Welding Equipment Guide
Basic Welding Overview
The more you accomplish on your own in your home shop/garage the more satisfaction you get out of your classic Ford project. It's safe to say that most of you reading this magazine probably have enough handtools to get the job done. Specialty tools, on the other hand, usually only get purchased if there is a great bargain or if you know you'll be using the tool more than a few times. It's rare we see people buy a complete HVLP painting system just to paint their own car (though we have seen it). Now welding equipment, on the other hand, is something we feel is a sound investment for the home shop. Even if you only plan to build one classic Ford project, the labor involved in typical rust repairs (floors, fender apron, and so on) isn't overly complicated, but is time consuming, which turns into big labor bills. Handling these repairs yourself with a home MIG welder not only gives you that sense of satisfaction from working on it yourself, but will save you plenty of money in labor bills. Furthermore, the welding equipment will come in handy for many home projects (we've fixed trampoline frames, bicycle frames, patio furniture, exhaust systems, lawn tractors, and more over the years with our home welding equipment).
What we've compiled here for our readers is an overview of welding types, equipment, and more to get you started down the path of home welding projects. We encourage you to pick up reading materials on welding at your favorite book retailer. You can also find instructional videos from the major welding equipment manufacturers, online tips and FAQs, as well as newsletters you can sign up for that are delivered directly to your email inbox. Finally, local community colleges and technical/vocational schools offer welding classes where you can get hands-on training, often with similar home shop based equipment, which will give you the confidence you need to tackle most any project. So check out this welding equipment guide, do some research on your own, and even visit a local welding equipment retailer to try one out and see what's best for your project needs, budget, and shop size.
The heat in arc welding is...
The heat in arc welding is so intense that that the two surfaces being welded together actually liquefy along with the metal in the electrode to form a puddle and the materials all become one. In this photo the molten pool can be seen as the red area near the tip of this MIG welding gun.
Welding is a fabrication process that joins separate pieces of metals. This is accomplished by partially melting the juncture of the work pieces while adding metal to form a pool of molten material, which then cools and solidifies to become a very strong joint. In the types of welding we are interested in, electricity is used to create the heat. Other welding methods, such as brazing or soldering, use heat obtained from an external source such as a torch flame or an independently heated soldering gun tip. Brazing or soldering creates a joint where the bond is, to some extent, external to the pieces being joined and the joint is usually not as strong as the material being used. This is because during brazing or soldering the materials are not completely melted and mixed together. The three types of arc welding we are going to look at create a bond that is as strong as the material being joined. All three types of welders have a principal function in common. They transform high voltage, low amperage primary power into low voltage, high amperage secondary or welding power. They do this through two sets of windings or coils of copper wire inside the machine that are wrapped around steel plates.
This unit from Lincoln Electric...
This unit from Lincoln Electric is called the AC-225. It is Lincoln's most popular selling stick welder worldwide. This welder can be used on a variety of materials, including carbon and low-alloy steels, stainless steel, and cast-iron. It has an MSRP of $347.65.
On any type of arc welding, the molten joint must be protected from atmospheric contamination and this is accomplished either by a coating of flux contained on or in the electrode or by an inert gas such as Argon that is applied to the surface of the weld while it is being created. In stick and flux-cored wire, welding the flux leaves a coating of slag, which must be chipped off once the weld has cooled. All arc welding processes involve a welding power source and some means of completing an electric circuit between the electrode and the part being welded. While different welding processes share some things in common, each process creates the finished product in a unique manner.
Here's a portable stick welder...
Here's a portable stick welder in operation. Basic stick welding advantages over the other types we will look at include simple equipment requirements and low cost. Basic stick welders can cost only a few hundred dollars and are easily portable. Simply using longer cables allows welding at a long distance from the welder. Stick welding is better suited to windy, outdoor conditions than MIG or TIG because the electrodes are coated with flux and thus self-shielding. Stick welding is a more forgiving process than MIG or TIG when welding on dirty or rusty metal.
The three types of welding that we are concerned with include stick welding, MIG welding and TIG welding. While all three types of welding are closely related in principle, each process offers advantages in certain applications. For general repairs, a stick welder can be a good way to go. One reason is lower cost. Stick welders start at about $400 and go up to around $2,000 for a home- or shop-sized unit. MIG welders are more popular in automotive applications and will weld aluminum as well as steel. You can do cleaner work with a gas welding set up because there is no slag or residual material creating a mess and requiring removal. MIG welding setups start at about $800 and can go past $2,500 in cost. With a TIG welder you can do even finer work on thinner metals because not only is residual slag absent but the temperature of the welding spark can be more accurately controlled and the welding material is added by hand. TIG welders cost a little more and start around $1,200 and go up past $3,000.
Although this stick weld has...
Although this stick weld has already had the slag chipped away, much residual material remains. On this practice weld, the amps were set a little too high and excess splatter is the result.
Choosing which of these three types of welders is best for work on your classic Ford project depends on what you're going to be doing. Before you go out and lay down your money you should ask a few important questions. One important consideration is input power requirements. You'll need to know what voltage is available in your shop or garage. Is it 110 or 220 volts? Some home-use or light- duty welders work off of 110-volt current. Most other types use 220-volt. What are the amperage draw limitations on your circuit breaker? Circuit breakers have both voltage and amperage ratings that limit the amount of current that can flow through them. The standard household 115V outlet in your home likely has a 15 or 20 amp rating, while your 230V dryer circuit has a 30 or 50 amp rating. Knowing the rating of your circuit breaker is important, because weld-ers have minimum power requirements. If you meet the minimum requirements, you'll be able to weld. However, an undersized circuit breaker will limit the welder's top output. Further, if your welding power demand exceeds available input power, you'll trip the circuit breaker. Don't forget to factor in the electric loads of other equipment you'll need to run at the same time as the welder. To determine circuit size required, examine the welder's spec sheet and look for the amps input at rated output figures.
This is a much nicer weld...
This is a much nicer weld and shows the upper limits of quality for a stick welder. The weld is free of porosity and has been cleaned of any slag or splatter.
Before you purchase a welder it's important to consider the thickness of the metal you'll be welding on because the amperage required to successfully accomplish the weld varies. The thicker the metal you intend to weld, the greater the amount of amperage required. The material thickness and the current carrying capacity of the electrode determine the amperage at which you weld. As a general rule of thumb, you need one amp of power for every 0.001-inch of mild steel. For example, to weld 1/8-inch (0.125-inch) mild steel in a single pass, you need approximately 125 amps.
The type of metal you'll be welding will also change your equipment needs. For example if you're going to be welding steel some of the time and aluminum at other times, you may wish to add a spool gun for the aluminum welding. More precise control is the result and it eliminates having to unload the wire used with steel welding from the machine when running a second type of wire. What upgrades and accessories are available for the machine you selected? Are the machine's size, weight, and portability important to you? These are all things you'll need to consider. Inverter-based welders are also available. They require much less primary power than conventional welders because they feature special circuitry. While an inverter welder will cost more, you could actually save money if you avoid the need to rewire your garage, barn, or shop.
This Millermatic 140 MIG Auto...
This Millermatic 140 MIG Auto Set welder would be a great choice for a shop or home garage where the emphasis is automotive. Its new Auto Set 140 has a control that automatically sets your welder to the proper operational parameters. On this machine you can simply set the wire diameter and the material thickness and you're ready to go, and the MSRP is only $809.
Besides amperage capability range, the machine's performance is also evaluated for continuous rated output, which is expressed in terms of its "duty cycle." The duty cycle is the number of minutes out of a 10-minute period that a welding machine can operate at the rated output. This standard helps buyers make a direct comparison between welders. To better understand how duty cycle ratings are applied specifically let's look at two different sizes of welders. A typical machine for home or shop use might have a total output range of 30 to 140 amps. If it were rated for an output of 90 amps at a 20 percent duty cycle that would mean that it can weld continuously at 90 amps for two minutes and then must cool down during the remaining eight minutes to prevent overheating. A second example might be a heavier semi-industrial-type unit that's also popular for more serious personal users. If it has 30 to 300 amp welding range and duty cycle of 40 percent at 250 amps it can weld continuously at 250 amps for four minutes and then must cool down during the remaining six minutes to prevent overheating. As welding output decreases, duty cycle increases. For example the 40 percent duty rating at 250 amps would increase to a 60 percent duty cycle when welding at 200 amps. Ambient temperature also impacts duty cycle. For example, if a machine achieves its rating at 104 degrees Fahrenheit then the machine becomes de-rated to some extent when welding at ambient temperatures of greater than 104 degrees.
Stick welding is also known as shielded metal arc welding. Stick welding is a manual arc welding process that uses a consumable electrode, or stick rod, that is coated in flux. The filling metal material is obtained from the electrode core, while the flux coating produces shielding gas and a layer of slag, both of which protect the weld from atmospheric contamination.
This close-up shows the MIG...
This close-up shows the MIG welding gun and push-button controls. Notice the electrode wire emerging at the tip of the gun, which is continuously fed to the job as the trigger is depressed.
The second type of welding we are concerned with is commonly called MIG, or gas metal arc welding. It is also sometimes referred to as wire welding. MIG welding is a semi-automatic process that creates an arc between a continuously fed wire electrode, which provides the required filler material, and the part being welded.
Here's a MIG welding job in...
Here's a MIG welding job in progress. It welds light gauge material or thick plates and allows better control on thin metals than stick welding. It can be used to weld most common metals. Because the electrode is a piece of wire continuously feed to the weld off of a wire spool there is no need to replace the electrode periodically and you can weld at higher speeds. This makes MIG well suited to larger projects.
There are two types of MIG welding. A specialized machine can do both types. In one, externally supplied shielding gas from a gas cylinder protects the molten weld puddle from contamination. The shielding gas and wire are both fed through a MIG "gun" and they begin flowing when the operator squeezes the trigger. A big advantage to gas-shielded welders is that there is no residual coating because the gas dissipates after the procedure is completed. Because in standard MIG welding the weld is protected from contamination by a continuously fed protective gas there is no slag to chip and far less smoke. The downside of gas-shielded welders is that they can't be used outside in windy conditions because the wind can disperse the gas before it provides the required protection.
The advantage of a gas-shielded...
The advantage of a gas-shielded weld can be seen here in the example of MIG welding. A super clean job is the result.
MIG welding can also be accomplished using one of two types of flux-cored wire. In one case, instead of a gas being applied from an external source a flux contained within the tubular electrode wire core creates the shielding gas when heated by the arc. The self-shielded gasless-type of MIG welder does not need any secondary shielding gas and they are commonly used for do-it-yourself or home service. The other type is the gas-shielded flux-cored wire MIG welder. It requires an externally supplied shielding gas. Both types of flux-core wire cover the top of the weld with a hard slag coating that must be chipped off prior to painting or subsequent weld passes. Another advantage of MIG welding is that it is the easiest welding process to learn.
For the ultimate in portable...
For the ultimate in portable MIG welding, Hobart now offers this weld anywhere battery-powered welding package. The Trek 180 battery-powered wire welder is a professional system for MIG welding off the power grid. No matter where the job takes you, the Trek 180 delivers heavy-duty weld power to fabricate or repair 24-gauge up to 1/4-inch mild steel in a single pass. It is powered by two internal sealed lead-acid batteries. The high-purity energy storage technology enables the Trek to be charged complete in about 90 minutes and quickly recharged in about 40 minutes. The integrated charging system is powered by standard 115-volt household current and can operate while plugged in or completely cordless. The Trek delivers 180 amps at approximately 10-percent duty cycle on 115-volt standard power. The unit is setup for both self-shielded flux-cored and solid gas-shielded wires from 0.024 to the 0.035 diameter. We found it for $1,399.
If you're planning on welding...
If you're planning on welding on both steel and aluminum then you may wish to consider adding a spool gun to your outfit. Loaded with wire for aluminum welding it makes it a cinch to switch over from steel welding and offers very precise control.
This Miller Diversion 165...
This Miller Diversion 165 is a good choice for a home or small shop TIG welder. It includes everything except argon shielding gas, filler rod, gloves, and helmet. The Diversion 165 is specifically for personal user applications and for those who want to step up to TIG welding to tackle new applications. Simply turn on the power switch, select your metal type and the material thickness range (welding amperage) and start welding. The kit, as shown, has an MSRP of $1,617.
Because TIG welding requires...
Because TIG welding requires the use of a shielding gas you also have to consider the cost of getting the argon tank in place. Because the tank is very heavy, usually a cart or hand truck is required to make the welder portable.
MIG welding using flux-core wire works as well as stick welding on dirty or rusty material. In addition, self-shielding gasless wire can be used for welding outdoors. The use of self-shielding wire increases portability as there is no gas cylinder to haul around. MIG welding using flux-core wire offers deeper penetration when welding thick sections and a high rate of metal deposition allows the job to be completed faster.
Here, the center electrode...
Here, the center electrode for a TIG application is being carefully shaped on the grinder. The fine point gives great accuracy when welding.
The third type of welding that we are concerned with is TIG or gas tungsten arc welding. TIG welding process uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode and a shielding gas that protects the welding area from contamination. The arc comes off the point of the tungsten to melt the base metal while the operator manually adds filler wire in a technique similar to brazing. TIG welding is the type of welding that offers the most flexibility. Unlike MIG or stick, TIG welding lets an individual operator control heat input while working using a remote foot pedal or fingertip control. Hence, welding on thin materials is more easily accomplished and with less distortion.
This close-up of a TIG welding...
This close-up of a TIG welding gun shows the tungsten electrode at the point of the gun. Although it looks much like the wire core on a MIG gun the tip is not consumed and the material added to the weld is not machine fed.
The TIG process welds all metals with just a single gas, usually argon. TIG welding provides the highest quality detail work, and very aesthetic weld beads can be created. TIG welding also produces the least amount of sparks or spatter. Both flux-core and stick welding use an electrode with positive polarity and the work is grounded. Both use a constant current design. In gas-protected MIG welding and in TIG welding the electrode has negative polarity. As we have already noted TIG welding uses variable current.
Here's a TIG weld in process....
Here's a TIG weld in process. Because the filler material is handheld, it can be added at very precisely controlled amounts. Because the amount of heat can also be precisely controlled, welding on very thin materials can be accomplished without damage or blow through.
Different electrodes, base metals, and welding processes require different shielding gases. For all TIG applications, use 100 percent argon. For all MIG aluminum applications use 100 percent argon also. For MIG welding on stainless steel, a "tri-mix" blend should be used. Tri-mix consists of 90 percent helium, 7.5 percent argon, and 2.5 percent of carbon dioxide. As you become more involved with different alloys or procedures, the shielding gas requirements change, so you'll need to research which gas combination will work best for your specific jobs before you proceed.
One final thing to think about is welding safety. Arc welding safely always requires proper safety gear to protect you from the harmful sparks, heat, and ultraviolet rays that can burn skin and eyes.
The finished TIG welding bead...
The finished TIG welding bead is shown on top of this very thin material. It has the classic "stack of dimes" look that is very pleasing to the eye on finished work.
Once the welder has the TIG...
Once the welder has the TIG gun in one hand, the filler material in the other hand and the work in front of him, he can begin the welding job. A precise arc coupled with the ability to control heat input allows TIG welding of very thin metal, with a thickness of as little as 0.010-inch.
At a minimum, you'll need...
At a minimum, you'll need the following safety gear. As the sparks are flying to prevent burns this fellow is properly equipped including a welding helmet, safety glasses, hat, and welding gloves. Some sort of arm protection is required as well as leather shoes. Safe welding requires detailed awareness of your environment. Always weld in well-ventilated area. Remove all flammable materials such as wood, oil, or newspapers from your welding area. Never weld in wet conditions. Never use worn, damaged, or poorly spliced electrical cables. Properly install and ground electrical equipment according to their owner's manual. Read your owner's manual and follow its safety guidelines.
The Miller Spectrum 625 Xtreme...
The Miller Spectrum 625 Xtreme plasma cutter shown here is a convenient method for cutting and uses compressed air, which is typically available in most applications via shop or portable compressors. The 40-amp unit weighs just 21 pounds, light enough to be carried by its shoulder strap. At 12-inches per minute the machine cuts 5/8-inch mild steel and cuts 1/4-inch steel at 60 inches per minute. Automatic Air Regulation automatically adjusts torch air pressure for optimum cutting and gouging performance. It's ideal for automotive, body shop, maintenance, and personal-use. We found this unit for a cost of $1,464.95.
Sometimes before you can weld you need to be able to remove other material before you can begin. For doing this it's hard to beat plasma cutting. Plasma is an ionized gas that conducts electricity. Plasma is created by adding energy to an electrically neutral gas. In this application the gas is compressed air and the energy is electricity. The more electrical energy added, the hotter the plasma arc becomes. Plasma-arc cutting machines control this powerful energy by constricting the arc and forcing it through a concentrated area called the nozzle. By increasing air pressure and intensifying the arc with higher amperage, the arc becomes hotter and more capable of blasting through thicker metals.
As you can see from this photo, a plasma cutter makes short work of the 1/4-inch thick steel framerail. Plasma provides numerous advantages over other common cutting processes. The plasma process cuts any type of electrically conductive metal including aluminum, copper, brass, and stainless steel. Plasma cutting produces a narrow and more precise cut while sawing or chopping takes a long time and will typically leave a rough edge. Plasma cutting is fast, clean, and leaves a nice straight edge. It also offers gouging and piercing capabilities.