Introduction: How to Make a Steel Sculpture

Sculptures have been around for centuries; however steel sculptures that have been welded are a fairly new concept, with the earliest recorded making of a welded sculpture being around 1932. Sculptures are really fun to make and make a great garden feature.
What you will need:
• Welder/ oxygen/acetylene set
• Leather welding gloves
• Enclosed shoes (preferably leather)
• Long shirt and pants
• Welding rods
• Welders helmet
• Scrap steel
• Vice (to hold sculpture)
• Pliers
• Wire brush
• Chipping hammer
• Tin snips
• Angle grinder (optional)
• Hacksaw

Step 1: Choosing Your Sculpture

The first thing you need to do is to choose a subject matter or something to make a sculpture of. It could be an animal, person or an object. It should be something that will be easy enough to create. Get some pictures off the internet of your item and draw it from 3 angles (top, side and front).

Step 2: Gather Materials and Tools

The next task is to obtain a welder or an oxygen/acetylene set. Most hardware stores will carry arc welders and welding rods but you will have to go to a specialty store for an oxygen/acetylene set. You MUST wear a welder’s helmet or goggles because the arcs can blind you! A chipping hammer should come with your welder and also a wire brush. An angle grinder is optional but will help cut down time and cut steel faster. If you do not have an angle grinder a hacksaw will be sufficient. You can use tinsnips to cut the sheet metal that will make up the majority of your sculpture. You can ask businesses that deal with scrap metal recycling to sell you some scrap.

Step 3: Arc Welding

Before you start welding on your sculpture it is a good idea that you practice of a piece of scrap. You should clean the whole welding surface before you start welding.

Step: 3.1.1 Understanding an arc welder
An arc welder works by passing a current through an electrode which jumps via an air gap onto the grounded metal and melting the tip of the rod due to high current and heat, therefore welding the surface.

Step: 3.1.2 Preparing the welding surface
The easiest way to clean up a welding surface is to use an angle grinder. But if you do not have one, sandpaper will be fine and a wire brush to clean up the gaps. Remove paint and rust if any.

Step: 3.1.3 Setting your welding machine
You will have to set your welding machine to the correct amperage so that you can create a good quality weld. A machine set too high will just make a lot of spattered welds and melt the grounded metal too much. A machine set too low will make the electrode stick to the grounded metal and will not provide a highly penetrated weld. How high you will need to set your machine will depend on what welding electrodes you have.  (Guide located at the bottom of document)

Step: 3.1.3 Striking an arc
To start an arc, you have to strike the rod like you are playing pool, the rod must scrape along the grounded metal. Soon you will see an arc of light, to continue this arc you have to allow the rod and the grounded metal an air gap, so enough heat is produced to melt the rod and fuse the metal.

Step: 3.1.4 Making a bead
When you are welding you must move the electrode to make a bead, beads can be shaped by moving the rod in a different pattern. Some popular patterns are; the crescent and the zigzag.

Step: 3.1.5 Removing slag
After you have completed a bead, you will have a layer of slag, you can chip this off with the chipping hammer and use the wire brush to remove the carbon from welding.

IMPORTANT! : After each bead, chip off and clean up the weld before starting another bead.

Step: 3.1.6 Testing weld quality
Depending on what part of the sculpture you are welding on, you will have to test its strength, to do this you have to try and move it with your hands, if you cannot break it off it is strong enough. You do not have to make it super strong because it is only for decorative purposes.

Step: 3.1.7 Danger
Do not weld with an arc welder if the piece of metal, the electrode or your gloves are wet. This may cause an electrocution.
Do not touch your work piece for at least 5 minutes without gloves because it will remain hot for quite some time.
Arc welding will cause pieces of hot metal to “pop” in every direction, make sure that there are no flammable materials are around.

Step 4: Oxygen-Acetylene Welding

Step: 3.2.1 Understanding an oxygen/acetylene set
An oxygen/acetylene set (or oxy set for short) works by combining 2 gases (oxygen and acetylene) with different mixtures into a hose then coming out of a welding nozzle, which has to be lighten by a striker. The welding nozzles that you can get vary from 000 (thin metal welding) to 3 (thick metal welding).

Step: 3.2.2 What you will need
You will need; an oxygen cylinder, acetylene cylinder, regulators and hoses for each, welding torch with welding nozzles (around 000), welding goggles and a striker (to light the torch)

Step: 3.2.3 Setting the levels
When welding with an oxy set, you will have to adjust the amount of gas coming out. To do this you will need to use the taps near the gas cylinders. Firstly, you open the acetylene cylinder by turning the tap ½ of a turn. Set the acetylene regulator for 5 psi, open the pin valve on the torch to let acetylene escape. Tweak the regulator until the acetylene is at a solid 5 psi, then close the pin valve. Open the main oxygen valve fully, and then adjust the oxygen regulator to 10 psi. let it settle and continue to adjust it to maintain 10psi, close the pin valve for oxygen. Open the acetylene valve approx. 1/8th of a turn and then use the striker to light the acetylene gas.

Step: 3.2.4 Preparing the flame
Continue to release the acetylene until the flame is about to leave the tip of the welding torch, slowly open the oxygen pin and set it to a neutral flame. A neutral flame is where you have equal parts oxygen to acetylene. The middle blue section will merge into the whitish blue section, this is the neutral flame.

Step: 3.2.5 Welding with the oxy set
When you have prepared the flame, prepared your surfaces and have your safety equipment on you are ready to weld. You have to use the middle blue section of the flame to weld; this section must touch your work piece. Continue to heat up the 2 surfaces of metal until you have a pool forming on both parts. This pool should merge into one, if this does not happen continue to heat the unmelted piece. Once this has happened, you have to use the flame to stir the 2 pools together, this will form the weld. Once you have finished the weld, turn off the oxygen pin valve first, then the acetylene valve.

Step: 3.2.6 Dangers
Because an oxy set uses oxygen, there are huge dangers of things being set alight. Oxygen speeds up the process of things burning and could become deadly.
When welding with an oxy set, the work piece can retain its heat for a long time, due to the heat delivered from welding. This can be dangerous if you do not have leather gloves.

Backfires: a backfire will cause the flame to shoot up into the nozzle and is stopped at the arrestor; this will cause a loud bang.

Flashbacks: flashbacks are like backfires but the can carry up into the tubes of the tanks, the oxygen torch should be turned off first then the acetylene torch valve, Followed by the oxygen tank valve and lastly, the acetylene tank valve.

When welding, you may experience a pool or droplet of molten steel to fall off the work piece. This will splash and may send hot pieces everywhere. Make sure that there are no flammable materials around.

Step 5: Base Building

Before you start to weld your sculpture you have to create a solid base for the smaller parts to join on to. This can be done by bending some wire around into the rough shape of your sculpture, 5/16ths rod or 3mm will do. Weld this onto a base like a tripod or a steel platform.

Step 6: Sculpting Your Sculpture

This part you have to use small pieces of steel to weld the main body, this will build up the structure and give it its overall shape. You may have to cut specially shaped pieces and bend them into “panels.” This can be done by hitting them while in a vice with a ball pein hammer or using a dolly. The next part is to weld on even smaller pieces; these could be random scrap steel like spanners, bolts, nuts, screws, pipes, mesh and rod. This will give a much better effect because you do not have repetition.

Step 7: Add Ons

In this step you will make the “add-ons”. These are the parts containing the most detail, like the head of an animal, the claws or wings of a bird etc. for a bird you may want to get a piece of scrap that is pretty close to the shape and just weld on additional parts, like a piece of steel pipe. Smaller pieces can be used to define the texture of your sculpture.

Step 8: Reviewing

In this step you will take a step back and admire what you have created. This will give you a chance to refine and improve your sculpture. If you need to cut something off you can use an angle grinder or a hacksaw.

Step 9: Finishing

When you finish welding your sculpture it is time to decide how you want it to look. Some popular finishes are:
• Rusty steel
• Painted
• Hammer tone paint
Once painted, you have a nice-looking, homemade sculpture for the garden or on display in the home.

Step 10: References

• -- used for chart of electrode amperages 05/02/12
• -- used to help with steps of welding 05/02/12 Last edited: September 23, 2011 by Elocina
• -- used for the oxy welding processes 05/02/12
revision history :
Ver 1.0 -- 5/97 -- Steve Johnson -- original text
Ver 1.1 --  6/97 --  Bryan Cooperrider  --  formatting, revisions, and additions
Ver 1.2 --  10/01 -- Katherine Kuchenbecer   --   minor revisions.
• -- used for the dangers of welding (gas and arc) 05/02/12
• -- used for picture of neutral flame 07/02/12
• -- oxy torch set picture 06/02/12

This "how-to" was uploaded as a part of the year 12 research project for the SACE.

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