Cutting Metal, Making A Wall

I’ve been working on cutting the rest of the long wall out of container number 4. I had already cut out half of it and used that metal to form the high wall for the new roof to sit on. To cut the metal, I’ve chosen to use a nine-inch angle grinder with a thin cut off blade. I have a plasma torch which I think might be a better tool for the job, but it is broken and I am having difficulty getting it serviced here in Panama. The only other option is an oxy-acetylene torch, which I don’t own. The angle grinder/cut off disk makes a very clean cut, perfect for welding other metal to it.

It is often low-tech that saves the day here. Anything electronic is at the mercy of a fluctuating, erratic Panamanian power supply. If that doesn’t do you in, something else will. A year ago my computer died. Actually, a gecko died on the motherboard and shorted the works. Anyway, angle grinder it is, and this job is not for sissies. It takes a great deal of gymnastics and concentration to control the machine as kickbacks happen easily.

Cutting along the floor line is very easy as I could just slide the blade guard along the floor for a perfect cut. The cut at the roof line wasn’t too bad either, as there is a 2″x2″ beam to ride the blade along. I found it easiest to make this cut from the outside of the container so my head wasn’t hitting the inside of the container roof, and I wasn’t eating a flood of sparks. But it was cut six inches, move the ladder, re-tie the ladder with a rope, cut six inches, move the ladder, each time carrying the grinder up and down the ladder. The most difficult cuts seemed to be the vertical cuts. Sparks made the line difficult to see, there is nothing to ride along, and there was the constant threat of a kickback. I write all this for those of you who are thinking of tackling a container project. This was a difficult task and it ate lots of cutoff disks. I dragged myself home for a much needed shower and a siesta.

Now I’ll back track just a bit. I have read on other sites about how containers lose their stability when you cut a wall out. This is very true. I had already welded in the new wall above the wall I was going to cut out, so the roof remained stable. But when I cut the floor line, the floor became bouncy like a trampoline. To counteract this, I welded a piece of 5/8″ rebar vertically at the center of the cut out wall, thereby hanging the floor from the reinforced roof if you follow. This rebar will ultimately be buried in the wall that divides my shop from the bedroom. I will most likely put a footing and a column at this point below the floor.

As I got toward the end of cutting the panel from the container, I started thinking about how the panel was going to act when it was finally cut free. The section I had nearly cut free was 12-feet wide. The stuff is very heavy and flops like a fish being landed in a boat or like Jello being nailed to a tree. And the edges are sharp enough to sever body parts. Again, I was working alone. Analyzing the situation, I decided to use a rope and force the free part of the panel to curve. (Like if you take a flat piece of paper and bend it into a circle and tape it, it will stand on its own.) This seemed to work well, but I planned my escape routes just in case. When I made the final cut, the panel moved about a quarter inch then just stood still. I could then wrangle the rope, opening the curve slowly and guide the panel to fall in a controlled manner. It made quite a crash-bang when it finally hit the floor of the container.

The piece that I have just cut out will become a wall section in my workshop — the 12-foot open space between containers 3 and 4. While the panel was laying flat, I welded a piece of 2×2 square tubing to what will be the top of the new wall. It was much easier to weld it there on the container floor than up in the air. Also, this tubing stiffened the wall, which is sure to make installation easier.

After welding the 12-foot stretch, I ground the welds clean and applied a coat of anti-rust paint. I’ll give the paint a day or two to dry, then Armando and I will figure out how to move this heavy piece and weld it into place.

Two days later: Armando and I set some metal 2x4s on the ground as a track to slide the wall section on. We slid the wall out of the container and onto the tracks. It moved quite easily. When we got it to the other end of the container, we lifted one end up onto the floor of the open container (#4). Next we lifted the other end and set it on the top of the concrete column (at #3). We needed to get the slab of steel vertical. We used a clamp, rope, and pulleys to lift the top of the section up, but the pulleys just didn’t have the mechanical advantage to get the job done. Also, we decided that more manpower was in order. So we asked two local guys, Samuel and Ramiro, and I also got the tow straps and the come-along from the trunk of the car.

I slung the tow straps under the panel and over an overhead beam, hooked up the come-along, and clicked it up into place. Armando and I probably could have done it alone once we had the mechanical advantage, but the other guys had fun too. Once vertical, we tickled and prodded it a tiny bit and it fit right into position. I locked it into place with a couple clamps then welded it so it wouldn’t run away. This advancement in the project was a big psychological boost and we all shared a high-five. I place a very high priority on not having accidents, and I made sure to compliment the guys on emerging from the experiment safe and sound; no toes were guillotined in the wall lifting process.

Next, I’m going to complete the welds on the high wall above container 4, then move to number 3 and do the same high wall act. Then it is cut the appropriate holes in number 3 and get ready for the concrete floor. Whew.

Here are some photos:

Here's the 12-foot section tied in a curve and cut free.

Mr. Wobblie safely flat on the floor. The entire wall is removed from the container, but it is being supported by the wall above the container roof.

Here's the wall section with the 2"x2" welded in place and prime coated. I can't wait to set this wall in place at the far end of the container.

Here's the space between the containers at the start of the day.

Now with the wall section in place. This 12-foot section of wall basically cost me a little labor, some cutting disks, and some welding rod. The brown stain is just dirt from welding; it will wash right off. At this point, the roofline looks a bit anemic. This will all change when the carport is built out toward where I am standing.

Looking at the new wall from the inside. I'll weld a steel 2"x6" carriola at the bottom of the new wall so that all the lines outside line up. This new wall helps close in my workshop.

Here is a detail for future container house builders: Looking from the inside, this is a detail of where the new wall meets the container corner. The blackened area is the new weld. The red arrow area is the heavy metal structural corner. It is at least 1/4" thick. The green arrow area is the wall panel. It is about 1/16" thick. I chose to make the corner at the same location where these two thicknesses used to meet before I cut the container apart.

Here is the other corner from the outside. This end of the panel hasn't been welded yet. As you can see, the new wall indents from the corner of the container.

That’s all I know for sure right now. Thanks for visiting.

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7 thoughts on “Cutting Metal, Making A Wall

  1. Fred, Congrats.

    Btw I’m heading down to Panama next week. Let me know if you need parts.

    Thx for Karina’s contact info. I just bought a container from her.. Will need another later.

  2. This is a great post. It is encouraging to see someone take up the challenge of using shipping containers. I hope one day our government will allow us Kenyan Citizens to build one like that. But I intend to build a house with containers.. I think I will pass it as experimental or temporary for me to get the permit.

    Congrats for you great work.

  3. Hi,
    my name is Garrett Gablehouse and I am building something almost the exact same and was wondering how I could contact you to ask a few questions? This is amazing and you did a great job!

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