To the untrained and inexperienced, welding may seem like a simple process. Apply some heat, melt some metal together, done and done. Except, even beginners know welding is not that simple.
There are many factors to consider and many safety precautions that cannot be ignored.
Welding is not simple, and mistakes are easy to make. Here is a list of the most common welding mistakes and tips on avoiding them.
12 Common Welding Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- Not Taking Proper Safety Precautions
With welding, safety must always come first. It is crucial to establish a routine for yourself so that you are following the same steps to keep yourself safe every time you work on a project.
It is easy to get careless (or excited!) and forget to cover all of your bases. But welding injuries can be severe and are often permanent. From third-degree burns to dismemberment, hearing damage, and vision loss, you do not want to expose yourself to a preventable injury.
To keep yourself safe, you should have, at the very least:
- Safety glasses: Glasses can protect your eyes from arc rays, spatter, and debris. With proper tints, you can protect your eyes from the bright light from the welding torch as well.
- Welding helmet: A welding helmet can be worn over safety glasses and will protect your eyes, face, and head from burning and debris. You can choose from auto darkening or non-auto darkening helmets. Auto darkening helmets will react to light and darken for your protection. Non-auto darkening helmets, as the name suggests, do not darken on their own.
- Welding gloves: Gloves can help protect your hands and skin from extreme heat. These gloves will be made from heavy-duty materials, like leather, and will have long cuffs to protect your wrists as well. Make sure to pick gloves that fit snug in the fingers. Too loose, and you won’t get the grip you need to maneuver your weld correctly.
- Welding apron or shirt: A welding apron or shirt will protect your skin from heat, metal shavings and potentially stop your clothing from catching fire.
- Hearing protection: For welding in the workplace, hearing protection is an OSHA requirement. But even if you are working in a personal workshop, it is not a bad idea to consider some sort of protection for your ears. Welding can be a loud process that produces high decibel levels.
- Safety boots: It is not a bad idea to consider a pair of safety boots. Safety boots can protect your feet from fallen objects, prevent slips and falls, and even protect you from electric shock.
- Fire extinguisher: The welding process produces extreme temperatures and sparks, which can pose a fire hazard. Having a fire extinguisher on hand can prevent catastrophic damage.
- Using the Wrong Current
The proper current depends on the type of metal you are using, the electrode you are using, the results you want, and the length of the process.
For example, if you need clean penetration, you should use an AC current, but if you are welding thin metals or are working on a delicate project, a DC current is the better option.
The more experienced you become as a welder, the more you will automatically understand these options.
Try practicing on scrap metal so you can get a sense of what each current means and how it applies to your work. This will also prevent you from damaging your actual project.
- Improper Preparation
If you do not take the time to properly prepare your metal, dirt, rust, paint, or other contaminants can prevent you from achieving a proper weld.
Some metals will require more preparation than others. Aluminum, for example, needs to be cleaned thoroughly before use. Ferrous metals, like mild steel or cast iron, require far less cleaning.
To prepare your metals, clean away any possible oils on the surface and sure a brush to eliminate any oxides that may be present.
It is also important to clean your machine. Using items like acetone or a slag hammer can ensure that your welding machine is clean and can function with optimal capacity.
- Improper Storage and Handling of Filler Material
Many beginning welders will keep their filler metals in a spot where they will be exposed to contaminants like oil, dirt, and grease. This exposure will have a negative impact on the welding process.
To avoid a poor weld, store filler materials in a clean and dry location with a steady temperature. Leave the materials there until they are required for welding.
Also, take care to protect wire coils and spools that are placed on the wire feeder. You can cover them with a plastic bag or keep them in their original packaging until you need them.
- Using the Wrong Electrode and Wires
It is important that you choose the electrode and wire appropriate to the welding application and the welding technique you are using.
Electrodes come in different sizes, and the one you need will depend on factors specific to our project. These factors include corrosion resistance, ductility, high tensile strength, the type of base metal to be welded, the position of the weld (flat, horizontal, vertical, or overhead), and the type of current and polarity required.
The American Welding Society (AWS) has established a classification system that can help you identify what you will need and when.
- Misunderstanding the Metals
Different metals respond to welds in different ways. And it is likely that many mistakes will be made before you can understand how a metal will react to the welding process.
And this is where practice will come into play. Obviously, you can research the method that works best on each material, but the more you practice your craft on scraps, the more you will understand.
- Using the Wrong Voltage or Wire Feed Speed
Using the wrong voltage or wire feed speed can cause an erratic arc.
If the voltage is too high, it can generate heat in the welding gun’s handle and cause problems with the contact tip.
If the wire feed is too fast, it will pile up instead of melting into the weld pool as it should. This can cause bird nesting or burnback. These issues can prematurely extinguish the welding arc and create irregularities that could weaken the weld bead.
If the wire is fed too slowly, you will not get the proper penetration on your weld.
The easiest way to avoid these issues is to follow the manufacturers’ suggestions and recommendations for your particular welding gun. These recommendations will indicate the proper voltage and wire feed speed for the application and materials that you are welding.
- Inconsistencies in Shielding Gas
If you want to prevent defects in your weld, minimize spatter, and reduce post-weld clean-up, you need to use the right type and mixture of shielding gas. Each gas will have its own unique characteristics.
- Carbon dioxide: CO2 provides good weld penetration when used with carbon steel, but it can cause a lot of spatter and has less desirable arc characteristics when gas mixtures containing argon.
- Argon/Carbon dioxide mixtures: these gasses are a great choice for higher disposition rates and lower amounts of spatter when used in spray-transfer mode on carbon steel. This combination should be a minimum of 80% argon for solid wire welding and 75% argon for metal-cored wires.
Gas selection will be different for welding metals like stainless steel and aluminum. Stainless steel requires a gas mixture that contains less than 5% carbon dioxide for spray transfer or a 90% helium/7.5% argon/2.5% carbon dioxide for a short-circuit transfer.
When welding with aluminum, a 100% argon gas or argon and helium blend is most common.
If you are unsure what gas you should be using, check the wire manufacturer’s recommendations as the proper gases should be listed on the specification sheet.
It is important to keep the gas delivery system free from contaminants to help maintain purity.
Once you have found the right shielding gas, you need to consider the gas flow. Too much gas flow, and you will experience weld pool turbulence. Too little, and the gas won’t properly shield the weld pool.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Keep the gas line as short as possible. A long hose allows pressure to build up, and it will only release when welding begins, leading to an unstable arc and increased spatter.
- The gas regulator ensures the proper gas pressure. Keep it located as close to the feeder as you possibly can. Positioning it too far away from the feeder can result in gas surges.
- Overlooking Preventative Maintenance
Like any other mechanical or electrical device you use, a welding machine needs some TLC to function properly.
Perform regular checks of the power source, the welding gun, the wire-feeding system, and consumables. It is easy to plan and perform these checks during routine pauses in your welding projects.
Keep an eye on the gun and consumables, in particular, to ensure that they are contributing to quality welds and overall performance.
Check for loose connections and tighten things up if needed. Replace contact tips, gas diffusers, and retaining heads when necessary.
- Using the Wrong Preheat or Interpass Temperature Control
A common mistake welders make is improperly preheating metals or skipping a preheat altogether. The preheat is a critical part of the welding process because it is what can prevent cracks from forming in the weld.
The appropriate preheat and interpass temperature will be determined by the type and thickness of your weld materials. You can find more information in welding codes or fabrication documents.
When you do perform your preheat, it is crucial to heat the materials all the way through. As a general rule, the heat should extend to 3 inches on either side of the weld joint. Start welding when the materials have passed the preheat temperature, and be careful not to let the temperature dip below the interpass temperature as cracks can form.
- Overusing Anti-Spatter Spray
Using too much anti-spatter spray, or using it in the wrong locations, can lead to problems.
Anti-spatter spray is designed to reduce the number of sparks you produce while welding. If the spray hits the welding point, it will basically render the welder less effective and create problems with the weld.
If you find that your welder is creating a large amount of spatter, it is time to look at the device itself. Check for electrical issues and monitor the gas line to ensure there are no problems with the gas flow.
Your best bet is to only use the anti-spatter spray when it is absolutely necessary. Using the right parameters and proper configurations on your welding machine should eliminate most spatter without you needing to use the spray,
- Ignoring Training Opportunities
One of the most important steps in mastering any craft is developing an understanding and appreciation of what it is you are doing.
Training classes and mentoring sessions are a great way for beginning welders to learn about processes, see what doesn’t work, observe what does, and begin to hone their own techniques.
Training creates practice opportunities. Welding is something you can read about over and over (and you should!), but the more opportunities you have to apply what you’ve read and see how it all comes together, the better your skills will be.
Online courses, night school classes, or simply observing experienced welders can go a long way to helping you grow, learn, and understanding the welding process.
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