Advice for honing your craft
January 14, 2013
Three weld instructors from across the country share their classroom tips and tricks for helping welders tackle vertical-up and overhead SMAW.
Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) may appear fairly uncomplicated—after all, what other welding process can boast a rod, a stinger, and a power source only? But as many wily weld veterans can attest, although SMAW may be simple in theory, it’s anything but easy.
Factor in vertical or overhead applications and now, along with the other variables that make SMAW difficult, you have gravity working against you. Three weld instructors from across the country share their classroom tips and tricks for helping new and veteran welders tackle vertical-up and overhead welding.
For welders who are having difficulty mastering vertical-up or overhead, or for those just learning, Dan Turner, welding professor at Yuba College, Marysville, Calif., suggests lowering the amperage. A lower amperage level will allow you to slow down your travel speeds and learn how to read and control the puddle better.
“Every manufacturer has a specified range for their electrode. As welders start getting better at the process, they generally are able to raise their amperage levels because they are more capable of controlling the puddle a little bit better. This will also help develop the technique required to build the shelf, which helps the puddle stay in place.”
Finding a comfortable body position is a critical part of welding in general, and vertical-up and overhead positions are no different. Turner likes to tell his students to establish three points of contact at all times. For example, have two feet on the ground and another part of your body leaning or resting on something. This, along with securing an athletic body stance, helps to stabilize the body and quiet the body’s natural sway.
Breathing may sound like a no-brainer, but Turner added that many times students stop breathing when they start welding in an attempt to keep steady.
“They’ll hold their breath, and by the time they run a 6- or 7-in. bead, they’re out of breath and begin to sway a little more than usual. Then they take a big breath, and that usually messes up their weld.”
One of the most important lessons in welding, especially out of position, is to watch the puddle and learn to make adjustments based on what the puddle reveals. That was one of the first things Elaine Waters, senior welding instructor at Georgia Trade School in Kennesaw, Ga., was taught, and that is something that she now emphasizes to her own students.
“The puddle will tell you if you need to speed up or slow down. If you can read that puddle and see what it is doing while you’re welding, you will know when you’ve got a good weld and when you’ve got a bad one. You can tell if you’re trapping slag or not, which is very important.”
Learning to read the puddle will help you differentiate slag from the weld pool when using a 7018 electrode. A common mistake that new welders make, said Turner, is that they panic with 7018. The 6010 electrode makes it very easy for you to see the puddle because it produces a relatively low level of slag. But because the 7018 electrode is designed to produce more slag in comparison to the 6010, a lot of people mistake the slag as the weld metal when watching the puddle.
“They think their weld pool is falling off and running down the front of the weld. It takes a while when you’re teaching 7018 to get them to understand that what looks like the weld falling out of the joint is actually just the slag. When we chip that off, their weld will be just fine underneath,” Turner said.
Somewhat related to body position is manipulating the electrode and maintaining the proper torch angle.
Jim Mosman, associate professor of welding technology at Odessa College, Odessa, Texas, said overhead welding tends to scare people, but he likes to tell them that SMAW in the overhead position is the same as it is in the flat position, it’s just upside down.
“The same motion that you would use on a flat bead you would also use on an overhead bead. Just remember to keep that arc length real short, and watch your puddle. The more difficult aspect for people to grasp is running a straight line overhead. They get lost because the smoke is right in their face—it doesn’t dissipate like it does in other positions,” Mosman said.
Waters finds that welders struggle with overhead because they struggle with keeping the rod close enough to the puddle.
“A lot of times if they have that rod pointed too far forward, what they end up doing is preheating the metal as they go along. As a result, they could blow a bigger keyhole in it,” Waters noted.