Hobby Welding | Tips for Beginning Welders
I have been hobby welding for over 30 years and have enjoyed it immensely. It has helped me save time and money. I’ve made repairs on many things and have completed a couple projects that I am proud of and that have served me well for years. I am not a professional, or experienced, welder; I am truly a self-taught, hobby welder. You might be wondering “why would I need a welder? What would I use it for? What kind of welder would I need? In this article, I’ll do my best to answer those questions.
Why I Need a Welder
I live in rural Michigan, on a small parcel of land, so I have many of the “toys” and equipment you might expect. I have a garden tractor that I use all year long. It came equipped with a lawnmower and snowblower, which most homeowner typically needs. My lawn cart gets used from early spring until late into the fall. I have a 4 wheel ATV, which I probably use the lawn cart with more than the garden tractor, and a snowmobile. I also have a leaf vacuum and a wood splitter, along with a host of other smaller tools and equipment. Oh yeah… did I mention it’s all old stuff? Why is it old? Because I have been able to make most of the repairs needed to keep it all running. By being able to make these repairs, you can save yourself time and money.
When something breaks or is not safe to use, everything comes to a halt. You either need to buy new or get it repaired. In many cases, equipment can easily be repaired, but first, you need to find someone who can make the repairs. Then you have to schedule a time to take it in to be fixed, remove the part or load up the equipment to haul it in. This process could take several days! Hobby welding could reduce this time to less than an hour.
Hobby Welding Uses
The best way to answer this question is to tell you about some of the items I’ve made and to list some of the equipment I have made repairs to. I’ve made many brackets and adapters over the years, but there are two projects I have done that I use ofter. The first project was the lawn cart I mentioned above. It’s a nice, heavy-duty, tilt bed cart that I use constantly! It has taken everything I’ve loaded on it. Recently I’ve added removable sides, which makes it even more versatile.
The second piece of equipment I made was a driveway drag. We have a fairly long driveway and in the spring it gets rutted up and needs to be smoothed out occasionally. This drag is a scrapper type drag, which I incorporated some adjustable teeth, to tackle even the roughest driveway. My goal is to get these two projects up on the website soon, so please check back and take a look at them. As for repairs, check out the list of items I’ve been able to make repairs on. I’m sure I’ve even forgotten a few!
The hobby options for a welder are endless! You are only limited by your imagination. Just go to Pinterest or Google and put in “welding hobby projects”. You’ll wonder why you didn’t have a welder sooner! There are all kinds of projects and many make great gifts.
What Welder Do I Need
There are several types of welding equipment, but for the average hobby welder, I would say either a stick welder or a small MIG welder, or both! My first welder was a basic Lincoln 225 AC stick welder, which I still use today. This welder uses an electrode (welding rod) that has a flux coating on the outside of the rod. The flux melts during the welding process to coat and protect the molten metal from air and contaminates. Stick welders work better on thicker metals (1/4″ or larger).
Most repairs and projects I’ve worked on are on thinner metal, so smaller diameter rods work best. This allows you to turn the amperage (heat) down, so you don’t burn through the metal. I normally use a 6013 rod, which is a good general purpose rod. I like using a 3/32″ diameter rod for any metal less than 1/8″ thick and go up to 1/8″ for most everything else. If welding on 1/4″ steel, or greater, you could go up to the next size. I found the welding rod selection chart below on the internet. It has worked well for me, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different rod types and sizes. There are several good general purpose rods out there.
The other welder option is a MIG (metal inert gas) welder. The MIG welder has a continuous wire electrode, which is fed out of a gun style handpiece. Normally the MIG welder has a “shielding gas”, that is fed out of the handpiece as well. This provides the same protection as the flux does on the stick welder. For hobby welding, a “flux core” welder may be a better option. They do not have the shielding gas, but they do require flux core wire (electrode). These machines are smaller, less expensive and the MIG welder works better on thinner metals.
Additional Helpful Equipment
Along with your welding equipment, there are a few other tools that will help in cutting and preparing your metal for welding. A metal hacksaw will work to cut steel, but a quicker method is an angle grinder with a cut-off wheel. These are a thin grinding wheel designed for cutting metal. The second item is a regular grinding wheel for your angle grinder. They work much faster and easier at preparing your metal for welding than using a file. They can also be used in places that a bench grinder can’t be used. And the third item is a buffing wheel for your angle grinder. A hand-held wire brush can be used to prepare your metal and remove the slag in between beads, but they are not as effective as a power buffing wheel.
I actually have 3 separate angle grinder equipped with each of these different wheels. This is a huge time saver. You can get some fairly inexpensive angle grinders that work great for the cut-off wheel and the buffing wheel. I find that the one with the actual grinding wheel gets a pretty good work out at times, so I opted to stick with a better quality grinder. Angle grinders produce small flying particles, have the potential to get tangled in loose fitting clothes, and can jump while grinding. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and operate them according to their recommendations.
Welding has been around for a very long time and is safe to do as long as you follow a few simple rules.
#1: Wear your personal protective equipment (PPE)!! This includes eye protection, hearing protection, gloves and even steel toe boots when working with heavy metal. #4 also lists some “welding specific” PPE to we used as well. I have an article on personal protective equipment I would recommend for anyone doing DIY home projects. Working safely should always be tip #1.
#2: Welders are electrical devices, so do not use them in a wet environment. This could lead to electrical shock.
#3: Welders creates high-intensity arcs and sparks. These arcs and sparks can ignite flammable vapors and other materials. Do not weld near any flammable or combustible material! This includes using any grinding or buffing tools, as well.
#4: The high-intensity arcs create ultraviolet and other harmful light. This light can cause serious damage to your eyes and can cause sunburn, to unprotected skin. Always wear a welding helmet, with the properly tinted, UV protecting lens. And always wear 100% cotton cloth that covers all possible exposed skin. Heavy leather gloves are a must too.
#5: Smoke and fumes are given off during welding. Always weld in a well-ventilated area. Welding (or cutting) galvanized steel gives off fumes that can give you severe flu symptoms!
Tips For Getting Started
As I mentioned earlier, I am not a professional welder. As a hobby welder, you must understand and recognize your limitations! There are some things you should always have made or repaired by a professional. Repairs to trailer hitches, vehicle frames or heavy-duty equipment need to be repaired by professionals.
With that said, you will be amazed at how strong a weld you will be able to make. At first, it might be a little shaky, but it will get better with time. Below is a list of the top tips for making better welds.
- Clean, Clean, Clean: make sure the metal you are going to weld is free of any paints or oils. These can contaminate the weld and make it weaker.
- Prepare the metal surfaces to be welded: the ends of the metal being joined are normally chamfered or beveled. This provides a greater surface area to be joined and allows the weld to penetrate further through the steel for a much stronger weld.
- Do a little research: Check out the Internet and Youtube. There is a lot of good information on preparing the metal for welding and technics on how to weld.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Find a scrap piece of metal and practice running a bead, with it lying flat on your work surface. Once you think you have it mastered, try standing it up and welding vertically. Yup, it’s a whole new ball game! But just keep practicing!!
If you have been thinking about trying hobby welding, I hope this information was enough to convince you to give it a try. Having the ability to make repairs on my own equipment has been a great benefit over the years! I’ve literally made dozens of repairs on my own stuff and have been able to help family members out as well. I recommend giving it a try. You will be happy you did! Let me know how you make out and good luck with all your projects!