Cubicle life · Welding

Brought to you by the letters L, j, e, b, and d

One of the first things I wanted to do once I learned to weld was to experiment with creating can letters…the hollow theater signage-style type that typically goes outside of a building or shop. You can buy the machine-made individual letters almost anywhere now, from Hobby Lobby and Target to Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn, but there’s just something about being able to create them yourself.

My coworkers have been asking me to create something for them ever since I started regaling them with tales of how awesome welding is, so I thought I would try doing custom initials for their offices in brushed steel. Store-bought, these would be about $15-$20 a piece at this size, but without factoring in time or the cost of the welder, the 20-guage steel I would be using would be less than that for all the letters together.

I began by cutting the fronts of the letter shapes out of the steel with the class plasma cutter. Straight lines can be held by using a straight edge next to the cutter, but the rounded shapes are crude at best. I obviously need more practice:

The hardest part was doing the small circles used to create the periods.

Then, having already cut a collection of 1.5″ strips of steel, I began tack welding the wall of the letters to the front plate, bending around the curves of the round shapes and bending at the corners:


The periods presented a challenge, in that perfect circles are tough to achieve with a hand-held plasma cutter. In the end, I used 1.5″ sections of 2-inch pipe for the periods, and then just capped them with the same 20-guage steel I used for the rest of the piece. Besides the benefit of retaining my sanity – which was in question while trying to carve out the circles manually – the added weight of the period helps balance the otherwise top-heavy letters.

After making sure they stand up okay and fit well, I  proceeded to attach the periods to help keep them upright and then filled in the welds long the inside of the letters when possible. I was leaving the back open so the coworkers could see what they look on the inside, kind of a look behind the curtain, if you will, so it was okay if they looked a little rough.

Finishing the fronts off with a course grinder wheel to give them some texture, I then applied a high-gloss clear coat to keep them from rusting and giving my coworkers rust-induced lockjaw.

The finished pieces are a nice addition to their desks, if I do say so myself.