ON5ZO strikes the iron when it’s hot

No I’m not reincarnated into a blacksmith. Rather a welding 101 apprentice. That’s right, another trade I want to master. In the end I will be a real Jack of all trades and of course master of none.

All my occasional welding in the past has been done by my dad. He’s a real skilled ironworker. But when the old age came gone were his prey bird eyesight and brain surgeon like steady hand. This frustrates him and making him weld now only confronts him with the situation so I quit asking him to weld. Since then all my projects involving welding either remained on the drawing board or were converted to woodworking projects. Of course this has its limitations on several levels and wood isn’t really cheap either. A few years ago my dad’s stick welding equipment was here for some welding job and after he returned home I decided to give it a go. In the safe environment of complete solitude. I grew up helping him so I’ve seen my share of welds. But I never actually joined metal parts by welding myself.

So when I tried to strike my first arc the electrode of course stuck to the metal. Google told me it might be that the metal is dirty. So I cleaned up the piece with the grinder. No go.  Google told me it might be that the electrode flux had become wet over time. That must be it! My dad’s stock of welding rods might be older than me so to speak so of course it’s not my welding skill – it’s the electrode gone bad. Neglecting the fact that the day before my dad had done some pristine welding with exactly the same material, I ran out to the local DIY depot for a fresh pack of welding rods. Same story of course – exit my welding career.

We’re almost five years later now and I’ve had it with messing around with wood where metal is the way to go. I started a project last summer where I actually tried to drill holes and bolt everything together but that also has practical limitations. No more delays, no more excuses: I will learn how to weld. The plan was to learn myself to weld. By means of a ‘how to’ book. I can’t ask my dad because the two of us together in a teacher-student relationship would lead to World War Three like situations. So I did some online market research and bought a small DC inverter welder. Of course a simple classic AC transformer model is much cheaper but I fell for the anti-stick function on modern inverter welding machines. After all the sticking rod was my main issue with welding. I obtained some scrap metal and the welder came with some sample electrodes. I bought myself an automatic darkening helmet so I was good to go. One summer evening I struck my first arcs and welded two pieces together. Or rather something similar to glueing them together with chewing gum. The welds looked like **** and were so strong that when I picked the parts up, one piece remained on the table. Oh boy those YouTube videos make it look so easy. Practice makes perfect. So more practicing then.

The problem with practicing and learning this yourself is that you need to have the discipline to actually take time out to do so at regular intervals. I experienced that this actually is the problem. So I looked for a beginner’s course in the neighbourhood that suited my schedule and enlisted. So for the last three or four months I’ve been spending one evening each week learning to weld as an absolute beginner. Doing absolute beginner exercises. Over and over again. And with success I might add! No more sticky rods. Nice looking welds on a piece of flat plate. But being a can-barely-walk-yet-wants-to-run type, I want things to go faster. Faster than the teacher. Being a teacher myself I know this is bad but this time I’m the student so screw that. There are projects waiting on my imaginary drawing board and those parts aren’t going to weld themselves!

So lately I’ve been doing some ‘real life’ welding at home. Simple stuff, putting small pieces together. I made myself a sort of welding table to practice the basic welds yet have something to show for it other than a huge block of iron for the recycling bin. This welding table can then serve to put all the future stuff together. It’s not perfect but I think it’s pretty decent for a first project. There clearly is a learning process going on. It’s not my intention to make money out of this. It’s for domestic purposes only. I just want to make strong welds so things don’t fall apart or break and preferably make clean looking welds so I don’t have to be ashamed to tell I was the welder.

I am now up to the point where I can join small pieces together in a flat horizontal position. That’s the easiest weld you come across. My T-joints are a different story. Outside 90° corners are fine most of the time. But my inside corners suck balls. We’re not quite there yet in the beginner’s course so that’s where I’m rushing things on my own. Because every real life project has T-joints! Not only do they look very ugly I don’t think they’re strong enough. I have practiced this many times and by now I sometimes put down a textbook weld for a few centimetres yet for some reason the next part of the weld goes bad. Welding isn’t hard to do once you mastered it. But it takes a lot of practice and nothing but practicing to acquire the minimum skill to make clean and strong welds. But I’m on my way. Just watch me!  J

For the record, I’m a huge fan of this YouTube Channel. There are many others but I really like that one. I’m now up to the point where I know more welding lingo in English than in Dutch!

Here are some images. No close up of the welds until I’m happy with the way they look.

Square tubing for the scaffolds is 30x30x3. The table / grill is 40x40x4 straight edge with 30x30x3 T irons in between. And some flat stock to keep smaller parts. Two rings on the side to keep a hammer and the welding torch.

I decided not to weld legs to the welding table. In stead I made two scaffolds that can be used for other jobs as well (woodwork, painting, trimming trees… assembling yagis?). It also takes less space in the garage when things can be taken apart and stacked.

The scaffolds will be painted when the WX gets better. It’s useless to paint the welding table top of course. It needs to conduct electricity and the paint will only burn away. I might paint the underside in fire proof BBQ paint and leave a few blank spots to clamp the ground clamp to. I will also make a mounting frame to put my mitre saw on the scaffolds. I used this saw to cut the steel. Thanks to Mike SJ2W for the hint, it has served me well already. Clean cuts! Cleaner than me using an angle grinder and a cutting disk.

Lessons learned so far:

  • Warping of steel when welding is a problem!
  • Don’t use cheap electrodes.
  • Warping of steel when welding is a problem!
  • You can never have enough clamps.
  • Did I say that the steel bends when welding?
  • Very cheap clamps only work to throw at people’s heads. Buy real clamps (28 Euro). Copycat vise grips suck (even if they’re only 7 Euro)!
  • Buy decent electrodes of a known brand. What I saved with the cheap electrodes cost me extra on abrasive disks.

Still tons to be learned. But my first ham radio welding project is about to come together…

One reply on “ON5ZO strikes the iron when it’s hot”

[…] The test with the heavy base plate and the pivoting are the fundamentals of something that I have been thinking about for a long time. That is: make me a simple mobile and portable setup that fits on my small trailer and that can be deployed by one man, yours truly. It’s with this in mind that I decided to learn to weld. However putting together two pieces of metal is one thing, but making a rock solid construction is another. I wouldn’t want the pivot block welds to break while the mast is half way up. Somewhere in December I went to buy metal to make myself a welding table. […]

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