When I was young my dad always made the coolest things. One thing which really stands out in my memory was a portable volleyball net holder. It was a pair of steel frames which he had welded together so a volleyball net could be set up in just about 2 minutes. It didn’t require any stakes in the ground or anything. It was completely freestanding.
Whenever I think about them it makes me wish I had been around his house more often in my teen years to be able to learn how to weld. I had my own welding helmet since I was a kid so I could be in the garage when my dad was welding. And I had learned how to use an acetylene torch to cut metal. But whenever something needed to be welded my dad did it.
So that’s what I want to learn how to do this month. I want to learn how to weld.
There are a few different types of welding but I’m going to stick with arc or stick welding. Partially so I can make a pun. Partially because that’s what my dad did. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So, What Do I Need?
The obvious thing you’ll need for welding is a welder. Just like any other tool they come in all different sizes and strengths. Hopefully you can learn from my biggest mistake which I made when I attempted to learn how to weld.
An arc welder works by sending an electrical current through the workpiece and a “stick” which you hold near enough to the workpiece that an electrical arc is formed. The current going through it melts the pieces you are working with to create a permanent bold. This makes the connection of the pieces of metal stronger than other methods of holding metal together, like bolting or riveting. Since it has to use such a large amount of energy to do this, it needs a large amount of energy to begin with.
Plugging It In
When I bought my welder I learned a very important lesson about outlets. They come in different sizes. The outlet required for the welder I bought was a NEMA 14-30 which has an output of 250 volts at 30 amps, compared to the normal (in North America) 125 volts at 15 amps of a NEMA 5-15 outlet. There are actually 3 wires and a ground which go to it instead of 2 wires and a ground.
The house I was living in when I bought my welder didn’t have this kind of outlet. Even the washing machine used a NEMA 5-15. So it sat in my basement for a while and collected dust as I dreamed of the day I’d buy a house with the correct outlet.
Another important thing you’ll want for stick welding would be electrodes, which are the sticks which are used to actually form the weld. The whole process is much easier when you have these.
A Couple Extra Tools
A chipping hammer and metal brush are used to clean the weld and remove any slag which forms as you are welding to reveal a nice beautiful weld beneath. Some people will say you should clean the weld with an angle grinder to make it look nice. There are others though who would say that doesn’t make you a good welder; it makes you a good grinder. I’m not here to judge either way.
You’ll also want some clamps and other things to hold metal such as magnets. Although there might be some things where accuracy doesn’t matter so you can just hold a piece in place before you tack it on, most things will need to be exact. Clamps will also help with grounding the workpiece to ensure the electricity flows easier.
Two of the most important things you absolutely need to get are a helmet and a pair of gloves. The light produced from welding is powerful enough to burn your skin and permanently blind you. A welding helmet provides a cover for your face with a dark screen which you can look through to weld. There are even some helmets which will darken as soon as a bright light shines on them so you don’t need to keep lifting it up to see what you are doing.
The gloves serve the dual purpose of protecting your hands from the heat as well as the electricity. As I said before arc welding required a large amount of energy which doesn’t just go through the welder. Chances are if you’re arc welding, you’re working with metal. I’m not really sure what your intentions would be if you aren’t. As soon as you turn the welder on it wants to send electricity through the first thing it can. If you touch the metal you are welding it could easily decide you are the path of least resistance. I’ve heard electrocution is not the most comfortable death and if the shock doesn’t kill you it will still be painful. I recently watched an episode of Mythbusters where Kari was welding and due to whatever circumstances, which I can’t recall, her gloves were wet or damp and she kept getting shocked.
Some of the best advice I got about welding was, “You’re going to catch on fire so you might as well get fire retardant clothing ahead of time.” I have a fire retardant long sleeve shirt and pair of pants, as well as fire retardant composite toes shoes. It may seem like overkill but I know when I catch on fire it will be easier to put out than when I’m wearing a cotton t-shirt. I also have a large fire retardant blanket to keep sparks from catching things near me, since I don’t have much space to work with in terms of keeping wooden objects far from me.
The last, and one of the most important things, is to make sure wherever you are welding is well ventilated. Welding creates toxic fumes which can and will cause damage to your body or even kill you.
Disclaimer: Although I have done a significant amount of research before preparing this post, I am not an expert on this subject. My intent is to help people who may be interested find some more information. If you decide you would like to try this yourself, please do some additional research and use common sense.