Welding at home can be extremely satisfying – whether you’re just doing some repairs to your gate or garden furniture or you’re looking to build something new from scratch, welding is versatile and enjoyable. Our guide to welding at home is here for you, whether you’re looking at it as a hobby/recreation or you're a DIY enthusiast.
What is welding?
Welding is the process of joining two pieces of metal, usually by heating them and forcing them together. Welders also typically use an additional piece of metal (the filler material) to make the join, which can often be stronger than the base metals by themselves. Unlike soldering or brazing, welding melts the target metals to build a solid, single strong union.
The different types of welding
For domestic DIY and hobby welding there are really only three types you need to know about. These are:
This kind of welding is commonly thought of as the easiest for beginners to learn, and can be used as a stepping stone to learning the others if you want to get an understanding of the basic processes. MIG welding protects the weld from oxygen contamination in one of two ways – if you’re using a flux core wire the flux heats up and forms a gas shield, and if you’re using a solid wire you need to apply gas externally (usually a 25% carbon/75% argon mix).
You might see MIG welding referred to as GMAW, which stands for gas metal arc welding. Because you are adding in a third component (the wire) you can use this technique to weld two pieces of different metals together, which is not something that can be done easily with other techniques.
Along with being the easiest kind of welding, MIG welding is comparatively inexpensive. The equipment can be found relatively cheaply, although consumables like the gas and wire need to be factored in if you are doing a lot of welding.
Also known as GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding) TIG welding uses a non-consumable electrode to apply the heat to your target metals. Once these are melted, the bead can be manipulated and centred with a dipper rod. Superior to the other types of welding in accuracy, this also provides a particularly aesthetically pleasing weld – important to hobbyists and artists.
Once you get some experience in TIG welding and become used to the equipment, you can start to adjust the temperature of the torch precisely, allowing you to work with a broad range of metals. TIG welding was originally designed to be filler-free – meaning that only your target metals are present – but newer models do allow for a filler set-up, so you can work with different metal combinations.
TIG welding uses an externally applied gas as an oxygen shield, typically helium or argon. As this is the only consumable, you can manage costs and stock better.
Different from the other two types of welding, in that there is no electricity used to generate the heat. Instead, the welding torch combines oxygen and acetylene gases (hence the name) which is then ignited for an extremely high temperature flame. When this is applied to your target metals, they melt and can be fused together to form very strong bonds.
This is a great technique for the home welder, as the torch can be used for welding, cutting and bending as required. Oxyacetylene welding is not difficult to pick up as a beginner, but there’s a steep learning curve to make it to expert-level – the complexity arises from the welder having to manipulate the weld bead and precisely control the torch temperature simultaneously. Make sure your space is ventilated to get rid of toxic fumes and gas/smoke releases.
The equipment you need
If you are planning to MIG or TIG weld, you’ll need the appropriate arc welder. You can find multi-purpose welding machines that can switch between the two, if you plan to mix it up later in your welding career. Most people will mount their arc welder to a trolley, which is handy as you can also keep your other welding supplies there as well – flux or solid wires, safety equipment, gas delivery, etc.
Oxyacetylene welders will need the welding equipment, of course, but will also benefit from a purpose-built gas cylinder trolley. These are designed to accommodate standard-sized oxygen and acetylene bottles, secure them against tipping over and allow you to move them in and out of storage or position safely and quickly.
Whatever kind of welding you are doing, you should definitely consider a purpose-built welding table. It’ll help you by providing a sturdy, reliable and heat-resistant surface to weld on; often, they can be height adjusted to ensure you are working comfortably and safely.
Basic safety advice
Whenever you get ready to start welding, even if only for a few seconds, think about the fact that you are working with molten metal and either a very high temperature combustible gas or extremely dangerous electrical arc generators. As a result, you’ll need to dress accordingly – at a minimum you’ll need a mask (to protect the eyes and face from sparks or cast-off molten metals and shield the eyes from damage through looking directly at a very bright torch tip), gloves that insulate from heat, and protective overalls.
Goggles and masks can be found in a range of styles – full face masks with auto-darkening visors (they respond to how bright the torch tip is and get progressively darker, giving the welder a consistent visual input) are at the top end of the range, with basic tinted goggles the more entry-level option.
Cover as much skin as you can – if you don’t want to buy overalls, you can get away with a long-sleeved cotton shirt (stay away from polyester when dealing with heat). If you can, supplement your outfit with a leather apron. Gloves or gauntlets should also be heavy-duty (leather, ideally) but shouldn’t interfere with your ability to grip and hold equipment or turn gas taps/switches on or off.
Welding isn’t necessarily the kind of thing that you can just pick up and become proficient at. There is a wealth of resources available to you though, whether you’re a beginner or an expert. There are books, and YouTube videos and online tutorials are available for free, or you can attend in-person classes and training courses that will give you a solid foundation to build on, or hone the skills that you've already picked up.
Author Bio: First Mats started life as safety matting specialists, but have since expanded to become a complete industrial and commercial supplies company. The focus of First Mats is to provide safety-focused products that improve the wellbeing of staff through quality approved products, backed up by extensive knowledge. www.firstmats.co.uk