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Welding by Tim Siewert
As part of the Machinist's Corner series, I would like to introduce welding to those interested in some of the basic principles. I would also like to preface this by stating that while I am not a certified welder; I have had a considerable amount of training through the carpenter’s union and do have over 500 hours of on the job and personal experience. I would also like to say this about welding certifications: a welding certification test consists of making a weld under optimal conditions as per prescribed welding practices set forth by the American Welding Society (AWS). A welding certification in no way guarantees that a person whom may be certified will make a perfect weld every time under all circumstances. Also, just because someone may not be certified does not preclude the possibility of that person being able to weld. Strict adherence to safety must be maintained when welding. If you are interested in learning how to weld, I strongly recommend taking a course in welding. I do caution though, not all welding courses are equal. The course I had started with a full 40 hours of class room training in the various processes along with safety, welding symbols, the types of welds, the types of electrodes and their uses, etc. Subsequent to that I had three weeks of in-shop training (8 hours per day & 5 days per week) in flat, vertical, and overhead welding. A good course in welding should be similarly structured.
The only way to learn how to weld is by doing it. It can not be learned from a book or video. There are several different welding processes; the two most common being SMAW (stick welding) and wire-feed welding. The technique for both of these processes is virtually the same. In both processes, current is passed through the electrode (the stick or the wire) to the part being welded and the electrode is consumed thereby depositing weld material in the weld along with creating molten material from the parts being welded. A good weld is stronger than the parts being welded. It is important to understand how welding works to be able to weld properly. Anyone can make sparks but it is a different matter to be able to create a good, solid weld.
Welding on a flat surface is fairly straightforward and is how every new student should begin. The electrode is held at a slight angle in the direction of travel. To first strike an arc, slowly bring the electrode into the work until the arc is struck, then pull back slightly and hold position until a puddle forms. After the arc is struck and the puddle is formed, simple pull the puddle of molten weld material in the direction in which you wish to weld. Either a straight weld or a weave can be done depending on the width of the weld. Horizontal welding is much the same. After a while with some practice you will get the hang of just how far from the material the electrode can be before striking an arc, the gap between the electrode and the material which is referred to as the arc length, and the proper rate of travel. An auto-darkening welding helmet is beneficial when learning to strike an arc. Otherwise, you will flash yourself.
Vertical and overhead welding are referred to as out-of-position welding. When welding vertically, start at the bottom of the weld and work up with the electrode held slightly below level pointing upwards into the puddle. When I weld vertically, I strike the arc above where I am going to start my weld and then immediately drag the arc down and start the puddle. This practice mitigates excessive burning of material at the bottom of the weld. Then push the puddle up as you weld using a weave. You always weave regardless of the size of weld when welding vertically. With overhead welding, the electrode is held perpendicular to the weld and as with flat welding the puddle is pulled. I prefer to weave when doing overhead as well but it is not always necessary as with vertical. Again, I strike my arc in the middle of the work and then drag the arc to where I want to start welding. If you plan on doing any out-of-position welding, wear old clothes. For that matter, whenever doing any welding, wear clothes you don’t mind getting holes burned into.
As far as welders go, if you are seriously interested in being able to do your own welding then I recommend buying both a “buzz-box” for stick welding and a wire-feed welder for fine work. A wire-feed welder is great for doing auto body repairs and welding on sheet steel but for anything greater than ¼ inch thick a stick welder is the way to go. As far as wire-feed welding, I prefer flux core wire, it is easier to work with because no gas is required. Consequently, I don’t do any welding on aluminum or stainless steel even though my wire-feed welder has that capability. Stay away from any welder that only runs on 110V; 220V/30 amp is the way to go. The 110V welders do not draw enough current to be effective except on paper thin (26 gauge or lighter) material regardless of what some of the manufacturers claim. When I have done welding on my vehicles, I have my wire-feed welder on the next to the lowest setting and it works very well. I have a Hobart 210, 220V/30 amp welder.
The other gear that is necessary for safe welding is a welding helmet, welding gloves, safety glasses, and a leather welding coat along with welding shirts. Always wear safety glasses or goggles under your welding helmet; sparks will find their way under your helmet. Leather chaps are not a necessity unless you plan on doing a lot of overhead welding. A leather welder’s apron is also a good thing to have. Another suggestion is either ear plugs or ear muffs. The reason why I say this will become immediately evident if you ever get a hot spark in your ear. Ear plugs usually work better when wearing a hood. I have found that when using my wire-feed welder, regular leather work gloves like driving gloves are adequate and allow for better manipulation of the wand instead of the much heavier welding gloves; as long as I keep the sleeves of the coat over the cuffs of the gloves. Even when you wear all the gear you can, you will eventually get that errant spark down your collar or on your neck or the back of your hand or somewhere else; so be prepared to get burned if you weld.
I know that this is just a very basic overview. It is just an appetizer. Welding can be great fun but be safe, -T.