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WORKSHOP RENOVATIONS - PART 5 - SOMETIMES YOU JUST NEED A LIFT

OK, I’d like to state the glaringly obvious right off the top. A small, bike-building, light fabrication, hobby workshop does not need a two-ton bridge crane. I will point out, however, that in a similar way, you don’t need power windows in your car, special Starbucks coffee or a zipper on the front of your pants. These are all things you could easily do without and would get along just fine if they didn’t exist. But, after using them for a while and also because we are an incredibly entitled generation, we get to think of these things as “necessities.”


So, because I've had one in the past, it somehow seemed “necessary” that the shop should have some sort of crane or other hoisting device.


It's quite obvious what the advantages are, especially if you have ever needed to lift anything over 80-100 lbs. We've all experienced that. I knew once it was installed I would find a myriad of uses for it.


My preference was to install a small bridge crane. That may seem like crazy talk – especially for a small shop - but just hear me out.


A bridge crane is overhead, mounted on vertical structural steel at the perimeters of the shop and almost entirely out of the way. My other choices were a gantry crane (two A-frames connected by a hoisting beam and running on tracks in the floor), or a pedestal crane (single mounting point in the floor and a cantilevered hoisting beam). Both the gantry and pedestal style would have occupied valuable floor space and would not have been nearly as versatile.


A bridge-style crane was the obvious choice.


I had several limitations to work with. The main one was overhead clearance. Obviously it needed to be out of the way as much as possible and that meant getting it as high as possible. That presented a challenge because the shop has a sloped ceiling. The outside edges are 10’ high and the centre is 15’. That would limit carriage travel in one horizontal axis. It could only go so far and then would run into the downslope of the ceiling at both the north and south walls of the shop. My only other choice was to install the whole thing at a lower elevation to get more north/south travel and I was unwilling to do that. I wanted to maintain a clearance of at least seven feet under the hook.


I did the math and came up with a reasonable compromise. I am not a structural engineer but I have many years' experience in both concrete and steel design. The finished bridge crane could run 10’ in the north/south axis, 22’ in the east/west axis and 8' in the vertical axis and have a 4000 lbs lifting capacity.


Yes, I know it's overkill.


Next up was sourcing the material. I scrounged through the boneyard at work and came up with some suitable and gently used components. The price was right ($0.00 – thanks Matt!). The four supporting uprights are square HSS 4”x4"x1/2” by 10’ long. I welded base plates to the bottom end and beam connection plates to the top end.

Next were the horizontal carriage support beams that bolted between the two uprights on either wall of the shop. They are W10x45 and to the top centre of these, I welded a 1”x1"1/4” angle. These act as a guide for the crane carriage running north/south.


The two crane carriages, or trucks, that would carry the main hoist beam, one for each side, were built from scratch. These were not complicated and are simply components I purchased and assembled. The wheels are cast steel V groove and 5” in diameter. I threw away the cheap bearings that came with them and mounted a good quality ball bearing on either side of each wheel, bolted them to a 5” channel and mounted them with a 1 1/8” solid cold-rolled shaft running through the centre.

The wheels have the ability to ‘float’ slightly from side to side in case of beam misalignment when travelling end to end.


The next item was the main hoist beam. This one I purchased new, mainly because I wanted it sized correctly with the right load capacity. I chose a W12x53 by 22’ long. This is sufficient to span the entire shop and can support the 4000 lbs load capacity with the appropriate factor of safety.


All the components had to be fabricated and then “dry fitted” in place to make sure everything fit nicely and worked properly. This consumed a few days of erecting the steel and then taking it down again. I used a material lifter from the local rental shop for putting it into place. (SEE! – I need a crane already!)

OK, at this point you probably have read more than you ever wanted to know about crane installation but bear with me – the end product is coming.


I took everything down to my local sandblaster to get it cleaned. Because the components will always be inside, I got him to do an industrial brush blast. This wasn’t a bright clean sandblast but saved a few bucks and it still cleaned it up very nicely.


I painted all the pieces myself in the shop. It took a few days with drying time, so while I was waiting I took the opportunity to do a little more organizing. There is a 12’x8’ storage space at the back of the shop so I made up a metal storage rack to fit into that area. The brackets are all bolted to the wall and it works well. I’m quite happy with the result and it makes good use of that area.

Once the paint was dry I was ready to erect the entire structure.


Everything had to be installed absolutely level, plumb and parallel for it to work correctly. The vertical 2-ton hoist would be electric for the up/down function, but moving the crane in the north/south and east/west directions would simply happen by pulling by hand. I wanted it to be easy. No sense installing a convenience that is inconvenient.


The concrete floor was quite uneven for the installation of the vertical columns. I found the highest mounting point elevation with a transit level and then shimmed all the columns to that elevation. Then I grouted around the bases to tidy it all up.

Everything else went together quite nicely. It was a one-man job with the help of a stepladder and the rental material lifter. My wife, bless her heart, periodically checked in to make sure there was no blood running out into the driveway.


The test run and first “pick” was to load the material lifter into the back of the half-ton.

Then came the real test.

Now, I realize that nobody needs to lift the back of their half-ton 4’ into the air. What is important to me is that the ability is there in case I need it. The end result is as desired.


Now that it’s in place, I use it often. I can back the truck into the shop, pick a load out of the box and place it onto the workbench or vice/versa. I can pull the engine out of the racing sidecar and easily replace it. No more struggling to wrestle that 136 lb lump into place while trying to jam a bolt into a mounting bracket I can’t see. It can be precisely lowered in with no effort. It's convenient and I have no regrets about the time and money spent on this upgrade.


Costs: Structural steel: (some was free) $1500.00 Electric hoist – I didn’t count it as I’ve owned it for 30 years Sandblasting: $350.00 Paint: $400.00 Material lifter rental: 2 days x $100 - $200.00


All the structural components and window/door trim are finished up in Aspen Fuels/Razorback Racing green and looks pretty decent (see pictures below).


The next phase of renovation involves some concrete demolition. The plan will be to install some floor drains and a hydraulic bike lift.


It may have to wait a bit – the lawn needs dethatching.


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