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Build a Microwave Transformer Homemade Stick/Arc Welder

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Picture of Build a Microwave Transformer Homemade Stick/Arc Welder
I had no idea making a DIY welder would be so easy to do. And, it's pretty much FREE!

Additionally, the stick welder you get is definitely better than anycheap commercial welder you can buy.
Why is this homemade thing better than something you can buy? Because when you factor in shipping and labor and the little bit of retail markup - the companies that make typical cheap buzz boxes will skimp on copper as much as possible. Whereas you can use enough copper in this to make something really juicy, and still spend less, to nothing, compared to a store-bought arc welder.

So here's what you need to build a welder:
- Two beat up old microwaves
- Some 10 gauge wire
- Wire nuts

People throw out microwaves all the time, if you keep your eyes on the curbs.
Or, you can get microwaves at the local thrift store for $10 each.
Try the warehouse that processes donations - they have to pay to get rid of tons of broken ones.

Stuff you need for welding:
- Welding helmet ($16 and up)
- Welding rods ($6)
- Vice grip or purpose-built electrode holder ($6 for either)
- C clamp for grounding clamp
- Gloves
- Thick nonflammable (leather) clothing that will cover your arms

Disclaimer: High Voltage ELECTRICITY and lots of CURRENT! Heat, electrocution, and DANGER! You could die and you could go blind.

That said, try this at home!

See this for a lot of welding safety tips

Here are the really good how-tos that this project is informed by:
build a 70 amp welder
the tiny tim welder by tim williams
home made welding machine (via afrigadget)

Dan Hartman's how-to is good for reference, too.

And here's the quickest way to make a DC welder with a bunch of 12 volt batteries.
 
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Step 1: Dissect the Microwaves

Invite your non-hardware oriented pals over to help help dissect your donor appliances.
They'll love it. David Grosof donated one of these microwaves under the condition that we take it apart together.

Good safety tip:
You'll find a gigantic capacitor inside the microwave. It looks like a metal can with two tabs on top.
Short it out to make sure it doesn't have any leftover charge on it, before you poke your hands anywhere near. Just put a screwdriver or something metal you aren't connected to, across the two metal terminals shown here.

Step 2: Prepare the Transformers

Chop and and knock out the secondary (thin wire) windings.
Don't nick or damage the primary windings in any way.

If you do, you could create shorts where two windings conduct to each other, allowing electricity to bypass certain parts of the coil, making effectively a smaller coil, and creating something different than what you expect at the output. Or, you might chop the connection entirely, ruining the primary. So do your best to keep it intact.

Step 3: Get some 24 foot chunks of ten-guage wire

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We scavenged some heavy wire from an old powerboat the owner was scuttling.
We stripped the outer jacket off and separated the inner conductors to wind new secondaries
on our transformers.


Step 4: Wind the new transformer secondaries

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We wound 20 turns of 10-guage wire on each transformer. That's just about how much wire would fit into the available space. It took a little over 20 feet of wire each.

tip: draw tally marks on your table to keep track of the number of windings.

How does a transformer work?
The primary winding is an electromagnet connected to alternating current.
The humming magnetic field of the primary induces a current to flow in the secondary winding. If both windings have the same number of turns, the output voltage is the same as the input.
(minus a smidgin due to eddy currents, resistance, etc.)
If the secondary has more turns than the input, its output voltage is higher. That's the type of transformer you started out with.

OUTPUT VOLTAGE = INPUT VOLTAGE * (NUMBER OF SECONDARY TURNS) / (NUMBER OF PRIMARY TURNS)

Our primary has 100 turns and gets connected to 100 volts AC. We're winding 20 turns on the secondary, so we'll get about 20 volts out.

The available POWER STAYS THE SAME regardless of what the output VOLTAGE is.
POWER (WATTS) = AMPS * VOLTS

If the primary is made take 1000 watts (100 volts * 10 amps) out of the wall, we'll be able to take 1000 watts out of the secondary. With 1/5 of the windings, we can draw 50 amps out of the secondary.

That's the cartoon version with play numbers anyway.
Over here in our shed full of reality we've got two of these beasts in series and plan to short the outputs through a welding rod like Jennifer Beals.

Let's just say we're going to pull a whole lot of amps, which is why we need to wind our secondary with such thick wire.

The copper conductor in ten-guage wire happens to be 1/10" (0.1") in diameter.

Here's a table of conductor diameter, guage, and current rating.

Step 5: Schematic

Picture of Schematic
It's a pretty simple circuit.
In fact there's nothing in it except wire!

We'll take two transformers and wind low-voltage secondary windings on them with thick wire.

We'll put the secondaries in series with our welding rod and workpiece.
We'll plug the primaries into the wall.

I really like the way aaawelder put it: "do not include yourself in this circuit"

Step 6: Wire your two transformers together

Why do we use two transformers?
Just one of these isn't big enough to make a really juicy welder.
If you happen to find a big enough transformer somewhere, feel free to use that.

Here's how to hook up two transformers.
First we wire both primary windings in parallel to the wall cord.
Then we wire the thick secondaries in series so they both"Push and pull" in the same direction.






Step 7: Test

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Get out yer voltmeter:

Here's the test to make sure the secondaries are both pushing the same direction.
Our two secondaries in series produce 38volts AC with no load. That seems about right.
If they'd phased wrong it could have been fixed by reversing the wiring to any winding.

Where Tim says "out of phase" in the video, he means "in phase". That is, the center tap should be less than the outer two leads, and if things weren't that way, the transformers would be fighting each other, or phased wrong.


Step 8: Weld

holy cow, it works!

We wanted to add a series inductor to give the unit more "inertia", but it didn't matter!

Here's Tim welding with some of those.



Built your welder, but not sure how to weld? Check out the instructional videos on youtube - search "how to arc weld". They're very good.

Here's Star striking an arc.
It welds great with these thin 1/16" 6013 rods. Even better with 3/32" 6013 rods.

Step 9: Thick Rod Test

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Those skinny 1/16" electrodes cost about twice as much as thicker ones.
We wanted to see how our welder works with thicker electrodes.
The next size up is 3/32", but we got a box of 1/8" 6011 electrodes.
When we pulled one out of the box we both said "wow, that's thick".

We fired up our welder and I welded this bead across the diamond plate with 1/8" rod.
The arc was pretty short but it burned in well and felt pretty good once I got used to it.
I had to shove it in a bit more than I'm used to to keep the arc going, but sticking wasn't a problem. I welded a long bead and used up more than half the rod without stopping.
That's the long weld in this photo.

Then I set the "torch" in this plastic tub so it wouldn't short out to anything.
I checked the transformers, and they didn't even get warm!
3/32" rods are less likeley than 1/8" to blow a circuitbreaker though. For your first welds get 3/32" 6013 rods.
6011 rods have thinner flux and make it easier to see what the metal of your weld is doing, but tend to spatter a bit more.

The next picture is for reference, from
hobartwelders.com

Udate 4/16/2008:
This is now my favorite welder. I made new leads for it from a pair of jumper cables. I left one alligator clamp on for a ground clamp, and added a $6 electrode holder. I've taught a bunch of people to weld using it.
The next photo is Ita welding for the first time, making an awning frame. That project was welded with this welder by total beginners using 3/32" 6013 rods. As you can see we have every other kind of welder, but the homemade ones are more fun.

Step 10: Welding Stainless Steel

Picture of Welding Stainless Steel
We needed some brackets for Solara's mizzen mast.
So we went to the welding store and bought some 3/32" "Hobart Smootharc+ 316L - 16" stainless welding rods. They're only 12" long because stainless has high electrical resistance and they get really hot.
After much designing and sketching Victor, Kenny, and I cut, drilled, bent and welded these brackets. Very easy. When it cooled the flux went "tik" and fell off the weld. The dark area around the weld is soot from the flux.The welder could have handled much thicker rods due to stainless' high resistance and low thermal conductivity.

Important:
Use a fresh grinding wheel on stainless, or one that you only use on stainless.
You'll get rust if you use any abrasives that have been used on non-stainless steel. Same for the wrong wire brush. It will smear rustable iron on the stainless, and due to galvanic effects it'll rust quick if it gets damp.

Hooray! Where did I get the idea you needed TIG for stainless? Stick welds on stainless are just great!

Step 11: Dimmer Control and Welding Thin Wall Tubing

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The welder was too hot for thin-walled tubing frames, I kept melting holes even with the 1/16" 6013 rods. So I plugged the welder into a variac dimmer and turned the power down about 30%.
That gave me very fine control over power. Marc Lander and I did some very nice welds as seen here. After a few we got good enough to do the same welds with 3/32" 6013 rods and no dimmer and not burn holes.
More tricks - I used my left hand to feed a piece of mig welding wire into the weld to add more metal in and soak up the heat. Here's Marc doing that. Any wire is fine for this, coathangers are traditional for muffler work. Sand off the paint first if you don't like fumes.
Stopping to eat lunch helped a lot also. Your welds won't be good when you're shaky and tired.

I got my variac for free, don't buy one for this, they cost as much as a welder.
A solid-state dimmer that's rated for inductive loads does the same thing and costs a lot less.

If you're feeling particularly fancy, you can add in your own scr-based switching circuitry to vary the power, like this guy did.

Step 12: Other Welders

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Folks have sent me a few photos and videos of welders they've built off of this instructable. I want you to be able to see them too, so here they are!

Here's a video I got from Paul du Buf, of the Netherlands (nice case, Paul!)

'

Cheyyne said:
Hey there, here's my welder based on your instructabletion. It outputs 35.5v, because the transformers were a little smaller than yours I think (couldn't wind a single more turn). So far I have managed to lay down gobs of metal on various steel objects in my garage, but I still suckat welding. Luckily I rented a nice welding video from Smartflix that had good reviews, hopefully that'll give me some insight into the process. I did manage to lay down a 1" bead though! The whole thing is going into a tacklebox housing.Props for a great instructable. Thanks for it!

llamafur followed with:
Heres another one, same basic welder, but its housed in a .50 cal ammo can. Looks pretty sweet. Its relay controlled ( two 15 amp HVAC control board relays wired in parallel) , I measured 24 volts ac across the output wires.its also sorta heavy, 30 pounds.
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Bob_128 days ago

I screwed up a little bit, when i took the coils out of the transformer i nicked the primary coil a few times, and managed to make it break in one spot, it was only one wire, and i hammered it back in place so it is in contact with the other end of the broken wire. Will this still work and are there any simple solutions such as adding electrical tape?

stasterisk (author)  Bob_125 days ago
No it will not work, in fact it is dangerous. Throw out that transformer.
TreyC11 month ago

These are simple enough, but one thing I have not been able to come across is a DIYer addressing the current limiting. 10 gauge wire, even at 1000 feet is less than an ohm impedance, which would put your primary at 120Amps - way too much for a household circuit. Secondary windings should use even greater gauge and have even less resistance, that it becomes negligible. So the only room left to bring down the amperage must be the inductance/reactance from the transformer itself and the resistance of the metals you are welding, which is not much either. Unfortunately, I have not studied transformers in depth yet, and do not know what kind of impedance the transformer would have on the circuit. If anyone could help, I would appreciate it. I'm looking to make a 300A welder with a ratio of somewhere between 50:1 and 37.5:1

geocrasher1 month ago

When I built one of these, I used the instructions you linked to at aaawelder.com. Unfortunately, that page is gone. I found it on archive.org and mirrored it on my own site here:

http://miscdotgeek.com/build-a-70-amp-arc-welder/

I hope it's useful to you, and please feel free to link to it in your instructable.

n1cod3mus3 years ago
i'm in the UK so if i took one of my transformers with 112 turns on the primary, the UK mains voltage is 230v and about 13amps so...

230v * 20 turns on 2nd = 4600

4600 / 112 turns on primary = 42.67v

13amps * 230v = 2990w (could round it up to 3000w)

is that correct? if so then surely i would only need a single transformer to do the welding? as you guys are using 2 to achieve output voltage of a simlar value

which would mean i would be getting over 100amps right?
i was just reading about how to calculate the amps on this site

http://www.ehow.co.uk/how_6505440_calculate-transformer-volt-amp-rating.html

looking at number 4 it says that if your reducing 120v to 12v your doing it by a factor of 10 and thus the input amps would be times that factor to give you the ouput.

to work out my amps i would assume i would need to work out the factor for my voltage so

input 230v / out put 41.67 = 5.51

input 13amps * 5.51 = 71.63amps out


am i doing this right? I think this should be the approximate amount of amps i would be putting out from 1 transformer
i know i'm answering my own questions here but i'm hoping that this will help others. and hey its near 2am here in the UK so i'm doing my best work.... more caffine.
ok so looking around the net most home welders produce upwards of 80amps and around 34v and up.

what this means the the US is that with your 50amps (as above) you will need more so doubling up your transformers gives you 100amps and your in the golden zone.

with my higher power and slightly higher amps with one tansformer I would only be able to get 71.63amps so its clear i also need to double up too.

so heres what i got, I have 2 transformers with the following

A) 112 turns on the primary

B) 132 turns on the primary

assuming I will be doing 20 turns on the secondary and the input voltage is 230v with 13amps, i work out its output and my factor for each transformer and then work out its amps

----------------------------
working out A)
230v * 20 turns on 2nd = 4600

4600 / 112 turns on primary = 41.67v output

input 230v / output 41.67v = 5.51 (the factor)

input 13amps * 5.51 (the factor) = 71.63 amps output

-----------------------
working out B)
230v * 20 turns on 2nd = 4600

4600 / 132 turns on primary = 34.8v output

input 230v / output 34.8v = 6.60 (the factor)

input 13amps * 6.60 (the factor) = 85.8 amps output

-------------------------

so once i combine the 2 transformers output

85.8 amps + 71.63 amps = 157.43 amps total output

41.67 volts + 34.8 volts = 76.47 volts total output

now the problem is what wire do i use, i found this site which has a handy table for the amps different wires can handle

http://www.powerstream.com/Wire_Size.htm?nowritefs&nowritefs

so i need wire that can handle up to 85.8 amps for B) and 71.63 amps for A)

looking at the chart i found I would need to use 7 gauge wire in the UK which can handle up to 89amps as you guys in the US are generating around 50amps 10 gauge is fine.


problem with this is that 7 gauge is much thicker so will i get the turns in, well thats where someone on instructables has the answer, you have to work out the area you have to use check this out

http://www.instructables.com/id/Easiest-Microwave-MOT-SalvageRe-use-Tutorial/

this is a series of videos that explain how to prep the transforms and in one of them it shows how to work out the area and how to wind your cable to use the best space and if the wire your planning to use will fit.
just been working this out if i wanted to use 10 gauge wire i would have to have an additional 10 turns so 30 turns and not 20, if anyone wanted to know, again you have to make sure this will fit, if not you will have to increase the turns and thus reducing the amps and you can use thinner wire
the only other way you could get round using 10 gauge with 20 turns is to introduce cooling, otherwise the wire will just melt and fuse together and then your stuffed.

good job i salvaged the fans from those microwaves, of course if you used wire that is enamel coated then i suspect you could fit the 7 guage in, but i'm thinking it will be tricky if its covered in a standard insulation.

i'm rambling i should go to bed, its 2.20am

hi,

am using 6mm diameter cable on both of my transformers
i've got 18 turns on both, can you please tell me about how much amps will i have

I have no idea this was over 2 years ago, I ended up just buying an arc welder they are cheap enough. I have since upgraded to a gas mig welder which is epic.

Does anyone want MOT ? I just destroyed my new microwaveoven to take the transformer out and to build a welding machine ,but new i lost my interest in that and want to sell my MoT ,pls help me
OVERLOADED3 years ago
does wiring the sec in series also give you double the voltage ?
No. Wiring in series boosts current. Wiring in parallel boosts voltage.

I know it is an old post, but wiring in series raises voltage, not current. Wiring in parallel raises current.

Also be carefull with your transformers, make sure they are the same gauge thickness and windings, preferably exactly the same transformers. That can bring you trouble both in long term and short term use.

Great project, waiting for my microwave oven to go down so I will give it a go ;)

Sorry, but wiring in series boosts voltage, not current.. Two 6 volt batteries in series gives you 12 volts. In parallel, gives you 6 volts at twice he current.
Sorry, you're right. In series current stays the same, in parallel voltage stays the same. Long night.
correct,no need to be sorry for nature lol. it is what it is.
thx wasint too sure about trans or even why i asked that question so long ago?
sphawes2 years ago
Ive built mine using two transformers wired in series. I was only able to get about fifteen winds in my secondary coil for each of them. Being a new welder, i get the stick stuck to my piece quite often, causing my fuse to blow. Is there a way i could wire it up better so that this wont happen, or is it just a matter of not sucking so much at welding?
DanniM sphawes5 months ago

use a house breaker in place of the fuse. if know ur current then you should be able to find a safe rating.

can you plz tel me if safe totachit with my hands

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squiddarling10 months ago

Hexavalent chromium (a.k.a chrome 6 mentioned below) is carcinogenic. Just a heads up, that you NEED a mask...

does anyone know what the standard output is on one of these transformers?

Its about 1.2kV

thanks

hhofkhan1 year ago

between 16 to 24 volts but not more than 24

dan7 years ago
referring to your 'one hand behind the back' electrical safety position - for high voltage work you can't just put either hand behind your back - it must be the LEFT hand behind your back. the reason is that if you are prodding at some high voltage gear with your right hand and get zapped - the primary current flow is the shortest path to ground: through your right arm, down your torso on the right side, down your legs and into the ground. now if you use your left hand instead - then unfortunately your heart is in your left side torso and is now part of the predominant current path. high voltage electrical work is unfortunately not a good career choice for lefties. now, as shown (with either hand behind back) it is usually ok for 120vac work, because if your shoes are dry and have decent rubber soles then 120vac isn't enough to go through that.
Your heart is in the CENTER of your chest and has only a small protrusion to the left. All your talk up about the dangers of putting one hand behind the back vs another are all hoo-nanny.

Back in the dark ages I worked a lot with some very dangerous equipment. We were taught to work with one hand in your pocket or behind your back. The problem was not current thru you shoes (electrical safety shoes were always used), but current from hand to hand with your heart in between. A couple times I had terrible shocks...one bad enough to leave a bad burn on my hand. Good technique meant survival. Always remember things break...a safe place to touch today may really get your attention tomorrow.

tashammer dan7 years ago
The heart being on the left hand side is not always true speaking as one who's heart has been moved over to the middle right due to having a lung out.
There's always one! Lol
Ok but for the majority of people this applies correct?
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