When I was starting some basic DIY stuff, mostly with wood, working with metal seemed like something too far fetched from me. It required special equipment, better tools, more safety measures and stronger hands. And one part of it looked especially scary: welding.
Do you feel the same way? You don't have to. Welding is not that complicated, not that dangerous if you take care about safety, and tools are no longer so expensive. Everyone can weld. Mastery is a different thing of course.
Why Learn To Weld
Because it's fast and very robust way to join two pieces of metal together. Because it's professional. Because it's fun. Of course welding is not always the best solution - there are good alternatives given at the end of this article. Many people learn to weld, buy welding equipment and then start welding everything. This is of course stupid. Part of mastering welding is to know when not to weld.
If you need a robust joint between two metal pieces that will not need to be separated, then welding is probably the best choice.
Learning to weld will make you much faster in your DIY projects, will save you money, and can even allow you to make money welding on other people's projects. It's a very valuable skill.
Welding is dangerous compared to screwing bolts, don't you think? This shouldn't stop you from learning to do it, but you ought to know the risks:
- Electric shock. Wear dry gloves and work in good conditions. Electric shock is not a joke, it's a life threatening hazard.
- Metal oxide and other gases. The gases come from the welding consumables and the metal itself. This won't kill you immediately but can harm your health long term. You must ensure good ventilation and avoid over exposing yourself to dangerous gases.
- Explosions and fires. Welding a full fuel tank for example is an exceptionally bad idea. Make sure there are no fire hazards around you and the welding area because the voltage and heat can detonate and put on fire a lot of stuff.
- Welding injures. Usually not fatal, they are one of the most common hazards because a lot of hobby welders do not wear protection equipment. You must wear all the protection equipment all the time!. All the equipment, all the time. More about the equipment is available later in this article.
Don't let fear drive you away though. There are so many people welding as their trade and most of them are in good health - if you follow the safety prescriptions you should be fine.
Where and How to Start
Technically anywhere, but before you even think about starting, get a book on welding and get to know the main concepts. Welding For Dummies is a pretty good choice. Get and read the book: this is a no joke advice and it's not optional. If you never welded before you need a book, period.
Once you get to know the main concept, you need at the very minimum:
- A welder. Cheap one is OK, see the recommendations in "Choosing equipment" below. Used is also OK.
- Some consumables. You can buy those at your local hardware shop or purchase them online along with the welder (you can save money).
- Personal protection equipment. A must! Used is OK, if it's in good condition.
You'll also need some metal parts to weld. My strong recommendation is not to start with a real project. Welding takes some time to practice. Get some scrap metal parts and just join them together. If you don't have much of it, you can weld together, then break apart using a hacksaw or an angle grinder, and join again and again until you gain some experience.
Then your first real projects should be something that you can weld at a comfortable place - a table or at least on the ground. NOT a metal shed roof for example, where you'll have to stay on a ladder and not comfortable.
Remember: it takes some time and practice to become a good welder.
Most Important Things to Consider
Besides safety, it's important to know that welding should be applied only when appropriate. Until you master it, if ever, you are not going to make too precise welds. Your joints will probably be visible so don't use welding for small parts that need perfect aesthetics.
Welding, when done well, is more robust than joining parts with nuts and bolts. However, unlike joining with bolts, it's a one-way process and you can't deconstruct your building. Think twice before welding projects that you are not sure you will want long-term.
Welding mistakes can be expensive. Once you join two pieces of metal by welding, the pieces are no longer usable for anything else, at least not in their eternity. If you want to reuse, you'll need to use the angle grinder to break them apart with some material loss.
Choosing welding equipment can be a wide topic that many DIY welders have strong feelings about. I'll stay away of going too deep or too detailed and will just give you a few basic recommendations on the most important parts of welding equipment. There are two main parts of it: the working equipment (the welder tool itself) and the personal protection equipment. So let's focus on these:
- The welder. This is the main and most important tool for welding. When starting out I recommend to buy an affordable but decent welder. Don't buy the cheapest Chinese stuff because it's not going to last long. Your goal is both to buy beginner's equipment without spending too much, but also to have a perfectly usable tool for your future DIY projects when you become good enough. There's no point in buying super cheap welder to learn on it, and then another expensive one for your real work. If you want to go deep and know a lot before choosing, I recommend you this guide and that guide.
If you'd rather just get a good welder at excellent price trusting the thousands of customers who loved it, I'd recommend you Goplus MIG 130 Welder Flux Core Wire Automatic Feed Welding Machine. It's only $99 and comes with a free mask!
- The personal protection equipment. A mask and gloves are absolute minimum safety equipment for welding. Don't ever weld without mask or gloves. It's also recommended to have good protection clothes, but mask and gloves are absolutely necessary. You can start with a cheap classic helmet like Neiko 53847A Industrial Grade Welding Helmet. Later, when you start doing lots of welding in your DIY projects, get a perfect helmet like this one.
Where to Learn
As I recommended earlier, it's best to buy at least one book on welding. You should then start doing some basic projects by welding few pieces together and slowly upgrading your skills. But maybe you are not a book lover. Maybe you don't want to go slow. There are of course many other options. I'll suggest a couple:
- This excellent guide on Instructables. It's almost book-long but easier to read, free, and with lots of pictures.
- Watch the welding for beginners video. In just 30 minutes it will give you the very basics of this trade.
My favorite way of joining metal parts is using bolts. Do not always go for welding, using bolts has many advantages. It doesn't require special equipment. It's easier and safer. It's cheaper. Parts joined with bolts can be separated easily. Of course, welding has advantages - it's faster and more robust. And not all shapes can be joined by bolts, while almost every piece of metal can be welded into another one.
There are other options too. Using rivets is easier and faster than using bolts. However parts joined by rivets aren't as robust as welded parts and can't be broken apart easily like those joined by bolts.
Don't forget that soldering is also an option when you don't need sturdiness. Soldering is easy and safe, and you can buy the equipment and consumables for less than $20.
Another alternative is using adhesives. They are not always applicable and have their downsides but sometimes your problem can be solved with proper adhesives much easier than welding.
Welding is not the ultimate answer to everything. However it is a very valuable skill and our world wouldn't be the same without welding. As a DIY skill it could be super useful for many projects in the household.