

The last welding step is to attach the cylinder support parts (E and F) and the welder and cylinder rests (G). Before you attach the casters, grind off sharp edges and smooth any protruding welds. Then you'll need to bore the holes for the wheels and casters. Platform casters have four screw holes in the corners of the platform that won't align with the frame stock, so I bored two bolt holes in each end to center the platform on the frame.

Use an angle grinder and abrasive wheel to ease sharp edges and smooth rough welds. Be sure to clamp the work to the bench.

When drilling holes for the caster and wheel hardware, start with a small bit to drill pilot holes; then finish with a larger bit.

To ensure the wheels will roll easily, use bolts with smooth shanks. Don't over-tighten the bolts or you'll distort the bearings.

Paint is optional, but it will provide some protection and a more finished appearance. I used a quick-drying enamel with a hammered-metal look. If you choose to paint the cart, be sure to clean off any oil or rust first. Once the paint is dry, just bolt on the wheels and you're ready to roll.