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How to weld

Welding can be a useful skill to have – whether you’re a keen DIY-er, a car restorer, a home engineer or even an artist. Here, we’ll show you how to weld so you can make it a new hobby.

If you’ve watched Flashdance (in which the protagonist welds by day and dances by night), the word ‘welding’ might conjure up glamorous showers of sparks raining down to an upbeat soundtrack. But how much more do you know about welding? Here, we’ll show you how to weld and answer all your questions about it. But first…

What is welding?

Welding is the process of fusing two or more parts together using heat and pressure (either both at once or individually).

These parts are known as the ‘parent materials’ and are usually metal (although not always). You’ll normally also use a ‘filler’ or ‘consumable’ to join them together. This gets melted and pooled around the joint to fuse the separate parts together.

Different types of welding

There are more than 30 different welding processes. However, most can be grouped into four main welding types.

MIG welding

MIG welding, also known as metal inert gas welding or metal arc welding, is the most popular welding type in the construction and automotive industries. It’s also commonly chosen by DIY welders, as it doesn’t require you to buy expensive equipment.

Basically, with MIG welding, you use a thin wire as an electrode, which gets fed through a welding gun. You also need a shielding gas to keep contaminants in the air away from the weld – often, this will be carbon dioxide, oxygen, helium or argon.

Generally, MIG welding is used to work on metals. For instance, it can be used for copper, aluminium, nickel and stainless steel welding.

Stick welding

Also known as shielded metal arc welding (or just arc welding), stick welding is another welding type commonly used by DIY-ers. It’s basically doing things the old-fashioned way.

In stick welding, a consumable electrode is used to join together the parent materials. And, surprise surprise, it’s shaped like a stick – hence the name of this type of welding!

As the electrode is coated in flux, you don’t need shielding gas. Instead, chemicals on the electrode are released once melted to create the shield. Stick welding requires very little equipment and is relatively cheap to do. So, although it’s a bit harder to master than MIG welding, it’s a good option if you want to have a go at welding at home. It also works well on dirty and rusty metals.

TIG welding

TIG welding, also known as tungsten inert gas or gas tungsten arc welding, is one of the most difficult welding processes to learn and requires a great level of precision and skill.

Often, TIG welding is used to weld together thin, non-ferrous materials like copper, aluminium, nickel or lead. It’s commonly used in bicycle or aircraft manufacturing, but can also be useful for lawnmowers, door handles and fenders, for example.

Basically, TIG welding uses a non-consumable electrode and needs an external gas supply (normally argon or a mix of argon and helium). You use one hand to feed the rod and the other to hold a TIG torch, which creates the heat.

FCAW welding

FCAW welding stands for flux cored arc welding, but it’s also known as dual shield welding. It’s similar to MIG welding in that it uses a continuous wire feed process (as opposed to stick welding which relies on a consumable electrode that has to be manually changed).

This is another welding type that’s inexpensive and relatively easy to learn. It usually uses a shielding gas (often carbon dioxide or a blend of argon and carbon dioxide). However, as it uses a flux cored wire, it can also be performed without shielding gas – hence where the name ‘dual shield welding’ comes from!

FCAW welding is especially handy if you want to weld outdoors or to join thicker materials. It works well with stainless steel, most carbon steels, cast iron and hard surfacing alloys. That said, you won’t be able to weld nonferrous exotic metals, like aluminium, using this welding type.

welding

Welding how to

Now you’re familiar with the different types of welding, it’s time to learn to weld. Here are the steps to follow.

1. Make sure you’re safe

First things first, it’s important to make sure you’re safe. Remember, welding involves working with extreme heat!

You’ll need:

  • Welding helmet. This will protect your eyes from bright lights and prevent sparks or metal debris from flying into your face.
  • Leather apron. This will prevent sparks from landing on your clothes and burning you.
  • Welding gloves. Typically made from cow or pig hide, these will protect your hands from heat, radiation and electric shocks.
  • Welder. Inspect your welder before starting and replace any damaged components. If your welder needs to be regularly calibrated, make sure it’s up to date.

You’ll also need a well-ventilated area to work in. Welding will contaminate the air with hazardous vapours and gases that you don’t want to inhale. So, it’s important to work in an area with open windows and doors.

2. Prepare your metal for welding

Next, you’ll need to prepare your parent material.

  • Scrape off paint and rust. Go over the surface of your metal using 80-grit sandpaper, a wire brush or an angle grinder with a flap disc until it’s shiny.
  • Bevel the edges. If you’re using thick metal, use an angle grinder to bevel the edges so that the weld can penetrate it fully.
  • Wipe it with acetone. Dampen a cloth with acetone and wipe it over the surface of your metal for welding. This should remove any dust and debris that could prevent you from being able to weld effectively.
  • Dry it fully. Use a clean rag to dry the metal and remove any remaining acetone. Let it dry fully before you start welding.

3. Start welding

The steps you need to take will depend on the type of welding you’ve chosen. Here’s how to carry out MIG and stick welding.

MIG welding

  • Set up your MIG welder. Make sure there’s wire on the spool and that it’s being properly fed into the welding gun. Set up your shielding gas canisters and check that everything is working as it should.
  • Attach the ground clamp to the surface you’re working on. Your MIG welder’s ground clamp is there to stop you from getting electrocuted. Attach it to the table you’re using.
  • Get into the push position. Hold the welding gun against the piece of metal at a 20-degree angle. You’ll need to use two hands. Rest one on the table and use it to control the direction of the gun, and the other to get ready to press the trigger.
  • Press the trigger. This should create a bright spark at the end of the welding gun. Keep your face away so that you don’t inhale fumes or injure yourself.
  • Pass the gun over the metal. Move the welding gun over the piece of metal slowly, pausing for a second or two in each spot. Create tiny circles as you go.
  • Release the trigger. When you’ve got to the end of your weld, release the trigger and turn your welding machine off.

Stick welding

  • Set the machine to DC positive. If you’re just starting out, you should use the DC positive setting on your welding machine, as this provides a large amount of penetration.
  • Set the amperage. Check the instructions of the electrode you’re planning on using to find the recommended amperage. Turn the knob on your welding machine to get to the amperage recommended.
  • Attach the ground clamp to the surface you’re working on. This will prevent you from getting electrocuted while you weld.
  • Put the electrode in the welding gun. Your electrode should go into the tip of your welding gun. If you have clamps, put the electrode between them and then tighten them shut.
  • Use two hands. Hold your welding gun from above with your stronger hand and from below with the other. This will help you to weld with more precision.
  • Lightly tap the electrode against the metal. This will act a bit like a match and sparks should start to form.
  • Pass the gun over the metal in a straight line. Go slowly and watch as a pool of melting metal starts to form behind your electrode. If you prefer, you can simply touch the metal with your electrode for one to two seconds to quickly create a rounded tack weld.
  • Remove the electrode. Once you’ve finished your weld, you can lift the electrode off the metal and it will stop creating sparks.
  • Break off the slag. Hot metal will form over the weld once you’ve finished, known as slag. Tap it lightly with a hammer and it should come off in sheets (be careful not to tap too hard as you don’t want pieces of hot metal to go flying!).
  • Rub it with a wire brush. Continue rubbing back and forth until you’ve cleaned off all the remaining slag.

How to learn welding

There’s a lot you can pick up online if you want to learn to weld. But if possible, we’d always recommend supplementing your informal learning with official welding classes.

Why? Well, learning to weld isn’t quite the same as learning to play the recorder or to paint a picture. Rather, welding has the ability to give you electric shocks, set you on fire, and even have you inhaling hazardous gases.

With that in mind, it pays to make sure you’re truly confident operating a welder before you start practising on your own at home.

Your local college may well offer welding classes. These can be as short as just one day long if you’re a beginner looking to take an introductory class – but can last for many months if you want to learn how to weld to a professional standard or even longer if you’re looking to start your own welding business.

Find a professional to get your metal welded

If you have a specific job you need completed, why not find a professional welder to do it for you?

Not only will they save you a whole lot of time and energy, but they’ll also have all the tools, knowledge and experience they need to complete projects to a professional standard that will stand the test of time.

You can learn about the cost of welding in our dedicated guide. Or, simply enter your postcode below to start browsing trusted welders near you.

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FAQs

What are the best stainless steel welders?

TIG welders are most commonly used for stainless steel. TIG welding creates a low heat input which is ideal for thin materials. That said, it’s a difficult method to learn, so DIY-ers might prefer to use MIG welders – MIG welding can create a strong join between stainless steel parts and is much easier to learn.

Is welding hard?

Yes, welding can be hard as it requires a lot of precision and focus. It can also be dangerous, so maintaining a high level of concentration is important! Like any new skill, it requires a lot of patience and practice.

How much does welding cost?

The average welding job carried out by a professional will come to around £300. However, your total cost will vary based on a number of factors, such as the type of welding required, the size of the job and whether you need a mobile or garage-based welding service.

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