A couple of people have asked about how much it costs to build something with 80/20 aluminum t-slot framing profiles.
Well, there are different ways to build with it.
When I started, I bought bulk 8-foot long extrusions from suppliers when they ran coupon codes, and cut them down to size with a special aluminum-cutting miter saw blade.
Then, I started buying different lengths from 80/20’s ebay store. Now, I order my extrusions pre-cut, directly from 80/20 or through a drop-shipping dealer. It doesn’t cost much extra, at least for longer extrusions.
Ordering from 80/20 directly or through their ebay store, the basic 1″ x 1″ profile is $0.23 cents per inch, plus $1.95 per cut.
So, if you want to order a 6-foot extrusion, it’ll be $18.51.
80/20’s shipping has always been reasonable. I have also ordered from MSC and Zoro. I had great shipping experiences from MSC, but not from Zoro.
Let’s say you want a 58″ extrusion. It will be better to order a 58″ extrusion from 80/20 directly, than to order a 60″ extrusion and trim off 2″. When you order a 60″ extrusion, the “cut fee” is already baked into the price.
But if you want 7x 10″ extrusions, it’s more economical to buy a single 72″ extrusion that you cut down to size, at least if you already have the tools and an appropriate saw blade to do so.
If you were to order 7x 10″ extrusions from 80/20, you’d have to pay for 7 cuts. Since only 1 cut fee is baked into the price of the 72″ extrusion, that means you’re paying $11.70 extra to get 7 extrusions cut to the length you want them.
A 72″ extrusion would be $18.51, and would yield (7) 10″ profiles. If you were to buy (7) 10″ profiles, the cost would be $4.25 each, or $29.75 total.
So if you have a project that involves a lot of shorter pieces, you aren’t in a rush, and you have the right tooling or don’t mind buying it, it’s less expensive to start with larger extrusions, and cut them down to size yourself.
The cost per cut isn’t a flat rate. For example, 80/20’s 3060 profile, which is 3″ x 6″ wide and priced at $2.95 per inch, has a cutting fee of $2.90 per cut.
For larger profiles like that, you save money paying the cutting fee if it means you can save at least one inch. In other words, if you need two 10″ profiles, at $2.95 per inch, it’s cheaper to buy two profiles cut to length than to buy a 24″ length that you cut to length yourself. You save $9 buy paying for one additional cut instead of 4 inches of leftover material.
This is an “end fastener,” a common way of fastening 80/20 together.
I don’t use this connection often, because it requires access holes. You tap the end of an 80/20 profile, drive the fastener in, slide the “wing clip” into another profile, and tighten things up. Without an access hole, there’s no way to tighten up the fastener.
10-series end fasteners are $1.50 each.
Hopefully this visual helps.
So, how do you drill the access hole? 80/20 has jigs that you could buy. I built a jig for myself, modeled off the 80/20 jig, or you could use a drill press or milling machine, if you can be precise and repeatable enough.
If you don’t want to tap the ends of your profiles yourself, this is one of the standard machining services that 80/20 offers. For tapping the end of a 1010 extrusion to 1/4-20, it’ll cost you $1.95 per hole tapped.
Access holes can also be done for you, at a cost of $1.95 each.
I used different types of angle brackets for a while. They’re pricey, and so is the hardware, but they allow for easy adjustments and customizations, and are reusable.
The bracket shown here has an elongated hole on one side. I use these with wood tops, or when I need hole spacing that is slightly off 80/20’s standard for 10- or 15-series profiles.
Be careful, though. 80/20 recommends flanged button head socket cap screws for all of their external angle brackets and flat plates, but I have found that the angle fillet interferes with the screws’ flange heads. 80/20 wasn’t able to provide me with answers as to why this happened, so I started using standard button socket head cap screws for those instances.
I’ve purchased economy t-nuts like these from suppliers, and sourced my own button head screws and washers. It can save a little money, but can be a headache. The brackets are pricey no matter what.
80/20 sells uncut extrusions, but it takes a lot of work to make your own angle brackets or fastening plates. And, when all is said and done, it’s still not the same because the DIY solution isn’t anodized whereas 80/20’s is. I believe they also do sell anodized profiles, but even if so, they will still require a lot of effort, machining, and finishing.
10-series 1/4-20 sliding economy T-nuts are $0.21 each. The matching screw is $0.30. If you buy them together, you get both for $0.50.
80/20’s ebay store has pre-packaged amounts, such as bags of 25. If you order from 80/20 or a dealer, you can buy any quantity.
Let’s say you want a gussetted corner bracket for extra strength. They’re $3.95 each, and you’ll need 2 sets of fasteners, for $0.80.
For this they advise a button head socket cap screw ($0.23) and a T-nut ($0.21). Or you can buy a 2-piece set for $0.40.
Thus, for this one connection, it’ll cost you $4.75. BUT, you don’t have to spend any time, effort, or money to tap profile ends or drill access holes.
Anchor fasteners are one of the strongest connections possible. There are even double anchors, which can be better for challenging joints.
This 10-series anchor is $2.90.
Plus, anchors require counterbores. I gave this a try a while ago, and it’s tricky to counterbore extrusions yourself. Well, not tricky, as much as time consuming. You have to have the right tools, you have the right tooling, and you have to be very precise.
This is not the kind of operation you can perform with a handheld drill.
80/20 can machine the counterbores for you, at a cost of $2.25 per hole. So, for one joint in a 1010 profile, the cost is $5.15.
Putting it all together
So, let’s say you want to make a very simple table, with 4 legs 28″ long, and a square top 24″ wide x 24″ deep.
Going with 1010 extrusions, the cost would be $53.69 (208 inches + 3 cut fees) just for the profiles. There are different ways to get the 8 profile lengths from 3 extrusions. If you go with pre-cut lengths, you’ll spend more on a few inches of material that won’t be used. If you order cut-to-size lengths from 80/20, you can probably go with 3 extrusions.
Keep in mind that saw blades have measurable kerfs. A 48″ extrusion cut in half will yield two extrusions slightly under 24″ in length.
If you order everything cut to length, (4) 28″ legs plus (4) 24″ top segments, it’ll be 208 inches plus 8 cut fees, or $63.44.
So, cutting everything to length saves you nearly $10. If you have to add an extra inch or three, it’ll close the gap between price points ever so slightly.
At 23 cents per inch, it takes a lot of unused 1010 extrusion material to balance out paying for an additional cut.
Let’s say you go with end fasteners, at $1.50 each, and you do all of the prep yourself.
So that means 4 fasteners for the top, and 4 for the legs. 8 x $1.50 is $12 in fasteners. Plus, you’ll need to tap 8 profiles and drill 8 access holes.
That brings the cost up to $65.69 for the lowest-cost DIY process.
If you go with the same end fasteners but have 80/20 do all the machining, that adds $31.20 in machining fees, on top of $12 for the hardware. The machining fees add up.
So that brings it to $106.64 for the “bolt-together” solution.
Shipping fees for both will be around the same. 80/20 is giving me a quote of $18.44. This is where, if you’re going the DIY route, you can save some money buying what you can from industrial suppliers.
If you go with end fasteners, you save quite a bit if you cut your extrusions down to size, but really the bulk of the cost savings is in drilling your own access holes and tapping extrusions yourself.
What if you wanted to go with basic corner brackets?
The simplest 10-series 2-hole corner bracket is $2.90 each. The strong gussetted corner bracket is $3.95 each. Buying economy T-nuts and fasteners separately will cost $0.88 per bracket.
Figure 4 top brackets plus 8 leg connections (2 per leg will be more stable), and that’s 12 connections, or $45.36 in corner brackets and hardware alone.
To save costs and simplify things, 4 corner brackets can be used for the top, and 4 end fasteners for the bottom. That DIY solution would come out to be $74.81 ($53.69 for extrusions, $6 in end fasteners, $15.12 for 4 corner brackets for the top connections).
Part of the fun (or tricky part) is about determining the best connection for your needs, without costing a fortune.
What about anchors?
The anchor hardware is pricier than end fasteners, but I have found that they’re more secure than coupling several angle brackets together, plus they’re far easier to assemble. (You’ll need a ball end hex driver for assembly.)
If you have 80/20 do the machining for you, it’s $5.15 for one anchor and counterbore. If you want to use double counterbores, which can help prevent rotation and provides strength in challenging joints, you’ll end up paying less than double that, since there are double anchor assemblies for certain extrusions. (A single 15-series anchor is $3.15, a double is $5.80.)
If you wanted an all-anchor solution, which would likely provide the strongest construction, at least compared to the options previously discussed, it would require 8 anchors and 8 counterbores. That would be $41.20. This ends up being more economical than using even the least expensive corner brackets, and I’d guarantee it’d be stronger and easier to assemble. But, counterbores are permanent modifications.
In the past, I went with angle brackets, and often combinations of brackets and plates, but I realized it was easier and in some cases more economical to go with anchor fasteners.
So, to build a simple table frame, with 28″ legs and a 24″ x 24″ top, all made from 1″ x 1″ framing, the cheapest DIY solution I can think of would be $65.69, not including the tools or accessories to cut the extrusions, drill access holes, and tap end holes.
The best “just bolt it together” solution would be $104.64, with $63.44 in extrusions and $41.20 in anchors and counterbore machining fees.
80/20 is expensive to work with, but it’s strong, durable, resistant to water and certain chemicals, and easily customized or adapted to different needs.
I can make a similar-sized table out of (2) 2x4s ripped in half and cut to length, with either glue, screws, or both holding everything together. Spend a little more, and it can be made from knot-free 1.5″ x 1.5″ pine. Even then, you can probably make several small tables for the price of just (1) 80/20 assembly.
I choose 80/20 when I can’t or don’t want to use wood or wood products (such as plywood). I don’t have the tools to work with sheet metal on the scale I’d need, and steel can be too weighty, impractical, or unsightly.
Prior to moving, I built a simple 80/20 shelf stand that gave us some space above the TV for a speaker and miscellaneous stuff. It was black-anodized 80/20. It would have taken me a lot longer to make anything similarly functional and inconspicuous out of wood.
I’m not advocating for 80/20, I’m merely trying to share some of what I learned about it from my experiences. It’s great to work with, and can provide quick solutions to lots of storage, fixturing, or guarding needs.
Yes, it’s somewhat expensive to work with, but it is functionally a lot different than any other material I’ve worked with before.
For those of you that asked for more insight into the pricing, hopefully this helps clarify things.
For a real table, though, one would want to add stringers for stability, leveling feet, and brackets for attaching a table top. As discussed, costs would be lowest if you’re just paying for profiles and end fasteners. If you want stronger or more adjustable fastening methods, or you want to save a lot of time and effort, you have that option, but the total costs increase, and fast.
For individuals, it can be better to trade time and elbow grease for substantial savings. But for those in business, research, or industrial settings, having a bolt-together solution can be the better choice. When you have 80/20 do the machining for you, all you need for final assembly are a couple of hex tools, and that’s it.