Upgrading A Hackerspace’s Shelving


Shelving is probably one of the most underappreciated items in the shop. Think about it; would you rather have a place to store boxes, or a fancy new thickness planer, laser cutter, or pick and place machine. The folks over at the 23B hackerspace were growing tired of their disintegrating Ikea shelving unit and decided to make some shelves. They didn’t phone this one in, either: these shelves will be around far longer than you or I.

[Chris], the creator of these wonderfully useful pieces of metal, was inspired by a video featuring [Jamie Hyneman] of Mythbusters fame. An entire 80 foot section of M5 Industries, [Jamie]’s shop, is covered in shelving units constructed out of square steel tubing, put together in a way that’s easy to construct and able to handle amazing amounts of random stuff.

The new shelves for the 23B shop follow a similar design as the shelves over at M5, only a bit smaller in scale. It’s a wonderful beginner’s project for a welding and fabrication class, and more than sturdy enough to handle a few pull-ups.

54 thoughts on “Upgrading A Hackerspace’s Shelving

    1. Pallet racks are the bestest- but trash them if they have a kink anywhere, seriously. All their strength is in their square tubular design. The primary failure mode is a kink being put into one of the legs and the whole thing eventually, and often immediately, ending in a catastrophic failure.

      I have tried welding plates over problem areas but that just leads to new ones forming at the edges of the welds-leading to a recursive rebuild that isn’t worth the money or time.

          1. If you know any welders, it can be great to show them your welds and ask what you did wrong. Don’t be disappointed when they have a long list. Brake discs are great for practice beads as well.

          2. DO find a local community college or tech ed school that offers welding courses. I know my local school has really great courses and better equipment than you would likely get your hands on as a starting hobbyist. At the very least you may be able to take a look at the equipment and get an idea of what you want in a personal rig.

          3. Enough of what out there? Modified car frame suspensions, or people modifying them? Or are you trying to allude that self taught people who modify their car frames and or suspensions are in for some kind of trouble as a result? If that is the case then it is somewhat presumptuous on your part to pass judgement on such a large, and diverse group. Do you suffer from delusions of omniscience or something? Explain yourself!

      1. Respectfully calling a teachable skill an art is a pet peeve for me. Training alone can teach someone to be able to weld to meet a testable standard, what years of experience brings is increased productivity from being practiced in the tricks of the trade, tricks that can be taught. In the oilfield salvage round pipe is used a lot. One I learned while watching an old hand build something using round pipe. Not only could he free hand cut the basic shape needed to fit the pipe together easily he tip the torch at the right places to bevel the cut, making a joint so tight even Mr. Hyneman & myself could weld it well. While I try the trick whenever using round pipe, but I’ll never build enough stuff in my lifetime for it to become second nature, not a struggle.

        1. So I guess painting is a skill and not an art, since you can teach it.

          I consider an art to be something that you can devote your life to being better at, and in which you can develop your own style. Welding certainly fits the bill just as well as drawing or painting or playing guitar. An artist’s methodology are his or her “skills”, and you dismiss them here as “tricks of the trade”. Lighten up on your pedantry and maybe it won’t be such a pet peeve for you.

        2. Just to throw a bit more oil on the fire, here is my personal definition of art:

          Art is the addition to any thing which is left after all of the functional is subtracted.

          And yes, I realize you are referring to the verb (or perhaps the adjetive) form, and I am referring to the noun, specificly as the output of your definition. And if you quote me, full attribution is appreciated.

          1. It’s OK but not really accurate. Art is that which is created solely for the purpose of invoking an emotional response from percipients. The concept isn’t mine so no attribution is needed if you use it.

          2. Pegging down what art is is about as easy as pegging down what science is. Which is to say, it’s not easy, especially when you have a continuum from pseudoscience to semi-science to soft science to hard science.

            It gets further muddied when you apply it to practical ends. Medicine (legitimate medicine, mind you — the sort of things that quacks like to denounce as “allopathy”) and engineering aren’t pure science, but they are scientific. Likewise, architecture (with a capital A) and design (with a capital D) are artistic, but they’re not art — they’re applied arts.

            And then you have some crossover between applied arts and sciences. To an extent, surgery is both an art and a science, for example.

            Really, it comes down to, “I know it when I see it.”

    1. Yes, it’s necessary. Maybe not a 3D model, but a clear schematic to follow always helps tremendously, and when you’re trying to coordinate a group of people, it’s indispensable.

      In this case, the 3D model was quicker than whipping out a T-square ruler and a drafting pencil. So at that point, why not?

        1. In a drawer under my drafting table, with my rolling ruler, protractor/compass, adjustable right angle ruler, and drafting templates.

          Where on Earth do you keep *yours*?

          1. “Where on Earth do you keep *yours*?”

            Due to the quantity of materials I have now answering that is a bit involved. The bulk of it is in 2 boxes, a drafting box, and a 6 drawer Plano box. But I’ve a few other items such as my drafting machine, and electric erasers that don’t fit, so I store them on some shelves. My 36″ T square is a bit long to put into anything either, so I just hang it up when I am not using it.

            None of my drafting tables have drawers, but I have a desk that has drawers. It has some drafting supplies in them too. You know, the overflow. I’m at the point now where if I acquire something new I have to kick things out so to speak. For instance one of my adjustable triangles lives in a little cubby on the side of my Kennedy metrology machinist’s chest now. It was hard, but it had to go. The lock knobs that stick up on those things make stacking more than one of them frustrating. Well, it got to me after a while. Adding more other triangles to the stack probably didn’t help any either.

            I keep a 45 drafting triangle by my table saws to set the miter gauges on them. But I don’t think it counts as drafting supplies anymore due to my re-purposing it. Although I suppose in a pinch it’d still work as a drafting triangle. It is all old, and yellow (not yellow from age it was made yellow), and scratchy though. I like my triangles clear, and unhazed for drawing.

            I am very particular you must understand.

            If all of your supplies are so accessible as you say, “In a drawer under my drafting table”, then I cannot imagine why you first said, “the 3D model was quicker than whipping out a T-square ruler and a drafting pencil.”

            You don’t use one of those push pencils do you? I never liked those. You know the ones with the really skinny lead that is supposedly the right width, and doesn’t need to be sharpened. I use traditional lead holders and sharpeners myself. These things:


            I’ve a few others, but those are my favorites. The red ones are my very favorites. The red one out of the pencil box is my most favorite. Touch that one and I might be forced to do something desperate to you.

          2. I have one of those small drawers on caster wheels, and my drafting table is a pretty cheap one — not hugely adjustable, and not easy to adjust either. But, if nothing else, it’s roomy underneath.

            I use a really thick graphite holder by Creative Mark that I got off Jerry’s Artarama and some Kohn-I-Noor woodless pencils. Serves me well for doodles and loose sketching. But I do use mechanical pencils for tighter drawings. It beats having to sharpen pencils.

            Now, I want you to imagine something. You’ve got either an always-on desktop computer, or a laptop that never leaves your side. Making a simple model is just a matter of firing up SolidWorks, drawing a few lines in a 3D sketch, adding dimensions and constraints, and adding weldment features.

            It’s quicker to just pick up a pencil, and it’s certainly quicker to draw up some concept sketches, but if you want precision, a good CAD package can’t be beaten by hand drafting. It’s incidentally why I have so much room under my desk. My drafting supplies don’t get a terribly huge amount of use. I mean, drafting by hand has its place. But computers are just too useful these days.

            My drafting supplies are, however, dwarfed by the quantity of my illustration supplies. I have some French curves, Copic Sketch and Copic Wide markers, and a pack each of Prismacolor and Prismacolor Verithin pencils, Mungyo semi-hard pastels, carbon pencils and white chalk pencils by General’s, a roll of designer’s vellum, a stack of bleedproof marker paper and black illustration paper, a little jar each of black and white gouache (the white gouache seeing much more use), some mineral spirits to blend and soften my marker and pencil marks, and a set of short nylon brushes for the gouache, spirits, and pastels.

          3. I’ve looked into Solidworks because I have heard a lot of good things about it. Unfortunately it does not support the OS I run, it is a bit on the expensive side for what I am willing to pay for software too. Actually Solidworks costs about twice as much as I’m willing to spend on an entire PC today. So that takes care of that.

            Now as far as what can, and cannot be beaten, I guess that is left up to the skill of the individual. I can’t even draw a circle inside of a square in a CAD program. I detest the things. I’ve a few tricks for getting things done on paper today though. For instance when I am making a shop sketch, or a template I am not above tracing existing parts right on a piece of paper. You’d have to be very good to beat that with CAD software.

            To make the brackets that are holding my monitors up right now I employed a technique I like to call grave rubbing. Because that is where I learned about it. Although I suppose every kid has put a coin under a piece of paper and rubbed it too.

            I keep my French curves with my drafting tools. I made a wooden chest to store some of my art supplies. It is kind of like a tool box I guess. It has a couple of drawers, and a top part that opens up. Then I have a few palette boxes dedicated to various media. I just got one of those clamp easels not too long ago. I always wanted one. I had making one on my to do list forever, but managed to pick one up cheap. To be honest it is likely nicer than what I was planning on making. It just needed a little fixing up when I got it.

          4. Depending on the project’s complexity, it can take a while to build a model in SolidWorks, since everything you do needs to be fully defined. The advantage, though, is that if you need to revise a model, nearly everything is parametric, so you can go back and edit this dimension or that and the whole model automatically updates itself. It’s an all-around very nice package for what it is, but its more expensive competitors have some killer features on top of what it offers.

            Siemens NX, for example, automatically dimensions your sketches and offers expressions to rapidly change your dimensions (basically instead of putting a number when you set a dimension, you give it a name like a variable, which is then added to a convenient list), and Dassault Creo can make assemblies with flexible and elastic components (say, springs or gaskets). Both Creo and NX also offer conic sections, which SW only recently started supporting (forget doing conic fillets and G3 continuity in SolidWorks with any ease).

            The way those CAD packages work can be a little stifling, though. Sometimes you just want to draft up a part without having to add a million and one little constraints. For that, packages like AutoCAD and Rhino 3D do an excellent job. The latter is actually very fluid and quick to work with and is favored by designers for that reason (with a capital D, not engineers that call themselves designers).

            Price-wise, yeah, SolidWorks is a doozie, but there are alternatives. If you don’t do much isometric drawing, LibreCAD is very competent, and you don’t pay a penny. If you need a solid modeler, FreeCAD does a reasonably good job, though the UI is a bit arcane and half the features aren’t completely there yet, necessitating some Python code on your part.

          5. For me CAD is not worth it for me to get involved with. Sketches suffice for my purposes. I only draw things out so I can get a rough idea of what I need to do in order to work on a project. How much material I need, dimensions of parts etc. The scale of what I make is always fixed by physical factors before I even begin so that feature is useless to me. Scale drawings are not even always a requirement, just so long as dimensions are correct that suffices. Lines being straight, or circles being round are often optional too.

  1. I so want to learn how to weld, but all classes at CC’s around here that I’ve found are part of professional certification programs (i.e., long and expensive) while I just want to learn how to weld.

    1. Look at any art centers for classes. They’ll often have welding classes for beginners.

      But like Jamie said, MIG welding is like using a hot glue gun, it really is easy. Two suggestions for start: slow way down and breathe! Beginners tend to go way too fast and holding your breathe doesn’t help.

        1. You can MIG thin materials in a straight line but weaving a little doesn’t hurt for thicker stuff. I don’t know, the first welding process I learned was oxy-acetylene so that has kind of influenced me with every welding process I’ve done since then. I don’t even fool around with my MIG welder anymore. I got tired of playing with that spool of wire. Now I just stick weld everything. I got tired of playing with tanks of gas too I suppose. So I don’t even use my TIG welder anymore either.

          Welding is about heat control. Most folks don’t really weld. In order to really be welding you have to blow a keyhole completely through the materials you’re welding and run a gap, etc. If you’re really welding point and shoot doesn’t work because you cannot control the heat. But for garden stuff point and shoot does get the job done.

    2. I took a course at the local Vo-Tech. It was a “do what you want” type of course. I had already done stick welding, so I just did MIG. I think it was $150 for a month of 2 nights a week.

      1. At least in California, it’s entirely possible that many students won’t have to pay anything at local community colleges, with fee waivers and such, should they wish to take advantage of such provisions.

    1. The trouble with welding is if you ever want to revisit any of your projects cutting welds apart is tedious. Over time I have moved away from welding onto fasteners. Welding is the king of quick and dirty fabrication, but welding doesn’t lend itself to flexibility or being adjustable so much. I guess it all depends what you’re looking for.

  2. Our local hackerspace in Tucson (xerocraft) holds semi-regular introductory welding workshops, where you get to learn the basics (of MIG). I went to one last week, and now I’m excited to find a project to work on. Probably a full set of shelves would be a bit much, but an auxiliary workbench or router table based off the M5 video would be reasonable.

  3. “The worst part of this whole project is dealing with that expanded metal grating. While it’s wonderful for filling in open areas like the tops and bottoms of this shelf, it’s pretty nasty stuff to handle. Even the “flattened” grades of expanded metal are covered in lots of tiny sharp edges that will cut the shit out of you the second you turn your attention away from it. I have to find out these things the hard way.”

    Uhh so how did you solve this? Ordering large pcs doesn’t remove sharpness.

  4. I think I’d prefer sheet stock for the actual shelf surface. Pretty hard to slide heavy items on expanded metal Also easy to get a finger tip trimmed when trying to adjust an item on the shelf if your finger gets caught in the expanded metal & the stored item as you move it.

  5. Who’d have thought that an article about junk shelves would bring out such a strong force of the nanny police? Get training for God’s sake! You need to devote your life to mastering the art before you even think about welding! FFS it isn’t like people want to do pressurized steam fitting. Is fabricating with structural materials really that all fired difficult?

    If these shelves were made out of wood I imagine the discussion would be all about splinters now.

    1. Didn’t you know? You need to be an experienced carpenter with a contractor’s license, find a good design school program and get at least a BA in furniture design, and apprentice under a master wood carver before you can even think about laying a finger on wood.

      No, but in all seriousness, the critics don’t seem to be that harsh in this article. I think you’re blowing it out of proportion.

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