This really depends on your needs and wants. There are 6 major steel projects I use on a regular basis and 1 other major one in the dream world. So lets start with those. 1. large T frame hoist. 2. heavy duty cherry picker, 3. press. 4. Heavy duty rolling table, 5. heavy duty welding table. 6. Main bolted to the wall work bench. and in the dream world I want to build my own vise and my own multi-use power unit. As I am tired of breaking commercial vises and dealing with all of their flaws. As a farm equipment mechanic that grew up around farm shop and I have used these tools in various peoples shops for 35 years of my adult life plus major blocks of childhood too.
Every shop eventually needs some sort of heavy duty hoist. Basically there are 5 core choices. Cherry picker, A frame hoist, T frame hoist, pivoting beam post hoist and an overhead gantry system. Since the overhead gantry is out of most peoples budgets and needs lets eliminate that. Now I will also eliminate a post hoist simply because I have never seen one heavy enough the user didn't wreck it thru overload. In some ways they are great and in others a pain. But eventually they get bent and become dangerous to use. Now I grew up with a T frame hoist and we build a better one in my late 20's. So it would be my personal choice. Properly build A frames have the major advantage of being able to set material down outside the legs of the hoist. But the bottle necks they make in the ability to work around them and maneuver them offset that. And the final answer
of course a cherry picker.
Now if your needs are really small a cheap import cherry picker will cover them. But they have so many flaws I would choose to build my own. This would probably be #1 on my build list. I have worked around 4 of them that combining the best features of each would build my dream one. As the details for that one are long I won't share unless someone wants it.
#2 on the list assuming I was working in a bigger building would be a T frame hoist. Most people cheap out on the casters for these or mount them on rails so they only move one way limiting their versatility. The current big one is one 1500# rated 10" casters and at that is still overloaded if really used at capacity. This is a serious lifting machine and the most important part is to get 4 big heavy duty casters. Suggesting aim for 2000 or 2500# a piece casters. The gusets should go to the outside as shelves etc mean you don't need to get close to the walls typically anyway. This also means you can move the trolley the full width of the throat of the hoist. The casters should be tall enough that the legs of your cherry picker can go under and your floor jack can go under the legs. The current big one is made entirely out of I beam and that is a mistake as I beam has great bending moment strength but poorer torsional strength. The horizontal for the leg needs to be some sort of box. under heavy load the caster move out of vertical as the horizontal part of the leg twists. The main chain host is 3 ton 10 foot lift and still occasionally get to much weight for it. As the hoist is 15 feet tall that means the base of the chain host is about 12 to 13 feet off the ground. That means the hook won't reach the floor with at times gets me in trouble. The ideal hoist would have about 3 more feet of fall. Now I find that mine with the single load line works in tight quarters better a hoist with a single load line would also be on my goals list. Be aware in modern affordable hoists that limits you to a 2 ton hoist as all 3 tons and above seem to be double load lines.
Choosing the next most important is tough. While I use the rolling table more the press probably saves me more aggravation and time.
The rolling table lets you get move your work are close to where you are working. Carry stuff around the shop and many other advantages. My current table is roughly 3 foot by 5 foot.(just a bit over both ways) It started out as a wood frame on salvaged dumpster casters with a piece of flattened about 1/4" oil feed
tank as its top over a rough sawn 2X top. It is about hip high. That makes it low enough to work on bigger things but bearable to work on smaller stuff too. End on its caster just fit between the legs of the cherry picker and sideways the legs of the cherry picker will go under it. Saves space in the shop when not in use plus adds to the versatility when used together. The dumpster casters failed from to much load so eventually it got 1800# casters. The necessitated building a metal base although the 6x8 posts that make up its corners and 2X box top under the steel plate remain unchanged. The tiny bit of dome to the top means spilled oil does not stay on the top. Which is good except it is always running off in an undesirable location. So some sort of shallow groove around the surface perimeter would be on my dream list. The current table does not have a lower shelf but that is on the goals list. A tapered fixture for temporarily mounting a vice or specialty fixtures to the table is also on the goal list. Ideally I would like to replace the wood parts with metal simply because the wood is a fire hazard. But it has worked as is for nearly 40 years beyond the replacement of its base with metal to mount the new casters to about 20 years ago.
The press is the tool that probably saves more frustration than any other tool in the shop. It is used for straightening, bending, broaching, and all sorts of assembly and disassembly tasks. It is a standard looking flat iron side straps with channel iron head stock and bed. Just on a bigger scale. It is nearly 10 feet high with the cylinder on a rolling carriage so it can be moved nearly the full width of the press. The bed is roughly a 12 inch gap and the throat is just over 38 inches between the side straps. The ram travel is nearly 17 inches and with cold oil will do roughly 28 tons. with that much travel the bed virtually never needs to be lowered. The ram is driven by an old combine hydraulic pump
and a 1 1/2 horse electric motor in an armored box below the bed. If the bed needs to be lowered the box and pump can be set out on the floor to clear that space. I would never build another press without that rolling headstock. It is simply amazing. We got a whole lot of things right in this design and screwed a few things up. Slowly getting some of them fixed. the bed extends 6 inches past the side straps. I can bend a 3 in x 3 in cultivator tool bar back to straight by blocking outside the side straps. 3 in x 1 in cultivator shanks straigtened the hard direction etc. Sill working on accessories for it. The ram is center drilled and tapped so using a simple chain adapter the press itself can raise and lower the bed. Of all the metal work I have done in the shop this is my favorite tool built.
Next on the list is the welding table. I have used many. Your work habits and needs play heavily into this one. mine is a center post type with a 1 inch thick plate for a top. It is roughly 3 feet square with a vice mounted on one side and roughly 24 inches high. It is so heavy that it takes heavy lifting equipment for one man to move it. Because the base is round it is possible for 2 strong guys to tip it partially up and roll it around. Having used tables with edge legs and boxed tops etc I would never build one. I find I really like the fact that I can clamp to all the edges. Remember this top is probably the most abused piece of steel in the shop with the possible exception of hammers. You will temporarily weld stuff to it while fixturing, you will bend and clamp stuff over it. You will cut over it. Get it hot. Use the various holes in the top for shaping, punching and bending stuff. You will do all this and more.
The final major shop feature built is a bolt in place work bench with the main vice mounted on it. Its primary work area in the whole shop. There is a whole host of criteria for this one. As you need this area strong enough to horse on hard this needs to be really solidly bolted to the walls and/or floor. This is one of the poorest designed areas in my shop. Mine is tough but has a bunch of flaws beyond. First the bench top needs to blend into a back splash on the back so you can't possible lose any small parts down behind. Everything should be nearly flat but very slightly slope towards some central drain point. Slightly raised edge so stuff doesn't run off or roll off. Liquids collection drawer immediately below the area it drains too. Probably under the vice for location. Places to mount support pipes, pipe vises, or rollers for long stuff in the main vice. Also ideally straight in the door so it is easy to get pipes, sprayer booms, sickle bars etc in to work on.
So in the dream world a long stroke vice with a self lubricating screw and thrust bearings in on the list built so it is virtually unbreakable.
The other major dream goal is a power unit using a treadmill motor built as a pottery wheel, chicken
extractor, large wetstone sharpener when used in the horizontal position. Stand it up and turn it a bowl lathe, metal spinning tool for large pans and bowls and add some cross bars, tool rest and tail stock and it becomes a wood lathe. I have been thinking how many it could be made to do in a typical homestead/farm/ranch situation with very few mods.
A good starting place might be shelf brackets. If you take 1 up to 1 1/2 inch by roughly 1/8" angle iron and cut notch in one side at a 45 from each way so you end up with a 90 notch now heat and bend the angle iron so the notch closes and then weld the now closed 45's together. This makes incredibly strong shelf brackets fairly quickly.
Another good one might be light extensions for some of your swing arm lights
. Start by building the wall bracket to take the post of your light. Now to add the extension build a pin to go in your bracket at one end. Then a piece of bar stock heavy enough to be rigid. Then another piece of pipe bored to be another socket. Weld the pin to the barstock to the socket and now because of the added length your swing arm light reaches farther.
A bit more complicated would be to build a good over arm light. A really heavy brake drum or worn out tractor flywheel for the base, a flat piece of plate to fill much of the gap in the center your base, a piece of heavier pipe(say roughly schedule 40 1 1/4 or 1 1/2) roughly 5 feet long, 2 circles of light flat plate to be your pivoting height adjustment with a build in center bolt and a bunch of holes in the perimeter for different positions, and a piece of 1/2" pipe about 4 to 5 feet threaded on one end to be your arm. Weld the base to its plate and the heavy pipe to the being sure you left a path to feed a cord into the drum and a hole to feed it up into the pipe. At the top weld one of the circles to the pipe and weld a double gang electrical box on the backs side next to the pipe. The box will hold the switch for the light and an outlet. weld the other disk to your arm pipe. Add a quartz halogen light and assemble. Now you have light that you can put in under a hood, reach out over your work table or put clear up to shine into a cab of a tractor. Now add a small wheel on the base pointed in the same direction as the arm. When the base if flat the wheel just missed the floor. But if you tip the base it comes up on the wheel and you roll the light to the next location.
Then beyond that you do all sorts of things. hinges, self closing/ self latching gates, shelf brackets, light extension arms, hose holders, heavy duty shelves and thousands of other things. What do you need today that needs to be durable and strong? Maybe you got tired of changing the chimney pipe for the coal stoker every few years. So instead you have a piece of 1/4" wall pipe the right size laying around to you build a chimney that shows no visible signs of change 30 years later. It is about goals.
Others on my welding goals list. Self starting ram pump, wind water agitator/aerator for the pond
to hopefully cleaning the pond
by stirring up muck and running that muddy water into a wall form to settle out building a wavy wall down the property line to be a fruit
wall, oil burning furnace that avoids most of the complexity of many of the designs
To many projects, too little time and energy. But many of them are well thought out. And a few even have all the materials gathered to do them. Just keep nibbling away at the list. The press in the shop my father started gathering materials for when I was about age 5. We moved twice and I was in my late 20's when I got the press built. The design had changed many times in the mean time. So remember it doesn't have to happen all at once.