Spool Gun Handheld Wirefeed Welder Powered by Car Batteries

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About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of www.zcorp.com, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...
Here's my new wire-feed (MIG) welder.
All of it.
They sell these things as accessories for commercial MIG units, but they can also work great on 24 volts from two car batteries.
I have it loaded with .030" flux-core welding wire.
It cost me less than $100 on ebay.
The "Ready Welder" is a similar commercial product.
WARNING: The tip is electrically on all the time!

Cheap Welding for Punks compares this gizmo to other homebrew welding methods.

In the following video, notice that I'm controlling power with the distance to the work. Close in melts in more, further away increases the wire resistance. That decreases current and the weld is cooler and builds up metal in a taller puddle. Notice that my first weld is terrible because I forgot to do that. The next two welds get a lot better. These are two random batteries that have been sitting out in the yard for at least a month. I don't know how well charged they are.

Thanks to Star for videography and other good works.



Want more homebrew welders?
Try an AC stick welder from microwave oven transformers,
DC stick welding with car batteries,
Solar powered golf cart welder

Step 1: Gun Shopping

Spoolguns are sold as accessories for MIG welders for welding aluminum. The aluminum wire tends to jam up in a conventional wirefeed welder. So people get these spoolguns. They also get them for confined spaces and to work longer distances from the powersupply unit.

I bought this spoolgun on Ebay for under $100. There's no brand name on it and no provision for shielding gas. It's well made and works great for flux-core wire. I don't see any like it at the moment, but there are a number of Miller and other major brand spoolguns for sale. Do "show completed listings" to see how much they've been going for.

Step 2: Power Supply

Wirefeed welding on steel uses a DC constant-voltage power supply.
Lucky for us, that's exactly what a car battery is.
The range you want is between 18 volts and 36 Volts. I prefer 24 Volts for most of my welding.

Here's my power supply. It's two car batteries. They say "deep cycle" on them, but I don't think they really are. You don't need deep cycle batteries for this purpose anyway. Or even very good ones.

To get 18 volts, use three 6 volt golfcart batteries or a 12 volt battery and a 6 volt one in series.
To get 36 volts, use three 12 volt batteries in series, your whole golfcart worth of 6 volt batteries, etc. etc. You get the idea.

Step 3: Flux Core Wire

I bought this 2lb spool of flux-core wire for $7 from Harbor Freight. Looks like they're asking $20 for it now.
Here's a cheaper source of welding wire. $5/lb is a decent price.
Every welding supply shop and most hardware stores will carry something like it.

I get the .030" thick stuff. You need to get tips to match your wire, $3.50 for a pack of 5.

Online welding forums debate the merits of different vendor's wire and prices.
All agree on one thing. Don't let it get rusty.

If you've got a big spool you can reload the little ones like this.

Step 4: "Reverse Polarity" ???

Wirefeed welding steel is done with DC "reverse-polarity".
"Reverse Polarity" in welding parlance means the same as "Electrode Positive".
That means you connect the ground cable from the "-" battery terminal to the workpiece. The gun is connected to the "+" battery terminal.

The confusing name for this polarity happened for historical reasons.
For most welding (stick, the standard) the electrode is negative. That's called "Straight Polarity". They do it that way so most of the heat will go into the weld instead of the electrode.
The electrons have an easy time jumping out of the electrode, but when they jump into the workpiece they have to mill around and get acquainted and find their way around a bit. That makes more heat than just jumping off an electrode.

Step 5: Wirefeed Speed

The gun has two wires coming out of it. One is thick and one is thin. The thin one powers the wire feeder. Inside the handle of the gun there's a DC brush motor with a gear reduction turning a pair of pinch rollers that push the wire forward.

The speed of a DC brush motor is proportional to the voltage. That works out well for this gun, since the higher the welding voltage, the faster it spews out wire.
This particular wirefeeder seems to feed at just the right speed for whatever welding voltage I'm using.

If you want a different speed, try hooking the thin wire to different voltages in your battery bank. To get a continuously variable speed, use a variable DC powersupply for it. A small one will do.
Or butcher a battery powered electric drill for its speed controller.
Replace the trigger potentiometer with a rotary one of similar resistance.

Welding books have tables for voltage and wirefeed speed for welding different materials.
To measure the speed of your wirefeed, press the trigger for one second and measure the length of wire that comes out.

Step 6: Always HOT!!

Once you've hooked the welder up to the batteries, it's HOT!!
The trigger only controls the wire feed. The tip is wired direct to the battery.

I started out welding with the tip bare, but I accidentally brushed it against the work and pitted the gun. They make insulated "cups" to cover the tip, but I don't have one. So I proceeded to the next step.

Step 7: Bamboo Insulated Tip

Star was cutting up some bamboo and handed me a chunk.
I drilled a hole in the node and it works perfectly. It's a press fit.
The tip gets charred, but it's lasted through a few dozen welds. I guess it's like the hardwood re-entry tiles on the Russian space vehicles.
If it smokes after welding I dip it in water to put it out.
Welding is a lot more carefree now. I still have to worry about shorting the wire accidentally, but not about damaging the gun.

Step 8: Replacement Parts

Eventually my tip got goobered up with spatter until it looked kind of like this diagram. You're not supposed to be able to weld dissimilar metals without flux, but that stuff was ON THERE.

I figured it was time to get some spares.
I got some spare tips to match the wire, $3.50 for a pack of 5. And a couple of cups for $3.80 each. They looked about right and I got lucky. They fit my gun perfectly. Probably it's "TWECO" compatible. That's the gun everyone uses. Does anyone have facts on this?

I sprayed some welding anti-spatter spray on the tip to keep it clean. The machinists didn't know what was in it so I looked it up. Ours might be phosgene-based, but apparently veggie lecithin works great.
Get some at your nearest healthfood store, or get a spraycan of "PAM" antistick cooking spray at the grocer's.

There are a lot of good welding forums, here are excerpts from a post by "chipmaker" 04-19-2005, 08:41 PM
"...If your looking for a good anti spatter spray get some spray PAM, the same stuff the wife uses in the kitchen to keep stuff from sticking in her pans. It works fine, and is dirt cheap, and if you get the buttered flavored stuff it smells great when welding.

I have run stainless steel safety wire i mine to weld up stainless and it works fine.........no need to buy expensive stainless MIG wire, unless your doing spec work and lots of it. Aluminum wire is iffy in a lot of these smaller mig units, and usually requires a special teflon liner and a different feed roller to work right, but I have pushed aluminum wire through mine as long as the hose / cable was in a pretty straight line using the standard liner and feed roller. A spool gun works best with aluminum wire, so don;t get disturbed if you try it on aluminum and its ot as easy as steel and you get jams etc.......alum wire on a smaller MIG is like that.......it can be done, but not as easy as a larger unit handles it with a spool gun. ...

Some good wire that is well suited to home and farm use is AWS class ER70S-6. Dirt, rust and paint is a big problem with MIG, as MIG likes relatively clean materials, and this ER70S-6 wire handles materials that are not real clean better than any other class of wire. Lots of companies make it, so just look for wire meeting meeting AWS spec ER70S-6"

Step 9: Spoolgun Video

Notice that I'm controlling power with the distance to the work. Close in melts in more, further away increases the wire resistance. That decreases current and the weld is cooler and builds up more metal. Notice that my first weld is terrible because I forgot to do that. The next welds get a lot better.


Step 10: Ramps!

Here are the finished ramps.
They used to have plywood boards bolted to them.
Now they've got strong crossbars instead and a railing at the end to keep from driving off the end.

Want more homebrew welders?
Try an AC stick welder from microwave oven transformers,
DC stick welding with car batteries,
Solar powered golf cart welder

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    72 Discussions

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    zacker

    2 years ago

    can this be made to run off of 110v house current? it would be great to just plug it in and use it without haveing to store car batteries and keep them charged.

    3 replies
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    JamesF201zacker

    Reply 1 year ago

    I figured this was a good idea and decided to modify my horrible freight welder to stick got the rod stuck lights go off fan dies <thinks> oh i popped my breaker <end of thought> wasnt the issue still dont know what is but essentially that is what a horrible freight welder is a transformer with two outputs that you can weld with (you can make one but oh is that sketchy) a mig wont have the problem because the wire never gets stuck (short circuits) for long periods of time so no consistent building up of heat / just know AC will never run right for flux cored welding it needs DCEN (direct current electrode negative)changing polarity 60 times a second (60 herts AC what the US uses) is like trying to weld with a sparkler your kids play with on the 4th of july it work but terrible weld quality id say just find a hf welder and modify it with a brige rectifirer like i should have done people do it all the time and see good results just dont cheap out with the bridge and capacitor and you will be good

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    zackerJamesF201

    Reply 1 year ago

    lol... yeah i took out my little HF Stick welder to mess with it some more. I did get a "Better" weld... Meaning that the two pieces I welded together actually stayed together when I beat on it with a hammer..lol but the weld looked horrible. And when I say horrible, I mean HORRIBLE lol I do like the little wire feed HF welder but man... I'd much rather have a proper Mig with the gas set up and all that.. I really need to have a 220v line run out to the garage so I could get a proper welder set up!

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    JamesF201zacker

    Reply 1 year ago

    i did the instruct-able with my taken apart hf wire feed welder with an optima blue top and a walmart car batery and i was able to blow holes through stuff id like to know if theres a way to limit the voltage going to the gun

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    BradH13

    3 years ago

    Real nice! I'm thinking of doing this for my off road rig, like Bender Ridriguez. I'm going to use a gun that's gas compatible so that I can run hard wire for steel and also use the gas bottle for running pnuematic tools and airing up tires.

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    Bender Rodriguez

    3 years ago

    You know, I was thinking this could probably be run on a pair of 24V electric bike batteries in parallel as a backpack welder setup. That would be amazing for off road repair and whatnot.

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    jj.inc

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I don't get why people think that all these currents are so different. Our school shop has Lincoln stick welders that run DC with the work clamp positive or negative, and they have AC. I guess for this kind of welder a positive tip is different but not for "all" of them.
    By the way, great video.

    2 replies

    does your school shop have mig welders? if so then you should know that polarity maters using flux core(DCEP) versus solid wire(DCEN). that don't mater much on arc welders the polarity on those is dependent on where you want the heat to go(though if your welds have the DC ability don't use AC).

    You're supposed to use DCEN with FCAW and DCEP with Mig. The type of welding current does matter on stick depending on the electrode you are using. Some electrodes do not work well with different currents. For example, 6010 should be run on DCEP, whereas 6011 can be run on DCEP and AC current.

    I'm not saying you can't get it to run, but it will perform poorly.
    I know this is old, but people can still find this and take away the wrong information.

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    ZacWolf

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Hey, I used your Instructable as a basis for building a portable welder. I created an Instructable for my project, and would be honored if you'd comment on it!

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    HiramAbiff

    6 years ago on Introduction

    I think I saw a post here about using a couple of microwave power supplies. My question is, could this be done with a couple of pc power supplies (I imagine in series to get the voltage up closer to 24 volts -ish)? As these are switching supplies, I am nit sure this would work out. If it did, I am thinking that the 40 +/- amps one could get from a pc ps (or two in series) would be plenty for aluminum. Of course, since there are a lot of these things around for almost free at surplus, maybe use 4, a set in series and each set in parallel to up the current if needed. Am I on the right track, or would the switching ps or any other aspect of a pc ps make this a bad selection for a spool welder ps?
    Thanks in advance.

    Dan

    1 reply
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    Adam ManickHiramAbiff

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    In theory it would work. I was planning on building something very similar to that (I'll post an Intractable if I do). The problem is that flux cored and mig welding both work best on DC; the microwave transformers obviously have an AC output. Now, some cheaper flux core units do use AC, but this produces welds with allot of spatter. The only way to do it properly would be to rectify the output, and the diodes can get pricy. Another obstacle, is that mig welders do have to be adjusted more so than others; a stick welder for example. So, it would be best to also have a way to adjust the current.

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    L3indy1965

    5 years ago on Step 2

    Might you describe the wire hook up, can't make it out from the picture?

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    Spokehedzmikemmcmeans

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    They make those already, and they absolutely STINK ON ICE. The problem is that unlike welding, soldering requires the wicking process to actually get into the joints of the part/wire. Welding is just blobbing new material to melt the other two metals together. Plus, you don't want to constantly be feeding solder into a joint. You want to heat the joint (touch the iron to the part) and then touch the solder to the other side of the joint (NOT THE IRON) and let it flow into the joint.

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    DerinSpokehedz

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    So that was why my solder joints were terrible...I was touching them to the iron to melt it. I am a bit lazy. :)

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    ear0waxDerin

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    That actually harder to do than soldering properly. Dont worry ever one does that at first.