Can I teach myself to weld?
May 1, 2006 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I want to teach myself welding from a book. Is this possible?

In all the beginner books I've seen (via Amazon, never been able to find one to actually open) the reviews indicate the need for some prior welding knowledge. Is there a good reason? Is welding something I HAVE to take a class to learn? I'm extremely handy and tool knowledgeable. I do electrical, I do plumbing, I do finish carpentry, I fix my car, etc, etc, etc. But I can't weld!! Boo hoo.
I don't want to take a class because they all seem to be in the eve and that's my family time.
posted by johngumbo to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is probably a case where there's no real substitute for experience. First, welding itself is fundamentally dangerous. You can blind yourself, or burn yourself dreadfully. There's a lot of energy involved, and that has to be respected.

Perhaps an even more important danger, however, is that if your weld isn't adequate it can fail later, possibly with catastrophic consequences.

Can you learn welding from a book? I don't think it violates the laws of physics, but I think you'd have to be a fool to try to learn it that way.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:40 PM on May 1, 2006

I think it depends on the type of welding you are doing. I was able to pick up MIG welding from books - it took a fair amount of practice, but it's do-able. Be safe. Protect your skin and eyes.
posted by Svenny at 5:59 PM on May 1, 2006

Duh. I guess it would be helpful to suggest a book:
Welder's Handbook - Richard Finch.
posted by Svenny at 6:08 PM on May 1, 2006

Svenny's right- depends on the type of welding. MIG is pretty easy, compared to other methods. Having a guide will help speed up the learning process, but you can absolutely learn by yourself. It will just take a lot of practice.

One suggestion, try to get just an hour of time with a welder (they're generous!). If you're looking at classes.... call the teacher. Any place that sells steel can probably suggest a small metal shop or welder. Worse comes to worse, hire them to weld something for you, but you supply the rig and get to watch! This is essentially how I got hooked.

Common sense will guide you on the safety. You gotta really protect your eyes, just get a great face shield. And watch the fumes.

You're gonna have a blast.
posted by sgarst at 6:28 PM on May 1, 2006

Are you talking oxy-acetylene? MIG? TIG? Arc? I'm optimistic that it's possible to learn the fundamentals such as how to set up your equipment for different metals, thicknesses, joint types, etc, but it would help you tremendously to actually see it being performed by a talented welder. Just watching the timing and movements of a pro's hands will get you up to speed much sooner than "going by the book." Maybe you can get ahold of an instructional DVD, or failing that, even a demonstration video from one of the bigger companies that manufactures welding gear.

Friendly tip: closing your eyes is not a substitute for a mask, even if you're just doing a few tacks.
posted by peewee at 6:33 PM on May 1, 2006

Technical Video Rental rents how-to dvds. You may want to search there for welding. A fella who lives nearby runs TVR, but I've never rented from them.
posted by jdl at 6:50 PM on May 1, 2006

Can you learn it from a book? Well, not having ever welded a thing I can't say. But my wife is currently taking welding here (and I do mean currently, she's there right now!) She is a generally handy person (carpentry, electrical, auto repair), and she says it's a) a lot harder than it looks and b) really scary when you've got something as bright as the surface of the sun splattering molten metal in your hands.

Were it me, some sort of professional instruction would be worth it just for the safety training alone. IANAW, but I am a woodworker, and it's easy to develop dangerous habits on your own that an instructor or experienced worker will spot instantly.
posted by harkin banks at 7:40 PM on May 1, 2006

Having had a few months' experience with arc welding, I'd say that a book would be good for reference and details-learning after you've had a few hands-on sessions with an experienced welder (where you're doing the work and getting pointers). There's really no substitute for that sort of thing when it comes to skills of this sort.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:43 PM on May 1, 2006

My partner is a welding instructor. I have learned quite a bit about welding through her. I would absolutely not try to weld without having some formal education. There are things that can go wrong that are Very Bad. Take a semester of welding at a junior college. It will teach you the safe way to do things. After that, you can experiment with different types of welding without putting yourself or others in danger. Good luck! Welding can be a lot of fun if you have proper instruction.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:45 PM on May 1, 2006

But my wife is currently taking welding here (and I do mean currently, she's there right now!) Gosh, it sounds like she's getting a well-grounded education. She must surely find it electrifying! [pad-dum-ding. thank you, I'll be here all night, try the chicken cordon bleu, it's terrific!]
posted by five fresh fish at 9:18 PM on May 1, 2006

I'm by no measure any sort of expert, but I've been to a few classes and done a little brazing and welding. I suppose you could teach yourself from a book. You'd very likely make some expensive mistakes, the risk of hurting yourself would be higher, and your rate of learning would be much slower. With some skills there's no real substitute for an expert showing you what to do (and what not to do). Go to a class and you'll very likely save time, money and, in the worst case, some flesh or an eye or two.
posted by normy at 11:41 PM on May 1, 2006

I did, but my welds look predictable like dog poo. But then again that's mostly thanks to the dirty, rusty material I'm working with right now and the fact that I'm useing a gasless/flux mig. On virgin metal, I can do quite well for a complete beginner.
Here's a good safetry tip to keep in mind: Just because you've let go of the trigger doesn't mean it's ok to put down the mask and stare. These molten globs put of UV like nothing else, the arc isn't the only thing to watch out for.
A good book to start with would be the Haynes Welding Manual (also available in P2P PDF or, prefferably, from your local auto parts store). It has excellent coverage of the safety equiptment and procedures involved.
If any other avenues are available to you, do it. But if you're stuck without a teacher and can't afford the classes and a machine, it can be done. Expect to waste a large quantity of scrap metal and be sure to cut it for a good crossectional view to give you a good idea of the welds penetration. Gasless MIG is very economical to start with and you can add the gas as an attachment to some machines later.
I think the most important thing to consider before purchasing a welding outfit and what course to follow in your self-directed studies wuold be the applications you intend to apply these skills to.
What, in short, are you going to weld? Sheetmetal (ouch, I have a picture of my first attempted patch panel, it's not pretty)? Angle irons? Structural steel? Where will you be doing this? Indoors? Outdoors?
posted by IronLizard at 2:28 AM on May 2, 2006

Some tips learned through experience:

When arc or mig welding, you will inevitably fuse the stick/wire to whatever you are welding. You will be tempted to open you face mask to see what the problem is. At the same time, you'll probably start tugging on the stick to free it. Watch as you eyes are dazzled by the resulting sparks. Try and avoid this.

Welding produces tremendous heat in the metal. Just because you're welding at one end of the metal, doesn't mean that the other end isn't skin-searingly hot.

Really, really, avoid welding or torch cutting any metal that has been painted. The resulting fumes aren't nice.

You should probably avoid welding anything that needs to be structurally sound until you actually know what you are doing.
posted by jsonic at 6:51 AM on May 2, 2006

You can probably get stuff to stick together if you're using a MIG rig, you have a lot of time to make a great many mistakes, and you're not worrying about making things that look good or are structural. However, I really, really wouldn't recommend it. Things will go a great deal faster in a class - you'll get feedback on how to improve your welds, and you'll get to see how experienced welders do it. You'll also have a better idea of what you can and can't do, and also of which welding processes you're most comfortable with - this is good financially as well, since decent welding rigs can be pretty expensive, and it makes sense to know a lot about what you're doing before putting down cash for one. Finally, the safety issue is something that shouldn't be dismissed. Welding is a lot of fun, but it's also pretty serious stuff, and there's real potential for injury if you don't know what you're doing.

Are there no nearby art schools or community colleges or art collectives offering a one-night-a-week welding class? [Is one night a week for a few months still too much?] Can you contact any of the teachers and try to arrange a handful of private lessons, if evening classes are really Utterly Impossible? I'd be very surprised if you couldn't find someone to spend a few hours showing you this and that. The self-taught route is more expensive, more dangerous, and more time consuming - it should be your last resort, really.

[Have fun, though. Welding is awesome.]
posted by ubersturm at 8:09 AM on May 2, 2006

Here is another thread that may help.
posted by Huplescat at 9:02 AM on May 2, 2006

These molten globs put of UV like nothing else, the arc isn't the only thing to watch out for.

No they don't. They're putting out a ton of IR. Whole different ballgame.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:33 AM on May 2, 2006

I guess I'll see if I know anyone who welds who can teach me what to do. Looking for classes hasn't produced anything at the right time in the right place. I'll keep looking. Thanks for all the advice, especially the safety advice!
posted by johngumbo at 6:14 PM on May 2, 2006

These molten globs put of UV like nothing else, the arc isn't the only thing to watch out for.

No they don't. They're putting out a ton of IR. Whole different ballgame.

You got me, wrong wavelength for the blobs. Here's the UV produced by the arc, itself.
posted by IronLizard at 7:06 PM on May 2, 2006

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