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#9077 - 09/21/12 05:31 AM Aluminum welder/welding
ShawnR Offline
MBN member
Registered: 05/04/10
Posts: 49
Loc: Canada
I am considering venturing into aluminum welding. Projects would be a dock for camp, some aluminum boxes for truck (1/8" or less material) and whatever else I can come up with. I have a small Lincoln 100 amp MIG and a Lincoln Idealarc 250 AC/DC unit. What should I be looking at to be able to weld aluminum? Would adding a spool gun to the Mig unit be enough? Those are available for small welders now. I have never welded alum so am not sure what I am getting into. With the wire feed, does it weld "just like steel"? or is it different? I don't think my projects require the finesse of TIG, more of a stick it together project (stick it well, though)....
The small wire feed does really well with steel and anything bigger than 1/8", I use the stick. I am wondering if the spool gun on the Mig would work well up to 1/4" aluminum..?

Suggestions? Experiences?
Thanks
Shawn
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#9084 - 09/21/12 01:53 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: ShawnR]
kakkeef2 Offline
New in town
Registered: 02/17/10
Posts: 21
I'd be curious what some of the more experienced folks will say, but it would probably be a lot cheaper to buy a tig rig to use on the AC/DC unit than a spool gun on the mig. Not welded it myself, but have always heard tig is the way to go for alum.

Just my 2 cents.


Edited by kakkeef2 (09/21/12 01:54 PM)
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#9085 - 09/21/12 05:18 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: kakkeef2]
cjmac Offline
MBN Enthusiast
Registered: 05/08/10
Posts: 560
Loc: Canada *****
You can weld aluminum with a MIG, just run argon as the gas. It is much easier with a spool gun. There will be a limit to what thickness of metal you can weld with a low ampereage machine. A TIG is nice but it is slow. A lot of your success will be based on technique. You will have to do it to get good at it. There is no short cut by buying gadgets. They help but you still have to be able to weld (aluminum). Get a 1 pound spool of 5053 wire and some argon and give it a try with what you have. Get a stainless steel wire cup brush and a smal(4" or so) angle grinder. Right before you weld, clean the metal you are about to weld with the wire brush. (that may be the single most helpful advice you get). With a MIG the wire feed has trouble pushing the aluminum wire through the cable to the handle. Set up your work so the cable is as straight as you can get. That is why you get a spool gun in the end, but try some welds with what you have. There are a lot of tutorials and videos on line to tell you the rest.

Good luck with it.

I have a MIG, MIG w spool gun, and a TIG. For most of may welding in steel, I use the TIG as a DC stick welder. For thin steel I use the TIG as a TIG. For almost all aluminum, I use the MIG with the spool gun. It is much faster than the TIG. I don't know if it is worth getting a spool gun for a 100 amp welder unless you can use it in the future with a bigger welder. The MIG in samples below is a Miller 212 with heat set a 4 out of 7 for the 1/8" and 6 out of 7 for the 1/4" plate. The TIG is a Lincoln.



the boxes are 1/8" alumunum welded with MIG/spool



control box 1/8" aluminum MIG/spool (it was too heavy in the end)



Battery box 1/8" aluminum MIG/spool



Dump trailer box 1/4" aluminum MIG/spool
my guess is that 100 amps won't do this.



Steel hydraulic tank TIG

All the pictures are from my tracked backhoe
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#9094 - 09/22/12 04:27 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: cjmac]
bunkclimber Offline
MBN Old hand
Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 1101
Loc: Maryland *****
ShawnR,I had a need to venture into welding aluminum about 15years ago;to do it depends on what type of aluminum work you intend to do.There's some neat aluminum rods out there you can 'weld' aluminum with-"Muggyweld" I think it's called-you use a torch with a special flux and these so-called rods-I don't think it has the strength of a arc weld,but might be good for a one-time shot.MIG aluminum usually requires a push-pull feeder gun-pretty expensive.A spoolgun is the cheapest way out-you can weld aluminum with a spoolgun,argon gas and a decent amperage machine(150amp and up)-like for doing dumptruck beds and such-the weld quality can't match hand AC TIG method-but it does work and gets the job done.It takes a lot of power just to heat the material up,before you even start to weld.Aluminum welding is a real technical process and does require some research to set it up right.For most work you can use a 4043 or 5356 filler alloy for hand TIG.Sometimes I preheat with propane just to get the material up several hundred degrees to save on power..I use a Syncrowave 250 running AC with a water cooled 350amp torch,footpedal amp control and a 1/8" tungsten diameter.Aluminum is a reactive metal-it reacts with the atmosphere-even after you clean the material to weld,it instantly develops a layer of oxidization that you have to burn through-it takes a lot of power.I had a smaller 120amp tig machine but all it did was frustrate me-not enough power and it thermally shut down just about the time I got my material hot enough to work.To do a TIG machine right you'll need a good working area first,I suggest a garage or shop that you can leave the machine set up permanently in.It's also a large investment,most setups are $3000 or more by the time you strike your first arc.You'll need also a single 100amp circuit to power a decent size TIG machine,it adds to the expense but is part of the whole setup.You can get a Chinese made machine pretty cheap,but you do get what you pay for,and it will never match the lifetime durability of an American made Lincoln/Hobart/Miller unit.Even if you sell it later,you'll get 3/4's or more of what you paid for it.If you can I'd take a community college non-credit or trade school TIG class if it's offered-get your feet wet with it before you buy a welder.
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#9105 - 09/24/12 05:08 AM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: bunkclimber]
ShawnR Offline
MBN member
Registered: 05/04/10
Posts: 49
Loc: Canada
Thanks for the input. I kind of suspected these answers. I think for the dock, I may go with mild steel and stick welder, maybe smaller sections. However, I may take my small unit down to the local weld shop, as they suggested/offered and see what guns work on it, and how effective it would be. I would only use this for small stuff, which a lot of my "want to do" projects would be. Bunkclimber, I would love to take a night course, and they are offered, but they cost about $700 per course. I figure that with that amount invested towards equipment instead, I could be well on my way to my own set up. I have enough friends who are good welders that will teach for lunch or a beverage and spend some time with me in the shop, burning metal if I asked... ;-) I think TIG is the holy grail of welding and although I could have used the ability on the fuel tank and hydraulic tank for the backhoe,I got by, with profanity and grinders but it worked out in the end, finally filling the pin hole leaks. As with all things, practice would be the key, I agree.

cjmac, I will go do as you suggest, grab a small aluminum spool and see what happens. I think I have a spare liner for the MIG. I read somewhere that it is better to not have the aluminum wire contaminated with steel so the suggestion was to have a fresh or dedicated liner for aluminum....yes?
Thanks guys for replies. I will report back on my progress.
Cheers,
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#9109 - 09/24/12 03:06 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: ShawnR]
bunkclimber Offline
MBN Old hand
Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 1101
Loc: Maryland *****
Shawn,got an acetylene torch? try heating metal up into a molten pool and adding MIG wire to that pool,move along your metal and then get the torch heat to move the pool along,adding to it as you go..thats about a close to TIG as you can get.A lot of folks say that you should try to master torch welding first before getting into TIG,its the same principle,just the heat source is different and you weld inside a cloud of shield gas.PS-If you get onto YouTube,there's plenty of instructional vids of TIG welding..good info and examples..Best of luck.


Edited by bunkclimber (09/24/12 03:08 PM)
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#9114 - 09/25/12 09:11 AM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: bunkclimber]
terry Offline
MBN Enthusiast
Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 637
Loc: Landrum,SC ****
Try to keep a tool box just for your aluminum welding gear,that way it doesn't get mucked up with anything else. Try to use a propane torch for pre-heating because it doesn't have the excess of free carbon molicules that acetylene does. A spool gun is the ticket if you have the room to use it. If you can get one that has an adjustable pre/post flow is good. Too much flow an create a wash that acually draws in the outside air like an open window. I have been in shops that use something like a sandblaster cabinet that keeps stray breezes away. Just don't stick your head inside it after you have been welding, there ain't gonna be any air in there! Watch what you clean your metal with as its residue may react to welding in an unwanted or even deadly way. I had the misfortune to have had to weld a stainless airwasher tank that had been cleaned with a chlorine based cleaner."They" didn't want to pay a high dollar welder to clean metal and I assumed that "They" knew about welding. The result was really crappy unexplained welds and myself becoming violently ill.That combined with the years of chemicals that had been added to the water made welding impossible. Be careful of welding scrap or recyled metal as you have no way to know what it was in contact with. Not to scare you off but for some reason the TIG and MIG processes can bring out the worst in metal. Just keep this stuff in mind. At all costs stay away from magnesium, it looks smells and tastes like aluminum but burns like Willy Pete and is next to impossible to put out. Aluminum will burn like that but it is real hard to get it that hot without it dripping and running into your laced up boot. Make sure ALL shavings and dust from both are far away from arcs or open flame.I love TIG welding and it appeals to the machinist side of me due to the lack of smoke, spatter and flux. Economics has prevented the purchase of one, and until 3 years ago always had access to one. I still go to get my torch bottles filled and
go inside to lust over the machines. Whatever you do, take your time,cover up bare skin and don't touch the tungsten with the filler rod!
Be safe and have fun!
T
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#9118 - 09/25/12 06:38 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: terry]
cjmac Offline
MBN Enthusiast
Registered: 05/08/10
Posts: 560
Loc: Canada *****
Thats another good piece of advice from Terry about keeping the aluminum tools separate so you don't contaminate the weld. I keep the SS wire cup brush for aluminum only but I also keep a separate bench grinder that is only ever used for sharpening tungsten electrodes for the TIG. Always grind them in the direction of their long axis (so it is pointing at the grinder).

I weld outside as much as possible. Better air and better light. I am always setting up sheets of plywood to block the breeze so the shielding gas stays put.

Chris
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#9211 - 10/06/12 03:33 AM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: cjmac]
ShawnR Offline
MBN member
Registered: 05/04/10
Posts: 49
Loc: Canada
bunkclimber, I have done some fusion welding, way back in school. I should go practice that somemore too! It is fun. My local weld shop lent me a bottle of Argon and I bought a spool of aluminum so I will experiment with the small machine to see what happens. Last couple of weeks have been too busy but this week looks better for some shop time. I did get a ss brush and will mark it aluminum only.
Just wanted to update the thread. Thanks. Cheers,
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#9277 - 10/12/12 04:37 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: ShawnR]
ShawnR Offline
MBN member
Registered: 05/04/10
Posts: 49
Loc: Canada
I tried the aluminum welding yesterday and today. It seemed to go OK yesterday. I am using a Lincoln Weldpak 100 (no spool gun). I burned up a couple of tips. I am using .030 wire. I only had a couple of those tips and some .035's so bought more of the 30's and tried some more today. Yesterday, I was happy, today, not so much. I started getting jambs in the liner somwhere,...kinked wire just past the feed roller. I am wondering it if would be better to stick with .035 tips, less chance of adding friction at end. ...or if the liner is getting dirty already and now I am getting feed issues due to friction in the liner...? Like I said, yesterday, good, my concern was figuring out feed rates and voltage. Today, my concern was unjambing the wire. Even at this, I was able to run some beads,....cool. Might have to start looking for a machine that will take a spool gun, (mine will not) without some mods. I will upsize the tips and see if it helps.
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#9280 - 10/12/12 06:23 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: ShawnR]
cjmac Offline
MBN Enthusiast
Registered: 05/08/10
Posts: 560
Loc: Canada *****
I forgot to mention that. I always run tips one size up from the wire size. I remember those jambs just past the feed roller. I was using a Century welder back then and there was a rubber roller available for aluminum. It helped a bit. I did a lot of work with that welder by always setting up the welds so the cable was as straight as possible. I would put what I was welding on top of an old boat trailer that I used as a welding table and move the trailer back and forth a few feet to keep the cable straight. You burn the contactors (tips) when the wire slows down and the arc moves back towards the gun.

The welds were better when I started using a spool gun and had more consistant wire speed.

Chris
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#9281 - 10/12/12 07:11 PM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: ShawnR]
cjmac Offline
MBN Enthusiast
Registered: 05/08/10
Posts: 560
Loc: Canada *****
The post I made 40 minutes ago was listed on the recent posts list at the right but did not appear here.

Here it is again.(more or less)

I forgot to mention that I use contactors (tips) one size larger for aluminum wire so your plan to upsize the tips will help.

I also had an available rubber drive roller on my welder. It cut down on those birds nest like jambs between the drive roller and the start of the liner.

Try to keep the cable as straight as possible. Move your welder or your work to facilitate this. One reason for burning tips is the wire slows down and the gap increases drawing the arc back up to the tip.

I use .035 wire and .040 tips. The heavier wire may feed better as it is a little stiffer.

Spool gun is nice but I did a lot of aluminum welding with the standard MIG. Keeping the cable straight really helped.

Chris

Now the other post has appeared


Edited by cjmac (10/12/12 07:14 PM)
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#9350 - 10/17/12 05:07 AM Re: Aluminum welder/welding [Re: cjmac]
ShawnR Offline
MBN member
Registered: 05/04/10
Posts: 49
Loc: Canada
cjmac
I went back to the .035 tips and it seems better. I think I can use the little Migpak 100 but it seems to work best on the "C" Voltage setting and wire feed maxed out. Other than that, I ruin tips. Sooo, limited but we will keep playing. You know if it is going well if you hear that "tat tat tat tat....". When it sounds like a sizzle, not so good....;-)

I also picked up a small pack of aluminum rod while at the shop. Nice! I was surprised. I only burnt one rod so far but it welded like steel rod so this is worth exploring too....albeit for heavier stuff. My dock project might be ideal
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