Sure, there are welding carts that you can buy… some are el-cheapo units and may last a few years (see our Harbor Freight review from 2005) and some are mega-expensive units that are still nothing more than a fancy utility cart that is often a ‘one-size-fits-all’ design that may or may not actually fit, or do what you want it to do. At the end of the day, the mark of a true craftsman is one that builds their own welding cart. It is a rite of passage into the kingdom of metal fabrication.
When we received our Millermatic 211 MIG welder in late 2010, I knew that I needed to dump our aged and rickety el cheapo welding cart and build something to suit our needs. In fact, I didn’t want a welding cart, I wanted a mobile welding station that would do more than hold my welder, a tank and hoses. I needed something super durable, custom and robust enough to deal with all of my fabrication needs, yet be portable enough to easily roll around the shop. I needed to build the world’s best welding cart, but, like you, I also needed to build it on the cheap.
So this is our article to show you how to build your own welding cart and to share some of my ideas with you.
The design I sought after didn’t exist elsewhere, so I started by scouring the ‘net looking for ideas. I found a few here and there, but largely I couldn’t find anything that really rang my bell. So, I sat down and started jotting down my needs in a short list. It looked like this:
Tools and Supplies You will Need
Obviously, you can build your cart in any way you’d like, but if you want to replicate a similar cart to mine, here are the supplies and tools you will need to do this:
Don’t look for any CAD designs here… they don’t exist. Most of the build plans are in my head and came together as I started my build project, but I will share some measurements with you.
As with any project, you will need to start by building the foundation first. In this case, the foundation four my welding cart is the frame/chassis itself, and everything will build off it. We chose a design where the frame would hold the shelves and serve as a set of grab handles and the backbone (vertical support structure) too.
Chassis / Frame Build
I started by chocking up a 8’ piece of 1” round .090″ wall tubing and made a 90 degree at about the 3 ½’ mark, then did this again on the second piece of tubing. These two pieces serve as the vertical supports, handles and shelf holders too. Measurements: Overall length is about 68” long (including radius’)
Next, I chocked up a 10’ piece of 1” round tubing and made two 90 degree bends in it, so that it looked like a large, inverted “U” shape. This would serve as the back bone of the welding cart, would provide further shelf support, hold the gas cylinder tanks and so on. Measurements: Overall length about 110” long (including radius’)
Now it is time to build what I refer to as the chassis of the welding cart – the section that makes up the frame, bottom shelf, axle holder and so forth. I used 1” .065 ERW tubing for this because it is plenty strong, yet thin enough to be cheap and relatively light. This is a basic rectangular frame and took about 15 minutes to whip together. Measurements: 41” X 15.5”
It’s now time to assemble the backbone and vertical frame members to the chassis. I didn’t have a helping hand here, so I found myself using 5 or so squeeze clamps, right angles and so forth. If you can get someone to help, it will save a lot of time. Place heavy tack welds throughout the pieces to secure them to the chassis, ensuring it’s strong enough to be bumped and move around.
Next, I welded on the front casters. I chose super heavy duty, extra-large, soft poly casters that would easily roll over nuts, bolts, and power cords without tripping up the welder.
I then welded on the axle, which was nothing more than a piece of ¾” all-thread slid inside of a piece of cheap conduit tubing that I had laying in the scrap pile. I made the mistake of putting the axle too far forward, and later moved it back so that it was centered underneath the gas cylinder tank (this made the cart much more stable). I then installed a set of soft, large, flat-free wheel barrel tires that I bought from Home Depot and bolted them onto the axle. The chassis and frame of the cart was now completely assembled, so I checked for square and then laid in the permanent welds throughout.
Helmet / Cable Holder
This was one of the easiest pieces to make for the cart. All you will need is about 5 feet of 1” round tubing to make this.
I started by bending a piece of tubing in the tubing bender and making a “U” shape – the total length of the “U” is about 16”. I then took another short piece of 1” tubing and made a 90 degree bend – the total length of the “1/2 U” is about 8”.
Trim the ends of the 90 degree piece of tubing and then weld it 90 degrees to the face of the “U” tubing. Then weld this to a 15” long straight section of tubing so that you end up with what looks like a 3 dimensional trident spear (note: while wielding said trident-looking spear, avoid invoking the powers of Poseidon - Bad things will happen!). When the backbone is complete, weld it on.
You now have a place to hang your welding helmets and to toss a welding cable up on when needed.
Cable / Hose Holders
I toiled over several designs, ranging from wheels cut in half to simple hooks that would be welded to the side of the welding cart, but finally decided on something that was functional, yet looked the part. The two cable / hose holders were the hardest parts of the build project and took the most time (about a full day).
Start by taking two short pieces of 1” round tubing (about 2 feet long) and making 75 degree bends in them. Cut one side of the bent metal shorter than the other (this will give it a racy, aerodynamic look to is, where the bend is “leaning back”).
Weld one of the bends to the top of the welding cart, just behind the 90 degree bend that forms the handle. Then, using two sections of 6” long straight, round tubing, weld them at 90 degree angles, jutting out from the welding cart (perpendicular) and then weld the second bend on top of that.
I then cut out some sections of 22 gauge sheet metal to enclose the sides of the bends and welded them in place. I then cut out a 5” X 12” section of 22 gauge sheet metal and squeezed it between those sides, curved it upward, and then welded it in place. Lastly, grind the welds smooth.
NOTE: For my welding cart, I wanted two of these hose holders, so I made a second one that attached to the middle shelf (I knew that I wanted to make access to open the door on my MIG welder, which is why the second hose holder wasn’t placed on the other side of the top of the cart). I’ve included some pictures of this design as well.
The shelves for the welding cart are a piece of cake to fabricate and put together, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here (plus I forgot to take pictures while working on it).
Using the long sections of 1” square tubing, slide them into place and tack weld. Then using the short sections of 1” square tubing, slide them in front of the long pieces and weld them into pace as well. You now have the outer frame for the shelves.
Place 2 sections of the angle iron inside of the shelve frame, splitting the distance by 1/3rd so that you can spread the load of anything heavy that is placed on the shelf, then weld them into place. Repeat this process for each shelf that you build.
The frame and supports for the shelves on your welding cart are now complete.
Gas Tank Cylinder Holder
I needed a way to securely hold a large gas cylinder tank to my welding cart, yet make it easy to remove when I needed to have my tanks refilled.
1) Two sections of steel is stronger
Lastly, I cut a section of 1/8” thick steel to cover the section above the axle, and cut out a circle in the middle with an inside diameter the same as the outside diameter of the gas cylinder tank. This way, the cylinder will slide inside of the hole and secure it from the bottom as well. I added some bracing underneath it to help secure the weight of the tank.
Skinning the Cart
Skinning your cart is certainly optional, but I like the finished look it gives the whole thing. The process is easy enough, so I won’t go into any real detail here. Using a piece of cardboard (or the metal itself), trace the outline of the shape and then cut to fit. You can then either tack weld the perimeter of the metal (like we did), or punch the metal and weld inside the hole. If you’re feeling really zippy, you can put down a layer of Bondo over the tack welds and smooth it out before painting.
At a minimum, you will need to skin the shelves of your welding cart. We chose 22 guage sheet metal, but you could also use expanded, perforated or diamond plate metal too.
I also skinned the back section of the cart too, also giving it a finished look.
Odds & Ends
Power Cord Management: I made some simple power cord management systems for the cart by using some scrap steel rod, and some scrap 1/16” thick steel too. You can see from the pictures that it was easy to make and is really functional.
Shelf Rails: For the second and third shelves, I added some sections of 1” square tubing to them that sit 1” above the base of the shelf. This will keep things from rolling off of the shelves, yet make dusting them off a piece of cake.
Integrated 230 Volt Power: I bought a 50 foot long section of heavy duty 230V power cord from the hardware store (I got it at a discount because someone returned it), along with a female 230V power receptacle, which I then mounted the receptacle to the back of the welding cart and wired the power cord to it. This way, I could plug in the welding cart, and then plug any of my welders of plasma cutter (or other tools) into it instead.
Integrated Air: Much like the integrated 230 V power, I added a double-male air fitting to the back of the welding cart and connected the inside portion of it directly to my plasma cutter. I can then plug compressed air into my welding cart and it automatically feeds air to my plasma cutter, without tripping over cables and air lines.
Holsters and Clamp Grips: For my hose holders, I added a 3” piece of 1.5” tubing to the welding cart, which act as holsters for my welding guns. This not only keeps the welding gun securely in place, but it also protects the end of it from being bashed. I also welded some 1” X 3” strips of flat stock underneath both of my hose holders so that the grounding clamps could be secured to them and hold them securely in place too.
Collapsible Tubing / Welder Access: This proved to be the most challenging piece to create for my welding cart. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be able to open the door on my welder to change welding wire, without removing the welder itself. Using some springs and some larger tubing, I fabricated a way by which I could squeeze the ends together and then remove the side of the welding cart.
For folks like me who learned to weld with a MIG welder, learning how to …