Teaching Myself To Weld
My First Attempts & Project

I have started to teach myself how to weld. And if you remember from my first page about this process I had bought myself a Lincoln Buzz Box welder, got an auto-darkening welding helmet, and some learning to arc weld DVD's from Northern Tools.

So how is it going? Well I have learned a lot! Pretty easy when you know nothing. And I have learned that some of the ideas I had when I started, mostly gathered from "experts" were not correct.

First, a 220v arc welder is really not the ideal tool to be welding fairly thin metal. I am enjoying the learning process with this welder, and I will use it for the project, but for thin metal (like I am going to use for my trailer frame), a gas MIG welder would have been the better tool. I will just have to get one of those in the future also! From my limited experience now, talking with more welders and reading more, an arc welder like I have is really more ideal for thicker steel. And a MIG welder is better for thinner steel. Plus with MIG you don't have to change rods, your hand to material distance does not change, and there is no slag to chip off.

I still think having a 220V welder vs 120v welder is best. But I think you could have easily welded up this thin steel with a 120v welder and it would have been more portable tool. The welder I bought is actually pretty heavy, even on wheels. And I have to haul it outside each time I want to use it. If I ever replace this welder, I have my eyes are on this wonderful little Inverter welder by Miller, the Maxstar 150 S. It will plug into either 220v or 120v, and it only weighs about 13 lbs.

Also, from what I have been reading, having a DC machine would be preferable to AC only. Everyone who uses DC swears by it.

Teaching Myself To Weld - Lessons Learned
So besides my mistakes, what else have I learned?

Lesson #1 - Get the correct welding electrode size for the thickness of steel you are working on. On my very first attempt to weld some practice beads it was not going well at all. I was splattering like crazy, and burning holes in my steel even at lower amp settings. Here is a picture.

I knew something was wrong and I stopped pretty soon after I started. The problem was I was using 1/8th 6011 rod on 3/16th steel.

The next day I was back at it with 3/32 6011 rod and pretty quickly I had some decent looking results. Not great, but not bad for my second hour of welding.

practice welding beads

I also found that when I used too small of a rod for the thickness of the steel I got no penetration and what I was welding together would just pop apart.

Lesson #2 - Setting the amperage is pretty easy. It is very clear when the amperage is too high for the rod you are using. It spatters like crazy and the molten puddle is not easily controlled. And setting the amperage too low is also pretty obvious. The arc is very dim and the puddle does not really develop. Since my machine only has preset amperage increments, I only have so many choices, and it is easy to figure out what is best.

Lesson #3 - Body position is important. What messed up my welding beads more than anything was when my body position was not good. If my hand did not have room to move, or the angle was awkward, that messed up my beads quick like.

rock filled mailbox postI decided I wanted a welding project to develop my skills. So I designed a new mailbox post made out of recycled bed frame steel. Doing this project I found myself welding in a variety of body positions that made it difficult. I also found out that welding very thin steel rod to thicker steel is not all that easy. It is easy to just melt off the rods, and get no penetration in the thicker steel. But I figured it out.

Once again getting the correct welding rod size was key. I ended up getting some 5/64ths 6013 rod, and that was the ticket. It allowed me to get some penetration on the angle steel, but not overheat the small rods. Before that I had tried to use the tiny little 1/16th rods from harbor freight. But I could get no penetration in the thicker steel with these.

Fortunately for this project I hid all the welds inside, so nobody can see my ugly beginner practice welds.

One thing I did not count on for this project was that the steel was hardened. After I had got it in the ground I needed to drill some holes to mount the mailbox. It was not happening! First I dulled up a drill bit instantly. Then I went to the store and bought a cobalt drill bit. And that was not cutting this steel either! So then I took a small torch and heated the steel super hot in the area where I needed to drill. That did the ticket. It took out some of the hardening in the steel and I was able to drill my holes (with lots of lube).

One thing I learned about this project was that I definitely don't enjoy working with steel as much as wood. It is loud, more dangerous, and dirty. But I am pleased to be adding this to my skills.

What's next? Next I am going to purchase the steel for my trailer frame with lots of extra material so that I can practice exactly the welds I am going to do on the trailer many times before I weld up the frame. Watch for updates on that process.