Some things are rocket science, but welding isn’t one of them (unless you’re working on a rocket, or a fire escape).
On some level it upsets me that an explanation of this piece is required; it is one of the reasons I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here. Back in my bar days, more than once we started and accomplished a drunk just talking about welding. I recall a guy who worked on 6″ thick aluminum tank armor discussing tricks of his trade. Another pal had learned simple welding from ship makers and tried to explain how they could move massive plates into alignment with the heat of the weld. As with most besotted lessons, I didn’t learn how to do these things, but I became aware of the possibilities.
A good man’s skill set includes changing physical things, to create wealth and tangible items, to make and repair. A good man knows you can’t heal the world, but you can change your immediate surroundings.
If people have to dig deeper with a piece like this, good… I spent the first several months at GMP with a dictionary—cis, SAHD, misandrist, MRA, MGM, FGM. If you think “crescent wrench” is a misspelling of a waitress in a French bakery, you might not get much out of this article. But then, I was disappointed to learn the new “Men’s Work” section won’t feature “garage Mahals.”
- It is not rocket science unless you are working on rockets. Or high pressure steam. Or gas or oil transmission. Or fire escapes on which people’s lives depend.
- Safety rules.
I’ve rarely started a fire with a clean station and a fire extinguisher handy. Don’t stand in a puddle of water. Work in a well-ventilated place.
Protection goes a long way towards strong welds; it is tough to concentrate on the puddle when you are on fire.
Leathers aren’t only for the Village People and you don’t need the full kit, but don’t wear polyester, which will melt and weld with your skin.
Yeah, I know: eye protection is for sissies and one eyed mechanics, but I wear glasses under the welding helmet or face shield, and I wear a leather apron because I’m tired of pulling cup brush needles out of my scrotum.
Once you use an auto-darkening helmet you’ll never go back.
- MIG welding is not as easy as caulking. (Neither is caulking.) You can buy a wire feed welder for the cost of a golf outing. Get a pile of scrap, cruise YouTube, and you can be making stuff pretty damned soon. Follow the directions, flip open the cover on a MIG welder, and there will be a handy guide for setting amperage and wire feed speed. Technically, I’ve been talking about flux-cored arc welding. Add inert gas and a different wire and you really are MIG welding—gas metal arc welding—which has the advantages of being quicker and cleaner.
- In my experience woodworking, carpentry, logging and bar tending are a lot more dangerous than welding. Stick welding, technically shielded metal arc welding, isn’t as hard or dangerous as it is supposed to be. It does raise sparks and the work gets red hot. Make sure you have the right electrode, both for your machine, and for the intended application. Read the package for amperages. Buy new rods for anything semi-important; if you are getting anything from this piece, you don’t have an oven. It’s not the tool, it’s the craftsman, but dry electrodes work a lot more effectively.
- I have no personal opinion on TIG welding, other than I pay a pretty penny to have it done, it is pretty, and it is worth it. Anyone who would like to assist me in having an opinion on the subject: I’m available nights and weekends. I’ll bring my own hand tools and lunch.
- Torch welding/brazing and faggot welding are subjects for another article. (Faggot welding is a blacksmithing process here; it’s a marriage equality issue on the rest of GMP.)
- Cheating isn’t cheating. I’ve been welding for forty-some years, on and off. Within the past year I saw a guy guide the end of a new, long, rod to the joint with his off hand: Brilliant. Lay the project on its side or set it on milk crates: whatever makes it accessible. You don’t need to make each assembly a 6G test. I recently clamped a plywood angle to the table, parallel to a joint I wanted to look great, and drew the rod against it; it worked. Clamping is not cheating.
- Preparation is time well spent. Clean rust, scale, and oil off of the material. At the level that I weld there is no percentage in blowing through rust, paint, and grime. Grind bevels at the joints, space the joints, and preheat the pieces. A good ground is as important as a good lead. Make a dry run through the length of the joint, better to know how you will get there before you have to get there. Wear your helmet during the practice. Clamping is a must.
- A stack of dimes bead in not inherently strongest—but when you run one, you will take a picture. The bar for what is considered a stack of dimes has risen with the proliferation of TIG welders.
- In much of the country the question is “Who’s got a welder?” meaning a friend or neighbor. I’ve heard plenty of guys wish they knew how to weld. I can weld. I’m not a welder.
Certification is a bit tricky. There is AWS (American Welding Society) certification, In-House certification (“Let me see you run a bead”), and Get-Er-Done certification (“Can you fix this?”). With a welder in your tool kit, things needing welding will assert themselves. My rule of thumb is: I’m certified to do whatever I feel comfortable doing. I’ve been paid to make things and that qualifies as certification for that project. I wouldn’t touch anything “go fast” like a motorcycle frame. I would repair a bumper for you, but that’s it. I won’t be responsible for what’s between you and the ground, doing 60 over asphalt. (See #1.) For myself, I’ve got joist hangers holding up the floor of my bedroom. They were inspected by an engineer, but I made them, and sleep there most nights.