Introduction: Never Again Weld a Crooked Bead

Picture of Never Again Weld a Crooked Bead

When I use my wire feed welder I have great difficulty making a straight bead that does not wander off of the seam. I know practice is the key, but I am a hobby welder with no reason to weld everyday for several hours. This Instructable will show how to make a simple guide from an old automobile license plate. It will enable you to produce a straight bead on the joint seam every time.

The photo shows the first weld I did with my new guide. It is the straightest bead I have ever made with my wire feed welder, and it was very easy. This weld bead is about three inches long.

UPDATE: My 2004 Lincoln auto-darkening helmet uses 2 AAA batteries. Because the helmet always darkened as it should, I had not replaced them. I did replace them recently, even though they were far from "dead" and now the lens in my helmet darkens, but not as much as it has until now. I can now see the weld area much better. Many helmets use solar cells and lithium-ion batteries. Check your manual and see if it is possible to replace the batteries in your helmet. That and replacing stained and pitted plastic lenses my make it much easier to see what you are welding. Protective clear lenses that are not stained or pitted can be dirty. A good dust removal can help, too.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials
  • Hammer
  • Concrete floor
  • Vise
  • Round rod about 3/8 inch in diameter
  • Punch
  • An old automobile license plate made of aluminum
Pound about half of the license plate flat on a hard surface, like an anvil or a concrete floor. The license plate may pucker and buckle, so go back and forth from one side to the other with your pounding to keep it reasonably flat.

I am using aluminum for this welding guide because weld spatter will not stick to it.

Step 2: Bend and Roll

Picture of Bend and Roll

Make a nearly right angle bend across the license plate about 2 inches plus from the flattened end. Then clamp the edge of the license plate and the 3/8 inch rod in a vise and begin to roll the end of the license plate around the rod. Unless your vise is as wide as the license plate, you will need to curl the outer edges of the license plate around the rod with a hammer and a punch so the rolled portion extends the full width of the license plate. Make the roll almost a full circle. 

Step 3: Cut the License Plate and Add a Crease

Picture of Cut the License Plate and Add a Crease

I left the portion of the license plate where you see the numerals "623" in the photo wide enough for my hand to rest there so I can hold the guide in place while it is in use. At the left edge of the photo you can see a 1/2 inch lip I bent in the guide to help hold the area for my hand flat. This will make it easier to keep the guide stable in use so it does not rock while resting on what I am welding.

Step 4: How to Use This Guide

Picture of How to Use This Guide

To use the guide, place the electrode wire over the seam to be welded. Slide the guide toward the welder's gun so it rests against part of the nozzle. Check to be sure the roll on the guide is aligned so it is exactly parallel to the joint seam. Place the hand not holding the gun on the guide with enough pressure to keep the guide and the other half of the joint from moving. Flip your welding hood down and pull the trigger on the welding gun. Advance the gun in a smooth motion slowly enough to produce a good weld. Your results will look like the photo in the Introduction, maybe better. And, it will be almost effortless.

If the roll on the license plate does not ride against a good place on the nozzle, making the bend in the license more oblique rather than a right angle will lower the roll so it is closer to the joint surface. Or, you could also straighten the license plate and bend again. 


ptot (author)2017-11-06


Phil B (author)ptot2017-11-06

Thank you. It can be very difficult to see when using flux core wire. Now I have a gas shielded welder, and it is much easier to see where the weld seam will be. With thinner materials, especially, it works well to tack both ends of the weld. Then weld back to the tack a distance of about 3/8". Then weld back to that weld about the same distance. Repeat until the bead is complete. It is easier to see and the joint is not as likely to heat up and expand.

marple200 (author)2013-01-04

Phil, I too am an occasional welder, self-taught with limited skills. I think your Instructable is an interesting idea and could be of use to me in certain future situations. Thanks.

Phil B (author)marple2002013-01-05

I just tried using my guide again and discovered it is still possible to miss the joint because of poor alignment of the guide with the joint, or to move my wrist in a way that moves the gun and the arc to one side. I did also discover the clear plastic lens on the front of my hood is discolored from years of use and should have been changed a long time ago. That has also been restricting my ability to see. Still, I benefit from a guide. At least with welding, we can always grind out a bad weld and try again. That would be very difficult with woodworking. Thanks for looking and for commenting.

Garadin (author)Phil B2013-12-26

Gorilla glue + Magnet + Felt or Cork = non-marring, slip-resistant magnet that can be mounted to the guide.

John T MacF Mood (author)Garadin2017-05-14

I so LOVE the Gorilla glue & product line, it is so very versatile, and they keep coming up with more and better products. Thier duct tape is the best on the market, in my opinion. If it sticks to you, good luck not getting a bit of skin taken with it! They have re-defined "sticky"

godson1952 (author)2016-03-22

Very good idea,Thanks again for the MUCH need info

Phil B (author)godson19522016-03-22

Thanks. Since posting that I have bought a new adjustable helmet with a shade range from 8 to 13. I as cautious about using a setting below 9, but I am now 70 years old, and I can finally see enough at 8 1/2. It is a name brand helmet, too.

John T MacF Mood (author)Phil B2017-05-14

I'm glad to hear you upgraded the helmet! Can't go wrong there.

John T MacF Mood (author)2017-05-14

Brilliant solution to a problem we all need to address! Very good idea, and since weld splatter won't stick to the aluminum plate, you can use it again and again.

I would suggest a nice edge (ALL edges, even the ones left by the DMV they can be razor sharp) sanding by hand or with a slow flapper disc to avoid cuts from the freshly cut aluminum edge, it can get quite sharp as many metals can when cutting them. I'd also suggest using an angle grinder to prepare your surfaces to be welded, the rust on them or factory scale will impede a good weld pool from forming. You might not even be able to get a good scratch start on the arc.

And (no commentary intended on your work bench Phil B sir) but keep your work area clean and orderly. If you are so fortunate as to tour the shop of a place like NASCAR which I have toured, the darned place looks as clean as (or CLEANER) than a lot of surgical suites I have also seen. I got the $10.00 tour since I was there to do some work for them on their computer systems. They are careful, I had to sign non-disclosure agreements that were quite thorough. Their welding quality is superb! You can't very well have a weld break loose at around 200 MPH and expect GOOD things to happen. Cleanliness wasn't on the NDA. I'm sure they'd be happy about the complements.

And don't skimp on the safety equipment. Your vision won't magically return if you have a defective welder's eye shield. The helmet's lens may also not be up to standards for impact resistance, so (call me over cautious) I also wear OSHA rated clear lens protection glasses inside the helmet - just in case. You get one shot at vision and breathing. Sure you get two eyes and two lungs, but that's The Creator's little redundancy plan, not protection from the crap we get into ourselves. And stay away from galvanized stuff. Grind off all the zinc and go a little further. Burning zinc fumes are nasty, and though some ay they can kill you, I've never heard of a documented case of that. You can get sick as a dog and feel horrible until you recover.

And I also wear the 3M breather mask (mine was only $10.00 and a few more bucks for my choice of filters - the filters won't stop toxic fumes but will stop particulates) to avoid particulates in the lungs and try to have ventilation to carry toxic welding fumes away from me and my work area. You can't LOOK at those fumes and KNOW if they are toxic, so if you err, err on the side of caution. (NO, I don't work for 3M, but they make an excellent breather mask for a decent price. Some say they will stop odors if you get the best filter. Some cops I know say they can keep you from smelling a "ripe" crime victim. Those paper pleated surgical masks that you can get for cheap, are no good for protection at all. I don't know why surgeons use them, they could stand to update their safety standards!

If your choice of welding mask is on the inexpensive side (beginners are always budget conscious) and the batteries can't be replaced, plan on saving for a unit that is built to last (Lincoln and some of the better-known brand names are quite good and DO last. You can get replacement parts for them as well.) Don't rely on some cheap bit of crap equipment made in China for safety for long, they are NOT made to last. They want to keep selling you replacements again anad again. One $125.00 unit will outlast ten $45.00 Chinese made units, and you can replace the batteries. $125.00 is way cheaper than $450.00 for ten "cheap" units.

Excellent ideas, I plan to use it in my shop. Keep creating!

godson1952 (author)2016-03-22

Very good idea,Thanks again for the MUCH need info

Phil B (author)2013-02-05

My 2004 Lincoln auto-darkening helmet uses 2 AAA batteries. Because the helmet always darkened as it should, I had not replaced them. I did replace them recently, even though they were far from "dead" and now the lens in my helmet darkens, but not as much as it has until now. I can now see the weld area much better. Many helmets use solar cells and lithium-ion batteries. Check your manual and see if it is possible to replace the batteries in your helmet. That and replacing stained and pitted plastic lenses my make it much easier to see what you are welding. Protective clear lenses that are not stained or pitted can be dirty. A good dust removal can help, too.

FTS902 (author)Phil B2015-10-09

I have an auto darkening variable shade hood. There is a knob on the side to adjust from #9 to #13. I would highly recomend one.

Phil B (author)FTS9022015-10-10

Thank you for your comment. Since that Instructable I do have a nice Miller hood with adjustable darkening between 9 and 13. It helps a lot. Having plenty of light on the weld joint also helps.

allen_idaho (author)2014-01-03

Hi folks. One tip I usually use when teaching new welders how to practice doing straight beads freehand is to simply draw a straight line on the plate with a piece of soapstone or a sharpie. Most of the time, the welder will be able to see it while they weld. No guide required.

EvoQ (author)2012-12-16

I would suggest spending the time to learn how to MIG the correct way rather than lean heavily on a Prop tool. Nice effort but unfortunately this prop tool can't be used but for a very limited circumstance. If you can NOT SEE where you are welding then work with your lighting and welding helmet sensor or if necessary go down a step in the darkness of the helmet lense. They even make a tiny light that you can put on the end of the MIG Gun to shine more light on the welding area. If for some reason you can't hold the MIG GUN steady then use 2 hands. Whenever you are welding with a MIG Welder you need to be making a Curly "Q" with the tip on the MIG GUN with the wire feeding into the seam of the base metals where you are welding. The correct MIG GUN Angle too plays a very important role in the outcome of the end product. But again I applaud you for your effort, this Prop tool will work in some circumstances on very thing material with a Butt joint. Nice Job, but keep in mind this will not work but for limited circumstances.

Phil B (author)EvoQ2012-12-16

I feel very fortunate to have an auto-darkening hood. But, I bought it in 2004 and it comes with only one lens shade, which is #10. It cannot be reset the lens to a lighter shade, like newer hoods can. The ideal would be spending the necessary time to learn to become more proficient with a wire feed welder, but, as I mentioned, I do not have regular opportunities to weld, only occasional opportunities. The small light added to the gun is an interesting idea. I do have a very bright halogen shop light I could bring near to the joint for more light. Most of my welds are "in position" on a table top so that the guide I described will serve me more regularly than it might someone who welds daily for an income. I could also make variations on this design for other types of welds. As for making a curlyque pattern, I could still twist my wrist left and right as the gun travels. Thank you for looking and for the information you gave.

Steelsmith1 (author)Phil B2012-12-20

A light is a good idea, but be aware tha weld spatter will soon ruin any glass cover or will puncture a glass bulb. Plastic over the glass will prevent that, and on some lights you can just use packing tape if it is a cooler light, but on halogen the high temperature would ruin most plastics, I believe.
A bright LED is a good idea as they are epoxy encapsulated.

Phil B (author)Steelsmith12012-12-20

Thank you for the good suggestions.

DIY-Guy (author)Phil B2012-12-26

Thank you Phil B, this reminds me of the painters tricks with cardboard straight edges. I have not learned welding yet and am considering purchasing my first welder. Your 'ible has reminded me that it may not be that hard once the basic concepts are learned.

Phil B (author)DIY-Guy2012-12-27

Thank you for looking and commenting. I did an Indtructable on learning to weld. It is linked in the related Instructables and describes the best things I learned from multiple sources. I would never discourage an actual welding course, but my first welder came with a manual that assumed I would learn on my own. You can do that quite well if you are welding mild steel items around your own shop and house. Professionals need to know how to weld different metals in all conditions and make the welds look pretty, too. There are also many good teaching videos on YouTube to guide you. Once you have a welder you will wonder how you ever got by without one.

stoobers (author)Phil B2012-12-20

I think the auto-hoods are an LCD filter over top a #10 filter glass. If you take the mask apart, you can swap out the #10 filter for a #9.

But I think the #10 is minimum recommended for safety. I think my mask is a #12 or #14. Its really dark and doesn't auto-darken. I have overcome this by welding outside in the sun, or with a light pointing at it. With a light on the work or out in the sun, you can see pretty much everything. Also, you can get a soap stone and draw white lines parallel to the weld. The white lines reflect the light and you can fill in everything inside the lines.

It seems like welding is not about welding "correctly", it is about finding a trick for the type of weld you are doing, all the while shielding you heart from others telling you how to weld correctly.

Just my 2 cents.

Phil B (author)stoobers2012-12-23

Thanks. I like your comment about others telling a person how to do it correctly. I have enjoyed sharing things at Instructables that are helpful to me. I have enough training and experience with several things to benefit myself and be safe. Yet, I get a number of comments about how I am doing everything wrongly. I am almost 67 years old and have enjoyed my tools since I was in my early teenage years. I have burned nothing down and still have both eyes, all of my fingers, and all of my toes.

stoobers (author)Phil B2012-12-23

I believe, when it comes to "making" things, it is never a right or wrong. It is a "it worked" or "it didn't work" issue. I suppose one could say there may be an easier way, but only if that one actually produced something in a similar yet more efficient manner.

Also, few do "hobby" activities the way they do "professional" activities. Professional work is governed by profit, hobby is governed by fun. Professional skills and hobby skills are rarely the same, nor should they be.

jc4548 (author)Phil B2012-12-20

you can ghet a auto & shade adjustment helment at harbor freight on sale for $39 , I have used them for years

Phil B (author)jc45482012-12-20

Thank you for the report on the Harbor Freight auto-darkening hoods. My son-in-law bought one recently and it seems to work for him. Mine is a Lincoln powered by alkaline batteries. I once read a post by the wife of a guy who had a Harbor Freight hood fail to darken and he did some damage to his eyes. She was warning people away from them, but that was at least 15 years ago.

tkjtkj (author)2012-12-21

Thanks for this suggestion!
Many here might be interested in viewing Jody Collier's web site:
He's a master welder and brings tremendous experience to teaching we inexperienced 'welders' how to do this or that ..
His video's are excellent, really showing the 'hows and 'why's of various techniques. I suggest ya get on his email list which will let yo know when he's put up any new video ..
He's a great asset to the world of welding!

Phil B (author)tkjtkj2012-12-22

Thank you for looking, and thank you for the link. I glanced at his web page. He seems to do a lot with TIG welding. I will try to watch some of his videos to get a better grasp of what he offers.

tkjtkj (author)Phil B2012-12-24

im happy maybe it's useful to you ..

Jody really does 'it all' ..mig/tig/stick and some ive never heard of..
He's a very valuable resource indeed.

His offerings also include many valuable comments on various equipment ..shows novel attachments etc that are very helpful not just to the pro ..

Lift-spark vrs Strike-spark, Rotating Tig tips with aux LED lighting ..

but mostly, his ordered and logical analysis of diff projects, his thinking and skills , are superb .. Not many of us can walk around a welding shop and see what the pro's do .. he brings it all to us ..

By the way : I saw today that on " " today i noticed
a DIY "spot welder" you can make for ? $10 !!! and it's GOOD!! :

EvoQ (author)2012-12-23

Yes having an Open Mind even at so-called Advanced level makes for a better work environment. Thru the years I have seen so many with the attitude that since they have done this or that for 20+ years then they know everything and don't need to learn anything new. A Newbie is a [person to be scorned and looked down upon. But to me even though I am one of those 20+ years people I always have an open mind. I have worked with so many "Helpers" that had absolutely No experience and I have been able to Learn things from these people. I call it that ability to look at situations out of the box that us skilled experienced people would Never look at solutions in that manner. I can honestly say that I have forgot more than I know since I have been fabricating for so long. But I never look down on the un-experienced as I might learn a new tactic or solution to a problem fro these so-called newbies.
Moreover; as allot of the posters are mentioning that being able to SEE what you are welding can be the hardest obstacle to a welding project. I do Roll Cages and let me tel you, being all cramped up inside a small car in all sorts of positions makes it challenging to say the least. At times I have had to take off the Welding Hood and use Goggles/Glasses, I have even made a custom Screen that I can fasten between me and the weld joint. Whatever it takes but You MUST be able to see or the welding joint will be crap and totally unacceptable, especially in a safety situation like in a roll cage.

My Advice is to take all advice from everyone, have an open mind, listen allot more than speaking. Constantly think of how to make it better. Work Smart not just Hard all the time. We have this incredible Brain but if we waste it we are just like the primates that will never evolve. That's my username Evo - lution - Q

orator (author)2012-12-20

This would work out better if you use the 'tool' to rest your hand against instead of the welder nozzle. That way "you" could still control the gun and do a much better job. Dragging the gun in a straight line just doesn't get it. You 'have to' control the penetration and it is not a constant. Also, I would never use a lens less than a #10. I always used either a #12 or #14 depending on the type metal that was being welded. Using less than a #10 is just begging for eye problems sooner than later.

Phil B (author)orator2012-12-21

It would be possible to wiggle one's wrist a little to achieve some weaving even with my guide. I believe I remember reading some instructions for MIG welding which cautioned against weaving and urged pulling (or pushing) the gun in a straight smooth motion. Commenters here have written as if all wire feed welds must be woven by moving the gun in a circular pattern like the letter "e" or a zig zag back and forth across the joint. I looked again at the photo of my weld made by pulling the gun without any weaving. I believe I see heat marks on both sides of the weld, which usually indicates a good weld. i am away until shortly after the New Year. When I return home I will give it a "bend to break" test and see how well my weld does. Thank you.

orator (author)Phil B2012-12-22

Just a suggestion from a professional first class welder for many years. Do it however you want.

Phil B (author)orator2012-12-23

I thank you for your suggestion and I respect your experience. I did search for . You could substitute "stringer" for "straight," too. The opinion is almost as varied as the question of whether to pull or push the gun. One fellow had been taught by his instructor always to weave his welds, but a new instructor told him not to weave.

Phil B (author)Phil B2012-12-23

The Instructables site eliminated my search terms because I put them in brackets. "I did a search for 'MIG weave or straight.'" is how it was supposed to read.

bfk (author)2012-12-22

Great idea Phil. Someday I'll upgrade to a wire welder, but as of now, I'm using sticks and straightness is probably the least of my problems:)

Phil B (author)bfk2012-12-22

I understand. I think we have all been there, or still are there.

axiesdad (author)2012-12-20

Nice concept, especially "re-purposing" the aluminum license plate. The price of weld wire prevents many of us from getting much practice. To make it easier to see where you are going, "Don't watch the arc! Watch the puddle." That is advice I was given almost forty years ago when I first began working as a production welder and it still holds. Keeping the arc out of the center of your vision means you don't get that "flashbulb spot" right where you are trying to see.

Phil B (author)axiesdad2012-12-21

As I mentioned in a response above, I have difficulty identifying anything more than the bright spot that is the arc when using a wire welder. I can see several key parts of the welding area, however, with a stick welder.

al_packer (author)2012-12-20

As someone who has some vision challenges, this could be quite helpful. Thanks.

Phil B (author)al_packer2012-12-21

Yes, especially for those situations where you really cannot see what you are doing well. Thanks for looking..

mdj21 (author)2012-12-20

I wouldn't go any lighter than #10.

Have you tried getting your face a little closer to the weld? The farther your head is away from the weld, the harder it is to see the weld.

Phil B (author)mdj212012-12-21

Thanks. I will see about getting closer to the weld. I wear bi-focals and am grateful I do not yet wear tri-focals. Once you enter that phase of life, you find how you move your head and seeing clearly at the same time are not as easy as they once were. I can see quite well when I use my stick welder, but when I use my wire feed welder I see only the bright point of light that is the arc. I have looked for the puddle and the unwelded part of the joint, but have almost no success.

michaelmacnz (author)2012-12-20

So simple... so easy... a well thought out solution for the casual user..

Phil B (author)michaelmacnz2012-12-21

Thanks. Many of us are casual users. We simply need things to hold together in the intended usage and want them to look moderately good, even if not professionally perfect. This summer I made the poorest, ugliest weld I have probably ever made. It attaches a large splitting knife to an "I" beam on a log splitter. That knife had pulled off of the "I" beam due to a poor weld by whomever first made the log splitter. After my poor weld, I ran the pump up to 3000 psi on a tough piece of wood. The wood finally split, but my poor weld held just fine.Thanks.

Andrewlcox (author)2012-12-20

I can appreciate the want for a straight weld but you can try my method. I learned this trick from a master arc welder (my Dad). We always had a small piece a rail from a railroad and it was about 6 inches long. I used it as a fulcrum and rested my wrist with the stick on it. I would strike the arc and then simply rotate my hand and wrist to follow the bead and it allowed me to keep it straight and the pace of the puddle was very manageable. Good instructable on a rare topic.

Phil B (author)Andrewlcox2012-12-21

Thanks. From your comment I am guessing you describe your experience using a stick welder.

michaelmacnz (author)Andrewlcox2012-12-20

Another good idea.. AND... I've got a bit of tram rail.. Yee Ha.

stonewall96 (author)2012-12-20

I'm going to adapt your idea for a guide for my plasma cutter. I am getting back into
professional welding after a 15 year absences and I need all the help I can get to stay steady! Great idea,thanks

Phil B (author)stonewall962012-12-21

Take a look at the comments below by digitalbrad. He mentioned using angle iron as a guide for a cutting torch in the shop where he works. One of the reasons Instructables is great is that we can adapt the ideas of others to fit our own needs.

About This Instructable




Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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