Learning to Weld

Over the holidays, I decided to do something I’ve been thinking about for years: I got a welder and I’m learning how to use it. I did a lot of research, and decided that MIG welding was the best choice for my needs, which is general household use and automotive chassis/suspension work. However, I also know that I’m not going to weld more than a few times per year, and MIG welding has the added complication of leasing a gas bottle, knowing what to fill it with, paying a welding supply company to fill it, transporting it, and storing it in my already-crowded garage. With that in mind, I decided to go with a similar welding process, self shielded flux core, also known as FCAW-S welding.

I read a lot online, and there are a lot of people who say that flux core is a waste of time, it produces bad welds, etc. A little more research leads me to believe these people are either bad welders, are using bad tools, or won’t accept that a good weld doesn’t have to look like a perfect “stack of dimes” TIG weld to be structurally sound and get the job done. I think a lot of the frustration comes from people using inexpensive AC output welders like you get from Harbor Freight, instead of a slightly better DC output welders, like the Hobart Handler 100.

The Hobart Handler 100 is the machine I bought. I think a lot of people will say I should have stepped up to the 130 or 140 to get the full MIG capability, but that’s something that I truly don’t need now, or in the near future. If I find that I want to work on thin sheet metal (auto body) and do a lot more welding than I anticipated, I will probably step up to a much nicer machine, and keep the FCAW rig as an outdoor welder, if the need arises.

With decent equipment (including a good helmet), and good surface prep, I was able to produce sort-of-ok welds within the first hour. This is a T-joint with 0.083″ square tubing, which simulates what I’ll be working with when I install subframe connectors on my Mustang.

Not bad for a first try?

Trying an overhead T-joint while laying on the ground, as if to simulate actually working on a car, is another matter. I struggled to make a garbage weld, and if I did this to my car, I would have to grind it off and try again. Oddly enough, an overhead butt joint was relatively easy to do. A lot of success depends on gun angle, wire stick-out, travel speed, and how well you can see, which highlights the need to get a good helmet and good gloves that work for you.

Terrible

After some more practice, I want to cut through some of these joints and see what kind of penetration I’m getting. I hope to be ready to use this welder on my car with confidence by the end of 2019.

Happy new year.

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