Instructables

There's hundreds of welding Instructables around, many of them quite good. I'm writing this one here to share a technique I've developed that works quite well, even on copper tabs (for which it was designed).

The theory is simple- I've got a handful of ultra-capacitors (2.5 Volts, 2600 Farads) wired in series, then discharged through the material. The devil is, as always, in the details.

Anyone who's tried will tell you copper is a pain to weld- for many of the same reasons you probably *want* to be using it in your project. It's got about five times the thermal conductivity of iron, which basically means you need to pump in a lot more heat to overcome heatsinking. When it comes to resistance welding (which is how spot welding works, unlike other electric welders, which use arcs), you've got even more pain coming- the conductivity is another 5 or 6 times higher. So your welder needs to output 5 times more current just to create the same amount of heat.

Put all this together, and it means you probably need a welder that's over 20 times more powerful than a typical steel spot welder.
 
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Step 1: Bill of Materials

I'll hardly claim that I've got the best setup here- but it does work, so this is probably a good place to start. To replicate my setup, you'll need:

* 4 ultra capacitors.
-I used Maxwell "Boostcap"'s, rated for 2.5V at 2600F. I believe mine are surplus from electric buses regenerative braking systems. I got mine for about $10 each from the Electronics Goldmine (http://www.goldmine-elec.com/), but it seems they're sold out at the moment. You can find them on eBay, too. Make sure they're rated to have low series resistance (in other words, they should be able to provide a lot of current- mine should do 600 amps).

* 3 lengths of heavy gauge wire, with suitable ring terminals on each end. I used scrap I had around- I think it's about 6 gauge, roughly 2 feet long. Each is a different color in my setup.

* thick copper tubing, about 3/8" ID, 1/2" OD. You need two pieces, each about 3 inches long.

* a graphite block(s), enough to yield two pieces about 0.5"x0.5"x3.0"

* two big hunks of copper. I used a 1/2" plate roughly 5"x5", and a cube about 3" to a side. It's not critical.

* Some sort of DC power supply- I used a standard benchtop variable DC supply. It's limited to 3 amps, so charging takes a long time. You could do much better.

* Some means of clamping your electrodes: I used some G-10 fiberglass stock (not the best choice, but fairly temperature resistant and non-conductive), with holes drilled for the electrodes, and a rudimentary hinge. Again, you could do better than my quick-and-dirty solution.

Step 2: Make The Electrodes

I think the key to my system is in the electrode design. Seems like most spot welders use copper electrodes (no good here!), and DIY solutions use more unusual metals, like tungsten. Mine use graphite. It's got great heat resistance, and decent electrical conductivity. I think my system actually works better because the sharp tips of the graphite electrodes (remember kids, conductivity is proportional to area of the cross-section) have higher resistance, so they heat up and help melt the copper.


Basically, I took my piece of copper tubing, tried to sharpen one side as best I could, and then used it to 'cut' into a block of graphite, getting as much wedged in as I could. The copper tubing is there to provide a good electrical path as close to the tip as possible, as well as a good contact to the graphite. I did this on a lathe, but I don't think it's necessary. Once you cant go any farther (mine got firmly wedged in -as I had hoped- after I had about 1.5" in), cut the remaining graphite off to leave you with a roughly 0.5"-0.75" tip protruding from the end of the tube. File it to a blunt point. As you use the electrodes, this point will have to be cleaned up from time to time.

The last step is to hammer flat the end of the copper tube, and drill a hole so you can use a screw to attach your cables.

Step 3: Run the Electrical Connections

Picture of Run the Electrical Connections
1102112031a.jpg

I had 4 capacitors, which I wired in series. My caps had screw terminals on the end, and came with ready-made bus-bars, which made this process easier- you may have to come up with something more involved. Make sure you've wired the caps correctly- plus to minus, plus to minus,.... These things will die if you plug 'em in backwards.

As a 'switch', I use two big blocks of copper; I get the material and the electrodes set up the way I want, then bash the two blocks against each other to do the weld. It's extremely crude, but remarkably effective. You may also find it cathartic, after a rough day. I wouldn't know...

With your three cables, you'll want to attach one side of the capacitors to one of the copper blocks (I drilled and tapped a hole in each to make these connections), the other block to one of the electrodes, and the other electrode to the heretofore (I don't get enough opportunities to use that word) unconnected capacitor terminal. Polarity doesn't matter.

BEWARE! the voltages you're dealing with here are not enough to hurt you via electrocution, but will cause serious burns if you accidentally short the terminals with a metal tool. You are building a welder after all. Avoid working on the electrical connections when the caps are charged. I made a shorting wire out of a power resistor, some wire, and alligator clips; when I was finished welding, I used it to slowly and safely drain the capacitor bank.

Step 4: Ready, Get Set, GO!


Once you've got the whole thing assembled, you should use some sort of DC power supply to charge the capacitors. I used my variable DC power supply, a common piece of electrical test equipment. You could probably get away with using a "wall-wart" style dc power supply.

A few words of warning: these capacitors will die if you over-volt them. Be sure to check with a voltmeter to make sure you won't over-charge them. wall-warts generally put out more volts than they claim. Regardless of your charging system, be sure to monitor charge balancing- each cap can have a different amount of capacitance, which means that one will have a higher voltage than the rest, even when you charge them in series. If I took my 4 capacitor bank (each rated for 2.5 volts) and naively tried to charged the system to 10 volts, I'd probably kill a capacitor- one will be at 2.6V, another at 2.4V... you get the idea.

I machined two blocks of fiberglass stock into a 'pliers' style tool, where I can squeeze on one end and thereby press the two electrodes into my work. I then use the other hand to bash one piece of copper against the other (which sits on my NON-CONDUCTIVE table).

Step 5: Performance, Reflections


All in all, this system works quite well to join sheets of copper up to around 25 mils (For everyone who lives outside the USA, a "mil" is 0.001 inches, or .0254 mm) thick (so 50 mils total). From my early experimentations with bank voltage, I believe the welding capacity (i.e. thickness of stock possible) would only increase with more capacitors (and thereby a higher voltage and current limit). For my purposes, this is fine. After all, a strip of copper 25 mils thick and 1 inch wide has nearly the same effective cross-section as 5 gauge wire- pretty serious stuff!

I suppose you could have used car batteries for this- although I feel like ultra-caps are more durable, cheaper, and lighter- at the cost of taking a while to charge before you can start working. My lousy 2.5 amp charging system requires nearly 20 minutes to do a full charge, and a few minutes after every few welds to recoup the charge levels.

According to my performance measurements, my system will provide a peak power of roughly 5 kilowatts (10 volts at 500 amps)- roughly 4 times the average amount a typical American household uses, and far more than any hobbiest-class transformer based welders can do (As far as I know, you'd be hard pressed to pull more than 30 amps -3kW- from a standard american 110 volt outlet). You need every bit of that for this job.

My system is still very much a work in progress; It was intended as a super bare-bones proof-of-concept, not a finished tool. If you intended to use such a device extensively, you'd be crazy not to have an enclosure for the electronics, an integrated charger (with automatic cell balancing), and a built in shorting resistor to drain the bank when not in use. An alternative to the banging method of switching the power would be to use a bank of MOSFET's as a DC solid state relay. Not as fun, but probably better.

One quick note: This write-up was done after the project was completed. I can't seem to find many pieces of welded copper (I gave them all away, or ripped them apart to test the weld strength), so I'll make some more and upload them (and maybe some action shots!) in the coming of days.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this, and maybe learned a thing or two. I'll be checking the comments periodically over the next couple weeks (at least) and answering any questions you may have.

I've also entered myself in the laser giveaway contest, so please vote for me if you feel I've earned it! As a university student, I'd probably end up unofficially donating it to the university, and help other students use it for their projects at (or below) cost.

Step 6: Addendum: some specific results.

Picture of Addendum: some specific results.

New as of Nov. 4 2011:

I fired up my prototype welder, and I've got some pictures and descriptions of the results. I made two welded pieces, and I took another photo of the whole setup, which may help clarify the electrical connections. Each piece is a stack of copper foil- I'm guessing each sheet was about 2 or 3 mils thick.

The first was a stack of eight relatively larger sheets (2"x5"), with roughly 20 mils total thickness. I welded 14 times, each time for maybe half a second or less. I went about as fast as I could (trickle charging the whole time), and when I was done the bank had dropped by about 1 volt.

The second piece is a stack of 16 identical sheets with about 0.040" total thickness. these sheets were smaller (about 0.75"x2"), and I welded them in 3 places. It took about 1 or 2 seconds to do each of these welds, so the bank was drained a fairly similar amount once I had done all three.

Step 7: Improvements (in progress)

As is readily obvious, this system could use some improvements.  In my limited spare time, I'll be trying to develop them.  I'll be updating this section as I go, with my prototypes, and thoughts on improvements.  I'll do my best, but I make no guarantees that my "here's where to go next" suggestions will actually work.  If you want to pass me in development, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do some (a lot) of testing before you trust it.  Not that you should totally trust what I've done, either.  Caveat emptor.

Overvoltage protection

First off, you'd want an overvoltage protection circuit to stop your power supply from overloading the capacitors (which will kill them).  I developed two possibilities (see the first picture); the first using readily available parts I had knocking around, and the second using an uncommon IC chip (the TC54) which would do a better job.

The first uses a zener diode (you can also use regular diodes- which cut on around 0.7V- in series to create a poor man's zener; I used two in my first prototype, to get a turn-on at  around 1.4V) and a resistor to selectively activate a transistor, which discharges the capacitor.  Since the voltage on the gate of the transistor is basically going to be the voltage on the cap. minus the threshhold voltage of the zener, the transistor will turn on quite slow- not so good.

The second uses a specialized chip designed to shut off circuits when the voltage droops too low (typically because the battery is dying).  BEAM robotics people use these frequently, along with it's cousin the 1381.  This guy is better than the zener, since it applies a much higher voltage to the gate of the transistor (Cap voltage-0.3 V), which makes it sharper.

In both cases, you want the sum of your trigger voltage (either the zener or the TC54) plus the turn-on voltage of the transistor (for a typical silicon transistor, this should be about 0.7 V) to be just below the max voltage of the capacitor- I'd test this out before relying on it.  You also need a transistor rated (and properly heat-sunk) to handle the amount of power you'll be seeing.  You also want a fairly high hfe rating (a.k.a. current gain); I used a 2n3055 (hfe around 50) which was OK, especially since I was using normal diodes as the voltage trigger; however, zeners and TC54's have much lower current ratings, so a higher hfe transistor is probably much better- I did a bit of poking around on digikey, and it looks like the TIP140 (hfe =1000) will do much nicer. 

Consistent, tunable, non-caveman switching

While fun, the "bashing two rocks together" switching technique has many obvious drawbacks.  The thing to do here is probably to rig up a 555 timer as a "one-shot" with a potentiometer to change the pulse duration.  You can then use that fixed pulse to trigger a bank of mosfets (which are happily parallel-izable for higher current handling capability) to discharge through your electrodes.  A possible circuit diagram is the second image on this page.  You'd want to pick R3 to vary around whatever point you want- I'd say from 200k to about 2M ohms (giving a pulse ranging from about 0.3 to 3 seconds).  I've got some big honking mosfets (FDA032N08 which can hopefully handle around 200A each) on their way; I'll be able to give this a try soon.
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wuj129 months ago

Kinda like using a carbon arc welder

dsandds20032 years ago
Most of thes welders i have seen use a 12 volt power supply. They also a kick box capacator 1,2 or 3f @ 12 volts. They also use a triac to charge the capaciator for a slpit second.
Just some added thoughts for this idea.
I am planning on building one myself soon. Beem trying to fing a resonable priced capaciator for the project as the 1f caps are NOT cheep. Had thought of trying some older computer caps, but rather use 1 cap.
This is a great idea as i could use one for some of the repair work i get.
The tips are another problem finding, Have seen some use thick copper ground to a point. Still working on some other items to use instead.
Keep up the great work and keep us posted on your progress!!
static3 years ago
Personally I would have start using only one capacitor,adding additional capacitors in parallel until the desired results where achieved. Reiterating a comment by another by wiring the capacitors in series you have reduced the total amount of capacitance available, I agree with bobrigewitch's math. Capacitors block DC, so there is no current flowing through your series connected capacitors. While you should see the supply voltage across the capacitor bank, you would see a voltage drop across the individual capacitors. With those capacitors in parallel they wail contain  10400 joules of energy when charged. When connected in series they will contain 2031.25 Joules, both figure calculated ar 2.5 volts. The parallel bank will deliver 2031wats over 1 second, the series configuration 30 watts. Placing trust in available on line calculators.
HarnessedDevilry (author)  static3 years ago
I'd recheck your calculations. The rules for adding identical caps in parallel is that the capacitances add. the rules for adding them in series is that the capacitance decreases to 1/x (where x is the # of caps). The upside is that when you series them, the voltage limit goes up by a factor of x. The energy stored is 0.5C*V2, so you better have conservation of energy if you take 4 charged caps and put them in series- and that's exactly true. In parallel, you're multiplying by 4; in series, you're multiplying by 42, then dividing by 4. So in both cases you've got 0.5*2600*4*2.52= 32500 Joules.

I'd suggest rereading the hyperphysics and wikipedia articles on capacitors:

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/capac.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacitors

"Capacitors block DC" is a general rule of thumb that fails in this instance. When your physics book says this, it means that they'll block DC over a suitably long timescale- enough for the cap to charge or discharge (i.e. timescales greater than R*C). see, for instance, http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/capchg.html#c1
klixtopher3 years ago
Nice 'Ible. Really like the use of graphite. One note of correction though. You mention that there not enough voltage to injure. That statement is simply not correct. It's not voltage that kills but amperage. There's enough power in a AA battery to kill you, but due to factors of resistance etc. you can handle them safely. Stun guns and Tazers operate off of simple household batteries and deliver extremely high voltages without (necessarily) being lethal - due mostly to the amperage being so low. While increasing voltage usually means more dangerous, it's really the amperage that'll get you in the end. Thanks again for the 'Ible.
HarnessedDevilry (author)  klixtopher3 years ago
You're right that small batteries have enough power to harm; however, there is absolutely no way to accidentally release this energy in a form that can be harmful. The devices you mention actively "step-up" the voltage from a harmless 1.5 V (in the case of AA/AAA batteries) to many hundreds of volts.

However, saying that this makes a AA potentially lethal is akin to claiming that a hunk of steel is a deadly weapon because you might be able to turn it into a gun. This is strictly true, yet absurd. In both cases you must actively take several complicated steps, impossible to perform ignorantly or by accident, in order to create this hazard. My system physically cannot pose more of an electrocution threat than a standard 9V battery.

Now, there's a large risk of accidental heating (e.g. you could badly burn yourself by touching a metal watch band or ring across two terminals), but that's not what you're talking about.
I wasn't trying to say that your project necessarily posed a threat, just that your rationale for why it didn't was flawed. It's clear you have a good grasp of what's going on. I just didn't want others to think that low voltage = no danger. Cheers.
In context of this project, "the voltages you're dealing with here are not enough to hurt you via electrocution" is correct, and personally I wouldn't have brought it up. Respectfully I'm finding variations of "it's the current that kills, not voltage remarks to instructables rather tedious by now. Generally the statements appear to be mindless parroting of something another that "sounds official", however you seem to have a clue as to what will lead to a hazardous condition.
Do you think such an apparatus could spot weld wires/contacts to a NiMH battery? How would you set it up?
I was simply going to solder wires to replacement cells for a cordless drill but the battery vendor scolded me, saying the heat would hurt the cell chemistry. He said they'd rebuild my pack using spot welds. I learned later that this repair would set me back twice what the whole drill kit was worth.
I think battery tab welding is probably the most useful potential application with this sort of welder, although I haven't tried it yet- it requires a rework of my electrode holder I haven't been able to do yet.
Do you think set-up would be one electrode clamped to the battery on the pole of interest and the other arranged to squeeze the tab to the battery during the actual weld?
If so, the negative end shouldn't be too tough but the positive will take a bit of thinking.
Just took a look...we're not the first to do this stuff. The following link is an interesting practical explanation from a company that makes welders:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGTGIlT6JvM&feature=related
Based on this and the other links I surveyed, your machine adaptation is less hard than I thought it might be.
NiCAD, NiMH, and many other battery variants all use multiple cells, almost always welded in commercial products. This sure as hell ain't the first battery tab welder, but I believe one of few that can handle copper, and that doesn't cost >$10k. You'll note they use nickel in that video (much easier to handle, but not as good)

I'd do it the same way they do- my same two electrodes, mounted so they are nearly parallel, i.e. with the tips very close to each-other. . Mount the whole thing to a spring-loaded arm that swings down, pushes the tab against the battery, and switch 'er on. Ideally with some precisely timed pulse triggered via foot pedal.
Have you tried the core of batteries or electric motor brushes for your contact ends?
Certain types of batteries have graphite cores, which would probably be acceptable alternative sources of graphite. I'm not quite sure about electric motor brushes. Either way, you probably want the heavy copper running as much of the circuit as possible. The whole system needs to have total resistance in the milli-ohms, so every last bit of resistance matters.
thewmas3 years ago
I have some gouging rods that I got from a friend, I would think that woud work as well. Give me feed back if you think so
copper clad 002.jpg
HarnessedDevilry (author)  thewmas3 years ago
Other people have also suggested using these; I'm not quite sure. I'd suggest giving them a try, and if they don't work, just use my system. It's not too bad to make them yourself. Let me know if they work!
You're going to have to forgive my ignorance. Just what, exactly, is a "gouging rod", and how is it used?
thewmas kmpres3 years ago
http://www.engineersedge.com/materials/graphite_gouging_rods.htm

you might have to copy/paste, or just google gouging rod uses
skrubol3 years ago
You could run Zeiner's in parallel with each cap to limit the voltage across them. Picking the right value to successfully protect the cap without limiting your voltage too much would take some math though.
evangill3 years ago
Why did you choose to wire the caps in series?
I had the same question. I don't know much about welding, but wouldn't having the caps in parallel allow for better release of current? Also, wouldn't this solve the issue of potentially overcharging the caps you talk about later?

My only thought is that you need a higher voltage than 2.5 V for some reason...
You need somewhere around 1-3 volts in the workpiece, but due to resistance of the leads and the ESR of the caps, you need a lot more voltage coming from the power source.
lperkins3 years ago
The best thing to do would probably be to set up a switch system to let you charge them in parallel and discharge them in series. A spark-gap setup might work for that, but you'd have to try it.
HarnessedDevilry (author)  lperkins3 years ago
The "charge them in parallel, discharge in series" approach had occurred to me, and it does a great job at killing the differential charging problem. However, I think it introduces two problems:

First, power supplies are generally more capable of handling volts than amps- it's easier and cheaper to source 20V @ 2A than 2V @ 20A.

Second, the switching mechanism is ugly due to all the amps you've got. No normal knife switch would handle this sort of thing- you'd weld the contacts. My impression of spark-gaps is that they work for high voltages, not high currents, so I'm not sure how much use they'd be here.
Spark gaps would definitely work better for high voltages than high currents since you need enough volts to bridge the gaps. If you could find a dielectric to go between them that lost most of its resistance once current started flowing and regained it once it stopped that might work though.

To make a switched version you'll probably need to make your own switches. You want the contacts to have a large surface area, and grease them with a good, conductive grease to help prevent them from trying to weld themselves together.

You could, of course, simply modify your current connection bars to be easily removable for the discharge half of the switch. The charge half could be standard 20A switches since I'm sure you can keep your charging current under that.

There is another project running around building a spot welder out of a microwave transformer. If you have one of those lying around you might be able to tune it to output the voltage you want, and I'm sure it could probably handle the charging current.

Cool project. Could you please translate "mils" into metric please :-)
As far as I'm aware, 'mils' is metric - just short for millimeters (or 'a lazy way of saying' that, as Waste Of Space posted 17 minutes after you).

However, that would suggest that HarnessedDevilry is claiming to be able to spot-weld 2 *1-inch-thick pieces of a metal that "has about five times the thermal conductivity of iron" AND "5 or 6 times" the electrical conductivity!

My limited (ie. practically non-existent) knowledge suggests this is not likely, so I plugged '25 {mils}' into Waste Of Space's first formula, above, and got a thickness of 0.635 millimeter(s)...
HarnessedDevilry (author)  karlpinturr3 years ago
Sorry for the confusion. A "mil" is one thousandth of an inch (0.001").
russ_hensel3 years ago
Any hints on where to get *graphite blocks.
HarnessedDevilry (author)  russ_hensel3 years ago
I got mine on eBay, as scrap blocks. just do a search for "graphite stock". I'm sure there are other, more reliable sources too.
Electric starter motor (DC) brushes are carbon blocks and I have seen carbon brushes in some electric hand drills too.....
You might want to look into "carbon arc electrodes". You can get 50 in a box and they're already cylinders.
"Heavy Duty" batteries (not alkaline) use carbon rods as their centre electrode. Wear gloves for disassembly and clean them thoroughly.
Graphite rubbing blocks are used a blade guides on bandsaws - you can usually fing them near the replacement bandsaw blades
Very cool concept. I'm glad to hear it works good. Although I am also curious as to why the caps are in series. Capacitors in series effectively increases the plate distance, therefore decreasing capacitance. (same rules as resistors in parallel) so your actually only getting 650F. And paralleling them would give you your expected 10,400F, capable of handling more amperage (the heat generating portion) AND make charging easier. If their 2.5V, supply 2.5V to them and you can never overcharge them (a cheap analog voltmeter might be a good idea to monitor voltage). Other than that great idea and proof of concept :).
kmpres3 years ago
Needs refinement, but nice proof of concept. I like the ultra cap idea, thanks for the source information. They're safer and less toxic than using lead-acid car batteries and cannot fail catastrophically (explode) if accidentally overcharged. They will, however, degrade to an open circuit depending on the extent and duration of the overcharge. The zener diode idea of wa7jos is good as well, as is his suggestion to use it to stop the charge current entirely when the max voltage is reached. That will require a cut-off circuit of some kind, like a relay on the power supply's mains line, to work effectively. If done correctly that could work as a safety fuse allowing you to adjust your regulated power supply to any lower voltage you desire without risking an accidental overcharge. And your MOSFET / 555 variable one-shot switch idea is very good. Far better than the hot-rock-copper-brick approach (got a good laugh out of that one!). Now that we know the concept works, can we see a final product soon?
lperkins3 years ago
It's not volts that cause electrocution. It's amps. Unless you have a pacemaker or a weak heart, of course. It only takes .1 amps across the chest to stop your heart if you're unlucky.
leven lperkins3 years ago
But as ohms law clearly states you will need volts to get amps. and as a typical human body has many thousands of ohms of resistance voltages in this range is unable to drive any current trough you, unless maybe if you come directly from a bath of salt water..
rkrishnan73 years ago
For those who may not have access to a power resistor to safe-discharge the caps slowly, I'd suggest using a soldering iron as a bleeder load. May take a little time, but will do the job gently. Higher the wattge of the iron, quicker the discharge. (You could easily calculate the discharge time knowing the RC time constant, the 'R' of the iron being dependent on it's wattage) I recall working on a old IBM 3203 line printer back in the 80's which housed a huge bank of caps delivering a lot of amps, and at 60V, and the power on sequence failed because of the residual voltage not being bled off - got it working by dropping the voltage by discharging thru a soldering iron!
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