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Do-It-Yourself Projects
Welding Practice
By Mike Bumbeck/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyDifficult
Estimated Time240 minutes
240 minutes
DIY Wire-Feed Welding -
The wire-feed welders that have started to pop up in the aisle at your local auto parts store or tool house can be an affordable setup for the do-it-yourselfer. Falling prices make picking up a portable or compact welder an even more tempting choice. Before starting to daydream about building a land speed record motorcycle or racecar chassis in the garage, realize that these wire-feed welders have their limitations. Welding of any kind also requires a great deal of attention to safety.
Welding Practice
Wire-feed welders fall into two categories. A MIG (metal inert gas) uses supplied gas to shield the welding process. A small cloud of gas shields the torch tip as the wire feeds into the weld. A FCAW (flux cored arc welding) welder carries the shielding gas as flux in the center of the welding wire itself. MIG welders offer cleaner welds and more flexibility in type and thickness of material. Flux-core welding is limited to welding mild steel only, but does not require separate tanks of shielding gas and gas regulator.
Power Up
The advantage that makes these MIG or flux-core wire-feed welders appeal to the do-it-yourselfer is power supply. Smaller MIG and flux-core wire-feed welders run off standard household 115-volt current. Before purchasing one of these welders, be certain the electrical outlet designated to run the machine has at the very least a dedicated 20-amp circuit breaker. If the power can't be supplied then skip buying the welder. Most home garages don't have the 230-volt outlets required to run more serious welding setups.
Magic Helmet
The welding arc is so bright that it can cause instant blindness. A welding helmet is a better choice for eye and face protection than the small face shields that usually come with inexpensive wire-feed flux-core welders. Stepping up to an auto-darkening helmet will let you see what you're doing safely while keeping the mask down. An auto-darkening helmet darkens the lens the instant the arc strikes. Never attempt to weld without proper eye and face shielding. Protect the rest of your body as well. Wear heavy clothing without spark catching cuffs and some welding gloves.
Fire and Safety
Since the way the welder works is by completing a very high voltage circuit that literally melts steel at 5000°, fire and electrical shock safety is paramount. Stray slag and sparks can cause severe burns and fire. Remove all combustible material from the work area and use a welding blanket to catch any stray sparks. Always turn the welder OFF before attempting to clip the wire. Unplug the welder to clean the torch tip or replace the wire. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
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