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Welding Tools and Materials
Welding Class
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Complete Consumables and Tool List for this Class

Choices in Beginner's MIG welders

Power Tools

Consumables

Clamping, Measuring & Marking

Hand Tools

Studio Safety

Personal Safety

Supplies for Projects



Personal Safety Equipment

MIG welding can be safe as long as you follow a few important safety precautions. Welding metal requires us to protect ourselves from the many dangerous aspects of the trade with safety gear to prevent us from getting burned or blinded.

An auto-darkening welding helmet protects our eyes from the light that is generated by any form of arc welding but allows you to see when the arc of the torch is not active. Auto-darkening helmets are helpful if you are doing a bunch of welding and don't want to jerk the helmet off and on to see what you are doing in between welds.

If you work in a community shop with lots of people, protecting others from seeing the arc by using a welding screen. The screen protects potential on-lookers from getting blinded by the arc.

Having your skin covered is critical. Once you start grinding and welding, hot sparks and molten metal slag can shoot in all different directions. We protect ourselves by wearing heat-resistant leather and natural fiber; synthetic fabrics melt instead of burn, meaning they become molten and burn into the skin, yikes! But honestly, a leather jacket is really hot to wear for any extended welding project. If you're like me and heat up quickly, you can try a welding apron with a long sleeve flame-resistant cotton shirt.

Most of the time, I wear coveralls that have been rated for use with welding. They cover all my skin, and I can tuck the sleeves into my gloves when I'm welding, or easily roll them up when I'm grinding. This cover will not only protect your skin from the heat produced by welding, it shields your skin from the UV light produced by welder's arc.

Just like your welding clothes, you are going to want wear very sturdy work shoes that do not have any synthetic materials that could melt. Good work boots or even canvas slip-ons are fine - just no running shoes.

If I'm going to be welding for more than 15 minutes, I'll even put on sunscreen. I've occasionally gotten sunburns on my neck from the small gap between my leathers and my helmet, but SPF 110 seems to do the trick.

When you are welding, you will be gripping and traverse your hands and forearms along some very hot metal. For this reason, we wear MIG welding gloves. Be warned,MIG gloves are the most uncomfortable gloves in the world. They should fit loose so that if they become too hot, you are able to quickly fling them from your arm on to the ground.

Wearing a grinding visor protects your face from flying particulate while you are using a grinder. If you are working to grind off paint, or any other kind of metal finish, consider wearing a face mask to protect you from potential fumes on the steel coating.

I wear safety glasses under my welding helmet for the sole reason that I make sure I am wearing them once I start grinding metal. There are some terribly horrific stories about metal slag and shards coming into contact with eyeballs, I will spare you them and just reiterate - WEAR SAFETY GLASSES. The safety glasses I recommend have a Z87.1 rating. This rating ensures that your eyes are receiving some UV protection from other welders around you, and from flying sparks when you're grinding.

You also want to protect your ears while welding and grinding by wearing ear muffs or ear plugs. When the fast-spinning grinding wheels come into contact with the steel it is super duper loud, and prolonged exposure can cause pain or even temporary deafness.

It's important to weld in a well-ventilated area. MIG welding produces fumes which you shouldn't breathe in. If you are going to be welding and working for longer than 30 minutes, wear either a mask or a respirator that can protect you from metal fumes.


Even More Welding Safety

DO NOT WELD GALVANIZED STEEL. Galvanized steel contains a zinc coating that is applied to industrial steel to prevent rust over a prolonged period of time. (Think streetlamps, and bridge supports) This zinc coating produces carcinogenic and poisonous gas when it is burned. Exposure to the immolated coating can result in heavy metal poisoning also known as 'welding shivers'. These are flu-like symptoms that can persist for a few days, but that can also cause permanent damage. This is not a joke. I have witnessed someone who has welded galvanized steel out of ignorance and immediately felt the effects and had to be rushed to the hospital, so don't do it!

Considering Fire Saftey

Molten metal slag can splatter several feet from a weld. Grinding sparks can fly even further. Any sawdust, paper or plastic bags in the area can smolder and catch fire, so keep a tidy area for welding. Most often, your attention will be focused on the parts you are welding, and not the area around you, so it can be hard to see what's going on behind you if something catches fire. Reduce the chance of that happening by clearing away all flammable objects from your weld area.

This is a good precaution for any shop, but keep a fire extinguisher beside the exit door from your workshop. CO2 extinguishers are the best type of extinguisher for welding. Water extinguishers are not a good idea in a welding shop since you are standing next to a machine which essentially transforms wall power into lightning.


Measuring, Marking, Squaring, and Clamping

Measuring Tools

Any good fabricator knows that improper measurement when working on any project is not advised and will lead to poorly crafted finished work. Be sure to invest in a number of reliable measuring and marking devices. The most common measuring tools you will need in your metalworking arsenal are tape measures, metal rulers, calipers, metal T-squares, and a marking tool of some kind. I often find myself doing a majority of my marking with a center punch or an extra-fine point permanent marker.

Welding Clamps & Magnets

Tight joints are key when welding pieces of metal together. Using welding clamps and grips will allow you to set your work piece up firmly while welding it together. Clamps and grips come in all shapes and sizes, so be sure to find the right kinds of clamps for your job, I swear there is a clamp out there for every kind of job.

If you are wanting to work quickly, or don't need extensive jigging for holding your pieces together, consider using welding magnets. Welding magnets hold pieces at a variety of angles, but most commonly at 90, 45, 60, and 135.


Options for Cutting Metal

I had a shop teacher once tell me that with any tool you have three options: affordability, speed, and quality - but you only get to pick two. As we go over options in cutting metal, you will see what I mean. The cutting options presented below scale from least to most expensive.

For cutting thin rod and tube affordably, look no further than a hacksaw. Be sure to use the right blade for your material in your saw. Mild steel requires a blade with fewer teeth per inch (commonly referred to as TPI), like this 18 tooth per inch blade . Softer metals like aluminum or copper will need a blade with more teeth per inch . The cuts that you get with a hacksaw are slow, and often kind of chewed at the edges, making them not quite flush. You may want to use a miter box to try and get the squarest cuts possible.

Another option in cutting is using your trusty angle grinder with a cut-off wheel. The cut-off wheel will be rated for the kind of material you are cutting, as well as the thickness of the material you are cutting, so be sure to check the back of the wheel before you fit it to your grinder. Getting a square cut is a little tricky. You can achieve a square-ish cut in tube or rod by marking your material with a combination square, so you have a straight cutting guide, move your guard to the side of your grinder, then plunging the spinning wheel straight down into your material with the grinder perpendicular to your cutting plane. Cutting with an angle grinder goes fast, and leaves your material mostly smooth and very hot so allow it to cool.

If your studio has limited space, consider getting a grinder miter stand . These yield great results on a budget, are fairly portable, and can be stored easily.

Another affordable power tool you can use to cut metal is a sawzall . Sawzalls with the correct blade for your material cut through a metal tube like butter. I find that if I score my material with a straight line using a cut-off wheel, this creates a groove for the sawzall's blade to follow. After scoring the grove, rotate the material 90 degrees and begin cutting with the blade following the grove. This yields a pretty quick, mostly square cut, that will require minimal deburring.

Lastly, let's go over bandsaws. Above you see a vertical bandsaw(left) and a horizontal bandsaw(right). The vertical bandsaw is great for making small cuts in solid material, but not advised for larger jobs, or hollow tube. The horizontal bandsaw is, in my opinion, the best tool a welder could invest in for cutting metal.

This bandsaw gives the operator the most control and reliability in making cuts. You are able to set the speed of the blade, the angle of the cut, and the speed of which the blade descends into the material. You almost never have to debur a cut made on the horizontal bandsaw, and if you do, its becuase your settings are too fast.

Often, if I have to make cuts of the same length over and over again, I will clamp a piece of material to the outfeed table at a set distance from the blade. This makes fast work for getting precise cuts over and over again. All I have to do is feed the material I am trying to cut until I hit the stop-block of the clamp, then I vice the metal and make the cut.

If you need to make accurate cuts on a jobsite, consider a portaband saw. They yield straight cuts that require minimal deburring, and often have variable speed control so you can set the blade speed for your material.

If you need to make custom shapes in sheet metal, check out this Instructable on plasma cutting. Plasma cutters are expensive tools, but lots of makerspaces are starting to purchase them for common use in their shop.

For a more in-depth tutorial and explanation on cutting metal, check out the Cutting lesson from the Metalworking class.


Sourcing Steel

Finding steel is easy! It's pretty much everywhere around us. A keen eye can observe steel fixtures and welded parts in every part of our modern world. You are able to source steel from upcycled parts, or start with raw material from hardware stores and steel distributors. Big box hardware stores carry common lengths and thicknesses of steel sheet, bar, and pipe, and is usually found near lumber or fasteners.

If you are sourcing upcycled steel, pay extra attention to any possible coating that may be on your steel. Welding galvanized or powder coated parts can make you really sick, so be sure to grind off all finishes from parts before super-heating the base material with the welding torch, immolating whatever coating is on your steel to off gas toxic fumes.

When purchasing raw steel, you have to pay attention to whether or not the steel is hot rolled or cold rolled. Because steel is ductile, meaning that it is able to be stretched into shapes, raw iron is either shaped with heat or stretched over cold mechanical parts to be extruded into a shape. Let's go over the difference.

Hot Rolled Steel

Hot rolled steel is formed at temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This steel recrystallizes its form during the cooling process, giving the finished product looser tolerances than the original metal because the material has gone through so much shrinkage during cooling. This shrinkage causes the material to scale as it cools. The scale needs to be ground off with an angle grinder before we weld on to the material.

Hot rolled steel is often used for the manufacturing of structural components, such as I beams.


Cold Rolled Steel

Cold rolled steel undergoes a processing and shaping at room temperature. This increases the strength of the finished product through the use of strain hardening by as much as 20 percent. Cold rolled steel usually feels smoother to the touch and is a brighter shade of silvery gray.

Steel formed by the cold rolled steel process include bars, strips, rods, and sheets. These shapes are usually smaller than the same products available through hot rolled methods, but more suitable for the home and craft welder.

Cold roll steel has no scale that needs to be ground off. Because this kind of steel is stretched and shaped by machines, it is coated with a film of oil that allows it to roll with less friction during processing. We remove this film with acetone or denatured alcohol before welding.


Quiz!

{
    "id": "quiz-1",
    "question": "What is the best PPE to use while grinding metal?", 
    "answers":[
        {
            "title": "Safety glasses",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "Safety glasses, a respirator, and a grinding visor",
            "correct": true
        },
       {
            "title": "Safety glasses, and a grinding visor",
            "correct": false
        }

    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's correct",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
}
{
    "id": "quiz-2",
    "question": "What material in galvanized steel is poisonous when burned?",
    "answers":[
        {
            "title": "Iron",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "Carbon",
            "correct": false
        },
       {
            "title": "Zinc",
            "correct": true
        }

    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's correct",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
}
{
    "id": "quiz-3",
    "question": "What kind of steel needs to be prepared with an angle grinder?",
    "answers":[
        {
            "title": "Cold-rolled steel",
            "correct": false
        },
        {
            "title": "Hot-rolled steel",
            "correct": true
        }
   
    ],
    "correctNotice": "That's correct",
    "incorrectNotice": "That's incorrect"
}

Are You Ready?

In our next lesson, we begin welding! (Insert super metal guitar riff here) We've gone over all the safety precautions and tools needed for welding, and its time to make practical use of all the concepts we've gone over. Remember, welding is easy! so long as you remember each and every safety precaution. Follow along to complete your first welding project in the next lesson.

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project