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Designing steel frames and weldments

Q. I need to weld a plate in a "T" shape, one piece is 6"x8" the other is 6"x6" this plate is welded to the 6x8 piece. I need to know how thick the material should be whether it is stainless steel or mild steel or hardened steel to have a yield strength of 55,000 psi. Also could you give me a formula to use to figure it out? Thank you.

The 6x8 would be mounted to a surface with 2 anchors the 6x6 is mounted on center with a 2" hole on center, the force would be up and out.

Thanks again.

John G [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Ramsey, Minnesota, USA

A. Hi John,

As Bob Dylan tells us, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. You don't need a physician to deal with a small splinter or a cold. And so it can sometimes be with designing: almost everyone has slapped together a few pieces of lumber with screws or nails to make a dog house or a brace for a sagging pipe or a storage stand for their firewood; it doesn't take an engineer.

But when you are talking about steel plate thicknesses, weldment integrity, and loads of 55,000 pounds, it sounds like you are solidly into an area where the design should be done by an engineer. One of the reasons is that an untrained eye may not even see an unexpected point of failure.

Your terminology isn't right; 'psi' is a measure of the stress on, or strength of, a material per unit area. Are you trying to say that the load on this weldment is 55,000 lbs. tension? Engineers ALWAYS apply a 'factor of safety' as well, they never design to the yield strength of a material. The weldment may fail at the welds rather than within one of the plates anyway, and designing tension welds is a very tricky business indeed. In fact, it is prohibited to design many structures (like cranes) with welds in tension. There are other factors to consider like L/r ratio as well. Please call in a local engineer: it is illegal to practice engineering without a license; and for an engineer to try to do it by 'remote control' over the internet, with a poor understanding of the situation, would be just as bad and probably just as illegal :-)

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I'm designing a rectangle frame made from 1/4" x 2" angle iron. The dimension of the frame is 34" w x 30" l and the angle iron joints meet at a 45 deg angle and they have a 1/4 weld joint on each side. I have 4 - 1" x .045" square tubing that will set inside the frame and will be welded to the frame equally spaced out. A 3/4" piece of plywood sits on top that acts as a base. How much weight can this hold?


Harry S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Spring, Texas, US of A

A. I realize that skilled mechanics sometimes just piece together non-critical weldments based on their experience and judgement, Harry, and I'd be wasting my breath trying to condemn something that is so widely practiced. But you can't proceed to engineer a load-carrying device via internet advice. It's no different than asking for internet advice on how long to make the incision for an appendectomy. An engineer or architect spends 2 years in engineering school just in "analyzing the forces" before he can take his first introductory course in structures or design of machine elements. Even in a simple device there are many potential modes of mechanical failure, just as there are many ways the patient can get sicker or die during or because of surgery :-)

As one quick example, those four square tubes can probably support a lot of weight as long as it's purely vertical (normal); but with a wall thickness of only .045" they may not have much resistance to "racking" ("pancaking", "accordion-ing") from a side load. And once they've pancaked, now the thickness of your beams is .090" rather than 1.0". Suppose the purpose of your frame is to support one wheel of a heavy truck, and you calculate that it's strong enough... but then as the truck rolls onto your frame the driver jams on the brakes and "racks" those tubes?

The first thing that mechanics and welders should probably ask themselves is: "What is the very worst thing that can happen if this thing fails?". If the consequence could be serious, STOP until an engineer can review it. If you are sure that the consequences of failure are insignificant, enjoy!

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. Seeking a stainless alloy for use as a stud in the aluminum cylinder head of motorcycle engine that is as near in expansion as aluminum, capable of withstanding 25-30 lb/ft of torque in 3/8 diameter and 20-25 in a 5/16 version. Studs will be 4" and 8" for both.

Happy New Year


Marino Perna
- St. Pete, Florida USA
December 28, 2012

A. Hi Marino. Type 304 stainless steel is readily available and has a fairly high linear coefficient of thermal expansion (higher than plain steel and most stainless steels), although not as high as aluminum.

But getting affordable stainless steel studs that are as strong as hardened steel studs will be a problem. If cost is no object, Ken Vlach discusses high strength stainless steel fasteners in letter 38035 "Galvanic corrosion of alloy steel fasteners in stainless" -- but cutting threads in exotic stainless steels may be difficult (they would probably have to be ground). May I ask why you want to use stainless steel rather than hardened steel? Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
December 29, 2012

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