Shipping Container Door Frames

After our house guest left, I got busy with a slew of projects that could be lumped under the heading, Finishing My Shop. There are still a couple tasks remaining so I’ll wait a bit longer to post a final update on the shop. But for now, final completion of the shop waits for me to make a run to the city for materials.

I’ve been anxious to get back to installing the windows, but with the dry season rapidly passing, I felt the need to prepare a few areas inside the containers for concrete floors. It is no fun to mix concrete while rain is dripping off your nose. I chose to make some interior door frames.

At the pace of about a door frame a day, here’s how I went about it.

Using the big angle grinder with a metal cut off disk, I had months ago cut two of the three door openings in the side of container three. For the third opening, I decided to fire up my new oxy-acetylene torch for the first time. I’ve never used a torch before, so over the course of a few evenings I studied online the proper and safe way to light and shut down the torch. I made an instructional one-page Word document (actually, I use OpenOffice, free Microsoft-like software) and had the page laminated for future reference. Here’s an OpenOffice screenshot. Pretty much the only difference is the few hundred dollars I didn’t have to spend.

I marked the door opening with a felt-tipped marker. I fired the torch and proceeded to make my first cut. I had to adjust and readjust the flame to get the flame size and gas mixture just right as I really didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t foreseen, but of course the flame burned off the paint, taking the marked line with it. So I made a first pass burning off the paint, let the metal cool, wire brushed the metal and the adjoining paint, and remarked the line. Then I cut the metal. There was a learning curve, but by the time I finished the cutout I pretty much had the process sorted out as to how fast to move the torch and how to get a fairly straight line as I progressed. When I was done cutting with the torch, I buzzed a few rough places with the angle grinder, then put a flap-sander on the grinder and feathered the paint edges.

Next, I needed to make the door frames. Because I used 2″x2″x1/16″ square steel tubing to make the window frames, the same 2×2 made sense for the door frames. I measured the openings and cut the tubing on the metal chop saw.

I took the cut tubing into container three and used the floor as an assembly area. I squared the corners of the legs and the header and clamped a cross brace to keep everything square while I welded. Like this adjustment in progress:

After I finished welding the corners, I tack welded a piece of rebar at the bottom of the legs to keep the door opening even top to bottom during installation.

After welding, I placed the frame in the opening:

I plumbed and leveled the frame then tack welded it into place. I ground the tack welds smooth like this:

Next, there were the gaps to fill between the container wall and the door frame. At the Discovery Center (closest thing to DepotLowes that we have here) in Panama City I found some black urethane windshield adhesive. This is the thickest, stickiest, nastiest, gooey-est substance on the face of the earth. The tubes I got have a 2010 date printed on them. Date made? Expiration date? Who knows. But at $4.95 a tube I considered it a bargain. I’m glad that the manufacturer put a space between the PU and the STAR, other wise it could be read, PUS TAR. Although distasteful, it is not a bad description of this goo.

This goo tools nicely with your finger, but getting it out of the caulking tube is an extreme effort. So I bought a pneumatic caulking gun and connected it to my compressor:

The gun works like a charm, spewing out the adhesive at a good speed. It took about 15 seconds to spread the adhesive on one leg of the frame, verses minutes and a sore hand to do it manually. But I wonder if the system that Campbell Hausfeld’s crack design team created was ever field tested by real users. The trigger is tiny and placed way high on the handle. Perfect, say, for a four-year-old’s tiny fingers. Form follows function, please.

After gunning the adhesive, I ran a wet (spit) finger down the length of the frame, smoothing the goo in one swipe. I think it turned out well. In the next photo, container siding is on the left, the adhesive is the black stripe, and the shiny metal is the door frame:

I’m happy with the project. Here are the three frames completed and prime painted:

While I’ve been busy with the frames, Armando and Sammy have been working barefooted in hard pan clay for nearly a week. Here’s a teaser photo, more on this dasterdly project in a future post:

That’s all for now. More soon. Thanks for stopping by.

16 thoughts on “Shipping Container Door Frames

  1. I use 3M 5200 marine adhesive sealant on all my similar sealing jobs. Windshield adhesive is excellent stuff and suoerior BY FAR to conventional caulk but the 5200 is even tougher.

    If you ask for “window weld” or similar at auto parts stores they’ll know what you mean when doing the windshield adhesive.

    Conventional silicone, even high grade, doesn’t seal nearly as well. Wear disposable gloves for this job!

    • Great advice, thank you. Lately, I’ve been using Sika Urethane caulk as it is now readily available here in Panama. The source for the windshield adhesive dried up. As to silicone — it seems to me that water always gets under it, and then you can’t put new over old very well without completely cleaning the area of any old silicone. And yes, I second your advice to wear gloves! By the way, I just discovered 3M VHB (Very High Bond) tape and am looking for a place to use it. If it is good enough to glue aircraft exterior panels together it is good enough for me! Thanks for your comment. Fred

      • Estoy en un proyecto de casa container también… He trabajado con los tres productos que nombran, el 5200 de 3M, uretano (para parabrisas) y con silicon normal, ahora bien, de todas les recomiendo 100% el uretano, y para conservarlo varios días y hasta semana, solo tienes que tapar con cinta adhesiva la punta (dejando que sobre salga unos 5 mm de uretano) y guárdalo en la nevera, te explico porque los otros dos no te los recomiendo: el silicon esta fabricado a base de amoniaco y eso oxida el hierro, y el 5200 al curarse se expande o hincha, el uretano es el mejor, eso si, debes usar guantes de neopreno que son reusables y aguanta mas, no es por que sea toxico, sino porque el uretano es algo difícil de limpiar, el mejor solvente para el es el alcohol.
        Espero te sirva y sea de utilidad.

  2. Hello Fred, I’m David from Antioch Tn. I’m going to retire, in about six or seven years God willing. I bought some land in Ky. I’m putting six 40 foot
    shipping containers-three on three, so I’m online watching your item’s showing me how to, Witch is fantastic thanks. If I can e-mail you from time to time to pick your brain, let me know please. My quest is , to make and install the windows frames, 1# what kind of welder, Did you use Gas for cutting? does the window frame fit in the middle or back , front , The reason that I ask is, the pictures are hard to see, the container is wavy , Just asking, I would like to thank you for your post anyway, Thanks David Klein Antioch Tn.

    • Hi David,

      Sounds like you have a significant project ahead of you! For cutting, I found that a 7″ angle disk grinder (eats disks like crazy!) and a sawsall worked best. I tried cutting with a gas torch but too much burned paint. A plasma torch could be good, but mine kept breaking from this harsh tropical climate that is not kind to electronics. For welding, I use the Lincoln “Tombstone” style. You don’t need a lot of amperage or you will burn holes in the container siding. As to placement of the 2″x2″x1/16″ steel tubing frames, I welded them together (45s at the corners) then placed them in the openings that I cut. The wavy-ness of the siding is just under two-inches, so the window/door frames sit just nice centered on the wavey-ness. Thanks for your comment and feel free to leave another comment if you have questions. Have fun with your project! Fred

  3. Nice write up. I’ll be following along, as I an starting construction on my container soon. I have a little bit of an advantage because I was a welder for 10+ years and still do some side work.

  4. Hi Fred,

    Really informative article and thanks for the tips.
    I was wondering what make you choose the 2” by 2” 1/16 steel tubes for your windows and doors, please?
    I have been trying to find recommendation for structural strengthening larger cutouts, but have not found any yet.
    What thickness would you recommend for a large sliding door? 5/32 of the 2×2
    Would you seam weld it? Tack welding does not seem to be robust enough for a large opening.
    What welding wire did you use?

    Thanks in advance

  5. Not much experience in metal work, let alone welding, but my fiancee and I have started our journey building our container home here in Oklahoma. We are using two 40 ft separated by an 8 foot gap, then offset 10 ft horizontally from one another. The end result is a 30 foot mid section with 10 foot of container hanging off on both ends. (Similar design to Container of Hope and Savannah, Georgia Studio container)
    My question is how big of square tubing would I need for a 20 foot cut out in between each container to make one large open floor plan? I was thinking 3x3x11g square steel, and 2x2x14g for windows and door cutouts. Would this be an efficient amount to compensate for the 20 ft cutouts?

    • Hi Tommy,

      Sorry for the delay. With no new posts, I have been remiss in checking my blog for a while. Sorry, but I am no engineer and can’t say what your project needs. As to my project, for small windows and doors, I used 1/16th-inch tubine (2″x2″). For my columns, I used 2″x2″x 1/8″ tubing. Once you cut the wall out, the roof becomes a wet noodle and you must have good support. Good luck with your project!

  6. Thanks for showing me/us your door frame installation but you still have more things to be done hope soon we can have a look on the final details…
    im more concern on doors/windows details for water tiredness
    Regards Patrick

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