April 11, 2005
|Photo courtesy of AlcoTec Wire Corp.|
Motorcycle- and hot rod-building shows on TV have put welding in a very positive light lately. In fact, Jesse James, the star of Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage," was named the American Welding Society (AWS) Welder of the Year because of his contributions to the trade. It's nice to see welding in a good light after seeing it maligned for so long.
Over the years I've had a love/hate relationship with welding. I loved it when work and money were plentiful and the weather was nice. I hated it when there was no work to be found, I was broke, and when I was freezing or sweating my tail off.
Welding gets into your blood. It's fun for both professional and hobby welders, and being a welder is like belonging to a club.
In my fundamental MIG class, people really get fired up about and enjoy welding once they start to get "into the zone." One of my students, Chris Williams, enjoys it so much that he wore his welding hood when he got married (see Figure 1)!
Chris and Peggy Williams' December 2004 Wedding
Although this article mainly is for the welding hobbyist and those just getting into MIG welding, advanced welders also might find the material and reference sites interesting and useful.
Remember that you never can be too safe when welding! In my articles, I sometimes relate mishaps, both my own and other's, so that you can avoid making the same mistakes. I'm not embarrassed to admit (well, maybe sometimes) that I mess up every now and then. Anyone who claims he doesn't might be fooling himself, but not me. As long as we're human, we will make mistakes. I try to teach my high school students that the key is to learn from mistakes and not repeat them. What was it that Gomer said about his Grandma Pyle? "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!" Same goes with mistakes: Learn from the first, and don't make it again.
I had a nice 110-V MIG machine that I couldn't wait to hook up in my garage. Well, after using it, the dryer wouldn't heat up anymore. I got down on the floor, took off the machine's front plate, and looked at the insides. "Aha! It's just a coincidence. The coil there is broken." As I continued to talk to myself—all proud that I had diagnosed the problem—I pointed to the coil a little too closely and shocked the living bejeebers outta' me! That's right—220 V of pure electricity surged right through my pointer finger.
I jumped up yelling, screaming, hollering, thanking God that I wasn't dead, then went over and unplugged the stupid machine—which I should've done in the first place. Then I lay back down on the floor, pointed, and began to talk to the machine: "You stupid little %$##@* heating coil ..." Again, 220 V of pure electricity went right into my pointer finger. I had unplugged the 110-V washing machine instead of the welding machine! Now I pride myself on safety and a reasonable amount of common sense, but I have to say, it doesn't get much dumber than that.
I have humiliated myself to remind you that when you let your mind wander or get in a hurry, you might find yourself doing something that can hurt you. I should have taken my time and made sure that the machine was unplugged before I even thought about taking off the front plate. Never work on your welding machine unless you knowwhat you are doing. Even if the machine is unplugged, its capacitors can store enough electricity to zap you. Insulate yourself from electricity, because Mr. Electricity is always looking to go to the ground, and he will be happy to use you to get there. As long as you wear gloves (unlike the macho guys on the cable channels), stay dry, and make sure your machine connections are tight and grounded, you'll be all right.
I often address containers in my articles because I cannot stress enough the dangers of working on or around them. Almost every year I hear that someone has been hurt, maimed, or killed working on some kind of container. Remember, containers can be toxic, explosive, or flammable.
When working on bikes and hot rods, remember the gas tank! All it takes is an errant spark to cause an explosion or flash fire if vapors are present. An empty or partially filled tank is more dangerous than a filled one because of the vapors present in the empty space. A full tank will burn, but it won't explode or flash. If possible, remove the tank before working on the vehicle.
Be very careful with your eyes. Do not cut or weld without the appropriate eye protection. Make sure you have the proper shade when cutting and welding.
Be sure to read and learn all welding safety procedures. Welding can be a fun, safe hobby as long as you educate yourself and use common sense. Miller Electric's eTraining (see reference list below) is a good resource for basic MIG principles and safety guidelines.
Years of welding and teaching welding have given me insight into the most often asked questions about MIG welding. The following tips may answer your questions. You'll find additional information in the resources at the end of the article.
Metallurgy is the study or science of metals, and surgery is cutting, right? Well, after you have passed Miller's eTraining and practiced cutting and welding, at the next cocktail party you can tell people you are a "metallurgical surgeon". They either will nod their heads in awe if they don't know what that is, or if they do, they and you can talk welding all evening long.
Educational Web Links
American Welding Society: http://www.aws.org
Miller's eTraining: http://www.millerwelds.com/education/etraining.html
Lincoln's Educational Resources: https://ssl.lincolnelectric.com/lincoln/apdirect/default.asp
Hobart's Technical Tip Page With Glossary: http://www.hobartwelders.com/techtips.html#mig
ESAB Basic Correspondence Course: http://www.esabna.com/EUWeb/AWTC/Lesson1_1.htm
ESAB MIG Handbook: http://www.esabna.com/EUWeb/MIG_handbook/592mig1_1.htm
Stock Car Racing Technical Article: http://www.stockcarracing.com/techarticles/82101/
I recommend Richard Finch's books on welding. Numerous titles are available. They can be found in bookstores and on the Internet at sites such as www.amazon.com.
Hot Rod Forum: http://www.clubhotrod.com/t8654-15-1.html
Welding Web Forums: http://www.weldingweb.com/archive/index.php/
Projects on the Internet:
(When surfing the Internet, enter the words "steel art," "metal art," and similar terms to find other cool projects.)