When it comes to entertainment centers, you often have only two choices: inexpensive ready-to-assemble kits (which leave a lot to be desired in terms of style, strength and quality) or designer-inspired creations that can cost several hundred dollars or more.
Now you have a third option: This retro-modern entertainment center yields both style and strength at a lower price than you’d find in a furniture showroom. Made from metal stock that’s available at many home-improvement stores, it provides sturdy support for today’s flat-screen televisions and has plenty of shelving for a variety of other components. And the simple design means that even with only limited welding experience, you can achieve great results and create a striking piece of furniture you’ll be proud to display.
When purchasing metal tube for the entertainment center, pay attention to the wall thickness, especially for the legs. If the wall is too thick, the tube will act as a heat sink, absorbing the weld heat and preventing good weld penetration. Conversely, if the wall is too thin, your welds will burn through. Either way, you’ll have a weak structure that will not safely support the weight of your entertainment components. A good rule of thumb for this project is to use tube that has a wall thickness of 1/16 in. for both the legs and the cross rails.
Cut and prepare the parts
Use a metal-cutting saw to cut the 1-1/2-in.-dia. round tube and the 1/2-in.-square tube to the lengths in the cutting list in the PDF below (also see photo 1). To allow the square-tube side rails to fit flush against the round surface of the table’s legs, use a rotary tool outfitted with a small-diameter aluminum-oxide grinding wheel to create a slightly concave profile on the ends of the side rails (photo 2).
profile on the ends of the side rails (photo 2). Mark the location of the side rails on the four legs (photo 3); then use an angle grinder to remove the galvanized coating from the legs’ surfaces where you’ll be welding (see “Working with Galvanized Steel,” below). Don’t be too aggressive with the grinding, as you don’t want to distort the round profile of the legs (photo 4). Once you’ve removed the coating, mark the side rails’ positions again.
Your last step of preparation is to cut the round caps for the tops of the table legs and the small triangular gussets that will brace the top front and back square-tube rails and provide extra strength to support the weight of the television. For best results, use a jigsaw outfitted with a fine-tooth metal-cutting blade to cut these parts from a sheet of 1/32-in.-thick steel.
Working with Galvanized Steel
If you have access to a steel yard, it’s easy to purchase the large-diameter steel tube you need for this project. Otherwise you’ll most likely need to work with galvanized steel conduit, as I did.
Galvanizing is a coating of zinc that, like paint, protects steel from rusting by forming a barrier between the steel and the environment. But galvanizing goes one step further than paint, as it also provides electrochemical protection. Because zinc is electrochemically more reactive than steel, it oxidizes to protect the steel near it. As a result, even if a galvanized steel surface is scratched down to the bare steel, the galvanized coating will prevent the steel from rusting.
Welding galvanized steel is almost exactly the same as welding bare steel — you’ll use the same processes, volts, amps and travel speed. The difference lies in the low vaporization temperature of the zinc coating. Zinc melts at about 800 degrees Fahrenheit and vaporizes at about 1,650 F. Because steel melts at about 2,750 F and the welding-arc temperature is 15,000 to 20,000 F, the zinc that is near the weld is vaporized, which increases the amount of welding smoke and fumes.
When zinc vapor mixes with the oxygen in the air, it reacts instantly to become zinc oxide. Unlike other heavy metals such as copper, lead and mercury, zinc is a micronutrient essential to the proper growth of plants and animals. Nevertheless, proper precautions should be taken to reduce your exposure to zinc oxide fumes.
Keep your head out of the fume plume when welding galvanized steel, and position yourself relative to the air flow so zinc oxide dust does not collect inside your welding helmet. In addition, wear a mask when working around zinc oxide fumes. 3M’s disposable masks such as the 9920, 9925, and 9970 or the Moldex 3400 will provide more-than-adequate protection. But if you plan to work with galvanized materials often, consider buying a respirator.
Strike the Welds
Begin the actual assembly by welding the side rails to the legs. Work on a flat surface — I used the concrete floor of my garage. Use scraps of wood to properly space the legs; then tack the rails into position, check that they are square and complete the welds (photo 6).
Join the two sides together by tack welding the front and back rails in place. (Tack welding the components together allows you to make minor adjustments to their positions before striking the final welds.) Check that all rails are square and then complete the welds (photo 7).
Turn the table upside down and weld the four corner gussets into position between the side rails and the front and back rails (photo 8). Flip the table right-side up and then weld the leg caps to the tops of the legs (photo 9). Again, tack weld first for proper positioning and then complete the weld.
You can create a variety of looks for this entertainment center simply based on what material you choose for the shelves. I used 1/2-in.-thick polished tempered glass with rounded edges for the top shelf and 1/2-in.-thick painted medium-density fiberboard for the two lower shelves.
Glass is available in a variety of colors and styles and will be priced accordingly. The sheet for this project cost about $95. If I had ordered a beveled edge, the price would have increased by about 50 percent; opting for smoked or colored glass would have increased the cost threefold.
Of course, other options such as hardwood, melamine or even sheet metal such as diamond plate can be used, and each will help to create a different look and feel. In fact, you could create multiple sets of shelves from different materials so you could change the look of your entertainment center simply by swapping out the shelves.
Grind and paint
Use an angle grinder to smooth the welds . If necessary, fill any irregularities in the welds with a small amount of automotive body putty. Sand the puttied areas; then wipe down the entire table with mineral spirits to remove any residual oils or other contaminants. Coat the table structure first with a metal primer; then apply a topcoat of your choice — for this table, I chose Rust-Oleum’s Hammered Finish in black for the frame and Rust-Oleum’s Painter’s Touch Gloss Kona Brown for the shelves.
Once the paint is dry, move the table to its permanent location, and remember to apply furniture leg cups to protect the floor from the metal. Insert the three shelves into the table structure (see “Shelving Options” above) and install your entertainment components. You’re all set to kick back and enjoy your favorite movie with friends and family.