I want to weld but have neither equipment nor knowledge
July 1, 2015 1:05 PM   Subscribe

I have various projects around our farmstead that need welding, but I don't know squat about it. Help me out.

One project I need is some window well covers (8 of them) that are expanded metal with a couple of supports on them, like these, but buying pre-made covers are iffy - we have odd sized ones and other impediments that would necessitate custom made ones.

Here is a YT video of a guy making one exactly like what I want.

Is this something I can learn to do myself? What do I need? Can I start by learning with a Harbor Freight welder like this?

Nope, no community or shop classes for continuing ed anywhere near me that offers welding for adults so don't ask. I guess my main question is, is welding something I can teach myself? I've taught myself antique tractor mechanics & repair, woodworking, ham radio and more so I'm not afraid to dig into stuff.

Besides the window wells I have other things around that need repaired, tractor implements, mower decks, etc. Just seems like outsourcing all these would be more expensive than learnigng to do it myself.

Thoughts, recommendations?
posted by bellastarr to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't directly answer your question, but you might be better off brazing instead of welding for this particular project, as the expanded metal is relatively fine. I've heard from welders that brazing is easier, but I have no personal experience.
posted by cardboard at 1:30 PM on July 1, 2015

I taught myself welding, and that is the type of welder you need for the job you describe. If you are relatively handy, and it sounds like you are, you'll do just fine. I bought a cheapo welder at Walmart that included gloves and a helmet--you might look to see if there's a similar kit for the welder you're looking at. But, yeah, if you can repair a tractor, you can teach yourself to weld.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:31 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

You in fact can teach yourself to weld. In deffernce to previous answers be extra cautious and study extra about the safety and don't skip. You need a mask. You need full length leathers. Etc etc. However you can teach yourself. The harbor freight one is fine but you can spend less and start with an arc welder. Much much easier to learn on then a feed one and easily can accommodate those projects you mention.
posted by chasles at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

That welder's fine for what you want. Do yourself a favour and get a light reactive helmet. As far as safety, I worked on a cattle ranch for a few years, and welding is definitely one of the safest things that happens on any working farm. Wear gloves, wear your helmet, don't tuck your shirt into your pants or your pants into your boots. You'll be fine.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:00 PM on July 1, 2015

Also consider getting an oxyacetylene or oxypropane rig for cutting/brazing. On a farm cutting odd shapes is invaluable.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:03 PM on July 1, 2015

Easy to learn. Wear real boots. An auto-dimming helmet is worth the money. Any exposed skin will get sunburnt.

Books or videos will be good, but learning is eminently doable.
posted by flimflam at 2:05 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go for it.

...brazing is also probably easier for this sort of thing, but welding in general is worth knowing. Practice first, but remember that for these types of applications you don't need the best weld quality so killing yourself trying to get a nice bead is probably not time well spent.

Pursuant to Sternmeyer's comment above, yeah, consider an oxyfuel setup -- you can weld, braze, cut and do a number of other tasks with that, although I personally find it harder than MIG (then again, I am generally terrible at a lot of things). I guess maybe I'm saying if you only have the cash for one setup, think about oxyfuel.
posted by aramaic at 2:31 PM on July 1, 2015

I just came here to say what b1tr0t said. I'm around welders all the time (I work in oil and gas) and I've seen even super experienced welders hurt themselves - it takes just a moment of inattention or a lack of PPE. In addition, I know how to weld (a little) and while I'm not scared to weld or anything, it's something I approach with a lot of respect for the equipment involved and the process. So yeah, you can totally teach yourself, but you if do, please be cautious.

One thing to keep in mind with an arc welder like you linked is that you can't weld stainless steel or aluminum, with a limit on the thickness of your material. Another thing is additional costs. You need a good welding helmet - something that will both protect your eyes from the arc light, which can blind you, and protect you from high speed impacts. (Your welding helmet type will depend on the amps from the kind of welding equipment you have.) You'll also need welding gloves and good boots. Cover up your whole body, not just for sparks but because welding can produce a pretty bad sunburn. You'll need a grinder to prepare your metal (especially for corners or cut pieces) and to smooth out your welds - especially in the beginning, welds can be sloppy. You might also need a chipping hammer for slag.

Practice using the gun while wearing all of your equipment but without actually welding for a bit to get you used to holding and guiding it. There's tacking and beading techniques. Be prepared at the beginning to grind down some of your tacks before you do the beading until you get used to it. Use clamps if you can. Don't overdo the beading - that could be more you'll have to grind down later. Also be prepared for accidental burn through of your material or weld. Practice just making beads, not actually welding metal together a few times until you get consistent. (You might also jerk or be startled at the first arc - practice will help with that, too.) As you practice, focus on getting consistent with your speed and motion. Also, just because you're done with the arc doesn't mean it's time to raise the hood and look at your neat little bead - melted metal is super bright and that slag can cause eye injuries. Use safety glasses for grinding and chipping - the last thing you want is a millimeter thin piece of metal in your eye.

If you teach yourself, don't let how sloppy you might be get you down - welding is a skill. It takes some practice to get your welds started without requiring a lot of grinding or getting weld defects. For your purposes weld defects may not be important, but if you get into anything structural or weight bearing it's something to consider. (Frankly, I see welding as a talent - I've seen welders who've done it for years weld sloppily and fail x-ray tests, and I've seen welders of limited experience who just had a knack for beautiful welds that will pass every integrity test they throw at them.)

I'm all about learning new skills by oneself. I admit I'm super safety minded, though, too, and I've seen some bad welding & grinding injuries, so that may color my advice (& obviously you're not welding oil pipelines!). But if you really are into doing it, and doing it for more than a few things, welding is something I would seriously recommend you get instruction from a pro. You will learn proper safety as well as technique that can save you some frustration later. You'll get feedback. Even if there aren't classes in your area, you might be able to find a welder willing to earn an extra buck for a few hours of lessons. Those few bucks could get you going much quicker. Or, it might be worth getting a cost estimate of your window well covers and compare it to the value of both new equipment and your time in learning how to weld.

(If you're wondering why I'm stressing the safety bit so much and you have a strong stomach, just google image search welding injuries. I loathe careless attitudes towards this kind of thing.)

But anyway, yeah, you can do it. I think welding is fun, and you might too. If you do ham radio then you probably know how to solder, and it's kind of similar if on a different scale. (With similar problems in aesthetics, too.) But for pete's sake get a helmet, not googles - even though a hood is heavy, it's easier to protect your entire face and help protect your neck. And keep a fire extinguisher nearby.

Oh - do you have a rent a center or equivalent in your area? You might rent out the equipment first and see if you like it before you spend the money.
posted by barchan at 2:40 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

You'd have to be completely mechanically inept not to eventually be able to make those covers with a flux core MIG set up. Or really any non-structural welding. Things like building and repairing gates, stock fences, shovels and other implements is within reach. You won't get as pretty a job as with a more expensive gas MIG but it'll certainly be serviceable.

And while you are dealing with an open arc and hot metal a flux core MIG welder is probably the safest welding you can do. Yes there is hot metal and sparks and pointy bits and electricity but all of that is contained and easily managed with the correct safety gear. Personally I would rate it as about as dangerous as cooking with an open flame.

Brazing is crazy expensive (the rods are expensive, the gas is expensive, the bottles are expensive whether you rent or buy) and it won't be as strong as a decent weld. And the risk is greater because you are dealing with compressed gases and Acetylene especially is kind of nasty. I only break out my brazing rig when joining to dissimilar metals or when repairing water tanks.

So what you want to do is get your welder; 3-4 1lb spools of wire for it (it comes in different sizes so make sure it is compatible with your welder; a mig tool (or a pair of pliers, I find the tool hand for cleaning the shroud); a helmet (while an autodarkening helmet is nice the conventional style is cheaper and quite serviceable, it's all I have); a leather apron and jacket (lots of people MIG weld in cotton shirts and jeans, lots of people have small burns from welding in cotton shirts and jeans); leather boots; a pair of welding gloves; and a grinder with a couple metal grinding disks.

Then you need some place to work/practice. Obviously it should be someplace flame resistant. A gravel drive way is ok, concrete is better. You should be outside on either a calm day or sheltered from the wind. The MIG process depends on a shielding gas (in your case produced by the flux core of your wire) and if it is too breezy you get poor results. But you want someplace well ventilated because breathing flux and vapourised metal isn't good for you. The you need something to work on. A steel topped bench is good but a pair of saw horses and a working surface made up from a part sheet of plywood and a couple of 2x6s will do the job too.

Once you have everything you need it comes time to practice. Get a couple pieces of flat iron (something like 1" wide x 1/8" thick) and practice welding them together. I don't have a book recommendation; I just worked at it until I got stuff to stick together. I'm sure there are lots of resources on the web giving instruction. Check out a couple couple videos of the process if you can because the sound made by a MIG welder when everything is right (often described as frying bacon though I think it's only 80% that) is fairly distinctive and is what you are hoping to hear. Once you can weld the flat plates you can take a go at welding your window covers. The expanded metal is a little tricky because it won't dissipate heat at the same rate as your angle iron and therefor will tend to burn back. So you will have to put some practice in with that too.

Once you can successfully weld your practice pieces you can start on your project. If it was me once I had cut the frames to size I'd screw them right to a piece of plywood to hold them in alignment. Professional welders have all sorts of clamps and magnets and other alignment tools but an old sheet of plywood is both pretty cheap and will hold things perfectly rigid. It will catch fire sometimes but it is like a tea candle rather than camp fire. A little splash of water will put it out.
posted by Mitheral at 8:28 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Great help! - not to threadsit, but I have a mechanic friend who says the HF welder is not near powerful enough to make it worth buying and is pushing me to something like this instead, which I cannot afford in any way, shape, or form - but is he correct in his recommendation about power?
posted by bellastarr at 4:48 AM on July 2, 2015

One last bit - his comment was that "the HF welder is only good for light sheet metal work". True??
posted by bellastarr at 4:51 AM on July 2, 2015

BTW, if you "teach yourself", remember it's never been easier thanks to Youtube.

Don't watch one and go at it. Get a look at several: to embed the core concepts, and catch some tricks or tips you might not see in the first one.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:06 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

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