Cheap Welding for Punks




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Cheap homemade welders compared: AC stick, DC stick, DC spoolgun. Oxyfuel discussion.

Welding is usually the easiest and quickest way to build something.
You just put the parts next to each other and weld them.
You don't have to drill bolt holes and go to the hardware store for bolts.
Metal doesn't split like wood. It doesn't have grain and knots that make every piece different.
You can get all kinds of scrap metal for free. Bed frames, parts of old cars, etc etc.
And you can make your own welder for free or close to it.

Don't have access to a welder? LIAR!! All it takes is some junk car batteries and a welding rod.
Or some dead microwave ovens to butcher for the transformers.
Make your own industrial revolution!

Make these welders yourself!
AC stick welder,
DC stick welding with car batteries
wirefeed spoolgun with car batteries
Solar powered battery welder

This instructable is my "table of contents" for welding projects. When I do more projects I'll add more steps here to link to them.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Welding With Books!

The most important welding tool is... INFORMATION.
Whenever I screw up a weld, I go look up how I should have done it. Sure enough, there's a proper polarity, current, feed rate, shielding gas/flow rate, flux etc for the weld. I do it that way, and suddenly I'm a great welder.

No matter how many welding books I get, I need them all. There's some kind of Japanese-style collusion between publishers to distribute the information between all the books. None of them have all the information you need. Every book will add a lot of information the others don't have. They also tend to devote a lot of space to info you'll never need, like how to weld train tracks using an automated submerged-arc machine.

The Miller online welding calculators are really good, especially for something like TIG that has 5 or 6 different parameters.

Step 2: Don't Poison Gas Attack Yourself, Etc.

Welders don't live very long.
Smoke including welding smoke is usually full of some poison or other.
Manganese poisoning is one of the hazards, especially if you do a lot of welding in confined spaces. Wear a respirator with the proper filter.
Or make your own, 1942 style!

New Zealand has a great online manual on welding safety. The number of ways to harm yourself with welding is truly amazing. I took a welding class once. It turned out I'd been doing some really dangerous things. Lets say you need to arc weld a distance from your welder. So you carry a coil of cable. If you weld with that coil of cable around you, you can stop your heart with an induced current.

Step 3: AC Stick

Weld Steel, stainless steel and (sort of) aluminum.
Cost: $0 and up.
see the entire DIY AC Stick Welder Instructable.

It costs nothing to make. The junk you need is probably already in your alley or garage. A bundle of rods costs $7 or so anywhere in the world.
It's much easier to make this welder run on 220 volts than on 110, since it draws half as much current on 220 and your breakers are less likely to blow.
Striking an arc without sticking the rod to the work is a skill, look for some instructional videos on youtube. I do it by listening. It makes a particular sound when you do it right.
It's very easy to weld on steel that's about the same thickness as your welding rods or a little thicker.
For thinner walled stuff it takes some skill and looking up the proper settings.
Stainless is also easy to weld with this unit. Just get some stainless rods at the welding store. Use low power and thin rods, stainless is a poor conductor of heat and it's easy to melt through. But it's easy to make it look nice. It's "stainless" so it's easy to make nice shiny welds.
They sell aluminum rods also, but I've never gotten them to work for me.

Step 4: DC Stick

Weld Steel and stainless steel
Cost: $0 and up.
Another welder that's already laying in pieces in your alley, car, and garage.
see the entire DIY DC Stick Welder Instructable.

A few old batteries can deliver awesome amounts of current.
Combine 6volt and 12 volt batteries to get any voltage you need. I've never needed more than 36 volts.
I've done some really heavy welding with batteries. I've also cut holes by dipping the rods in water first.
For stainless, you can wire it electrode positive so most of the heat goes into the rod rather than the work. It's harder to strike an arc with this DC unit than the AC one. The AC unit has a higher "open-circuit voltage". Batteries are a "voltage source" and the arc is much shorter than with a "current source".

Step 5: Solar Welder

Here's my Solar Powered Welder project.
Pretty much any alternative energy project will include something that will make a fine welder.
If you're living in an off-grid house with a battery bank, you've got the most powerful welder ever made!

Step 6: Battery Spoolgun - Flux Core Wirefeed

Welds Steel
Cost: $75 and up.
see the entire DIY Battery SpoolGun instructable.

Wirefeed is very easy to use. A lot like a gluegun. Just point it at the pieces you want joined and pull the trigger.
Flux-core wire means you don't need a shielding gas cylinder. The fluxcore wire I've used has deposited very thin slag. Not much work to brush it off. Fluxcore wire costs $4/lb and up.

Cheap fluxcore wirefeed welders are abundant in hardware stores and used on craigslist.
For even less cost on ebay you can get a spoolgun and run it on car batteries. Old car batteries will put out as much current as a very expensive welder.

Control welding heat with distance from the gun to the weld. Close in is a short low resistance wire - more current and heat - melt it in. Further out - longer wire - more resistance - less heat and a puddle that builds up higher.

To weld stainless steel and aluminum you'll need shielding gas.
For ~$200 you can add a gas cylinder and regulator.
Different materials require different shielding gases.

Thin walled materials such as tubing require skill.
You must look up wire diameter, feed rate, and voltage to get a good weld and not burn holes.
You must look up and do everything exactly right to weld aluminum.

Step 7: Oxy-Acetylene (Oxy-Fuel)

Weld Steel, stainless steel, aluminum. Braze anything. Really good on sheetmetal, thin tubing, and rusty stuff.
Cost: $200 and up.

A lot of people have a set of tanks around just for cutting. They don't realize it's their best welder for a lot of jobs. Put your smallest tip on it and it's easier to use on thin tubing and sheetmetal than any other welder I've tried. You can use coat hangers and random wire for filler rod.

Acetylene isn't the only fuel for this, you can use propane, hydrogen, or pretty much any flammable gas. Acetylene has the hottest flame. Get the free manual for gas cutting/welding from the welding supply shop. It has tables for what size tip and pressure to use for what fuel. And what thickness of what metal you're working on. Like all other welding, checking the book first makes your welds beautiful.

I just gas welded a stainless steel ladder from tubing. I used stainless bicycle spokes from junk wheels for filler rod. Now I want to make a whole lot more stuff like that. You don't need a helmet or gloves, just a pair of welding goggles. It's really quiet.

At Oshkosh they teach people to weld airplane frames and aluminum with oxy-acetylene and oxy-hydrogen. It's a really sociable type of welding. It doesn't drive people off with UV, fumes and noise. For aluminum you use some white flux to paint on the area before heating.
We used ESAB #35 aluminum flux and Alcotec alloy ER1100 3/64" welding rods.
TM tinmantech Aluminum Premium Flux also.

Muffler shops, even the big franchises use oxy-acetylene for patching pipes. You can adjust the flame to "reducing" with a shortage of oxygen. The starved flame turns rust back into steel.

Stainless will rust unless you treat it right. You can't use a steel brush or an old grinding wheel that's been used on regular steel. That will rub rustable iron onto the surface. Get a fresh grinding wheel and only use it for stainless. After welding you need to "passivate" the stainless. Rustable iron crystals come to the surface of the weld. You need to clean your weld with something - not steel wool, not steel brush. I'm using a bronze brush. Then use lemon juice to etch all the iron off the surface. The chrome and nickel that remains won't rust. Unless you mix grades of stainless, or have an electrical problem, or....

But don't worry about that stuff for now, it'll still rust a lot slower than regular iron.

Be the First to Share


    • Instrument Contest

      Instrument Contest
    • Make it Glow Contest

      Make it Glow Contest
    • STEM Contest

      STEM Contest

    247 Discussions


    7 months ago on Introduction

    You seem to be giving people dangerous and incorrect advise. You should never try to make your own welding machine as you could electrocute yourself and die! most stick welding is done on DC+ (not just stainless steel). Maybe you should educate yourself before giving advise to anyone. As a welder and welding instructor with over a decade of welding experience I ask you kindly to stop giving people bad advise! You could get someone killed! You want to know what happens when a DIY welding machine goes wrong? Google search electrical burns.....the first few images should make most whoozy enough to think twice!


    3 years ago

    I noticed lately when I welded with arc I would cough a lot. Medicated inhaler will only help. Safety gear are not heard of where I live. I'm planning to wet a dust mask and use it. Do you have any simpler suggestions than 1945 pilot mask?

    I enjoyed your 'Ible.

    2 replies
    John T MacF MoodMihsin

    Reply 2 years ago

    1945 era gas masks have Asbestos in them, DO NOT USE, Asbestos causes cancer. A pilot's simple Oxygen mask as your only source of breathing air might help, keeping in mind as old as they are they may leak a bit.

    John T MacF Mood

    2 years ago

    The ultimate guide to safety on fumes *AND OTHER HAZARDS*:

    Provides multilingual resources for safety, and recommends a lot of ventilation and the use of an air breather (soft of like a SCUBA breather) while welding fumes are present and cannot be vented or blown away from the weldor.

    John T MacF Mood

    2 years ago

    My 2 cents on the fumes & welder's fever:

    3M makes a very high quality 1/2 face breather mask, and depending on the quality of the filter you buy to attach to it. One of their filters will even stop a horrible stench from rotting stuff. That filter, along with a high volume fresh air ventilator blower should help, and never, and I mean NEVER weld on anything galvanized.

    This is not to say it will protect you COMPLETELY, but it will minimize risks. Big as you can get fans and a 3M mask, you should be safer. Even a floor fan from Harbor Frieght has enough volume to run the dangerous fumes away from you, and those fans are cheap relative to getting a lung disease that can kill you. The 3M mask is literally dirt cheap too. In the USA, Lowe's and Home Depot has them, and you sometimes have to order the higher quality filters.

    And as to surplus military gas masks, the US government military gas masks, possibly from WW II through as late as the Korean War era, has asbestos in the filter, so avoid those like the plague. They can give you lung cancer. The newer ones aren't in the surplus chain as of the last time I checked, since our military won't turn loose of useful gas masks while we're involved in so many military actions around the world. Used up ones, maybe, but don't trust one they wouldn't refurbish.

    My 3M mask cost me about $35.00, and the filters (sold in pairs) cost about $5.00 a set. Mine is 3M part number 6200/07025 for the medium sized one.The matching filters I got were bought to stop particulates from grinding and sanding various metals to avoid breathing in particulates of the metals I work with - not welding them.

    What I have isn't high enough quality to stop zinc fume poisoning, another grade might. A call to 3M would quickly tell you which grade of filter to get, if any will stop the metal fumes. I bought 3M 2071 P95 filters to fit the 5000 series and 6000 series masks. Guys I know (cops and deputy coroners) who work crime scenes with decomposing bodies use them and swear they'll stop the horrible stench. I've never had that 'privilege', thank goodness.

    NO, I do NOT work for 3M, nor any of it's parent or subsidiary companies, but I know their product is said to be pretty damn good. My experience is that it works perfectly on metal particulates.

    For you guys overseas from the US, these can be ordered via, probably from Lowe's and Home Depot, but I'm not sure they will export ship them.

    WalMart can ship, but I couldn't tell you if they will ship overseas. Get a pal to buy them and send them to you.


    3 years ago

    Sometimes I come across a controversial talk about welders so I decided to retaliate those who are against welders. I also work with an association with some respectable welder guys in welding supplies. They are just awesome and their behavior makes us to take great care of them.

    Hello Tim,

    I enjoyed your article, but I must point out one minor flaw. Acetylene is great for welding not only because of the high heat but also it's shielding properties for the weld puddle. Propane should not be used to weld as it does not have the same shielding characteristics, and will result in porosity in the weld. PS: I use gas welding on darn near everything, especially motorcycle repair and bodywork. It is becoming a lost art but it does work great.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Propane is great for cutting. There is a good reason that propane is not used industry wide for welding. Acetylene's flame is not only hotter, but a slightly carburising flame makes for a high quality weld due to the molecular properties of acetylene. You could weld with propane, but with much less quality.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Along with the ventilation system, you should also drink a tall glass of milk after your finished welding,Don't know why but a well known welder told me that milk can be used as an antidote to the fumes.

    7 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    that's a myth and it reffered to the zinc fumes from welding galvanized material


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Something in milk (a quick google doesn't turn up the exact chemistry) helps absorb zinc from the bloodstream- zinc is thought to be the main cause of "welding fever". It seems like it's thought to be a decent treatment for some of the symptoms, but not a good replacement for having adequate ventilation and/or a respirator in the first place. Also, of course, I have no idea if it does anything about other nasties like manganese, chromium, aluminium etc...


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Heavy metal salt ions are very reactive in solution, attacking the proteins of your body. The milk gives it proteins to attack and pushes the reaction towards completion lowering the molarity of ions in solution to "attack"(read, react with) the body. You can't breathe milk, however, so a respirator and ventilation system is still a great idea, as stated before.

    You could breathe through a hookah or bong, filled with milk. A respirator is probably easier and cheaper, albeit not as weird.

    haha, bong filled with milk. thanks for the funny comment. So many ibles out there with endless safety discussions that add nothing to the ible. There should be a separate section for safety comments. At least that was a good laugh.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    That's an interesting idea, but it doesn't make sense. The main protein from milk (casein) should not be crossing over into your blood stream. If it is you have far bigger problems than a case of welder's flu. The first stop is in the stomach, where the acidity causes the casein to curdle (as in cheese). At the same time enzymes (biological chemicals) break down casein into smaller pieces. The next stop is the duodenum where more digestive goo is mixed in causing further digestion. Things are pretty well mixed up and torn apart by then. Further enzymatic digestion occurs in the small intestine (to some extent), and absorption into the body occurs in the same structure. Your body pretty much maintain the same molarity of proteins, ions and other goodies at all times. There are exceptions to this, but they are rare. Your kidneys remove excess ions, waste products and some proteins. They also can remove water to maintain a constant osmotic pressure. In the end who knows why milk is said to help welding fever? Most of the welders I know tend to favor beer as a post work beverage. Perhaps the fact that they are NOT drinking beer is more important than drinking milk. Alcohol is a diuretic (which means that it causes your body to remove water than normal). Maybe it is because you are not out with your friends drinking away and rather resting is more important (not too many bars sell large glasses of milk.) Maybe it is more important to maintain hydration? Working in areas with poor ventilation suggests cramped quarters that may be hot. This is the great thing about science. We can (well theoretically, poisoning people isn't exactly an ethical thing to do) test all of this scenarios and find an answer.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Not 100% sure if you were responding to me or not, but I felt obliged to point out that I mean milk drank specifically after ingesting heavy metal. They are in the same physical location, and don't need to travel anywhere.