the banality of scrap steel
Wednesday, June 19 2013
Once one learns to weld, the possibilities are endless. Soldering requires clean fittings and sections of copper pipe, which is neither cheap nor easy to salvage. But scrap iron is common and any two pieces can be welded together if a sufficiently-powerful welding arc can be generated. In the past I'd relied on stock pieces of iron from a hardware store, but that stuff tends to be both expensive and thin. If one is willing to slightly expand what is considered scrap metal, whole new classes of steel become available.
Today I cut up some old iron poles that had once been used to hold reflectors along the side of a road; such poles are common and often available in great numbers in the places where they have been abandoned (or something close to abandoned). They are also much easier to pull out of the ground than one would expect. They're made out of thick sheet metal stamped into poles having the cross-section of an omega (Ω). The poles I was working with today seemed to be high in carbon, meaning they were stiff, hard, and somewhat brittle. But they were a lot tougher than the bar stock I'd bought at Home Depot.
I needed these pieces so I could completely rebuild the structure of the old Chinese firewood cart I'd bought back in early 2008. Last winter, it had broken in a way that recently proved impossible to fix, so I'd salvaged what I could (the wheels, the 5/8 inch axle, and some of the less-critical wood-holding tube metal) and gone off in search of good salvage metal. That was how I'd discovered the road-pole option.
In the course of a few hours, I managed to weld together a new version of that old cart. The result wasn't perfectly orthogonal, but it should be tough enough to handle enormous loads. The high-carbon steel in those salvaged poles isn't the easiest stuff to work with; an early stress-test of my welds snapped right through them, suggesting that the arc has to linger on high-carbon welds a bit longer than it does on mild steel welds.
So now I have two firewood carts, one designed low to the ground and difficult to tip and the other with a high clearance for getting through rough terrain. I should mention that in the case of the Chinese woodcart, very little of the original cart remains. The only surviving pieces at this point are that fat axle and a piece of tube metal designed to secure the wood at the front of the cart. (As some may remember, I'd actually destroyed one of its bicycle-style wheels on its maiden wood-gathering voyage, and had had to immediately replace both wheels using a technique that included reverse-electroplating.)
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