Whether you are trying to make a mailbox or restore a car, welding is surprisingly easy to learn. Laying the perfect weld is not something you can achieve overnight, but understanding the basics will improve your chances of getting it right.
1. Choose the Method
There is no single welding method that is ideal for all applications. You need to take into consideration several factors for each welding project, including the thickness and type of metal, the scale of the job, the location of the job, the intended appearance of the welds and, of course, your budget.
Electric arc welding is the most widely used technique. With this method, an electric arc melts a welding wire or other electrode and partially melts the base metal. As the molten metals cool, the two parts become fused. There is more than one type of electric arc welding including metal inert gas (MIG) welding, shielded metal arc (SMAW) welding and tungsten inert gas welding (TIG).
Metal inert gas (MIG) welding is the easiest to master for do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. It is a type of wire feed welding that relies on a weld gun to feed wire continuously from a spool each time the operator presses the trigger. As it feeds the wire, the weld gun also discharges a shielding gas to protect the welded metal from oxidation and impurities. MIG therefore yields better, cleaner welds when compared to other methods, such as stick welding.
2. Buy Equipment
To begin, you will need to purchase a few items. The most important ones are as follows:
- Welder: The welder will be your largest expense. A wire-feed welder uses household current to discharge a high-energy, extremely hot electric arc.
- Welding Wire: Welding wire is inexpensive. The thickness of the wire you choose depends on the thickness of the target material – thicker material will need thicker welding wire.
- Shielding Gas: Getting the right shielding gas is vital and depends on the nature of the welding job. As pertains to the gas mixture, you can get by with CO2 shielding gas. However, you should have a mix of 25% argon and 75% CO2 if you are keen on a cleaner weld.
- Flow Meter or Regulator: You have to manage the flow of the shielding gas you use for welding. Get a flow meter or a regulator for this. To better understand the difference between the two and what you will need, take a look at a guide that compares using a flow meter vs regulator.
- Auto-Darkening Helmet: The light an arc weld generates is extremely bright and can harm your eyes if you are not equipped with the right type of helmet. Traditional welding helmets were permanently darkened so you had to flip them up when you were not welding, however newer helmets have a clear lens that darkens automatically as you work.
3. Prepping the Weld
Use acetone and a wire brush to get rid of any accumulated dirt and oils. Grind the edges of the metal pieces you intend to join. Finally, use a magnet square or miter clamp to place the metal pieces on the same plane prior to starting the welding.
Remember, you are dealing with fire, sparks and molten metal. Do not begin to weld before you are safely ready, which includes wearing a welding apron or jacket, a helmet, leather gloves, safety glasses and a face shield. If you are looking to save money, a long-sleeve good-quality cotton work shirt can play the same role as a welding jacket.
Also, wear your work safety boots. Remove any jewelry from your neck and wrists. Finally, keep a fire extinguisher close by and make sure you know how to use it.
4. Layer the Weld
Hold the welding gun with both hands or use the wrist of your other hand to guide the welder. Do a dry run with the welder off to ensure you have a steady hand. The steadier your hands are, the better the quality of the weld will be.
Before you begin welding, check that the electrode protrudes anywhere between 1/4 and 3/8 of an inch. Clean the wire and clear the nozzle of spatter. Make several tack welds, enough to join the base metals together. From that point, you can lay your final welding beads.
5. Grind the Weld
This final step is optional. If the weld’s appearance does not matter to you or if it will be in a position hidden from view when the project is complete, you do not have to grind the weld. On the other hand, if you want a smooth, clean finish, you can use a grinding wheel and grind along the welding path to smooth out any rough edges.
Move cautiously – if you accidentally grind through the weld, you will have to start the welding again. Good grinding should produce orange sparks only. If you see blue, it means you are exerting too much force.
A Valuable Skill
Welding can be an important skill for home repairs as well as other DIY projects. This article should get your home welding projects moving in the right direction.