A beginner welder has a lot to learn, but don’t let it intimidate you by any means. Welding is a useful skill that can save you lots of money and could even open up employment options you wouldn’t have had before. I’ve been welding on the farm for the better part of 20 years and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Let me share a few key pointers to get you started.
Just like wearing chainsaw safety gear to cut down trees, you need appropriate safety gear to do a welding project. Every beginner welder should buy themselves some basic safety gear before they ever turn on a welder.
Before the obvious stuff, invest in a hand full of cost effective safety glasses. I buy cheap safety glasses and change them regularly, usually every other job just because they get scratched up. Seeing well is critical to surface prep and since welding is 90 percent prep and ten percent Arc time, you’d best have glasses you don’t hate.
Welding helmets are not all created equal. Whatever welding shield you decide to buy, be sure it covers your entire face and is auto darkening. An auto darkening shield allows you to keep your face covered while you work and when you strike your arc, it will automatically tint your viewing window. I can’t stress enough how much safer and convenient this shield design is over others. You can find these auto darkening shields for around $40 or less at your local discount tool shop or online.
Don’t underestimate the sound of a metal grinder. You may be able to tune it out now, but you will pay for it later. I suggest using disposable ear plugs since ear muffs tend to be far too bulky when using a welding face shield.
I have a lovely scar that runs across my wrist. Albeit well faded by now, the lesson still stands in my mind. Your regular leather gloves just don’t offer you the protection you think they do, so buy some quality long cuff welding gloves. Cheap stiff gloves are inconvenient at best, so spend a little more on quality gloves to keep your skin intact.
A welding arc is incredibly bright and it can fry your skin faster than that time you fell asleep at the beach. Arc burn is seriously painful, which is why welders wear long sleeves and long pants no matter the weather. Follow their lead and cover your skin with non-flammable clothing.
Welder’s coats can be had for around $15 or less and they’re cheap insurance. I forgot to wear mine when I was welding some tractor bucket attachments last year and I suffered for two weeks with a terrible arc burn. Learn from my mistakes.
Duty cycle is expressed as a percentage (such as 20, 40, or 100) and refers to how much of a ten-minute period it can weld before it needs a break. For example, a 20 percent duty cycle welder can weld for two minutes, then must rest for eight minutes. If you try to weld beyond your duty cycle, your welder and welds will suffer. Your duty cycle will largely depend on your welding types and the quality of your machine.
The most common downfall of a beginner welder is underestimating the importance of prep work. You need to prep your working surfaces before you weld anything. Rust, paint, grease, oil and any other contaminant will sabotage your best efforts if not completely removed.
A grinder is a welder’s best friend. If you need to shape or clean rusted steel, a grinding wheel will take metal off fast and bevel your edges. If you have paint or light rust on your surface, install a wire wheel. Need to cut things short? Grab a cutting wheel. The grinder really is the unsung hero of the welding world.
Once you have a surface you’ve ground to bright steel, you’ll need to clean it. Use Acetone to clean the surface of oils and grease, since a contaminated surface makes for terrible welds. Do not use brake cleaner, since burning brake cleaner produces a dangerous gas.
Make sure your work is ready to weld and fully supported. You don’t want to be holding on to your work while you weld, so use magnets, welding tables, and tack welds to keep your work in position. Tack welds are small spots of weld meant to temporarily hold things in place and should be easily broken or ground off. When using a MIG or Flux Core welder, a quick one second zap should produce a good tack weld.
Whenever possible, give yourself a support to rest your arm while you weld. Without some form of support, your arc will shake or wander as you fatigue.
Avoid warping by tack welding and clamping. If laying a lot of weld (such as the length of your tractor’s bucket), weld in short bursts, then move to a different area or side of the work. Doing this prevents putting too much heat in one spot.
For sheet metal, use brief tack welds. If you try to run a weld bead on sheet metal it will warp or burn right through. It’s tedious, but you should tack sheet steel zap by zap.
Practice Makes Perfect
Welding is a motor skill and a mental ability. Your body needs to develop muscle memory and learn the hand-eye coordination to make proper welds, which doesn’t happen overnight. Learn about what you’re doing. Read a book, surf online or find a great blog on welding. There are lots of talented welders willing to share their experience and it’s up to you to listen. Be open, be wise and above all, be safe!
Do you have a favorite resource for information fit for a beginner welder? If so, let us know in the comments below!