Working with cargo containers
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  1. #1
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    Working with cargo containers

    So i have this project, see.... http://www.ecobox.me and i'm under some pressure to make it presentable quickly, since it doesn't jive with the pretty brick facades on the buildings. So i get stressed, and paint it white before welding, which makes everyone happy - but now the next phase is to get the windows and doors on. Like a noob, i write into the budget 4 months ago it'll cost about 200 a window to get some frames done, the box cut, and the frames into place.

    I'm at Home Depot looking at quickie saws thinking they might work to cut the corrugated container sides, since everyone has said not to try with an angle grinder, and that plasma's the only way to go, and i'm resisting that advice. A guy who does welding starts talking the talk, and the next thing I know, i've got them on to do one window as an experiment - they've got the gear and will do it for my $200, and from that get the experience they need to give me a good quote on the remaining 6 or so penetrations. I know this is lowball, but couldn't take them up on their quote for 2 days at $95/hr (2 guys) - it would cost as much as the container did in the first place! And I wanted to see their work.

    It was supposed to be a quick couple of hours- but quickly it came across they didn't quite have it together- hand cutting 45 degrees (I'd like to have seen a chopsaw), cutting 90 degrees before cutting the 45's (wasting 2" each time), measuring too tight and filling the gap with flux, etc. and so on.

    FIFTEEN HOURS later (over 3 days) it's done, and I'm glad they're gone, and I've got a frame in a window. The metal (2x2 11 gauge tubular) is bowed in slightly in the center (1/4-1/2") and there's a lot of slag from having to fill in the gaps of sloppy cuts done with the gas saw and a 14" blade and an electric angle grinder. They used a TIG welder but agreed later that they needed a MIG they didn't have. Halfway thru the welder fought with his manager/cutter, and left the job, calling me to say that he didn't want his name attached to whatever was done after he left.

    So, this is a wordy (I must be venting) way of seeking everyone's advice. What I want to do:

    Cut shipping container walls - very straight, and very cleanly.
    Weld frames into place (were 2x2 tubular, but now inclining towards 1x2 angle iron, perhaps a heavier guage than the 11 g we used for the 2x2).
    Seems i could get the frames made at a shop, or we could do them ourselves.

    Here's what I GATHER is the ideal:

    Cut the steel with a chopsaw set at 45 degrees
    Weld the frame together with TIG or MIG (does it matter for a tight fit?)
    Cut the walls with a gas powered-saw with metal blade mounted to some kind of rail or jig, and or set against a piece of wood or metal to act as a guide. I'm thinking i could tack weld a piece of tubular steel to mark the opening edges, and just run the saw back and forth along it to get a good straight line - but the gas saws can get heavy cutting sideways and for long periods- which means sloppy cuts.
    Weld a hopefully nice-fitting frame into a well cut hole with a MIG welder.

    So....

    I still only have $200 per in my budget, but we're a community college and have a big machine shop, heavy equipment program (maybe some portable rigs) , welding program (unfortunately no portable rigs), and i'm connected to various people around town with various toys (but none yet with a MIG). Problem with volunteers is getting that much work well out of folks is hard, and even if it goes well, it'll be hard.

    I was reading these forums and looking at welders myself, and probably going to take a class this semester (we get one free each term) to go with the one I took 15 years ago.

    But I'm looking for feedback and experiences, since clearly these guys had not a clue about working with stuff. The site has access to 110 outlet only.

    Here are some visuals:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/se...7621883918303/

    there are numerous photos of containers- probably more than i've been able to find anywhere else- the sides are about 1/8" steel, and corrugated with a variety of patterns, which vary from roof to wall to end to end of walls.

    So in an ideal world, what would you use/do? (note, my ideal would be to have a robotic welder in a toyota factory just do it all for me, but that's not likely unless we get a very big grant, LOL)

    Open to ideas and thoughts- i'll be checking back here, but my email is divonbriesen@gmail.com

    d.i.

  2. #2
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    I would make a Cutting Jig out of Angle iron to the size of the opening you need for each window frame.

    Drill holes in the Jig and then just use self tapping screws to hold the Window Hole jig in place on the container. You can fill the screw holes with a Mig later.

    You could then cut out the Window opening with a Sawsall. The Window jig will keep you from cutting off course into the Container. With the Jig in place you can also go around the opening with a Hand Grinder to square it off more precisely.
    Ed Conley
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  3. #3
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Build the frames in the shop, hold them up to the container and trace them with a scribe. Torch the hole and use a grinder to sneak up on the scribbed line. Could also use a recip saw to do the cut. If you measure correctly and do a nice job cutting, you could eliminate the on site welding by putting tabs on the window frames and bolting them in. Then caulk around it.

  4. #4
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Sawsall mo' friendly to Volunteers

    I put a vent in our 40' Container using the sawsall- cuts easily.

    Used a 120v Mig machine to weld the Frame in place.
    Ed Conley
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  5. #5
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Broccoli-

    i figured a sawzall would be all over the line- not so? Maybe grind a groove with an angle grinder then sawzall? Just can't figure i'd get the nice straight line I'd want (80" for the french doors).

    I really want to weld all around, because that's what's replacing the strength i've removed by cutting out the wall. 80x72" is the biggest (2 of those for french doors) and those frames will be top and sides, whereas windows are all four sides.

    Needs to look nice - whatever we can do well, we'll duplicate, God-willing, across many more such projects - would like to do for FEMA, homeless, low-cost cabins, etc...

    Just learned i can get a 120v MIG... any problem with capacity there? Would it do 9 gauge to the 1/8" steel OK? I'm assuming you only need the big guns when attaching a big edge to a big edge, but not so sure...

    d.i.

    -------------
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  6. #6
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Could I just use the frame itself as the jig? The holes would end up in the piece i cut out...

    I'm concerned about getting the inner/outer cuts right - since even just 1/4" off seems to have a heavy payment in terms of flux and/or rework. I suppose i could just use one jig and move it with each cut (so as not to have to make a custom jig for each size).

    d.i.

  7. #7
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    I just want to get something straight here. You hired two guys to put in one window, and it cost you fifteen hundred bucks not counting the window it's self?

  8. #8
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Pics would be nice also.

  9. #9
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Fluxcore for sure.

    I don't think you need to go thicker than 11g like you used.


    With the Sawsall you'll need a Jig- the saw will wander but you'll need some type of jig anyway just to Scribe or layout the Window opening.


    For the Vent opening I placed the frame on the Container and then just traced the opening with Sharpie, Cut out the Hole with the Sawsall, welded the frame in and then Caulked the joint.

    Like ya mentioned yer Labor force is really your limiting factor here- probably quite a few of the Volunteers would piss their pants if ya gave them a Torch to cut the hole heck, a 4-1/2" grinder with a Cut off wheel is pretty wicked first time around too.

    As Boostin mentioned, make all of the Window Frames in the shop.

    It just is a Labor intensive task- no way around it.
    Ed Conley
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  10. #10
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    You're probably working with Cor-Ten steel on the container. It's a whole 'nother animal from what I understand. Least that's what I've heard. MIght be wrong

    I used to pull the things, and had occasion to drop some in the repair facilities. The guys there were never really happy about having to work with it. Why, I dunno

    Talk to someone familiar with the type of steel, and the process required.

    Everything I saw back in those days was torch cut.
    "Any day above ground is a good day"

  11. #11
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Quote Originally Posted by Boostinjdm View Post
    Pics would be nice also.
    Click on the Flicker link he posted.

    I think he got them to do One @ 200.00 and if it went good then he would see what their quote would be for each window after that as they wanted 95.00/hr when he first talked to them.
    Last edited by Broccoli1; 08-13-2009 at 07:30 PM.
    Ed Conley
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  12. #12
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Quote Originally Posted by farmersamm View Post
    You're probably working with Cor-Ten steel on the container. It's a whole 'nother animal from what I understand. Least that's what I've heard. MIght be wrong

    I used to pull the things, and had occasion to drop some in the repair facilities. The guys there were never really happy about having to work with it. Why, I dunno

    Talk to someone familiar with the type of steel, and the process required.

    Everything I saw back in those days was torch cut.
    Maybe from having to deal with Rusted out sections- heck I cut mine open with a Ryobi 18v Sawsall
    Ed Conley
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  13. #13
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Boost- no, their original quote was 45$ per hour for 2 guys, and they said it'd take UP TO two 10-hour days. That's 20x90 - almost 2 grand. I said that was about double what I had, and asked them to do one window for $200 so we could all benefit from the learning process (I teach web design, LOL) and from that they could give me a better estimate (than "1 to 2 days"). So at the end of it, he probably lost money, since he had to pay the welders, and the gas for the gen, and the sticks - and spend 15 hours or so.

    But i'm not sure i'd want them all done at $200 each (which I know is a good price) until we get the process cleaned up a bit.

    There are pictures from the link i included above (http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/se...7621883918303/) but here are some more specifics if it's any help:

    Welding frame: http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/

    Scribing on wall: http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/

    Cutting: http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/

    Trying to fit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/

    Cutting to fit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/

    Done: http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7621883918303/

    The had to fill a fair amount of space in - you can click the "all sizes" to get more detailed pictures...and there are several more.

    I really need to get some more cuts in in a hurry - and so far these suggestions are great.

    d.i.

  14. #14
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    LOL- funny that you mention that:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/divb/38...7622007684354/

    I picked this up same day i bought all the windows and doors and some misc. stuff- they gave me a one time 10 percent discount for the project, so i was trying to get anything i might need that i could justify. This way we can actually power some of the work with the batteries charged from the sun.

    However, the boxes are core-ten, which is supposed to be strong, and those i've spoken with who tried to use angle grinders/big grinders said NOT to do it that way... so of course I'm going to try it <dumb look>.

    What about putting a metal blade on a skilsaw? It's got that nice edge i can put against a jig, or heck, against a 2x4 for that matter. Any thoughts?

    I've heard plasma's the way to go, but aside from being a whole 'nuther piece of equip and skills, seems like a saw's gotta give as clean a cut if jigged...

    di.

  15. #15
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Where ya at?

    I think I would use a sawsall. It really won't take as long as you might think. Just stay within about a 1/16 to an 1/8" from the line and touch up with a grinder would be a cinch. As far as the welding goes, if you do a good job fitting, you could call somebody up with a proper rig and they could weld everything to the container in one go. Like I said, IF you do a good job with the fit.

  16. #16
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    I have the same kit- almost 8 years now but I did upgrade to the Li batteries- world of difference in Power/performance.

    Anyhoo- You can get a straighter cut than those guys did- or should be able to

    I think they were fighting the weight of that Circular saw they were using and @ 200.00 they probably gave a rats arse after the first cut

    If you decide to go with the Sawsall just get the 5" blades- you don't want anything long flappin' around when cutting.

    Also get 14TPI blades.
    Ed Conley
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  17. #17
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Hey Ed

    It got me curious because I've never dealt with it other than when I used to drive.

    Checked around a bit on the interweb, and apparently it's a 50k yield steel that is not too susceptible to weathering. Apparently it welds as good as mild steel, the only concern being matching the corrosion resistance/or speed of corrosion of the filler with the parent metal. And that may only apply to thicker weldments I guess from what I read. AND THAT'S IF I GOT WHAT I READ IN ANY KIND OF RIGHT SORTA WAY

    Gotta be someone that works on these things on here
    "Any day above ground is a good day"

  18. #18
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    The problem with a skill saw will be getting a good blade that will cut well on that, not to mention setting up a good track guide. If I had to do a ton of these I might invest in a Milwaukee saw designed specifically to cut steel and set up a custom track setup like Festool has for their trim saws. ( I'd possibly call Festool, and see if their saw will work on their track, but I think the saws got to much plastic to work.)

    I would have made a cheap angle iron guide and set scaffolding and done it with the gas saw. If I planned to do a bunch I would spend the money on a diamond blade designed to cut pipe and such rather than the abrasive blades. You'll save money in the long run. Tack the guide right to the walls with the mig and run the side of the blade against the edge of the angle iron. I would cut inside the guide to start and see if I can get it to work that way. If you cut on the outside, you will need to undersize the guide by about the thickness of the saw kerfs. I would try 1 kerf width smaller to start. that would give you a small gap to fill if you split the difference, but keep you from needing to do a ton of grinding.

    Cutting on the inside you run the chance to opening is too small, outside that you will have a gap to fill. I'd also cut the window frames AFTER I cut the opening, as I can adjust that easier than the opening. At least until I cut a few openings and got an idea how close I can keep the openings to the size I wanted. Again If I had to do a bunch, I'd set the band saw up for 45 deg or if I did them in the field, look into a cold saw with the diamond blade to give me more accurate cuts than the abrasive chop saw. Again it's about quantity. one or two, I'd make do with what I have, If I had to do a ton production style, the better saw would quickly pay for itself in time saved.

    Now granted, I have hundreds of hours running a gas saw like that, both on flat surfaces, and vertical walls, so to me that saw is easy. The important thing is to hold the saw where it is comfortable to you. If you hold it out at arms length over your head, that is going to be tough. Hold the same saw, in near your chest at waist height and its a lot easier. Thats why I would set bakers scaffolding and work off that. Set it low and cut the bottom and down as far as you can on the sides,raise it and cut the top and finish the sides.

    I would have said less than one day to do that. Possibly by myself, depending on what that frame weighed. I might need a laborer to help set the jig and frames. If I had several to do, I'd set and cut all my openings and then set and weld the frames, to keep things simple.

    Where are you located by the way?
    .



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  19. #19
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    No clamps nor jig while welding that frame?? Then of course what you cut the opening with doesn't really matter if you can't cut straight. They could have cut it out with a backhoe and got it straighter than that.

    Cutting straight is as much a talent issue as it is a tool issue. Several tools will cut that siding. None are any good if the guy using them can't follow a line.

  20. #20
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    What's the final use and purpose of these containers?

    It's fairly easy to cut straight, with either a metal cutting circular saw, or a sawzall.

    My question, why bother?

    Cut the hole, insert the angle iron frame, having the outside lip of the angle overlap the hole.

    Drill and bolt it in, or use small tacks, all around.

    Fill everything else with some kind of silicone, or caulking.

    Probably more watertight, than the one just done by those clowns you had out there already.

  21. #21
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    I've worked some "container construction." Although the containers were for industrial use, and not residential quality.
    But... with a sleeping bag, sandwich, and a jug'a water, they probably would do.

    I'm wondering about the window type, and the container's insulation, inside finish panel, HVAC system, and climate, before recommending detailed window fit-up. Regardless, I would probably try to design pre-fab windows, which would be shop-built, and then field installed without any further welding.

    Exclusion of elements has to be carefully engineered into any opening's design. You probably want a top "L" or "J" drain, which is wider than the opening. Opening dimensions also must be well-planned to be compatible with the panel's profile, so that ends land on flats, where they can be tightly secured and sealed.

    How would I cut the openings?
    Attachment 37495
    Oxy-fuel (as above) for field work, plasma for shop work.
    By the way, critters love to hang-out under containers.

    Sawzall, if employing labor with limited metal working skills.
    A guided metal-cutting circular saw would probably be a good choice too.

    If Alfred knew this job had to be "internet quality" he might'a used a torch guide and grinder.
    Attachment 37497
    Anyway, Alfred wants to know if there might be an opening for a container consultant?
    Says he doesn't need a lot of money, but he's wondering about maybe a room in the actual dorm.

    Last edited by denrep; 08-24-2009 at 09:42 AM.

  22. #22
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Quote Originally Posted by divonbriesen View Post

    Cut shipping container walls - very straight, and very cleanly.

    But I'm looking for feedback and experiences, since clearly these guys had not a clue about working with stuff. The site has access to 110 outlet only.

    I'd make a wooden (1/2" plywood) template that matches the siding on the container,
    like this:




    Using this template, you would be able to get a straight, level horizontal line for both the top and bottom of the window opening. After you have the top and bottom lines, you can plumb the verticals.

    If you use the template on the outer wall, the window will be "outset", if you use the template on the inner wall, the window will be "inset".

    CorTen steel is just steel, for the purpose of this project. Don't sweat the chemical make-up. Any saw that will cut mild steel will cut CorTen. Myself, I'd be using a plasma cutter.

    Once the hole is cut, trim the opening to the lines using a grinder, or whatever.

    Now, use the template to lay out, on steel of a thickness equivalent to the siding, upper and lower fillers that when welded in place will give you an opening in one plane. The plane can be flush with the siding, or extend out from the siding, but you have eliminated the convolutions of the siding.

    Do the door using a longer template.

    EDIT: for some reason, my template changes when I click "submit". WTF??


    Rex
    Last edited by rode2rouen; 08-13-2009 at 10:24 PM. Reason: my 'pooter drawing weirds out when I post

  23. #23
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    I work on sea-lands all the time, I mostly use a plasma cutter for making holes in them. A decking saw works well too. I work for a company that builds M.O.U.T.'s. I know lots about working with containers. I draw the lines on the wall with a sharpie, and free hand cut them with the plasma cutter. I cut window and doors into 4-5 containers a day this way.




  24. #24
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    Quote Originally Posted by divonbriesen View Post
    What about putting a metal blade on a skilsaw? It's got that nice edge i can put against a jig, or heck, against a 2x4 for that matter. Any thoughts?

    I've heard plasma's the way to go, but aside from being a whole 'nuther piece of equip and skills, seems like a saw's gotta give as clean a cut if jigged...

    di.
    It seems obvious that you have never done any house framing, am I correct? Your door and window openings are called rough openings. The opening is roughly the size you will eventually end up with. Once you hang your doors, or set your windows, trim covers all the imperfections. Cut the openings with a torch from your industrial science dept and trim out the rest. No one will ever be the wiser.

  25. #25
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    Re: Working with cargo containers

    I thought this program over a little; to me, it seems like the windows are really a minor non-issue. I'm afraid that there's a much more serious underlying problem to adress... the cost.

    At $20,000 for less than 300 sq ft of living space, it's just not going to cut it in the US housing market. There are just too many more practical alternatives.

    If cost is no object, and mobility is the goal, that may be another story.
    Especially if Uncle Sam is buying. (FEMA trailers??)

    But by the time Unc. specs a crib, it probably couldn't be built for 40K .

    Good Luck
    Last edited by denrep; 08-16-2009 at 08:54 AM.

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