Introduction: Make a Carbon Arc Torch for Your 220 Volt Stick Welder

Picture of Make a Carbon Arc Torch for Your 220 Volt Stick Welder

MIG welders can do many things, but they cannot heat metal for bending or brazing. Your stick welder can do those things with a carbon arc torch added to it. 

I am using a torch already fully constructed, so you will not see the parts aside from their place in the final unit.

Materials needed:

2 pieces of 1 x 2 firring strip 6 inches long (each)
2 pieces of 1/4 inch steel rod 7 inches long (each)
2 1/4 inch water pipe nipples 2 1/2 inches long (each)
2 #8-32 thumb screws about 1/2 inch long each
2 #8-32 nuts
2 1/4 inch flat washers
2 pieces of steel 1/8 inch thick and 3/8 inch x 3/4 inch
2 crimp-on connectors for #10 stranded wire
2 #8 terminal screws from an old electrical outlet
1 compression spring about 1/2 inch in diameter and 2 inches long
1 nylon cable tie about 6 inches or more long
8 #8 round head wood or flat head sheet metal screws
20 feet of #10 stranded plastic or rubber covered copper wire
2 pieces of scrap steel or aluminum 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick and 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches (each)
1/4 inch carbon rods (Get at a welding supply house.)

Tools needed:

Wood saw
Hack saw
Drill press and bit assortment
#8-32 tap
Crimping tool for electrical terminals
Soldering iron (150 watt) or gas torch and solder
Arc welder

Begin by cutting the wooden handles from the firring strip--6 inches long each.

Step 1: Make the Wooden Handles

Picture of Make the Wooden Handles

Cut two pieces of 1 x 2 inch pine, like a firring strip. Make them 6 inches long each.

Step 2: Prepare the Handles for the Hinge

Picture of Prepare the Handles for the Hinge

The handles are hinged at the rear end of the torch. The side with the single screw is free to move. The 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 pieces of aluminum or steel are fastened with two screws to the other handle. The side out of view to the camera is a mirror image of what is shown here. Leave the single screw a tiny bit loose so the hinge action moves freely. (The hole you see in the aluminum is left over from a previous life.)

Step 3: Prepare the Handles for the Spring and Nylon Tie

Picture of Prepare the Handles for the Spring and Nylon Tie

Using the torch will involve squeezing it with one hand. You want the spring to gently push the handles open when the pressure from your hand is released. But, you do not want them to open without limitation. So, a nylon cable tie goes through the center of the spring and around the bottom of the handles to restrict how far the handles can open.

Close the handles and drill a hole about 3/16 of an inch through both. The nylon tie will go through these holes later, but not right away. Open the handles wide and drill a 1/2 inch countersink hole on the inside face of each handle. These holes are for the ends of the spring.

Wait to install the spring and nylon tie until after the next step.

Step 4: Drill the Ends of the Handles for the Steel Rods

Picture of Drill the Ends of the Handles for the Steel Rods

The holes for the steel rods should be straight and parallel to each other so the tips of the carbon rods will touch when the handles are squeezed together during use of the torch. A drill press or similar assistance for drilling holes parallel to the outer surfaces of the handles is a big help, although it may be possible to get pretty close with a hand-held drill. These holes should be about 1 1/2 inch deep into the ends of the handles.

Weld a flat washer on each steel rod. Insert the rods into the handles. Drill for a locking screw on each handle. This screw fixes the rods so they cannot shift or rotate from your setting of their angle.

Now place the spring into the countersink holes on the inner surfaces of the handles. Hold the handles together lightly and insert the nylon tie so it goes through the spring. Slip the end of the nylon tie through its own retaining hole and adjust the tension on the nylon tie for the amount of space you want between the handles when they are not being squeezed. Trim the nylon tie so the extra is removed. You may want to heat the cut end of the nylon tie with a match so it loses its sharp edge. Sometimes those can scratch and cut. (See the previous panel for the photo there.)

Step 5: Weld the Nipples to the Rods

Picture of Weld the Nipples to the Rods

If you can get black iron nipples, so much the better for welding. If you can get only galvinized, grind away the zinc coating wherever you will be welding and do not breathe any fumes. Do your best to align the nipples to the steel rods before welding so the center of both nipples is on the same plane as much as possible. This will be important for making the tips of the carbon rods meet when the handles are squeezed together during use of the torch. Some discrepancies can be overcome by bending the 1/4 inch steel rods a little.

Nipples are a little larger than their nominal sizes. You may want to run a 5/16 inch drill bit through the nipples. This would allow using 5/16 inch carbon rods for a bit more heat, although I have always been able to do anything I need to do with 1/4 inch carbon rods. Besides, it is not always easy to find 5/16 inch carbon rods.

Drill a 3/16 inch hole in the side of the nipples near the lower end (as when the torch is in use). Place a #8-32 nut over the hole and weld it in place. The nut's threads will likely distort a little during welding. Chase the threads with a #8-32 thread tap. Screw the thumbscrews into the nuts.

A 1/4 inch carbon rod is shown in the nipple ready for use in the photo.

Step 6: Add Tabs for Electrical Connections

Picture of Add Tabs for Electrical Connections

Weld steel tabs 3/8 x 3/4 inch to the 1/4 inch steel rods for the electrical connections. Be careful to check their position before welding so the tabs will not touch and short out the torch when the handles are squeezed. Drill each tab and thread for #8-32 screws. Brass screws from old electrical outlets work very well, although you may need to chase the ends of their threads with the thead chaser on your crimping tool.

Cut the 20 foot piece of #10 stranded wire in two halves. Crimp the connectors on each 10 foot piece of #10 stranded copper wire and attach the wire to the tabs.

Step 7: Secure the Wire

Picture of Secure the Wire

Another smaller nylon tie can be very helpful for securing the wires as they pass under the handle as you see in this photo. Use electrical tape every foot or so to keep the two wires together.

Strip the other ends of the wires back about an inch and tin each with solder to keep them from fraying.

When you are using the torch, either wire will be held by the welder's ground clamp and the other will be held by the electrode holder (stinger). There is no polarity to be of concern. Keep the electrode holder and the ground clamp separated from one another so there will be no unwanted sparks.

Step 8: Insert the Carbon Rods and Align Their Tips

Picture of Insert the Carbon Rods and Align Their Tips

You need about two inches of carbon rod extending from each nipple at the very minimum. This keeps the actual torch from becoming too hot. With the welder's power off, adjust the carbon rods so they meet each other when the handles are squeezed together. Bend the 1/4 inch steel rods slightly as necessary to insure the tips meet.

During use you will need periodically to stop and readjust the position of one or the other of the carbon rods because one invariably burns faster than the other. I find I can do this easily while wearing welder's gloves.

Step 9: Using the Torch

Picture of Using the Torch

This is how your finished torch should appear.

Put on your welding helmet and gloves. Set your 220 volt welder between about 70 and 90 amps for 1/4 inch carbon rods, depending on how much heat you need for your job. (115 volt welders do not have the power or duty cycle needed to operate a carbon arc torch.)

Be careful that the torch does not touch anything conductive once the welder's power is on. When you need to put the torch down, you can leave the welder running, but turn the torch upside down and set it onto a piece of plywood or a clean, non-metalic workbench surface.

Flip your helmet down with the snap of your neck. Squeeze the handles together until the tips of the carbon rods touch. Hold them together for a couple of seconds so they can heat up. Then gently relax your grip just a little so the tips have a gap between them, and a brilliant blue arc will form between the tips of the carbon rods. It will be very, very hot. You will soon get a sense of how much to spread the tips.

Keep the arc moving over the steel you want to heat. If held in one place too long, little pools of molten metal will form and you could even burn or blow through your work. I find it works best to heat a small area on a piece I want to bend and then pull part of the bend I want to make. Then I heat the area next to what I bent until it is ready to pull. If something does not go quite right, heat it again and bend to correct.

If you are brazing something, heat the metal until it is hot enough to melt the brazing rod.

A carbon arc torch does not use gas flowing under pressure, like an oxy-acetylene torch. You do not need to worry much about small parts being blown out of position.

A carbon arc torch greatly expands the versatility of your 220 volt stick welder. Some people use the flame of a carbon arc torch the way one might use the flame of an oxy-acetylene torch to make metal form a pool. Then they add welding rod to weld as they would with a gas welder. I have read that it is possible to use only one carbon rod. The ground clamp goes on the work and the single carbon rod acts like a spot welder. I tried this once, but the pieces of metal were not clamped tightly enough to make it work.


fredzo18 (author)2017-05-26

Hi Phil- thanks for posting , I am building one with your model, and trying to find , AC carbon rods . The welding material suppliers in my region all have DC gouging rods , Do you think these could work with my Lincoln AC stickwelder.

I think it will work.

Click the above link and it takes you to a manual for the Lincoln 225 stick welder. They have a bit about a carbon arc torch hooked to the 220v Lincoln 225

TimNaylor4 (author)2017-05-04

Hi Phil - excellent and informative tutorial. Do you think it would be OK to use brass and copper or is mild steel required to withstand the heat generated?

Phil B (author)TimNaylor42017-05-04

Thanks. I think you could use brass or copper. The carbon rods are supposed to extend a couple of inches below their holders. That keeps the heat lower on the holder area.

noneYettookmyUN (author)2017-04-25

Thank you for a second time, Phil B. Being new to welding I was a.) Unfamiliar with the carbon arc torch and, b.) Looking for projects to utilize my burgeoning skill. Shortly after reading this page I found a dusty box of 3/32" gouging rods and have since played around with them as a two handed torch. (It feels a bit like dowsing for electric flame. Very exciting.) As of tonight my power cables are made, and the metal work is done. all that remains is to drill a few holes in some wood blocks and figure out where I'm going to find a suitable spring.

I will post the details once the deed is done, but I felt like expressing my joy as I transform discarded materials into a useful tool. (Welding fever has me wanting to make a box for my worm drive saw - something it needs. But a fancy borrowed TIG welder has exposed some problems in my plan, which this makeshift torch may yet solve! Those details should later follow in their own page.)

So, thanks again!

Phil B (author)noneYettookmyUN2017-04-26

Thank you. I wish you much success. 3/32" rods may burn away quite quickly. You may want a thicker rod for more heat.

jbarziza (author)2016-07-11

Thanks for posting your instructable. I think I want to use your info as a starting point for a project I may build. I'm mulling over building a carbon arc lamp. If I had a way to feed the rods towards each other at the right rate, and had a 100% duty cycle welder, what's your best guess as to how long 12" rods would burn before they were consumed. I'm sure you've never sat and timed this, but any thoughts, musings, or feelings on the matter would be appreciated. Thanks.

Phil B (author)jbarziza2016-07-11

My rough guess would be 30 to 45 minutes. A lot would depend on how much current you run. More current would burn it up faster.

Motion picture projectors have often used carbon arc illumination, I wonder what those use for advancing the carbon rods.

JoeG17 (author)Phil B2017-02-27

In my youth I used to operate one them carbon arc projectors in a local cinema. It was wonderful watching the carbon rods burn away. You had to watch thru a special sort of welding glass and a small regulated motor (in series with a variable resistance for precise tweaking) kept the carbon rods just at the right distance apart. Sometimes something happened and off they went. Then the whole audience would start screaming their heads off esp at a suspense scene!! My instructor used to remind me to check the length of the rods before starting as once the show is on nothing can be done esp if they didn't last the whole reel.

I really miss those days when everything had to be done manually.

Phil B (author)JoeG172017-02-27

Thank you for your story. It sounds similar to my experience heating metal with carbon rods and an arc. But, I do not have a crowd angry at me if I lose the arc.

jbarziza (author)Phil B2016-07-11

I'm not sure what they used to advance the rods back in the day of motion picture illumination, but here's a video of a more current attempt to create an arc lamp. One of the rods might be advanced by use of a stepper motor driving the frame that holds the rod:

Phil B (author)jbarziza2016-07-12

Thank you for the video link. I notice the setup ran at about 23 amps. with carbon rods about 1/2 inch in diameter. Since the original title is in German, I expect the voltage is 230 volts. European systems run at 230 volts. I think the open (no load) voltage on an arc welder would be around 60 volts. I need to set the welder to around 70 amps. to get a decent carbon arc flame with 1/4 inch carbon rods. The larger carbon rods seem to have reduced the need for advancing the rods.

JoeG17 (author)Phil B2017-02-27

We used 1/4 inch carbon rods filled with a special composition to give more intense light. If I remember correctly power was about 60v at 90 amps or so which can be raised (for more light) but then they would consume quicker.

Lineman67 (author)2016-08-09

How does this setup attach to the arc welder?

Phil B (author)Lineman672016-08-09

In step 7 I mentioned one wire is inserted into the ground clamp and the other is inserted into the electrode holder. Polarity is not important, but keep them from touching one another in use or there will be sparks all over.

Joseph alves made it! (author)2016-01-29

I made it out of scrap i had in my garage i used 4 gauge jumper cables i have not used it yet i have get my 1/4 carbon rods

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-29

It looks really good. What are you using to secure the carbon rods in the tubes and insure a good electrical path to the rods?

In use I find one rod often burns faster than the other so that the flame burns at an odd angle with less efficiency. I sometimes need to stop and use a pair of pliers to loosen the thumbscrews I use to secure the carbon rods and move one or both rods a little farther out of the tube. I keep my gloves on to protect against the heated metal on the torch and to protect from electrical shock.

Congratulations and thank you for posting a picture. Let us know how it works out for you. I use mine quite often.

Joseph alves (author)Phil B2016-01-29

Im using 1/4 thumb screws and im using 1/8 flat stock for the wire connections

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-29

That should work. I did not see the screws in your photo. Positioning the screws as near as possible to the lower end of the tubes allows getting the most from farm the carbon rods.

Joseph alves (author)Phil B2016-01-29

Can i cut steel with this torch

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-29

I cannot imagine cutting with it. Some do cut with an arc welder. The process involves running a relatively very high amperage on a relatively thin electrode. You get an arc started and push the rod through the puddle. Then you use a sawing motion to blow molten metal downward. I have not really tried it, but you are supposed to have a bed of sand below to catch the globules of hot steel. You go through a lot of electrode very quickly. I would use an angle grinder with a cutting wheel to cut whenever possible.

It is possible to blaze with a carbon arc torch, but there is a dirty rust colored residue that comes off of the torch and onto the metal. Some press thin sheet metal together, ground it, and hold one carbon rod against the sheet metal to spot weld. I did not succeed in making it work. It might be worthwhile to see if there are any helpful videos on YouTube. I read these things in a book by Forney, who makes welders.

JustToComment (author)2015-06-16

can someone recommend what size of carbon rod and current for 220 ac planning to weld the floor pan for my Bug.thanks

Phil B (author)JustToComment2015-06-16

How are your planning to weld the floor pan in a VW Bug? Are you using carbon rods to make a hot flame that you use like an oxy-acetelyne torch to make filler metal fuse with the parent metal? Are you pressing carbon rods from both sides like a spot welder? Are you using a carbon arc flame to braze? Are you repairing something that tore? Are you making butt joints, or overlapping pieces of metal? Are you using a backing plate of copper or aluminum to minimize burning through?

Jjalves (author)Phil B2016-01-22

Is #4 jumper cable alright to use

Phil B (author)Jjalves2016-01-22

I am sure it would be fine.

Joseph alves (author)Phil B2016-01-28

I have 2 pieces of 3/8 rod 7 inch is that too heavy

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-28

if you are using 3/8 inch carbon rods you will need to set the welder to a higher amperage in order to get a good flame. But, otherwise, y can use them.

Joseph alves (author)Phil B2016-01-29

I have made my 220 arc torch

Joseph alves (author)Phil B2016-01-28

Can i use a shorter length of wire and instead of fering strip can i use 1x1 wood

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-28

you need enough cable or wire to allow you to move freely. That can come from wire on the carbon arc torch or the welder cables to which it connects.

You might be able to use wood from 1 x 1. The voltage from the welder is relatively low, so you do not need to be concerned about the dielectric qualities of thinner wood. Whatever you use for hinges needs to fit the 1 x 1.

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-28

you need enough cable or wire to allow you to move freely. That can come from wire on the carbon arc torch or the welder cables to which it connects.

You might be able to use wood from 1 x 1. The voltage from the welder is relatively low, so you do not need to be concerned about the dielectric qualities of thinner wood. Whatever you use for hinges needs to fit the 1 x 1.

Joseph alves (author)Phil B2016-01-28

Can u send my reply to please

Joseph alves (author)2016-01-28

I'm using 1/4 inch carbon rods what would I use for amps can i use the arc torch to bend 1/4 inch flat stock

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-28

Around 80 to 90 amps should do fine, y can get the flame quite close to the steel, but you need to keep the flame moving. If it stays in one place a little too long, a molten spot forms on the surface of the steel and leaves a little crater. Those can be annoying, especially for the sake of appearance. Also, be careful that the steel you are heating does not close a circuit with the current from the welder. It is easy to touch the steel with one of the carbon rods. And, do not be in a hurry. The steel will bend quite easily when it is hot enough.

Joseph alves (author)Phil B2016-01-29

Is it possible to burn out the welder with this carbon torch in any way

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-29

I cannot imagine that. Carbon arc torches were made commercially for use with welders. Even now there is a process called back gouging. It uses a carbon arc rod.

Joseph alves (author)2016-01-28

All I have is a 225 welder

Phil B (author)Joseph alves2016-01-28

Your welder is more than adequate. Do be aware of the duty cycle, usually that means running the welder continuously for too long will cause it to overheat, and probably to shut down. If the duty cycle is 20% the welder should cool for 8 out of every 10 minutes.

metalart72 (author)2015-08-03

isn't number 10 wire a tad thin? It is rated for a max of 55 amps. Using 1/4" rods will use just under 100 amps. I am considering number 8 wire for this.

Phil B (author)metalart722015-08-03

That's for your comment. In practice, the #10 stranded wire has worked out well. I use currents quite a bit less than 100 amps. I have never noticed any signs the wires are overheating. #8 is a good choice.

difflock (author)2011-12-08

A carbon arc torch is something I've wanted for my AC stick welder......

I did have an idea though.....

a couple of cheap stick electrode holders fixed together with a hinge and a spring.....

you then have a slightly more refined carbon arc torch! :)

Phil B (author)difflock2011-12-08

Your version will be more expensive to make and will be heavier for your hand to hold and control.

difflock (author)Phil B2011-12-09

I know it would be a bit more expensive to make (the cheap electrode holders are less than £10 each)....

I dont know if they are more expensive in the US though......

but apart from a hinge and a spring of some form, its all that would be needed.......

as for the weight, I'm not sure it would be heavy......
the budget electrode holders arent heavy as most of the material is plastic......

I'm definitely going to make a carbon arc torch though.....

I'd eventually like to use it for welding aluminium plus brazing of various metals...

is it possible to simply use aluminium TIG welding rods for filler material?

aluminium welding is the one thing I always seem to need, but I currently havent got the tools to do so (I cant afford a TIG capable of aluminium welding, and my MIG is configured for steel.....)

raven.sirius (author)difflock2015-02-01

I know this is three years late, but, did you find that the cheap holders didn't have the staying capacity? And I would have thought they might not have the strentgh for 1/4 Carbon to be held firmly enough?

astral_mage (author)difflock2013-11-27

check out harbor frieght tools .com . not the best quality gear but if yr on a budget go thier.

Phil B (author)difflock2011-12-09

In the US I have seen electrode holders for about $15. As I remember the Pound is around $2 plus, so maybe around seven Pounds.

I have no experience with welding aluminum or with using a TIG. I have read about both and watched some videos on YouTube, but that is about all. I am not much help to you.

I would be interested in seeing a photo when you get your carbon arc torch ready to use and to hear a report on how it works for you.

difflock (author)Phil B2011-12-09

I think I'll make up a basic one from scraps (similar to yours) to see how I get on with it....

if it works out, I'll make a nicer one (which will also allow me to correct any errors/problems)

I've never welded aluminium due to not having the right setup, and I've never used a TIG welder due to costs.....

although, I am planning an alternator welder, which will become a DC TIG welder.......

but once I've built a carbon arc torch, and had a go with it, I will indeed post an update of how I got on with it.......

astral_mage (author)2013-08-27

hey to the gentle who looking a microwave transformer np im sitting on to of them i can send u 1 np

astral_mage (author)astral_mage2013-11-27

still have 1 atm out of the unit an another still ing the unit.

tfmach (author)2013-05-21

G'day Phil, many thanks for your excellent tutorial. I'v long wondered about a cheap heating solution to allow me to harden custom cutting tools; adapting the little stick welder for the job is of course perfect. Just finished mine, haven't experimented with it too much just yet, but seems to work great. I'm running 8mm rods on a 150amp welder. I find at this early stage that the arc has to be extremely small which is a little tricky--I dare say that perhaps a gutsier welder would allow a wider arc/greater heating area. Or maybe, 6mm electrodes and rebuilding another one with thinner diameter rod? Not sure, just a bit of conjecture.

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