Learning to Weld and Work with Different Metals

Welding and Metalworking skills are in high demand in many industries, but a large group of welders enjoys creating something new out of metal (or repairing something old) so much that, to them, it is an art and a hobby as much as a practical skill.

Welding

The Draw to Welding as a Hobby

Heating, welding, hammering, and cutting sharp metals is certainly no easy task. Managing and using the heat, avoiding splatter and waste, and above all, keeping yourself safe through the whole process is challenging to say the least.

Why, then, do so many choose to learn to weld and invest in expensive welding and metalworking equipment? Here are a few common reasons that those inclined to be welders often give for engaging in their pastime:

  • Once you get past the initial learning curve, the feeling of accomplishment at successfully welding/working metals is unlike any other.
  • Working with your own hands and basic equipment and materials gives free reign to your creativity.
  • Repairing expensive metal items, or occasionally making them fresh, can save you a lot of money.

Knowing Your Limitations

You may see yourself as a “man of metal” and have an impressively complete metalworking shop, but not everything metal can be done DIY.

Take, for example, the professional aluminum trench equipment from ICON (its safety features and modularity make it near-impossible to duplicate) or the exquisite stamped metal parts produced by Weiss-Aug (see more details here). And, as a final example, consider the extreme danger involved in attempting a DIY furnace repair job. Know your limitations, but don’t be afraid to apply your skills either.

Know Your Metals

Besides basic general welding techniques, there are also different techniques for different metals. Understanding how your chosen metal will react under pressure is critical. Here is a basic introduction:

Welding With Aluminum

Tips for successful welding of aluminum include the following:

  • Ensure this metal is very clean before beginning to weld.
  • Preheat aluminum to help prevent welds from eventually cracking.
  • You need to move relatively quickly with aluminum or risk burn-through.
  • Use high-powered, extremely hot flame to minimize metal-pooling.

Welding With Steels

As steels are alloys, they come in a great variety of types, and the ideal methods may vary from steel to steel. Here are a few basic points:

  • Never try to weld martensitic stainless steels since they are simply too hard.
  • Use “TIG” welding methods for most steel-welding projects.
  • Austenitic/Ferritic Stainless steel is difficult to weld, but if you work with them, you’ll need very high heat.
  • Low-carbon steels are best dealt with by spot welding
  • High-carbon steels need to be tempered prior to welding to avoid brittleness.

Welding with Copper

For both pure copper and copper alloy, the following welding advice applies:

  • Arc welding is generally the best method since it permits a strong bond without overheating the regions adjacent to the weld.
  • Beware of copper’s quick conduction of heat, both for safety’s sake and to keep your metal ductile.
  • Preheat your copper if it’s relatively thick. How hot to preheat depends on how thick the metal is and which kind of alloy (if any) is being used.
  • Lay down copper on a flat surface as much as possible during welding to cut down on any molten-copper drip.

Conclusion

The allure of working with metals has captivated millions from ancient times up to the present. While some metal products/repairs are best done by professional manufacturers or contractors, knowing how to work with different metals offers a unique sense of accomplishment, great latitude for your creativity, and an opportunity to save some money.