What We're Working On: My Welded Entry Bench
My house has no coat closet. I don’t think I’ve seen that before. Come through the front door, take off your jacket, throw it on the arm of the couch or over the back of a chair. College was a long time ago, and it’s time to hang up your stuff. What I needed was a mudroom style entry bench, with hat and coat hooks above, and storage below. What I wanted was something a little less traditional and more my own.
In the corner in the back of my shop stands an unused door for some reason. At first, I thought I might use the door itself as the back of the unit. Attach some hooks near the top, attach some shelves near the bottom and… boring. But the door was the perfect size for the available space, 30 inches wide by 84 high. What if I used the door as a template?
I like an industrial look, but I don’t live in an artist’s loft. I’ve already built some shelving out of reclaimed old wood, so I decided to combine the two looks. The frame would be welded 1/8-inch angle iron, and the shelves and coat rack reclaimed wood. The industrial hardness and straight edges of the metal would contrast with the organic warmth and irregularity of the wood, blending the piece into my home.
With the design in place, and my brother at the shop for an additional pair of hands and a critical eye, it was easy to lay out the steel on the door template. The angle iron comes in 6-foot lengths, so with a 4-inch angle grinder and a metal cuttoff wheel we cut 30-inch pieces for the top and bottom, and 12-inch pieces to extend the sides to the length of the door.
There would be two shelves and a base, so we cut two more 30 inch pieces to be the backs of the shelves, and four 15-inch pieces for arms to hold them up. The base needed 16-inch arms and another 30-inch length across the front.
We decided to use simple butt joints to give the top of the frame a lintel. Using the door as a guide to maintain our right angles, the only hard part was having only one welding helmet to swap back and forth, and each of us having had a pastrami sandwich for lunch. Don’t try this at home. With a 35-88 amp flux-core wire feed welder, we welded the back braces for the shelves to the frame, and then welded the arms sticking out from the braces. In retrospect, we should have created a U with the brace and arms, and then welded the whole thing to the frame. I’m not sure what we were thinking, but it all worked out in the end. The base got welded to the bottom of the frame and now the thing could stand up on its own. We were done with the door.
For lateral stability, and for a visual splash, we welded a zigzag of braces to the back of the frame.
I love to scrounge for old wood, and I’ve been making my way through a supply of wooden pallets that lived for years on a horse ranch, holding up bales of hay and weathering in the elements.
The Base - First we addressed the base. With a circular saw, we cut two pieces of ¼-inch plywood to the interior dimensions of the base, and glued and screwed them together to form a strong underlayment and to build up the thickness of the reclaimed boards. Without the underlayment, the ½-inch boards would be hidden by the steel lip of the base. They also wouldn’t provide much stability. The lengths of the pallet slats are regular, but the widths can be anywhere between 3 and 6 inches. We selected three approximately 6-inch boards and trimmed them with a chop saw to 30 inches long. Then we ripped the edges off the middle board to make all three match the dimensions of the plywood and screwed them down.
The Shelves - The shelves have no metal front, so we didn’t have to rip any boards to fit. We selected three 3-inchish and one 5-inchish boards for each shelf and trimmed them to 30 inches, making sure to swap the boards around so the nail holes wouldn’t match up from board to board, making them look too uniform.
Each 4-board shelf was secured underneath with two 1x6 braces, screwed in from the bottom. The braces were rounded off with a sander, to keep them from drawing focus. Finally, the shelves were bolted through the angle iron along the back edge and at the front of each arm.
The Coat Rack – The whole point of this piece is so I can hang up my coat when I come in, so we picked a picturesque board about 6 inches wide and trimmed it to 36 inches, so it overlaps the frame on each side. We called it the hero. The great thing about pallets as a source for wood is they’re built to last, and often out of very strong wood. You can find boards of redwood, oak, cedar and ash. As I sanded down the hero, the character of the grain really came to light. We can’t be sure, but we decided it’s red oak. We bolted the hero to the frame and the zigzag brace. The hardest part was lining up the four coat hooks. There isn’t a single straight edge or right angle on the hero, so we measured 10 ½ inches down from the lintel and set all the hooks at that level, spacing them at visually appealing intervals. When you’re dealing with uneven surfaces like reclaimed wood, math can fail you and you have to just step back and make it look right.
I had the spot all picked out, right behind the front door. For all its sturdy, steel and wood construction, the piece is a hollow frame, so it was simple to manhandle it into place. From the beginning, I envisioned wire baskets on the bottom shelf, in the place that drawers would be on a traditional mudroom bench. I wasn’t about to make those, so I bit the bullet and actually paid retail. They cost about as much as the rest of the materials combined. Now, all there is to do is hang up a hat or two and finally take my jacket off the back of the chair.