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Welding Bench/Tool Storage Chest

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Welding Bench/Tool Storage Chest

By: Del Taylor - 10/2001
Photographs by: Wes Taylor and Del Taylor

The finished welding bench and tool chest

Have you ever noticed how thin and flimsy most tool chests and work benches are that you buy from the market? Not to mention the cost of these lightweight units! I was in need of a storage chest big enough to hold my hand tools and a welding bench strong enough to withstand the rigors of some serious fabrication and pounding.... I needed all of this without the cost normally associated with a unit this big.

So I decided to combine the units. I started out from a hasty drawing I had made of what I needed. The original design was 4' high by 5' wide by 1' deep. I quickly scrapped this design, due mostly to it being too tall and costly. So I scaled it down to 3' high by 4' wide by 2' deep. This design was much more suited to my needs.

The 3 foot height is just right for me to work off of, and because the steel sheets are more cost efficient in the 4x8 sheets. Because I wanted this unit to last, I chose 1"x1"x1/8" square tubing for the framing material, and the sheetmetal is 4'x8' 11 gauge or 1/8" thickness. To give you a comparison, my father's red, name-brand tool chest is made out of flimsy .024" steel, that is thinner than most vehicles sheetmetal! Here's a list of the materials I used:

Quantity Description Price
3 1"x1"x1/8"x 24' length sticks $48.00
2 4'x8' 11 gauge Sheet Steel $90.00
1 4'x8' 11 gauge Diamond Plate sheet steel $85.07
4 3" caster wheels $22.00
2 Locking Utility Cam Locks $6.57
2 Metal 3" handles $4.48
4 3" Hinges $17.92
1 50 lbs. box of Fleetweld 6013 rods $59.00
3 Cans of primer $7.41
1 Quart of Krylon/Red Devil paint $6.67

Welding up the frame using the Hi-Lift as a clamp
Grinding the welds smooth
The welds ground down
Working on the top frame
Cutting the sheet metal
The torch comes in handy here
The lock hole cut with a torch
The welding table getting some use
The cabinet closed
Open and packed with tools

With a grand total of around $350 bucks... now go and compare that to a name brand tool chest! So now that you know what the costs are, let's dive right into the grueling process of building this project. But before I do, let me first warn you that this isn't a project that you can expect to do overnight. Working by myself, it took me 5 days to complete this! But if you do not form the corners as I did, then it will take considerably less time to build, especially if you have a helper. Please remember your safety and that of others when you are doing this and all projects. It doesn't take long for the harmful UV rays from the welding to give you a good skin-burn... trust me on that one. Even though it was 90 plus degree weather with well over 90% humidity, I wore long sleeves as much as possible. Also, always wear protective clothing when welding and cutting. Good, stout welding gauntlets are required, as well as safety glasses when you are grinding.

Step 1

Clear a spot on your already over-crowded garage floor to give you enough room to work in, then grunt, sweat and gain a hernia pulling the sheetmetal off the truck into the garage. I found it helpful to use some sawhorses to put the sheetmetal on. This way it's off the concrete and therefore you don't have to stoop over, making it easier to cut. Start by getting your framing sticks (the 1"x1"x1/8"x24' length sticks) and measure and cut your bottom frame and uprights. As always, measure twice and cut once. Here's a tip: before you cut the sticks, give yourself a 1/4" extra on the measurements. That way when you grind down the ends to allow a good fitment for welding, you'll have a near-perfect length. So, your first frame should be a 4'x2' rectangle. Here's another tip: Just tack-weld the framing at this point, it will especially help with the uprights in getting them level and true. After you have gotten the bottom frame done, you need to cut six 2' uprights. When you have them ground down and placed where you want them to be, put a torpedo level on one side and tack-weld it, then immediately tack-weld the opposite side to keep it from getting out of level and square. This is the most aggravating part of trying to do this project by yourself! When all uprights are tack-welded on, construct your next rectangle frame and tack-weld it to the uprights. Here's another tip: a high-lift jack can be real handy here!

Once the frame is all tack-welded, check it to make sure it is still true and level. If all is to your satisfaction, go ahead and weld it up solid. After all welds are made, it is time to get out the ol' grinder and smooth out those pretty welds you just made on the outside edges to ensure a good fitment of the sheetmetal. Speaking about grinders, I used an old Milwaukee 9 inch grinder for years and loved it, but it finally gave up the ghost and left me searching for a new one. I had done some welding on a 490 John Deere excavator for my uncle and used his 9" Dewalt and really liked it. So when I bought a new one, I bought the Dewalt and am very pleased with its performance.

It may be aggravating and time consuming, but it is important that you get the outside edges and top welds of the bottom frame smooth and flat. This ensures proper fitment of the sheetmetal and makes for a better weld. These pictures show how the corners should look. Note: the frame is on its side in the picture below with the bottom shelf already tack-welded in.

Once the welds are ground down smooth, it's now time to start cutting the sheetmetal for the bottom and middle shelves. Cut them to 2 feet by 4 feet rectangles. Once cut, tack them on. You can weld or bolt the caster wheels to the bottom. I chose four 3" hard rubber caster wheels for this project, but if I had to do it over, I would go with 4 or 5 inch steel casters instead, because they would allow the chest to be moved easier.

Step 2

Here we start on the top frame. Cut six 1-foot uprights and weld them to the top of the sheetmetal. Weld them in solid when you have them square and level. Next cut two 48-inch long tubes for the sides of the top frame. Also, you need to cut five 23-inch braces for the frame, too. Tack them together and to the 6 uprights. Check for squareness and when you are satisfied it's level, weld it up solid. It should be taking shape, but don't relax now... you are not even half way through the project!

Step 3

Time to start cutting the sheetmetal for the sides and top. Start with the sides. You need to cut two 24-inch by 36-inch rectangles. You won't need a fancy plasma cutter for this project; I used an old set of Victor torches. If you are having a hard time of making a straight cut, try this tip: find a straight edge long enough for your entire cut, and clamp it down. Leave just enough room for the head of the torch to rest against it, while allowing the center of the torch to stay on the middle of your soapstone mark. This is really good for those cuts you want to be very straight or when you have pulled a long day and you are tired.

Try to keep your speed steady and the kerf narrow. After getting the sides cut, tack them to the frame. Now cut your back. It needs to be 4 feet by 3 feet. Tack it to the sides and inside to the frame. You now need to decide whether or not you want to form your corners as I did. But remember, this will take the biggest portion of this project's time and you will you use up a 7 inch grinding wheel! Was it worth it? To me it was, but you may not want to do that. Cut your top and tack-weld it on. Now, go on the inside and weld the sheetmetal to the frame. Stitch welding a 2 or 3 inch weld at about every 6 to 8 inches apart will be plenty.

Now that you have the top, back and sides welded, cut three 3-inch by 33-inch long strips. These will be welded onto the front of the chest. Your hinges and locks will attach to these. Also cut two 3-inch by 48-inch long strips for the top and bottom on the front. Your doors rest on these. Now you can cut your doors out of the expensive Diamond plate steel. They need to be 24" by 33".

Once cut, you can either bolt the hinges on or weld them. I chose to weld mine, mainly because it was easier and faster. If you weld them, make sure you don't get the hinges out of phase. Tack the door to the hinges and open and close the door to ensure the hinges are working properly. Weld them up solid if you are pleased with the results. Now it's time to drill the holes required for the hinges and locks. The lock requires a large drill bit that I didn't have, so I torched mine out. Attach the locks and handles.

Step 4

If you have decided to form the edges and make the welds on the outside seamless, then go ahead and completely weld the seam of the outside sheetmetal. Make the beads larger than you normally would. After it is all welded, grab the grinder and start the long process of grinding. You will have to occasionally go over and do some more filling of a bead. Sometimes you have a pocket in your bead and sometimes the bead is not big enough. Don't worry too much about the really small pinholes, you can fill them with some spot putty later on.

Once you have the corners straight, go ahead and lightly grind the rest of the the sheetmetal in preparation for the primer. I also used a wheel brush on the grinder to remove the flake from the metal. But before you do any priming, you may want to fab a cutting shelf for the side of the bench. I used the leftover tubing and made mine. Cut three 1-foot lengths and one 2-foot length, frame them together, and weld them to either side of the bench. I also cut two right triangles from the leftover sheetmetal and used them to brace the cutting shelf.

Step 5

After all of the flake and surface rust is removed, you can now prime and paint the bench. I left the top and the cutting table unpainted. This way, when I want to weld something I just simply place it on the bench and attach the welding lead to the cutting shelf and weld away. The current flows through the unpainted surface a whole lot better. This is how the finished project should look.

It's big enough to store all of my air tools, hand tools, and assorted junk, and it gives more peace of mind knowing that it would take a while for a thief to break into it. One last thing... the hardest step of this project. Finding a place big enough in the already full garage to place this thing!

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