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  1. #1
    ......................... Scott F's Avatar
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    Roll Cage Design 101

    I got inspired to write this article after seeing countless ill-conceived designs and poorly executed fabrications on the internet. Here in California we have a wealth of information and experience in cage design. Even kids who are hacking on their trucks in their mom’s garage with a 110V MIG can do a good job with the many fine examples in this part of the country. This information is directed more towards those who are new to off roading and have no clue, and the four wheelers who haven’t seen desert racing technology, and don’t know any better.

    I consider desert race cars like Class 1 and Trophy Trucks to be the pinnacle of chassis and cage design in the off road world, and they are the yardstick by which I measure all designs. The one area they could improve in are non-structural crumple zones. This could be because they would add weight or complexity, but I think some sacrificial tubing or energy absorbing bumpers in the front and rear, and also the sides, would help reduce injuries in endos and other severe crashes.

    This article is intended to be a guide to the basics of cage design. I don’t claim to know everything in the world about building cages and chassis, and I am not a metallurgist, but I am a CAD designer, fabricator and welder. I am always interested in learning more, so please post up with any corrections and additions to the following guidelines.

    Material:

    There are three basic choices for material.

    Mild steel tubing is typically made from sheet that is rolled and welded. The alloy is 1010 or higher. This material is not as strong as the others, but is totally acceptable with a proper design. It is even preferred by some for its tendency to bend before breaking.

    DOM steel tubing is usually manufactured the same way as mild, including the welding. The alloy is typically 1018 up to 1026, the higher the number, the higher the carbon content and the stronger the steel. DOM means Drawn Over Mandrel. It is a process, not an alloy or type of steel. The DOM process “trues” the tube and hides the weld, giving it more accurate dimensions, which also strengthens the tube through cold working. DOM is about twice the cost of mild, and almost as much as 4130. DOM is considered the best choice for most builders, since it is the strongest mild steel option, and it does not require the expertise of 4130 methods.

    4130 chromoly steel tubing is usually a true seamless tube, with chromium and molybdenum added for strength. This allows for a lighter design, with a thinner wall as strong as a thicker wall mild steel tube. 4130 is very expensive and is used most often in big budget builds. It requires heat treating after welding to achieve maximum strength. 4130 suspension components should definitely be heat treated for greatest strength and benefit.

    The size of tubing to be used is determined by the weight of the vehicle, or the class it will be raced in, along with other factors. In general, it would be wise to use a minimum of 1.5 x .120 for lightweight vehicles like sand rails, 1.75 x .120 for mid sized vehicles like pre-runner trucks or Jeeps, and 2 x .120 for the heaviest vehicles like trophy trucks or huge 4WD buggies.

    To learn more about tubing specifications, visit http://www.astm.org/.

    A few more facts:

    CREW = Cold Rolled Electric Welded
    HREW = Hot Rolled Electric Welded
    ERW = Electric Resistance Welded
    CDS = Cold Drawn Seamless
    DOM = Drawn Over Mandrel
    HFS = Hot Finished Seamless
    CDBW = Cold Drawn Butt Welded (Continuous)
    W&D = Welded and Drawn

    11 GA = .120 12 GA = .105 13 GA = .090 14 GA = .075
    16 GA = .060 18 GA = .048 20 GA = .035

    1-3/4" x .095 wall is 1.59 lbs/ft
    1-3/4" x .120 wall is 2.09 lbs/ft
    Steel = .2843 lb/cu in Aluminum = .0975 lb/cu in

    Bending the tubes:

    The first rule of bending tubing is that no deformation is allowed. The bend must be smooth with no scoring or ovalizing of the tube. Do not use a pipe bender to bend tube, because the dies do not fit correctly. The HF “kinker” is infamous for a terrible bend on tubing.

    Notching the tubes:

    There are countless methods of notching a tube so it will fit tightly to another tube prior to welding. This is also called a fish mouth. The most common way to notch is with a hole saw, which is often done in a Tube Notcher tool. Cheap ones are available from HF, and high end models are available from several manufacturers. There are methods of notching on a mill or lathe, and there are also expensive dedicated machines for notching that use end mills or abrasive belts. A proper fitting and tight notch are extremely important for a strong weld joint.

    Designing the cage:

    There are many design rules that should be followed whenever possible.

    The most important rule is to make triangles, not squares, and especially not artsy-curvy designs. Look at any structure in the world, whether it is a bridge, a crane, or a cantilevered sign, and you will see triangles everywhere. This principle should be applied as much as possible to a chassis or cage design. Every tube should be one leg of a triangle if possible. This is especially true of the primary structural tubes. The peripheral tubes like bumpers can be more “artistic”. It’s a good idea to build crumple zones into bumpers to absorb crash damage. It is better to crush a bumper than to damage the main chassis structure. A bolt on bumper makes repairs much easier than a welded on structure.

    Bends are not your friends. Some bends are unavoidable in a design, but they should be minimized, not maximized. Even a perfect bend is weaker than a straight tube. Bends should never be mid-span, or unsupported. The apex of a bend should be a node point or junction for at least one other tube, and gusseted unless several tubes meet at the node. An example of a node is the center of an “X”.

    It is advisable to gusset corners, especially when building a bare minimum cage. This can be done with triangular plates welded into the corners. A stronger method is to weld a 6-12” tube diagonally in the corner, similar to the letter A.

    “T” junctions are called a dead tube junction, as one tube dead ends into another. This should be avoided whenever possible, because the dead end tube will bend the other one when the loads are along the dead tube.

    “A” pillars should not be leaned back too far, unless a second A pillar is added to triangulate it. Otherwise it can collapse into the passenger compartment. The B pillar will be strongest when near vertical. It is always safer to double up on the A and B pillar on heavier vehicles. All cages benefit from a vertical tube in the windshield area. An inverted “V” like this /\ is even stronger.

    The B hoop should have an “X” built into it, or at the very least a diagonal or a V. If the A and B hoops are inverted U shapes, the “spreader” tubes that go between them should intersect the apex of the bends for greatest strength, and they should be straight. The roof area should have a V or X built into it, depending on overall design. The B hoop needs to have rearward supports, typically at a downward 45 degree angle. If the B hoop does not have an X, then these tubes definitely should.

    On vehicles with sheet metal bodies or cabs, the A and B pillars should pass through the floor and weld solidly to the frame rails or tubes. No tube should ever terminate like a “T” into sheet metal, such as a floor or firewall. If necessary, it is acceptable to weld a plate to each tube, on each side of the sheet metal, and use four bolts to connect them together, but only if the cab is solid mounted to the frame. Otherwise the sheet metal can tear when the cab flexes on rubber mounts. The least desirable arrangement is to keep the rubber mounts, and tie the cage into the mounts.

    Most exo cages seem to be designed to protect sheet metal more than the vehicle occupants. Which do you value more? If an exo cage is a must for you, try to incorporate as many of these design features as you can, especially in the cab area.

    Some say that any cage is better than no cage. This may be true in some cases, like flopping over at zero mph. But what if a failed hill climb attempt results in looping out and a triple endo down the hill? What if an off camber slip results in six barrel rolls down a rocky slope? What if one of these tumbles comes to a sudden halt against a large tree or rock? It is in these worst case scenarios when you need a properly designed cage and chassis, fully triangulated, and expertly welded. A marginal cage could collapse, doing more harm than good.

    If you are not 100% sure that you can make a strong high quality weld, leave it to a professional. In general, TIG welding is considered superior to MIG welding, but a proper MIG weld is completely acceptable and just as strong. Tube splices and repairs should always be sleeved for strength and rosette welded, never just butt welded.

    The more you integrate these “rules” and suggestions into your cage, the stronger and safer it will be.

  2. #2
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    Great write up. Should be a sticky or somewhere accessable for people to look at in the future.

  3. #3
    Senior Member RANGERRUNNER191's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (JonMc @ Sep. 04 2005,11:47)]Great write up. Should be a sticky or somewhere accessable for people to look at in the future.
    i agree!
    Capitol Raceworks

  4. #4
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    Helton is not goin to like the mentioning of the HF kinker, haha.
    Over all, nice write up.

    Chris
    According to Webster's Revised Dictionary

    (pree-rhunner) Derived from the Latin word: prenomoremoney. (noun)

    1) A truck-like racing vehicle that usually enters an off-road setting in a functional state and leaves the off-road setting in an unfunctional state.

  5. #5
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    I think a great addition would be mentioning gussetting of all major intersections in the cage. Once again, very involved, and clear write up.

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    <bookmark> good stuff there, thanks
    Dillon Poole
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  7. #7

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    thanks for the write up.
    \"we are like a gazelle grazing through the serengeti\" chingy

  8. #8
    ......................... Scott F's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (JonMc @ Sep. 04 2005,11:55)]I think a great addition would be mentioning gussetting of all major intersections in the cage. Once again, very involved, and clear write up.
    I thought I did.

    "It is advisable to gusset corners, especially when building a bare minimum cage. This can be done with triangular plates welded into the corners. A stronger method is to weld a 6-12” tube diagonally in the corner, similar to the letter A."

  9. #9
    Racer/ Photog Go Go Gadget Arms's Avatar
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    i give it an A+ very informational
    Flores Motorsports 1408

  10. #10
    Brownsmith garagebuilder's Avatar
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    when tying the cage to the stock frame areas, try to spreat the load by incorporating more surface welds, this can be achieved by using plate or some type of boxed gusset. reason for this is so the tube is less likley to rip out. and on "C" channel frames box in or run a tube between the "C".

    the more cage to cab tie ins the better, makes truck/vehicle act as one

    determine the shock mounts before any cage work is done, then build off them, as well as the bump stops

    keep tubes away from your heads, shins

    if you do a window "v", inverted or not, make it functional by connecting it directly to your engine cage

    again minimal bends. stay away from that JD2

  11. #11
    Brownsmith garagebuilder's Avatar
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    when using plate as a gusset, never have sharp angles try to curve it because it tend not to crack as much in tension.

    dimple died plate is good for making plate more rigid.

    cavitation is a good way to tie two plates together to strengthen the load laterally.

    try to have tubes intersect at angles close to 90* idealy. (not have a real long notch)

    double shear shock mounts, no shock mount should be soley dependant on more than 1.5" of the bolt, or the length of the offsets.

  12. #12
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    I had a cage built for me when i was a teenager and through the years i relaized it wasnt what i wanted it to be.

    Its bolted to the floor with the excpetion of the rear shock mounts,(its an SUV),the truck is solid mounted, should I connect the plate that is bolted to the floor to the frame via bent tube, or just trash it altogether and build a new cage? IS this way any less strong?


    thanks

    -Joe
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    Beater Crew 1450 in 2006.

  13. #13
    Brownsmith garagebuilder's Avatar
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    where is esb mike, or dan on this one? esco sick boys know how to cage a truck.

  14. #14
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    my bad on the gusset part

  15. #15
    Brownsmith garagebuilder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (JBCracingINC @ Sep. 05 2005,1:32)]I had a cage built for me when i was a teenager and through the years i relaized it wasnt what i wanted it to be.

    Its bolted to the floor with the excpetion of the rear shock mounts,(its an SUV),the truck is solid mounted, should I connect the plate that is bolted to the floor to the frame via bent tube, or just trash it altogether and build a new cage? IS this way any less strong?


    thanks

    -Joe
    companies sell roll cages this way, and they do help, in a roll the cage will try to tear through the floor, so depending onthe thickness of the plate and size you might be fine, depending on the rollover, but for optimum strength a true frame tie in is neccesary, so a tube with a bend to the frame will help, but try to get another tube in there to create a triangle off the frame, then possible plate the triangle in. a good example of this is the baja shops 7 open truck that is still being built.

    gotta find the pics though

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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (garagebuilder @ Sep. 05 2005,1:45)]
    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (JBCracingINC @ Sep. 05 2005,1:32)]I had a cage built for me when i was a teenager and through the years i relaized it wasnt what i wanted it to be.

    Its bolted to the floor with the excpetion of the rear shock mounts,(its an SUV),the truck is solid mounted, should I connect the plate that is bolted to the floor to the frame via bent tube, or just trash it altogether and build a new cage? IS this way any less strong?


    thanks

    -Joe
    companies sell roll cages this way, and they do help, in a roll the cage will try to tear through the floor, so depending onthe thickness of the plate and size you might be fine, depending on the rollover, but for optimum strength a true frame tie in is neccesary, so a tube with a bend to the frame will help, but try to get another tube in there to create a triangle off the frame, then possible plate the triangle in. a good example of this is the baja shops 7 open truck that is still being built.

    gotta find the pics though
    Do you mean instead of bending one single piece of tube, put two pieces together to form a 90deg. angle and gusset that?

    _joe
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  17. #17
    Likes to Party! esbyota's Avatar
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    Dont know if it was mentioned but plate the a and b pillars where you cage goes down next to them to minimize the amount the sheet metal will crush in during a roll. use the longest peices possible.
    -B

  18. #18
    ......................... Scott F's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (garagebuilder @ Sep. 05 2005,1:26)]cavitation is a good way to tie two plates together to strengthen the load laterally.
    Garagebuilder, that&#39;s the spirit. *Thanks for adding things that I didn&#39;t mention. *Can you rephrase this one? *Usually cavitation is used when discussing hydraulics.

  19. #19
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    waj. the kinker is the shit.

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (Scott F @ Sep. 05 2005,9:05)]
    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (garagebuilder @ Sep. 05 2005,1:26)]cavitation is a good way to tie two plates together to strengthen the load laterally.
    Garagebuilder, that&#39;s the spirit. *Thanks for adding things that I didn&#39;t mention. *Can you rephrase this one? *Usually cavitation is used when discussing hydraulics.
    by cavitation mike means a tube from one plate to the other, then welded together. Making a &#39;tunnel&#39; in a sense.

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  22. #22
    Brownsmith garagebuilder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (Scott F @ Sep. 05 2005,9:05)]
    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (garagebuilder @ Sep. 05 2005,1:26)]cavitation is a good way to tie two plates together to strengthen the load laterally.
    Garagebuilder, that&#39;s the spirit. *Thanks for adding things that I didn&#39;t mention. *Can you rephrase this one? *Usually cavitation is used when discussing hydraulics.
    no problem, this should be a thread that people with experience building cages should post tips or techniques, to help educated people who want to fab their own stuff, like you mentioned before. Its not gonna hurt anything, maybe save a few people. cavitation or "glory hole" haha.

    ESB Mike should chime in on this topic, his latest cage held up to a 70mph+ roll, and the doors still shut like they did from factory. Please educate us Mike, lots of people im sure would like to hear your tips and theories.

  23. #23
    Senior Member 86F-onefifty's Avatar
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    Nice work. I have been informed.
    I got q, though. Is solid mounting the cab absolutely necessary? What if there was some space allowed for the tubes, and then the sheet metal had rings for reinforcement on both sides?
    I&#39;m just curious...
    Professional Oil Blender/Spiller

  24. #24
    back in the day member mark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (86F-onefifty @ Sep. 05 2005,9:56)]Nice work. I have been informed.
    I got q, though. Is solid mounting the cab absolutely necessary? What if there was some space allowed for the tubes, and then the sheet metal had rings for reinforcement on both sides?
    I&#39;m just curious...
    no but your frame and cab and bed will bend and flex and jiggle all over the place. one of the most important thing about a cage is that is stiffens up the whole frame.
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  25. #25
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    When we built the cage in my truck nothing was left to chance . Any load that we thought could be possible for the truck to take in a nasty rollover was addressed . In the end it seems our design prevailed .


    *The only advice i can give you is to not be too concerned about the looks of the cage ( read think tubes look nice together over proper function ) but rather put the tubes where they strategically need to go . Overkill is not a word I believe in either . Let&#39;s face it ...... A standard cab Toyota such as mine with the seats mounted on the floor level , with me in the seat ....... I have about three inches of head room with my helmet on . In a violent rollover how much force would it take to bend a normal cage 3 inches ? In the rollover we had , my cage didn&#39;t budge a bit . The sheet metal cab wrapped around the top of it , but the cage was undamaged . The only actual structural damage that the car had was the rear bedside mount on the drivers side . It bent a piece of one inch tubing about 4 inches in . Mind you it was just a bedside mount that was only supported on one side . It bent on the far unsupported side . That was also the side of the truck that got both wheels removed during the roll , so 4 inch bend in a piece of 1 inch tubing isn&#39;t bad to me .
    Dan Vance

  26. #26
    ......................... Scott F's Avatar
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    Here is a good example of a bad design. There is no triangulation or cross bracing, just squares.
    This driver may think this cage is better than nothing, but the passenger may disagree.




  27. #27
    old matt_helton's Avatar
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    the cage still did its job. they shoulda been wearing helmets anyways.

  28. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] ]Here is a good example of a bad design. There is no triangulation or cross bracing, just squares.
    This driver may think this cage is better than nothing, but the passenger may disagree.
    Yeah, the cage bent to fuck and it was a bad design, but without it they might have NO head, imagine a rollover without a cage....
    Coming summer \'07

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    Keep in mind, those cages are made of 2" ERW tubing that&#39;s only 1/8" thick. They are commercially available and bolt in. I&#39;ve seen 3 in person and they grind their welds smooth for looks. Look at the tube, where it OBVIOUSLY bends and shears. These cages aren&#39;t made to withstand high speed rollovers, their for CJ5s with no roof and is better than nothing.

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    Note, it bends, kinks, and begins to sheer.

    Will the new board have an edit button?

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    cage designs.....what do you think
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    fuck
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    or
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  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (toyotaguy @ Sep. 12 2005,11:02)]or
    there is no intersection at the joints over what might be your head? No good. Those are considered dead tubes.

    Meeting two, three, or maybe four tubes together ultimatley strengthens the cage, but at the same time helps dispurse the load in the event of a roll over.

    The first one is good, very good.

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  35. #35
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    pic of my cage

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    thank you.....I was trying to tell someone the same thing about the loads.....maybe now he will believe me....

    my cage in my next truck will look like the ones you posted.....
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    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (johnalagna @ Sep. 12 2005,11:10)]pic of my cage
    That is a perfect example of an extra cab cage.

  38. #38
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    How do you guys weld the sides facing the sheetmetal? Any tips? Do you have pics of how you tied the cage into the frame? Thanks in advance&#33;
    Get it&#33;

  39. #39
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    i just dropped the cage down after i tacked it to weld on the tops, everything else was barely away from the sheet metal that i was able to get in and weld around, i took windows out at one point to get to some of the tubes, I have pics of the mounts but dont want to show them, lol, this was my first cage i ever built and well, the cage mounts could be better, so i&#39;m gonna rebuild those when i&#39;m done getting this damn thing out of my garage, i&#39;m thinking of either doing a sub frame or possible making mounts that are similar to stock body mounts, where i&#39;ll gusset the hell out of it and make it so theres a platform to weld the cage to

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    What exactly is a dead tube? Basically we are working with a structure known as a "frame," so I dont think you could mean zero-force member. Hook me up wih info&#33; thank you.
    I like to move it move it.

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