80/20 Aluminum or Fully Welded Steel: How to Choose Your Furniture Frame

One of the advantages of ordering furniture from Formaspace is that you are dealing directly with the manufacturer. This not only means you can be sure of getting high-quality American-made products, but you can also specify the materials and options best suited for your needs, including your choice between heavy-duty, fully welded steel frames or 80/20 aluminum extruded frames.


fully welded steel workbench frame
Fully-welded steel frame vs. 80/20 aluminum extrusion


In previous articles, we have presented guidelines on how to choose the best surface material for your workstation and tables.

Now it’s time to look at the different options for the metal frame.

Before we can put the Formaspace name on a piece of furniture, it has to be exceptionally strong and durable. Why? Formaspace builds our products with an eye toward industrial applications, where they need to be tough enough to withstand constant use and rough and tumble treatment. To reinforce our commitment, we guarantee all of our furniture products for a full 12 years, even if you use them continuously, 24/7 (e.g. three shifts working around the clock).

Formaspace tables and workstations have to be strong as well as tough.

Heavy Duty

How Tough are Formaspace Tables and Workstations?

The load capacity of our Standard Duty benches, tables and workstations is 1,000 pounds (evenly distributed), making them much, much stronger than typical office furniture. But is it overkill? Not really. If you are using lightweight furniture with an internal core built out of a paper-like honeycomb material that’s held up by legs screwed into this same lightweight material (typical of many desks and tables from IKEA), you could have a serious, even life-threatening accident if the furniture were to collapse. How could this happen? Here are two common scenarios: too many workers sitting on desks and tables during a meeting, or workers stacking heavy boxes of books and paper on insubstantial benches, tables, or workstations.

If you anticipate needing to support loads heavier than 1,000 pounds, talk to your Formaspace Design Consultant about our Heavy Duty furniture configurations. This furniture can carry up to 20,000 pounds (evenly distributed).


How to Decide Between Fully Welded Steel and 80/20 Aluminum Extruded Frames

Now that we’ve established that Formaspace benches, workstations, and tables are strong and durable, let’s look at the different options you have when specifying the metal frames for your new Formaspace furniture.


Steel is by far and away the most popular material choice for Formaspace furniture frames (we only use American-made steel). Our Standard Duty frames are made from 1 1/2” square tubing, while Heavy Duty frames use a full 2” square steel tube. The joints at the corners are fully welded on the factory floor by skilled Formaspace craftsmen at our production facility in Austin, Texas. Once the steel furniture frames are welded together, they are typically powder-coated, either in a clear color to preserve the ‘industrial look’ or a color of your choice.

Because steel frames are fully welded at the factory, they won’t need to be assembled or maintained (e.g. adjusted and/or tightened) during their lifetime at your office or facility. This is one of steel’s key advantages over 80/20 aluminum extrusion frames, which we will discuss next.


What are 80/20 Aluminum Extrusion T-slot Frames?

If the term extruded aluminum seems unfamiliar to you, you may be surprised to know that it’s actually a very common material. You’ll find that extruded aluminum is commonly used in most bathtub shower enclosures or in tracks supporting sliding patio doors.

How’s it made? When aluminum is heated to high temperatures, it can be forced (i.e. pressed or extruded) at a high pressure through a mold pattern to form long, straight material stock which can incorporate complex, cross-sectional designs.

The type of aluminum extrusions used by Formaspace for building furniture frames have square cross-sections with a t-shaped slot (e.g. void) incorporated into each facing side. By design, these t-slots allow the fasteners that hold the frame sections together to pass through. During assembly, the fasteners are pushed down the slots to the correct position — where they are held snug inside the slot rail. This makes it easy to tighten the fasteners — only one tool is required.


Where Does the Name 80/20 Come From?

The curious name “80/20” is actually the brand name of the manufacturer of the extruded aluminum stock — 80/20, Inc.

Why did they choose this name? According to 80/20, they named their company and product line after Pareto’s Law (from Vilfredo Pareto (1843 – 1923)), an Italian economist and sociologist who said that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.


pareto 80 20 aluminum
Image by ronorr.com


Will Fully-welded Steel Frames or 80/20 Aluminum Extrusion Frames Work Best for Your Particular Needs?

As we all know, steel is an exceptionally strong material, but so is the aluminum used to make 80/20 extruded frames: it’s made from 6105-T5 aluminum alloy, which has a tensile strength of 35,000 lbs. per square inch.

If weight is a consideration, the 80/20 frame is considerably lighter, making it easier to move the furniture around. It can also be expedited from our factory to your location in smaller, lighter boxes, which may result in less expensive shipping costs.

However, there are some disadvantages that come from using an extruded frame system. It will take much longer to assemble the furniture when it is delivered to your site (with higher labor costs as a result), and the aluminum frame joints will need periodic maintenance over the life of the furniture to make sure the bolts are tightened to specification.

While this ongoing maintenance is not onerous, it’s one of the reasons most of our customers (especially industrial customers and those office customers looking for that ‘industrial look’) choose fully-welded steel frames. Welded steel joints don’t require any ongoing maintenance, and they are inherently stronger than bolted connections.

On the other hand, if you are already using 80/20 extruded frames then you might prefer furniture with the same construction technique. For example, some product designers, engineers, do-it-yourself (DIY) experimenters and scientists involved in prototyping, 3D printing or other experimental lab work often use 80/20 extruded frames to mount test equipment, linear stepper motors, and other devices. For these customers, having a compatible system that will allow equipment to be connected directly to the frame of Formaspace furniture might have useful advantages.



industrial height adjustable conference table with wood
Industrial Height Adjustable Conference Table


Need Help Selecting the Right Furniture for Your Application? Give Us a Call.

Formaspace Design Consultants provide free design services, including answering all your questions about which furniture configurations are just right for you.

Not sure about whether you should pick fully-welded steel or 80/20 aluminum extruded frames?

Give us a call today. We can explain the advantages of each system so you can make the right choice for your needs.


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