DIY

Learn How to Weld

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This shows beads formed on amperage settings ranging from too low (cold) to too high (hot) should help, but here are some other things to look for: Slag pockets: black, nonmetallic deposits in the weld. Try keeping the electrode movement steady . . . and hold the rod at an angle closer to perpendicular. Undercutting: a shallow groove along one or both sides of a weld. This usually results from moving the electrode too fast. Slow down a little. Spatter: droplets of metal around the weld. It isn't a serious problem, but-if adjusting amperage doesn't cure it-you may be holding the electrode too high.
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Gather the supplies and you are ready for welding.
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A welding station. Make sure to clamp the work tightly to the bench.
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Beveled joint edges on thick steel improve the bond.
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Arcing metal.
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A completed weld.
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A final grinding of the welded metal.
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Welded metal.
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A blueprint of an arc welding schematic.

In his article “Weld It Yourself . . . and Make a Few Bucks to Boot,” Adrian B. DeBee gave
readers an admirably thorough explanation of the basic
tools and materials required to perform simple arc welding. He also suggested a number of ways to make money with
the skill, too.
Well, now that you know the what and the
why of the subject, it’s time to get to the heart
of the matter: how to weld. Even though it’s
true that professional tradespeople spend years honing
their skills to a high degree of technical proficiency,
it’s just as true that you — as an everyday do-it-yourselfer — can pick up all the fundamental techniques you’re
ever likely to need in just a couple of afternoons!

The Basics of Welding 

OK, let’s say you’ve followed
Adrian’s advice pretty much to the letter. You’ve bought
yourself a good 230-volt AC “buzz box” (or a comparable
machine), you’ve gathered together all the other
necessities (a head shield and goggles to wear
underneath, to protect your eyes from sparks and chips even
when your face plate is raised, gauntlet gloves, a heavy
natural-fiber or leather jacket and cap and rubber-soled
boots) and you’ve prepared a clean, well-ventilated,
dry work area.

While we’re at it, let’s assume that you’ve also bought a
supply of E6011 and/or E6013 all-purpose mild-steel
electrodes — probably a few pounds each of 1/8-inch and
5/32-inch-diameter rods, for use with metal 1/8 inches thick or more,
will be all you’ll need for now. (It’s important to prevent
the rods from absorbing humidity, so keep them dry.)

Finally, we’ll figure that — to round out your
materials supply — you’ve gone to a local metals outlet
and bought a pile of flat steel scrap in varying
thicknesses (anything from 1/8 inches to 3/8 inches is good for
practice) for about a nickel a pound. (When you’re done
with the material, you should be able to sell it back to a
salvage dealer for about 3¢ a pound!)

Start Welding at Home

Position a piece of steel plate
on your work surface and — since you’ll be practicing
with metal of around 1/4 inches in thickness — place a 1/8-inch
rod in the grooves of the electrode holder and set your
machine’s amperage to around 90 or 100. Connect the ground
cable to the work piece, but be sure it’s positioned far
enough away so that it won’t interfere with your weld. Or,
if the steel is on a conductive surface, simply clamp the
wire close to the work. Then — keeping the
electrode well away from any metal — turn the machine
on.

Now, you’re ready to strike the arc. Put your face
shield down and warn others around you not to stare at the
bright light no matter what.
Go ahead and start
the arc by holding the rod about 20 degrees from vertical and
lightly scratching the tip of the electrode across about an
inch of the area to be welded, drawing the rod toward you
and then quickly raising its tip to about 1/4 inch above
the metal.

What should happen is that — as a result of
scratching the protective flux from the end of the
electrode — current will flow through the rod, leap
across the gap, and form an extremely hot (6500 degree Fahrenheit)
electric arc that melts both the end of the wand and the
metal being welded. Because of the magnetic forces set in
motion, the molten metal from the electrode travels
across the arc and is deposited on the steel,
mingling with that metal to form a weld.

Unfortunately, what will happen the first few
times you try to strike an arc is what’s called freezing:
You won’t lift the tip of the rod quite quickly enough and
the danged thing will stick and try to weld itself to the
metal. A good strong twist should free the electrode. If that doesn’t work, turn the machine off,
release the rod from its holder and — after it has cooled
somewhat — wiggle the stick free from the steel, or knock it
with a hammer and start over. (It’s likely that you will
have to try again and again — “freezing” can be
absolutely maddening for the beginner — but sooner or
later you’ll develop a smooth flick-of-the-wrist motion
similar to striking a match and you’ll suddenly wonder why
you ever found the process difficult.)

Welding Exercise No. 1: Laying a Bead

Once you’ve struck an arc — and are consistently able
to hold the stick close enough to the metal’s surface to
maintain the circuit — the intense heat and flow of
molten material will continue until the rod is used up. But,
before you can expect to put this action to work to join
two pieces of metal, you must learn to control the
flow/fusion process to the point where you can
produce a symmetrical, deeply penetrating
weld.

Developing this bit of eye-hand coordination can,
unfortunately, be somewhat like learning to walk a
tightrope on roller skates in a wind, because the quality
of the bead you produce will depend on how well you balance
three important factors: [1] the amperage setting, [2] the
length of arc and [3] the speed at which you move the
electrode (known as “rate of travel”).

The amperage setting required will depend mainly on the
thickness and type of metal you want to weld, and on the
size of the electrode used to do the job. (The owner’s
manual with your machine will likely include a table of
recommended rod sizes for given metal thicknesses.) For
now, though, let’s stick with our approximately 1/4-inch steel
and a 1/8-inch rod, in which case an amperage setting of
between 85 and 115 will be appropriate.
(Start at a setting of 90 amps and then adjust up or down
as you observe the results of each bead.) Now, strike an
arc (your face mask is down, right?) and hold the electrode
so that it leans toward you at an angle of about 70 to
80 degrees to the work. Starting at the edge of the piece
farthest from you, draw the electrode back toward your
body. Don’t try any side-to-side movement for now — just pull the rod back in a straight line, evenly and
steadily: not too fast (speed will cause you to produce a
weld that’s shallow and too narrow) and not too slow (the
material will pile up and ripple excessively in such a
case). By looking closely, you’ll be able to see a crater
forming in the metal at the end of the arc. Try to
keep the flow of material into the back of that cavity
smooth and consistent.

Of course, while you’re doing your best to control the rate
of travel, another complication is taking place: Your
welding rod is melting, and — as a result — the length of your
arc is getting longer. So, while you’re pulling the
electrode toward you, you must also continually push the
tip gradually forward to compensate for the rod’s
ever-decreasing length.

As a general rule of thumb, try to keep arc distance equal
to the diameter of the electrode being used. When the gap
is correct, you’ll hear a “crackling” sound. But, when
the arc is too long, you’ll hear a hollow, blowing noise.
So try to develop an ear, as well as an eye and a feel, for
arc length. Once you’ve completed a pass, let the fresh
weld cool from red-hot to black, then use a chipping hammer
to knock off the thin outer crust of slag. Underneath will
be anything from a disappointing mass of pits
and bubbles to an attractive, evenly distributed, deep,
strong weld. The ideal bead is about one-and-a-half to two times as
wide as the diameter of the electrode, and as long as the
amount of rod used.

You can’t expect to get a perfect specimen, of course,
until you’ve had quite a bit of practice. Keep at
it, experiment with amp settings and arc distances and
travel speed — try your hand at moving the electrode from
side to side in a close zigzag or circular motion, too, and
analyze each bead’s appearance. If you make an honest
effort to be your own worst critic, you’ll be able to
detect what you’re doing wrong, and correct it.

Welding Exercise No. 2: A Butt Weld

Now that you’re running beautiful beads consistently
(well, almost), you’re ready to start actually joining two
pieces of metal. Again, we’ll use 1/4-inch steel (be sure the
edges to be fused are square) and 1/8-inch rod. If you
happen to have two pieces that are more than 1/4-inch, you should
probably bevel the top edges to assure a deep bond.

In any case, position the two sides so that they almost, but
don’t quite, touch (to allow for expansion) and clamp
there down securely. Because of the tremendous heat applied
during welding and the stresses created by the variations in
temperature along the seam as the work progresses and later
cools, the fresh weld and any adjacent metal are especially
subject to distortion. Therefore, if the plates are allowed
to move, the steel will often twist away from the joint,
and/or the electrode material will crack. Clamping the pieces
is the easiest way to minimize the effects of these forces,
though a “tack weld” — just a good, penetrating 1/4-inch dot
of metal placed at both ends of the joint, and used in
addition to the clamps, will assure a positive bond.

Now, set your machine to about 115 amps and strike an arc.
Start the weld at the top of the plates and draw it toward
you. But, this time, hold the rod nearly perpendicular
and move the stick side to side in a tight “Z” pattern. If
you’re using an E6011 electrode — which penetrates a bit
more deeply than does an E6013 — you may also want to
keep the arc length somewhat higher than the rule-of-thumb
1/8 inch. At the end of the run, raise the wand about 1/4 inch
and hold it there briefly to allow the cavity in the final
half-inch or so of the weld to fill with metal.

Let the work cool for a minute, then knock off the slag.
Ideally, you should have a weld that penetrates into the
seam, both horizontally and vertically, about 1/8 inch. The
surface of the fresh metal should be only slightly
convex.

If you’re satisfied with your results, smooth the work with a
hand grinder to give it the appearance you’d want for, say, a
box stove. On the other hand, if the
weld is poor, you may want to break it open — by twisting
the pieces in a vise or hammering them — to get a closer
look at the results of your efforts. Is fusion complete all
along the seam? Are there slag pockets? Keep a critical eye
out for weaknesses in the work . . . and be prepared to
practice correcting them.

On subsequent runs, you may want to try welding both sides of
the plates or attempt to apply a second layer over the
first (clean the initial seam’s slag off completely, then use
a wide but close zigzag — or crescent or
figure-eight — motion to cover the first weld). Remember that the more you experiment, the more you’ll learn.

Welding Exercise No. 3: A Tee Weld

Now, you’re ready to try to join a horizontal 1/4-inch steel
plate to a vertical, perpendicular one. You can use clamps
and a length of angle iron to keep the pieces positioned. Or, better yet, simply lay a small tack weld on both
sides of each end of the vertical plate, to hold the
members in place.

Since we’re only practicing tee-weld technique,
1/8-inch rod should be sufficient. But, because more filler
material is required here than for a simple butt joint, a
5/32-inch electrode (again, either E6011 or E6013) would be
even better.

When using the smaller wand, you’ll need to slow your rate
of travel in order to build up sufficient metal in the
joint, but the decreased speed will cause increased
heat and — therefore — a higher possibility of
metal distortion. So, if you have the larger-size electrode
available, or if you’re working on a “for real” project,
5/32-inch is the way to go.

Set your machine for about 130 amps and strike an arc. Now,
hold the rod so that it bisects the 90 degree angle formed by
the two pieces (in other words, so that it’s 45 degrees from
vertical) but leans at an angle of about 80 degrees out from
the corner where you intend to start the weld. Point the
tip of the electrode in the direction of travel, aim the arc directly at the juncture of the two plates and use a forward, oscillating, circular motion to
bring the weld metal up and into either side of the seam.
Keep your work as even as possible, and be sure to build
sufficient material all along both the vertical and
horizontal planes.

When the weld has cooled, examine the seam. Chances
are you’ll be looking at real messes after your first few
attempts. (Undercutting is a common problem with tee welds. To correct it, try increasing or decreasing arc
length, or reducing travel speed or amperage.) Be sure to
break the weld with a hammer to get a closer look at the
degree of penetration. If it isn’t deep enough, try, try
again. You’ll get it right (eventually).

Welding is That Easy

You will be able to handle most simple
projects once you’ve perfected the fundamentals outlined
here, but this article does not tell you
everything there is to learn. There are dozens of types of
welds, literally hundreds of kinds of electrodes for
various purposes and scores of special procedures. And
your arc machine can do more than just weld: It can
cut (not as smoothly as an oxyacetylene outfit, but you can
grind the edges after cutting, to get an acceptable
surface), it can be used to thaw frozen pipes
and — with the proper attachments — it can even braze and
solder.

Of course, learning to weld is like learning to do almost
anything: The best way is just to do it.
Concentrate on the basics until you really have them
perfected. Naturally, if you know someone who
welds — or have access to an adult education or
technical school course of some kind — you’re sure to
benefit from face-to-face instruction. The key is practice . . . and as soon as you’ve
perfected your skills sufficiently, you can even get paid
while you learn by making simple — but
salable — items such as flowerpot stands and the
like. Before long, you’ll be saving and making money
as a bona fide welder!