Classy Coat Tree: Metalworking Project

In creating this coat tree — without one weld, by the way — I found that bending steel broke me of my perfectionism. I constructed a simple and versatile jig but spent too much time staring at it.

I wanted assurance that my bends would be precise. However, with steel and without sophisticated jigs, there’s no guarantee, meaning I had to use the only antidote there is to paralysis from analysis: action.

Results? Not perfect but pretty dang good. The rods bent almost uniformly to create the coat tree’s arms and legs. (I was glad I’d bought extra rods to wrestle with and learn how steel bends.)

Except for the center-pole finial, the materials (see shopping lists, below) were commonly available at hardware stores and home centers such as The Home Depot. The finial is primarily for show and can be made of a variety of glass items, including doorknobs, paperweights and candle holders (see photo, below). This finial is made from a perfume bottle. Once you find an orb at a gift shop that catches your fancy, buy it because glass orbs are not mass-produced.

With some imagination, you can come up with a glittering array of glass, wood and metal options for the center-pole finial and knobs that are screwed to the coat-tree arms.

For tools, you’ll need a cordless drill, a circular saw, an adjustable wrench, a center-hole punch, a tap wrench and a hacksaw. A drill press and metal cutter are nice but not necessary.

Jig joy
The key to the jig is the bolt as a bending point (see inset photo, below). It’s positioned so the rod’s grip end usually extends past the plywood, which permits a better grip during bending.

The bolt and hardwood blocks screwed to plywood create the jig for the arm top hanger bend. A “cheater bar” helps in bending and keeping straight the grip end of the rod. Inset: The top washers and nut prevent rods from slipping off the bolt. Note the tape on the bottom nut to prevent the rods from becoming scratched during bending.

The bolt and the long block remain stationary, while other blocks are arranged to create the four bends (see jig illustration, below). To prevent splitting, drill holes in the hardwood before screwing the blocks to the plywood. Hardwood resists compression from steel better than softwood and serves well for creating slots into which the rod’s nonbending part slides. You can bend the rods with one hand while bracing the jig with the other, or you can clamp the jig to your work surface before bending.

Bending and the “boing” factor
Use 1/2-in.-dia. rod if you can bend it without popping a hernia. If not, 7/16-in.-dia. rod is fine, although the coat tree will momentarily flex back and forth after you hang up a jacket. (You may like this kinetic greeting. If you don’t, use ½-in.-dia. rod, at least for the legs.)

Here’s how to form the parts:

  • Leg bend — Insert a rod in the jig and bend slightly past 50 degrees (see photo, above). Most steel has “boing,” shape memory that causes it to spring back a bit after bending. Trace the bend on the plywood and use it for bending the other legs. By the way, the design has three feet rather than four to avoid the woes of a wobbly base.
  • Foot bend — Insert a bent leg in the jig and bend to 50 degrees. Grip below the first bend so you don’t alter that angle. Bend the other feet.
  • Arm “hook” bend — Insert a rod in the jig. Using a 1/2-in. (i.d.) pipe — often called a “cheater” bar that helps in bending and keeping straight the rod’s grip end — pretend you’re Superman or Wonder Woman. Crank until you have to rotate the plywood; then crank some more. The steel will naturally make its own smooth curve. Trace and bend the other hooks.
  • Arm top hanger — Place the hooked rod in the jig and bend the nonhook end to 50 degrees. Bend the other two arms.

After bending, the legs don’t need cutting. For the arms, hold the hook in its coat-hanging position and cut where it starts curving up. Cut the top hanger about 8 in. up from the arm’s upper curve. Make both cuts and use this arm as a pattern for the others.

Drilling and tapping
Hand drilling (9/64-in.) and tapping (8-32NC) the bent-and-cut rod ends wore out cobalt bits (one bit created only two bores), but it was worth it to know that the glass cabinet knobs and hammered-brass knobs would be secured by screws to the arms and feet. The screws also allow for changing knobs in the future. When boring holes for mounting the arms and legs to the center pole, use 2x6 blocks to secure the bent rods under a drill press and a 5/32-in. bit.

To evenly space apart the legs and arms on the pole, measure the pole’s circumference, divide by three and mark these points with tape that runs the length of the pole (see photo, below). The tape guides you in drilling and tapping the mounting holes. Ten No. 8 washers per screw hold the arms and legs 1 in. away from the pole, adding airiness to the design.

One advantage of using a 1-1/2-in. (i.d.) pipe as the center pole is that its circumference is 6 in., which is easily divided by 3 (even by me). Mark the ends at 2-in. intervals, and place tape along the pole according to these end marks. The tape guides in mounting the arms and legs.

The crowning glory
Use a threaded rod to create a platform for the finial (see photo, below). Silicone adhesive bonds the finial to the platform. Again, glass orbs are not mass-produced, so your finial will differ. But the principle of adhering the orb, which is primarily decorative, to the platform remains the same.

Threaded rod and a nut and fender washer at each end of the center pole create a platform for the finial. Silicone adhesive bonds the finial to the platform. In this case, the rod and nut poke up into the bottle, providing an anchor point.

This finial had a stopper hole in the neck. I generously applied silicone to the nut, threaded rod and fender washer on which the bottle would rest. I set the inverted bottle onto the goo so that 3/4 in. of the rod and nut poked up into the hole. Allow a week for curing. The final touch is sanding, wiping with mineral spirits and applying a spray hammered-bronze finish.

Now that the coat tree is done, I am wowed every time I see it. It’s tempting to say “Perfect!” but bending steel has taught me better.

Bending-jig shopping list
3/4 x 24 x 48-in. plywood (1)
3/4 x 3-in. hex bolt (1) with hex nuts (2) and flat washers (6)
1x4 x 96-in. red oak (1)
1x2 x 24-in. red oak (1)

Coat-tree shopping list
1-1/2-in. (i.d.) steel pipe, cut to 60-in. (1)
7/16-in.-dia. x 48-in. steel rods (6)
5/16-in.-dia. x 18 x 72-in. threaded rod (1) with hex nuts (2) and 2-in.-dia. fender washers (2)
1-1/8-in.-dia. glass cabinet knobs with center hole (9)
1/2-in.-dia.-base bronze cabinet knobs with no center hole (3)
8 x 32 x 2-in. combination panhead machine screws (12)
8 x 32 x 1-1/2-in. combination panhead machine screws (12)
No. 8 flat washers (90)
Glass finial (1)
Silicone adhesive
Finishing materials (sandpaper, mineral spirits, paint)

Materials and Cutting List
Key; No.; Description; Size
A; 1; Steel center pole; 1-1/2-in. (i.d.) x 60 in.*
B; 3; Steel-rod legs; 7/16-in.-dia. x 48 in.
C; 3; Steel-rod arms; 7/16-in.-dia. x 18 in.**
D; 1; Threaded rod; 5/16-in.-dia. x 18 x 61 1/4 in.
*Cut at point of purchase to 60 in.
**Cut to 18 in. only after bending 48-in. rods.